Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The American Left and the Middle East (Middle East Report and Nation magazine). In my 21 years in the US, I came to realize this: you can never really trust the American Left when it comes to the Middle East. They are not good, even when they are, or even when they think they are. Their progressive outlook on the Middle East can only go this far, not very far at all, if you ask me. It always stops: it hits a wall of one (or more) of the following: ignorance, bigotry, Zionist sympathies, and Western self-righteousness. I say this because I have been very unhappy with the recent Nation magazine issue on academic freedoms. I did not like the piece byScott Sherman. As I told one of the editors privately, I very much disliked his references to my dear friend Joseph Massad. He referred to Joseph as "dogmatic." What does that mean? Who is not "dogmatic" about the Arab-Israeli conflict? Is Sharon "dogmatic"? Does the Nation magazine refer to Sharon as "dogmatic"? Is the Nation magazine's support for Israel (albeit in " '67" borders) "dogmatic"? Is the Nation Magazine's insistence on running ads by the fanatical Flame organization "dogmatic"? And then the writer claims that supporters of Joseph has been angered by or displeased with him? No names given. They also make things up and claim that Edward Said was concerned about Joseph's radicalism. I think that the late Edward Said was more concerned about Nation's moderation than about Joseph's radicalism, if you ask me. Worse, the entire article leaves the reader with the impression that this Arab "wog" (Joseph) has gone too far, and he needs to moderate his views. And then I receive today a new piece by Middle East Report on Lebanon, written by Nicholas Blanford (who in articles I have read by him in the past seems to be obsessed with Hizbullah's weapons in South Lebanon but not with Israel's). (The piece is not on the site yet, so I am referring to the text sent to the email list). Having been suffocated by the hagiographic references to Hariri (the corrupt and oppressive former prime minister of Lebanon whose first order--ok, one of his first orders--as prime minister was to shoot at demonstrators in Beirut for daring to protest the Oslo accords) in the Saudi-financed Arab media and the US media, was it too much to expect that MERIP would escape the conventional praise of Hariri? And the article refers to "the high regard in which Hariri was held" and that it produced the demonstrations. Some of this kind of analysis MAY be true but only if you factor out whole segments of the Lebanese population. Hariri was largely despised by Shi`ites in Lebanon (for many reasons including his neglect of Southern Lebanese--outside of Sidon--and Southern Beirut regions in his "reconstruction plans" paid for NOT by his own money but by the wealth of future Lebanese generations burdened by Hariri's miracle formula for Lebanon) and other secular and non-secular Lebanese. It is also highly simplistic to assume that the massive demonstrations were about Hariri himself or his memory, the propaganda expenditure of the Hariri family apparatus notwithstanding. When right-wing militias' (like Lebanese Forces and Guardians of the Cedar and the heirs of Bashir Gemayyel) representatives and successors show up for demonstrations it had nothing to do with Hariri and everything to do with their own sectarian agenda. Hariri becomes what early Muslims called "the shirt of `Uthman", a reference to the exploitation of `Uthman (the 3rd rightly-guided caliph)'s murder by later Muslims. Those same right-wing forces dismissed Hariri as a "Syrian puppet" in his lifetime and as a Saudi agent bent on Islamizing Lebanon. None of that is mentioned in the article. It is also not mentioned in the article that Hariri's money is being used to fund a movement that is also supported by the US and France. And even the Sunnis, their turnout has to do with sectarian concerns and agendas and with their anger at Syrian marginalization and exclusion of organized Sunni political power. Blanford talks about the amendment to the Lebanese constitution to extend Lahhud's term as "unpopular". In whose eyes? The upper class Lebanese that Mr. Blanford seems to be in contact with? I do not think that Blanford reads Arabic otherwise he must have noticed the widely published public opinion surveys at the time in which Lahhud was by far the single most popular choice for president among the Lebanese. I am no fan of Lahhud and opposed his election and extension of term (called it "crowning" in an article in As-Safir at the time) but facts are stubborn. But then again, maybe MERIP or Mr. Blanford subscribes to the Lebanese opposition's notion that Lebanese Shi`ites (not to mention others) are not "civilized" enough or advanced enough or westernized enough to be factored in Western analysis. Is that what Blanford means with his reference to "telegenic anti-Syrian protests"? Those largely Shi`ite pro-Syrian protests must have been very untelegenic with the bearded men and veiled women (at least to Mr. Blanford) although some Christians and secularists also went to those protests. But damn. Why can't they be "telegenic" like those upper class Lebanese? If only they dragged their Sri Lankan maids with them, maybe Blanford would have found them to be telegenic? Or maybe had they posted signs in English, that would have improved their lousy image in the Western press. They would have been noticed after all. So demonstrators of the world, please be "telegenic" next time you demonstrate, lest you are ignored by the Western media. We should revise the Communist Manifesto and say "Workers of the World, Be Telegenic". Blanford also says that Lahhud is considered "a puppet" of Syria by "most Lebanese" (no polls mentioned--you do not need them if you are a Westerner among Easterners, always remember that). But would it not be fair to say that ALL members of the Lebanese political elite are considered "puppets" of the Syrian regime because they are, including Hariri and Jumblat, until a few weeks ago, that is? And the political sympathies of Blanford (or MERIP?) are clear in the reference to Lebanon's "transition from Pax Syriana to an independent political order." Is that what is at stake really? Is this how Lebanese look at it? Yes, that is exactly how the right-wing opposition (and its "left-wing" supporters in US) looks at it but not the rest of Lebanese. They in fact do not like Pax Syriana but fear more Pax Americana/Franca in Lebanon. Unless Mr. Blanford is implying what the Lebanese opposition is saying: that whoever disagrees with them is opposed to Lebanon's independence, as if this country was or will ever be independent. Blanford talks about opposition demonstrators emphasizing "national unity" and waving "the Lebanese flag" but he fails to mention that this happened by high command from the Maronite Patriarch (the leader of the Christian opposition coalition) and Walid Jumblat (the Druze warlord) after Sunni complaints at the various factional flags and portraits of Maronite and Druze figures in the first days of demonstrations. Sunni supporters of opposition were embarrassed vis-a-vis their own constituencies when they were seen supporting the sectarian agendas of traditional rivals. And then Blanford gets to the subject of "Shi`ites", and says: "The impoverished Shiites regard the estimated one million Syrian laborers living in Lebanon as direct competition for jobs." Notice when you speak about the natives you do not need to ask them, or cite public opinion surveys (widely available and published in the press in Lebanon) about their mood. You simply need a Western observer (preferably on a horse like Lawrence of Arabia or Lawrence of Hummus) who can offer generalizations about the "Arab street" or "Arab Block" or "Arab Corner." What does that sentence mean, and how do we know it is true, and if it is true how come we do not see any manifestation of that resentment thus far? Most importantly, is Mr. Blanford implying that the Shi`ites were the ones abusing and killing poor Syrian workers in Lebanon? In fact, none of the Syrian workers (abused or killed) were abused or killed in predominantly Shi`ite areas of Lebanon (and I am not saying that Shi`ites or anybody for that matter are immune from prejudice). And then Blanford says: "Hizballah, however, faces an acute dilemma because the withdrawal of Syrian political cover will mean an end to its autonomy in south Lebanon, where it has enjoyed wide latitude to pursue its anti-Israel agenda." What? I do not want to shock or surprise Mr. Blanford but there are no Syrian troops in...SOUTH LEBANON. Hizbullah's influence in South Lebanon has NOTHING to do with Syrian troops. If anything, the converse is true. Hizbullah in South Lebanon will be stronger without Syrian troops. Hizbullah was forced by Syrian Intelligence Services in Lebanon to run with Amal candidates in parliamentary elections to the disadvantage of Hizbullah who could have easily swept South Lebanon and Ba`albak, as they did in the last municipal elections. I also noticed that when Blanford mentioned the massive pro-Syrian (although it had its own domestic agenda even though it flaunted its support for Syria for pure political and sectarian considerations) demonstration, he had to bring in a reference to "busloads of Syrians ferried across the border." All accounts would confirm that those Syrians constituted a very small percentage of the overall demonstration. But then again: Mr. Blanford seems to stick to the talking points of the right-wing opposition. I also noticed that Mr. Blanford notices Syrian "meddling in Lebanese affairs" but does not notice US, French, and Israeli "meddling in Lebanese affairs." There is barely a reference in the article to Israeli occupation of Lebanon and its devastating impact on Lebanese politics and most importantly on the political culture of Lebanon (and not only among Shi`ites) whereby most Lebanese are fiercely opposed to any peace treaty with Israel. Even the 1949 armistice agreement is not popular because it never protected Lebanon from Israeli bombings over the decades. What is next? Will MERIP ask Donald Trump to write an article about Socialism in the Middle East?