Thursday, March 24, 2005

Nicholas Blanford Replies (and Angry Arab Replies too). Nicholas Blanford has replied to my critique of his article from yesterday (see below). I shall reproduce his passage from the comments' section in full and then reply (my replies to his reply is in red and between parentheses).

"Dear As’ad – I thought I would respond to some of the points you raised in your posting on my MERIP article.
#Regarding my “obsession” with Hizbullah’s weapons in south Lebanon, as opposed to Israeli weapons in south Lebanon, if you have been reading The Daily Star for the past eight years you would have seen plenty of articles by me on the weapons used by both sides both pre and post the May 2000 withdrawal. My ever tolerant editors can assure you that my “obsession” with weapons in south Lebanon does not end with Hizbullah. (I have not been reading the Daily Star regularly, and have not seen your articles there in a while, I must confess, but have been judging what I have read by you in Christian Science Monitor among other places, as I can remember. It could be, of course, that Western press may only highlight what you write on that, but not what you wrote on Israel. I will keep an open mind on that, and would welcome what you may forward to me on the matter).
#I never wrote that Hariri was loved by all and never said he was necessarily deserving of that high regard. Hizbullah always bore a grudge for the September 1993 shooting incident to which you refer. Of course, the demonstrations were not about Hariri only and I never said they were. But his death did catalyze the demonstrations and were used by many Lebanese to express their opposition to the status quo in Lebanon as well as shock at his murder. (Yes, you did. You spoke about the "high regard in which Hariri was held". These were your words and not mine, and you linked that with popular demonstrations as if the supporters of the kooky General `Awn are genuinely grieved over Hariri's death, after they have dismissed him for years as Syria's puppet. And one should be careful in reading popular demonstrations, and allow for the possibility--at least--of popular insincerity and for exploitation of events for political and--always in Lebanon--sectarian ends. You here explain that his death was used but you did not say so in the original article that I reply to).
#As for the popularity of President Lahoud’s presidential extension, I am not sure which poll you are referring to which said that the majority of Lebanese wanted him to remain in office. However, the poll in Ash-Shiraa weekly published on Sept. 3 last year (the day after parliament amended the constitution to extend Lahoud’s mandate) which sampled 1,000 Lebanese from all political, religious and social factions showed that 65 percent of the population opposed amending the constitution and 74 percent wanted to have a new president elected. 38 percent said that Lahoud’s achievements were average, 29 percent said they were less than required, 21 percent said they believed he had achieved nothing and only 10 percent said he had made some important achievements. (Ash-Shira` is not known for any reliable polls, and for any polls with random sampling from what I remember from their polls. It is simply not a credible magazine on anything, except on what dinner party Hasan Sabra (the editor) was invited to. I think that they once found out (in an exclusive Ash-Shira` study) that AshShira` is the mostly widely read magazine in the world after the Economist, if I remember correctly. AsSafir, An-Nahar, and Al-Mustaqbal are the ones that publish and commission credible polls. I did not see the one you mention. I did NOT say that Lebanese were in favor of the extension of Lahhud's term, but that as a PERSON or as a candidate--according to the polls I read--he was in polls even published in the right-wing sectarian An-Nahar (very close to the right-wing Christian sectarian opposition) ahead, indeed far ahead, of other names (Nasib Lahhud, Butrus Harb, in that order, etc). That was my point. And also: Lahhud is not equally unpopular in Lebanon. If Toni Morrison (or was it Maya Angelou) once said that Clinton may be the first black president in the US, then Lahhud maybe the first Shi`ite president of Lebanon. I mean that he may not have a Christian constituency--he does not, but may have some solid support among Shi`ites for example. He is really liked among Hizbullah supporters for example for support and services rendered).
#Not all members of the political elite are “puppets” as some of them are in the opposition. Roughly one-third of parliament before Hariri’s assassination was composed of opposition MPs and it has since increased. And if some have switched sides, like Jumblatt, well that’s politics. (Ya Nicholas: even among the 1/3rd of the parliament members who voted against Lahhud this time around, many were puppets at one point or another, and many said words and poems in favor of the Syrian regime--read what they said about the Syrian regime after Basil Al-Asad's death or after Hafidh Al-Asad's death. I wish somebody collects those words in a book for the historical memory of Lebanese people lest they forget about the opportunism and inconsistencies of their leaders. Butrus Harb used to write the fawning pro-Syrian speeches for Ilyas Hrawi as you may remember in the 1990s. We may be talking about degrees of puppetry. You cannot simply say that the switching of sides is "just politics." And you have to concede that some people switched sides not so much due to a principled opposition to Syrian domination in Lebanon but due to personal and turf wars and petty differences with Lahhud. Typical political stuff. Hariri's dispute with Syria was indirect, not direct. It was about his desire to impose his will (as he did during Hrawi's time) on all aspects of Lebanese public policy, and about his desire to bring his own person (Ghattas Khuri) and Syria's desire to keep its own person, as president. This is not to say that Lahhud's opposition to Hariri was always principled or clean. There are no clean hands in Lebanon, but some hands are dirtier than others. And this explains my distance from all Lebanese groups and parties particularly if one is--I am--a firm and absolute secularist and (radical) feminist).
#Why do you think that the transition from Pax Syriana means moving to Pax Americana/Franca? When I wrote of a transition to an “independent political order”, that’s what I meant. It’s up to the Lebanese to debate and decide with whom to ally in the future. That, as I think I explained quite clearly, lies at the heart of Hizbullah’s concern about the change to the status quo. (Why do I think that Lebanon is not moving toward "an independent political order"? Perhaps because I read the papers? Perhaps because I am not fooled that Bush has suddenly--just like that--became enamored with Lebanese "independence" and "sovereignty"? Because I do not believe that Bush wants to "liberate" Palestine and Lebanon? Because I do not believe that France suddenly felt bad about the plight of the Lebanese people? Or is because I have noticed that Satterfield is now a more frequent guest of Lebanon unless you are convinced that he is merely sampling Lebanese dishes of mazza? Or perhaps because US and French records in Lebanon do not make me feel optimistic? Or perhaps because UNSC 1559 is certainly a violation of Lebanese sovereignty, as much as Syria has violated Lebanon's sovereignty? Or perhaps because I notice that the Christian coalition leadership of the opposition (plus Walid Jumblat) are people with actual records--long bloody records in some cases--and political movements are defined by the orientations of the leaderships, and this leadership does not promise "an independent political order" and is not even capable of one, assuming it wants one, which it does not, I strongly believe. Maybe I am too cynical, but I do not think that Amin Gemayyel, Patriarch Sfayr, `Awn, and the Lebanese Forces will ever be able or WILLING to establish an "independent political order." To speak about the "Lebanese" as if the people will make foreign policy alliances is merely poetic.)
#I am not implying that the Shiites are killing Syrian laborers. We have seen manifestations of violence against Syrian workers in all areas of the country, although mainly in the Sunni cities of Sidon and Tripoli. There have been some anti-Syrian acts in Shiites areas, notably the killing of two Syrians in Ghobeiri (Shiite suburb of Beirut) last weekend. Shiite farmers have long resented having to compete with cheaper agricultural imports from Syria. You don’t need a poll to prove that, just talk to the farmers or read the newspaper reports of farmers hurling Syrian tomatoes on the highways. (Yes, there has been resentment against Syrian workers in Lebanon especially when racist and right-wing An-Nahar, among other voices, has been leading a campaign of agitation against them for years, and grossly inflating figures of their size in Lebanon. But it is also true that Syria has been dumping produce in Lebanon, and that affected prices in Mount Lebanon and South Lebanon. I have heard such complaints from AbuKhalil family members in the Tyre region last time I was there last summer. But as I said: the abuse and murder of Syrian workers have occurred in Sunni areas AND Christian areas mostly, if not exclusively. I have not heard of the Ghbayri incident. And as I said: everybody in Lebanon is capable of prejudice; the prejudice of ones with power and wealth can sting more, I would not have minded your reference to South Lebanese or Shi`ite resentment of Syrian workers had you mentioned the racism and abuse of Syrian workers in details).
#I fail to see the relevance of your comment about Hizbullah’s influence in south Lebanon relating to the lack of Syrian troops in south Lebanon. I referred to “Syrian political cover” granting Hizbullah autonomy in the south to pursue its anti-Israel agenda, nothing about Syrian soldiers. I think you misunderstood one of the main points in the article. Hizbullah risks losing its military capabilities if Syria withdraws its “political cover”. Hizbullah does not want to lose its military wing. The shared Hizbullah/Amal electoral lists prior to the municipal elections last year were accepted by Hizbullah as the price of doing business with the Syrians. If Hizbullah and Amal run on rival lists in this year’s parliamentary elections, I suspect that Hizbullah will inflict an even greater defeat on Amal than they I last year. (No: I understood your point here. But I am saying that weapons will continue to flow and the Lebanese Army as you know has also helped Hizbullah. But Hizbullah's political room for action (politically if not militarily) may expand. And you know that Hizbullah (especially at leadership levels) does not have fond memories of Syrian takeover of Beirut in 1987 and the killing of Hizbullah people at the Fathallh barracks. Syria is also responsible for the political order in Lebanon that benefited Amal more than Hizbullah. Hizbullah may now become more ambitious if it finds a context where every sect and every party is rushing to find a turf or zone.)
#Everyone meddles to a greater or lesser degree in Lebanese affairs. But I don’t think it would be too outrageous of me to say that Syrian meddling has outdone US, French, Israeli etc meddling in recent years (i.e. post 1990). (Everybody "meddles". That is my point. But what kind of statement is that? That remind me of Kissinger's phrase "constructive ambiguity" or of the Balfour Declaration's reference to "existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine". Everybody meddles seems to cancel out meddling, or single out--in your article--one meddling over others. And it is not true that everybody meddles. China and Russia do not meddle in Lebanese affairs, and Egypt has not meddled in years. The ones that meddle are primarily: Syria, US, France, and Israel. But your generalization should not minimize Syrian meddling as it should not of US meddling. Also, there are times and charts of meddling. When one goes up, the other goes down, etc. US and French meddling as of late is very very high. Israel (with American support and cover) ran Lebanon in 1983 under Amin Gemayyel.)
#I didn’t write about the Israeli occupation because I was not asked to write about the Israeli occupation. If you want to read what I have written about the Israeli occupation, the Daily Star archives will give you more than enough of my past articles about Hizbullah and the Israelis in south Lebanon to cure the most persistent case of insomnia. (You were not asked to write about Israel but about Lebanon, but yet you wrote of Syria, as you should have, but not about Israel. But how could Israel not figure when Bush, yes Bush, has asked Israel to reduce its statements on Lebanon because it may spoil the US/French scheme for the country. Certainly Syria has its own scheme, but so does Israel and so does US/France. The impact of Israel's past (and presence) is quite substantial on Lebanese political discourse and life, as you know living there).
Best wishes,
Nicholas Blanford