Sunday, February 05, 2006

When Danish Cartoons Hit Lebanon: How Hariri Inc Unleashed Al-Qa`idah in Lebanon.
Today, the affair of the Danish Cartoons reached Lebanon. And in Lebanon, always, everything takes a sectarian cast; and every event seems to push the country further to the brink of civil strife. Demonstrators torched the Danish Embassy, but after being-- according to some accounts--provoked (although other accounts deny that there were provocations) by the mighty forces of the Minister of Interior (a Hariri tool whose previous experience was heading the Lebanese delegation of pilgrims). The demonstrators then went on a fanatic and sectarian rampage, and attacked three churches in predominantly Christian areas of Beirut, and destroyed cars and public property, and (according to an official statement) looted fire trucks. (How do you loot a fire truck? Do you just turn on the water hoses, and open your mouth? Or do you just drive away with it, and hope that nobody would notice you parking it in front of your house?) The sectarian agitation was such that some demonstrators would look into cars, and would destroy the car if evidence of Christian ownership was found inside. In one case in Dbayyah, demonstrators on their way back to the North after the end of the demonstrations descended from their bus after spotting a car with a picture of Samir Ja`ja` (a close ally of Sa`d Hariri, and leader of the Lebanese Forces militia), and beat up the two passengers inside. Both had to be admitted into the hospital. Angry Christian residents took up sticks and stones, and guns according to some accounts. Chants were heard calling for the (re)formation of militias. The Hariri camp (including a dazed and confused Jumblat) and their right-wing Lebanese Forces allies did what they expect them to do: they now operate by the playbook of the Phalanges militias of 1975, when they blamed all the problems of Lebanon on “Syrians and Palestinians”. Back then, it was common to blame either Palestinians or Henry Kissinger for all the problems of Lebanon. Today, Jumblat blamed all the problems on “Palestinians and Syrians,” and he singled out—to his eternal shame—the “Syrian workers”. Others, Michel `Awn, blamed “nawar”, a pejorative word for the Roma people (or gypsies). But at least `Awn made sense when he said that no matter who did the burning and the destruction, it is the Lebanese government that is responsible. I know that I now feel vindicated given my early mocking of the Hummus Revolution, when I had to withstand attacks by those who were certain that the Lebanese people are now united after the withdrawal of the “Syrian menace” from Lebanon. I don’t relish being right, nor do I enjoy regularly predicting that things will only get worse in that fiction of a homeland. Another small episode reminded me of civil war signs: when the Beirut-Damascus highway was closed off at Kahhalah by angry residents: the residents (not all of them, but many of them) historically have been a very militant bunch, loyal to the most extreme right-wing sectarian ideologies of the country. They once stopped trucks carrying Qur’ans, and set them on fire before the civil war, and they regularly shot at cars or buses carrying Palestinians. But on the other side, Al-Qa`idah is now in Lebanon, and it is making its presence public. Ad-Diyar newspaper reported two days ago that the Lebanese government is deliberately, and for political reasons, not revealing the details of their interrogation of an Al-Qa`idah cell which may be linked to the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. Yesterday, in one demonstration near Sidon, supporters of Zarqawi (the lead speaker called him “my Shaykh, and my Amir”) chanted the most fanatic and murderous slogans, calling for the death of people of different nationalities. I argue that Hariri Inc, especially the parliamentary campaign in North Lebanon, set off the most sectarian tensions and conflicts in society. It started it all, and unleashed Al-Qa`idah fanatics on and in Lebanon. You see, the acute sectarian mobilization and agitation that was led by Hariri Inc, entailed a cooptation by Hariri Inc, of most extreme Sunni fanatical groups in North Lebanon, and the Biqa`. Hariri Inc, it has to be noted (and this was noted by the latest ICG report on Lebanon) bailed out members of Al-Qa`idah who were sitting in Lebanese jails. Anything to win the election in North Lebanon. To avenge his dather’s death, and to win elections, mini-Hariri was and is willing to destroy Lebanon, and bring it to ruin. Not out of calculation or deliberate planning. He is too intellectually and mentally inept for that. But he is careless and way too ignorant. What does he know? Mini-Hariri may have spent $100 million in Lebanon in that election. So to guarantee victory, mini-Hariri co-opted all those extreme Sunni groups in Tripoli, Dinniyyah, and Biqa`. Many were Bin Ladenite or Hizb At-Tahrir type, and did not mind getting the money. Some (the fools among the allies of Hariri) assumed that Hariri would moderate the crowd, and that he would control them (yes, from his Hotel in France). One newspaper today reported that this may be a sign of how unhappy some Sunnis are with Hariri Inc’s alliances and political orientations. What was most embarrassing—for mini-Hariri--today about the affair was the fact that this demonstration was organized by the clerics of Hariri Inc (those loyal to the Sunni Mufti—a mere Hariri tool). This explains why mini-Hariri praised those “virtous” (afadil, they must have fed him this new word today) among the demonstrators. Those were his people after all, no matter how much they talk about the 30 or so Syrians or Palestinians who will be blamed for everything. But Lebanese newspapers, including the anti-Syrian An-Nahar, made it very clear that this was a Lebanese (Sunni) political affair, and one reporter (very anti-Syrian, Muhammad Abu Samra) talked about the “activists” coming mostly from the Arab University of Beirut in Tarqi Al-Jadidah (a Hariri stronghold in West Beirut). And we need to know about the organizers of the demonstration. Most of them identified with a new group that used the name Al-Jama`ah As-Salafiyyah, trying to distinguish itself from Al-Jama`ah Al-Islamiyyah (the Lebanese Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood). The flags and the style were quite Wahhabi. The movement about the cartoon is not entirely spontaneous, as I had argued. I have never ever seen Arab oppressive forces being as nice to demonstrators as I saw them in Jordan and Syria in recent days. It is just so damn easy to pick on Denmark, and to boycott Denmark. The scene today was quite alarming. Lebanon is closer today to civil strife than any other day. I would not argue that eruption of hostilities will be avoided; the signs are quite ominous. One can’t tell what will happen, but the leaders all the parties are sectarian in their leaderships and organizations, and all are willing to engage in further sectarian agitation if it will further their political positions. All of them. And the "leadership" of mini-Hariri makes me worried; and Bush's intervention in Lebanon also makes me worried. (The coverage of Hassan Fattah makes me even more worried). The attacks on churches indicate that the so-called Lebanese unity (a tune sung by the Washington Post, Bush, and Hariri propaganda outlets) was, and is, a myth. War is really under the surface; it is a matter of what will constitute the “Sarajevo” of the civil war, or what will be the `Ayn Ar-Rummanah Bus, that ignited the civil war in 1975. It could be anything; nobody can predict such events. I looked closely at the signs and chants of the demonstrators in Lebanon today. Danish cartoons, for many in the Arab world—demonstrators and governments alike—have become pretexts, or opportunities, this without denying the real hurt felt by many Muslims over the cartoons. And then there is Walid Jumblat: Walid Jumblat, of all people, talking about the protection of churches. Do you know that his Mukhatarah palace contains relics and bells from churches that his militias rampaged in the War of the Mountains? The leader of the militia that did most of the massacres of Christians and destruction of churches in the history of the Lebanese civil war? The man who still talks about Christians (in private—you may quote me on this one) with utter contempt and condescension? He, of all people, wants to speak about sectarian harmony and brotherhood/sisterhood in Lebanon? This is like Bush speaking about science. And yesterday when he named the Syrian workers as culpable in the attacks and mayhem in Beirut, he was risking the lives of the poor Syrian workers in Lebanon. But he also already bears responsibility for attacks on Syrian workers in Lebanon that took place in areas under the control of his sectarian militias. Next time there is another round of violence, Syrian workers will be attacked again, and Jumblat should be held responsible, but he will not. He rules supreme in his sectarian enclave. If civil war erupts in Lebanon, it will not be like 1975; it will be more like the 1980s: when different mini-civil wars spread throughout Lebanon. Yesterday, Maronite supporters of `Awn and supporters of Lebanese Forces almost clashed; the Maronites of Kahhalah and the Sunnis of Biqa` almost went to war. And a few days ago, Shi`ites of Hizbullah clashed with Druzes of PSP in Shuwayfat area. Those incidences can’t be swept under the Persian rug, or simply and robotically blamed on Syria and Syrian workers as Jumblat (and the Lebanese government) is doing. This is typical of Lebanese sectarian leaders: they have to blame outsiders. They have to feign innocence, even whey they are planning massacres. That was the history of the civil wars; that has been the history of Lebanon.
My friend Fadi (a well-connected Lebanese from Tripoli) wrote in an email this today:

“[MP `Abdullah] Farhat was beaten up at Kahalah and was told to go back to his "lap master, [Walid] Jumblatt"...
The Lebanese can blame the Syr-Palest-Bedouins all they want .... The reality is:
(1)Dar El Fatwah is terribly embarassed (Sabaa' even winked in that direction). Most trouble makers were from NORTH LEBANON, a sign that Mustaqbal's [Hariri’s bloc] hold on the "mercurial" Sunnis is slipping ... Let me see Ahmad [Fatfat, Hariri acting Minister of Interior] keep these on a leach.
(2) [Hasan] Sabaa' [Minister of Interior] being the Genius as he always is said: that when he was at the Mufti's ... the LBCI woman was present, ... so Samir Geagea's calls for his resignation.... are like "in cahoots" with the Mustaqbal ... (that was funny)
(3) Hezballah (Shiaa's in general) comes strong: Even [Hasan] Sabaa' [Minister of Interior] said that he thanked the Shiaa's (Hezb) for keeping their side of the bargain .. but that "others" ([Dar Al-]Fatwa) did not!
(4) The US's policy (in Lebanon) can kiss my ................... when it's not even swept!
(5) Chirac has promised Nazek Hariri that he will oversee some results before his term ends!”

Finally, I have not changed my mind. Angry Arab is NOT boycotting Denmark. Even if you are outraged at the cartoons--and I still choose to be outraged at poverty, foreign occupation, and oppression, what is the justification of punishing the country of Denmark as a whole?