Thursday, February 17, 2005

Hariri's Assassination: Thomas Friedman, it seems, not only produces silly and superficial commentaries on world affairs, but he also produces lies. Today, he talks about meeting Hariri in Lebanon in the 1970s when Friedman was covering Lebanon as a foreign correspondent. Friedman forgot to remember that Hariri was in Saudi Arabia at the time, and did not start coming to Lebanon until after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. And the Empire of Principle (US) is now saying this: that Syria should not interfere in Lebanese affairs, and that Lebanon should hold elections without Syrian troops. That was exactly my position on Iraq: And notice that when US officials say those words, no reporters (certainly not in the US media) point the ironies and hypocrisies of the US position. Much has happened since my last post. I will focus first on the assassination of former billionaire prime minister Rafiq Hariri. This was a heinous crime, of course. Car bombs are terrorist weapons, no matter who the target is, and they allway kill innocent people. It is a reckless method by people who are reckless about human life. Former Lebanese Minister Basil Fulayhan was sitting next to Hariri in the car, and he is now in Paris in a very critical condition. I knew Basil since he was 5 years old, and was friends with his brother Ramzi. I did not keep in touch with them, especially as Fulayhan became a key trusted advisor to Hariri. I felt bad for him when he got involved in politics, because he was the most unpolitical and apolitical person I knew. But people are weak vis-a-vis billionaires. The US media, as usual, miss the point. They talk about Hariri as if he was some outspoken critic of Syria. He never was. He was one of many uncritical voices toward Syria, and talked insincerely about Hafidh Al-Asad and his son Bashshar al-Asad as his "close personal friends." Even in his last few weeks of friction with Syria, he never uttered a word against the Syrian government. And Hasan Nasrallah (the leader of Hizbullah revealed in a speech two days ago that he was very close to Hariri and that they were meeting once a week or more, and that he was not close to the "opposition.") In fact, the last interview Hariri gave in As-Safir the day before he was assassinated was also pro-Syrian, and distanced himself from the right-wing opposition that is now trying to claim him. And please, do not buy Jacque Chirac's words to the effect that he was a great fighter for "democracy." Hariri was a great champion of Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi regime and Syria, and during his long rule in Lebanon, he muzzled critical voices: in the labor unions, and in the media. He was instrumental in establishing the juridical basis for Syrian political domination in Lebanon. His disagreement with Lebanese president Emile Lahhud (and consequently with Syria) was over two areas: 1) his strong embrace of cruel and aggressive capitalism and globalization no matter what impact it has over most Lebanese; and 2) petty matters between two typical Lebanese politicians. Right wing Lebanese groups as usual are milking the event for their own purposes, in the hope of an American or Israeli war of "liberation" (we saw how those go in Iraq). Those same right-wing Lebanese groups (like the one by Lebanese-American right-wing fanatic Ziad Abdelnour) were referring to him as recently as today (although the piece was written previously) as somebody who "sold the country to Syria". Kooky Lebanese right-wing sectarian General Michel `Awn repeatedly dismissed him as Syrian "puppet" over the last decade. Now, they want to claim him for their own ends. To galvanize sectarian Muslim and international opinion against Syria and its allies (and clients) in Lebanon, they have to turn him into a life-long enemy of Syria. And his disagreements with Syria only began a few weeks ago. Weeks. In reality, Hariri came into Lebanese politics, or was imposed on Lebanese politics through three factors: 1) Syria; 2) Saudi Arabai; 3) his money. This is a man, no matter what you read especially those reading the Saudi-funded Arabic press, who cynically funded militias of the right, center, and left to further his political ambitions. This is a man who for pure cynical political reasons, embraced right-wing fascist militia leader Eli Hubayqah (trained by Israel and later was the mastermind of the Sabra and Shatila massacres--a man who was a tool of the Israel regime and later became a tool of the Syrian regime--and a man who was killed by a car bomb in Lebanon before leaving for Belgium to testify before a war crime tribunal on his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres and Israel was blamed for the bombing, and Israel was mosly likely behind several car bombings in Lebanon in the last few years that targeted Ahmad Jibril's son, and several middle-ranking leaders of Hizbullah), and Hariri hosted him in his house in Geneva for months at Hariri's expense. I refuse to allow the pro-Saudi coverage of the assassinated Saudi prime minister of Lebanon to obscure the facts. Hariri also used his charitable organizations and foundations to win sympathy and support among the Lebanese people, and to buy votes. How many poor people I met who told me how they receive $100.00 from Hariri campaign officials, and be driven AND WATCHED on election day as they cast the "right" ballot. This is democracy by the rules of Saudi billionaires. His philanthropic contributions declined as he ensured a political space for himself, with strong Syrian support. He had a house in Syria, and allegedly made political and corrupt financial dealings with Syrian officials, and their sons. Is that why Syrian vice-president `Abdul-Halim Khaddam was crying? I do not know. I know that Khaddam used to stay at Hariri's house in Paris, and there were reports that Khaddam's sons benefited from Hariri's wealth. Now who was behind this crime? Let us remember that in the course of the Lebanese civil war, all those parties used car bombs as "weapons": Israel, US, Syria, Lebanese Army Intelligence, Iraq, Libya, Arafat's apparatus, and the various Lebanese militias. So all are capable of doing it. I personally suspect either Syria, or Israel, or Michel `Awn's gangs in Lebanon. If Syria is behind it, it indicates to me that there was a silent unannounced coup in Damascus according to which Bashshar was pushed aside in favor of the more ruthless elements of the regime. If you think about it; the regime may be watching developments in Iraq especially the marginalization not only of the Ba`thists but of the Sunnis and wonder about the future status of the `Alawites in Syria who number no more than 14 % of the population. If Syria was behind, it will indicate a change of the rules "of the game" in Lebanon, and a signal that Syria will fight dirty in Lebanon and elsewhere to preserve the regime. The Syrian regime and their allies in Lebanon have been recently at least stupid and dumb (and who knows if they have been criminal too) in their dealings in Lebanon. As the best Arab columnist Joseph Samah said the other day, Syria and its allies made everything possible to make sure that they are the most suspected party in this crime. While one should reject these crimes and car bombs (there were days when Michael Bakunin quoted in the great E. H. Carr's biography of him said that revolutionary violence requires no more than a rope, a dagger, and poison. Now we live in the era of car bombs, and "strategic bombings" and "collateral damage" and the driving of planes into buildings. Political violence has never been uglier. But one's rejection of those crimes should not mask Hariri's record: of corrupting Lebanese politics more than it has ever been corrupted. He bought media outlets, pens, writers, actors, intellectuals, parliamentarians, and consciences of people. Money was his access to dominance in petty Lebanese politics. I met Hariri once, and he obviously disliked me intensely, and I never was an admirer of him. I spoke against him a lot in the last few years--because very few were speaking against him, and in the last visit to Lebanon New TV (his rival TV station) prominently played my comments against him. Those who are crying on Lebanese TV are crying the man who gave them money: they are the politicians and the tools and clients and slaves of Hariri. I never was one of them. They are not mourning Hariri, they are mourning his wealth, and political money. Of course, there are people in Lebanon who are rightly disgusted by the killing and the car bombing, which brings back the worst images from the Lebanese civil war. Some are worried about the future especially as Hariri wanted Lebanese people to believe that Lebanon will descend into hell if he is out of office. An advisor of him who was a friend of mine, suggested 3 years ago that I interview him as I interview those who are in Lebanese politics. Professor Michael Hudson of Georgetown (and my dissertation advisor) accompanied me when I interviewed his sister Bahiyyah and I am told that Hudson talks about that interview as a classic "How NOT to Conduct Interviews". When I interview the powerful and wealthy, I make a point to be non-courteous and non-polite, and avoid all manners of bourgeois etiquette. I do not want them to think that I want anything from them. So I showed up at the massive Prime Minister's headquarters in Beirut (and please do not say that Hariri rebuilt Lebanon--future Lebanese people rebuilt Lebanon, as Hariri accumulated a foreign debt of $40 billion to "rebuild" Lebanon. His wealth increased while prime minister, while Lebanese were increasingly impoverished under his rule. Pro-Saudi columnist Jihad Khazen urged him to put his wealth in trust fund, but he never did. It was never clear whether Lebanese economic policies or his travels worldwide were about Lebanon or about increasing Hariri's wealth). When she saw me, she did not like it that I was wearing my running shoes. I had to give a long lecture on New Balance shoes 991 and how they are the best for running, and walking and jumping, etc. So I enter his large office, and he was busy snapping at employees. I sat at a table, and he lifted his glasses and looked at me with contempt for daring to sit without being ordered, and for being dressed in jeans in his presence. He invited me to his desk, and I immediately asked: "How do you categorize yourself ideologically? Left, Center, or Right? And what were the factors in your political formation?" He looked at his advisor and was clearly angry at her for brining this jerk (me) to him. He said that he did not know that this was the nature of the meeting. Maybe he thought I just wanted to shake his hand, and take a picture with him, and leave. Or perhaps to offer my brain and my conscience to his services. Maybe that is why he was annoyed. He said that he really had to leave to meet the Speaker of Parliament, and that we can meet later. I said that I was leaving in a few days, but he said that they would call me for a meeting. They never called, of course. and I was not surprised. An uncle was furious: he said that people make money off him, and that I went and got him angry. I later ran into his advisor, and told her that your boss is a liar. She said: no, just busy. What will happen to Lebanon. This may signal the end of the end of the civil war. I never thought that the civil war has ended in Lebanon, and never liked or supported the sectarian agreement produced in At-Ta'if under Saudi/American/Syrian sponsorship. None of the three parties pursued policies I supported in Lebanon. But a resumption of the civil war is out of question for the time being. Hizbullah can take over Lebanon in a few hours. Who will fight whom? Unless, external powers start to arm the right-wing factions. If that occurs, civil wars will resume, and the outcome will not favor either Israel or America or Michel `Awn. Lebanon is such a corrupt country, with such unprincipled people and leaders. And when I hear American and French officials talking about the "freedom" and "sovereignty" of Lebanon, I get the sudden urge to take a shower. I feel the same when I hear the comments of sectarian feudal warlord Walid Jumblat, who has been one of the most loyal clients of Syria, but now is a sudden champion of "sovereignty" and "independence" of Lebanon. He now is speaking against terrorism while his gangs did so much terrorism in Lebanon during the civil war, and his militias killed so many innocent Christians and others. Lebanese politics in the last few months is a great antidote to any nostalgia I may have toward that country. I also do not rule out the possible involvement of fanatical fundamentalist kooks a la Bin Ladenites, especially as his Future TV station was targeted by missiles 2 years ago, as was the Saudi embassy in Lebanon. Also, Hariri was extremely close to Iyad Allawi, who was the last foreign "leader" that Hariri met before his death. Who knows? There are too many dirty hands in Lebanon. Do you also notice that when US talks "sincerely" about Lebanon, it mentions the need for Syrian help in American occupation of Iraq. That is called a position of principles. And some idiot Lebanese, especially the right-wing Maronite Patriarch, believe that US really cares about Lebanon. And could New York Times reporter Hassan Fattah (graduate of New Republic's school of sensivity to Arabs and Muslims) stop making mistakes when he writes about Middle East affairs? Yesterday, he talked a Lebanese-Syrian treaty in 1981, when he meant to say 1991.