Friday, February 18, 2005

The Lebanon I left behind, the Lebanon that I will not return to. I saw Druze sectarian feudal warlord, Walid Jumblat, talk about Rafiq Hariri and Syria on Future-TV. He said that he is nostalgic to the old days of his excellent relations with the Syrian regime. He mentioned his past alliance with the likes of `Abdul-Halim Khaddam and Hikmat Ash-Shihabi. These were the most brutal times of the Syrian regime: the days of the brutal crushing of the Hamah rebellion, the days when motorcycles and running shoes were illegal in Damascus, when Syrian troops crushed by force the PLO-Lebanese National Movement alliance, when the Syrian government perfected the Dulab torture technique, when Syrian troops burnt down the headquarters of the Muharrir newspaper in Beirut, and when his own father was gunned down most likely by Syrian troops. And this warlord now dares to speak about "freedom" and "democracy." He must have learned the meanings of those words in the era of Bush, when Iraq was devastated by US bombings in the name of the same "freedom" and "democracy." And most upsetting to me today, was the news that poor and helpless Syrian workers were attacked in South Lebanon and in North Lebanon. This is Lebanon. A country based on a silly myth; a country that does not have foundations for nationhood or statehood, and yet promotes to itself as an "eternal homeland". They never dared attack those workers when Syrian troops where in Lebanon. These nationalist Lebanese need poor and helpless "foreigners" like Palestinians and Syrians in their midst to beat up, and feel better about that Lebanon. These Syrian workers are doing their "dirty jobs" and being punished for it, just as the Palestinians were victims of the oppressive Lebanese army/intelligence apparatus before the war. Palestinians in Lebanon today are living in subhuman conditions, and the Lebanese still think that they are the most "civilized", that they are better than their neighbors. It is always tempting for the Lebanese to blame their problems on outsiders, to claim innocence about themselves, just as Americans like to attribute innocence to America's role in the world. This is not to absolve the Syrian government of responsibility in Lebanese affairs (and I was awakened to politics when Syria intervened to support the right-wing militias in 1976, and I was filled with rage at the intervention back then when I was 16), but in light of the media coverage, it is important to remember that there were other players too. Israel played a very destructive role in Lebanese affairs, and certainly is responsible for killing more Lebanese and Palestinians than Syria over the years. For some reason, I have been re-reading lately those sources: "Desperate Diplomacy: The Zionist-Maronite Treaty of 1946," by Laura Zittrain Eisenberg in Studies in Zionism, vol 13, no. 2 (1992); "Israel and the Lebanese Phalange: The Birth of a Relationship, 1948-1951," by Benny Morris in Studies in Zionism, vol 3, no. 1 (1984); and Laura Zittrain Eisenberg, My Enemy's Enemy: Lebanon in the Early Zionist Imagination (Detroit: Wayne State University); Israel's Covert Diplomacy in Lebanon by Kirsten E. Schulze. You also have to read the accounts of the Israeli invasion of 1982, by people like Robert Fisk, N. Chomsky, Rashid Khalidi, among others. These sinister interventions by Israel in Lebanese affairs, not to mention its invasions and mini-invasions, do not get the attention they deserve. And I saw a roundtable of journalists on a Lebanese TV station praising Hariri's generosity, and how he used to fly journalists with him, and put them in luxurious hotels at his expense. None of those present noted the ethical problems. Ethics. A mere irrelevant inconvenience in Lebanese politics. There are no heroes in Lebanon. No side to support, or champion. Sectarian and opportunist parties and personalities on all sides. But I reserve a special contempt for the gang of right-wing elements in the so-called opposition. These are the ones who started the war, and who invited the Syrian army in 1976, and the Israeli army and the US in 1982. These are the ones that are most responsible for the agony of Lebanon. I was in favor in their decisive defeat back in 1976. Syria saved them.