Sunday, January 6, 2008

Internet at last ... Lebanon flashback

The two weeks turned out to be a month, my apologies. Australia's mediocre internet establishment required me to bounce from ISP to ISP until I found something that was adequate in price, and actually functioned in my area.

It also seems apparent that each time I stop writing, someone dies (perhaps I shouldn't give up the blog).

What was interesting about the last casualty - as most fellow bloggers have noted - is that Francois El-Hajj was the first relatively pro-Syrian figure to join the assassinated list.

After two years of assassinations and bombings, neither the March 14 government with the control of the intelligence and security services, nor the Hizballah-led Opposition with their own sophisticated intelligence network, have publicly declared who the perpetrators really are.

If Lebanon attracts anything bar the constant tourists, it's the flurry of foreign secret service agents. This country is a hub for all things intelligence, and it's so aware among Lebanese, as well as the foreigners themselves, that wide transparency is given to their presence. I recall seeing the sparkling black-tinted window CIA vans strolling down the Lebanese highways as if they were just on a casual trip to the office.

So with all these intelligence networks hovering about so comfortably, why is it that two years on, we still have no real suspect to the killings that have taken place?

If Hizballah is smart enough to outsmarten the Mossad - the most sophisticated intelligence organisation in the world - surely it would be able to snuff out the culprits of the ongoing killings and chaos. Likewise the constant funding of March 14's security apparatus, on top of what it inherited from the Syrian-crafted Lebanese intelligence, would surely give them an idea of what goes on in the country.

Could it be that both camps are keeping us, the foolish sheep, in the dark? Could they be carrying out a string of assassinations against each other, with full knowledge of each other's moves, in disguise? A secret civil war already being played out? If that is the case, what is holding them back from going public and declaring outright war? Their international brokers, who aren't prepared to engage in another Middle Eastern conflict?

We often deflect blame on foreign intelligence services for the string of attacks that take place, but have we stopped to suggest that the roles maybe inversed? I am certainly not ruling out international hands in any of the assassinations, but at the same time, we can't excuse the silence and the demonstrated incompetence of the Lebanese parties.

The assassinations are puzzling, but I find it more baffling that both sides, with all their prowess, can simply turn around from each assassination as puzzled as I am.

Benazir Bhutto

Another important figure on the international stage fell victim to the world's chaos during my month break, Benzair Bhutto.

I was on holiday, in my hotel room to be precise, when I first heard the news. Surprisingly, it received wide coverage in Australia's usually soap opera-like news media. I paid close attention to the commercial coverage of Bhutto, as well as the excerpts coming from US and UK news broadcasters (CBS, CNN, BBC etc.). I noticed how each network painted an extremely rosy image of Bhutto, portraying her as a fallen saviour of Pakistan's tyranny and uncertainty, the bearer of democracy and freedom to her people.

Now, I will admit, I am not an expert on the Bhutto family, nor their legacy. I'm aware that they wield immense power, prestige and wealth and hold the title of a traditional elitist family in Pakistan. Her father was assassinated, and she, as well as her husband, were ousted for their corruption. On top of the pile comes the obvious fact that they are backed by the US.

The media's romance with Benazir Bhutto reminded me much of their romance with Rafik al-Hariri. Similar extensive coverage, similar heroic portrayals of Hariri being a saviour for Lebanon. But with Hariri, I knew, and most Lebanese knew, that the Western coverage of Hariri's murder was rather excessive, and times, distorting.

Hariri rebuilt parts of Beirut (the Sunni part, mind you, leaving the Christian and Shi'ite suburbs to rot), yet the Western media were quick to slap the image of him as Lebanon's angel who rebuilt the entire country.

- we all know Hariri was corrupt,
- we all know he plunged the country's economy into a US$40billion debt,
- we all know his government was subservient to the Syrian regime,
- we all know his government never implemented reforms or policies to aid Lebanon's recovery and progression,
- yet coincidentally, his personal wealth exploded during Syria's 15 year reign of Lebanon, whilst the majority of Lebanese continued to squalor in poverty.

The Western media fabricated the pious image of Hariri following his murder, much like their coverage of Bhutto. I can find two powerful similarities between Hariri and Bhutto that may have warranted such a bias coverage from the Western media ... they were both incredibly important individuals, from incredibly strategic countries, that were greatly supported by the West.

So when I watched Australia's soap opera news, I obviously ask myself - was Benazir Bhutto really as innocent and pure as she was portrayed to be?

Then again, I might be wrong, maybe Bhutto was an angel and the Western media was actually telling the truth.

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