Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Admittedly, I have never been much of a museum buff, but - as a history lover - I admire and respect art's historical significance, particularly in its contribution to the formation of cultural and national identity. But before you read on, I must stress that I am no art expert.
Having already exhausted much of French art - courtesy of my museum-addict French partner - I decided to take a glimpse at Norwegian culture and history through the eyes of its museums and galleries.
What I found surprised me, and I returned home from my cultural outing with a more enchanted image of Norway and Norwegian culture. Expecting a French-style portrayal of a glorious past, a noble aristocracy, and a fairytale image of one's nation, Norwegian art demonstrated a striking humility, of a peasant struggle in the harsh Norwegian terrain, where family bonds were enforced.
Much of the 19th century Norwegian art on display depicted a poor, humble, yet traditional society whose primary challenge was survival in the difficult, but beautiful natural Norwegian landscape. Little there were of grand wars or battles against conquerors, despite the infamous tales many Norwegians will tell you of Danish and Swedish occupation.
I find it incredibly interesting how nations perceive themselves, which is often expressed in a country's celebrated art. How nations perceive themselves and their history, whether it be true or mythical, can certainly influence how such nation-states behave on the international scene.
Let's take the French vs Norwegian national art, for example.
France - through its art - likes to constantly remind the world of its glorious history as a former colonial power, a historic European power, and a great world power. It revels in its pride in an attempt to contend with long-time rivals, such as England, or Spain, or Germany. Indeed, you can't escape the overpowering sense of arrogance when one stumbles on French art. Even its impressionists, albeit 'rebels' of their time, always attempted to display French culture in a fanciful light, such as the colourful depictions of French bourgeois life on the banks of the Seine.
Norway, as I stated, portrays itself in a completely different manner. Its national art seeks to emphasise the humility of Norwegian culture, and play down any notion of a noble aristocracy. Indeed, Norwegian history doesn't partake in the same glory of fellow Europeans. For starters, Norway was not a colonial power, and spent much of the renaissance/modern era under either Danish or Swedish rule. Up until the discovery of its vast oil reserves in the mid-20th century, Norway was still a relatively poor state.
The 19th century was also the century where European nationalisms were beginning to gather momentum, and European powers were digging through its historical archives to construct a national identity. Bind this with the romanticism of the 19th century, and suddenly everyone has a rosey view of themselves.
Whether French or Norwegian art is a genuine reflection of one's culture and history is not the point here, but it's the self-perceptions such arts propagate, its important role in constructing national identity, and its contribution to the subsequent behaviour of these states.
Is France still arrogant, and Norway the humble? Well, the French still like to overemphasise their role in world politics, whereas the Norwegians have spent much of the past few decades constructing an international image of the peacemaker and humanitarian.
Did I need to go into French and Norwegian museums to know this? Most probably not, but it does highlight how powerful and manipulative art can be in constructing a nation's identity and purpose. What I realised about national, celebrated art is that the message being relayed to the viewer is not what truly is France or Norway, but what France or Norway should be, what they represent.
National art is like a distorted mirror that enhances one's rather unrevealing looks. A skewed view of one's self, or an all-out lie, it is nevertheless incredibly effective in reinforcing a believable image that unites all.
Then I think of an artificial post-colonial project like Lebanon, a country severely lacking a national identity, or any real purpose to give its existence any credence. If we were to paint a distorted image of ourselves in an attempt to construct a national identity that binds us all, what would it be? How would we see ourselves? And would it work?
Friday, November 6, 2009
Throughout the lecture, I thought strenuously about how to tie civil society to Lebanon's political instability, and what positive role it could play in mitigating the potential/effects of conflict in the country.
I have commented on the emergence of a civil society in Lebanon before, but it is something that has gone largely unnoticed by many analysts, including the researchers at PRIO.
Admittedly, civil society in Lebanon is a development-in-progress, thus difficult to measure in terms of influence. However, the question needs to be asked: can civil society in Lebanon gel the country together and prevent a recurrence of violence?
I have had private discussions with other Lebanese on this issue - many of whom I would consider within this civil society rationale - and most concede that civil society in Lebanon is still too small, too insignificant, and too new to be able to effect change.
Indeed, this may be so, but the workings of a new civil society in a country that previously never had an independent arena for critical voices and opinions would take years to solidify, perhaps decades.
Nevertheless, civil society in Lebanon has propelled since the Syrian withdrawal in 2005 and endured four years of heightened political tension and a war with Israel. Whilst local hegemons and regional powers were playing chess with Lebanon's political institutions, social movements emerged as a backlash to the prevailing situation. Such movements promoted the core daily issues confronting Lebanese that simply lost its significance amidst the political wranglings of corrupt warlords, and their grand causes.
Women's rights, GLBT, human rights, and environmental groups, as well as independent academic discourse/citizen journalism, have coalesced in recent years to create an independent space for free critical thought on contemporary Lebanese society and politics.
This development is not intentional, but rather incidental. In Lebanon's case, the emergence of civil society is a consequence of years of frustration at the lack of progress on the political and economic level, and highlights a disconnect between the elites that demand our loyalty and a society moving in a different direction.
Indeed, the majority of Lebanese remain in the grasp of their local chieftain, but even the smallest chip away from this reality is worthy of mention and, more importantly, nurture. Lebanese civil society presents an alternative to the sectarian, tribal, hedonistic culture that has dominated - and destroyed - Lebanon since independence.
Now the question is: how to shift this alternative into the mainstream?
Thursday, September 24, 2009
A transcript of his entire speech can be found here.
The most controversial parts of his speech that caused dismay among Westerners were his criticisms of Israel and the US' involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here's an excerpt:
How can one imagine that the inhuman policies in Palestine may continue; to force the entire population of a country out of their homeland for more than 60 years by resorting to force and coercion; to attack them with all types of arms and even prohibited weapons; to deny them of their legitimate right of self-defense, while much to the chagrin of the international community calling the occupiers as the peacelovers, and portraying the victims as terrorists. How can the crimes of the occupiers against defenseless women and children and destruction of their homes, farms, hospitals and schools be supported unconditionally by certain governments, and at the same time, the oppressed men and women be subject to genocide and heaviest economic blockade being denied of their basic needs, food, water and medicine.Apart from the last part - which refers to the conspiracy that Jews rule the world - I really don't see the issue here. What has happened/is happening to the Palestinians can't be disputed. I don't think the Palestinian spokespeople, or even Iran's major rival in the region in Saudi Arabia, would argue the case differently.
They are not even allowed to rebuild their homes which were destroyed during the 22-day barbaric attacks by the Zionist regime while the winter is approaching. Whereas the aggressors and their supporters deceitfully continue their rhetoric in defense of human rights in order to put others under pressure. It is no longer acceptable that a small minority would dominate the politics, economy and culture of major parts of the world by its complicated networks, and establish a new form of slavery, and harm the reputation of other nations, even European nations and the U.S., to attain its racist ambitions.
The German FM labelled Ahmedinijad a disgrace, and that he may be, but what is even more disgraceful is the West's complicity in the suffering of the Palestinian people whilst espousing the grand hypocritical ideals of human rights.
The rhetoric of Ahmedinijad was not unexpected. However, what has differed this speech from previous Ahmedinijad rants at the UN was - as the NY Times noted - the few conciliatory remarks that may pave the way for constructive dialogue with the US. This is what the West should be focusing on, instead of stubbornly walking out of an international forum.
As Mohamad Bazzi highlighted on the Huff Post, Ahmedinijad's rhetoric is aimed at the Arab audience, a means to improve his and Iran's populist stature within the Arab world. Iran has benefited significantly since the Iraq invasion of being the only Islamic power to 'appear' to stand up to Israel and the US, whereas Arab states have grossly failed in this regard.
Having popular Arab support on its side enables Iran to exert greater influence in the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine good examples).
Slamming Israel at every opportunity and championing the cause of the Palestinians is the greatest way to mobilise Arab popular support, and Ahmedinijad successfully does it over and over again. A dozen Western delegates may have walked out of the UN chamber, but millions of Arabs will be praising Ahmedinijad tonight.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Hezballah's operations are generally confined to the IDF posts along the border, and usually involve casualties.
The attack prompted a round of Israeli shells hitting an empty field as an expected retaliation. It also drew some warnings and complaints from the corrupt, right-wing hawk Netanyahu, blaming the Lebanese government for this violation.
Mr. Netanyahu, which government are you referring to exactly?
Lebanon has been run by a caretaker government for the past three moments, i.e., no one. Our political oligarchs are still scrambling over which seats to grant to whom.
Netanyahu seemed so determined to blame the non-existent Lebanese government that he even repeatedly rang the residents of South Lebanon to tell them so. The Israeli PM also threatened that he won't hold back the "next time".
But with Obama pressing Israel to quieten its fronts and find a solution so he can concentrate on Afghanistan, I doubt Netanyahu is going to be as trigger-happy as he would like.
Israel's whinge about Lebanese violations of the cease-fire stinks of total hypocrisy. Not many days have passed since the end of the July 2006 war where Israeli fighter jets have not violated Lebanese airspace and taunted residents below.
As for the amateur rocket attack itself, I can't offer any support for this act.
With the South still recovering from the last Israeli blitzkrieg, it's preferable that we don't poke an Israeli cabinet with far-right ministers (if there's one thing to know about far-right politicians, they're capable of anything in any circumstance). The current Israeli government needs to be isolated in its extremism for it to fail politically, and for that to occur, our extremists need to keep quiet.
Another meaningless tit-for-tat, let's leave it at that.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
An excellent editorial (below) in The Daily Star expresses exactly how I, and many Lebanese, feel about the joke that is Lebanon's politics.
An overhaul of the system is exactly what is required to end 66 years of political farce. But we shouldn't and cannot wait for our politicians, or clowns, to "lead" us into an age of stability and prosperity. My post yesterday pointed to the emergence in recent years of civil society and local movements. Lebanese society is slowly distancing itself from the old, mafioso political elite that has offered nothing to the Lebanese people but rhetoric, economic mismanagement, war and constant instability. The above editorial in a Lebanese paper demonstrates that sections of the public are becoming more and more disenchanted from the wranglings of the political oligarchs, perhaps marking the beginning of a break from our hedonistic culture where warlords and chieftains are idolised to the extreme, in Arabic za'im. To put it simply, no one cares anymore.
Spare us the agony of this freak-show called 'governance' in Beirut
The Daily Star
The ongoing effort to form a government in Lebanon several months after the parliamentary elections is a joke that just isn’t funny anymore. It is no wonder that so many Lebanese citizens have chosen to tune out all talk about the cabinet, rather than continue watching this sad spectacle unfold. After rounds and rounds of negotiations, the clowns who call themselves politicians have gotten themselves nowhere but into a cul de sac. If Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s proposed lineup is rejected, he will bow out of his duties, but the Parliament will re-elect him to repeat the whole process, which will likely end in another failure. This pathetic exercise makes the task of Sisyphus – who in Greek mythology was condemned for eternity to roll a huge bolder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again – look productive.
Both the opposition and the parliamentary majority share responsibility for the current deadlock. Yet neither camp is acknowledging the real reasons that governance in Beirut so often resembles a circus event. It’s not just the clowns, or the politicians, who create a freak-show environment it’s the circus ring itself – or Lebanon’s political system – that encourages politicians to act this way.
The only long-term solution to Lebanon’s perineal political woes is to completely overhaul the system That means drafting a new electoral law that provides a basis for genuine representation in the government and creating mechanisms for actually implementing the long-ignored clauses of the Taif Accord.
To do that we need a government, but not just any old government. Such important decisions can never be taken without unanimity – or at least broad consensus – among Lebanon’s multiple factions.
President Michel Sleiman can spare us the agony of watching this freak-show of attempted governance any longer by proposing a three-month unity cabinet that takes on the challenge of building a functional political system. Such a temporary government could then work on the urgent tasks of implementing the Taif Accord and drafting a new electoral law before being disbanded in preparation for the creation of a new cabinet. After this exercise, any newly created cabinet would be equipped with tools for actually governing the country, as opposed to merely embarrassing its citizens.
The only alternative to this suggestion is to engage in what Albert Einstein’s defined as insanity – to keep doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.
We know that the current system has produced failure upon failure. It continues to lead us to the brink of conflict, and it has inhibited our development and progress. The Lebanese deserve much better – both from their politicians and the political system in which they operate.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The country has boasted about its return on the tourist map, with record numbers holidaying in Lebanon this summer (mainly expats and rich Gulf Arabs).
Beirut's nightlife is getting rave reviews in many circles as things seem to be getting back on track after years of political instability and a war with Israel in 2006. However (there's always an 'however'), with Beirut's emerging night scene comes with it an ugly side, as covered by this insightful article from the AFP ... Lebanon's booming prostitution network.
Tourists flocking to the country, coupled with economic depression and political instability has meant more young girls are being swallowed up in the sex trade, often with no limits and little chance of escape.
In a country that "officially" deems prostitution illegal, and operates a moral police unit, those who enter the sex line of work often have no protection, no rights and are completely ostracised from a wider community that still holds religious values extremely high. In other words, these young girls are often left at the mercy - or lack thereof - of their "pimps". What appeared most disturbing in the AFP article was that, in some cases, prostitution is within the family at the helm of abusive, poor husbands.
But something the article didn't pick up on was that prostitution has always been a feature of Lebanon. During my time in the country, young men my age would often profess their desire to sleep with a "hooker", only because Lebanese girls in the village were out of reach due to traditional values.
Although I was immediately repulsed by this, it seemed quite common for a young man to prove his manhood sexually (albeit with a prostitute) and boast about it, while a young woman would be held in high esteem if she retained her virginity until marriage. A young man to be a virgin, or a young woman not to be a virgin, equally drew the ire from the community.
There's no shortage of gender stereotyping in Lebanon.
It does show, however, that while our political elites fluff about power sharing, social and economic matters on the ground level are largely left untouched. Despite media, NGO and civil society efforts, there is little hope for the many young girls from impoverished families now stuck in the tragic world of forced and abusive prostitution.
Lesbian mag back onboard
But not all is bad news in the evolving Lebanese society. The Arab world's first lesbian magazine, Bekhsoos, is set for a relaunch by the Lebanese lesbian group, Meem, after an initial hiccup - as reported here in the LA Times. It follows the successful emergence of the first Arab gay rights movement, Helem.
The absence of effective governance in the country has prompted citizens to fill the void via a civil society that is now attempting to tackle the tough social issues head on. It's promising to see the emergence of civil movements in Lebanon, whether they're proponents of gay rights, women's rights, pension rights, or simply a counter-voice to the dominant political sectarianism.
There are those in the country - albeit a minority - that are determined to push Lebanon ahead regardless of the political climate. Whether our politicians wake up and jump on board is another matter, but the expansion of our civil society should continue nonetheless. Here's to Bekhsoos !
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I wonder if this is endemic among other Lebanese, particularly those of us who have been able to break the sectarian shackles and make sense of the situation.
As an editor once told me, I am Australian but my heart is in Lebanon. There is no denying that, but throughout the time I have spent writing, analysing, commenting and reading about Lebanon, many moments arise when I've put the pen down and said enough. Enough, I can't write anymore, I can't read anymore.
The repetitive cycle of corruption, tribalism and sectarianism that has engulfed Lebanon for its entire 66 year existence often makes one question whether his/her efforts are really worth the trouble. Despite a growing voice and an emerging Lebanese civil society - both domestic and abroad - criticising this deeply ingrained cycle, we are still confronted with the same garbage.
After several months of my latest "I can't stand Lebanon" phase, which saw my blog dry up, my tweets halt, and my freelance work evaporate, I decided to peak through the latest Lebanese news. The first thing I read was a threat by Nasrallah against, more or less, the entire country should Hizballah be implicated in the Hariri assassination. I closed the screen, and returned to my self-imposed "I can't stand Lebanon" state.
Regardless of my attempts to distance myself from this unfortunate country, however, Lebanon always finds a way to remind me of why it remains an integral part of who I am - and why I can't simply abandon my heritage.
This week my parents return to their homeland after 32 years in an emotional reunion with past loved ones, and a reconciliation with forgotten - and often painful - memories. It's a step many Lebanese emigrants have taken since the war ended in 1990. For my parents, it took a lot longer. I was brought up with their love, and hate, for Lebanon, which perhaps explains my own love-hate relationship with the country.
Being part of the post-civil war generation exposed me to the reeling tension, pain and anger that those who experienced the war have carried on. For much of my childhood, I was more or less incorporated into this cycle of anger:
"You must hate this faction, they killed your family"
"You must hate that faction, they betrayed your country"
"You must love this leader, he is the champion of our cause"
"You must hate, you must love, you must hate, you must love"
"You are Lebanese, never forget that"
"We love Lebanon"
It wasn't until my mid-teens where I began to question this cycle of love-hate and wartime anger, and began to ask why. Why should I hate them? Why should I love you? How are they different from us? Did we not all kill? Did we not all suffer?
Now I began to hate Lebanon for different reasons. I hated Lebanon because it refused to break with the past and start anew. I hated Lebanon for poisoning my generation with its war venom, and instilling hate in a young generation that has no recollection of the war. I hated Lebanon because it didn't want to learn from its mistakes, but instead felt comfortable to repeat the same errors over and over.
For a time, it seemed the love-hate relationship significantly swayed towards hate. All the more reason why my parents return to the country this week has been so important, because for the first time in a long time, I have been reminded of the reasons why I love Lebanon.
After three decades in a foreign country, creating a new life with a new family, my parents have demonstrated that the love for their homeland, for their past, far outweighed the pain the war brought. Although it seemed at times that Lebanon was a distant memory to them, they never forgot who they were, and where they came from. Wars and massacres aside, there was enough beauty in Lebanon to lure them back.
Perhaps there's enough beauty in the country to keep me tied to Lebanon as well. One can only hope.
Friday, June 19, 2009
I am nearing the end of the exam period, but I will be embarking on a little voyage of South East Asia in July/August before moving to Norway for a period of 6 months for further study.
So as a forewarning, my blogging and journalistic endeavours in the second half of 2009 will be just as sporadic as the first half.
HOWEVER, to balance the time consuming studies with my great urge to share my voice with the world, I am now using Twitter more frequently, particularly when major events in the region occur (i.e. Lebanese and Iranian elections).
You will notice a scroll of my Tweets to the right of the page if you are not on Twitter (and I strongly recommend you to join as it is the new phase of citizen journalism), and if you are on Twitter, please add me:
Sunday, June 7, 2009
As I'm not in Lebanon at the moment, I am in a similar boat to many of you: sitting on my screen surfing through a haystack to find some good on-the-ground English reporting. I've all but ruled out the Western media, who never really understand what's going on-the-ground in Lebanon (i.e. Australian reporters based in Beirut have in the past called me in Australia to ask for information in the country, even though I'm on the other side of the planet).
I think most of the world is expecting a March 8 (Hezbollah, FPM et al) victory, but if there's a country to pull surprises, it's Lebanon.
The US hasn't fully endorsed co-operation with a Hezbollah-led government, but Jimmy Carter certainly believes it should and so do I. Israel will also need to deal with this reality, and be aware that any military response to a Hezbollah victory will only empower the Shi'ite group in the country.
As for the elections thus far, some cheating has been reported, but that's natural in a country drenched in corruption. I'm just praying no one kills each other today.
Anyway, good English-language sources for those who want to keep updated are:
- Sharek961 (the best election coverage site I have found)
- Qifa Nabki's blog (an English-language Lebanese blog offering live coverage today)
- The FPM forum (although partisan, this is an excellent and very quick English source for election results if you can ignore the political rhetoric)
- Twitter (search #lebanonelections)
- Blacksmiths of Lebanon (again, quick updates, but biased towards March 14)
For a list of candidates and their affiliation, click here.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Some choice for the Lebanese voter.
Are we really that devoid of an intellectual, political class? Are our bloody warlords and corrupt billionaires the only options we have?
Good luck to the winner this weekend, it sure won't be Lebanon.
PS. Sincere apologies for my long absence, I have been absolutely swamped with my post-graduate studies. My blogging/media work has taken a backseat to trying to 'theorise' the problems in the Middle East.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The STUC press release can be read here.
Scotland today joined Ireland and South Africa when the Scottish Trade Union Congress, representing every Scottish trade union, voted overwhelmingly to commit to boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. This is the third example of a national trade union federation committing to BDS and is a clear indication that, while Israel can kill Palestinians with impunity and Western support, it has lost the battle for world public opinion. It is now seen to be a state born out of ethnic cleansing and still expanding through the violent dispossession of the Palestinian people.
Speaker after speaker expressed intense anger at Israel’s butchery of 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza over the New Year, as well as the much longer history of Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The vote followed a visit to Israel/Palestine by an STUC Delegation in March which heard from a wide range of trade union and other bodies and returned with a unanimous recommendation that the parent body adopt BDS.
The STUC move to a position of BDS followed debate on the Delegation report with affiliated unions as well as consultations across Scotland. There were written and oral submissions from Zionist as well as human rights bodies.
The commitment to BDS was made despite aggressive lobbying by Zionist groups, including an absurd warning that a commitment to active support for Palestinian human rights would lead to attacks on Scottish Jews, and the parachuting into Scotland of the Histadrut’s Head of Communications from Israel.
The STUC’s new position is a dramatic breakthrough which has the potential to greatly accelerate the boycott campaign already underway in Scotland against, for example, Israeli companies and sporting or cultural visits. The Scottish Government earlier in the year yielded to public concerns and cancelled a trade delegation to Israel.
It will also make easier the task of building a mass boycott campaign across the land surface of Scotland, in every town and small community, in every supermarket and every sporting and cultural event.
Israel’s New Year mountain of corpses in Gaza, together with its frequent murder of unarmed civilians across Palestine was only the latest in a long series of Israeli massacres. We may be unable to stop the next one, but our job of building the sort of mass BDS campaign that can confront Israeli violence with a countervailing force has just become easier. An aroused world opinion is increasingly ready to ensure that all don’t die in vain.
We can only offer hope to the hard-pressed Palestinians that their freedom is coming, however long Israel and its allies work to delay it.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The West made it clear from the beginning that it would not tolerate criticism, albeit legitimate, of Israel.
Half of the Western governments didn't show up (including the US, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands), and the other half (Britain and France) simply walked out when Ahmedinejad began his talk.
The Western media has toed the line of their governments, and are in uproar over the Iranian president's comments.
But what did Ahmedijenad actually say?
Quotes of Ahmedijenad's speech from the Washington Post:
- Israel is a "paragom of racism" founded on "the pretext of Jewish sufferings during World War II." (nothing wrong about that)
- He criticised the UN Security Council's five permanent powers by stating that "such powerful countries condemn racism in words, but by their deeds they ridicule and violate all laws and humanitarian values." (pretty accurate so far)
-"Following World War II, they [Israel] resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless, on the pretext of Jewish sufferings and the ambiguous and dubious question" of the Holocaust. They sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world, in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine. And in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racists, in Palestine." (again, nothing incorrect here)
- In regards to Zionism, he said: "their domination to the extent that nothing can be done against their will. So long as Zionist domination continues, many countries, governments and nations will never be able to enjoy freedom, independence and security. As long as they are at the helm of power, justice will never prevail in the world and human dignity will continue to be offended and trampled upon. It is time the ideal of Zionism, which is the paragon of racism, be broken." (true, how else has Israel been able to avoid international scrutiny for six decades?)
Ahmedinejad didn't deviate from the obvious, didn't descend into anti-Jewish vitriol, nor did he racially attack Jews. So why the furore?
Hundreds of thousands worldwide protested against Israel's racism in Western capitals throughout the Gaza war. Yet, Western governments continue to remain blind and deaf to Israel's racist policies.
The fact that the West has chosen to plug its ears demonstrates not only its hypocritical selectivity in regards to Israel and the Middle East, but speaks volumes of the distance that exists between the West and the Arab/Islamic world.
Ahmedinejad's comments have been echoed on the Arab street since Israel's inception. Hezballah and Hamas have extraordinary popularity in the Arab world for a reason. The Palestinian cause arouses high emotion in the Arab street for a reason ... Israel's racist policies and apartheid treatment of Palestinians.
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami came to Australia a few weeks ago urging the West to treat the developing world as equal. No dialogue of civilisations can take place, he said, whilst one civilisation subjects the other to inferior status. The Western walkout on Iran's speech at Durban II indicates that the Western superior complex still prevails. The West continues to snub the sentiments of injustice and anger felt by the Arab and Muslim world. The walkout is but an example of that continuation.
The West didn't storm out of Durban II due to Iran, it did so because it doesn't want to hear the truth. Western governments are surrounded by the brutal facts of the Middle East, but will continue to shelve such facts in support of Israel's apartheid regime. The West is just as culpable of the Palestinian suffering as Israel.
As far as truth goes, Iran's president couldn't be closer to it. Whilst the West flaps its wings about human rights and racism, when the crunch comes its interests come first. At present, the Zionist influence in the Western world has curbed their interests towards Tel Aviv. That takes precedence over every human right, particularly that of an Arab.
Shame, shame, shame indeed.
An excellent article on this in Australia's The Age by Professor John Langmore, the president of the UN Association in Australia:
Opponents have been claiming recently that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has been invited to give a keynote address to the conference. It is true that, like all heads of member states, he has been invited to attend and, as a head of state, will be entitled to speak in the opening plenary session as will any other heads of state who attend. But he has received no courtesy beyond that given to every head of state or government.
The opponents of the conference have been highly organised. The Australian Government has received hundreds of letters opposing participation. The media too have been inundated with criticism of the meeting. As often happens in such situations, the supporters have been much less well organised, which gives the impression that staying away would have less political cost than attending.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Once the gem of the Arab world, Mubarak has turned the great Egypt into an embarrassment.
Boasting a large population, and receiving more than US$2billion in US aid on an annual basis, Egypt should be leading the Arabs on every level. But it isn't.
The vast majority live below the poverty line, and are hungry and restless. Falling into line with most Arab dictators, Mubarak has splashed his extraordinary wealth on resorts, villas, palaces and an extensive security service that is effectively keeping 80 million Egyptians from storming the Presidential Palace.
The infrastructure is crumbling, and to cut even further at the heart of Egyptian pride, the country's natural gas deposits are being sold to arch rival Israel at a lower-than-market rate. Freedom is nonexistent, torture and kidnappings are rampant, and the Egyptian people are struggling to put food on their plates. The country's middle class has dwindled.
To compare with another Arab dictator, such as Saddam Hussein, Mubarak is among the worst. For all his shortcomings, Saddam invested in the country's infrastructure, and had developed Iraq long before Dubai's first skyscraper. The Iraqi tyrant also ensured a healthy middle class kept the economy afloat, most of which currently reside in Syria and Jordan awaiting their return. Of course, Saddam wasn't perfect, his treatment of Shi'ites and Kurds was abhorrent, but Iraq was, economically to say the least, a healthy state before his wild adventures brought the world crashing down upon him. Certainly, Iraq's growing wealth, economically and militarily, was worrisome for all around it. Fortunately for Iraq's alarmed neighbours, Israel had a buddy named the US, who successfully lured Saddam into Kuwait and destroyed him.
Mubarak, on the other hand, has showed no interest in developing Egypt's economy nor investing in its people.
On the regional level, Egypt has gone from discreetly co-operating with Israel to taking public photo shots with Israeli leaders. Its public support of Israel against Lebanon in 2006, and again against the Palestinians earlier in the year riled the Arab public. Hizballah, Syria and Iran took advantage, and made sure every angry finger in the Arab and Muslim world was pointed squarely at Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and other angry dissenters in the country, took to the streets and joined the chorus of condemnation of Egypt's suffocation of Gaza.
Mubarak, suddenly, felt paranoid. I noted in a lengthy feature piece during the Gaza War that public condemnation between Arab leaders is rare. Hizballah's criticism of Mubarak during the war not only highlighted a change in dynamics, but also signalled a dangerous intent ... Iran's eyes are on Egypt. Well, at least that's what Mubarak currently fears.
So when Egypt's intelligence successfully captured Hizballah operatives, it was quick to point out Iran's grand scheme to subject Arab Sunnis to Shi'ite domination as a justification for its alliance with the country most Arab Sunnis hate ... Israel.
But Arab operators are everywhere in the Middle East, including those of non-state actors. Fatah, for example, was caught out spying on Saudi Arabia and Jordan on behalf of the US when Hamas took over its police compound in the Gaza counter-coup. It would be fair to say that Hizballah has been operating networks in fellow Arab countries for years, and most Arab regimes are aware of it.
Hizballah even has operatives in Israel, which prove useful during times of conflict when these cells provide the Shia movement with intelligence on IDF positions. Certainly, that was the case in 2006.
Egypt's capture of Hizballah operatives, and its public parade, is more a PR stunt to take the heat off its back re Gaza. Nasrallah didn't seem too concerned when he confirmed the capture over the weekend, calmly stating that Hizballah was providing arms to Hamas, has been doing so for a while, and will continue to do so.
However, the need of Egypt to parade this capture speaks volumes of its paranoia and insecurity. Mubarak knows he sits atop a boiling Egyptian bubble waiting to burst. He fears an Iranian-style and provoked revolution. No doubt, the Egyptian people are capable of it and are perhaps pondering means to depose of their highly detested leader.
Mubarak also knows that his succession plan to pass the presidency to his son, Gamal Mubarak, is a vulnerable point that can be exposed by his foes, domestic and regional. His succession plans have caused much anger in Egypt, and a persisting fear that Mubarak's rivals may attempt a coup are mounting.
The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt stated during the Gaza War that they have no issue with Iran proselytising Shi'ite Islam. In other words, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition movement, has now cemented its links with Iran.
Is Hizballah trying to destablise Egypt? No, I don't think so, and I believe the Egyptians know that too. What bothers Mubarak, however, is that Hizballah can destabilise Egypt, and have the team already placed on Mubarak's turf, awaiting the orders.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
The atrocities committed by US forces can be swept under the rug by Western media, but the name of Fallujah will receive the same immortality in the Arab world as Deir Yassin, Sabra and Chatila, Qana and Gaza.
Just another massacre to add to the list, and another reason for Arabs to hate America.
This from Al Jazeera:
Laith Mushtaq was one of only two non-embedded cameramen working throughout the April 2004 'battle for Fallujah' in which 600 civilians died.
Five years on, he recounts the events he witnessed and filmed."What you saw on your TV sets at home reflects only ten per cent of the reality. Also, if you watch those pictures at home, you can change the channel.
But we were in the middle. We smell. We feel, see, and touch everything. We could touch the bodies, but we couldn't change the channel. We were the channel.
When I think of Fallujah, I think of the smell. The smell was driving me crazy. In a dead body, there is a kind of liquid. Yellow liquid. The smell is disgusting, really. It sticks in your nose. You cannot eat anymore.
And you can't get the pictures off your mind, because every day you see the same: Explosion, death, explosion, death, death.
After work, you sit down and notice there are pieces of flesh on your shoes and blood on your trousers. But you don't have time to ask why.
In April 2004, I remember I was in the Baghdad office and my boss said: "We have information that the Americans will attack Fallujah. We need a crew to go inside Fallujah immediately. Who can go there?"
I said: "Yes. Me. I can go there." I didn't hesitate at all.I knew the price to pay was high. Maybe my life. But if I'm afraid to die, then I shouldn't hold a camera in any dangerous place. I know some day I will die. Tomorrow. Next month. Next year. Or in ten years. I don't know.
Filming was a 'duty'
But the point is that maybe I will die in my bed. Or maybe I will die doing something good.
Fallujah was my duty. I had to show the truth to people outside of Iraq.
By truth, I mean what really happened in the streets. Not a political message, just what I could see with my own eyes. Because some people were talking about Fallujah and said "there is nothing happening," or "the people are okay" and "everything is stable".
It would be great if everything had been stable. I would be happy if nothing had happened. I would shoot it and show it, with pleasure. But the reality was very different.
One day, I think it was April 9, 2004, someone with a loudspeaker in Fallujah's main mosque said: "The Americans will open a gate and women and children can go out."
As soon as he had finished, all the women and children of Fallujah tried to find a car to leave the city but when they were in the streets, the US forces opened fire.
There's a picture that I cannot forget. An old woman with three children, I saw her on the street and took a picture of her and the children.
She said: "We don't have any men here, can anyone help us?" Many of the men from Fallujah worked in Baghdad, once the city was sealed off they could not get back to their wives and children.
So, some men helped her, I decided to film the scene and then I sat down to smoke.
Ten minutes later, an ambulance came down the road. I ran to follow the ambulance and when they opened the door, I saw the same woman and her children - but they were in pieces.
I still remember the nurses couldn't carry the woman because she was in too many pieces, people were jumping back when they saw it. Then, one nurse shouted: "Hey, she looks like your mother."
In the Iraqi language that means: "She could be your mother, so treat her like you'd treat your mom." Everyone stood up and tried to carry a piece because they needed to get her out quickly, because the ambulance was needed for other people.
We were standing in front of the main hospital, but we would have needed 12 cameramen in order to cover all that happened that day.
There were five, six ambulances coming and going with dead and injured people. When I filmed people inside the hospital, there were so many outside. When I filmed outside, there were so many inside.
Me and all of the Al Jazeera crew, we felt paralysed. It was bigger than us. We were only two cameramen and two reporters. It's not enough.
Reporters, editors in Doha and Baghdad, the people of Fallujah, all of them kept calling for us to film what was happening, and the ambulances just kept coming and going.
We heard people screaming inside the hospital, because they did not have any drugs left. They had to cut legs without anything at all.
At some point, I couldn't move anymore. I sat down on the street and kept smoking. I couldn't move. I see what's happening around me, but I can't move. Khallas [enough]. I didn't have any energy left.
But then you remember the heroes of Fallujah that nobody talks about.
Like this old man. He had a pick-up truck and every day, he drove through the streets and listened to the people who told him there is a dead body in this or that street, but nobody can go there because there's a sniper.
Then he went there, stopped his car, and on his knees, he'd crawl to the body and carry it to his pick-up car. One day he brought five bodies.
Some of them had died more than a week ago, but no one had dared to carry them away. Some, the dogs had started eating them.
While I was inside Fallujah, I knew that every single move of my camera is not for me. It's for the people inside. And the people outside who should know what happened. It's like an SOS.
The Americans said our pictures stirred up hatred against them. But what I did was only showing what their army did on the ground.
I don't hate them, I don't want vengeance, I just wish they had understood what they were doing.
And sometimes I wish my mind was more like a computer that you can reformat. Or that you can go to hospital and get pieces of your memory removed.
In Fallujah, there were moments when I held my camera beside a dead body and I felt I haven't got a heart anymore. Because of the dose of war that I've seen. It was something like an overdose.
Not just for me inside, also for my family in Baghdad.
The month that I spent in Fallujah, my mom was watching TV all the time, because she knew her son was there and she knew those were the pictures that he had shot. Sometimes we couldn't talk for a couple of days.
One day, she heard on the news that the Americans would try to reach the middle of the city. She couldn't bear it anymore. She went to the Al Jazeera office in Baghdad and cried: "Give me my son back!"
I was embarrassed, but my mother is, well, a mother.
Around the same time, in the evening, we got a phone call from the general manager of Al Jazeera. He wanted to talk to every member of the crew. The driver. Me. Everyone.
He said: "Thank you very much, we appreciate what you're doing." And then he said: "If you want to leave Fallujah, we'll send someone and will try to get you out of there."
We all refused. Everyone wanted to stay.
Why should we be better than the women and children of Fallujah? No one had called them to ask whether they wanted to leave."
In a written statement given to Al Jazeera, Lieutenant Colonel Curtis L Hill, public affairs director for the multi-national force in the west of Iraq, denied US-led forces fired on "unarmed civilians" .
"Coalition forces were there to capture the terrorists responsible for the death of four American contractors. They would not have fired on unarmed civilians attempting to leave the city," he said.
Specifically asked if a ceasefire had been called on April 9, he said troops had "halted the advance although I believe the date was 11 April".
Tucked away in Europe's eastern corner, the tiny former Soviet state of Moldova - destined to reunify with Romania according to many Moldovans - has become a heated strategic battleground between Russia and the US.
Moldova is the only ex-Soviet state to have democratically re-elected a Communist leadership. Indeed, parliamentary elections last week gave a larger than expected victory to the Communist Party, in a state that has been marred by internal strife and poverty since the Soviet breakup.
Russia has thrown its support behind Moldova's Communist leader, Vladimir Voronin, by publicly condemning anti-government protests at the result.
"Spontaneous" protests of 15,000 - organised by local youth political groups such as ThinkMoldova - have accused the Communists of election fraud. Yet EU observers declared the election to be fair, so why all the noise?
Apparently, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as SMS, have been lauded as the reasons why snap protests have erupted. Reuters, for example, has jumped on the youth protesters bandwagon by claiming Russia fears "people power".
But I'm not overly convinced.
Asad Abu Khalil at the Angry Arab blog believes the US is stirring popular protests to destabilise and/or prevent the Communist Party from retaining power, albeit legitimately.
I would brush this off as another conspiracy, but recent history concerning US tactics in regards to leaderships (democratic or otherwise) not to its liking begs me to take a closer look at the Angry Arab's remarks.
Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon, Hamas ... four examples in recent history where the US has orchestrated, or attempted to in Hamas' case, either popular anti-government 'revolutions' or a down right coup.
In Lebanon's case, it has been reported that the Bush administration via USAID established locally based 'NGOs' in Lebanon, where it was able to channel funds to local groups and politically-oriented NGOs (although we're not meant to know of their political nature) in order to instigate popular resentment against Syrian domination and its proxy Lebanese Government. Rafik al-Hariri's assassination was enough to rile the Lebanese people against Syria, but fact be known the Cedar Revolution of 2005 was no spontaneous response to a prevailing situation, as it was alleged then and is currently alleged in the case of Moldova's snap mass protests.
US-funded groups, operating in clandestine under the convenient banner of 'humanitarianism' and 'NGO' assisted to manifest and organise popular resentment to the status quo. Of course, bitterness towards Syrian domination in Lebanon had lingered in corners of Lebanese society for years, but with US funding and clandestine engagement that underlying bitterness became mobilised into popular action.
But the debate could continue on if we were to question the definition of 'popular'. Is the term popular only credible when it is clear the majority of a nation is shouting in a single voice? If so, can the 'Cedar Revolution' be deemed as popular when its effect was only a polarisation of the country? 1 million protesters indeed came out against Syria and the Karami Government, but just over a year later, 2 million protesters returned to Beirut's streets to protest against the political bloc that led the protests against Syria and subsequently took to the helm after its departure.
The same can be said of Ukraine, where the so-called 'Orange Revolution' has had a similar impact of polarising the public. The Bush administration deployed the same tactics via USAID in Ukraine and Georgia. Hamas is particular, as the US thought it could rely on Fatah (and then Israel) to militarily defeat Hamas. Although the tactics were different with Hamas, the interest remained the same ... the US will work to prevent democratically elected leaderships that fall outside the bracket of the US' global sphere of influence if the strategic value is worthy of interference.
Lebanon was of value to Bush as it was part of his grand new Middle East project. Obama appears to have backed off, and seems willing to accept a likely Hezballah victory in June's elections.
Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova on the other hand are of another concern. Russia is another concern. Obama has signalled an intent to co-operate and improve relations with Moscow, but whether he is prepared to retreat from Bush's efforts to pull Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova out of Russia's sphere of influence remains to be seen.
Further instigation of internal tensions could tear Ukraine and Moldova apart. Georgia has already been torn apart, and Russia's manipulation of divisions within the country as a pretext for war last year sets a dangerous precedent for Ukraine and Moldova, as well as the Americans.
If the Angry Arab's suspicions are true, and it wouldn't surprise me if they were, then it suggests that certain questionable US practices under previous administrations are set to continue (not that I expected US intrusion into the internal affairs of other states to be done away with). The US will continue to pursue its interests regardless of morality, if it can get away with it.
However, those that need to learn that states only act in their national interest are the many Lebanese (and Moldovans it seems) who were and continue to be deceived that the US is going to rescue us from our misery. It's not gonna happen!
Excellent article to be read by Johann Hari.
It appears the global recession is eating away at Dubai's superficial coating. The reality that lies beneath isn't pretty.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Grande soirees and ceremonies have marked the beginning of a long campaign trail as election billboards and posters spruce up around the country.
What has surprised me about the conduct thus far is that political parties appear to be appropriately engaging in campaign warfare. Of course it is early days yet, but given the recent history and tension between rival political camps, many feared that the deadly inter-factional violence of May 2008 may rear its ugly head come election time this year. Reconciliation and a thaw in relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia/US appears to have hosed down fears of internal strife in Lebanon this year.
As a consequence of the regional detente, the onus of the elections has been placed on ... the Lebanese people. For once, results and positions won't be decided in a foreign capital, but indeed, by the Lebanese themselves. Given the multi-confessionalism of each of the blocs (March 14 contains Sunni, Druze and Christian parties, whilst the Opposition includes Shi'ites, Christians, Druze), major political parties are having to put forward national agendas and policies for the first time.
This is indeed an incredible development that appears to have been overlooked. Whilst the past four turbulent years have been marred by heightened sectarian competition on the surface, an undercurrent of entangled co-operation among the sects and the realisation that no sect can act alone has produced an intertwined political web.
The fact that groups like Hizballah are releasing, for the first time, a national agenda - to remove confessionalism from the political system, introduce proportional voting, combat corruption and lower the voting age to 18 - is evidence that the political dynamics in the country have indeed changed. Hizballah, renowned as a fundamentalist Shia organisation, has spent much of its three-decade existence sticking to its Shia corner, avoiding at all times the central and corrupt Lebanese political process. This led to rivals accusing Hizballah of creating a state-within-a-state. But given recent developments, the Shia party has made a major u-turn and has acknowledged that investing in a central authority (the Lebanese political establishment) is necessary to protect the interests of the Shias. That is, the interests of the Shias are intertwined with the interests of all sects and groups in Lebanon.
Sectarian groups have realised that in order to protect the interests of their community, they must indeed take into consideration the interests of other communities, therefore investing in the state's institutions (such as its political process) is essential. Thus, all parties are campaigning heavily in these elections.
Today, Hizballah is not only fighting for votes in its Shia neighbourhoods, as it has previously done, but fighting battles in the north for Sunni votes, in Mount Lebanon for Christian votes, and in Aley for the Druze votes courtesy of its allies. Therefore, it needs to produce an election platform that not only appeals to the Shi'ites (the resistance card, for example, is no longer the only tool needed), but appeals to all Lebanese. The best way to attract non-Shia voters to a Shia-led political bloc is to drum the ideas of secularism and anti-corruption. Hizballah has been forced to acknowledge the interests of all Lebanese, and have thus attempted to create a national election platform that seeks to unite and benefit all Lebanese. A sectarian party promoting a secular strategy ... the times are a changing.
Lebanese politics now operates in blocs of combined sectarian groups, forcing each party to absorb the other's concerns and formulate a common strategy that inherently is designed for a national audience that surpasses all sectarian boundaries.
Ironically, the turbulence of previous years may have in fact created this new era of combined sectarian interests and co-operation, paving the way for a more united, stable Lebanon down the track. Never before have rival sects in the country been so intertwined, and this is reflected in Hizballah's national agenda. The days where each sect had to fend for their own are gone. What is emerging is an implicit realisation nationwide that all sects share similar interests, and that they must work together within a national framework to ensure their rights are assured.
This blog post was prompted by a news article in The Daily Star.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
The boycott is also a demonstration to the Palestinian people that whilst Arab regimes appear to have forsaken them, solidarity for their plight remains strong amongst the Arab populous. The statement is as follows, or you can access it directly here:
Statement of Academics in Lebanon
In this latest onslaught against Palestinians, Israel has attacked a university, the Ministry of Education, schools across the Gaza Strip, and several UNRWA schools. Such attacks against learning centers are not unique for Israel. Most particularly since 1975, Israel has infringed upon the right of education for Palestinians by closing universities, schools and kindergartens, and by shelling, shooting at, and raiding hundreds of schools and several universities throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.
Nor have these attacks been limited against Palestinians. As academics in Lebanon, we are all too familiar with Israeli onslaughts against educational centers. In its latest assault, in 2006, for example, Israel destroyed over 50 schools throughout Lebanon, and particularly schools designed for the economically disadvantaged in the South.
We thus stand, as academics in Lebanon, in urging our colleagues, regionally and internationally, to oppose this ongoing scholasticide and to support the just demand for academic boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Specifically, we ask our colleagues worldwide to support the call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to comprehensively and consistently boycott and disinvest from all Israeli academic and cultural institutions, and to refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joining projects with Israeli institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.
We further call on the enforcement of Lebanese anti-normalization laws with Israel, and thus for the prosecution of individuals and institutions in Lebanon that violate those laws and conduct collaborations, associations or investments in Israel or with Israelis.
We salute the recent statement by the Scottish Committee for the Universities of Palestine calling for a boycott of Israel, the letter signed by 300 Canadian academics to Canadian Prime Minister Harper asking for sanctions against Israel, and the appeal by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee supporting a ban on collaborations between Canadian and Israeli universities.
Academics in Lebanon who have signed on to this petition consist of faculty, lecturers, and graduate students from the University of Balamand, the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University, Notre Dame University, Lebanese University, Beirut Arab University, USEK, Lebanese International University and Global University. We call on our colleagues to add their name to this statement calling for full academic boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions, and calling our colleagues, throughout the world, and most particularly those in the Arab world and those claiming to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, to comprehensively and consistently boycott and divest from all Israeli academic and cultural institutions, and to refrain from normalization in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.
[to submit your signature, email Rania Masri ]
Michel Abou Ghantous
Mona Abu Rayyan
Jean Said Makdisi
Daniel F. Rivera
Richard Saumarez Smith
Lyna Al Tabbal
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I went to see them all, and nothing much out of the three surprised me. Many Israeli and Jewish critics of Israeli policy only seem to be repeating what Arabs have been saying for 60 years, but we're never going to convince the Israeli or Jewish public on our own. Indeed, a solution will never be found unless Israelis and Jews participate in finding a just peace.
Mohammad Khatami was eloquent and insightful about his program for dialogue among civilisations, and the need for the various civilisations to respect each other, something which he insists the West does not do vis-a-vis Islam or other cultures of the Third World.
He was able to steer clear of being dragged into discussion about the more controversial issues dominating Iran today, such as its stance towards Israel, the rights of women and minorities in the country etc.
The former Iranian President made the point that dialogue between civilisations had to be conducted by those that represent culture ... artists, scholars, academics, scientists and not politicians. However, he managed the questions as professionally as a politician could. He retorted narrow questions that specified on a certain point by fluffing about grand schemes. For example, several Bahais in the audience repeatedly quizzed Khatami on the rights of the sect in Iran, and Khatami brushed them off as matters of crime and governance.
Having said that, those who posed such political questions could only have expected a political response. Anyone who attended the public lecture (and there were several hundred in the audience) and anticipated a Khatami tirade of his theocratic regime were kidding themselves. Khatami eloquently distanced himself from some of the harsh measures of the theocracy, whilst maintaining its integrity and dignity in his responses.
I enjoyed watching Khatami, it is always enjoyable to watch a statesman at his best, regardless of his political affiliation. Khatami was followed by Australia's own statesman and former conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser - a harsh critic of Israel and Australia's blind support for the country - who welcomed Khatami's initiatives, and urged the West to open its eyes and do away with its superior-inferior complex when it comes to non-Western cultures. Indeed, perhaps their shared ideas of dialogue among civilisations and cultural co-existence might come into fruition some day.
Jeff Halper, the pro-Palestinian rights Israeli academic, was outstanding to say the least. Nothing he mentioned differed very much from the traditional Arab perspective, which is that the Palestinians have no rights, live in hell, and need help. The charismatic academic did well to outline the facts of Israel's colonisation of the West Bank, and its intentions. What he revealed matched everything of what I and others have previously said about Israel's strategy vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
Halper is now championing a one-state solution, something I too have long supported. I never considered the two-state solution to be feasible, essentially because it didn't take into consideration all of the Palestinian concerns, which meant conflict would always result. Even when the Palestinian leadership seemed willing to accept this half-arsed compromise, the Israelis had no intention of giving an ounce of territory to them.
Although Halper did step a bit further by privately stating to me that Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan should move to create a single economic unit that mirrored the historical unit of the Levant. I put the question to him, "you mean a Greater Syria?", followed by a few laughs. An Israeli advocating a Greater Syria? Who would've thought?
His essential point in the lecture was as follows: "For there to be a one-state solution, that would mean an end to the Jewish state. What's wrong with that?"
Exactly! What is wrong with that? Why can't Jews, Muslims and Christians share what is essentially the same country? If we are to approach this conflict from a human rights angle, there is nothing wrong with this proposal at all.
As for Antony Loewenstein, the Jewish-Australian and fellow pro-Palestinian rights activist/blogger/writer, I do feel for this guy. He is relatively young and has devoted an extraordinary amount of talent and effort to stand up to the Zionist powerhouse of his own community. He contributes far more to the Palestinian and Arab cause than do many of our own people. Activists like Loewenstein and Halper really put the Phalangists, Samir Geagea and their likes to shame.
Loewenstein also audaciously mentioned (to the humming of the audience) what is on all of our lips in the West that is seldomly spoken aloud ... our entrenched racism.
A brilliant remark he made, something which even I have dared not mention, was a reference to Western attitudes reflected in the military's treatment of indigenous populations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon/Palestine.
He stated that the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Lebanon 2006, and Gaza 2009 were not simply lapses of military discipline, but rather a result of a widespread lack of "rules of engagement". Western militaries, Israel included, have no rules of engagement, and often do not distinguish between occupied civilians and combatants. The recurring abuses and massacres perpretrated by Western armies and Israel is a consequence of our underlying racism, and the fact that - as Loewenstein beautifully put it - the West views the indigenous peoples of these countries as inferior, akin to German perceptions of the inferior and expendable Jew prior to and during WWII.
This ties in with, what I believe was, Khatami's comments today that the West must respect the cultures and civilisations of the Third World, and cease viewing all that is non-Western as inferior.
Discussion on this core matter is virtually non-existent in the West because, as Loewenstein added, we in the West do not dare question our moral right, nor the possibility that we are in fact racist. We like to view ourselves as liberators, the bearers of modern civilisation and democracy, the beacon of human rights ... not as racists.
Well if there was something glaringly obvious to me whilst in Lebanon 2006, it was that too few cared about 1200 civilians getting killed, or the fate of those stuck in the conflict. I recall clearly how there were many in Australia who called on the Howard Government to not send rescue ships to help us, thousands of Australian-Lebanese stranded in the conflict. The arguments ranged from 'we weren't Australian', or 'we were just using the country for its welfare benefits' and so forth.
Indeed, the pro-Bush conservative government at the time acted to the tune of these arguments. I rang the embassy in Beirut, I registered online countless of times, I went down to see them face-to-face, only to be told I couldn't see them. Nothing, there was no news, there was no action, no one from DFAT or the embassy bothered to contact me or my friends. The clear underlying belief from these calls and the subsequent lacklustre behaviour of the Australian Government was that we were inferior Arabs, we weren't white and we weren't worthy of rescuing.
Fortunately, my Australian-Lebanese friends and I organised our own sortie, and drove to Syria in a private vehicle, dodging Israeli warplanes, with two Australian flags on our vehicle. Funny that us so called non-Australians happened to have Australian flags on us at the time.
What appeared so clear to me from these three talks is that we are all speaking the same language. A former Iranian President, an Israeli academic, a Jewish Australian activist/blogger/journalist, me - a Lebanese Australian blogger - and hundreds, if not thousands, of others on the blogosphere, in academia, in refugee camps, are repeating the same lines:
- The Palestinians need to be given their rights, and Israel has to accept their existence and learn to share the land with them.
- The West must equally learn to accept and respect the many civilisations it once colonised. It colonises them no longer, and this century will see its former colonies rise above it.
Whilst all three speakers happened to be coincidentally scheduled in the same week, together they served a serious reality check for those who attended.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
But according to a sound assessment by Qifa Nabki, it doesn't matter who you vote for as both sides appear to be heading for a compromise national unity government.
Hizballah, and its March 8 allies, are favourites to win the 2009 parliamentary elections, which would place the resistance movement officially at the helm of Lebanese politics for the first time.
In the face of an obvious election loss, March 14 patron Saudi Arabia has been courting Syria in a bid to iron out a stabilising post-election solution that will ensure Hariri still has a role to play in a Lebanon firmly again in Syria's sphere of influence. Washington's move to re-establish ties with Syria is also a sign that Obama has no interest in tackling the Syrians in Lebanon, since his hands are already full with Iraq, Afghanistan/Pakistan and the global economic crisis.
Adjoining the conciliatory tone between Syria and the US/Saudi Arabia is Hizballah. The Shia party has been talking down reform and change, and promoting national unity and stability instead. There was a rumour circulating that Saad Hariri may be chosen as Prime Minister in a Hizballah-led government, but a counter-rumour on Friday-Lunch-Club has stated that Hizballah would prefer a low-profile PM from the March 14 camp.
The Prime Ministership is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in our warped, sectarian political system.
Hizballah could also take a low-profile in the government, handing many key posts to its allies to thwart any Hamas-style economic repercussions from the US and EU, or action from Israel.
But the change that opposition voters are hoping for remains elusive. There is no guarantee that the rampant corruption will be tackled, nor any national focus on lifting our economy out of the slums. Indeed, the long-awaited reform to our dividing sectarian political system will most likely remain on the backburner, despite Hizballah's alliance including two major proponents of secular change, the FPM and SSNP.
In other words, very little will change in the name of "stability". The focus of the current Opposition will be to maintain the status quo, form a national unity government with its rivals, and not risk any potential conflict. The other aim behind this is to prevent March 14 from forming a popular opposition to Hizballah-rule by including them in the decision-making process, as Hizballah has done to the leadership whilst in opposition.
But the truth remains ... nothing will be achieved with 10 factions in government. The political wrangling, threats and snipes will continue, meaning that Lebanon will be without an effective government for another four years. The Lebanese people will continue to lament, the only hope of change will disappear in the air, and many more Lebanese will scramble for visas to leave the country.
The Hizballah-led alliance has a major opportunity to form a government based upon Lebanon's national interest. Never has Lebanon been led by a leadership with a national focus, but Hizballah's alliance (otherwise dubbed the Shia-Christian alliance) could transform the political landscape if it were to tackle national issues head on and deviate from sectarian-based politics.
In order for the country to truly stabilise, all parties need to invest in centralising power into our national institutions, including the government and presidency. As it currently stands, the Lebanese parliament and government serves as a quasi-UN General Assembly that brings together various confederate states. Lebanon is at present a false amalgamation of a variety of sects and groups, each sectarian group a local hegemon in its own right. By pursuing a "national unity government" that will encompass all major sectarian groups - effectively creating a UN Security Council-like leadership - one is endorsing the status quo of decentralised power, with each fragment of Lebanon operating to its own interest.
The cause of our instability is due to our fragmentation and the competing sectarian interests in the country. A "national unity government" will only preserve this fragmentation, allow for the competition of sectarian interests, and maintain an air of instability.
Hizballah and its Christian allies must sacrifice short-term gains by making the move no Lebanese movement has made - the centralisation of political power and the defragmentation of Lebanese politics and society. Indeed, in order to centralise power, sectarian hegemons such as Hizballah, FPM, PSP, LF and FM would need to sacrifice some of their own power.
Whilst these groups may form competing alliances, they do agree on one fundamental point ... the preservation of the status quo that ensures they retain their individual power as sectarian hegemons.
This is why forming a national unity government will pose no problem for either coalition.
As I have stated all along, the entire Lebanese political establishment is guilty for our ineptness, misery and instability.
My advice to voters: Throw the ballot paper in the bin.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Israel's former UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman, has urged Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to "keep away" from the upcoming UN World Conference Against Racism to be held in Geneva in April.
Gillerman warns that the conference — commonly known as Durban II — will be used as a stage to condemn Israeli policies and equate Zionism with racism. He adds that "countries like Australia who, to my mind, represents the best of what democracy and civilisation can be, shouldn't take part in this charade".
For some time now Israel and Canada have indicated that they will be boycotting the conference, and on Friday the US State Department announced it will be following suit. After attending a series of discussions in Geneva ahead of the conference, the US decided that the process was "unsalvageable" from its point of view.
Israel's fierce opposition to Durban II stems from the discussion of Israel's controversial policies in the Palestinian Occupied Territories that is expected to occur there, and the declarations that may result. In 2001 the Israelis stormed out of Durban I, along with the US, describing the event as "anti-Semitic".
However, Israel's opposition to the forum is questionable. The purpose of the anti-racism conference is to highlight problematic areas in the world where racism is persistent and dangerous. Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a hot spot for ethnic, religious and racial tension — is an obvious focus for any discussion of racism globally. Despite being scathing of Israel's policies, participants at the previous Durban I conference explicitly denounced anti-Semitism as well as Islamophobia.
Israel's bid to equate criticism of its policies to anti-Semitism is merely an attempt to deflect attention from its handling of the Palestinian question. No country likes to admit that its policies have traces of racism or they are committing fault. It took Australia seven decades to abolish the White Australia Policy, and it took years for us to even acknowledge that stealing Indigenous children from their parents was wrong.
What the conference does raise is the necessity to examine and question Israel's policies towards the Palestinians. Progress is impossible without self-reflection and global scrutiny, something that Israel desperately needs to help it move away from pursuing policies that — according to many participating states at Durban II — are racist.
Durban II will indeed include criticisms Israel would prefer to ignore. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the concrete wall imprisoning Palestinians in impoverished enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza, which arbitrarily bisects many Arab properties and separates them from other Arab and Jewish villages.
There is also the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, often serviced by roads that only Jewish people are allowed to use, while the Palestinian population must make lengthy detours. At the same time, Israel carries out a continued program of demolishing Arab homes and confiscating Arab property.
It is also likely that some participants at the conference will voice their objections to Israel's recent onslaught upon Gaza, where indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and the illegal use of white phosphorus caused 1300 deaths.
Israel can hardly expect the conference to ignore that over the last 60 years the Israelis have imposed a multi-layered social reality based upon racial and religious discrimination. A Jewish Israeli citizen enjoys the privileges of social freedom, economic prosperity and access to Jewish-only enclaves. A Jew who arrives tomorrow from Russia with no historic or family attachment to the land will immediately receive citizenship and government assistance. A Palestinian in their own home with roots to the land going back centuries risks having that home bulldozed or shelled.
The racism Palestinians experience under the Israeli system is so entrenched that in one way it defines the whole issue. In contrast to the first-world living standards of Israeli Jews, many Palestinians within the Holy Land are forced into squalid refugee camps. While new illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank are plush with tree lining, new roads and essential services, Arab villages languish in squalor and few if any Israeli public works efforts ever reach the occupied villages that they are required, under international law, to administer.
Palestinian movement is severely restricted, and if travel permission is granted, it's often conditional upon humiliating checkpoint inspections. In many cases Palestinians wishing to move from one part of their own personal property to another are required to have the approval of Israeli military personnel manning the many military checkpoints scattered across the Occupied Territories.
In Israel, this massive gap in people's quality of life is decided for them by the Israeli Government on the basis of race alone.
The everyday racism of Israeli political discourse took a turn for the worse after the recent electoral victory of the far-right party led by Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman's campaign caused uproar when he proposed a "loyalty oath" whereby Arabs would have to sign a pledge to Israel as a Jewish state or risk being stripped of citizenship.
Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper has criticised Lieberman in an editorial likening the extremist leader to Austria's infamous Nazi sympathising politician, the late Jörg Haider, and to France's Jean-Marie Le Pen. Now Lieberman looks likely to take his place as part of a new right-wing government in coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.
But, as Michael Brull has recently discussed in newmatilda.com, racism is a fundamental part of the Israeli politics across all the main political parties. The difference between Israel's main parties is more in style than in substance. No main political party has shown any inclination to break from traditional Zionism, an extremist nationalist ideology that aspires to create a Greater Israel within the boundaries of historic Palestine.
Israel's Prime Minister-designate, Benjamin Netanyahu, has rejected conceding land to the Palestinians in a peace deal and favours the expansion of illegal settlements. He also prefers a military hardline answer to the Palestinian problem, and has expressed his opposition to peace talks with Syria.
His main rival, Kadima's Tzipi Livni, also offered nothing that demonstrated a will to break from Zionism, but instead called for the removal of Israel's 1.3 million Arab citizens into the Occupied Palestinian Territories in order to ensure Israel's Jewish purity.
Nor has there been much sign that Israel's Labor Party is prepared to push a meaningful peace agenda and break with its history of furthering the Zionist program, which even under the relatively moderate Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin did, by his own account, more than anyone to build Jewish settlements on Arab land.
The UN conference is one forum that can and should make the point that Zionism is inherently racist in its drive to create a Jewish-only homeland. It is an attitude that systematically denies the human rights of the indigenous Palestinian people and identifies them as an enemy to its aims because of their very existence, whether or not they engage in armed resistance to their ongoing dispossession.
Israel is by no means the only state in the world to have engaged in racist policies, particularly concerning indigenous peoples. For the better part of the 20th century, Australia's engagement with Aboriginal peoples was also clearly racist, defined by a familiar story of land grabs, restriction of movement, forced impoverishment etc.
Gradually, Australia has made an attempt to come to terms with the consequences of its racist history. This is the painful journey that led to Kevin Rudd's official apology to the Aboriginal people for the Stolen Generations in 2008. On that day the nation acknowledged error in its racist approach to Indigenous people. The idea of racial purity is nonsensical, and most of Australia realised as much decades ago.
Contrary to Dan Gillerman's idea that strong democratic nations like Australia should steer clear of the anti-racism conference in Geneva, countries like Australia and Israel both have a lot to gain from attending a forum dedicated to addressing the persistent issue of racism across the world. Within such a forum, and after it, Australia can make a valuable contribution by helping Israel to move away from policies that inevitably cause racial hate, violence and failure. As a friend to Israel, Canberra must make it clear that the country's pursuit of the racist path will not result in a peaceful solution for either side.
Attending Durban II will send Israel the message it needs to hear from its closest friends in the world: Tel Aviv must abandon its racist approach to the Palestinian conflict. And we, with recent experience in taking a pivotal step in racial reconciliation, are in a good position to help Israel accept its own indigenous population.
Monday, February 23, 2009
What I found interesting were the comments left by readers, which I have posted beneath the article. There appears to be some dismay at Australia's "puppy dog" status in its relationship with the US. Perhaps many Australians don't like playing the role of the boot licker, and indeed such distaste in our alliance with the US has become increasingly apparent since our controversial decision to follow Bush into Iraq (despite great public opposition at the time).
Many Australians do wonder if there's an alternative to obsequiousness? Is being subservient to the US truly crucial to Australia's security? Would winning the trust of our Asian neighbours not alleviate our paranoia of our 'alien' backyard, and subsequent need to hold onto the tail of US imperialism?
The comment that best sums up the US-Australian relationship has become my Quote of the Day:
To the US, we are little more than a loyal and obedient puppy dog that enjoys an occasional pat on the head.
Clinton's bypass is no snub
SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton is making Asia her first destination as America's top diplomat. That she is skipping Canberra on a trip that includes stops in Tokyo, Jakarta, Seoul and Beijing is not a slight. But it should provoke some strategic thinking in Australia and the US about the future of a long and unique relationship.
First, it is important to understand that Clinton's trip is more about diplomatic turf in Washington than it is about new diplomatic initiatives.
Canberra need not worry about being left out of a tour that is meant to define a portfolio for the new secretary, who must compete against a bevy of other foreign policy luminaries in the Obama administration.
An unspoken reason for the trip is one of Washington's endless bureaucratic struggles, in this case recovering the China account for the State Department, which had been forced to cede it to the Treasury in the previous administration. The need for this arose as other top-billed diplomatic missions in the Obama administration were assigned to high-profile special envoys. Clinton also must compete for turf against Vice-President Joe Biden, who previously chaired the Senate's foreign policy committee, and a White House national security adviser and UN ambassador who have plenty of their own ideas on foreign policy.
During the long run, Clinton's emerging interest in Asia may spell opportunity for those in Australia and the US who believe our relationship should play a larger role in shaping world events. For starters, Clinton may be a better strategic judge than her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, who throughout her career devised diplomatic theories that sounded smart in the salons of academe but did not work in the real world. These included believing Beijing would pressure its North Korean ally to disarm, believing Russia would act responsibly if consoled and offered proper deference, and believing a lame-duck administration could resolve the Israel-Palestine issue in its final year, to name just a few.
Clinton's experience on the US Senate Armed Services Committee suggests she is less enthralled with academic constructs and in some instances may be more hard-nosed than her Republican predecessor. Time will tell. A key test will be whether she chooses to be more of a realist on China and places a premium on actions over words. This would be a departure from recent US administrations, which often took at face value Beijing's word that it was helping on matters such as counter-proliferation and North Korea, despite all evidence to the contrary.
The Rudd Government and its loyal Opposition can play a role in shaping this. Australia has been the US's most reliable English-speaking ally on matters of hard power and soft power during the past decade. The interests of both countries would be served were this to be developed further. This could include deeper co-operation to undermine Islamist activity - the antecedent to open jihadism - throughout Southeast Asia and even globally. Such activity may be necessary to prevent the Middle East from figuratively drawing up to Australia's northern periphery and isolating it from Asia with a belt of radical enclaves. Co-operation between two governments with similar views on climate change could help prevent the Europeans from doing anything really crazy in this area when our economies can least afford it. Partnering more makes sense, as Australians and Americans understand how quickly the world's problems can travel great distances to involve us, whether we like it or not.
However, a proactive strategy for Canberra is needed. Diplomats in the US and elsewhere have an unfortunate tendency to take allies for granted and look more for headline-grabbing breakthroughs with adversaries than modest enhancements to existing alliances. Added to this is an error of judgment among many foreign policy analysts in Washington and Asia who overstate the importance of China's economy and understate the military threat posed by Beijing. Throughout the decade, this has meant not enough attention paid to traditional Pacific allies and those who share our values, and too much hand-wringing over a Chinese economy that, in fact, is still smaller than Japan's and will continue to trade with Australia and the US regardless of our diplomats' charm or lack thereof.
By reminding Washington of the similar way we both view the world's threats and opportunities, taking account of the new secretary of state's interest in Asia, and continuing to be a cool-headed ally, Canberra can advance the interests of both Australia and the US. An alliance born in the darkest days of World War II and that persisted and thrived in the years since ought to be at the forefront of shaping the world today.
Christian Whiton was deputy special envoy for North Korean human rights issues during the administration of George W. Bush. He is a senior adviser at DC Asia Advisory in Washington.
Christian, I think you need to actually find out the nature and attitudes of both sides before you use the phrase "An alliance born in the darkest days of World War II". The US was simply interested in using us then as they are now. Australia had been deserted and betrayed by Britain (Churchill) and facing invasion with its' troops kept elsewhere (Churchill - ignoring Australias' demand that its' troops return to defend their home). A bad deal was struck to save the country. MacArthurs words to Curtin should not be forgotten, I wonder if in your ideology you care to know them.....
john lamb of Brisbane- An intelligent, independent and proudly Australian statement. As are the bulk of the other statements (so far). Pity we have had so many years of snivelling, scared little people in charge of our foreign and defence policies for so long. They have sold us off so cheaply...
Would not worry a tiny bit. The West in general is the US. Australia share many common traits with the Americans. II WW was a good show when Australia change its focus from British Imperium to USA. In the Battle of Coral Sea the US stopped the Japanese fleet inits advance on Australia. We are allies by birth. On the other hand China is emerging superpower and already is flexing its muscle. So it is perhaps better for us that Clinton did not come here in her first trip.
I think it would be absolutely perfect for Australia to be "snubbed" or by-passed by the US. Although it might mean weaning us off of the imperial teat which resulted from a transfer of admiration from our mother country to the US in WW2, I don't see it as a bad thing. Among other benefits could be an independent, non-aligned foreign policy and a defence force which is just that and not willing cannon fodder for superpower imperial ambitions.
Australia suffers from an over-inflated view of its position in the world. To the US, we are little more than a loyal and obedient puppy dog that enjoys an occasional pat on the head.
You said 'An alliance born in the darkest days of World War II and that persisted and thrived in the years since ought to be at the forefront of shaping the world today.' Can I call that extreme hyperbole? As is much of the nonsense that spouts from the Australian side of our much 'loved' relationship with the yanks.
Old Clive - seems your memory's fading. The rodent had an ego big enough to send us to war without even bothering to seek Parliamentary approval. That's unfettered hubris for you.
"An alliance born in the darkest days of World War II..." Aren't you confusing the ANZAC Pact of 1944 across the Tasman ditch (Cordell Hull & Doc Evatt) that made FDR very cross, with the ANZUS Treaty of 1951 under Truman?
How short sighted can you get? Hilary should have invited KLEVER Kevin along and then she could have just listened in as he solved the problems of the world. The ego of some of these blokes is unbelieveable, that in it itself is bad enough but most of them are backed up by staff people who have even bigger ego's.
I think you skipped over the most important reason Hillary went to China. Chinese higher ups don't like her (not even a little bit), and never have. In addition, It may surprise you but not everyone around the world is in love with the Clintons. Asia is not fond of US Democrat policies in general preferring Republican stances on many social and economic issues. And as for the bond between the US and Australia, the US, unfortunately, thinks of Australia as the tail on the dog.