Thursday, September 24, 2009

On Ahmedinijad's UN speech ...

... that caused most Western nations to walk out of the UN chamber in protest.

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.

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.
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.

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

Netanyahu blames non-existent Lebanese government for rocket attack

A few amateur Palestinians are suspected of launching the two rockets into northern Israel the other day. Nothing out of the ordinary. You know it's an amateur job when no one gets killed.

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

Lebanon's political circus

Parliamentary elections were held in June. We are now in September ... still no government.

An excellent editorial (below) in The Daily Star expresses exactly how I, and many Lebanese, feel about the joke that is Lebanon's politics.

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.

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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Prostitution, gay rights ... a Lebanon beyond tribal politics

A few items I came across that are worth mentioning. While the oligarchs of our country continue to procrastinate over which irrelevant ministry they'll receive (seeing as none of them do any work anyway), some other things are happening in Lebanon ... believe it or not.

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

The "I can't stand Lebanon" phase

Explaining my love-hate relationship with Lebanon

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.