Saturday, March 03, 2007

Where's Waldo?

Saudi Arabia is meeting with Iran to discuss Lebanon. Though I am not too pleased that the region’s leading theocracies are meeting to discuss the future of Lebanon as a pluralist country, I cannot help but notice one lady who was not invited to the dance; Syria.

Being excluded from Saudi and Iran's prima nocta is hard to stomach for Big Sister. The Syrians have been habituated to representing us. Now, however, their fruitless policies and past lies have come back to haunt them, and all they can do is strut their way into decline, economically and within their own people.

Save for a few Ralpolitik nostalgics, they have lost all support among the Arabs, the Europeans, and most importantly, within Lebanon’s sectarian game.

Syria and Lebanon

The greater loss to Syria was Lebanon. And no, the withdrawal was the least of their problems; they had a certain cross-sectarian popular support base they could draw on in times of need. They have also been masters are stoking Lebanon’s sectarian fires, drawing on our Arab passion for Justice, which we Lebanese confuse all too eagerly with Revenge. They had been effective at alternating between Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists who were more than willing to subjugate their own common sense to Baath Logic.

Now it is all gone. Except for a few ideologues in the PSNS and the mentally retarded that are past their “best by” date, the remains of Christian support for Syria are gone. Aoun is only a reaction against Hariri’s exclusivist policies, but reactions fade away in the face of accommodation. The sectarian fires are now directed against Syria.

Syria, Sunnis, and Shiites

Even Shiite animosity against Syria is great. It is only masked by Hezb’s cash and growing power, a vague sense of Entitlement/Superiority, the enduring rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites, and the ongoing feuds among competing clans.

In time, however, it will appear; during the “Cedar Revolution”, assaults against Syrian workers happened in areas controlled by Amal and Hezb, the heartland of March 8th. And being Shiite does not necessarily mean wearing the Burka…

For the same reasons, Sunnis are now definitely divorced from Syria. If the Hariri assassination was not enough, Hezb’s continued attempts at a coup d’état definitely divorced Sunnis from Syria, and potentially from Shiites... With a “clanic” nuance.

Beiruti Sunnis are now definitely divorced from the grand Arab Unity ideals of Greater Syria, focused on building an economically solid and sound life in Lebanon.

Northern Sunnis are divorced from a Alawite Syria. They had always been so, supporting the Iraqi Baath in the old days, and even carrying out small guerrilla operations during Aoun’s ill-fated “War of Liberation”.

Southerner are not so sure; many assembled around the Saad and Bizri clans of Saida still oppose the Hariris, to them mere “parvenus”. But such a reactionary stance will not last long in the face of accommodation, and the growing power of Hezb.

Till When?

All this division does not have to be a bad thing, on the long run. This regime is all but gone for all practical purposes, and we’re going to need to mend fences with Syria after the dust settles down.

The “When” part is tricky… Any “deal” in Lebanon will only postpone the reckoning, and increase the pressure inside that “presto” of ours. One thing is sure;

This Syrian regime cannot afford to give up Lebanon.

11 comments: said...

يسعدنا تشريفك

Amir in Tel Aviv said...

Did you read NewYorker's Hersh ?
He's saying what you and me think, that the Sunni extremism is much worse, and a greater problem than the Shi'i threat.
But still reading his piece I felt annoyed, and uncomfortable.
It reminds me of the Americans, who wanted the USSR to fail in Afghanistan, by arming the Mugahideen, and created Bin-Laden. Just like fighting Iran now will result in strengthening the Sunni Wahabism.

Jeha said...

Thanks, I'll look it up.

I think SayMore has over-reached with this one, and should have said less. I will not write about quantum mechanics, and neihter should he write about the Middle East. Let me put it in one word; it is "Bachar", not "Bashir" Assad.

Aside from misnaming the Syrian dictator, Symore makes many factual mistakes, better described by Tony Badran, Sand Monkey, and now Michael Young...

In addition, IMHBAO, he makes a basic "fundamental" mistake in his analysis, by considering "levels" of fundamentalisms. While their metastasis differ, they are all the same cancer on the human soul. In this sense, I would not think that there is a "Shiite threat" as much as a fundamentalist threat; the Sunnis have BenLaden, the Shiites Nasrallah, the Christians Pat Robertson, Avigdor Lieberman for Israel (ok, he "only" racist)... It is such threats that endanger all our lives in the region.

The most immediate now it the Shiite fundamentalist threat, followed by the rising Salafi threat which is now facing it. We both agreed that Salafis are worse than Hezb, but we did not jump to make the same mistake as SayMore.

Indeed, IMHBSAO, SayMore makes (yet another) mistake in choosing the "least worse" of both options, instead of seeing how to avoid both bad outcomes. In this, he reminds me of the basic flaw in the statement that "only a diamond can cut a diamond"; in the end, you're still left with a diamond, albeit a different kind.

amir in tel aviv said...

"...Indeed, IMHBSAO, SayMore makes (yet another) mistake in choosing the "least worse" of both options, instead of seeing how to avoid both bad outcomes".

I agree. But this only stresses the claim of the "Muslims", that Am-rica declared war on all Muslims, Sunni and Shi'i.
Tangled indeed.

ghassan karam said...

If there is a silver linning to the current Lebanese crisis then it is to be found in the fact that the "Lebanese" camp has become much larger , it might have more than doubled in size.
The Lebanese Christians have always , as a group, felt isolated in the Middle East and thus had to support the idea of a separate, independent country where their number and influence is significant. The Syrian actions over more than two decades and their behaviour since then has alienated many of the Sunnis and drove them into the "Lebanese" camp. The same argument may be used in the case of the Druze. That leaves only the Shia of both the Beka'a and the South. It appears that Syria, Iran and HA have a tenuous hold on the loyalty of the less affluent in that community primarily because HA has been able to provide social services that the Lebanese government has failed to provide.
Of course the above is a very rough description of the Lebanese mosaic but it seems that if the current crisis is allowed to play itself out then a large segment of the Shia community will renounce the HA demands on them. If that happens then it would be for the March 14 camp to show that they can govern effectively and benefit all the Lebanese.
BTW, the North of Lebanon has traditionally had strong ties with Syria but the connection has become much weaker as a result of the new crop of politicians in Tripoli who have managed to defeat the Karami clan two consecutive times. As for the Saida area I do not think that your characterisation of the Bizris is accurate. They might not like Harriri, but they are not Syrian supporters. Their Lebanese credentials are impeccable. Obviously most of the traditional Shia leadership and many others have always been opposed to HA and its bankrupt policies.

Jeha, Amir
Islam has not worked out yet an interpretation that stresses the general ideas of the Moslem faith without having to always go back to the Holy Book. I mention this because I have lectured , written and participated in conferences about this issue extensivley and as a result I reject categorically the charachterization of OBL, the Salafi etc.. as fundamentalists. All Moslems are fundamentalists while the groups that many call Fundamentalists should more appropriately called Islamists or Political Islamists. I was very pleased to learn that A. Soroush, the Iranian intellectual, has often articulated this idea. Regretably I have not read a lot of his writtings.

Jeha said...


Just to clarify, I said that "Saad and Bizri clans of Saida still oppose the Hariris", but that does not necessarily mean that they support for Syria. Rather, they could leverage Syria to come to a better arrangement with Hariri.

You make an interesting point on faith, use of the word "fundamentalist" as a convenience, but this is a logical fallacy. Better use "extremists", or "fanatics"... who are trying to put the "fun" back in fundamentlism.

amir in tel aviv said...

"...All Moslems are fundamentalists while the groups that many call Fundamentalists should more appropriately called Islamists or Political Islamists".
Political Islamists. Right.!
The Sunnis are beyond hope; the Sunna as a whole is about politics, Shari'a and Umma. The Shi'i establishment is different, in a sense that it has a debate between those who want the religious form of political system (current Iran), and those who prefer the professional politicians to run the country, while the clerics run their spiritual things. So, there's still hope that the 'sane' Shias will prevail.

Jeha said...


Ghassan meant here Fundamentalists as those who prefer to bind their understanding of religion to the fundamentals as they percieve them... But jumping to state that X is beyond hope or Y is still redeemable should be beneath you.

The same logic can apply to modern Judaism; in the same way as you group all Sunnis in the Salafi label, some can group all Jews under the Meir Kahane's of this world who reduc the religion to its geographic expression, and the Bible to a real estate manual. Yet others can consider that biology is evil, because of the "social darwinism" and racial purity who provoked much human suffering.

It is a fact that all human belief systems can be taken to extremes, and none is free from distortions and fanaticism of any stripe. By making the statements you made, you risk falling into the trap.

amir in tel aviv said...

You're falling in the trap of over-simplicity. "Jewish extremism" cannot be compared to Sunni Salafism (as you choose to call it). It could have been wise of the Sunni establishment, to treat the Salafism, as the Judaism and Israel treated the Kahana movement (outlaw.!).
You try to imply that the Salafism is a temporary phenomenon, but in fact, the 'reformist' or more "sane" form of the Sunna, is the vanishing phenomenon (at least among the brainwashed young crowds).
The Salafism, or the raw form of Sunna, with the fantasy stories of conquest and grandeur of the 3 first generations after Mohamed, is todays mainstream. Don't try to compare it with modern Judaism.

Lirun said...

any chance of getting the text to that in english..

while i could pic up many words and the images help.. i still didnt understand most and would like to

Jeha said...


I am only stating that all extremisms are the same, though you are right to point out that the official Jewish response vis-a-vis people like Kahane is far more honourable than other religions who choose, at best, ambivalence.

However, I am pointing out the dangers inherent to any moral belief system based either on a perceived undertanding (social darwinism, commmunism...) or revelation (all religions). They have in them the seeds of "fundamentalists", or a better word may be extremism. In this sense, yes, the Salafis are worse, because they are "more extreme" than many others. However they are not inherent to Islam; being based on hearsay more than religion or logic. In this sense, they are temporary.

However, to those who are confronting them, they appear much more permanent and powerful, similarly to the inquistion in spain... The inquisition went away after a while, and modern Christianity owes much more to the insights of Moslem scholars like Ibn Rushd than it cares to admit.


I have no translation to the LeMonde piece. But they sometimes come up in english on their site...