Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dress Rehersal (1/3)

The battle in Nahr El-Bared is more than a firefight between the Army and some crazed lunatics. The army may be winning at great cost, and Mr. Jibril and his retinue may join in the fun, and this may escalate further as the recent bombings demonstrated.

The bombings in Ashrafieh and Verdun are more than attacks by Syrian mobsters against Lebanese freedom.

But this is not the worse of it…

I fear that there is more to it. No matter how bad this is, the real struggle could well be far worse, and the current battle may well prove to be a dress rehearsal for a far greater fight to come.

Arab Destiny

On the longer run, that fight is not only about Lebanon’s future, but about the destiny of the Arab Soul, as part of the ideological war between Black Arabism and White Arabism.

This is no mere grandstanding; ever since the advent of the Ottoman Tanzimat, the deep conflicting currents within the Arab world have always surfaced in Lebanon, as Arabs struggled to embrace the modern world and come to terms with their own history.

Similarly to Europe in the 19th Century, the current struggle has always been between two broad camps; progressives and conservatives, each one a motley crew of varied alliances. My own bias notwithstanding, the current struggle more complex and far more than about mere worker’s rights, as simplistic Lefties may have you think.

The aspect that concerns us today is the immediate events unfolding in Lebanon, with the Lebanese Armed Forces struggling against Fath Al-Islam, Security Forces struggling against terror attacks… All this, in the context of infiltrations directed and sponsored by a Syrian regime who seems hell-bent on interpreting openings as either weakness or blan seign. As Tony and AllahPundit put it;

So now you see how 'productive' Pelosi’s — and Rice’s — outreach to Damascus has been [...] Talking is not consequence-free, contrary to the prevailing punditry

Lebanese Destiny

Our immediate context is Lebanon’s destiny. And yes, to the risk of sounding like a broken “March 14th” record; it is ALL about the Hariri tribunal.

In this context, the tribunal issue is the culmination of a fight between Progressives and Conservatives. This is not a straight forward fight; neither are the progressive all on the side of “White Arabism”, nor are the conservatives all Nasserite “Black Arabists”. The stakes will not change, but many parties will switch sides as the sectarian rapport de force is adjusted after the dust settles.

For this reason, we have to add an “in between” Lebanese camp. Its members will either serve useful idiots or become great heroes, depending on the timing of their actions, and the support they get.

The Progressives

The word “progressive” is overused, with as many definitions as there are fields of human activity, or the lack of it. By the dictionary definition:

Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods”.

Many forget that Aoun’s partisans were the first progressives, yearning to break the “order” established by the United States under the Pax Syriana. This brought us to March 14th, when all of us, save for Hezb and Amal, were progressives. Aoun has now moved away from the progressive camp, and the main contenders for the label are Hairiri, Joumblat and Geagea, backed by the Saudis and most Arabs. Some of those 11th hour progressives are lowlifes who “turned coats” in the nick of time, as a new master came to Damascus and Syria’s fortunes were changing

Their conversion had started after the 2000 Israeli withdrawal, the sole purpose of Hezb’s “resistance” became (for optimists) its own self-perpetuation, reinforced by its own social network, the party was taking over the country… As Southern Lebanon was freed by one occupier, the rest of the country fell deeper under the yoke of another one. This was not to the liking of many powerful interests,; as the situation had changed, so did their interests, and they were soon gravitating towards the “progressive” camp.

The Conservatives

The established disorder has many partisans. The definition above, from their perspective, becomes;

Promoting or favoring progress toward [what one considers are] better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods”.

To many conservatives, the established order is nice; this is why the French CGT likes Segolen, and why Hezb likes Syria… They were doing well, thank you; to them, “progress” is a matter of perspective.

In Lebanon, thanks to the “Free World’s” complacency and short-sightedness, a new regional order has emerged, under the extortionist yoke of all the lowlifes whose only skill is playing Quislings, or committing murder and making mayhem.

Things are changing now. Initially, the Syrians had a measure of support within the House of Saoud and the British. Their Quislings drew much solace from it, but it all blew away when the bomb that killed Hariri; Saudi Arabia was now solidly opposed to the Assad clan’s interests. Even the so far lenient British are now slowly moving away from their seat on the fence, if you consider the Economist as a good Barometer;

Although Syria has denied any connection to the assassinations, or to the current violence, there is evidence to support the charges against it. […] During Syria's long occupation most of Lebanon's 12 Palestinian camps were directly controlled by Syrian military intelligence. Syrian intelligence also infiltrated several radical jihadist groups, using them for dirty work both in Lebanon and in Iraq (against American troops). The leader of Fatah al Islam, whose ideology is close to that of al-Qaeda, is known to have been held in Syrian custody before resurfacing in Lebanon in 2005. Since then the group has recruited not only among Lebanon's 400,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom are destitute and disillusioned by the failure of secular groups to better their lot, but also among international jihadists.

The Syrians may be on their way to losing the “Palestinian” lever, at great cost to braver nations as both the Palestinians and Lebanese are set to suffer. Its renunciation of Fath Al-Islam may become more than mere rhetoric when/if the Lebanese Army is done with them.

Syria will be left with few other real levers than Hezb, now a key component of their defence strategy. It had not always been thus; initially, the resistance to Israel was a progressive act of sorts, but it was taken over by Hezb; after imposing itself on the Civil War scene, the party more than “took the lead” from the “secular” groups who had carried out the first operations. This was no mere “passing the flag”, as Hezb actively sidelined other parties with heavy Syrian help. Having first brutally repressed the party, Hafez El-Assad made a deal with Iran and streamlined his sponsorship operations. It allowed Hezb a measure of exclusive control over Southern Lebanon, at the expense of other movements.

Those in Between

The “in-between” here would be mainly Aoun and the Palestinians. Understandably, some would be excused to add Joumblat, our national chameleon champion, but he is merely an excellent indicator of the direction of the political winds… It is a fool that opposes the storm; statesmen bend and wait for better times.

Today, Aoun finds himself among the “useful idiots”. Whether it is due to a spiteful personality or sheer stupidity, he has little justification. He is right in pointing out the intelligence failures. He is also right in pointing out that the current government had, within it, some of the elements that made possible today’s current morass. But he is wrong on the fundamentals, he far too readily forgets that much of it is due to his new partner’s continuing hold over some security services, their sabotage of others, their infiltration of the armed forces, and their role in bringing about the current mess.

The Palestinians are still playing a swing role; for all the support they have given the Lebanese Armed Forces, many of their “men on the ground” remain dubious at best. They have their own safety to worry about… It is true, however, that the Army’s operations show a worrying lag of planning and vision. It is also true that we Lebanese share the blame for the sorry lot of our Palestinian brethren, having restricted them to camps and forbidden them from (officially) working.

But it also the fact that their leaders have contributed much to the current morass. Arafat S.à.R.T.L, held sway over Lebanon in the 60’s and 70’s. Heck, they may have even played a role in Koreiche’s accession to the Maronite Patriarchate! The Pope even had to promote him away to Cardinal, to “bring in” the current Patriarch…

But they were all too happy to maintain a ready pool of cannon fodder, and blocked many an attempt to improve the fundamentals of the camps’ economies.

What Does it all Mean?

With all those neighbours and “friends”, No wonder we Lebanese often quip that Lebanon’s best neighbour is the Mediterranean Sea; it has not invaded us yet…

Until the next (real) Tsunami, that is…

When it comes to the immediate problem at hand, I am not sure whether it is too late for integration.

I am not sure if there is more to Fath Al-Islam than meets the eye. Robert Fisk asks a few good questions, and raises one side of the veil hiding the cesspool under Lebanon’s glitz;

And who were the dead men I saw yesterday, perforated by bullets, partly torn open by grenades? Silent testimony is all we receive from the dead. One of them had big eyes above his fluffy beard, eyes which stared at us and at the police who jeered at his corpse. I wonder if they will not come to haunt us soon. And if we will discover what lies behind this terrible day in Lebanon

Unfortunately, Fisk is too strongly influenced by Hersh’s sophistic stupidity, which has been discredited countless times by so many others.

What Now?

One can never be certain as to the future impact of immediate events. But one can be dead certain of what immediate actions are needed; the best we can do is stick to first-principles, regardless of the “short-term” rewards...

In this case, I am damn sure it is too late to ask the Lebanese to give a hoot, or to demand our armed forces exert restraint. And I am dead certain that traditional half-measures, are the last thing we need. I am also dead certain that a repeat of 1973, no matter who “engineered” this one, will only usher in another 1975;

Lebanon’s got to win this at all costs

Lebanon’s got to Finish off those bastard

Failing that, Lebanon will die (not) trying.

And it would be deservedly so…


Sam said...

In your text you use the word 'stupid' so many times.
Fisk is a 'Sophistic stupid', Hersh is stupid, Aoun is Stupid, Palestinians are stupid, Syrians are stupid...
You can read articles that showed up about US officials and intelligence analysts saying the same as Hersh, as well as
Al Jazeera interviews,
Institute for near east policy,
US organisation crisis group,
Sunday Telegraph,
Associated press,
Le Monde...
They are all stupid?
As my grandfather said, those who think that everybody else is stupid are...

ghassan karam said...

One common mistake that is often committed whenever we are confronted with an event is the tendency to simplify and treat that development as separate from its historical roots. That is one reason why the conventional wisdom is often wrong because it emphasizes the apparent and the shallow. Events are rarely ,if ever, the product of isolated factors and linear thinking. Maybe that is why dialectical thinking is the favoured method of analysis by the most influential thinkers.

All the above is to stress that Jeha, is right in suggesting that if we are not to mix the forest for the trees then we have to take a deep breath and look objectively and thoroughly at the dynamics behind events even when it is so compelling to just ascribe the recent confrontation in Lebanon to a zealous misguided few.

Many , and arguably all of the Arab regimes have come to the realization that Pan Arabism is a dead issue. No less of an Arabist than Nizzar Qabbani rang its death toll in his 1991 poem when he dared wonder allowed whether Pan Arabism is a total fabricated lie. Well it was not supposed to be a lie but the movement became one as a result of the lack of an "Arab Awakenning" as George Antonius called for. Like it or hate it Pan Arabism had at its heart one feature that is essential to modernity, secularism. It appears to me that Pan Arabism, essentially an intellectual movement, could not be anything but secular if for nothing else but the fact that so many of its founding fathers were Christians: Amin Rihani, George Antonius, Costantine Zuraik, Michel Aflaq...
These thinkers and many others saw the need for Arab unity after the dissolution of the "sick man of europe" and they in essense argued for an Arab cultural hegemony in the Middle East. This call proved to be appealing to many of the young Arab political leaders at the time and especially Nasser in Egypt. I believe that at least two major forces conspired together to kill Pan Arabism. Nasser, Aflaq and others decided to adopt the Marxist socialist model of state planning and state ownership of industry. This repressive authoritarian model did not prove to be capable of delivering on any of its promises, not even standing up to Israel. But even the failures in the inability to make good on its promises in the social political and military fields was not sufficient to discredit Pan Arabism totally. What finally dealt its death blow was the revival of Pan Islam. Islamists are driven by the idea of the Moslem Ummah, they see a secular Arab unity as a major obstacle in their path.The Ummah is not to be confined only to Arabs , all moslems have an equal claim to it, and obviously one cannot have a secular Moslem ummah.

Back to Lebanon. I have argued for a couple of years that HA cannot win this historical contest in Lebanon essentially because its Marja is non-Arab. HA must be seen for what it is,a Pan Islamist group. The present leaders in the Arab world are not Pan Arabists but they are definitely not Pan Islamists. That is why Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the rest will have no qualms about closing ranks to prevent the non-Arab iranian influenced HA to take over Lebanon and at the same time they will use the zealotry of such fundamental groups as Fath alIslam whenever it suits their goals to present a counter force to HA but they will not allow Pan Islam to gain a credible footing since Pan Islam spells the demise of these regimes.
The above is a crude rough outline of the dynamics within which the Lebanese and the regional developments are to be seen. Let me conclude by saying Pan Arabism is dead, Pan Islam will be fought successfully. The nation states in the Middle East will survive and will respond to these challenges by improving the lots of their masses and by allowing civil society to take hold. An Arab common market will have to come about but full democracy will have to wait until a major reform movement can reconcile the idea of secularism with the Islamic doctrines. Lebanon is the least of the Arab countries that is shackeled by Pan Islamists and my hope is that we will have the wisdom to establish a modern secular state that could go on to influence the shape of events in the Arab speaking countries.The US adventure in Iraq has failed to produce a model democracy for the region but the war for liberty and civil society is not over yet. Lebanon has a big role to play in the future of the region.

Maverick said...

which remphasises Jehas ending lines that Lebanon,the progressive and the secular must win at all costs.Great commentary Ghassan.but can Pan -arabism be reawakened on the social/cultural level?where individuals from the Middle east may connect with one another and share a common threshold.Ie Arab Idol and Superstar,and arab pop in general?

Anonymous said...

Looking near me with ethnic music and all. Arab idol and all ME Superstar were just around the corner, a minute ago. But then came these fellows with the beards. By their beards and uniforms and black face cloths and K47 I could not tell if they were Jews or Arabs and if Arabs (or Persians) of what sect, and burned the internet shop and the light music station. They also broke the TV set and told our ladies to go and dress. Then they found the wine bottles and started to break them, when I cried & begged to save the wine saying that as Jew I am allowed wine, I was told that 1) I may sell it to a muslim which will destroy interfate peace 2) any how it was not kosher and they (Jews ? Muslims?) were doing a universal good deed for all fates by preventing me from transgressing the word of the Lord.
There went the Arab-Jewish all ME Idol.

Sam said...

Your analysis about the dynamics is good but I think that there will sooner or later be a form of federalism between states in the region, call it pan whatever you want, there is no escape from a certain form of unity (if we want to live freely and without war that is).
Look around us: The US is a block, Russian federation, China, india, Europe (which kept on having world wars until they created a Union, imperfect yes but necessary).
So we can have democratic states but that is not enough: we have to have a form of cooperation/unity/federalism ...
There is no escape.
Now You were referring to the Pan arab versus Pan Persian clash. That is true on the long run but not today. Today we have a common goal: getting rid of the US/israeli attempt to control the "Greater Middle East". It will not stand this I can tell you. The majority of the people in the region and in Lebanon will never accept to live under the kind of Middle East the US and israel are planning for us.

Sam said...

This is the truth about fath al Islam from Talal El Assaad an ex Future Movement leader:

Jeha said...


Interesting link. But it is beside the point; as I pointed many times out before, Hariri has spread so much "support" that it was bound to reinforce such Salafist groups.

It is a side effect of their 2-pronged effort; 1- to oppose Hezb, a supremely sectarian group, and 2- to try and take "maximum lines", as demonstrated in the quadripartite accord.

It is has to do more with short term view than long term planning. The real costs come due later, with interests...

As to the "stupidity", please do not make put words in my mouth;

1- I used the word twice, and yes, it eminently fits Herr General; the string of defeats that he has driven us to is proof enough. Hersh's stupidity may be worse; it is not congenital, as demonstrated by many other great pieces tha the penned. Maybe it was merely "intellectual dishonesty"

2- As to the others, those are your words. Note that, like Ghassan and many others, it is not stupidity that I berate, but the fact that the plans of so many are incompatible with a secular, sovereign, Lebanon, and a modern Arab world

3- As to me being stupid; that is quite possible. It is all in the timing, as my blog heading states.

Ghassan, Maverick,

I guess it all demonstrates the danger of over-reliance on foreign powers, be they Saudis or Iranians. They will advance their interests more than ours. Lets we forget the saying that "better your close neighbour than your far-away friend", we may soon be reminded .

Roman Kalik said...

Today we have a common goal: getting rid of the US/israeli attempt to control the "Greater Middle East".

Ah, joy. The good old “Arab Victims Under Siege” argument, always useful when seeking a person with a pan-Arabist Nasserite mindset. Of course, the fact that this Aura of World Domination that you give to Israelis is as amusing and pathetic as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were in their day.

As for US interests, between a wide-range focus on alternative fuels and research ,along with China’s mass-production industry, the Green Left and the Isolationist Right will march hand in hand to a better future (occasionally stopping to wipe said hands on their trousers). Ain’t it beautiful, Jeha?

And the monolithic oil companies of old will soon be gone. Enter... The Energy Facilitators. And while Exxon may still live in the past, Shell, BP, Total and even Chevron are looking to the future.

As for the Middle-East, as the Black Gold slowly becomes That Gooey Muck That Comes Out of the Ground again, it will become irrelevant on the international level. Those countries that don’t rely on oil but rather on technological and information-service industries will be the ones that will survive. That is, unless the jihadis blow us all up first.

Sorry for stealing your style a bit, Jeha, but I thought it was fitting. ;-)

Roman Kalik said...

Oh, almost forgot.

H/T Nobody :)