Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Audacity of Hype

As one watches the unfolding of the world’s single most important election, one feels as if we live in increasingly “interesting times”.

The Real Contest

Ever since we have come under the increased attention of those in authority, the United States have been directly involved in our little country; no more “outsourcing”… Disengagement may have been “the most sensible policy” on the short term, but the long term yielded things such as 9/11.

So it is no wonder that, as we Lebanese wait for our president to be “elected”, we look with concern at the contest for control of the world’s capital. This contest has now narrowed down; among a hyped-up amateur, an eager political operator, and an hothead(?) war veteran.

Such political contests are fun to watch, especially when the Mundial is not on, or the Stanley cup is not too enthralling. And in this contest, the money inflation has different effects on the different games; while money has a corrosive effect on athlete’s performance, it adds a spring of confidence in the steps of politicians… And the contest heats up.

Having been watching the horse race for a while now, I can feel vindicated that my picks have been reaching the finish line… At least I get more luck at the office betting pool with politics; Brazil’s millionaires are far too determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

…The Khazen’s Dinner

Those political contests in the United States are not exceptional or really unique to that country, and they fit well in the context of history. First, the passions maybe as high as 1968, but it is nowhere near as high as the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Second, and for all the hype, the manufacture of the Obama candidacy is not different from that of Warren Harding; looked good and presidential, with little substance. Everytime the political forces realign, they try to bring in some “change” in the face of established powers.

It does not always stick. Consider the case of the once powerful Lebanese Khazen clan… No the world does not revolve around Lebanon, by my world does; so bear with me, you can read worse

The Khazen’s had historically been the bankers of the Maronite Church; their name, Khazen, comes from “Khazneh”, or “Money Chest”… (Note: check out MM's corrections)

Yet a few upstarts were rising in their Kesrouan domain. Lebanon was awash with Italian weapons back in the mid-19th century; the word for rifle, “boundouquiah”, is derived from the Arabic name for Venice… However, Tanios Chahine’s Fellahs bit more that they could chew during their uprising, leading to war and the 1860’s massacres. A “smarter” challenge to the Khazen’s came during the early 20th Century, during the mandate, when the French were backing Ghanem clan.

On day, Ghanem had organized a huge lunch in Jounieh, Kesrouan’s port city. When told about it, one of the Khazen elders commented simply;

“We’ll see them at dinner”

Ghanem did not really upset the good order of Kesrouan, but he stuck around. And the name stuck; the French’s good friend, “Le Bon Ghanem”, quickly became “Ghanem-El-Bone”.

Facts, Stubborn Facts

And so it remains in politics; short term hype may not always yield to a lasting effect. In the United States, the Obama challenge is deflating as an otherwise promising candidate is proving to another misguided politician who appears to think there can be a moral equivalency between the United States and other countries. The question has been often framed as such;

And if the United States—the most dominant military and economic power the world has ever known—believes that it and its allies do not have to play by the rules, why should Hezbollah or anyone else?

But the framing is wrong. This is neither about morals, nor about “dialogue of civilizations, but about rival national interests. Ever since Colbert, it was clear that states have no friends, no principles, only “Raison d'État”. And ever since Stalin, it was clear that might will always be right, albeit the “soft power of ideas” can still win over the long run… especially when backed by cheap(er) Saudi oil.

The teams of both “Billary” and McCain appear closer to understanding the world’s new realities. Hyped they may be, but far less "audaciously" so than Obama; rather than a candidate who happens to be black, that slick operator is proving to be just another black candidate. should they continue along this path, the few idiots around Obama are leading him to misunderstanding the world’s underlying dynamics, which could yield to a likely defeat.

First, they have yet to get Ben Laden’s memo, but a lot more others were swayed by his prose, which clearly shows that this is a fight to the end, with no away, and no out;

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions.

Second, they appear to misunderstand the true nature of American pride. And no obfuscation can hide them; as more people realize that Barak is closer to Sharpton that MLK, they will dump him for the lesser of two evils.

As they circle the wagons around Obama, those arrogant unrealistic “realists” will likely sink with him. They had lunch, and now someone will have them all for dinner.

…And that’s what worries me;

The vocal concerns for Lebanon and the drive for secularism may all be a mere facade. Behind all this "audacity of hype" hides the enduring fact that ours remains a small, secondary country. And small countries like ours may well become the seasoning in this witches’ brew in which Bashar's goose is cooked.


Ms Levantine said...

Great round-up as usual Jeha. Just two historical comments:

-Venice flooded Mt Lebanon with guns (hence the name boundoukia as you point out) after the fall of Cyprus in the 1570's. This accounted for the rise of Fakhredin.

By the early 19th century, Venice had lost its independence to Napoleon, and was part of the Austrian empire. Its influence in the Levant was non-existent.

The rise of Tanios Chahine was due to social and economic problems in Mt Lebanon.

-The Khazens had a huge influence on the Maronite church, but they had their name before this influence started.


Jeha said...


I am not sure about the fact that weapons only were a factor in Fakhreddine's rise, as he had a few things going for him as well. I note an interesting statistic, cited in Dib's book "warlords and merchants", that Mount Lebanon had 1 gun for every 3 inhabitants in the 1840's. He suggest that most of them were sold by Italian intermediaries..

I Thank you for the corrections and clarifications. I am getting increasingly sloppy with my typos and loose facts...

Now, can I have fries with that humble pie?

M Bashir said...

this post as been submitted to:


which is another global voices project


Jeha said...

"voices without votes"... Great title. Too bad it has to be so accurate.

Still, we're lucky in a sense. One is reminded of the Ad campaign that asks; "what would you want to be when you grow up"? "Alive!" came back the reply.