Beware of Small States

The chaos of Lebanon has thrown up an Arab horror paralleled only in post-invasion Iraq. It has also produced the Arab world’s most urgent intellectual life, and its first victory against Israel. Lebanon is the most contradictory of countries, “a more open, liberal and democratic society than any of its Arab neighbours” precisely because of “its vulnerability to domestic dissension.” So, with its seventeen sects and constantly shifting allegiances, who would dare to explain Lebanon?

No better candidate than David Hirst, whose 1977 book “The Gun and the Olive Branch” was one of the very first to sympathetically present the Palestinian plight in English. Hirst’s latest work “Beware of Small States” is a panoramic study of Lebanon’s difficult history which strikes exactly the right balance between close detail and broad interpretative sweep. The writing is precise, penetrative and elegant. For sober, logical analysis, “Beware of Small States” outstrips even Robert Fisk’s magisterial “Pity the Nation.”

Hirst explains Lebanon, and especially the fifteen-year maelstrom of the civil war, its pogroms, set battles, kidnappings and car bombs, by delineating patterns of cause and effect. The civil war is interpreted as “the intertwining of the socio-economic, the sectarian and the Palestinian, those three characteristics of the whole, ever more noxious brew.”

Continue reading “Beware of Small States”

Without Shepherds

A new documentary by Cary McClelland and Ben Smith.

In the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination as violent attacks ripple throughout Pakistan and tensions escalate with the West, WITHOUT SHEPHERDS offers a rare glimpse into real life in the shadow of the war on terror. From the streets of Karachi to the Afghan border, the film crosscuts between six people wrestling with a country in turmoil and defiantly standing for change: a cricket star building a new political party, a trucker crossing dangerous territory to feed his family, a supermodel pushing feminism through fashion, a subversive Sufi rocker using music to heal, a female journalist working behind Taliban lines, and an ex-mujahid seeking redemption. Together their stories give context to a crisis that has dangerous consequences for the region and the world and unveil the progressive face of this misunderstood country.