Romney’s Radical

The following is an excerpt from my latest article for Al Jazeera in which I discuss how the Israel lobby has taken over Republican front-runner Mitt Romney’s Middle East policy through its man with a shady past:

[Walid Phares] is a one-time member of the notorious Lebanese Forces – the sectarian Christian militia which played a leading role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre (though there is no evidence that he personally played a part). It is an experience he now wisely leaves out of his resume.  Nor does he include his association with Etienne Saqr, the head of the Guardians of the Cedars, an outfit the Congressional Research Service described as “[a]n extremist Maronite militia and terrorist organisation”. Saqr played a prominent role in Phares’ World Lebanese Organisation long after he was exiled to Israeli-occupied south Lebanon for his crimes against the Lebanese and Palestinian people.

But it is not this association with the Lebanese Forces and Etienne Saqr that grants Phares his expert’s cache. He is an Arab with bona fide academic credentials who validates proponents of military intervention in the Middle East the same way that Ahmed Chalabi once did. Indeed, both once shared the same publicist, Benador Associates, a neoconservative favourite. Phares can make the aspirations of the Arabs and Iranians sound remarkably consonant with the interests of Tel Aviv. For someone who wrote papers for Israeli think tanks urging continued occupation of Southern Lebanon (“the only place in the world where Christian and Jewish blood is shed together for the defence of two Judeo-Christian nations”) this might not be too big an imaginative leap. But his capacity to divine the real yearnings of the Middle East’s Muslims is perhaps less certain.

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Resistance Regime?

One of my favourite chants from the Syrian uprising is the powerful and cleanly apparent illi yuqtil sha‘abu kha’in, or ‘he who kills his people is a traitor.’ It’s cleanly apparent to me at least – but not to everybody. Some kneejerk ‘leftists’ (a rapidly diminishing number) still hold that the Syrian regime is a nationalist, resistance regime, a necessary bulwark against Zionism, and that therefore it must be protected from its unruly subjects; that in fact it’s the unruly subjects, rather than those who murder them, who are the traitors.

Very sadly, Shia Islamists – Lebanon’s Hizbullah, the sectarian parties in power in Baghdad, and Iran – have repeated the same argument, not because they believe it but for tedious clannish reasons. Syrians aren’t very surprised by the Iraqi or Iranian positions; it’s Hizbullah’s betrayal which sticks in the craw. After all, until Hassan Nasrallah began propagandising on behalf of the regime’s repression, Syrians of all sects supported and admired Hizbullah. During Israel’s 2006 assault they welcomed southern Lebanese refugees into their homes. Indeed, the regime’s alliance with Hizbullah can in large part be credited to the Syrian people; the alliance was one of the regime’s only real sources of popularity. The Asad clique needed Hizbullah’s resistance flag to cover its own nationalist nakedness.

Sectarianism is the old curse of the mashreq, exacerbated in modern times by Sykes-Picot, minority dictatorships, Zionist meddling, and the invasion of Iraq. Lebanon’s political system, indeed the whole idea of Lebanon, is as sectarian as can be. Lebanese Sunnis and Christians are every bit as sectarian as Lebanese Shia, and usually worse. So perhaps Nasrallah can’t help himself. But whatever his excuse he is thoroughly wrong, strategically as well as morally, and his wrongness is public and blatant. Whether or not the Syrian regime falls, Nasrallah’s current position will do more damage to Hizbullah’s ability to fight Zionism, to carry the aspirations of Arabs and Muslims, than any number of Israeli assassinations and bombing runs.

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My Coming Out Story

Maya Mikdashi writes at Jadaliyya on her personal experience with sectarianism in Lebanon:

When I say I am a “Sunni” this is what it means: it means that my father is a Sunni and that therefore, I am categorized as a “Sunni” Muslim by the Lebanese state. It means that if I have children with anyone other than a Sunni Lebanese man, those children will not be Lebanese Sunnis. It means that I can never be the Lebanese President, the Speaker of Parliament, or the Head of the Army. I suppose that my being a woman makes this point redundant. Being a Lebanese Sunni means that if I marry, I must (unless I marry a Christian abroad) receive my marriage certificate from the Sunni authorities. It means that I inherit according to the Hanafi code of personal status. It means I cannot (legally) adopt children, and that if I were to have political ambitions, I would be counted in the quota of “Sunni seats” for public office. The fact that I am a Sunni does not mean that I believe that ‘Uthman was the right man for the job, or that I pray without touching my head to a rock five times a day, or that I endorse, or gloat, over what happened in Karbala. It does not mean that I feel some sort of affinity with Sunnis in other parts of the world, or that when the Saudi King or Mufti speaks in my name I do anything other than laugh. It does not mean that I support the Bahraini regime’s brutal oppression of a democratic uprising, and it does not mean that I am “afraid” of those Iranians. It does not mean that I am anti-Hezbollah, or that I am part of a “culture of life.” Being a Lebanese Sunni doesn’t even require me to be abeliever in, and practitioner of, Islam. I am a Lebanese Sunni only because my father, and his before him, is a Lebanese Sunni from Beirut. The fact that my mother is an American Christian from a quiet tree-lined suburb does not matter. My ID and my census registration records say so.

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Uncivilized Relations: Israel confronts its neighbours

by Brenda Heard

The turmoil that has beleaguered the Middle East for decades has been described many ways.  On the 5th of June, however, the terminology turned vulgar.  This enduring conflict was publically characterised as a ‘war between the civilized man and the savage’.  Boldly announced with a plea to ‘support Israel/defeat Jihad’, the full page advertisement ran in the New York Post’s special section covering the city’s ‘Celebrate Israel’ parade.

Declaring the Muslim people ‘savage’ is, of course, just a school-yard taunt from Islamaphobe Pamela Geller, who gleefully takes credit for the advertisement.  Had her rant been limited to her own blog, we might easily dismiss it.  The problem lies in its acceptance into mainstream discourse.  The Post may be tabloid journalism, but its paper edition remains the seventh most popular paper in America.  And this sort of crude advertisement for a political cause panders to a public comfortable with the mind-set of ‘don’t bore me with the details’.

But the details are critical if we are to consider a conflict that has taken thousands of lives.  How can we, for instance, reconcile the concept of ‘civilized’ with the reality of shooting unarmed protesters?  The advertisement asks us to accept Israel as ‘civilized’; yet as these very words were first read, Israeli soldiers were shooting into a crowd of Syrian-Palestinians, killing 24 and injuring another 350.

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Nir Rosen on Western media fraud in the Middle East

Journalist and author Nir Rosen writes the following in an article for Al Jazeera about the myriad obstacles to the dissemination of truth in Western reporting on the Middle East:

Relying on a translator means you can only talk to one person at a time and you miss all the background noise. It means you have to depend on somebody from a certain social class, or sect, or political position, to filter and mediate the country for you. Maybe they are Sunni and have limited contacts outside their community. Maybe they are a Christian from east Beirut and know little about the Shia of south Lebanon or the Sunnis of the north. Maybe they’re urban and disdainful of those who are rural. In Iraq, maybe they are a middle class Shia from Baghdad or a former doctor or engineer who looks down upon the poor urban class who make up the Sadrists. And so in May 2003, when I was the first American journalist to interview Muqtada Sadr, my bureau chief at Time magazine was angry at me for wasting my time and sending it on to the editors in New York without asking him, because Muqtada was unimportant, lacking credentials. But in Iraq, social movements, street movements, militias, those with power on the ground, have been much more important than those in the establishment or politicians in the green zone, and it is events in the red zone which have shaped things.

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Protesters shot dead for shouting: Nakba Remembrance Day 2011

by Brenda Heard

The 15th of May is a day of remembrance. Around the world, we remember the systematic displacement and massacre of the Palestinian people. In their honour, we take note of the necessity of safeguarding the sliver of impoverished land that has been left to the survivors. We pay tribute to those who have refused to be stomped into oblivion.

Yet the Israeli newspaper Haaretz bemoans self-righteously the ‘Palestinian protests for the annual Nakba Day, which mourns the creation of the State of Israel’. At this phraseology we can only shake our heads and say, ‘no, it is not about you; it is about the injustice done to the Palestinian people; it is this injustice that is the catastrophe’.

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