Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hassan's Halloween Address to the Nation

First, some ominous news:

Bush claims the terrorists "will win" if the Democrats take the House and Senate next week.

The US is training "the good guys" in Jericho to fight Hamas. [In other words, the US is arming and training Abu Mazen's death squads to further incite civil strife amongst Palestinians.]

How Hezbollah is working "extremely fast" to rebuild its military- and security forces in southern Lebanon, and why reporters can't tell a Hezbollah fighter from a bike messenger.

Israeli mock raids over southern Beirut "heaviest show of air power since the ceasefire".

Reporting on the routine Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace has started to resemble reporting from Iraq: "It was the bloodiest day in Iraq since the last bloodiest day which was, well, just yesterday." No, but this time they dived down over residential areas and scared the bejayzus out of people. The Lebanese government announced that they fired anti-aircraft confetti at the intruding planes.

I would not rush to rebuild my house in southern Lebanon. Why not wait until after the next round and then invest in your dream home? Until then, enjoy your one-year rental courtesy of Sayyid Hassan and window shop, buy paint samples, and imagine how you could lavishly furnish a cozy bunker-bomb shelter for you and your loved ones.

I fear the Israeli government is thinking, "Do it twice, do it right", and is going to try to take on Hezbollah sooner rather than later. (Would later really be better?)
And "right" means trying to eliminate ze mozzerfucking tekhorrist Khezbollakh, once and for all ("for all" is a remanant of the old socialist character of Zionism.) Hezbollah's rush to re-arm and re-build the bunker network also indicates that they are anticipating a renewal of hostilities. Maybe I'm wrong? All you optimists out there, Jamal included, put in your two cents!

A young man with self-proclaimed close ties to Hezbollah (a generic pick-up line these days-- "Hey Baby, if you're good to me, I'll get us front row seats for Nasrallah's Ashura speech."), explained to me why Israel did not target Nasrallah at the September 22nd "victory rally". He claimed that Hezbollah threatened that UNIFIL troops would be considered hostages, in the event of an attack on the gathering. You heard correctly: they threatened UNIFIL through UNIFIL to tell Israel not to bomb the rally. Would Israel care, though? Would they listen if UNIFIL begged for mercy? What would they get in exchange for 7,500 Italians and Fijians? Well why didn't they attack the rally? Too many casualties? Old news, I know.

It's Halloween today! Let your natural hairdo determine your costume. If you're anorexic and bald, dress up as Samir Gea'gea. If you're a bald midgit, trick or treat as General Aoun. If you have a moustache and the cheesy grin of a paedophile doctor, you're Fatfat for the night. And if you have a full beard, you can either go as Hassan Nasrallah or shave it off into little patchy squares, apply tons of gel, tie your hair in a ponytail, and voila! you're Saad al-Hariri. Ladies you can choose between Strida (which to my Western ears sounds like a veneral disease) or Nayla Mouwad and terrorize the neighborhood on a motorbike!

Whatever you do, if people refuse you candy because Halloween is not a universally-recognized event, but rather an American-Zionist-capitalist ploy to steal Eid el Fitr leftovers, don't play nasty tricks, like igniting car bombs and tossing grenades. I myself am dressing up as a March 14th douchebag. I've rented a convertible for the occasion, and am practicing my pre-pubescent squeal, which I will unleash on poor Syrian street cleaners: "Allah, Hariri! Candy or your life, motherfuckers!"

Looks like we'll be seeing a new round of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Beirut soon. I wonder how many millions March 14th sans Aoun and March 8th avec Aoun can muster. 12 million? 15 million? More people than perished in World War II?

Sayyid Hassan is on TV now to mark the occasion of Halloween, which was the night when Hussein went trick or treating in Karbala, and... Never mind. It was a well-intended joke. Good night.

P.S. To the guy who posts comments on Naharnet as "Brutal Shiite", you show those Christians what it's all about. They're already emigrating en masse to Montreal and Paris. You get today's title for best online pseudonym. I thought I was doing well with "Karma assassin".

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Postwar boom

After the closure of Café Modga on Hamra Street, which I never had the pleasure of frequenting, a new establishment has opened to cater to the same crowd (roughly, local activists and the young intellegentsia.)

"Teh Marbouta" in Hamra offers free wireless Internet, inexpensive drinks and food, and a library/ reading room. It is quite cozy, and you can spend all day working there.

Since the end of the war, new establishments are popping up all over the place. Apparently there's even a lesbian bar called Coup D'etat. No men allowed. Except for the bouncer, who spends his time inside rather than outside the establishment, salavating profusely at the girl-on-girl action.

With the onslaught of NGOs setting up shop in postwar Beirut, many of my friends are now duly employed with decent salaries. Relief work is very lucrative for everyone but those on the receiving end.

That’s all for the good news.

A giant banner spans the width of Place Sassine in the heart of Achrafiyeh (Christian Beirut). It portrays Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, standing next to Bachir Gemayel. Now I know that photoshopping the living and the dead together is a popular propaganda motif here, but it does seem a bit odd to see the balding and pale Samir Geagea leaning in towards the young Bachir Gemayel. Even though Geagea was probably born bald with a pasty complexion, Gemayel has been dead for 24 years now. His corpse probably still looks healthier than Geagea.

While many Christians support the legacy of "Sheikh Bashir", Geagea can't claim the same today. He is trying to salvage the fringe support he enjoys by associating himself with the bygone "glorious" days of the late Phalangist leader. Those days when Geagea, under Gemayel's command, went around slaughtering innocents with his bare hands.

The statue at Martyrs Square has a FPM flag (Michel Aoun's party) stuck in one of the bulletholes in it's side, which testifies to the fact that March 14th teenagers no longer frequent their base. When are they going to take down that tent?

That square really is the antithesis of public space.

Aren't the failures of the movement apparent enough without all these silly tents? Not that March 14th really qualifies as a movement; its more of a blanket term for a handful of sectarian leaders who have something to hide. Not including Nabih Berri who has plenty to hide, but now deserves the title of political pimp. He's the go-to guy for everyone.

Late last night, a Maronite cab driver informed me, in the midst of polite conversation about food and the weather, that he wants to "fuck Livni". I was trying hard to place the name. Livni, Livni... oh right, the Israeli foreign minister.

For a while the conversation turned to Israeli chicks, Lebanese ladies who "have nice jeans (or genes?), nice car, nice makeup", and finally French women, who "don't shower and are all boys under their arms". Presumably he meant that they don't shave their armpits.

Finally he showed me wounds he endured from an RPG fired by the Lebanese Forces during the inter-Christian fighting in the late '80s. He was missing a few fingers and had thick scars across his wrists. He is a die-hard Aoun supporter and even likes Hezbollah, because they are "good people" and don't "cut off the head of the foreigners, like you".

But he was quick to lay in to "the Muslims" who all strap themselves with explosives over silly caricatures. He removed his seatbelt to simulate a man with a turban strapping a dynamite belt around his torso. "What did Papa do? What did Papa do? Papa is good", he kept repeating. I didn't make sense of this until he remarked that "Papa is German", and I made the connection between the Italian "Papa" and the "Pope". "I don't care if Bangladeshis draw caricatures of Jesus," he insisted.

Jamal makes fun of me for taking the opinions of taxi drivers as an indicator of popular opinion. Well I do. And I conclude that many Christians support Aoun's strategic alliance with Hezbollah, while still holding the same old sectarian prejudices.

The entrance to Hamra and pretty much every major road in the city is now patrolled by the army. Traffic into Hamra is routed into a single lane, and people are being stopped and asked to present their IDs. The Qantari mosque has a massive military build up in front of it (in a mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhood). This is all part of the increased security regimen to prevent further attacks and the outbreak of Shia-Sunni hostility.

I suspect that this is photoshopped, but it does testify to the divisions in this country. The Lebanese who spent the war partying in the mountains on a voyeuristic visit to Beirut's southern suburbs:

Monday, October 16, 2006

Apocalyptic weather & Buddhabar under attack

It is raining for the fourth day in a row. And I’m not talking umbrella weather; within minutes, the steep stone steps leading up to my house are awash with rainwater, carrying everything down in its path. People stand by their windows watching the apocalyptic downpour usher in the season known to Lebanese as "winter".
I am hopeful that the rain will clean the toxins and residual hazards of war from the atmosphere. And if Michel Aoun can’t stage a rally in this weather, perhaps it will keep sectarian troublemakers off the streets.

Riding home in a servis, I pointed to the site of Sunday morning's attack in Riad el Solh square in Beirut Central District. "That's where it happened," I said, as my roommate Maya strained to see through the rain. At about 2.30 am, unknown perpetrators fired three rocket-propelled grenades, allegedly from the very overpass we were crossing, into the general vicinity across from the UN, right by the yuppy Buddhabar. The Prime Minister’s office is also only 100 meters away from the site, as are many of the major media outlets. If you watched CNN during the war, this was the backdrop to all the talking heads reporting from Beirut. CNN anchor Hala Gorani – the one with the monotonous drone of a sleeping pill addict— paid her token dues to the Lebanese experience from here.

Naharnet referred to the building, which sustained the damage from the rockets as "residential". But this is misleading and hardly signficant, given the commercial and administrative importance of this corner of polished Beirut (nobody really lives there.) Nor were the nearby UN and Prime Ministerial mansion apparently the prime target; the rockets were fired from a distance of only a few hundred meters away and could easily have hit the UN. Rather, this area is prime Solidere (=Hariri) real estate and the pride of Sunni Beirut. This act was a brazen provocation intended to fuel Sunni anger at the Shia (and Hezbollah). It could have been Al Qaeda for all we know, or anyone trying to create sectarian unrest.

The government predictably blamed "pro-Syrian" forces. Ahmed Fatfat, the acting interior minister, linked this to assassination threats against himself and the Prime Minister.

"Fatfat told Reuters in an interview on Saturday that he had recently received a message from someone 'close to the Syrians,' telling him and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to 'take care.'
The message had said the Syrians are 'more angry than they were before February 14, 2005,' the date of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination, Fatfat said."

Of all the carbombs, attacks and assassinations that have plagued Lebanon in the past two years, it is interesting to note that the perpetrator of only one attack is known.

In May 2006, a March 14th deputy from northern Lebanon, Misbah Al-Ahdab, ordered his bodyguard to fire at his home in Tripoli. Al-Ahdab and the government hastily blamed pro-Syrian forces for this act of intimidation. Until the bodyguard was arrested and revealed that Al-Ahdab had ordered him to fire at the house to cause a media stir. After revealing this embarassing fact, the bodyguard, Jihad `Abdul-Hamid Al-`Aklah, was found hung in his cell the next morning. Nobody knows how he managed to smuggle a thick coil of rope into his cell. His family’s accusations of foul play and calls for an investigation went largely unreported.

As we were pulling up to our house, Maya asked the taxi driver what he made of Sunday’s attack. “The Shia, of course, are to blame,” he said throwing his hands in the air. “We Sunnis are armed and ready to take on the Shia if they enter West Beirut,” he proclaimed. “After Ramadan, you will be steeped up to your knees in blood.”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Rockets Hit Downtown Beirut, Slightly Injuring 6

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Back in Beirut: spies & kellaj

Boarding the plane at the hellish Heathrow airport, it felt a bit like flying to Beirut in the mid-1980s. The plane was empty except for a few Lebanese and a handful of Europeans. Two francophone Lebanese girls recognized eachother and struck up a conversation (in French). When the airplane meal was served they inquired at length about the preparation-- was it broiled or sauteed?-- and insisted on surveying the dishes before they committed to either spaghetti or salmon. I felt like telling them that the food was British and, by virtue, boiled to bland perfection.

I carefully scrutinized all the non-Lebanese passengers; could they really all be spies? An elderly lady seated across the aisle might have passed for a missionary, save for the vulgar display of sunburnt cleavage. Why was she flying to Beirut? To learn to bellydance? The redfaced middle-aged Briton sporting shorts and a poloshirt was surely an agent for MI6. He spoke loudly about cluster bombs. He must be one of the spies posing as NGO workers that I've been hearing about.

The young woman sitting next to me on the airport shuttle to the plane was from France. She worked for a refugee agency in Beirut and was returning to pick up the belongings she left behind during the July war. "I was staying in Achrafiyeh and my apartment was in Hamra. It was too dangerous to return to get my things before I evacuated," she said. I didn't inquire if it was common in her line of work to flee the site of a burgeoning refugee crisis; perhaps she is a paper shuffler, which is just as well done from a remote, cushy location. Like Paris.

Upon arrival at Beirut airport, I felt like a kid in a candy store, grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of the sweet smell of garbage boiling in the Meditarranean sun. Visas are still free for European citizens; no questions asked at immigration as to the purpose of my 11th visit in the span of 12 months. Welcome to Jizzini's Lebanon. First stop on the way home from the airport: a kellaj stand in Verdun.

This morning, the rainy season began. A storm erupted, just as Israeli fighter jets flew over Beirut. I couldn't tell if the deafening noise was from sonic boom or thunder. Neither could the neighboring kids who started screaming at the top of their lungs. I turned on the TV. Apparently they violate Lebanese airspace on a daily basis.

The army is out in full force in Achrafiyeh. Previously the soldiers just stood around for hours on end. Now their mandate dictates that they patrol the streets on foot. A tank is stationed outside the UN building downtown; a canope of leaves hitched above the tanks allows the soldier on duty to nap in the shade.

The electronic billboard at the entrance to Hamra street tells me that 608 days have passed since Hariri's assassination. Soon it will reach 999 days and then the billboard will re-set itself to 0. I simply can't wait.

Over dinner at Regusto's in Hamra, R's mother, whom she refers to as "Information Central" called to say they were bombing Beirut. "Who is bombing where?" R. asked. "I'll call you back," came the answer. And indeed, in the distance we could hear faint booming sounds. Information Central called back. "It's just a wedding."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tomorrow I set sail for the old world, Phoenicia, via the not-quite-so-old world, old Europe. I am visiting the Frankfurt book fair, and will spend a few days with my family in Berlin.

I look forward to seeing the sea (polluted or not), riding in precariously delapidated servises, instant coffee with condensed milk at Uncle Diek's on the Corniche, drinking beer on the cliffs at Raoche, all the iftars and Ramadan delicacies, rude awakening at the hands of the batata salesman, stray cats in lieu of New York City rats, call-to-prayer induced insomnia, my roommates' "Arab Lesbian Liberation Army" t-shirts, rallies and counter-rallies, sectarian bigotry, responding with stone cold silence to Abu Abed jokes, flying the Palestinian flag in Achrafieyeh, Cafe Younes iced cappucchino sans ice, and late summer grime and sweat.

Yesterday while driving on the BQE highway through Queens, two F-16 fighter jets flew overhead, breaking the sound barrier. Perhaps this is customary in the post 9/11 era, but it scared the bejayzus out of me. I instinctively merged onto the nearest exit ramp off the highway, only to find myself in a neighborhood full of Hacidic men who refused to answer my plea for directions. Perhaps they didn't speak English, or maybe I wasn't wearing the right stockings and wig. Finally a friendly plump Russian Orthodox girl offered me useless directions: "Go strayt, strayt. Nyet left, nyet right."

And now for a little music. While thoroughly irrelevant, this amused me. The North Korean Defense Hymn. The Wizard of Oz's "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" meets a Red Army anthem. They sound deliriously cheerful, those poor malnourished North Koreans.