Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Yuppy brawls, surprises & the arms race

I am concerned for my neighbor's safety. He flies a lone FPM flag amidst a hostile sea of Lebanese Forces banners and portraits of Pierre Gemayel. Hordes of young men loiter in the streets at night. Perhaps I didn't notice them before, but they seem to have multiplied over night. The large green garbage vats down from the Phalangist office in Rmeil are overflowing; I suspect the Syrian Sukleen workers are afraid to come pick up the trash.

Yesterday evening two thousand young men from the rival Christian factions hurled insults and bottles at eachother at Sassine Square, the stomping ground of reactionary francophone yuppies. The same happened at St. Joseph University.

Most of the troublemakers involved in street brawls are too young to remember the civil war. I inquired of some of the Phalangist youth gathered outside their headquarters last week if they remembered the war; no, they responded sheepishly. Last spring I watched two sixteen year old boys at Virgin Megastore leaf through a coffeetable book about the civil war. They were in awe; "c'est cool, man" one of them kept mumbling. Well it was the seventies/early eighties, and militiamen typically had big hair, shaggy sideburns and those Don Johnson sunglasses. Hot Phalangist sniper chicks in tiny tank tops shot at Palestinian schoolchildren...

Nine men from the Lebanese Forces security apparatus were arrested yesterday by the army intelligence branch. They were holding target practice up in Kesrouan and were armed with "M16 and AKF rifles, MT5 riflescopes, and a number of GLOCK pistols [...] in addition to very sophisticated communication devices." They also found a map of the Rabieh area -- home to Michel Aoun-- in one of the three SUVs used by the gunmen (which all had identical license plates), as well as a portrait of a "prominent Lebanese political figure" and a mannequin placed in the front seat of the vehicle. Al-Akhbar reports that the portait was of Michel Aoun whose house was also marked on the map.

"Six of the detainees confessed that before the LF [Lebanese Forces] was disbanded in 1994, they used be part of the “El SADEM” force that was made up back then of more than forty fighters, thirty of which were recruited back by the LF about one year ago. Most of them lived abroad, and one of them is currently the head of Samir Geagea’s security detail in 'Al Arz'."

But the best part of the story is that the Lebanese Forces "unequivocally" denied the report, and claimed that the men were just going about their "regular Monday training session" (!) as security officers for Pierre Dagher, the CEO of LBC Television. That doesn't explain the SUVs with identical license plates, which were painted brown and black, the unlicensed weapons, etc. The guy who services my Internet connection-- fat boy Roy-- was fuming over the arrests this morning. "The army is Syrian! Michel Sleiman [the Army commander] is with Syria", he ranted, and went on and on about how the Palestinians sold their land to the Jews in 1948. "They have no honor," he said. I wanted to expound on the benefits of getting laid once in a while, but instead asked him politely to leave. He apologized for bothering me.

Then today a further 13 Lebanese Forces fighters were arrested. Rumors and reports abound that Jumblatt is arming the Druze on Mount Lebanon, and a Future MP had this to say today: “The army will first protect us, but if we find ourselves obliged we will take to the streets, and a peaceful confrontation will be faced with a peaceful confrontation, and clashes will be faced with clashes,” said Walid Eido, a judge and member of Lebanon’s Parliament in the governing coalition, speaking of the challenge from Hezbollah. “We will sell our blood to buy weapons and confront them. We will never let them control the country.”

J. reports that a (Sunni) friend from Basta told him representatives of Hariri's Future party visited her father the evening of Gemayel’s funeral. They offered him a machine gun. “All your neighbors have taken them. The Lebanese Forces are armed and ready, the Tayyar (FPM) are. We have to be ready for when Hezbollah attacks,” he was purportedly told. He declined, stating that this was not the way to settle differences. “If something happens and you are not prepared, you will be to blame,” they said.

Prime Minister Saniora urged for calm today. "We want to avoid discord. My presence here (in the government), and that of many others will prevent discord and civil war...Because even if there is war... in the end, we will have to sit back together," he said. Jeez, that inspires confidence.

In the current climate, it doesn’t matter if talk of imminent civil strife, an arms race between opposing factions and cynical covert alliances are, in fact, true or not; the abundance of rumors, the blind subscription to blaming parties XYZ, and the propaganda of “the existential threat” can do the damage. If and when the conflagration occurs, the sectarian media will be to blame. Future TV in particular. When I watch that station I think I’m going to suffer a heart attack. It’s like that TV series “24” with Kiefer Sutherland. Time is running out! They are wacking us like flies! Ditto for Al Manar’s victory montages.

Those marching tunes really stick in your head. I find myself humming them at the supermarket.

The US embassy denies reports they have urged American citizens to evacuate Lebanon before December 1st. Which reminds me that this summer, the US frantically evacuated their citizens from Lebanon, all the while expediting shipments of bombs to Israel. The irony that it might have been easier to tell Israel to just lay off the bombing of civilian areas, was lost on the international media who went bananas covering the dramatic evacuations of a purported 50,000 Americans to Dearborne, Michigan.

I received a text message yesterday from the government-owned cellphone provider, offering to keep me abreast with "URGENT NEWS" on "the developing situation in Lebanon" for a whopping $10 per month. Are they trying to profiteer from the crisis, which they are fueling?

The UN Human Rights Council concluded that some of the infrastructure damage inflicted by Israeli bombs was done for "the sake of destruction". And that's a great relief because we were all waiting to hear what the strategic value of the Manara lighthouse and the Goethe Institute's parking lot were, not to mention all those bridges, ambulances and civilian housing.

Isreal, which was quick to blame Syria for Pierre Gemayel’s assassination, claims that new landmines in southern Lebanon must also have been laid by Syria or Hezbollah.

Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, the highest Maronite authority and a renouned demographer, insisted yesterday that Christians must unite. A young Maronite complained to me the other day that Sfeir, who was nearly kidnapped by Israel this summer due to his unfortunate first name and love of black headwear, has struck deals with Canada and the US not to grant visas to Lebanese Christians. He fears they might emigrate which would further deflate his demographic aspirations.

"1 Christian + 1 Christian = Too many Shia"

Hezbollah announced that they would “surprise” the government when the time comes to take to the streets.

They will use all democratic means available to them in their endeavor. Expect whoopy cushion on Fatfat’s seat, a surprise party for Jumblatt, and Mohammed Ra'd returning to the negotiation table dressed as Santa Clause.

No, but really I hope they don't surprise me on Thursday by blocking the airport road. I have a plane to catch.

Friday, November 24, 2006

To whomever killed Pierre Gemayel...

I blame you for the most nauseating display of faux participatory democracy I have seen in this country, to date. Watching Jumblatt, Geagea, Hariri and Amin Gemayel-- two mass murderers (one of whom was convicted for assassinating a Prime Minister, least you forget), a Saudi playboy and an arms dealer, respectively-- beat their chests and the drums of war in front of a delusional and gullible crowd was hard to stomach. The international media's enamoration with this choreographed circus (don't you wish the Iraqis were as cool and witty as the sexy Lebanese?) took the cake.

I believe more than ever that March 14th are foolishly complicit in the US's project of waging a proxy war against Iran and Syria through Lebanon. The White House is willing to plunge this country into civil war in the process, and Jumblatt and Geagea will accept their tutelage and assistance in order to remain in power. They have everything to lose in a national unity government. The Americans don't want the Shia (or anyone who opposes American meddling) in a position of strength and neither do the Sunnis, Druze and fringe Christians. Even before Gemayel's assassination, I sensed from certain player's rhetoric that they had guarantees. They weren't just going to fold in the face of Hizbullah and Aoun's challenge to their authority. Well now I am certain. How that is lost on the minions who participated in thursday's spectacle escapes me.

After witnessing the impressive resilience of the Lebanese under Israeli attack, it was a painful realization that the Mitlaeufer mentality is so pervasive. Not only do people tolerate the crudest emotive propaganda spouting from their TV sets and from the stage errected at Martyrs' Square, but they also willingly wave flags and portraits and cheer. Why aren't people outraged by the exploitation of blood for political ends?

Sunnis marching under the same banner of a militia that once slaughtered Muslims in the tens of thousands.

Rival butchers-- Geagea and Jumblatt-- grasping on to eachother for power. This is what a "courageous struggle for independence" looks like? Is the irony lost on the spectacle participants who shout anti-Syrian slogans ("dirty Syrians", "stupid Syrians") that it is Syrian street cleaners who clean Martyrs' Square after they go home?

Almost two years after al-Hariri's assassination, they are still "making history" with the same hollow program. "We are the truth". "We love life". Yes, so do people who bomb abortion clinics and assassinate doctors. Be careful, they might sue you for copyright infringement. After all these years of war and treachery, you still play follow-the-leader and you get nothing in return for your pathetic and unconditional loyalty. The same goes for unconditional loyalty to any other party or faction, including Hezbollah.

I know to many people who had no intention of attending the opposition rally, which has now been postponed, because they support none of the confessional factions. But after the insufferable, arrogant, sectarian show they might just attend to show March 14th and their allies that "they" are not an "illusion". No, Saad Hariri: YOU are an illusion. In fact you are a nightmare. Your face and that of your playmates makes me want to scream and vomit all over your shiny shoes.

Oh, and by the way, there are more important things happening in this country and in the region. More than 200 people were killed in Baghdad during the course of the flag fest; add to that 22 in Gaza, and in the south of Lebanon, winter has set in over the ruins of entire villages.

In Aita Shaab, a village near the border with Israel, 85 percent of houses are completely destroyed, nay obliterated; the rest are being bulldozed against people's will or remain in shambles. The Qataris who promised to rebuild Aita are giving people between $500 and a maximum of $3,000 to do so. Enough to buy some kitchenware and a few towels. Donors are prohibited from dealing directly with the local authorities, and have to go through the government in Beirut (And we all know where that money ends up.) There is spotty electricity and water; people are huddled in garages or crowded into the homes of neighbors and relatives.

And Syria did what? Oh you think they killed stupid Pierre Gemayel? Well that's a crime that warrants international outrage and parades, burning trash and beating up Syrian cabdrivers and street cleaners. Oh but the people who are now homeless and helpless are just an "illusion", isn't that right, ya Saad Hariri? Go figure. Illusions don't require shelter. What exactly is your much celebrated effort to extend government authority to the four corners of the country doing for these people? Why aren't they reaping the benefit of the Prime Minister's tears?

Angry Arab reports that Amin Gemayel allegedly attempted an assassination on Jumblatt and a few others, back in the day. Everyone on that stage has been involved with extrajudicial killings.

Except maybe for Saad Hariri (and perhaps Nayla "Cruella de Ville" Maowad) who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, where you get your hand chopped off for stealing a cucumber.
An excerpt from yesterday's speech by that inarticulate imbecile, Saad a-Hariri:

And you [the crowds] tell those who say about you that you are a fake majority, [looks at paper] we are the truth, and you are the fantasy. [looks at paper] We are the truth and you are the fantasy. [looks at paper] We are freedom, [looks at paper] and you are the fantasy. We are the national unity, and you are the fantasy. [looks at paper] To those we say, leave your fantasies [looks at paper] and come back to the truth, [looks at paper] come back to sovereignty, come back to [looks at paper] national unity, come back to Lebanon. And we will stay, [looks at paper] we will stay, [looks at paper] we will stay, [looks at paper] until the knowledge of the truth, [looks at paper] until the achievement of justice, [looks at paper] until Lebanon is victorious. [looks at paper] Long live the people, [looks at paper] long live Pierre Amin Gemayel, [looks at paper] long live Rafiq al-Hariri, and long live Lebanon.
Domestic servants forced to demonstrate (from Nir via Angry Arab)

Read this.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Flag Fest Pt. II

The media -- Lebanese and international-- is regurgitating the preposterous claim that Gemayel was assassinated to reduce the cabinet by an additional member. One more ministerial resignation or assassination would mean 8 out of 24 cabinet seats are vacant, enough for the "obstructing third" to bring down the government. I almost wish it was that easy. But the opposition doesn't need to use assassinations; they have hardly exhausted their options and they were poised to employ people power and do what March 14th did last year to bring down Omar Karami's government (albeit without the help of Saatchi & Saatchi). Bech at Remarkz makes some interesting points about the timing and consequences of Gemayel's assassination, and observes a shifting trend in the nature of political assassinations. Who stands to benefit from this assassination and what would the likely fallout be?

Pierre Gemayel's assassination threatens Aoun's position more than anyone else, and his alliance with Hezbollah/Amal. Angry Christians wouldn't dare set foot in the Dahiye or Shia areas, but they can vent their rage at fellow Christians who support Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement on their own turf.
Angry Christian youth burning trash in Achrafiye

By many accounts, the ruling coalition have been trying to lure Aoun away from Hezbollah in the past few weeks. Perhaps Aoun will lose some supporters.

I received some angry comments for writing that this assassination works in the government's favor. I did not accuse them of carrying out the assassination, even though I doubt that Syria was behind this one. The al-Assads have surely carried out assassinations which didn't end up working in their favor. But would Syria screw its allies like that, with no apparent gain? Perhaps, yes.

What I meant was that the assassination comes at a time when the ruling "anti-Syrian" coalition has everything to lose and an assassination of this calibre-- the killing of a Gemayel-- has averted the opposition's takeover, or atleast delayed it. Gemayel's assassination strengthens the "anti-Syrian" ruling coalition's case for the international tribunal and it keeps the opposition off the streets. For now. It also levels the playing field between the more popular and organized opposition and the previously flailing ruling coalition, which brings us a step closer to civil conflict. So any individual or group that wants to fan the sectarian flames could have conceivably carried out the assassination.

The primary categorization into "pro-Syrian" and "anti-Syrian" factions epitomizes all that is wrong and ridiculous about the political discourse inside Lebanon and the international media's coverage of events here. No one actually refers to themselves as "pro-Syrian"; its a blanket slur. Does being "anti" a neighboring country qualify as a political program? Or is it just license for cowardly yuppies to beat up Syrian cabdrivers and street cleaners?

A man with shiny shoes takes out his rage on a Syrian cabdriver

Pierre Gemayel was not first and foremost an "outspoken" "anti-Syrian" politician. Rather he was an heir to the disgusting rightwing legacy of the Gemayel's party and militia, the Phalangists; even within his family, he did not rank high in terms of leadership qualities. Gemayel was not killed because he threatened any person or power, because of his "outspokenness." Needless to say the assassins should be brought to justice; this atmosphere of fear and suspicion is very dangerous and everyone expects another assassination or bombing will imminently occur. Given the choice, I do have a preference for "clean" targeted assassinations using guns rather than car bombs. It claims fewer collateral casualties.

Robert Fisk, an unfortunate cheerleader for March 14th over the past 20 months, makes a similiar point:
"Yes, all five leading Lebanese men murdered in the past 20 months were anti-Syrian. And it's a bit like saying "the butler did it". Wouldn't a vengeful Syria strike at the independence of Lebanon by killing a minister? Yes. But then, what would be the best way of undermining the new and boastful power of the pro-Syrian Hizbollah, the Shia guerrilla army which has demanded the resignation of Siniora's cabinet? By killing a government minister, knowing that many Lebanese would blame the murder on Syria's Hizbollah allies?"

Also read: "Whoever pulled the trigger, Syria's allies are the losers" (Guardian UK)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Flag Fest I

Pierre Gemayel-- "Sheikh Pierre" to his followers and "the Prince of Youth" to Prime Minister Saniora-- is dead. He was gunned down yesterday at point-blank range in Jdeideh to the north of Beirut, in broad daylight. An unknown assassin fired a dozen shots through the driver's window with a silencer-equipped gun.

Jumblatt, Saad Hariri, Michael Bolton and Nayla Maowad blamed Syria. The UN Security Council unilaterally condemned the assassination; and Hezbollah said the assassins were trying to sow chaos and civil war. Everyone left work for home in a panic when the news broke. Christian teenagers burnt tires and set trashcans on fire in the Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh and in Gemayel's hometown, Bikfaya. This all happened while I was down south in Aita Shaab.

I returned to Beirut this evening and drove straight into a horde of approximately 150 teenagers congregated outside the Phalangist headquarters in Saifi. They had arranged white paper bags in the form of a the Phalangist party's symbol-- a cedar tree that looks it was drawn by a four-year old. Not entirely appropriate for an organization with fascist origins.

The leader of the Phalangists' student organizations for all the Lebanese private universities -- a chubby young man in his early twenties-- said they were there for a "sit in". They did not want a big turnout tonight because that would discourage people from attending the funeral rally scheduled for tomorrow, he claimed. Speeches by the deceased Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel and civil war tunes blasted from massive speakers perched on top of a pick-up truck. Youngsters waving the Lebanese flag, the Druze PSP party flag and photos of Rafiq Hariri circled the sit-in honking their car horns.

So who do you suspect killed Pierre Gemayel, I asked. "Hezbollah, of course," he responded matter-of-factly. "We will not resort to peaceful means anymore. We are ready for everything. We have nothing to lose. Our lives are not more precious than our leader's and he is dead. We will fight tomorrow." And then: "There will be a suprise." Sound familiar? The chubby student leader also informed me that he is still unemployed although he graduated a year-and-a-half ago, as if to lend weight to his claim that he has nothing to lose.

I spoke to another student leader of the Phalangists, who purportedly represents the party at all universities, public and private. He reiterated that they are "ready for anything", but took a more moderate line, insisting that they would consult with their allies before resorting to violence.

Just now a dozen cars operated by people barely old enough to hold a driver's license passed through Hamra and Qoreitem. They waved portraits of Hariri, Lebanese Forces flags, PSP flags and the likes, and tried their best to make a lot of noise. I have never seen the (Christian) Lebanese Forces flag flown in (Muslim) west Beirut so I guess that's a sign of how healthy and cross-sectarian the March 14th movement is. I felt sorry for these kids hanging out of the sides of their convertibles. Despite the fact that this assassination benefits the government, because it puts a hold on the opposition's plans to stage massive demonstrations this week and also invites international attention and hysteria over the death of another "pro-Syrian" oh-so-enlightened and inspirational figure, March 14th suffers from the political equivalent of penis envy. They might buy themselves a week or so, but no more. They can burn trash and beat up helpless Syrian cab drivers, but I doubt they can break the Aoun-Hezbollah alliance with one fell swoop.

There will surely be incidents of vandalism and possibly violence tomorrow, but I don't believe an all-out civil war will errupt. Pierre Gemayel was an uninspiring politician and -- by all accounts-- a slovenish lazy young man. Even if the hardened look of the teenagers present at the Phalangist rally tonight frightened me, it takes two to tango and they are no match for the opposition in terms of strength, size and organization.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hariri followers at his grave salute their deceased Fuehrer (from the Angry Arab)

Beware of Al Qaeda in Lebanon

Robert Fisk points out that the new UNIFIL is actually NATO in disguise, and is building a Green Zone-style fortress to protect itself from Al-Qaedaesque groups in Saida and Tripoli who are planning attacks. "So Hizbollah will be the most powerful defenders of the European armies in southern Lebanon. Now there's something to think about," Fisk writes.

Al Qaeda in Iraq website publishes statement from "Mujahedin in Lebanon", calling on Lebanese Sunnis to fight Hezbollah.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The sound of impending disaster

I have dreaded the morning I wake up to Fairuz’s voice crooning from every window in my neighborhood. And it happened yesterday. As much as I love Fairuz, the impulse to simultaneously tune into the infamous civil war soundtrack forebodes badly. A car drove by blaring Lebanese Forces anthems as I was drinking my morning coffee on the stoop outside my house. These days people shout and drive more aggressively; the chorus of screeching tires, verbal altercations, doors slamming, and car horns honking has reached a feverous pitch. Every TV and car radio seems to be tuned to the news. My head feels like it’s about to explode.

If the ruling coalition does not want to share power by granting a veto option to the opposition, which enjoys greater public support and fundamentally disagrees with the course (or lack thereof) the country has taken in the past 18 months, then they must agree to new elections. Are citizen's going to object to new elections more than this crippling state of cold war? I think not. It is dishonorable for the sectarian fiefs and business junta to wrangle at any cost for a greater share of the cake.

In my neighborhood in Achrafiyeh, the geriatric population linger at the entrances to their shops, fruit stands and bakeries, their arms crossed behind their ailing backs, gazing mournfully at the unfolding familiar tragedy. A friend who works at the Phoenicia Hotel says hundreds of employees have been laid off and the rest are working the same hours for half their salary. Those with means, young families and aspirations will pack up and leave; others will retreat to their mountain lair, and the burgeoning ranks of unemployed men will join militias in exchange for a regular salary, if the powers that be don't act soon to avert a crisis.

Can Olmert please stop hugging the wives and mothers of captured soldiers?

Why seek comfort in the arms of a man whose policies have done nothing to bring back your loved ones, but has rather -- as a pretext-- killed thousands of civilians and wrought nothing but senseless destruction? I find it rather grotesque-- this tribalistic culture of embracing politicians. I suppose hugging the President, Katsav, isn't an option; he'd probably just try to slip her his most sympathetic tongue.

If I was Madame Goldwasser-- the wife of Ehud Goldwasser, our very own warbooty-- I'd prefer to hug the lifeless Ariel Sharon. I'd bury my head deep in the folds of his massive belly and listen to the soothing sound of his computer-generated pulse. (And no there's nothing wrong with poking fun at the dead or semi-dead.)

And besides, Madame Goldwasser's darling husband is probably doing just fine. He is one of two very valuable bargaining chips and is probably snacking on delicious Lebanese mezze as I write; perhaps he's even picking up some Arabic, which will get him a good job in military intelligence upon his return. And Mr. Goldwasser will eventually be the one to bring back "Lebanon's son" Samir Kantar, who can then launch his WWF career.

I don't get the whole Kantar craze. I'm opposed to life sentences in principle, especially ones imposed by an occupying army against those who resist. And twenty-eight years served in prison is way too long. But if Kantar did in fact smash a four-year old girl's head against a rock after shooting her daddy in front of her (or did he not? I know a denial is in circulation, but I haven't heard anyone who can back up a claim to the contrary,) well then he is no "hero" in my book. Out of principle-- sure, release him. But it is not my priority and I take greater issue with the thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians -- men, women and children-- languishing in administrative detention. And those who have dissappeared into Syrian custody must also be liberated. No?

I have yet to reveal my full unrestrained opinion of Hezbollah-- the party, resistance, sectarian faction, militia, social service provider, liberator, cult, Islamic movement, divine, pseudo-anti imperialist, dash cunning, brazen friend and apologist of al Assad's Syria, patron of theocratic Iran, and occasional asskisser of the gracious-and-oh-so-merciful House of Saud. I will leave it for an upcoming post.

A cab driver who was trying to serenade me yesterday whispered, "You have eyes like Barbie!"

I laughed so hard I began to choke, and my Barbie eyes welled up with tears. "That's the funniest thing I've heard today," I excused myself. He looked hurt.

By the latest accounts, Hezbollah is gearing up for acts of "civil disobedience" (thankfully not "divine disobedience".) I have never heard of a group with 30,000 rockets at their disposal and a military capacity that far exceeds that of the state, biding their time with peaceful protest. But let's see wait and see what they have planned. Sit ins? Die ins? Pink ribbons? Blocking traffic? Chaining themselves to power plants? Graffiti? I say, take over and squat all of Solidere and (re)claim it for the people. The khalijis won't be returning to their playground anytime soon.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

From Sietske in Beiroet: "Vehicles you get stuck behind when going down South"

How tall is Ahmadinejad? My estimate is 5 ' 2'' (~157 cm). Jamal thinks closer to 5' 6'' (~167 cm).

Here he is with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:

If you can offer evidence of his real size, you will win a prize.

March 14th Go It Alone

CNN's caption reads, "Six Ministers Quit Lebanese Government over Hariri Tribunal". Don't you wish it was that simple?

Yes, so six ministers resigned from the Lebanese cabinet-- all the Shia plus one Yaqub Sarraf, the jolly environmental minister, who is Greek Orthodox. I visited Mr. Sarraf at his ministry a few months ago. He sloppily downed one cup of coffee after the next, chain-smoked and laughed heartily as he ran from one end of the room to the other, shuffling through bottomless stacks of paper. During his tenure as Minister of the flailing environment, he co-opted March 14th's silly slogan, "We want the truth", printing "We also want the truth" on all the ministry’s letterhead.

In response to the resignations, March 14th decisively upped the ante with their current rhetoric. It's all the fault of Syria and now Iran, according to Saad Hariri. (Iran was previously exempt from direct accusations of obstructing the trial against Hariri’s assassins.) This wreaks of despair-- expanding the accusation of complicity to Iran. The sectarian media outlets are gobbling it up and fanning the flames. Naharnet ran a story today on how Shia children are brainwashed in school. Why does March 14th's rhetoric sound more and more like that of the White House? The Democratic victory in the Senate and Congress, the "new" policy of engaging Syria over the war in Iraq, might well see March 14th stranded. Do they really think they have guarantees?

The cabinet can technically make decisions as is, unless an additional two ministers resign, bringing the total to a third of the cabinet. After Sarraf's resignation today, March 14th "unanimously" approved the UN draft text to set up an international tribunal for Hariri's assassins. But they will never get President Lahoud to sign off on new appointments. Then again, who needs ministers of the environment, labor, public works, agriculture, health, energy and water, and foreign affairs, when you have the support of Jeff Feltman?

According to Al-Hayat newspaper, the Levantine branch of Al Qaeda issued a statement threatening to bring down the "corrupt" pro-Western government of Siniora.

"Although it was impossible to verify the authenticity of the message, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi cast doubt on its veracity Monday.
'There is nothing that proves that this statement was issued by al-Qaida,' he told reporters Monday following a cabinet meeting..."

And why does he doubt the veracity? Surely not because March 14th has been pandering to alqaeda-esque extremist groups for over a year now and ought to be getting it's money's worth in opposition to the Shia.

Dozens of busses were parked opposite Hariri's makeshift grave on Martyrs' Square yesterday, bussing in supporters to mourn at the site. Just in time, Future has printed new posters of the deceased, which depict the apocalyptic crater hole from the scene of his assassination. And Future TV runs dramatic ads of Saad Hariri placing the UN draft text for the tribunal by his father's grave, because -- as everybody knows-- saints can and do read. This is contrasted by a hefty montage of scenes of destruction from the summer war, and a final clip of the shiny and polished Solidere. In other words, Hariri stood for stability and prosperity, while Hezbollah wreaks destruction.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are getting a new Prime Minister. A microbiologist, "US-eduated" to top it off. My friend P. was visiting his friend Hassan in the Dahye the other day. Hassan’s two-year old daughter Fatima was bouncing happily on P’s lap when news of the Beit Hanoun massacre in Gaza broke. Images of a young girl, the same age as Fatima, her face bloodied, being rushed to the hospital. Fatima stopped and stared at the screen. “Haraam”, she muttered.

A servis in Hamra has the following printed across the rearview window: “Why is it the victims are not allowed to ask questions while the murderer is having a good time? My daughter—I will never forget you.”

Sitting at my desk, I frequently imagine that the pace and pitch of noise emanating from the street outside has suddenly intensified. Did the frequency of sirens and ambulances increase? Is that the sound of people screaming in the distance? What was that loud thud? Why does traffic sound so frenetic? The variables for violence are seemingly infinite.

A stifling uncertainty looms over Lebanon, enhanced by threats, simulated raids by Israeli fighter jets, an uncanny ratio of 1 unexploded cluster bomb for every inhabitant of the south, and the inability to prevent it from happening again.

Haaretz reports that the vast number of unexploded cluster bombs in southern Lebanon is due to Israeli employment of "cheaper" American-made ones, for "budgetary" reasons. The "expensive" clusterbombs, which leave next to no unexploded munitions go for $10 a pop. The Israeli government promised the French to stop "hostile" mock raids against UNIFIL staff, but not against Lebanese towns and villages.

On a lighter note, Britney Spears is getting divorced from her trailerpark trash counterpart. “I H8 U Loser” she informed him by text message.

Does anyone else detest the "Incredible India" commercials they run on the BBC? I hate that commercial with the passion of Christ. It makes India look like one gigantic yoga retreat. Billions of attractive women in bright saris are itching to give your white ass a full-body massage. That laughing elephant at the end? Ditto for the "Uptown Cairo" commercial on CNN. Who would've known that fine dining by candlelight was the thing to do in Mubarak's Egypt?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Moldovan Maniacs & UNIFIL thuggery

A selective news round up:

Of all the troubles I thought UNIFIL might be embroiled in (e.g. rape -- popular with UN soldiers in Kenya and Bosnia; killing-- popular with soldiers in general; disarming Hezbollah against their will; and attacks by Al Qaeda types or Israeli missiles), petty theft didn't make my list. Italian UNIFIL burglars are running rampant in southern Lebanon. Apparently they are stealing "boots and daggers". Perhaps they are duelling the Fijians for the love of some village beauty.

Hide your valuables if you see a guy in a blue helmet.

Meanwhile, Saniora denies reports he might meet with Olmert. It's like middle school all over again, denying you are friends with the "unpopular" kid. He reiterated that Lebanon "will be the last Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel."

"Bitch, never liked you anyway..."

If you haven't already, read Pastor Haggard's resignation letter, where he admits to a part of his life that's "repulsive and dark". And watch Colbert rush to Haggard's defense. The evangelical porn industry awaits us.

While we're on the topic of "sexually immoral" conduct, Ultra-orthodox rabbinical courts may place a "pulsa danura" against organizers of next week's gay pride parade in Jerusalem and any policemen who beat ultra-Orthodox protesters.

Many westerners think "fatwa" sounds scary. Pulsa danura, literally, means "lashes of fire" in Aramaic.(I'll take the folks at Haaretz by their word on that one.) And it gets better. The curse "is supposed to cause the death of the subject within a year, calls upon the angels of destruction to refrain from forgiving the subject his sins, to kill him and to call down all the curses named in the Bible."

Angels of destruction? Sometimes I wish I believed in this stuff. Then I could call on them instead of forever cursing under my breath.

Ultra-orthodox Jews should be scrutinized at airports; they boast quite a few terrorists in their ranks. And I have seen more than my fair share of gay stewards, who surely shouldn't be allowed to handle kosher meals.

Avigdor Lieberman, a boorish racist of recent Moldovan extraction, now doubles as Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of "Strategic Threats". Fresh on the job, Lieberman identified "minorities [as] the biggest problem in the world."

Olmert made a pathetic effort to distance himself from Lieberman's statements by claiming, "Lieberman's opinions do not reflect mine". He elaborated: "For example, we do not share the same taste in women and salad dressing. Avigdor likes bottle blondes, while I prefer brunettes; he likes ranch dressing, while I never stray from creamy Italian." Spare me, please.

Apparently Lieberman picked up the little snippet of wisdom from working as a nightclub bouncer. He must have kept those joints minority-free.

Second only to Netan-yahoo, Lieberman is the most popular candidate for the Israeli premiereship. Here in Lebanon we have Moldovan women, whose anatomical and artistic talent is appreciated by khaliji tourists in local cultural establishments called "super-nightclubs". It's too strange that a Moldovan nightclub bouncer might become prime minister in the Middle East some day, no? Pure racial strip joints await us all.

"Minorities. Yuck! I will crush them"

The guy next to me is playing a wargame where Iran, Syria and Hezbollah fight Israel. And have you heard what the current Israeli operation in Gaza is called? Israeli operation titles are seasonal, like squash and pumpkin pie: this one's "Autumn Clouds". Doesn't that make you feel like going outside to play in the heaps of fallen leaves, and then returning home to some hot apple cider? I find it quite perverse, endowing their killing sprees with cheesy poetic titles. "Autumn Clouds" sounds like the title of a generic landscape painting on display in a highway motel lobby. After "Summer Rains" and "Autumn Clouds", what's next? Let your imagination run rampant.

Meanwhile, the national dialogue is in its second day in downtown Beirut. Geagea and Aoun went out for lunch together. Geagea picked up the bill.

Despite their posturing, I suspect March 14th will give in to Hezbollah and Aoun's demands for veto power in the cabinet. If they don't, Hezbollah allegedly has 2000 tents ready, which they will pitch on Martyr's Square and on every major intersection in Lebanon. Their supporters will strike and stay put in the hundreds of thousands (or millions?) until their demands are met.

That's all for now from the movers and shakers of the cedar wonderland. Haaretz reports that Israel is preparing for a summer war with Hezbollah and Syria. Enjoy the US elections.

P.S. I will have regular Internet access as of later this week, so I can post regularly and sanely again.

Jordanian Mukhbarat & the Dynastic Duos of the Levant

I was in Jordan yesterday. All over the world, people with limited knowledge of English rely on "number one" as an idiom to express satisfaction. A conversation with a cabdriver from Amman to Irbid. "Saddam number one. Arafat kteer kteer number one, number one, number one! Abu Mazen-- misch number one. Germany number one football. Brazil number one football. Argentina football-- misch number one. Fi kteer Yahud (too many Jews)."

The Jordanian army and police scare the living daylights out of me. I was on a bus full of Palestinian children. At a checkpoint, a Jordanian soldier got on and patrolled the crowded aisle, shoving his M16 in the children’s faces and shouting at the handful of adults to show their ID cards.

Our servis driver –a Syrian-- dissappeared for three-and-a-half hours on the Jordanian side of the border with Syria. Apparently he was being held by the friendly folks from the mukhabarat and we were left in the dark as to his wrongdoing and whereabouts. Finally he returned with his head hung low and declined to answer any questions. His trembling hands clamored the steering wheel as we sped through the border to the relative warm safety of Syria.

Crossing from Jordan to Syria, the dynastic father-son theme really hits you in the face. Within a few meters of each other, Hussein and Abdullah make room for Hafiz and Bashar. Surprisingly I saw many more portraits of the deceased father and his chubby offspring in Jordan, than in Syria. I have no love for the Jordanian royal family aside from their entertainment value, and unlike many from the west, I am not inclined to like Abdullah for his proper British accent. But the Jordanian royals are aesthetically less frightening than old Hafiz and Bashar, the chinless duo whose features are miraculously angular and shapeless at the same time. At the border crossing a real-life photo hangs next to a painted portrait of Bashar al-Assad; the painter generously gave him a chin, a more shapely nose and that steel-like stare. But he will never rival his father visually in terms of fierceness. They must hologram Hafiz's eyes; he watches you from every angle.

Jordan is the one of few places that makes me relieved to be in Syria. I was veritably ecstatic to see Hafiz's silhouette chiselled into rocks on the side of the highway and to watch moustachio'ed men sipping tea in the freezing cold at the bus station in Damascus. While waiting for additional passengers to fill the servis to Beirut, a fight broke out amongst a horde of teenagers pushing a tea cart. I watched from a safe distance and bought chewing gum from a five year old who promised me "no genetic". And indeed, the gum wrapper boasted "natural & industrial banana flavor" and no "genetic manipulation materials". I have never read the wrapper of sugar-rich gum; I wouldn't chew something that makes my teeth cry if I was concerned about the hazardous content.