The hapless Amr Moussa is back to save the Lebanese zuama from eachother. Nobody knows what's going to happen from one day to the next. Adapting to this atmosphere of uncertainty, many Lebanese are doing a phenomenal job of buckling down, shopping, partying and forgetting about politics.
Denial is not a river in Egypt; it's a shopping mall in Achrafiye. ABC is reporting record sales as are all the off-downtown businesses and restaurants. Future Movement has put up christmas trees along the periphery of downtown decorated with "I love life" ribbons. We wouldn't want the "culture of death" to ruin our Christmas cheer.
A friend who teaches at a snazzy private school outside Beirut reports that when a Shia student misbehaves, the other teachers attribute it to typical "Shia behavior". He says this attitude predates the summer war; the only difference is that his Shia students are no longer shamed by the prejudice against them, but rather proud and defiant.
In Germany we have something called the "Weinachtsmarkt", which runs from December 1st until the new year. White tents are pitched to serve as booths, food and drinks are available, and entertainment is provided, all in a central area. In Beirut, we have the opposition sit-in in the center of the city, which has become a venue for affordable entertainment. My friend, the teacher, reports that his Shia students tease the others by boasting of the cheap narghileh they enjoyed at the "new downtown". Apparently the Shia boys go to to meet Aounist girls, but all the students have to leave the encampment by a certain hour on week nights.
His Sunni students have adopted the following slogan for their MSN messenger profiles: "If we ruled by majority, we would be ruled by cockroaches." Cockroaches = baby-making Shia.
And there you have it. This is an adaptation of Henry Kissinger's infamous comment, after the Chileans voted for Allende in the 1970s: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people." Walid Jumblatt couldn't have said it better himself.
Supplement "Communist" with "Hamas" or "anti-western", and you have American and March 14th policy in a nutshell. The US support Abu Mazen's opportunistic call for new elections in the Palestinian territories, less than a year after free and fair elections (freer and fairer than the Lebanese buy-yourself-a-Tripolian-vote tactics embraced by Hariri's Future Movement.) But does the same go for the opposition in Lebanon? Nah. Fouad Siniorita will reign until kingdom come. If he's going to stick around for much longer, I recommend he start speaking out of the other corner of his mouth.
Have you noticed how Hezbollah's Al Manar now runs happy-go-lucky music throughout the day to accompany the endless flag-waving clips? It must be a real provocation for March 14th, who first coopted the (Maronite) flag as a symbol of unity last year, to see Hezbollah crowds waving it deliriously to upbeat tunes. Not to suggest that ALL sects haven't come to love the cedar symbolism over the years, even if the Christian rightwing Phalangists slaughtered other Lebanese under a variation on the same theme.
There is discussion of "expanding the cabinet" to reach a compromise between the ruling coalition and the opposition. Does that mean they will simply create MORE ministries to faciliate powersharing? As if to say, it's easier to divide the cake into 30 rather than 24 pieces? If so, I would like to suggest some ministries:
- The Ministry of Honoring Phoenicia
- The Ministry of Elite Martyrdom
- The Ministry of Flags
-The Ministry of Loving Life
- The Ministry of Choreographing Demonstrations
- The "We-want-the-Truth" and Reconciliation Commission
And here's a few serious ones:
- Ministry of Stringent Media Reform
-Ministry of Marginalizing Clerics & Patriarchs
- Ministry of Eradicating Sectarianism. Add to that, for good measure, a competing "Agency for Phasing Out Confessionalism". That way they can shuffle the blame (and paperwork) around.
Feel free to suggest additional new ministries. Trust me, new ministries will create jobs, help ease unemployment and Paris 3 will finance the expanding bureaucratic nightmare.
I just heard this from a "second hand" source, which makes me the "third" hand to relay this: Hezbollah has PROOF that a Portugese military plane from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, landed in Beirut and left again, the very day of Gemayel's assassination. That's breaking news on Al Manar TV. That's terrific, guys. Good work. I look forward to the "proof". Would they be stupid enough to fly in straight from Tel Aviv to knock off Gemayel? Did the plane have a distinguishing scar on its face?
Keep stretching the epistomological boundaries. I find it ever so haughty to present half-ass evidence or no evidence but rather constantly refer to it. Citizens should trust no politician blindly because he or she claims something is true. Your own solid reasoning and penchant for conspiratorial reverie will suffice.
I know who I blame for the current mess, but people deserve a break. Virgin Megastore deserves a break. Couldn't they have saved it for the "lull" between Christmas and New Year's, where everyone just sits around getting fat on leftovers?
Thank you to the bloggers who did not post this video, the one that poses the daunting question, "When will we be Lebanese?" The whole "anti-sectarian" campaign is missing a crucial element: systemic criticism. I mean, Lebanese sentimentalism has never helped people to overcome their differences. It's not just a deeply engrained prejudice that keeps this country trapped in the throes of infighting; it's the system-- the way you are born, vote, marry, die-- that crushes in its infancy any serious attempt at de-confessionalization. Which is one of many reasons why the whole March 14th "100% Lebanese" fest was a bunch of bollox. I've heard from someone who worked at the PR company that created this particular slogan that the guy who dreamed it up was a real "kill all the Shia" type.
The "stop sectarianism before it stops us" campaign, the most recent brainchild of international PR mogul Leo Burnett, fails for the same reason. It's cheesy, it's simplistic, it's ultimately meaningless, and if it really sought to be provocative it would mock the real issues-- marriage and electoral laws, the sore absence of civic institutions. Instead of this "c'est pas cooooool to be sectarian, dude" approach. It's like those abstinence-only ad campaigns in the US. Stop premaritual sex before it stops you.
The success of such a campaign is of course hindered by the feudal elite's interest in maintaining the system, but also because too many people aren't really willing to part with the tribal guarantees, grand and petty wasta'ism, what they perceive to be the preservation of culture and tradition, etc.
A friend recently pointed out that many Sunnis now miss the pre-1975 balance of power, when Maronites and Sunnis ruled together sans Shia, so to speak. Because now the Shia have overtaken them in size and demands and the sectarian power-sharing formula can work without the Sunnis. But instead of pushing for de-confessionalization, the Sunnis (and Druze) desperately cling to it and labor under the illusion that a regional and international campaign to wish the Shia away will serve them better. (Not to say that the other sects are less sectarian.)
Think back to before the war when Saudi Arabia & co were still somewhat closeted about their anti-Shia sentiments. OK, one of the King Abdullahs said something about the threat of a "Shia crescent". But that did at least cause a minor outrage at the time.
Since the summer war, when the "moderate" Arab regimes came out of the closet to say the Persians pose a greater threat than the Zionists, Iran has become the culprit in Iraq, in Palestine, in Lebanon, and so on and so forth. And the Saudis are openly talking about backing the Sunnis in Iraq if the US withdraws. No wonder Nancy Pelosi's new candidate for the Senate Intelligence Committee doesn't know the difference between Sunnis and Shia. They are supposedly there to fight (Sunni Salafist) Al Qaeda, but (Shia) Iran is the motherf****ing problem, right? It's very confusing. I love the way the Sunni-Shia rift is ascribed to a petty doctrinary schism 1400 years ago that defies comprehension. As if to say, they disagreed on what color to paint the livingroom and have henceforth been estranged.
Merry Christmas. I mean that in the purest secular sense of eat, drink and be merry. Let's hope the next year brings prosperity to Virgin Megastore at Martyrs' Square, and all will be well.
Thank you for having me in 2oo6. It goes without saying that I prefer living in your country to mine, despite all the cruel things I say about your flags and leadership. Anyone prefer Angela Merkel over Walid Jumblatt? What a scary couple they would make. A hairdresser's nightmare, to say the least.