Sunday, January 07, 2007

Spies, "intellectual terrorism" & Paris III

In Lebanon, politics either take the form of spectacle (bombing, mass demonstrations, assassinations, street clashes) or under-the-table deals. We are now coming out of the latter phase, which was pleasantly uneventful. Ariel Sharon has been in a permanent "vegetative" state for over a year now. Walid Jumblatt ought to be declared clinically insane.

I am told by the well-connected Shia sitting next to me that four Israeli fighter jets tried to hijack the plane in which Hezbollah Deputy-General Naim Qassim was returning to Lebanon from the Hajj, and to force it to land in Israel. The Saudi royals intervened because Qassim was their guest and this would have not reflected well on the guardians of the two holy sites. Apparently nobody has reported this, even though it transpired days ago. As I have no way to confirm this, I am reporting this as evidence of how the offspring of politicians barter "insider" information to impress members of the opposite sex.

Yesterday's protest by the labor unions and opposition near the Ministry of Finance attracted a miniscule crowd. I can no longer tell if I'm watching re-runs of other protests when I turn on the TV. The protesters were far outnumbered by the army and police who blocked off and patrolled all the surrounding roads and highways. 95% of the protesters were male; a large number, security staff and kaak salesmen. I don't understand the opposition's strategy. The sit-in downtown, now in it's fifth week, and the "escalation" with smaller groups blocking the roads and intersections near ministries, amounts to nothing more than a nuisance. Since they can't afford further escalation which might end in bloodshed or confrontations with the army and police, they will achieve nothing, except roadrage from exasperated commuters and cab drivers. Unlike the teacher's union protest in May, which drew participants from all sects, yesterday's demonstration was clearly a Shia-Aounist affair.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the CIA received a green light to conduct covert actions against Hezbollah.

Crossing Fuad Chehab bridge during my daily pilgrimage to Hamra I noticed that a car had broken through the railing on the highway overlooking Riad el Solh Square (the site of the opposition sit-in). The car must have landed just feet away from the tents housing the protesters. Someone driving a Hummer had too much to drink.

Returning from Hamra, I told the driver to drop me near Mistachfa Roum (the Orthodox hospital). Every passenger we picked up en route requested a ride to a different hospital in Achrafiye. We sneezed and coughed in unision. The driver was amused and seemed unperturbed by the sheer concentration of bacteria in his car.

For the record, Michael Totten-- after whom Tottenism is named-- is a bigotted simpleton, a beggar and a paranoid ill-informed fool. And he thinks he's a good writer. In the comments section on his blog, he compares himself to Fisk and (indirectly) to Orwell. At best his writing resembles Tom Friedman's, riddled with mixed metaphors and annoying cliches. Totten needn't actually travel; his opinions are unbending, pre-contrived, and governed by the "American national interest". Which is not only boring but downright offensive, and reminds me of an all-too familiar saying: "Yes, but is it good for the Jews?" A rhetorical question appropriate to every dilemma-- from political crises to the rising price of toilet paper-- it reveals a frightful tribalistic mindset. And in my opinion, Israel is not good for the Jews, so why worry about anything else? By that same measure, American national interest is not an approriate lens through which to view and judge the rest of the world. "Hard-headed liberal", my ass.

Totten can't distinguish between the people (or terrorists, as he sees them) and the party he holds in contempt because they shout "Death to America!" I, too, am an American passport-holder and I can think of better reasons to dislike Hezbollah. He must have terrible nightmares about Shia children shouting anti-American slogans.

I have now added him four times to my sidebar under "scoundrels". If I was an ultra-Orthodox rabbi I would declare a "pulsa danura" against him. He e-mailed me once to procure a free contribution to his pamphlet-book, alleging that he would not profit from the venture. But on Amazon it says that 20% of the proceeds from the pamphlet-book go to supporting his writing. Needless to say, I declined. I couldn't live with myself if I had unwittingly contributed to Michael Totten's hate-mongering against "militant" toddlers.

I don't understand enough about economics to give you a qualified rundown of why Paris III stinks. But the type of structural adjustment reforms that Siniora proposes did an excellent job of plunging much of Africa and South America into debt and poverty in the 1980s, and have been largely discredited by most reasonable economists.

But I have overheard people expressing enthusiasm for Paris III. Is it possible that some March 14th supporters believe that all the theft and waste of the post-Taef era was due to the Syrian presence, and that these same embezzlers would not line their pockets with new "soft cash loans"? Paris III will offer the ruling coalition a symbolic victory, in the form of a "generous" donation that will do little to alleviate the economic and political crisis.

Saad Hariri complains that Lebanon faces "a new wave of political and intellectual terrorism that coincides with the ongoing preparations" for the Paris III conference. You heard correctly.
Only someone who seriously doubts his own mental abilities could bemoan the threat posed by "intellectual terrorism." What's the remedy? Book-burning? Hariri is desperate to buy up the remaining public industries for chump change. Any argument against unbridled privatization makes his little head throb.

Friday night I was at a bar in Gemmayze. An acquaintance of a friend, a young American of Lebanese descent, struck up a conversation. Thirty seconds into our smalltalk, he gave me a funny look. "Are you perhaps from Germany?" He continued, "You know I think you were kicked out of my house once." I was puzzled and told him that I have NEVER been kicked out of anyone's house, not even when I was fourteen and puked on my friend's carpet from drinking too much tequila. He insisted that yes, his cousin had kicked me out of his house a few months ago, while he was out of town. "You said something about throwing all the cedars into the sea. He looks like me. Don't you remember?" I scrutinized him, noted the resemblance, and recalled the following incident:

Sometime in early May, my former roommate, R. from South Africa, was visiting Beirut. We were out in Gemmayze, and R. who had had too much to drink was sloppily kissing some dubious character with long greasy locks at the bar. He kept telling her he was Italian; it struck me as odd that a Lebanese would try to pick up a foreigner by telling her he was from Europe. When their open-mouthed kissing became the focus of much of the bar's attention, I decided it was time to go home.

I dragged said friend R. out onto the street and hailed a servis to Hamra. She wanted to eat at Zatar & Zeit on Bliss Street. Two young men, preppy Americans in khakis and striped shirts, got in the cab. They told us they both worked for USAID eradicating poppy fields in Afghanistan. And now one of the two, who said he was Lebanese but spoke no more than a few words of Arabic, had relocated to Beirut. I shall refer to him as Lebanese Yank. His friend Jack B. remarked, "Can you believe these broads?" as if we were in som bad 1950s American movie, set in the parking lot of a drive-in movie theater.

Anyway, they ended up joining us at Zatar & Zeit, and the Lebanese yank invited us to eat our manakeesh in his garden just down the road. My friend R. was quite enamored with Jack B. So we walked to their house. Soon R. was asleep, her head face down in Jack B.'s lap.

The Lebanese Yank and I discussed politics, while Jack B. was preoccupied with the mop of hair in his lap. It was evident that we disagreed on almost all counts, on the success of the "Cedar Revolution". He was enamored with March 14th, the economy's performance, the country's stability, US designs and intervention in the region at large. The conversation ensued politely at first, until he raised his voice and cut me off mid-sentence. "Women shouldn't talk politics! You don't know any Lebanese people. You don't know anything!" Suddenly I became very angry. I shouted that if the US invades Iran it will be stupid people like him, who attended community colleges in middle America and now work for the CIA or front agencies like USAID, with little to no knowledge of the language and country, who pretend to be natives, who will be to blame. His jaw dropped, which amused me greatly.

Since I had no desire to further indulge my rage, I got up to leave, grabbed my jacket and told R. that we were leaving. "Why?" she asked raising her head from Jack B's lap. "Because they work for the CIA." "Are they going to kill us?" "No," I said helping to disengage her from Jack B's crotch. I turned back to the Lebanese Yank and held a final fiery oration, denouncing his proxy nationalism for a country he barely knows, the embezzlers and killers he admires, the near-extinct cedars, and disgusting conditional terms of USAID aid packages.

I turned to leave. "Hey. Don't leave! We can drink a few more beers," he insisted. "I do not drink beer with people like you. We have nothing further to say to you," I snapped, and bundled my friend R. out the front door. Jack and Lebanese Yank followed us out onto the street, yelling at us to come back. My friend R. was confused. "You have to explain all this to me in the morning," she mumbled.

Fast forward to friday night. The cousin of Lebanese Yank claims I was "kicked out" of their house, which is patently untrue. The fury I reserve for rabid American zionists and Michael Totten overwhelmed me. I found myself reiterating the same accusations, about USAID being a front organization for the CIA. "Your cousin is political scum," I informed him, waving my hands in the air. The cousin looked a little startled, and evidently regretted having raised the issue. "Let's agree. You were not kicked out of our house, and you are always welcome there. We are hospitable people! But my cousin does not work for the CIA." I think I told him I would burn his house down before I set foot in there again, and that he was lucky I didn't report his cousin. "You really are crazy," he exlaimed and suggested we have a drink to forget about the whole thing. I accepted, but only because my friend-- who had initially introduced me to Lebanese Yank's cousin-- shot me that, "Please don't do this to me now" look. The rest of the evening transpired amicably.

I am becoming soft in my old age. I'm twenty-five this year. By the time I'm fifty, I'll be downing cocktails with the retired Jeff Feltman.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Emily,
Great post as usual.
Thank you so much for nailing that obnoxious pompous idiot Michael Totten.
I can't believe some Lebanese take this pretentious moron seriously. He has absolutely no training in journalism or in middle east studies and keeps repeating stupid cliches. He is almost as annoying as his LF friend Tony Badran the fascist.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy this blog a lot.
You might want to change the link to today's Daily Telegraph CIA story on your latest post.
The link you have is to a related Telegraph commentary on the original story by an ignorant right-winger who writes "Aoun, who is pro-Syrian..."

The link in your post is not to the story itself, "CIA gets the go-ahead to take on Hizbollah", which is at:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/01/10/wleb10.xml

Sophia said...

EDB, Very good post. I can' bear Totten and his writings, a stupid shallow man. USAID as a front agency for the CIA, I believed this since I saw huge posters of USAID evrywhere in the Chouf...

ali said...

25 and you feel you are getting old? God help us. Thanks for the post. Your insight is appreciated, and the recounting of your experiences is amusing. Keep uo the good work.

ps, regarding Michael Totten, well said!

Bonzai said...

since my time in Jordan and now here in the balkans,it is obvious to me that usaid is a front for a nepharious administration,because it comes with string attached that enslave the countries where it operate and enrich the local oligarchy.I said it at the time to the n.2 of the hashemite family,he was quite schocked at my temerity.Welcome to Beirut the schizophrenic,half prostitute and half rebel,legs wide open to any buyer and heart and head resisting and suffering!!!I wish the opposition would not be constricted by the damocles spade of sectarian war or in Rice's worlds constructive chaos,and would finally give the coup de grace to this regime of cleptocracy and warlordism.

Anonymous said...

A German girl who call for a pulsa denura .I did not see this one coming. Instead of pulsa denura your great grand father used gas why the sudden change of heart.It sound like you have enough hate in your heart to use the old ways .

Anonymous said...

Thank you Emily. Always a pleasure to hear someone take apart Michael Totten.

EDB said...

Anonymous at 6.16AM
You are mistaken about my grandfather. He was on the receiving end... but thanks for revealing your self-righteousness and long live the diaspora.

EDB said...

oh and also about my "Great grandfather", anonymous you self-righteous jerk. he died before the Nazi takeover. Btw, what does Pulsa Danura-- a disgusting concept in itself-- have to do with the Nazi extermination camps? Wait, you lay ownership to the entire history? Go figure.

The Dreamer said...

a great post, as usual.
right on about Totten, what a moron. how can anybody take him seriously, is a mystery to me.

Guthman Bey said...

Beirut the schizophrenic,half prostitute and half rebel,legs wide open to any buyer and heart and head resisting and suffering...
Bonzai, how well put. Come to think of it, a cruelly poetic description of the general human condition.
"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."

Bashir said...

Tottenism

Bull's eye.
Now I understand those cramps I get when I read MT.

yeslam timmik.

Walid said...

I wonder what it is about Zaatar w Zeit that has such appeal to the non-Lebanese lovers of Lebanese food. What DO they put it that dough?

EDB said...

Walid, I don't know anyone who eats there during the day. It just happens to be open all night long, so it attracts a lot of late night revelers who couldn't care less what they're eating.

As'ad said...

Emily getting soft? You are on fire, my dear. And Za`tar wa Zayt is great: not only for the convenience.

As'ad said...

Emily getting soft? You are on fire, my dear. And Za`tar wa Zayt is great: not only for the convenience.

freaky said...

Amly:
Dump R (if you haven't already).
She is one trouble magnet.

Freaky

Anonymous said...

Great post, and I felt an out-of-body experience when you described shouting at the Lebanese yank, the satisfaction of the moment slipped into my soul and a deep sensation of relief came over me. Thanks.
But, Emily, the reference to the 'American community colleges' was a bit off, it is understandable in the moment (and effective in pissing off the guy), but do you think that if the CIA gets populated with people from Harvard and Princeton that would be better? or that the fact that people go to non-elite colleges makes them worse or less credible?

As'ad said...

I agree with anonymous above me.

Anonymous said...

Guthman Bey,thanks.I have been thinking that since my teenager years in the 70's and escaped from the country because of the prostitue side.And now how I long for the rebel soul and coming back..Europe is disheartening with its conformism and complacency in its own mediocrity.The continent is in a deep crises and doesn't want to aknowledge it.It also found its scape goat in the milking of islamophobia,"antisemitism" beeing now prohibited.Pity a continent that always needs a culprit to its own misdeeds!

EDB said...

God no, anonymous and As'ad. Some of the stupidest, least imaginative people I have met went to Harvard & other elite institutions. In fact, amongst the elite institutions, Harvard seems to attract an exorbitant amount of rightwing dummies (not all, of course. I have two good friends at Harvard who hate the place and its politics). And according to my former boss who went to Yale, the CIA used to ask about how many holes certain upper crust golf courses have when interviewing candidates. I mentioned it more because the CIA's policy now seems to be that if you're an "obedient" Arab committed to American hegemony, then it doesn't matter what your educational background or abilities are. And yes, it pissed him off.

Anonymous said...

A German-American with a Lebanese Soul! How did that happen?

The Dreamer said...

"A German-American with a Lebanese Soul! How did that happen?"

yeah, how the hell did that happen? O mysterious EDB?

Anonymous said...

Lady, you're criticizing someone for pre-conceived notions? Everything on your blog is strongly opinionated and contrarian for the hell of it. I have been reading it for about 6 months now.

Just look at how you reject Paris III out of hand!

It's sad that Beirut attracts characters like you - People with chips on their shoulders...political fashionistas, looking for a cause - any cause! - to get all hot and bothered about.

If you were back in Germany, you would be throwing paint at people wearing fur coats and campaigning to make cigarettes illegal. But you're in Beirut, so you're against Paris III. Good for you.

Come back in five years, when you've finally outgrown your rebellious teenager phase. You might see a very different Lebanon.

Anonymous said...

edb
find yourself a place where you belong stay there and try to grow roots .Than once you contribute something to the place where you live go back and read your blog again .you wont feel too good about it

Anonymous said...

"political fashionistas, looking for a cause - any cause! - to get all hot and bothered about."
Is that a bad thing? shouldn't we all be looking for causes? or do you adopt a certain measure of 'authenticity' that people should have before engaging in thought and action?

"If you were back in Germany, you would be throwing paint at people wearing fur coats and campaigning to make cigarettes illegal. But you're in Beirut, so you're against Paris III."
What is with that caricaturization of 'leftism' that I hear so often in Lebanon these days? it seems like the Lebanese are importing American notions of conservatism. 'Everyone who does not like the Washington Consensus is a hippie tree-hugger who has no credibility'

Walid said...

Yeah, the woman writes way too well to be called naive or brainwashed, so you imagine that calling her a "political fashionista" is somehow an equally effective way to fail to argue with what she is saying. Get a life!

Anonymous said...

Greatly enjoyed this post! I love some good Totten-bashing :)

L said...

i have to admit, i'm startled to read about someone hopping from bar to bar, za'atar wazeit (which sounds like the beirut equivalent of cairo richie/expat mohandiseen and zamalek style restos), and crapping on usaid because they're "cia" and have disgusting reimbursement packages? and who "doesn't understand enough about economics" to explain why x or y stinks--- but, assuredly, enough to know that it does! and, from there, to speak sneeringly about usaid types- I wonder how much economics they know.

that's not even the matter. it's the sneering tone of your writing that i really take issue with. how can you be outraged at totten and hate mongering whatever, and just speak with such disrespect and lack of compassion. the comments on what the parents of the captured israeli soldiers should do, and should feel, was just in the best of taste.

if you were an orthodox rabbi--- well I don't know what you would do. but if you were a raging zionist, I actually don't think you'd be writing in such a different manner as you are. you'd sneer at palestinian suffering, and maybe write some nasty thing about how their families shouldn't worry, because at least in the israeli jails they aren't getting electric shock to their genitals, as in egyptian prisons. or some other tasteless thing-- the tasteless isn't really the issue though-- it's that, who the hell are YOU to use someone else's sufferings as your own political shtick? do you realize how insulting, demeaning, and just low that is?

the thing is, I think you do realize, because you identify it quite well in friedman totten et al. but in a peculiarly american way. this whole thing-- did you really grow up in germany, because you just strike me as overwhelmingly american. the self-righteousness, the putting down of others while unconsciously imitating some of their ugliest tendencies. God, what a waste, you're so clearly intelligent, but so full of yourself.

who the hell are you to judge people in usaid? do you know any? do you know what kind of things they do, or what drives them? do you sneer at the water sanitation and toiletry projects they do in upper egypt? or the telecommunications projects that allowed, only in the recent years, people from one side of cairo to call those on the other side of cairo?

oh no, no. sit in za'ater wazeit, ya bint ash-sha3b, and sneer at usaid for bringing toilets and running water. from the mud houses in fayoum city you seem a bit ridiculous, i'm sorry to say. but it must be a nice feeling, to be within whatever resto you're chilling in, and to be so sure of your own rightness!

Anonymous said...

Hi, here's a toilet for your village from the same government that bombed your sanitation system to shit.

Hey, here's some money to buy some farming equipment. But you have to buy the equipment from me, so give that money back to me. And don't forget to embrace "the culture of life" and we'd be really pleased if you would oblige us by installing this guy as the head of that ministry, or else.

"Eva Gollinger, for example, writes that USAID "functions as an instrument of CIA penetration into civil society" and maintains that the USAID was being used by the CIA as recently as the 2002 attempt to bring down the government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. [4]"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Agency_for_International_Development

Anonymous said...

glad to see you doing research at wikipedia. your example doesn't work for egypt, by the way.

have you ever read a book about development? just one book. possibly 2? on what do you base your opinion?

ghassan said...

Hey self-righteous do-gooder. Scat! Don't assume that everyone cares about the holier-than-thou bullshit work you do...

USAIDiots said...

Thank you for the outhouse, USAID, and for teaching me to crap in a hole and bury my poop. Please also tell your government to stop backing that corrupt murderous Mubarak now. Please stop selling him weapons that he can use against his own people. But again, many thanks for the outhouse!

Anonymous said...

DEAR USAID<

SOMETIMES I WATCH MY SISTER WHEN SHE MAKES SHOWER SINCE THANKS TO YOU< WE HAVE RUNNIN WATER NOW. ISNT THIS BAD? PLEASE SEND MISSIONARIES SOON TO TEACH ME TO BE CIVILISED

L said...

ya 7abaibi al 2ulal al 2adab.

i am not here to defend usaid. the aid industry is a fucked up industry. i just think it RICH for a bunch of elites, sitting at your laptops, to just sit and sneer. c'est tout, wasalamat.

Anonymous said...

Dear Emily, writer of this post

Just 2 comments on your otherwise nice post :
1- We have a USD16 billion outstanding debt coming to maturity this year. Paris 3 is essential to solving this issue, otherwise we will be in deep shit.
2- Yes, much of the theft during the Taef era was due to the Syrian presence in Lebanon. A simple look at the Syrian government's finances proves it. Although this does not absolve our own local thieves from their mistakes.
Regards
R

Byron Raum said...

Looking back and remembering the times I was 25, you have my great sympathy. I think you still have great fury at the simple fact that most people are unreasonable, uncaring and unable to think. If it is any consolation: eventually, you will get used to it. Guard those that you can. The rest do matter, but there's nothing you can do about it so conserve your energy.

I'll look elsewhere said...

Lots of adolescent anger on this blog. I didn't have to read much to discover someone who is thoroughly miserable---who's rare satisfaction in life seems to involve verbally shredding anyone who holds a different viewpoint on politics or economics. The ratio of ad hominem attacks to arguments approaches 99-1. This Totten fellow appears to be the walking emobiment of stupidity yet there's no argument that actually tackles his viewpoints and exposes them. Likewise with the like-minded commenters here.

I hope you'll lose the know-it-all attitude. But at age 25, you're not far from making it a permanent feature of your personality.