Thursday, March 15, 2007

Who wants the Truth?

According to New TV, Sergei Brammertz's latest report reveals which countries are refusing to cooperate with the Hariri investigation. Here is a line-up of the truthseekers:

That's France, Israel, the US, Jordan, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Germany and a few others (supposedly Iraq and another Gulf country.) Enjoy your tribunal with an "international character".

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sirens & Stagnancy
I barely pay attention to the hysterical wailing of sirens whizzing by, perhaps on their way to diffuse bombs planted in potato-chip bags or to remove a crate of TNT deposited next to an overflowing garbage vat. I no longer ponder why the Lebanese security agencies successfully hunt down liquid bomb detonators and uncover terrorist cells and spy networks, but fail to resolve a single assassination case. When I opened the newspaper over my morning coffee I chuckled at the suspect sketch issued a year-and-a-half after an unsuccessful attempt on Elias Murr's life. I am enjoying the stagnant calm.

The suspect has short dark hair, a smudge on his forehead, and a rather sullen expression. If you recognize him, you know what to do.

Occasionally I mistake the late-night chorus of screaming cats, screeching tires, slammed doors and raised voices with an ominous sign that the lull is over. But I reassure myself that whatever happens will catch me by surprise, at a moment when my mind has drifted from politics to the banal-- plans for dinner, or during a weekend out of town. In Lebanon you can theoretically ignore the news and rely on your friends and acquaintances to inform you of momentous developments by text message.

The young men slugging it out for their respective sects and feudal lords have no say in any matter, despite the vitriolic hatred they muster towards each other. Riyadh, Mukhtara, the White House and Tehran, et al. will ultimately decide what's best for you and yours.

In a recent interview, Saniora made no secret of this when he called for the "eleventh" cabinet member to be hand-picked by the Saudi King. The Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon rejected Siniora's suggestion: “Regarding PM Al-Sanyurah’s proposition that Saudi Arabia names the eleventh minister, Khoja said: 'With all due respect to PM Al-Sanyurah whom we appreciate, respect and trust, we do not interfere in such issues. Maybe PM Al-Sanyurah said that out of his love for Saudi Arabia.'" What's there to love? Yuck.

The "opposition" botched the timing and ends of their bid for increased power. By giving the pro-government forces the time to conspire with the White House to draw Hezbollah into a sectarian internal feud, by begging for crumbs, they lost momentum and meaning. Their sit-in has become as watered down and senseless as any other choreographed spectacle. The lifeless tents in downtown are surrounded by the 24-hour buzz of Solidere's inequitable construction enterprise. In villages in the south, people squat a single room in a bombed out house, they live crowded into the homes of extended families and neighbors; in Dahiye bombed out crater holes serve as massive garbage depots, while Solidere erects more unaffordable luxury housing and commercial buildings a t a frightening pace, unperturbed by the opposition's trivial demands. The cruel foundations of dispossession and privatization upon which Solidere was established, the iron grip of the embezzlers and warlords whose faces adorn every billboard and building in the country remain unchallenged by this "opposition". And still their demands are not met! Siniora will infuriatingly remain the unabashed kind of his castle, until someone in a far away capital blows the whistle.

But any settlement between the government and opposition would leave open the door for so many variables of violence. If Jumblatt is betrayed, what then? Will the Lebanese be satisfied if Berri and Hariri agree on a "no victor, no vanquished" formula, if the ruling class goes back to sharing Syrian sweets for the cameras around a roundtable?

"March 11th" is as conceptually preposterous as Lebanese political movements come, not to mention the irony that this date coincides with the anniversary of the 2003 Madrid train bombing. As if this country needs another silly date, another demonstration, another flag to parade under; as if a sectarian middle ground exists.

On Friday night, I sat outside a cornerstore in Gemmayze with a few young men from the Internal Security Forces. They readily accepted my friend's invitation to share a bottle of vodka (I don't drink that stuff). One of the young men, Bashir, age nineteen supports Aoun; the other young man who he is on duty with is follows the Lebanese Forces. "We are like brothers. We would never fight. That is why I hate my job. But there are no other jobs. Otherwise I would never work for them," Bashir said. Their captain arrived and swigged from the bottle before he drove off to quell a disturbance somewhere.

Sectarian school outings
My friend R., a teacher at a snazzy private high school, recently took his students on a paint ball outing. Instantly they organized into political factions-- PSP and Future versus Hezbollah and FPM. "It was like a prelude to the war", R. said with characteristic exasperation. Whenever a student was hit by a paintball and -- as per the rules-- had to leave the game, his fellow party members would instead use him as a human shield.

Natural Selection

A friend who teaches at AUB overheard two of her students discussing her class. One of them was complaining that he had to drop the writing course she teaches because of a conflict in his schedule. The other student responded, "Drop the other class instead. This teacher, she's from the M. family. They are from Baalbek." (The assumption being that they are Shia.)

I., a Palestinian born in Lebanon, volunteers as an architect down south in Aita Shaab, a village on the Lebanese-Israeli border . His father came down to visit. They drove to the border village Marwaheen, because --they say-- you have a view all the way down the coast, to Haifa. A UNIFIL jeep pulled up next to them (you rarely see UNIFIL outside of their armored vehicles.) The UNIFIL soldier told I. and his father that they couldn't stand there and look. I. asked, "Why not? It's forbidden to look?" "Yes," the UNIFIL soldier responded. "Who gave you those orders?" I. asked. "The Israelis," the soldier replied. "They don't want you to stand here and look." "Well this is my country and that is my country. So I should be allowed to look, shouldn't I?" I. rebutted. The UNIFIL soldier shook his head, and waited in his armored vehicle until I. and his father complied, and drove off.

Mandate II
I have been following the misconduct of a certain guard stationed near Hariri's palace in Qoreitem. Dressed in plain clothes, this blimp-like imposing figure takes pleasure in humiliating and occasionally smacking around Syrian workers-- street cleaners, bottle collectors, and long-term employees at local establishments. Two days ago I watched him apprehend a young boy, no older than nine, who might have looked Syrian to his scrutinizing gaze. Perhaps some of you March 14th supporters would like to report this to your goateed zaim? Unless of course these security measures are absolutely imperative...

Priorities of a Ne'er existent state
The south is in shambles; reconstruction is slow, funding is politicized and additionally complicated by the pervasive pessimism that another war with Israel is on the horizon. Living between adjacent generations of rubble does not inspire confidence in a better future. Apparently some school children in Aita Shaab are refusing to study for their exams or to apply for universities, because they are sure the war will start soon enough.

The new face of chocolate

The boy whose face adorned the Kinder chocolate package for 32 years has been replaced
with a little goody-two-shoes punk ass who probably doesn't let people copy his homework.

I grew up in Germany; I know his type.

I am boycotting Kinder, and I suggest you do the same. Change for the sake of it is frequently good, but not in the case of Kinder's packaging. I feel my childhood being torn asunder.

Meanwhile, Emir Peretz is busy trying to retroactively christen Israel's misadventure in Lebanon this past summer. Initially coined "Operation Just Reward", the 34-day bombing campaign was apply re-named "Operation Change of Direction" by the army when things started looking bleak. That doesn't suit the families of the fallen IDF soldiers, who don't want to bury their sons under some lame wishy-washy title-- "Schlomo G. 1987-2006 fell in southern Lebanon due to a royal fuckup."

How about "Operation Kidnap the Grocer"? Please e-mail any suggestions to Knesset member Yaakov Everi by Monday at

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Acute shortage of good guys

"We're all orphans without Joseph," H. a young journalist at Al Akhbar said as we stood outside the Church of St. John Chrysostomos on Damascus Road before the service began. He looked exhausted, emotionally undone. A few hundred people-- colleagues, friends, readers, admirers, some dignitaries -- Aoun, Berri, Saniora and Lahoud sent representatives, and members of the Lebanese Communist Party gathered on Sunday to bury Joseph Samaha. His body was returned from London less than 24 hours before the burial, where he suddenly passed away last week.

Inside the Church we overheard a man telling his friend: "Everyone here is either black or white. They are either terribly sad or secretly happy to see him go." The flag-bearing CP members stayed outside during the service. Rounds of prayers for his soul were conducted by a gaggle of clergy men. A priest spoke, rather loudly. He said Joseph's presence was needed up there, for he tells the truth, and they, too, need a newspaper. He also said, "we waited for you to go to drag you to Church... Even if you don't believe, the Church is like a mother who is proud of her sons. No matter what." Then Yakoub Sarraf, the resigned Minister of the Environment, bestowed an award of presidential recognition on behalf of President Lahoud.

Eventually people poured in to lay a bouquet-- a single yellow rose and a red feather bound together-- on his coffin. Then the pallbearers-- young journalists, colleagues, family members and admirers-- seized his coffin, raised it above their heads, and carried out the church doors and down the steps. Handfuls of rose petals were thrown over the coffin as it made its way towards the graveyard.

The young men shouldering the coffin-- it was as if they were seizing responsibility for the sudden vacuum left by Joseph Samaha's departure. This country --or perhaps this age-- suffers from an acute shortage of good guys. Maybe it's always been that way. We couldn't afford Joseph's loss, but now there are shoes to fill. A close colleague who went to London to bring back his body mumbled, we have to continue our work. It is the best thing for Joseph. He said it as he had been repeating it to himself for days on end.

As I stood in the back of the Church listening to the prayers I thought long and hard about the term "martyr", which still confuses me, in all its nuances and intended meanings. I don't agree with the pedestal martyrdom is placed on. Or perhaps I only appreciate the term in its narrowest sense, as a way to lend meaning to the death of a young man who has died fighting for his freedom and dignity. Joseph Samaha wasn't a martyr-- cigarette smoking and a hereditary heart condition do not lend meaning to his untimely death. But what if his death serves to mobilize people into action, to take over in his spirit, where he left off?

Perhaps he was lucky to have left the way he did, rather than as a consequence of his refusal to live by strict security measures.

The people mourning Joseph in the Church were also mourning the state of the country. Every person present yesterday exuded a profound loneliness, the loneliness of living without Joseph's friendship, his words and thoughts, his support. H., the young journalist at Al Akhbar, went on and on about how supportive Joseph was when he penned his first pieces.

That's all you'll hear from me in the form of sentimental revery.