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"Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.”
-Jane Perrone, The Guardian
Sunday, March 30, 2003
Day eleven of the attack on Iraq, aka "the Olympics" to news junkies like me.
Within days of the commencement of the war it transpired that things weren’t going as well as projected and expected for the Allies as they met stiffer than expected resistance and as the Iraqis played what is the Arab national sport – inviting and welcoming in foreign armies then turning on them, ambushing them, trapping them and massacring them.
The Arabs don’t drink so they’ve got to do something to amuse themselves and this game has a centuries old tradition with scores of examples.
For example, southern Lebanon in 1982 when Israeli troops were greeted as liberators and showered with rose petals and rice by the Shiites and then, off course, eventually those selfsame Shiites turned on them and the rest is history.
But what we're seeing in Iraq now seems to be a speeded-up fast version of that game – to continue the sporting theme, like one day cricket as opposed to the five day test game – with a lot of those said reversals and volte-faces happening within the same day.
And they're all doing it – all the groups that had previously pushed for and favored such an intervention (the Shiites, the Kurds, whatnot) are either doing it, threatening to do it, preparing to do it or will do it in the future.
In one of the plethora of books by foreign journalists on the Lebanese uncivil war (it may have been Thomas Freidman's "From Beirut to Jerusalem" - written in the days when he still pretended to be objective) this is perfectly highlighted and exemplified.
I'm describing and paraphrasing from memory here but the gist is correct and accurate.
Friedman describes how he and his fellow foreign correspondents witnessed this phenomenon with disbelief, confusion and amazement as successive foreign armies were feted, greeted with flowers and rice and then eventually, invariably and inevitably routed – from the Palestinians to the Israelis to the Americans etc, etc , etc!
Eventually the journalists came up with the sarcastically brilliant observation that this was a "traditional Arab greeting".
SMOKE ON THE WATER, FIRE IN THE SKY
The Baghdad phase of the War on Tourism reminds me a bit of Melbourne's Stereo Sky Show - an annual event held on a summer night on the banks of the Yarra River of basically fireworks accompanied by music and military displays (helicopters and planes doing improbable things).
In that one of the camera angles of the nighttime attacks on Baghdad is of the Tigris River with the city in the background and the attendant bombing, fires, flashes, anti-aircraft rounds, tracer fire and noises etc looks reminiscent (albeit tragically) of Melbourne and the Yarra en fete.
Although Lebanese cable television leaves a lot to be desired, one thing I am grateful for is that we don’t get Fox News here – who’s motto is "we report you decide", although I think it's more like "we distort you deride".
Speaking of right-wing fascists and derision, I'm reminded of John Howard's Hitler-like Nazi-esque rantings at some rally before the November 2001 Federal election which were subsequently made into a television advertisement.
Apropos of "illegal immigrants", Mr. Howard ranted "we decide who comes into this country and the conditions under which they come".
All you have to do to that quote is change one single letter to make it more accurately and correctly reflect the truth regarding the whole fascist frenzy that occurred over "illegal immigrants" and the Howard governments handling of it.
And that letter is the C in decide, change that to R and there you have the truth – "we deride who comes to this country and the conditions under which they come".
After the pub quiz on Wednesday somebody was commenting in bewilderment at the several friendly fire deaths that had occurred amongst British ranks after being accidentally hit by their "allies" (the Americans) and was saying to Chris something to the extent of "they're really massacring you".
I elaborated on that, asking him "when are you going to surrender?"
Like the old cliché "with friends like that who needs enemies".
The BBC's John Simpson, reporting from Northern Iraq, said "we're more afraid of the Americans than we are of the Iraqis".
Regarding this war, the Arabs have been manifesting and expressing their usual schizophrenia as they do about everything.
I'm not even going to acknowledge or justify it with much comment but the usual riots, protests, minor bombings and whatnot have occurred in various Arab and Muslim countries including Lebanon – which is not an Arab nor Muslim country, so lets just say in Arab and Muslim parts of Lebanon.
To wit, a tragicomic incident (amongst many) occurred yesterday when, from what I gather from the press (interviews with bank staff as the actual reporting seemed to characterize it as political), a man went to rob the HSBC Bank branch in Beirut.
The robbery didn’t go as planned so he transforms it into a political protest – saying that he's got explosives attached to his body and that he'll blow himself up in protest against the Allied war on Iraq (particularly British involvement, HSBC being a British bank but, off course, like all the places targeted, they're staffed by Lebanese).
Chaos ensues with the police and army surrounding the bank and apparently the robber/protestor insisting that the Interior Minister come and talk to him.
The Interior Minister appeared at the bank with lots of fuss and accompaniment, went in alone and came out some fifteen minutes later with the erstwhile bank robber now political revolutionary.
Apparently one of his conditions for surrender that he'd agreed upon with the minister was that he be allowed to make a statement to the waiting press.
Which he did – some raucous rant of an illiterate peasant about the war etc.
He was then taken away to jail presumably.
Not the kind of way you want to deal with terrorism – let them commit their acts of terrorism and then let them address the media about it, like after a sports game or something.
Police sources quoted in the Daily Star back up the robber-cum-terrorist theory – "several bank employees told police that Berro originally demanded money, however when an undetermined amount was handed over to him he put it back on the counter and said he was going to detonate the explosives to strike against British interests".
So, clearly he went to the bank with the intention of robbing it, wasn’t happy with the amount of money received and decided to become a terrorist instead.
There's no money in bank robbery anymore, all the big money's in terrorism, bank robbery doesn’t pay as much as it used to.
God help us.
There have been other minor acts of terrorism over the past few months, various American franchise restaurants have been bombed – Kentucky Fried Chickens, McDonalds, Pizza Hut (although I always though that Pizza Hut was Italian – pizza, Italian) and Winners.
Winners is an atrocious American style, American wannabe and American imitation fast food restaurant.
For all we know it could be one of their many food poisoned patrons that bombed them.
But it appeared to have been bombed because the morons who did this presumably thought it was an actual American franchise which it isn’t, it's entirely Lebanese.
Thanks be to God, you won't find a Winners in any other country in the world.
Taking that absurdity even further, it is now being guarded by soldiers just as real American franchise restaurants are.
So a restaurant that isn’t American was bombed by anti-Americans and thus is now guarded as an American restaurant.
A further example of Arab schizophrenia would have to be one of the stupidest protests in history that I have just seen reports of on the news – protestors in Tehran chanting "death to America and death to Saddam".
Those two wishes appear to me to be mutually exclusive – you can't protest this war by protesting against and denouncing both sides.
In effect, all they were announcing was that they were neutral.
This would appear to mirror their governments' stance - Tehran has said that they are "ACTIVELY NEUTRAL".
I hereby propose to Dictionary Authorities that that be made the new definition of oxymoron and paradox.
These protestors went to all that trouble to basically say "oh, we're neutral".
Which is also contradictory to the spirit of a protest – you protest to indicate a stance, one way or the other.
You certainly don’t hold a protest march to say that you're neutral.
Its like going to a football match, say Manchester United versus Liverpool, and booing both sides – Manchester United and Liverpool.
If you're so concerned, why don’t you take a stance?
More schizophrenia/duplicity – Arab governments, who are all implicitly or explicitly pro-American puppet governments (or "puppets governments" as some Iraqi official said the other day), have been saying one thing to Washington and another thing to their unwashed masses.
A couple of weeks ago I read somewhere that Washington was saying that twelve Arab governments had secretly pledged their support for the war.
That’s all of them!
I wouldn’t be surprised if Iraq was one of them!
When I say that that’s all of them I mean all the actual Arab Arab governments.
In that, out of the twenty-two member Arab League, when you discount all the peripheral black African token "Arab" states (the likes of Mauritania, Djibouti, etc) you're left with only about a dozen or so core Arab states.
An Arab American participating in an internet discussion forum put it best when he said "Much ado has been made here in the States about the lack of a coalition.But the US always had a coalition - the Arab regimes."
So, about a dozen of them (out of a dozen) had secretly pledged support to Washington.
Those words of support are for Washington, but their rabble-rousing demagogic dogmatic words to their masses are anti-war and condemning the war.
Government television stations (which are all the TV stations in the Middle-East – when they're not directly owned by governments, they're semi, quasi or crypto governmental through government members or cronies, etc*) have been airing exploitative, biased and base wall-to-wall "coverage" of the war – montages of the suffering, the dead and injured and the destruction to the soundtrack of Fairuz's "Baghdad" (I think she has a song for every Arab city, by the way) are one of their methods.
The masses are lapping it up, they love it!
The prime culprit is Aljazeera, the Qatari quasi-state owned satellite broadcaster who has been carrying-on about the war, yet their country is the headquarters of the invading US force!
The network is banned from broadcasting stories unfavourable to the rulers of Qatar, so it picks on other Arab governments (Arab "objectivity" and "freedom of speech" mainly consists of being "objective" about others").
But the masses appear to be too stupid to recognize this contradiction.
Just like the Labor Party in Australia, which is moving more and more to the right, can get away with making anti-immigration statements yet maintain its core of immigrant voters confident in the knowledge that most of these people are illiterate and don’t read the news anyway.
Basically if you can get your message across on the medium of the ignorant masses, television, then you needn’t worry about the rest of the media.
Those who are marginally smarter and have recognized this opt for the suspension of disbelief option (that people employ when viewing fantastic improbable movies) whilst watching this unjournalistic nonsense.
Another example of this hypocrisy and duplicity is a very nebulous Saudi "peace initiative" which stands out not due to its contents but due to its actual very existence.
Best explained by this final paragraph of an Associated Press report "news of a peace plan has baffled both Washington and Baghdad. Saudi Arabia has been quietly aiding the US war effort."
Fifty cents each way.
I'm not necessarily against these Arab regimes – primarily because I'm neutral, I'm not an Arab and because to selectively single them out would be unfair in that they are merely reflective and representative of their people, the Arab people.
Maybe not representative in a Western democratic sense – I'd even go as far as to say that they're not democratically representative – but that very fact that they're not democratically representative is in itself representative of Arab/Islamic society and mentality.
Democracy is absent from and alien to every facet of their society.
The same man on the street, who mouths platitudes about wanting democratic government to CNN, will most probably go home and be a dictator to his wife, children and everybody else weaker than him.
Also, this lack of real democratic representation is, deep down, probably preferred by the masses in that it spares them the trouble of thinking, doing and changing rather than just talking and criticizing, which seems to be their preference.
It's also a perfect foil and scapegoat for them, i.e. "things are bad in Palestine, things are bad in Iraq, it's all bad, everything's bad but we can't do anything about it because it's a dictatorship and the powers' not in our hands etc".
Perfect absolution – they're absolving themselves of blame and putting that blame on to a handful of scapegoats on top of the pyramid that they support and saving themselves a lot of work and effort into the bargain too.
Leaving their leaders to be corrupt and to exploit the Palestinians and the Iraqis and to do all the other things that their people are complaining about.
It must be stated that the so-called "opposition" (where available) that exists in these societies isn’t any better in that, in my view, the opposition is in fact not actual opposition but a handful of indirectly government appointed or tolerated actors.
It's like a stage play with a dozen members of the same theatre company given the role of an opposition but, essentially, they are still the same actors from the same company acting a fiction, a sop to the stupid masses who fall for this bad acting hook, line and sinker.
Sucked in merely by their clichéd, rhetorical, facile and banal chestnuts (which are devoured by the masses who have a taste for that sort of thing) but oblivious to their actual actions which are totally contradictory and paradoxical to what they're saying.
What do you expect from people who vote for candidates with nebulous generic "policies" like "I want what is best for Lebanon?"
Oh, how eccentric – your opponent says he wants what's worst for Lebanon.
I remember, in the run-up to parliamentary elections several years ago, some unique exceptional "eccentric" journalist had the nerve to ask one of the candidates a totally irrelevant question – "what are your policies?"
That was the only time I ever recall hearing a Lebanese journalist actually ask that question – they seem mainly preoccupied, as the electorate is, with the horse trading deal making and "lista" (ballot) composition.
The candidate replied with the Arab equivalent of "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it" – meaning "we'll cross that bridge after I'm elected".
Famously, for thirteen unlucky years the Lebanese have had to put up with one such oppositionist in exile promising them that he shall return imminently from his mansion in France (The General in His Labyrinth)- the former caretaker Prime Minister who “cared” (for the job) too much and got a little bit too comfortable in the role.
He got so attached to the post that he conducted a disastrous nympholeptic war to keep it.
In my opinion, a caretaker leader should limit himself to turning on the lights when he goes in and turning them off when he goes out!
Worse than that, nearly a decade later, he visited Australia and managed to convince some of the Australian media that he was still Prime Minister – at least two outlets (that I know of) referred to him that way, including The Catholic Weekly, whose July 5th 1998 edition proclaimed “Lebanon’s PM visits Australia” (this was no “Dewey defeats Truman” type error – they went on the editorialise “This is not honorific title. In reality he is the sole constitutionally appointed leader the Lebanese have”).
Even richer than that, in his delusion, he issues orders, warnings and threats in advance of this return – "you better not cry, you better not pout, Santa Claus is coming to town".
When and if he returns will indeed be a great day.
A great day for France.
I recently had an intelectual arguement with a firend about democracy or the lack of it in Lebanon.
He was trying to peddle the usual Lebanese chestnut of Lebanon being a democracy.
His and their main crutch in support of this is Lebanon's relative press freedom and freedom of speech – spouting the usual cliché about thirteen daily newspapers bring published here (nobody seems to care that thirteen is an unlucky number – how backward!).
I think that, whilst Lebanon does have relative freedom of the press and freedom of speech, I think that this is often a fig leaf and a safety valve for the lack of real democracy.
A foil, a sop!
What good is this alleged democracy when you can say practically whatever you want but you can't do anything about it, you can't act on all this talk!
A talking shop, a talkfest!
Lebanon's got the first part (freedom of speech) but the second and inextricably crucial part doesn’t exist (freedom of action).
It's like one of those suggestions/complaints box that we see attached to walls; but what we don’t see is that, behind that wall, is, not a collection point, but a garbage bin where our suggestions, complaints etc only see the light of day when they're dumped at one of the many open-air tips that scar our country.
Having said that, I'm not sure whether democracy is conducive to the Arab world nor am I convinced that Arabs do indeed genuinely want it.
Examples of this are manifest and abundant so there is no need to drudgingly catalogue them but one good example of this is when there is the occasional somewhat free election - either fuckwits (you won't read that anywhere else) or fundamentalists are elected.
So, if that's what they're going to do with their democracy, then bugger it, who needs democracy!
As Egypt's President Mubarak (not a fundamentalist) asked The International Herald Tribune's Yussif Ibrahim, "When your Americans talk about democracy in the Middle East, who do they think is going to take over, democrats?"
So, lack of democracy in the Middle East mightn't be the worst thing in the world when you have populations that are predominantly morons.
I must clarify here that I think that most people anywhere in the word are morons (myself included) but the difference in secular Western democracies is that the democracy that the moron masses are practicing is generally benign and non-lethal democracy.
They may indeed vote in a fellow moron but that moron is a safe benign harmless moron whereas in this part of the world they're liable to vote in a non-benign unsafe harmful moron.
Hence, lethal democracy.
In the meantime, until we can aspire to voting in safe morons, I think that a good model for the Arab world is the Lebanese one, albeit much improved.
In that we have a weak benign paternalistic regime that ensures basic human rights, doesn't have too many of us for breakfast and lets a vital free intelligent people go about their business of ignoring and supplanting the state and providing for themselves everything that their invisible state is too apathetic and corrupt to ensure for them.
This is the best Arabs can hope for at this stage.
Off course Arabs will tell you that they want proper democracy – don't believe them!
I've never seen so much of a disparity and chasm between what people say and what they do then in this part of the world.
Most people who talk about wanting change here (whether it be political, economic, societal etc) are basically people on the outside trying to get in – when and if they do get in, they, almost to a man (or to a woman – the women are even worse), do the same if not worse than the people they had criticized.
All that talk about democracy, egalitarianism, change etc is good for them when they want to actually get somewhere (i.e. supplant their oppressors) using that as tool or ploy (the only ones really available to them) but is promptly discarded as soon as they actually get there and pull the ladder up after them to prevent anyone else who has those dangerous notions from following them or their offspring (hence the curious Arab phenomenon of "hereditary republics").
"One man, one vote, one time".
In 1992, for example, Ali Belhadj, a leader of the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria (who were poised to win the elections until the military stepped in and cancelled them ) even said that in so many words - "When we are in power, there will be no more elections because God will be ruling."
Somebody summed up the Arab political system to me brilliantly the other day when she said that what we have here in the region is "state democracy" (a la China's state capitalism).
That is democracy practiced by the state establishment and elite.
If that sounds paradoxical or like a contradiction in terms, then that illustrates just how perverse things are here.
I'm no Hellenist , but apparently this is closer to the original democracy practiced by the ancient Greeks which wasn’t very democratic (in the modern sense) at all but very similar to what we have today in the Arab and Third World – a clique of freemen and the established elite ruling the rest.
So, there you have it – the Arab's have the only genuine democracy!
Suffice to say, the Arab/Islamic paternalistic system has its pros as well as it cons.
*In a similar vein, a UN friend of mine and her colleagues came to the conclusion that "non-governmental organizations" they were dealing with here were neither non-governmental nor organized.
They were either aligned to the government or to political parties or personalities.