Friday, July 28, 2006

Non-toxic discourse 

Jonathan Steele in today's Guardian:

...what counts most for now is not the popular reaction [Steele has described near-total support for Hizbullah across the "Sunni-Shiite" divide so beloved of neocon imperial fabulists, and also among Christians and Druze] but what is happening inside the Lebanese government. Condoleezza Rice seems to have little understanding of the country's political forces. Last year's so-called cedar revolution, with its simplistic "people power" image and the election victory of anti-Syrian parties, apparently led Washington, and alarmingly Downing Street as well, to believe that Lebanon has a radically new and pro-western government.

In fact, Lebanon has a government of national unity in which Hizbullah has two ministers. Being anti-Syrian is not the same as being anti-Hizbullah, and the election winners from the March 14 movement, which developed after the car-bomb murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri, wisely recognised that the party is an authentic part of Lebanese society. It was better to have it in the government rather than outside.

Demonising Hizbullah as terrorists or Iranian and Syrian agents confuses the picture. Moreover, the only party that declined to take part in government, the Maronite Christians led by Michel Aoun, made a tactical alliance with Hizbullah. Since the Israeli attacks Aoun has been one of Hizbullah's most vocal defenders.

While accepting Hizbullah's political weight, no Lebanese politician believes that its military wing can be disarmed against its will. Their view has to be the starting point for any discussion of an international force for southern Lebanon, whether it is a beefed-up version of the current UN force, Unifil, or some sort of "coalition of the willing".

....Expecting foreigners to remove Hizbullah's weapons is a non-starter. Israel is taking heavy casualties in attempting it. How would other foreign occupiers have more success?

Earlier this year Lebanese parties were holding a "national dialogue" to work out, among other issues, how to strengthen the Lebanese army and find a different role for Hizbullah's guerrilla forces. "One option would be to absorb the militia into the Lebanese army and another would be to turn it into a national guard under government control," Michel Faroun, an MP from the March 14 movement, said last week.

The dialogue on Lebanon's defence strategy was only exploratory, since the government agreed that no decisions could be taken until Israel withdrew from the land known as Shebaa farms, occupied since 1967. The latest two weeks of Israeli attacks have reinforced Hizbullah's argument that it cannot disarm until the Lebanese army is stronger.

It is not a question of redeploying the Lebanese army in Hizbullah's place. Only Hizbullah knows the terrain well enough, and has sufficient experience and motivation to defend Lebanon against any future Israeli invasion.

The Lebanese government's position on the idea of an international force is not yet clear. Hizbullah and Amal, the other Shia party, insist that the prime minister, Fouad Siniora, only had a mandate in Rome on Wednesday to call for a ceasefire and a prisoner exchange. Although Siniora expressed support for strengthening Unifil, analysts assume he thought this position was safe as long as the mandate and mission are still to be agreed. If the idea took off he would have time to argue that it can only come in with the consent of Hizbullah and Amal.

Attempts to impose a force would risk destroying the Lebanese government and revive the danger of a civil war. Perhaps this is Israel's intention. It has shown great skill in exacerbating splits between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and may think of doing the same in Lebanon.

European governments should resist the idea. Jacques Chirac has rightly said a Nato force is out of the question since the alliance is seen as "the armed wing of the west". Even without this association, any force would risk being seen as Israel's instrument. Israel's plan seems to be either to use foreigners to do its work or, if that fails, to turn south Lebanon into a giant Rafah - the city in Gaza where it demolished hundreds of homes and created a free-fire zone in which anything that moved was shot....

Monday, July 24, 2006

Israeli Miscalculations 

by As'ad AbuKhalil (a.k.a., the Angry Arab)

At this stage, it is not clear what will happen next. But at this stage, it is possible to state that Israeli political goals will not be achieved, no matter how long Israeli aggression takes. No matter what happens next, and even if Israel manages to kill Nasrallah or other leaders, Israel's ability to achieve its goals is diminishing not increasing. I am not being triumphalist: Israeli military superiority, and Israeli willingness, nay eagerness, to use massive and indiscriminate violence, has never been in doubt. I lived and barely survived the 1982 Israeli invasion after all. But the political situation is rather spiraling quickly away from the intentions of Israel and its vocal and silent partners in the world. Just today, I watched an appearance by Mustafa Al-Faqi (chairperson of the Egyptian parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee). He spoke like a Hizbullah spokesperson. A Hizbullah guest on the show (Lebanese member of parliament Husayn Hajj Hasan who is such an ineffective propagandist for the party) noted that tone and that change, even from a few days ago. Here is my list of Israeli miscalculations:
1) Arab governments--as usual--did not dare go as far as the Israel wanted. Just as Bashir Gemayyel did not fulfill his promises to the Israelis in 1982. To be sure, House of Saud, Jordan's Hashemites, Kuwait royal family, and Egypt's Mubarak all covered up for Israel in the Arab League. But the famous statement by the House of Saud did not even have a source or name attached to it. It was attributed to an "official." No house of Saud member dared to sign his/her [her? in Saudi Arabia where women still can't drive] name to it. And also notice the way the Arab official rhetoric and media have been changing. NOT out of concern for victims of Israeli bombings, but out of fear of public opinion.
2) Israel assumed that Hizbullah fighters would flee within one day as was the case in 1982.
3) Israel assumed Shi`ite refugees would break with Hizbullah. The opposite happened. Amal people just joined Hizbullah, politically and otherwise. And NOT A SINGLE SHI`ITE politician (like Hariri Inc's deputies Ghazi Yusuf or Basim As-Sab`) said a word--not a word, either way. And many callers to Lebanese TV news shows mention their names in rage, particularly in the case of Ghazi Yusuf who attended the Lebanese Forces' honoring of John Bolton 2 months ago. Yusuf has not stepped foot in Lebanon in a while now, and I doubt that he will return soon. He tried to get Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah to help him but the latter told him that Shi`ite opinion is most angry at him. Basim As-Sab` also has not stepped foot in Lebanon in months. These were the "moderate" Shi`ites that Walid Jumblat invokes as "alternative" to Hizbullah. Israel assumed that anti-Hizbullah Shi`ites would strengthen their resolve against the party. The opposite occurred.
4) Israel assumed that the mood of the Shi`ites in South Lebanon in 1982 would be replicated now. Back then: people just raised the white flags, and some even welcomed the invading Israeli troops, before turning against them in one year, due to your typical savagery of Israeli occupation methods and techniques. Furthermore, Hizbullah seems to have learned from PLO experience: they remained invisible, and thus did not create a thuggish rule that Israel would later exploit in its favor. People of South Lebanon were not looking for a "rescuer" this time around. But they now want a rescuer from Israeli aggression NOW.
5) Israel assumed that Sunni and Druze momentum against Hizbullah--funded by Hariri Inc--would mount and become more vocal. The opposite occurred. The outrage at Israeli brutality seems to have muted voices of criticisms of Hizbullah, even among people who never really cared about Hizbullah, and its fundamentalist ideology.
6) Israel assumed that the Lebanese government would get stronger from the aggression, but it has gotten weaker. Prime Minister Fu'ad Laval has not dared to visit one shelter or refugee center.
7) Israel assumed that this aggression will take a few more days, and that Israeli society would treat this as a victory.
8) Israel assumed that a air bombing would be all what is required, with little harm to Israeli occupation troops.
9) Israel assumed that Hizbullah leaders would simply sit and wait for Israeli bombs in their houses and apartments.
10) Israel assumed that US media would not care about Lebanese civilians. Wait. That was a correct assumption. Sorry.
11) Israel assumed that Arab public would treat the stance of Hizbullah as "adventurist" and "reckless." That would have been a correct assumption if House of Saud speaks on behalf of all Arabs and if Hizbullah fighters did not fight toughly. That is very significant for Arab (including Lebanese) public opinion given the abysmal performance of Arab (and `Arafat's) armies. This is a very important element in Arab political culture, that Hizbullah calculated about, it seems, and Israel had no clue about. This campaign seems to follow the law of diminishing return: the longer it lasts, the more Israel can kill, but the more massive will the devastation be, and the more "heroic"--in public perceptions--will people--in Lebanon and Arab world--treat Hizbullah's stance. Israel may turn this into a further boost for Hizbullah. But then again: Israel always seems to boost its enemies. So the real enemies and opponents of Hizbullah in Lebanon will be more angry at Israel after this for boosting Hizbullah.
12) Israel assumed that Hizbullah would follow past Arab (and `Arafat's PLO) propaganda patterns of bombast and wild exaggeration. Thus far, Hizbullah propaganda and official communiques have been quite restrained and understated. That has helped the public credibility perception of the party in Lebanese and Arab public.
13) Israel (just as in 1982) assumed that its silly flyers over South Lebanon will be seen as witty and smart. Instead; they are seen as dumb and foolish, and badly crafted.
14) Hizbullah assumed that a group of South Lebanese people, perhaps the former SLAs, would be willing to show up to help Israel. That was not to be. Not a single person has done that. In 1982: there were many people (of different religions) who volunteered to cooperate with Israeli occupation in order to--in their minds--rid themselves of PLO rule.
15) Israel assumed that Hizbullah's ability to inflict counter-harm to Israeli cities and towns would be quickly eliminated.
16) Israel assumed that Nasrallah or Hizbullah leaders would crack under pressure. No signs of that whatever.
17) Israel assumed that the displaced people would constitute an automatic lobbying group against Hizbullah. Far from that: they have become a strong lobbying group for Hizbullah.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

AmCop auf Deutsch! 

Police in Germany are hunting pranksters who have been sticking miniature flag portraits of George W. Bush into piles of dog poo in public parks.

"This has been going on for about a year now, and there must be 2,000 to 3,000 piles of excrement that have been claimed during that time," said Josef Oettl, parks administrator for Bayreuth.

The series of incidents was originally thought to be some sort of protest against the US-led invasion of Iraq. But then when it continued, it was thought to be a protest against George W. Bush's campaign for re-election. But it is still going on and the police say they are completely baffled as to who is to blame.

"We have sent out extra patrols to try to catch whoever is doing this in the act," said police spokesman Reiner Kuechler. "But frankly, we don't know what we would do if we caught them red handed."

Legal experts say there is no law against using feces as a flag stand and the federal constitution is vague on the issue.


This presents an opportunity for an interesting thought experiment:

What would civic life be like in a country whose constitution wasn't vague on the issue of using feces as a flag stand?


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