Category Archives: Conflict

Killing for Peace is like…

So, the thing I dread most had to happen. We had guests over for “a cup of coffee”. These are not regular guests, so the “drinking coffee” part had to be translated to “having at least 3-4 coffee-sessions”. To make it worse, I was handed the task of “entertaining” them. OK. So we sit, discuss family affairs (after going around the point for some time, eventually they get to it, and ask me about my “dating status” – seriously, why do people think that is any of their business???). So having successfully passed the first half an hour of many half-hours, we had our first Arabic/Turkish/Armenian(or Mauritanian, Fijian, Baluchian, Zanzibarian) coffee. OK. So far so good. Then, for lack of anything else to talk about and “entertain” them with, I (silly me!! :-S ) mistakenly opened a can of worms… I asked something I will never dare ask again. Call it bowing to the desires of thought controllers (and terrorists), call it whatever you like!! I say, never, EVER, again! I asked, “sooooooo… any thoughts on the political scene………” Yeah. By the time we got to the second round of coffee, my semi-deaf gramma was complaining about a terrible headache. So, what happened was that we (well, they) were going ’round and ’round the same arguments, and quite loudly so (I will let my semi-deaf gramma’s complaint be the measure of how loud we – well, they – were). Actually, there were 3 sides in this mess. Me (solo), they (the guests), my dad (the devil’s advocate, who seemed intent on giving me a major headache). So, basically, it started with a discussion of General Michel Aoun. In truth, it started between them and my dad. My dad kept insisting that Aoun would make no difference, that no one would make any difference in Lebanon, so it was better to maintain the status quo (Hariri, Siniora) than abandon it. Mmmm! The guests respectfully disagreed, and defended Aoun’s position, following which a whole new can of worms was opened (and for once I wasn’t the one who opened it). Basically, a discussion of the herd mentality. Now this was a mess, because my dad was actually contradicting himself all the time (don’t give him my blog URL or you will regret it for the rest of your miserable life : -D ) and the guests were also blabbering on and on about “those Muslims”, whom they accused of having herd mentality, and believe me, much, much worse things… Well, at least they and my dad discovered they shared common ground on that one, which earned us a much-needed pause, the second coffee break! This is where things started going downhill. The discussion started to heat up even more, and at last we stepped into the tricky realm of imperialist, sorry, U.S foreign policy, and embarked on a discussion of the real purpose behind these policies vis-a-vis the Middle East, and the response that it has elicited from “those Muslims”. Actually, we had to clarify some matters before we embarked on such a topic, because while I insisted that the “roots of Muslim rage” – as the so-called Middle East affairs expert, Bernard Lewis, ingeniously (sic) calls it (Lewis is now busy crunching numbers to determine the date that the Islamists have chosen for their collective annihilation campaign against Israel) – have nothing to do with the personality traits and/or character of Muslims (and Arabs; another thing we differed on and clashed about was the interchangeable use of Arab and Muslim) and little to do with the cultural/religious identities that are prevalent in Muslim societies, the former being a rather bigoted if not utterly racist statement to make. Rather, the “roots of Muslim rage” have more to do with – among other things – reactions to threats (in speech or action) or, at any rate, perceived threats (the way motives and intentions are viewed and analyzed, etc.), and radicalization due to forceful isolation (if they think by isolating Hamas they would be solving anything, they might want to think twice, and actually realize that their actions will only serve to radicalize it, and along with it a very large segment of Palestinian society; although one can easily argue that Palestinian affairs have become increasingly “Lebanonized” – however, as Lebanonized as they might be, Lebanonization is never a cure for imperialists’ headaches; one would expect that the Americans would have learned at least that in their dealings with, in, and through Lebanon). Scholars have been studying the impact of political mediation for possible inclusion and acceptance into the body politic, on extremist parties. These studies have shown that extremist parties tend to moderate their speech and actions when they are accepted into the real political world so to speak, and more radicalized when they are not (see for example Lisa Andersen’s “Fulfilling Prophecies: State Policy and Islamist Radicalism” in Political Islam: Revolution, Radicalism, or Reform?, ed. John L. Esposito [Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1997]). But don’t expect Bernard Lewis to pay any attention to this. So back to my guests, who surprisingly adhered to my take on this, in contrast to my dad, who insisted that “Muslims/Arabs are aggressive by nature”, and therefore the Western attempts to “pacify” them are justified and even necessary. To his credit, he did admit that the crimes of the imperialist forces/factions were unjust, but of course, he had to insert the infamous “BUT” after that sentence… Now, the whole debate was not academic at all, not even closely inspired by academic knowledge. Rather, it was inspired by “street/salon(??) discussion of politics”, where you have the chicken-seller, the fisherman, the shoe-shiner, and worst of all, the Ferrari-owner, all philosophizing about the dynamics of superpower/great power foreign policy, international relations, and so on. Not that my opinion is more valid than theirs (certainly I do not subscribe to such hierarchical/supremacist categorization systems), but there is an ocean between, on the one hand words backed by research, sound analyses, and actual knowledge of both theories and historical facts, and on the other hand perceptions of facts, assumptions of motives and intentions, and so on. Moving on, my dad put forth the thesis that while USA was in Iraq not out of any dedication to human rights or concern for the violation thereof by Saddam Hussein’s regime, its intentions were nevertheless altruistic, in that the Bush administration has planned to re-draw the map of the Middle East to allow for peaceful co-existence between the different ethnic and religious groups. This is a preposterous assertion, on a number of grounds, which I pointed out one by one: 1) The concept of altruism is pretty subjective, and not only that, but using it in the context of U.S foreign policy (in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.), or what us activists used to write sarcastically on our banners, “killing for peace” [is like f*cking for virginity], is surely a travesty; 2) The problem with the so-called U.S perceptions that the (imperialist) re-drawing of the map drawn by European colonists/colonialists (or the toppling of minority-led regimes, and their replacement with majority-led regimes) would solve the long-standing issues and blood feuds between the various groups that make up the Middle East, is that it ignores the fact that any forceful drawing of borders that does not take into account the real concerns and grievances of the indigenous populations (and completely ignores aspects beyond ethnic/national/religious identities and/or divisions; for example, economic-territorial or strictly economic concerns) would leave a number of issues hanging in the air, institutionalize injustice in the name of justice (similar to the killing for peace concept), besides the fact that it would provide no guarantees that the relatively homogeneous newly-drawn states would not be at each others’ throats the minute the imperialist “protector” turns his back (perhaps this project does not stem from altruism after all, but from the role of protector and mediator that the U.S casts itself in, which would necessitate intervention and amounts to constant influence and interference), or that they would not embark on genocidal campaigns to rid the country of the minorities that might’ve been their previous oppressors, or against whom they might have historical grievances. For example, one has to consider the possibility that following the U.S withdrawal from Iraq, the Shi’ite regime in Iran might facilitate and even directly participate in the deportation and even mass-murder of Sunni Iraqis. Is this the U.S grand plan for “eternal peace” (ironic that these same people who are portrayed to be working on achieving peace are the very same people who believe in the inevitability and even desirability of an apocalyptic showdown)? My dad explains, yes, because there will be Saudi Arabia as a deterrence to such actions. I point out that this alleged deterrence is, at best, very shaky, and at worst, totally irrelevant and conducive to war, rather than peace; 3) As for the argument that this plan is merely the result of the failure of all attempts to reconcile east and west (one could go on for hours about the misleading orientalist oversimplification of the conflicts in the Middle East as a clash between east and west) – a prime example of which is, allegedly, the opening of the doors of immigration to Europe and North America for Muslims, with the hope that they would be “educated and illuminated” (!!) and that this would in the long run result in the de-radicalization of the countries they hail from (I fail to see how one can extrapolate in this manner), and which was turned down by Muslims, who “bit the hand that fed them” – what guarantees do we have that all the “killing for peace” would eventually result in the realization that war is ineffective and destructive, and would lead to the peaceful resolution of this clash (another problem with this is that it disguises unconditional surrender as the “realization that war is ineffective and destructive”) ?; 4) Interpretations of the U.S performance in Iraq are tailored based on the so-called plan to coerce Muslims into accepting that “war is ineffective and destructive”, which is based on the argument that “it should get worse before it gets better”. This is, according to the proponents of such a view, why the Sunni-Shi’ite clashes/war in Iraq are not necessarily a bad thing (indeed according to these people, they are necessary and welcome), at least from the perspective of the achievement of the long-term U.S aims (i.e. “peace”). This is a post-failure explanation and justification of a failure, and alters the facts of pre-failure/pre-quagmire rhetoric to adapt the “killing for peace” argument to the realities on the ground; 5) The complications in Iraq are said to be part and parcel of the very long process that would span decades, even centuries, until there is a surrender of Muslim will to the reality that they cannot transcend U.S/western hegemony and have to accomodate it (this is not the exact term used. For example, this submission to U.S hegemony is termed “co-existence” or “giving up on Jihadism”). However, on what bases are we to accept a plan that is based on a time-span that perhaps stretches much further than the actual life span of the U.S empire/hegemony would? How reasonable are expections and demands that we should accept a project on such a scale embarked on by a time-constrained entity? And what if, after all the “killing for peace”, the project shows no signs of achieving the stated aims? Last but not least, on what bases are we asked to believe that Jihadism is agreed upon by (let alone on the agenda of) Muslims across sects, boundaries, ethnic/national identities, political/personal/national interests, and levels of religiosity and extremism)?

These are some of the points I raised; of course, the discussion was so long and so messy (with, you guessed it, frequent interruptions, yelling matches, and whoever-is-louder-gets-to-have-the-stage competitions, Lebanese style of course) that I don’t remember all the arguments and counter-arguments. But suffice to say, a deafening silence reigned in the room following the challenge I mounted against these preposterous allegations and unsubstantiated claims of American altruism and good-will. At best, the only responses I received, for example when referring to the U.S-backed regime of the Shah in Iran, and the collaboration between the CIA, Mossad, and the Iranian Savak in the incarceration and systematic torture of thousands of dissidents, which was in response to the claims that the U.S was after peace and human rights and sharing of resources for the betterment of the world and our ability to survive the ecological/environmental challenges that await us (which are in turn the result of capitalist greed), were: “well, yes, these were horrible acts, BUT this doesn’t mean….”. Ah yes, the (in)famous “BUT”. So, after 3 coffees and 1 tea, I had had just enough of going in circles, as had my opponents (primarily my dad, since the guests were mostly nodding in approval of my arguments – though they did clarify on more than one occasion that they were “not saying this out of love for Muslims”, and that they “hate those Muslims more than anyone else”), who called for an end to the debate “because no one will convince the other”. Hah! What a climactic end to a 4-hour bout…

My apologies if my parantheses burdened your eyes with excessive strain… I am sure that if you listen to Bernard Lewis’s prescriptions all your problems will go away. Or so the White House thinks…

G’night!

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Sabra & Shatila – 24 years on

Sabra & Shatila, 17 September 1982This post is a day late (sorry, I have been busy, I was also unable to reply to some of the comments), but as I was thinking about that, I realized that it didn’t really matter. Moderate discourse often encourages and actively advocates turning such “tragedies” into yearly Hallmark events, whereby those brutally massacred are given a passing mention every year. That is very noble indeed, at least compared to the decades-long denial by the record-cleaners of some actors in the region (need I point fingers?), who in their ignorance, place the blame on other elements, as if that diminishes in any way the moral implications of the act. But it is not noble in absolute terms. It is merely the better of two evils: passive remembrance and active denial. But much remains to be said and done about murderous acts committed in the name of self-defense (as if the route to self-defense and peace passed through the camps of Sabra & Shatila!!!!). The failure to do so has sent and continues to send the wrong message (though those who stand by and watch the deliberate manipulation of the lack of inaction certainly intended it to be understood as being the right message), that such acts are justifiable so long as there is their necessity is declared (and repeated often enough by the most powerful lobby in the world). Even worse is that in the context of the Lebanese war, and in fact much to the liking of foreign actors, all of those with blood of their hands have been “pardoned”, some self-pardoned, others pardoned by the very people who have blood on their hands. These people continue to take part in domestic politics; they continue to insist that what’s done is done and that it’s time to look forward, but at the same time have not abandoned their wartime, war-mongering rhetoric. That these people have been “pardoned” (or actually, pardoned themselves) is, first and foremost, an insult to the people (Lebanese, Palestinians, or others) who died at the hands of the militias they commanded. From a strictly theoretical perspective, there are those who advocate criminal prosecution and those who reject it. Luc Huyse presents a good analysis of both views in “Justice After Transition: On the Choices Successor Elites Make in Dealing with the Past” (Law and Social Enquiry 20, no. 1). He points out that “[i]n some cases the unrestricted pardon is the result of the self-amnesty that the outgoing elites unilaterally award themselves before the transition gets under way.” Yet only half of this is true for Lebanon. There has been, after all, no transition. The case of Lebanon can best be described as follows: a number of tribal chieftains, after having massacred about 150,000 people between themselves (with the help of foreign actors and almost always doing their bidding), decided (for one reason or another, based on personal or strategic calculations) that the time had come to sit at the negotiations table and make a win-win deal, whereby all chieftains would be absolved of any guilt for crimes committed, remain the self-declared leaders of their sects, and monopolize political representation within them. Note that the case of the Lebanese Forces leader, warlord Samir Geagea and now self-declared za’im of the Christians of Lebanon, is a bit more complicated. I wrote about him a while back:

Regional tensions due to the Gulf crisis not only shifted attention away from the Lebanese situation, they also gave Damascus a free hand in Lebanon. For the LF, Ta’if had already signalled the end of its era, in no small part due to Geagea’s stubbornness and arrogance. Yet even at that fateful juncture and despite the realization that he had lost popular following, Geagea kept close watch on the situation for any signs of Syrian willingness to implement the redeployment articles of the accord, as such an action might save him from total irrelevance within his community and by extension domestic politics. Although it is unlikely that even in such a situation public opinion would have forgotten the material destruction and the high risk of Christian political irrelevance that Geagea’s rebellion had given rise to, the community might have had no choice but to compromise, given the reality of Aoun’s exile. Thus if the Syrians would fully implement the Ta’if, Geagea would be more than willing to continue from where he had left off. But such goodwill from Syria was not forthcoming, and Geagea refused to face definite electoral disgrace. As Farid el Khazen argues, “[f]ollowing their loss on two fronts [the Lebanese Forces] were faced with only one option – to boycott the proposed [1992] elections.” Such behaviour possibly had another and more sinister dimension to it: garnering sympathy lost to past mistakes, although it is also probable that Geagea realized his mistake and was convinced that the only right thing to do was to express solidarity with the ruling Christian mood and refuse to collaborate even at the risk of persecution. The latter could have also included the former. This was confirmed by a number of statements he made after his release from jail in 2005. For example, in a short documentary aired recently on Future Television, Geagea’s words are paraphrased as follows: “he said that throughout all those years he never felt that he was imprisoned because his spirit remained free and that the real prisoners are those who built a prison for themselves by impersonating the beliefs of others with the desire for a position or office, or to avoid arrest or persecution.” As for his 1994 decision not to leave Lebanon, Geagea had the following to say after his release from jail: “the important thing is winning in the long run, not merely coping with the circumstances.”

Oops, I got carried away! Well, I think I will leave the discussion on the issue of amnesty vs. prosecution to the comments/debate section, and I would like to hear what my readers think on this issue. I am speaking more from the perspective of legal authority, the right to life and the mass-violation thereof, and whether those responsible for the crimes should be treated on a lose-win or win-win basis (retributive vs. restorative justice). In the case of Lebanon (regardless of the identity of the perpetrators – Israelis, Syrians, Palestinians, or Lebanese), neither method of bringing about justice has been put into practice. The only winners have been the perpetrators. Impunity has been the name of the game all along. The failure and deafening silence of the international community and public opinion on Sabra & Shatila in 1982 can be considered to have been one of the biggest green lights (not to say causes) for Israel to continue and escalate to new hights its violations in the West Bank & Gaza Strip, as well as Lebanon in the very recent past. Just as there was no widespread outburst in 1982, what followed it, and indeed what preceded it, there was no widespread outburst in 2006 (save for a voice or two here and there, mostly from Lebanese diasporas that organized swiftly), and predictably so. And if the trend continues (and there is every indication that it will), there will be no outburst in any future massacres, except when the targets and victims are the wrong people (these include soldiers, whose names will be dutifully memorized and continuously repeated in every corner of the world that is within the lobby’s reach – I am sure I will now be accused of espousing the “anti-Semitic myth of the all-controlling Zionist hand’). That is, those people who are guarded by the discourse that is decided on and defined by the lobby, “the friends of Israel”, and co. (for more on that, I recommend David Hirst’s The Gun and the Olive Branch). I might be playing a broken record, but I cannot stress this enough. The route to peace and justice – real justice, that is – passes through the heart of the lobby. It must be destroyed. Completely and ruthlessly. The institutionalized thought-controlling and behaviour-restraining has to be purged. I repeat, completely and ruthlessly. Those who advocate countering it with a similar body are missing the point: that justice is absent not because there is a lack of a similar and as comprehensive and organized/powerful an entity (i.e. lobby) on their side, but because there is one on the other side. Until then, we will, at best, be restricted to holding yearly commemoration ceremonies (commemoration != [not equal to] justice !!!! ) and marking 25th and 30th and 35th and 40th and nth special anniversaries. We will be powerless to prevent another massacre, just as we were powerless in Qana in 1996, Iraq in 2003, Qana, Srifa, and many other places in 2006, and many more soon to come. 24 years on, it seems that very few people have realized the importance of throwing away the veil of activism to expose the defeatism and passivity that hide behind it. The veil is often named pacifism. Let me tell you something. Pacifism is a great ideology, but if you cannot preserve the life you claim to be defending by taking up pacific means of fighting oppression, then this great ideology is not worth a cent. Pacifism is a means, and in our increasingly militant world that is sliding rapidly into readiness for nuclear warfare, a failing one at that. Now we can be the armchair advocates of a number of ideologies, but when generals choose war, ideologues can only watch.

Who said fascism was dead?

Fascism alive and kicking, eh?
Not that I had any doubts about it. A number of kilometers to our south there is a fascist regime, which constantly reminds us, with its violations of “our” airspace, that our fate is in its hands, that it is our God: it can allow us to live, or take life away from us with the push of a button. To make it worse, the whole region is home to a dozen or so totalitarian, fascist regimes, all of which were supported by USA (and Israel) at one time; some of them still are.

This entry was triggered by a column by Michael Coren that appeared in Saturday’s Toronto Sun, titled “We should nuke Iran”. Don’t ask me how it is that anyone could actually print such garbage. I am sure that by now, the folks at Little Green Footballs Fascists are devouring the pages of Toronto Sun for a taste of more columns of this sort.

Coren begins the article by a classical logical fallacy, dismissing those who might disagree with his thesis as unknowledgeable. Then he “boldly” drops the bomb, arguing that a nuclear bomb should be dropped on Iran. But don’t panic, hear it out, the man is actually quite sensible (sic) and assures us that there would be “a limited and tactical use of nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s military facilities and its potential nuclear arsenal.” If you aren’t reassured, you are not knowledgeable. But since Coren’s assumption is that he is knowledgeable, we can assume that he is aware of Israel’s real (rather than potential) nuclear arsenal. Why is he so obsessed with Iran’s potential nuclear arsenal, then? The answer is simple. For Coren and millions of fascists like him, there are two definitions under fascism in the dictionary. There are “good fascists”, and those are the people who massacre a Canadian family visiting relatives in south Lebanon. Those are supported by the enlightened and civilized West and most importantly by Tories chairman Stephen Harper. Those are also the ones who oppress women, cut the hands of thieves, throw dissenters into dungeons, and execute homosexuals. They are loved by the media, and their acts – “massacres” always placed in quotation marks, making a mockery of the lives of those who have perished by their WMD – are hailed as strategic necessity. Then there are the “bad fascists”, and those are the ones who murder an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist. This necessitates international investigation, talks on nuclear non-proliferation, a clean-up of the human rights record, and so on. This will steal the headlines for weeks, months, years, whereas the aftermath of the merciful acts of the “good fascists” will be mentioned once or twice (if it’s your lucky day). They will never be on the headlines. Hockey, after all, is second to none. Well, none other than a “bad fascist” headline.

Coren then argues that dropping a nuclear bomb is “the only response that this repugnant and acutely dangerous political entity will understand.” There are a number of problems with this statement. First, has Coren tested all the other possible scenarios, and if so, would he enlighten us as to how he arrived to the conclusion that they would fail? Second, the Iranian regime might be “repugnant”, but the Israeli regime is no less repugnant. The Saudi regime is no less repugnant. The Egyptian regime is no less repugnant. The list goes on. It seems Coren is a man with an agenda, and from his complete disinteredness in the repugnancy of a number of regimes, which by far surpass the Iranian regime in their crimes, it seems that this agenda has nothing whatsoever to do with human rights. What, then, is Coren’s agenda? The answer to the question is in that very sentence. The Iranian regime is considered an “acutely dangerous political entity”. There are no clarifications as to whom it is dangerous for. The Saudis? The Sunni fundamentalists? Turkey? The Iranian/Persian people??? Or is Coren solely concerned with the threat it poses to the sectarian patron-protégé order in Lebanon (via HezbAllah), Israel, and the U.S/allied influence in and military hegemony over the region (facilitated by bases in many a dictatorial – but not repugnant by Coren’s standards – Arab regime)? Hard to tell, really, as Coren strangely does not see fit to elaborate.

Unrelenting a human rights and world peace advocate as Coren is, he terms the nuclear massacre he dreams of a “tragedy”, practically echoing what Shimon Peres once said referring to the Armenian Holocaust, “It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through, but not a genocide.” Yes, he says, people will die, “[b]ut not many”. A consolation. The lives it will save will be in the millions, he argues. The logic has been accorded legitimacy for centuries. What is the burning of a few thousand [heretics] at the stake when the aim is to save the souls of millions? The end justifies the means. Machiavellian ethics to the bone. Literally. The “civilized world” against the world of barbarians who must be subdued and civilized against their will. For their own good. Or so it goes. This is not fascism. This is liberation. And we all know that there are no ifs or buts when it comes to killing in the name of liberation (from whatever it might be, real or perceived). Coren argues that it would be more appropriate to question if there is any sensible alternative (and he assures us the answer will be no – but does not elaborate) than to be disgusted at the barbarism advocated. Even as he drums the tunes of war, he claims that the Iranian regime is obsessed with waging war against its perceived enemies. Its motives are unquestionable, he insists, yet he fails to elaborate as to how he arrived to that conclusion. Something tells me that logical argumentation is one of Mr. Coren’s weakest points. In yet another demonstration of his double standards, he points out that Iran spends billions developing missiles and weapons. Yet what is he implying by stating this fact? That Iran should be prohibited from doing so, but not Israel? That the Iranian regime becomes a dangerous political entity once it adopts such aspirations, but not the Israeli government? How does the Iranian regime differ from Israel? Israel’s human rights record is quite damning, more damning than that of Iran. The only real difference that I can think of is that Iran has used verbal threats and so far acted on none, whereas Israel has threatened a lot and remained true to these threats, massacring and destroying anything that stood in its way. The only fault of many of its victims was that they were moving. A country that is afraid of its own shadow can claim to have achieved victory but will know it will never win.

In a predictable albeit disgusting comparison to the Nazis, he argues that Iran, unlike the Nazi regime back in the 30s, has no “aggressive enemies” in the region. This is mind-boggling. It is evident that Coren has tried too hard to bring Nazism into the article somehow, however stupid it might actually sound. It seems that Mr. Coren, who places great emphasis on fighting fascism, needs a lesson or two in Nazi instigation, aggression, and occupation. But perhaps that would hit too close to home. Israel, after all, is considered a civilized nation. Surely the concept of lebensraum (living space), which formed the core of Nazi ideology and driving force, is an inalienable right? Moreover, isn’t threatening to nuke Iran an aggressive enmity enough to convince it that it needs the nukes to begin with? How would anyone in his/her right mind interpret the double standards that Coren endorses?

Then comes a ritual bashing of Ahmadinajad. The problem is that he controls a brutal police state (bad fascist compared to the good fascist leaders of, say, Egypt, or KSA, or Jordan), “finances international terror” and “provokes bloody [?!] wars in foreign countries” (bad fascist compared to the good fascists who practice and/or fund terrorism all over the world, from Palestine to Iraq to Afghanistan to Vietnam to Grenada and on and on it goes; or maybe I am geographically ignorant – perhaps Mr. Coren would explain to me where Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Grenada, and a whole lot of other countries are located in relation to the United States of America). He then argues, parroting the racist claim often voiced by Israelis that “Arabs only understand the language of force”, that Iran and its allies (only good fascists are supposed to have allies) “only listen to power and threat”. From the safety and luxury of his house in Canada, Mr. Coren beats the drums of war and decides that it is better (for the Middle Easterners) to undergo limited suffering than for everyone to suffer in five years. Somehow I doubt that had he been sitting anywhere in the Middle East he would have been advocating nuclear armageddon.

He closes (I do not want to say concludes, because there is no conclusion as there is no logical sequence of argumentation; there is only one idea, and everything else is manipulated in support of that) the article by directing a cheap shot at “post Christian churches” (?!) and “the Marxists” (as if there is only one interpretation of Marx and no diversity in Marxist movements). Yet another instance of fallacious reasoning. An example of ad hominem fit to be printed in a philosophy / logic 101 textbook. The “same sort” (same sort???) of people “moaned and condemned in 1938”, he points out, in another reference to the Nazis. I only wish that, for all his obsession with the Nazis and for the sake of his alleged dedication to fighting fascism, Mr. Coren would take a closer look at the history of WWII. Had he done so before philosophizing about the Nazi regime, he would’ve heard of the appeasements of Hitler by the conservative Chamberlain, or of Operation Barbarossa and its implications. But perhaps I am expecting too much of a fascist who talks about “post-Christian churches” and fantasizes about apocalypse.

Terrorism: a pronged toothpick for Israel?

So the drama about the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit continues, as does the [predictable] Israeli whining that it is inhumane to kidnap soldiers (but not inhumane to kill babies – non-Jewish of course). Recently, however, a twist in the story has developed. Or what non-Middle Easterns may call it a twist at any rate. For us it is simply too predictable, simply too naturally hypocritical. For the Western world that is used to Israeli propaganda and pro-Israeli cover-up, it is yet another “proof” that Israel is always willing for compromise. “Our” perspective (as if there is a uniform perspective in the Arab world! hah!) is dismissed as being clouded by anti-Israeli bias and hatred of Jews. They stand to accuse, failing to realize and refusing to acknowledge that just because Arab public opinion (what’s that? not sure myself) is generally tilted against Israel doesn’t mean that Arab public opinion (still not sure) cannot hit the nail on the head sometimes. A classical case of “just because I am paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me!” But what am I saying, this has got nothing to do with Arab public opinion! This is purely an issue of common sense! Wait, scratch that, guess there is no such thing as objective definition of common sense these days! Was there ever one? That’s a whole different topic, and I’m not quite sure if the conclusions of a discussion about it would be relevant to the Middle East anyway. There you go, another thing about the Middle East that makes you go “hmm”. I’m telling you, that’s a nasty habit if any, continuously hmm-ing. Hmm. Anyway, not to get carried away, what I wanted to discuss was a certain definition (or lack thereof) that the Israelis seem all too confused about but at the same time adhere to? Well, here’s the story of how I came across it. I was surfing Israeli websites doing an hourly round-up of developments (I read Israeli papers more than Lebanese ones, that ought to tell you how sick I am of Lebanese domestic politics – reminds me of the Energizer bunny) and came across a story reporting the latest developments in the kidnapping of Shalit. What struck me immediately was a subtitle somewhere in the middle of the story (they keep updating the page so it might be removed soon): “‘Non-terrorist’ prisoners only”. Hmm (the hmm again). I blinked. Looked again. Blinked again. Put on my eyeglasses, read again. Then went hmm. I thought for a while, what meaning does “non-terrorist prisoner” have exactly? What are the implications? I came up with little. I was confused. Aren’t “those Palestinians” terrorists, genetically so? OK, let’s say the compromising Israelis gave us a change in their long-held beliefs on this (how generous – if you ask me, if the Palestnians don’t rescind their claims to all parts of Gaza & West Bank for receiving such a generous compromise, they would prove that they really don’t want peace). Supposing that Israel’s aim is to fight terror/ism, then why on earth are there “non-terrorist prisoners”??? What is the definition of prisoner that is taken for granted worldwide? The minimum criterion is that he/she has to have done something wrong. “Thought crimes” do not count (or aren’t supposed to count), nor do “assumptions of intentions”. Of course, this is not always practiced by others, for example, by peace-loving, democracy-spreading USA of all countries, but that others do it does not excuse or justify what Israel has been doing, nor is it singling out if one points out Israel’s violation of these basic “common sense” points. Back to the quote, I will post it all:

The defense establishment is prepared to release Palestinian prisoners who have not been convicted of hostile terror activity, if a deal is reached with Hamas on the release of Shalit and bringing calm to the Gaza-Israel border.

The IDF said it would not support a deal that would release terrorists “with blood on their hands,” but only those who have not been involved in planning or carrying out terror attacks. The army would be willing to release individuals who are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, such as Hamas ministers and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as well as security prisoners jailed for relatively minor offenses, such as belonging to terrorist organizations.

Say that one more time???? Prevention of terrorism? I thought that was about bombing houses and killing babies in their sleep, or sniping at children playing on the roof of their houses. How on earth can you prevent terorrism by arresting anyone you suspect of harbouring terrorist thoughts, unless you plan to arrest just about everyone? And how on earth did “security prisoners” and “minor offenses” appear in one sentence??? Israel’s position in the kidnapping has been, from the beginning up until now, zero. It has proven time and again that it has neither the moral high ground (in fact, no ground at all, moral or otherwise) nor a realistic grasp of events and the reasons they took place. Hamas, that beastly, rising entity that is demonized by all sides, has proven more professional than holier-than-thou Israel, which is backed up by the mightiest military and political entity in the world. As much as Israel wants to show it is in control of the situation, developments have shown that it has not been, is not, and will not be so any time soon. Not only has the whole drama brought Fatah and Hamas closer, when before they were on the verge of full-scale confrontation, it has also revealed the sinister plans by Israel for arresting democratically elected Hamas ministers weeks before the Shalit kidnapping. These “details” are glossed over. Of course.

What more can one say? There is not much to do but wait, observe developments, and reveal previously unnoticed hypocrisies. We shall see soon enough what more Israel will come up with to present to its “common sense” audience. In the meantime Condie will be barking up the Syrian tree. Hmm. Hmm indeed.

For my Cuban readers

Dreaming in Cuban: The Cuban and Cuban-American Palimpsest

Many questions arise from the story of Cuban “exile.” The most significant are the issues of ethnic and cultural identity and nationalism, and their subsequent position in the Cuban experience both inside and outside of Cuba. While cultural identity most often represents unity, nationalism and the political aspirations of various groups that share a certain cultural identity represent a break in this unity, often resulting in, as is the case with the Cuban revolution, the exile, either voluntary or forced, of the anti-revolutionary factions. In this manner, the unity between national and ethnic identities is shattered, and new identities arise, such as the one adopted by Lourdes Puente in Cristina García’s Dreaming in Cuban – a novel of Cuban memory and Foucaldian “counter-memory” – the “transformation of history into a totally different form of time” (Foucault 160).

In analyzing García’s characters, their pasts, and the complex web of interactions between them, we must take into account the role of history, both collective and individual, in the shaping of beliefs as well as relations, thereby defining a palimpsest – not just of Cubans living in Cuba, but also of Cubans with alternative identities: “Cuban-American” such as Lourdes, and non-opinionated Cubans, mostly of the third generation that remembers little of the anti-revolutionary exodus, such as Pilar. It is important to note, however, that Pilar, despite being of the third generation of a Cuban family in exile and having been only two years old when her parents decided they would leave Cuba, claims that she “remember[s] everything that’s happened to [her] since [she] was a baby, even word-for-word conversations” (García 26). In fact, Pilar never mentions any of the “word-for-word” conversations that she claims to “remember.” It is not unusual, given the amount of existing Cuban revolutionary propaganda calling the “exiled” Cubans “traitors”, to consider her recollections of that day as the products of “collective memory” and “collective feelings” of those who lost a part of themselves to the revolution, only to replace it with a new identity upon arrival on the opposite shore.

The parts that the exiled characters in García’s novel have lost in Cuba to the Cuban revolution are, albeit being replaced by a new identity that might perhaps provide some closure, part of their existence even as Cuban-Americans. For Lourdes, it is a sense of loss that is coupled with feelings of insecurity that leads her to follow her daughter’s each and every thought and moves. She has given up a logical support of the possibility of differing views in favor of absolute truths, of a false dichotomy, or as her daughter says, “[her] views are strictly black-and-white. It’s how she survives” (26). Thus, for many of the characters in the novel, the past occupies a primary position in the interpretation of the present and the hopes of the future. For Lourdes, it is that moment in her past when she was sexually violated by the soldiers of the revolution that defines her political stance and possibly her identity as a “Cuban-American” and not just a Cuban national of the United States. One pointer to the significant role her past plays in her adoption of the Cuban-American identity is her insistence on the American “ideals” of capitalism, when not even Pilar, who has been brought up in America has adopted that radical an attitude. For Lourdes, however, the Cuban identity is not as immediately and directly important as is her American identity, for it is the latter that has allowed her to escape from the images and scents of oppression in her past.

By drawing a family tree and introducing to readers members of a family split across borders, García is essentially attempting to deal with the intergenerational and intragenerational past and conflicts. The past, however, is not restricted to Celia del Pino and her children, but extends to include her grandchildren, who are also separated due to the political conflict, albeit in a manner different from the separation of their parents, for Pilar had never met Ivanito or his sisters, whereas Lourdes had spent a significant portion of her life in the presence of her sister Felicia. This separation of family members is symbolic of the separation and finally the breaking apart of the community that had previously been held together by the cultural “glue.” The breaking up of the “national fantasy” as David Mitchell calls it in his essay “National Families and Familial Nations: Communista Americans in Cristina García’s Dreaming in Cuban” (55) has therefore signaled the end of a cultural unity within the context of nationalism – for the two factions, one represented by Celia and the other by Lourdes are the complete antitheses of each other and share the ethnic identity only at face value, as that identity is no longer put into practice for the unity of the nation that would in turn represent it.

García focuses her novel of cultural, political, and personal awakening thematically on the representatives of the three generations of the Del Pino family: Celia del Pino the revolutionary grandmother, Lourdes Puente the capitalist mother, and Pilar Puente the aspiring punk artist. While the character of Felicia is central to the theme of spirituality and “magic” and might occupy a significant amount of physical space in the novel, her existence is not central to the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary movements, although she is an anti-nationalist in her own right. In addition, her character has more personal and cultural implications than political, and while her death leaves behind questions of closure, it does not have a significant consequence on the other characters’ perspectives in terms of their familial struggles the borders of which are defined by national conflicts. In the same manner, Ivanito plays a minor role, although not insignificant if we are to make a futuristic interpretation of the novel, for he is the hope of a future that is defined by an identity that is attached to the mother – the mother being Felicia, and the symbolism being the “mother country.” Ironically, Felicia’s death is coupled with Ivanito’s separation from the motherland, and he is no longer the future hope for reconciliation between the “two” families and the two communities in the larger political sense, as the cycle of blaming “the other” continues with Pilar’s “betrayal” of her grandmother.

It is significant that Pilar is the one who has the power to decide Ivanito’s future and consequently the future of the split between the two parts of the family, as his exile would have many consequences on the relationships between these four characters. Ivanito here then makes his entrance into the central circle of characters; but his presence there only lasts for a split second during the suspense of Pilar’s confusion as to who she owes her loyalty to – her grandmother who has sacrificed so much to and for the revolution or her mother who has often bullied her in order to assert her ultra-capitalistic views. Celia’s inability or refusal to understand Lourdes’ radical anti-revolutionary stance might be attributed to her lack of knowledge of the past that is haunting her daughter. This inability to speak of the unspeakable and the confinement to the expression of past injustices in the form of radicalism in the present has had a destructive effect on the understanding between mother and daughter in the familial context, and between the Cubans who remained on the island and those who left for the safety and promises that the other shore allegedly offered.

Lourdes “wants no part of Cuba, no part of its wretched carnival floats creaking with lies, no part of Cuba at all, which [she] claims never possessed her” (73) and in refusing Cuba, she is rejecting that which she claims is an amalgamation of lies presented in the form of carnival floats that are designed to distract the masses and prevent them from looking behind and seeing the suffering of the people and their pasts haunted by the loss of not only loved ones but also of a membership in a community that was based on cultural traditions rather than economic policies.

In Lourdes’ refusal to accept that Cuba ever had a place in her heart lay a renunciation of that which she has decided was responsible for the traumatic experience, the country rather than the soldiers, reconciliation rather than bitterness. In reconciliation she sees no hope, and she circumvents it by attempting to force Ivanito into exile. The question then remains, does Lourdes find closure and reconciliation in that act? García notes in a conversation with Professor Scott Shibuya Brown, that “each of [her characters] needs to be a heroine, to believe she is doing the right thing, choosing the only path to a kind of personal redemption” (255); thus, Lourdes believes that her personal redemption is in saving someone else from the brutality that she was subjected to. In doing so, she does not appear to be concerned with the effects of such an action on her mother; she is solely concerned with the future that Ivanito represents, both for himself and for her. However, she fails to take into account the fact that in escaping from the ghosts of the past by exiling the present from the possibilities of a future in Cuba, she is opening the way for new ghosts and fresh hauntings for actions that shattered the hopes of the present to destroy the ghosts of the past. Lourdes has chosen “counter-memory” over memory – her sense of history has been transformed from a factual account of events that have transpired and identification with the history of “her people”, into a dissociative movement that seeks to destroy historical identity and establish in its place personal narratives that speak for past injustices.

While there is no pointer as to whether or not the cycle of haunting has been broken, in the end we are left with the knowledge of a sense of closure that Celia experiences, symbolized by the act of dropping her drop-pearl earrings into the sea in a gesture of personal awakening and reconciliation with the dreams, longings, and yearnings of the past and the reality of the present. The lack of insight into the thoughts and feelings of the remaining characters does not act as a limitation, but as a powerful message that aims at highlighting the gesture of letting go in order to regain oneself, in the process adding another history to the palimpsest of Cuban struggle and identity.

References

Foucault, Michel. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. New York: Cornell UP, 1977.

García, Cristina. Dreaming in Cuban. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004.

Mitchell, David T. “National Families and Familial Nations: Communista Americans in Cristina García’s Dreaming in Cuban.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. 15.1 (1996): 51-60.

Ami Ayalon’s ingenious plan

The Ayalon(-Nusseibeh) Plan and more fun concessions (better known as “generous offers”)

I was not shocked – unlike many people – when I read Ami Ayalon’s latest statement (“I killed many Arabs, probably more than Hamas fighters killed Jews, and more than anybody else, but all in order to secure Israeli lives”). Now first of all, that statement is inconsistent and exposes Ayalon’s inherent racism. Take for example the latter’s indirect insinuation that he considers Jews and ONLY Jews to be Israelis. What else would explain the fact that he lumps all Arabs on one side, despite the fact that many Israelis of Arab descent have died in suicide bombings? Surely had he considered Arabs in Israel to be Israelis he would have referred to the Arabs he has killed as Palestinians, and if he has killed Arabs in Israel, Israeli-Arabs, and so on and so forth. But no, he does not. He talks about the conflict in terms of killing Arabs / saving Israeli (i.e. Jewish) lives.

Furthermore, Ayalon seems to be making the argument that it’s legitimate and morally justifiable to kill “many Arabs” to “secure Israeli lives”. Emphasis on secure, because secure and save are two different words. For example, many things fall under “security”, including the need to “feel secure”. In fact, many a mass-murder has been perpetrated by Israel in the name of “giving Israelis (sic) a sense of security”. Now let us give Ayalon the benefit of the doubt and assume that his justification holds. The assumption that the justification holds from his perspective as an Israeli ipso facto gives credence to the Palestinian perspective as well. The Palestinian perspective would then be expressed as follows: “I killed many Jews, probably more than IDF fighters killed Palestinians, and more than anybody else, but all in order to secure Palestinian lives”. Surely Israelis – and Ayalon himself – would object to such a statement. So what makes the Israeli statement any better?

The bottom line is, I think, that there is an irreconcilable clash between the two narratives. As such, any “peace settlement” enhanced along those lines is no solution at all. Indeed, the very logic of statehood and republican sovereignty is an application of this irreconcilable clash between states and the fervently nationalistic (racist and exclusivist) narratives and propaganda they “educate” their populations with. The nationalist project and peace are mutually exclusive, as history has shown and contemporary nationalist leaders are – unintentionally, and much to their chagrin – proving. Therefore, my argument is that a state solution – let alone a two-state solution – is problematic, if not at the time of the founding of the state, then later on (but ultimately).

Moving on, I will briefly talk about the Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan, the text of which can be found at bitterlemons-international (or if you doubt the partiality of that source, the Jewish Virtual Library). Take a look at the first article: “Both sides will declare that Palestine is the only state of the Palestinian people and Israel is the only state of the Jewish people.” This of course is a clear reference to the Arab minority in Israel, which is considered a “demographic threat” by the Israelis. There is actually a reference to “demographic considerations” in article 2 (bullet #1). “Demographic considerations” means that some of the territory that has a significant / concentrated Arab population would be “exchanged” for territories settled by Jews – yes, the ones that have been illegally (I am adhering here to international standards of judgement, i.e. 1967) expropriated and built on. Compare this to the following scenario: I steal $1000 from someone, then I go to him/her and say, “hey, I am willing to exchange the $1000 with something equal in value”. The first action would be considered theft. The second would be considered… a concession / compromise. Of course.

The same bullet talks about “vital needs” and conveniently ignores water issues. This is where the entire plan starts getting very vague – seemingly deliberately so. The Palestinian aspect of the plan seems to be more of an attempt to “reassure” the Palestinians that a Gaza+West Bank state would be “viable” (hence the generous land offer [sic] for connecting the two). Bullet #3 under article 2 says: “After establishment of the agreed borders, no settlers will remain in the Palestinian State.” Again, another vague statement. Will the settlers naturally be outside the borders of the Palestinian State? If so, why does the plan not address the fate of the Israeli-Arab population of the “exchanged” lands? If not, why is it that the settlers will leave only AFTER the borders are established (that would also open the way for Israeli official claims of ethnic cleansing and demands for compensation for “refugees” under the vague terms of this agreement)? Furthermore, what about the wishes of the Israeli-Arabs (whose citizenship will be taken away from them, which is not the case for the Jewish settlers who will not be within the borders of the Palestinian state under this plan)?

Article 4 says: “Recognizing the suffering and the plight of the Palestinian refugees, the international community, Israel, and the Palestinian State will initiate and contribute to an international fund to compensate them.”

This is another attempt to sweep the refugee problem under the carpet and consider the room “clean”. A number of criticisms: 1) The international community is not responsible for the problem created by Israel and its imperialist allies (Britain and USA); 2) What is the logic behind having the Palestinian state contribute to the international fund for the compensation of Palestinian refugees, for which it was not responsible, for the simple reason that it did not even exist at the time of the displacement and dispossession of the Palestinians first in 1948 then in 1967 (by the way, here I am assuming – since many Israelis will insist that I do – that had a Palestinian state existed it would have contributed [negatively], at least partially, to the suffering of the Palestinians)?? 3) Bullet #2 under article 4 also legitimizes the Israeli hand-washing off the “refugees willing to remain in their present country of residence, or who wish to immigrate to third-party countries.” Instead of Israel taking full responsibility for the compensation of these refugees (since when is compensation tied to “returning” to the territory of the Palestinian state? i.e. why shouldn’t those who don’t want to return be entitled to the same compensation, given that they are not returning to their original lands and property, which are now in Israel?) a shameless suggestion is made that “[t]he international community … offer to compensate toward bettering the lot” of these refugees.

It gets even better. Article 5: “The Palestinian State will be demilitarized and the international community will guarantee its security and independence.” A classic. Well I don’t think that I need to spend much time on this point. But since we are expected to enthusiastically adopt this ingenious article, let me rest my case (for the demilitarization – and indeed nuclear disarmament – of Israel) by simply pointing to two years: 1956 and 1967. And as for international guarantees, what guarantees? Such as the one by which the whole world sat and watched while Phalangists were massacring Palestinians (under the watchful eyes – and flares to light the skies, for more effective “purification” – of the Israelis)?

Article 6 concludes that if the first 5 articles are implemented, the conflict will end. No talk about the Israeli military contribution to the conflict (of course not).

Labour toilet paper, standard Israeli edition. Help yourself.

Ethnic conflict

“A number of … domestic factors … affect the prospects for ethnic conflict. One problem, as Horowitz and Welsh point out, is the tendency in multi-ethnic societies for political parties to be organized along ethnic lines. When this happens, party affiliations are a reflection of ethnic identity rather than political conviction. Political systems organized along these lines contain few independent voters, individuals who might cast votes for different parties in different elections. Under these circumstances, elections are mere censuses, and minority parties have no chance of winning power. In countries where parties are organized along ethnic lines and where winner-take-all elections are conducted – not uncommon in many parts of the world – democratic forms might be observed, but minorities remain essentially powerless, victims of a ‘tyranny of the majority’.”

Source: Michael E. Brown, “Causes and implications of ethnic conflict”, 87.

So what do Horowitz and Welsh suggest? I bet they would recommend the ever-successful Lebanese “consociational” model. At least the Lebanonese would like to think so!

I wrote on Arend Lijphart’s model of consociational democracy in my research paper on the Lebanese Forces, so I will share:

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