Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lebanon On the Brink: Hezbollah versus Shiites, Druzi & Christians

Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker has a blog and yesterday wrote about the insanity beginning to reappear in Lebanon, where I spent almost a year learning Arabic at the FSI Arabic School in the American Embassy of Beirut. I was there when the civil war broke out in 1975 & had a pistol held to my head, not a delightful experience. Over an Embassy parking space commandeered by an imperious martinet of a Lebanese Army lieutenant. A pistol does marvels to focus one on the immediate task at hand, which is to get away from the handgun in a minimum amount of time while saving as much face as possible.

But I digress. Here is Jeffrey's take on Beirut's woes:
Hezbollah has been doing a bang-up job this week undermining Lebanon's future on behalf of its sponsors, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Syrian intelligence. It is simultaneously doing effective work undermining its apologists in the West. We've heard the arguments over and over again: Hezbollah is social service agency; Hezbollah wants to join the Lebanese political process; Hezbollah is not in fact dominated by murderous Jew-haters. And so on.
It's been a tough year already for Hezbollah's apologists; the assassination of Imad Mugniyah, the terrorist many of Hezbollah's friends denied existed until Hezbollah gave him what amounted to a state funeral, hurt the cause of those on the left, in particular, who wanted to whitewash Hezbollah's violent, anti-democratic program. Michael Young, the Lebanese commentator, wrote about Hezbollah's patsies here.

The distinguished Lebanese commentator Young points out again the cognitive dissonance of an idealist universalist utopian international left's support of a violent reactionary religious movement that treats women as chattel. Not to mention the invasion of a foreign power or powers back into Lebanon's civil jurisdiction. Iran & Syria are again trying to outgun an in-country majority of Christians, Sunnis, and Druse who constitute over 60% of the population. Of course, splinter groups make a kaleidoscope of Lebanon as many other minorities exist. I recall way over a dozen national holidays in Beirut for constituent ethnic, religious, or sectarian minorities, including Nestorians, Greek Orthodox, Melkite [Catholic] Greeks, Armenians, and my landlord was an Assyrian, which didn't have an ethnic holiday! It made for frequent Embassy closing days, and trips to the Bekaa Valley for mezzes in Chtoura. Nowadays, such trips would be life-threatening.

It surpasses ridiculous when silly chattering-class idols like Chomsky, Finkelstein, and ancient Fred Halliday [who at least has a minimal understanding of the Gordian Knot complexities of the region, which he then unfailingly slashes with an blunt Occam's razor of all-encompassing ideology] defend murderers like Mugniyeh, whose violent history is recounted in detail by Michael Baer, an Arabist CIA counterintelligence agent. Mugniyeh was a cold-blooded murderer/terrorist who killed a Navy Seal on a civilian TWA hijacking & perhaps was behind the prolonged torture/death of the American Station Chief in Beirut and the murder of Col. Higgins, a UN peace-keeping officer.

It's past 3AM here in Boca and I expect to get back up to speed on Lebanon over the next few weeks. I will end this little piece with an anecdote. When I was working in NEA on the Lebanon Working Group, Bashir Gemayel was murdered along with his wife and infant child [with a hand-grenade in his pram.] Bob Oakley was my boss and his wife Phyllis was the INR Middle East Deputy Sec'y. I went in to inform Phyllis about the murder and she told me to close the door for a moment. She said that Bob and her had had the Gemayel family as houseguests the previous summer in their cottage on the Maine seashore. They had all gone to see the movie The Godfather during the stay and Bashir came out of the theater almost shaking with emotion. He looked at Bob and Phyllis and said "That movie is about my country." Less than a year later, their family was dead.

In the Middle East, great art imitates tragedy more often than not.

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