Tuesday, July 18, 2006

July 18, 2006

Another fairly quiet night in my part of Beirut, but an early morning raid somewhere in the proximity of AUB briefly pulled me out of my slumber. I’m still fascinated by how quickly I seem to have gotten used to the nightly raids. Although, I doubt I’d be sleeping through them if I were in the southern suburbs where most bombs seem to land.

In a rather futile attempt to show my support for the battered Lebanese nation, I bought myself a Lebanese flag and hung it from my balcony. I know it makes no difference, but it makes me feel like I’m showing some sort of solidarity with this place that has shown me so much hospitality in the past years. Not many people can see it though since my balcony faces the waterfront.

Given the number of Swedes already evacuated, I’m worrying that the Swedish consulate will contact me soon. Hopefully, though, they are first dealing with all those from more battered areas than mine. I hear there is chaos when people are trying to get on their busses to leave, so maybe it’s actually highly unlikely anyone will call me with an offer to evacuate anytime soon. I’m still in no hurry to get out, but I’m worried I’ll get a one-time offer of evacuation, take it or leave it. In that case I’ll have to go, since there is no telling when my next chance will be, and I really do have to get back to Sweden at some point.

So the Israeli campaign continues. Approximately 400 000 Lebanese are displaced and more than 200 have died, the vast majority civilians. It surprises me somewhat that Hizballah is still able to launch attacks in the way that they do, given the power of the Israeli onslaught.

Speaking as a political scientist for a moment, it would seem Israel is trying to do two main things: one, to decimate Hizballah, both in terms of popular support, and in terms of physical capabilities; two, to force a situation where the international community will have to respond in determination to help the Lebanese government assert its authority over all Lebanese territory (sans Sheba’a farms). But I find it hard to comprehend just how it is helpful to weaken the already weak Lebanese central authority; and I wonder how a grain silo in the Beirut port and a water processing plant can be regarded anything but civilian targets. If these actions, and numerous others like them, are simply directed at creating hardship and terror in the civilian population, well then the current campaign can only be called one thing.

The situation in Lebanon is not as simple as the U.S. president seems to think; you cannot reduce the combination of a complex internal state structure such as Lebanon’s, the presence of an armed militia on its territory, and a regional conflict involving regional powers such as Syria, Iran, and Israel, to the simple equation of “Syrian pressure on Hizballah = end to hostilities.”

Most political scientists would agree that a state not retaining the monopoly of the use of force on its territory is a very weak state, and in the case of Lebanon, the issue of Hizballah’s arms and the party’s control over the southern border with Israel was a – if not the – key issue on Lebanon’s national political scene.

Regardless of how one feels about Hizballah, the reality is that it is an organization to be reckoned with. It enjoys substantial support, especially within the Shi’a community, and is not considered a “foreign tool,” as it is portrayed by the West, but a genuine national resistance. Most observers would agree the 1990’s saw a positive development in Hizballah’s transformation from a militia to a political party. While I do not agree with the means of either Hizballah or Hamas, there are legitimate claims on the sides of both Lebanon and the Palestinians, and unless these claims are acknowledged, there will not be any lasting solution to the current conflict.

As an editorial in the Lebanese Daily Star reminded us yesterday, Israel’s last “cleansing of terrorists” in Lebanon led to the birth of new organizations; the PLO and PFLP gave way to Hizballah and Hamas. It was the crumbling high rises of Beirut during the Israeli invasion of 1982 that inspired Osama Bin Laden to take out the World Trade Center. We have no way of knowing what will come in Hizballah’s place, should Israel succeed in its efforts to weaken it to the point of irrelevance.

I do not want to see the residents of Haifa or any other Israeli city hide in their bomb shelters, any more than I want to see the residents of Beirut hide in their basements. I simply do not believe that Israel will achieve its long-term objectives with its current strategy; I do not believe that this war will bring peace for Israel.

A positive long-term trend could have been achieved in Lebanon, had efforts focused on economic growth, social development, and – in the very long run – an end to patronage and sectarianism. In this process, Hizballah’s interests would have become increasingly civilian and its arms would have become less crucial to the party, making it easier to disarm Hizballah fully within the next couple of years. But the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the massive long-term damage to Lebanon’s ability to recover economically threaten any positive development toward a stable peace between Israel and Lebanon. Instead, hatred toward Israel is likely to increase. I suspect no one is happier about Israel’s actions today than Syria and Iran; hardliners tend to like when other hardliners play into their hands…

Lest it be thought I simplify as much as the U.S. president, and see this conflict as a strict black and white situation with sole blame to be placed on Israel, let me say that I have my own opinions of Hizballah, as well as the so-called “anti-Syrian” government in Lebanon. Personally, I blame the government’s inability to ensure Hizballah’s restraint on internal bickering with other Lebanese politicians, as pretty much the same bunch who ruled the country under Syrian tutelage try to redress themselves as “anti-Syrian.” Regardless of this, the Lebanese people are not to blame, but they are being punished.

Talking to people here, there is a sense of hopelessness that I haven’t seen before. It has been my experience that the Lebanese are a pessimistically optimistic bunch; they express pessimism, but act in optimism. Now they are just pessimistic; leave, they tell me, it’s not going to get better. It’s heartbreaking to see the deserted streets of Hamra, the foreigners still here are pretty much awaiting evacuation, like myself. A friend has a view of Dahiyeh from his house. He used to live there and knows every street that you now see demolished on TV. The other day, they were sitting on his balcony, watching as bomb after bomb hit; first a flash, then a thundering boom.

I saw another Israeli warship off the coast yesterday; it’s a weird kind of feeling to know that they are out there, capable of firing a missile at us at any moment. And now two helicopters just flew by outside my window. They weren’t heading in the direction of Israel; they were going north along the Lebanese coast. I wonder just what their destination and mission is.

18 Comments:

Blogger Dr. B said...

Thank you.. you are making much more sense than the nonsencial newscasters here in the US and the UK are. Hang in there, stay safe, and keep the reports coming.. sending good thoughts your way !(oh, and expect more of us academic types.. found you on the Chronicle of Higher Ed today!)

5:00 AM  
Blogger Dr. B said...

Thank you.. you are making much more sense than the nonsencial newscasters here in the US and the UK are. Hand in there and keep the reports coming.. sending good thoughts your way

5:01 AM  
Blogger Walt said...

Take care of yourself. Your observations and insights are valuable.

5:09 AM  
Blogger Geoff Brumfiel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Geoff Brumfiel said...

From the lovely Mehr, our ally in Islamabad:

Would you believe that I can't access blogspot from Pakiland? So apparently someone had been writing about the cartoons on their blog and the government saw the potential for people to be unIslamic and banned it for the whole country.

Three cheers for a dictator led democracy!

5:40 AM  
Blogger Geoff Brumfiel said...

As for me, I can't help but notice that while this unfortunate business continues, in Iraq 150 people have died in three days. And it barely even gets on the front page.

5:45 AM  
Blogger Los Angeles Observer said...

What a bunch of crap.
You portray the people of Beirut as victims. Helpless victims. The reality is Freedom is not FREE! Our country has endured civil war. To determine the direction of the country. Brother against cousin. We've endured race riots, I was there, to the rights of minorities. We have cultural battles. Again, for the direction of our nation. All that is necessary for evil to prosper...is for good people (victims) to do nothing. If you are not willing to fight for your freedom...you don't deserve any.
There is also a world wide paralell to this perspective, and the US is leading this fight.
We choose are battles wisely, and are not afraid to fight. It amazes me that many nations, and the UN, bitch about the US..but when a major fight breaks out everyone wants us involved. Idiots.

2:59 PM  
Blogger dunno said...

It is a shame that an attempt to get to grips with the complexity of Lebanon can be dismissed as 'crap'. It is late at night here in London ... and I feel inclined to disagree. Please delete this post if it is not in tone with what you wish for this site. I am just using this as a place to talk, in order to avoid thinking about worse things. To be honest i am more bothered about the personal details of individual circumstance than the politics. But anyway.

The concept of 'nation' sits more easily with those rich and secure enough to know how to define themselves, and how to represent themselves to the world. These are simplicities that perhaps make it easier for some in the US to empathise with Israeli asperations. But the fragmented Ottoman empire is a different place. My contacts in Beirut are mostly Sunni and Maronite, and I have less contact with the Shia. But I was in Beirut when the south was liberated, and it forever changed the balance of respect. The occupation was a poison and a hurt. The Shia, Hizbollah, took the brunt and survived. In that moment of liberation they became heroic and important. At the time I knew many, from all sorts of different confessional groups, who felt proud of that achievement. If you listen to Aoun (with whom I find no sympathy ... but who still commands attention) they still have moral force. This made the process of bringing this last and largest militia back into the arms of the state incredibly difficult. In my view the biggest strategic mistake made was the failure of the US to broker an honest peace between the dying 'lion' of Syria and the novice Barak. Asad was more bothered with domestic concerns ... but if he had been given a clean Golan ... all the way to Tiberias ... he would have dismantled Hizbollah in tandem with a regional peace settlement. But I am no political scientist, and maybe I was deluding myself. But it smelt possible. Letting Hizbollah claim victory, robbed the Lebanese state of any immediate chance of exercising authority. So things had to wait until Rafik Harriri was murdered, and the politics were realigned. With Syria's departure, and a new mood of national unification, Hizbollah were set awkward questions. I would suggest that this current crisis is a consequence of their need to recreate an external Israeli threat in order to justify their continued independance, and to 'prove' that Damascus had offered a 'pax syriana' that was proof against Israeli agression. If that was their objective ... then they have undoubtedly suceeded. But, as I said, I do not really have any Shia friends and do not know how to judge. As for Israel. Well ... I guess the issue here is to try and work out what their real objectives are. Again, I have opinions but not evidence. But it seems to me that the mistake is to assume that they want peace. I can see a convergence of Israeli and Hizbollah interests in maintaining conflict, and thereby depriving the Lebanese of any chance of developing a strong civil society. Whilst this takes things to an unplausable extreme, I talked to a Beiruti friend today who is convinced that Nasrallah is paid by Israel. It is certainly widely believed that Israel contributed financially to the promotion of Hamas ... in order to undermine the PLO. But here I risk getting caught up in the local love of conspiracy theory (but before any US commentator gets too distraught by this ... think Kennedy assassination - people can believe strange things and still be good people).

Sorry ... I am still going on. Do please delete this stuff ... I will be embarrassed tomorrow.

I just wanted to finish with a sort-of parable that occurred to me today. I thought of the Lebanon as being a tree ... an old Cedar tree if you wish ... that had not grown straight and was blighted in parts, but that had grown fresh new shoots. There was promise, and this tree was still the best shady place to be found. And beneath the tree were a few weeds, and some of those weeds borrowed support from the trunk of the tree to grow tall. Now ... what then is the best way to kill the weeds? Well .. if you ask Israel, it means burning both tree and weeds to the ground. No more weeds. But if you go back to where that tree stood in a year's time. What will you find? Fewer weeds? I think not.

Khalas ... my bed time ... apologies for inflicting this on your hospitable blog.

Still hope to be in Beirut soon ... and to sit on the Corniche and marvel at the sea.

4:51 PM  
Blogger *cnn said...

Hello,

Just wanted to drop a quick line from London, to say thanks for writing eloquently on what you are seeing and how you make sense of it.

It may not remain your priority in coming days to tell your tale to a computer, but you have already done much to inform those who look behind the headlines and the patronising 'expert-speak' of TV journalism.

Take care, ma salamah,

Ali

5:39 PM  
Blogger SkandyKandy said...

Mange tak for dine fortællinger, meninger og analyser!

Pas på dig selv, jeg er frem til at læse mere,

Sahra
Denmark

12:40 AM  
Blogger abdul j tharayil said...

Amazing,
You seems to provide genuine ground realities than the biased CNN, take care of yourself and keep posting us
http://www.inminds.co.uk/from-beirut-to-jerusalem.html

12:42 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

I'm a Brit living in Damascus and I thought your writing and analysis is great. Do you mind if I link to you from my site?

Stay safe.

1:05 AM  
Blogger DhiaK said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:15 AM  
Blogger DhiaK said...

Thanks for keeping us as close to this as you have! Appreciate your honesty and writing! Please take care of yourself - try and eat something other than crackers! :)

I promised myself, while reading up on all of this, that I wouldn't chime on... but here goes...

As a descendant of Lebanese parents, I have grown up only to fall more and more in love with my parents' homeland. I have seen it as a war-torn country in the 1990's, recovering gracefully in 2000 then beautifully and proudly standing in 2005. The optimism that Hardig talks about was vivid and the culture of this beautiful people was truly evident. But now, as they are dragged into perhaps the lowest lull a nation may ever see, the world stands back. Politically - there have been far too many suspicions, theories, assumptions and excuses made about these attacks on Lebanon to which the reality of what is happening has been lost. With the barbaric onslaught, innocent lives are taken and cut short while their survivors see their nation's heart and infrastructure, yet again, be torn apart, devastated and demolished as the world looks on wasting time, making assumptions and pointing fingers. Lebanon is, undeservedly and once again, used as a scapegoat for political gain under the guise of an age-old conflict where the real gain will never be peace and an end to terrorism……....

Now, if for one minute, i may play devil’s advocate - I have never been neither pro or against Syria in Lebanon, but how convenient that the first attack on Lebanon/Beirut in 20 years occurs when the only real military defence (Syria) had been ordered out of the region by a weak government, backed by the suspicions of a 'concerned' US. They essentially interfered with Lebanon's already weak political structure, feigned a concerned allegiance with them and by doing so, weakened their defence against any attack. This ‘ally’ is now conveniently sitting back while this beautiful nation is being broken by another to whom the US' only real allies and concerns exist. They interfered as Syria was simply ‘occupying’ the region however sit back while Israel demolishes it. I would just like to make a point here… Lebanon has an international debt of circa $50billion. As the outcome of this war unfolds, we can see that these monies were primarily invested in returning the country to the beauty and culture it was once famous for – not in any military warfare. What does this tell you about the psyche of this so-called ‘terrorist’ nation? Hizballah are not Lebanon. Nor do they represent the country’s people.

But back to the point. Civilians are being targeted and murdered. This is the reality and is what needs to be addressed. This is not the price of 'freedom'. It is unfortunate, but the only real country and leader that has any power to help stop the murder right now is the US - and from comments, strategies and outcomes up ‘til now, we can see only too clearly that international help or pressure for a ceasefire to stop the murders will not happen until the US/Israel have something to gain. So, los angeles observer, to you I say, the US hold a reponsibility as a superpower and (unfortunately) opinion leader in the political world to STOP the mass destruction of an entire (& defenceless) country. That's the extent to which they should be interfering... no more and no less. I can empathise with your point of view however, since US media channels (now, i work in this space so i see, daily, what's being published in major US titles) are a puppet to their government, with no objectivity and only biased truths (if, indeed, these are truths). Go travel and open your mind.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Hardig said...

All,

Thanks for your comments and concern. At this point, awareness on the situation here is crucial. So, Dave, of course I don't mind you linking to this blog. The more people read it, the better.

2:22 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Cheers Hardig,

Btw, if you or anyone you know feels brave enough to try to make it to Damascus we'll be happy to put them up for a bit....

dunno, I'll be there to join you on the Corniche someday soon - maybe not as soon as we hope, but certainly not as long as we fear.

Ma' salaama

3:49 AM  
Blogger Ronen said...

Loved reading this post. I agree with you, things in Lebanon are very complex, not as George W bush said -

but

This is no excuse for Lebanon for not standing on its own, forcing syria and Iran out with the help of the entire international community. France, USA, UK will be glad to help you with this.

and then start acting like a country, a real one. A real country doesn't have one army and 1 terrorist organization. A country holds only one army and no terrorist organization.

If you cannot stop the Hizbullah from kidnapping Israelis and from throwing rockets at us why do you expect us to seat back and do nothing? Can you think of another country in the wourld that would tolerate such an attack on it's civilians?

Lebanon declared war on Israel last week - Lebanon has the opertunity to bring peace - by taking control over southern Lebanon, Giving Israel back the hostages and disarming Hizbullah.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Leila said...

Hardig, I have linked to this post at Dove's Eye View because you summarized my thoughts so exactly. Thank you so much.

1:53 PM  

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