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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Arrest Warrent Issued for Sudan's Bashir: Debunking the Arabist Line

Well the precedent has been set and an arrest warrant has been issued for President Bashir of Sudan. The warrant accuses him of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and needless to say the immediate Sudanese reaction has been one of condemnation of neocolonial white interference and bla bla bla. You know the drill. I also imagine the reaction on the nationalist quasi-leftist arab street to be of a similar nature. Naturally, the interference of the international community is to be condemned, while the killing of black africans is ok. The white man cannot interfere but it is fine for the arab to rampage... Lets take a look at the following sample from the angry arab.

This arrest warrant is a joke, of course and will not be taken seriously outside of the offices of the New York Times. I mean, let us say that Bashir (a lousy dictator with very low intelligence level and a skill in turning into a buffoon before a crowd, with a history of cooperation with Western governments--overt and covert) is responsible for much of the bloodshed in Darfur, his record pales by that (if you count the numbers of victims) of George W. Bush. I mean, will that body issue an arrest warrant for Bush or any American president if he/she were to drop a nuclear bomb on an entire country or continent? Of course, not. But then again: how can the White Man resist the temptation to preach and sermonize? The White Man can't resist that opportunity.


Alright, clearly there is anger there. But let us dissect the argument a little bit more carefully.

"The arrest warrant is a joke".
Maybe, but maybe not. It is certainly useless in the short term but in the long term it is not inconceivable that we see Bashir is shackles before a court of law. It happened in the former Yugoslavia, why not Sudan.

"Bashir's record pales in comparison to Bush's ...".
That is an irrelevant argument, since justice in one case does not preclude justice in another. Moreover, it is a subjective argument and relies on where one places value. If equal value is placed on all human life regardless of its ethnic composition, and if human suffering is condemned regardless of the color of its skin, then no, Bashir's record does not pale in comparison to Bush's. On the other hand, if one values Iraqi life more than Darfurian life, then perhaps it does pale... Also, I am not quite sure how that macabre calculation worked. Do we tally up all the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan regardless of who killed them (e.g., Iraqi Shias, Iraqi Sunnis, the Taliban...) , then add all the murders and rapes, regardless of who perpetrated them and assign the blame on all of them to Bush? I haven't done that ugly math, but I am sure that even then, Bashir's record does not pale in comparison to Bush's...

"How can the White Man resist the temptation to preach and sermonize?"
I don't know. But how does that differ from the Angry Arab man blaming the white man for everything? Was the self righteous white man on horseback in south Darfur killing and raping? Was the self righteous white man providing tank cover and air support agains the Darfurians? Or was it Bashir's rule that enabled those acts? When will the angry arab stop and unequivocally condemn atrocities committed by (seemingly) equally angry arab dictators. Preaching and sermonizing is one thing. Enabling atrocities is a different thing. It is Bashir who is on trial for war crimes here, not those who preached for his arrest.

Final Points
My main point in writing this post has been to deliver the following message. We need to resist the temptation to enable atrocities by using "yes, but..." arguments. Atrocities are bad. period. Those who commit them must be brought to justice. period. If there are other places in the world where atrocities are being committed, then the perpetrators should also be brought to justice. You wouldn't release one murderer because you can't catch another one, would you?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Glimmers of Hope

In the midst of the ongoing festival of the absurd that comprises the politics of Lebanon, every now and then some glimmers of hope appear.

Sometimes they are in the form of an unexpected gesture by a young minister, who recognizes the right of citizens to withhold information about their religion from the state. At other time hope manifests in the actions of those who strive and fight for a better tomorrow - one where two people can choose to get married not under the supervision of a bearded male and where a woman's rights are not restricted to what the chauvinistic societies of yore gave her.

Yet other times an article reminds you of the existence of those whose beliefs you may not agree with but who fight lifelong battles for your right to hold your beliefs and to live your life free from the shackles of religion.

Finally, every now and then, some courageous few appear from the depths of societal oppression and marginalization to fight for their rights in the most civilized of ways.

These beacons of light amidst oceans of darkness give me hope that the tide of liberty can swell and grow, until it touches those whose minds have turned to stone and those whose hearts have turned to steel, until one day all the oppressiveness of Lebanon cannot contain it. And so that its people - as culturally, socially and religiously diverse as any, can stop trampling on one another and break free from their self imposed shackles.

Until then, let the festival of the absurd resume.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

George Carlin, Modern Man

I was watching PBS the other day and came across "George Carlin: The Mark Twain Prize" (given to him posthumously)... Everytime I see bits of his performances I am stunned by how much of a wordsmith he was. Below is a sample.



"I’m a modern man, a man for the millennium. Digital and smoke-free. A diversified multicultural, postmodern deconstruction that is anatomically and ecologically incorrect. I’ve been uplinked and downloaded, I’ve been inputted and outsourced, I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a hightech lowlife. A cutting edge, state of the art, bicoastal multitasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond!

"I’m new wave, but I’m old school, and my inner child is outward bound. I’m a hotwired, heatseeking, warmhearted cool customer, voice-activated and biodegradable. I interface with my database, my database is in cyberspace, so I’m interactive, I’m hyperactive and from time to time I’m radioactive.

"Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, ridin' the wave, dodgin' the bullet and pushin' the envelope. I’m on point, on task, on message and off drugs. I’ve got no need for coke and speed. I've got no urge to binge and purge. I’m in the moment, on the edge, over the top and under the radar. A high concept, low profile, medium range ballistic missionary. A streetwise smart bomb. A top gun bottom feeder. I wear power ties, I tell power lies, I take power naps and run victory laps. I’m a totally ongoing big-foot, slam dunk, rainmaker with a proactive outreach. A raging workaholic. A working rageaholic. Out of rehab and in denial!

"I’ve got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant and a personal agenda. You can’t shut me up. You can’t dumb me down because I’m tireless and I’m wireless, I’m an alpha male on beta blockers.

"I’m a nonbeliever and an overachiever, laid back but fashion forward. Upfront, downhome, low rent, high maintenance. Supersized, long lasting, high definition, fast acting, oven ready and built to last! I’m a hands-on, footloose, kneejerk head case pretty maturely post-traumatic, and I’ve got a love child that sends me hate mail.

"But I’m feeling, I’m caring, I’m healing, I’m sharing-- a supportive, bonding, nurturing primary caregiver. My output is down, but my income is up. I took a short position on the long bond and my revenue stream has its own cashflow. I read junk mail, I eat junk food, I buy junk bonds and I watch trash sports! I’m gender-specific, capital intensive, user-friendly and lactose intolerant.

"I like rough sex. I like tough love. I use the “F” word in my e-mails and the software on my harddrive is hardcore -- no soft porn.

"I bought a microwave at a mini-mall; I bought a minivan at a megastore. I eat fast food in the slow lane. I’m toll-free, bitesized, ready-to-wear and I come in all sizes. A fully equipped, factory authorized, hospital tested, clinically proven, scientifically- formulated medical miracle. I’ve been pre-wash, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped, vacuum-packed and I have an unlimited broadband capacity.

"I’m a rude dude, but I’m the real deal. Lean and mean! Cocked, locked and ready to rock. Rough, tough and hard to bluff. I take it slow, I go with the flow, I ride with the tide. I’ve got glide in my stride. Drivin' and movin', sailin' and spinnin', jivin' and groovin', wailin' and winnin'. I don’t snooze, so I don’t lose. I keep the pedal to the metal and the rubber on the road. I party hearty and lunch time is crunch time. I’m hangin' in, there ain’t no doubt and I’m hangin' tough, over and out!"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The First Flag of Lebanon... Immigrated to Canada

On the occasion of the Independence Day of Lebanon, I thought that this gem from Now Lebanon is the most deliciously sad bit of irony, if there ever was such a thing.

In particular, the author of the relevant report , decided to visit Bshamoun and the house in which the free members of government in 1943 sought refuge from the French who had incarcerated the president and prime minister among others. In any case, to cut a long story short, May the granddaughter of the 1943 owner of the house - and the current occupant of said iconic residence - is at one point prodded repeatedly as to the whereabouts of the first flag of Lebanon. Loosely translated, the conversation went like this.

"Where is it?" She is asked.

"Its rotting but its preserved."

"Yes but where?"

"Preserved"

"Preserved where?"

"In Canada"

"Why in Canada?"

"My mother took it with her when she left."

"Why did your mother leave?"

"To be with my brothers, they are all there."

...

"Because this country is not big enough for its children."

I guess in a way, its fitting that the first ever flag of Lebanon, ends up in Canada, thereby fulfilling the Lebanese dream... of immigrating.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When Silence is Golden

Every time president Michel Sleiman represents Lebanon at an international event and the press reports excerpts from the speeches he gives, I take a deep breath, sigh, rub my forehead and wonder. Most recently

He told the U.N. interfaith conference in New York that Lebanon is a place for coexistence and a country functioning as a "laboratory" of interfaith and cultural dialogue.
Lebanon is "rich in its diversity…Lebanon is qualified in having a wider room for interfaith dialogue," he said in his address.


You gotta love the way the faiths "dialogue" in Lebanon. In fact we should take this model and generalize it to the entire world. Nothing like sectarian warfare on a worldwide scale every few decades... Makes me wonder whether I am living in some alternate universe or whether the president is, or whether he just thinks that the world is too dumb to notice that his words don't match our history or our politics... Its just painful.

PS: I just noticed that the title I chose for this post is fitting - on more levels than what I had intended. This blog has been quiet for quite a while and most other political blogs on Lebanon have seen very little activity recently as well. To this blogger, our collective silence is a testament to the disgust we feel towards the situation in Lebanon. I don't even have any idea why of all the recent events in Lebanon I chose to comment on this one...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On this day (July 16) in Lebanon: 1948

July 16, 1945,the New York Times reports that

An agreement on the construction and operation of two oil refineries near tripoli has been reached...
The agreement was negotiated by F.C. Le Rocker, of New York, Socony manager in the Levant, and O.A. Seager of Standard Oil in discussions with Premier Abdul Hamed Karamy and Foreign Minister Henri Pharon.

On this day (July 15): in 1958 and 1949

On July 15, 1958 The Washington Post and Times Herald reported

American Troops will be landed in strife-torn Lebanon within the next 24 hours, President Eisenhower made it clear to Congressional leaders...

The decision came after a formal request from Preseident Chamoun... immediately following news of the surprise Nasser coup d'etat in Iraq, long considered the strongest Arab ally of the West.


I found this one from the July 15, 1949 edition of the New York Times particualry interesting.
Ghassan Tueni, editor of the Beirut newspaper An Nahar, was sentenced today to three months' imprisonment for an article that had insulted the military tribunal that sentenced the rebel chieftain Anton Saadeh, to death... Mr. Tueni's trial took place before the same military tribunal that had sentenced Saadeh.

New Feature on This Blog

Well today I want to give a new feature a shot. Every now and then I will post, old news snippets from western newspapers about Lebanon. Mostly they will be along the lines of: "On this day in 1958, the Boontown Tribunal reported ..." Hope you like em.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Great Strides.... Backwards!

I came across the recent (2008) Foreign Policy "Failed States Index" where I was proud to find out that Lebanon is steadily and surely making its way to the top of the list.

We are now number 18 on the list and by overtaking such worthy opponents as Ethiopia, North Korea, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan, we can claim the coveted poll position. We should be careful though, we don't want to slip to position 19 since Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Yemen are tight on our heels. In fact we can take pride in being much more a failed state than either Rwanda and Angola, countries with life expectancies of 47 and 37 respectively.

Even more worrying than our current position on the list, is our trend in the last few years. Taking a look at the table below ( lifted from the Fund for Peace which co-authored the index), we can see all the red arrows indicating that the trends are heading for even more failure of the state.


Demographic pressures are increasing, as is the number of refugees and displaced people. Group grievances are on the rise. Human flight, uneven development, are increasing and the legitimacy of the state is getting worse... You name it and its getting worse.

Also worth mentioning is that there is at least one component that is clearly correlated to the failure of states, as is apparent from this next table.

Our parliament having been decommissioned for so long now has contributed its share of damage.

Of course, every single one of these indicators can be explained and none of this is remotely surprising; however, the fact that a catastrophe is predictable or explainable does not make it any less alarming. We need a paradigm shift in the way politics are conducted in Lebanon. Unfortunately, any shift that is restricted to the upper echelons of the elite - as unlikely as that is looking - is also purely temporary. The only paradigm shift that will really be of use, is one that the citizens will have to make. For example... by actually becoming citizens.

Now if only pigs could fly.