April 30, 2005

Peace in Iraq?

Posted by Jeremy Brown

The Washington Post offers yet another disturbing look at the reality of prewar Iraq, before the first Gulf War created the no-fly zones:

BAGHDAD, April 29 -- U.S. investigators have exhumed the remains of 113 people -- all but five of them women, children or teenagers -- from a mass grave in southern Iraq that may hold at least 1,500 victims of Saddam Hussein's campaign against the Kurdish minority in the 1980s, U.S. and Iraqi officials said this week.

[...]

The non-acidic soil at the grave site preserved layers and layers of distinctive Kurdish clothing worn by many of the victims, suggesting that they may have piled on their best clothes expecting to be relocated, investigators said.

Authorities showed reporters some of the remains, including the skull of an older woman with pink dentures and the skeleton of a teenage girl clutching a bag of possessions.

[...]

The grave actually is a series of 18 trenches, which investigators say they believe Iraqi forces dug with front loaders and maintained for systematic executions.

Investigators said that women and children were forced to stand at the edge of the pits, then shot with AK-47 assault rifles. Casings were found near the site, they said.

"They sprayed people with bullets so they fell back" into the graves, Iraq's human rights minister, Bakhtyar Amin, told reporters.

[...]

Most of the children were very young, and 10 were infants, authorities said.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 9:39 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 29, 2005

Postcards from Lebanon

Downtown Beirut.jpg

Nejmeh Square in downtown Beirut.


Beirut at Night.jpg

Downtown Beirut at night.


Downtown Art.jpg

Political art in downtown Beirut.


East Beirut.jpg

Christian East Beirut.


West Beirut.jpg

Sunni Muslim West Beirut.


Holiday Inn.jpg

A war-ravaged Holiday Inn still stands.


Me above Mediterranean.jpg

Me above the Mediterranean.


Baalbeck.jpg

The Roman ruins at Baalbeck.


Bekaa Valley Arch and Mosque.jpg

A mosque in the Bekaa Valley.


Druze.jpg

Warm greetings in a Druze village.


Syrian Social Nationalist Party.jpg

Propaganda for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. (It's supposed to be a spinning Swastika.)


Bcharre.jpg

The streets of Bcharre, the birthplace of Khalil Gibran.


Bcharre from Above 2.jpg

Bcharre from above.


Qadisha Valley.jpg

Qadisha Valley.


Mount Lebanon.jpg

Mount Lebanon.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:45 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 27, 2005

This is Beirut

Posted by Michael J. Totten

Beirut is a bullet-riddled Holiday Inn with 15-foot holes blasted into the side of it towering above elegant new construction downtown.

Beirut is a Starbucks that is identical to the one near my house in Portland, Oregon down to the last nail.

Beirut is the most impeccably polite and charming waiter who has ever served me dinner and wine.

Beirut is a fat man smoking a cigar in the elevator.

Beirut is where everyone calls me "sir" and says "welcome."

Beirut is a taxi driver leaning on his horn and screaming at cars.

Beirut is Eastern.

Beirut is Western.

Beirut is a veiled 50-year old woman in a black head-to-toe chador shuffling past a young scantily-clad jogger plugged into her iPod.

Beirut is a French colonial architectural masterpiece.

Beirut is a row of 1970s eyesore apartment towers.

Beirut is an elegant cobble-stoned street.

Beirut is a leg-breaking hole in the sidewalk.

Beirut is Christian.

Beirut is Muslim.

Beirut is ground zero of a liberal-democratic revolution in the Middle East.

Beirut is religious fanatics with guns on the streets of the southern Hezbollahland suburbs.

Beirut is a tiny woman begging for handouts.

Beirut is a tycoon decked out in gaudy over-sized jewelry behind the wheel of a Mercedes.

Beirut is the muezzin's haunting call to Muslim prayer.

Beirut is the soft peal of church bells.

Beirut is booze, gambling, flirtatious women, and Playboy Magazine sold on the streets.

Beirut is where unmarried - even engaged - men are encouraged to visit prostitutes because it takes the pressure off their girlfriends.

Beirut is the capital of a Middle Eastern country that actually holds elections.

Beirut is where three Lebanese presidents were murdered by the Syrian Baath regime.

Beirut is Christians and Muslims living together in peace.

Beirut is an insurance company manager in an upscale bar with a picture of gun-toting Christian militia leader Bashir Gemayel saved on his cell phone.

Beirut is people who say in public whatever they want.

Beirut is Syrian secret police who listen to everything everyone says.

Beirut is a graveyard of Israelis.

Beirut is a graveyard of Americans.

Beirut is a graveyard of the Syrian empire.

Beirut is, especially, a graveyard of Lebanese.

Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East.

Beirut is the Sarajevo of the Middle East.

Beirut is civilized.

Beirut is wild.

One thing Beirut is not, and has never been: Beirut is not boring.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:23 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 26, 2005

Where do they go from here?

Posted by Mary Madigan

"Where do we go from here?" Pro-democracy bloggers in the Middle East are asking themselves that question.

arch.memory from Lebanese Blogger Forums says:

So, now that they're gone, where go we go from here? In trying to reflect on the past several pivotal weeks in our history, several issues come to mind. One thing that concerns me is that fissure in Lebanese society that came to the surface after the assassination of Hariri and was perhaps at its climax during the tense days of "counter-demonstrations": namely, the Lebanese Shiites vs. the rest of the Lebanese. Before you jump down my throat, I am a Lebanese Shiite, or as I prefer to put it, I come from a Shiite family, since sect is one of those things that are dictated on us, the Lebanese, upon birth, regardless of faith. In any case, my interest in putting up this call for a discussion came after a comment my brother left to a post on my blog. The post was about an article in Slate magazine online by Elisabeth Eaves entitled "Camping in Beirut—A Revolutionary Act". Here is the comment; I thought it would be a good way to spur discussion:

When I read this article, I felt, well, sad.

I do not know why I am writing this, it does not relate much to the article, but I need to express it somewhere, this feeling that I have of perpetual guilt.

I am a Chiite Lebanese and I support the cause of the camp/revolution that is going on, and I did not take part in them. I was not willing to sacrifice my semester for something I knew was good for my country.

It might not be about sectarianism, and it might bring nothing out (though it has), but, if for anything, it was (and still is) about citizen contribution to the democratic process. That is all.

At Spirit of America's Lebanon Blog, Michael Totten explains why the democratic process is so important:

Some of the tent-city residents have told me their goals are not only national. The goals of some of them (but not all of them) also are global. They truly believe they are resolving the clash of civilizations here in Beirut by proving that Christian and Islamic civilizations can co-exist in peace and in friendship. Lebanon has long been a bridge between East and West. In the future it may play the crucial role of a peace broker.

But it is not going to work if Lebanon cannot become a mature liberal democracy. Dictatorships notoriously use divide-and-rule tactics to pit their enemies against one another. Syria has been playing that game inside Lebanon - and on the world stage - for a long time. Terrorism is only one of the sinister byproducts of that. War is another.

Lebanon's civil war drew in four foreign powers: Syria, Iran, Israel, and the United States. Those four powers are still simmering in a state of cold war today. Naturally enough, the two that are ruled by dictatorships - Syria and Iran - are also state sponsors of terrorism.

The Iranian government, state sponsor of Hizbullah, recently said that Lebanon was "vulnerable" and risked civil war. Of that threat, Raja Abu Hassan, said:

Okay. I think Iran is going too far now! We all know that Hizballah is intimately connected to the Iranian regime. However, we were told over and over again that it was a "national" resistance force fighting to liberate Lebanon from foreign occupation.

Today, Mr. Khatami warned that "the possibility exists of an escalation of differences and degeneration into a civil war." hmmm... Who is he to say that there is a possibility for civil war in Lebanon???

One commenter on Raja's site said:

Hizbullah will never issue any statement requesting an apology from the Iranian President. At the time that the last Syrian tank is leaving our country, the last thing we want to hear is a threat. We are just tired of this sort of talk. As a "foreign" country, Iran should just stick to the diplomatic talk that all foreign countries have been releasing about Lebanon which is namely hoping that elections take place on time and that they wish us the best of luck!

On another note, Raja, I read an article from Al-Mustaqbal, that analyzed Hizbullah's latest moves: supporting Mrad as opposed to Mikati (when Mikati is supposedly part of a Syrian-Arab-International deal to move things forward), giving Ghazaleh a gift (Israeli weapon) during his farewell visit to Nasrallah, and announcing to the heads of the security apparatus (especially El-Sayyid)that they will provide them with security.

The author, Naseer Al-Ass'ad, was baffled that Hizbullah is outright taking sides and despite the moving forward that we've witnessed this past week, they are still leaning towards the "losing" side. The author questioned whether Hizbullah is worried that it will be next and that the disarmament issue will be put on the negotiating table. Whatever their motives, such moves will be counter-productive for Hizbullah as Lebanon heads towards a post-syrian era after the elections.

Another recited a list of Hizbollah-related propaganda with more than a hint of irony:

No Raja, are you telling me that Hizbullah is more than the national resitance, that Hizbullah, which according to them, has never and will never turn its arms on other lebanese? that they are merely an armed milita heavily influenced by a foreign power with an islamist agenda by its very nature, unpalatable to the majority of lebanese. Well it is clear, you must be a zionist imperialist for casting aspersions on " a source of pride for the islamic and arab world", To borrow a phrase from a few good men, " We want hizbullah on that wall, We need them on that wall" and if we disagree we are zionist imperialists rooting for american hegemony, and we are all going to hell! Maybe now I won't have to keep reading about their social services etc...

Tony from Across the Bay mentions that the myth/propaganda of Hizbullah's never using its weapons against other Lebanese is historically false. He says: "I'm not sure how people forget Hizbullah's wars with its Shiite rival Amal, and even with the PSP)and remains false today (with often-deadly clashes with Amal going on on a regular basis)."

In response to Raja's comments on the Iranian threat, one commenter said:

80% of iranians are just itching to hang these clerics and they are warning us about differences in our country.

According to Wretchard of the Belmont Club, indirect warfare has put two terror-supporting states, Syria and Iran, on the defensive. The Mullahs are welcoming ex-Baathists into their fold.

The Persian Journal believes that that billionaire Mullahs are hoping that this Arab-Iranian alliance will benefit them, not politicially but also financially. Unfortunately for the Mullahs, things aren't working out as planned.

More news here and here

Posted by Mary Madigan at 6:04 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 25, 2005

Lebanon and Syria in the News

Posted by Jeremy Brown

It would seem that the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon is or will in a few hours be complete. That should be the big news in tomorrow's papers. It will be interesting to see whether that's anything like the case.

Here's a quick sampling of a few bits and pieces I've seen so far:

I searched the front page of The New York Times for the words Lebanon and Syria. Here's the only headline that turned up (it was indeed in international news):

Ex-Officials Say Bolton Inflated Syrian Danger

I'm not boosting Bolton, mind you, just saying.

Here's something -- just for yuks -- from the Pacifica website:

Lebanon is now free of all Syrian troops. Mohammed Shublaq has more from Beirut about the mixed reactions.

I'll grant both of these websites the fact that tomorrow happens across the Atlantic before it happens here. Indeed, The Guardian, much to its credit, has this to say in today's web edition:

Faced with mass demonstrations in Beirut and international calls for a speedy withdrawal, Syria had little option but to pull its forces out. Anxious to save face, Damascus has sought to portray its withdrawal as implementation of the 1989 Taif accord that ended the Lebanese civil war.

Today's ceremony is likely to provide Syria with more face-saving spin and may also distract some attention from a UN report, due to be delivered today by Kofi Annan, on the extent of Syrian compliance with resolution 1559.

That report has a just discernibly unsympathetic point of view toward Syria. And that's: "OK." Good for the Guardian.

Iran is not thrilled with the Syrian withdrawal (emphasis mine):

Iranian President Mohamed Khatami warned in a meeting with visiting Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt yesterday that Lebanon was “vulnerable” and risked civil war, the Isna news agency reported.

The possibility exists of an aggravation of divisions which could tranform into a civil war,”

And when it comes to the possibility of an aggravation of divisions and of civil war, Iran is not content to just wag a finger of warning -- they plan to help in any way they can:

Iran's Ambassador to Lebanon Massoud Edrissi Monday underlined the need for continuation of Iran's all-out support for Lebanese terrorist group Hezbullah to cope with the current crucial situation in Lebanon.

Which brings me back to Pacifica's promise of 'mixed reactions' which suddenly seems to be a rather apt choice of words.

Do I have a point? Yes. Please be sure you're reading here this week.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 9:47 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 24, 2005

Goodbye, Syria

Posted by Michael J. Totten

Yesterday I took a much-needed day off (my first since I got here) and cruised over Mount Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley to look at the Roman ruins at Baalbeck. As my tour bus approached the city our guide pointed out a small garrison of Syrian troops off to the right. Soldiers huddled around tents in the rain below a gigantic portrait of their goon-in-chief Bashar Assad. "Don't take pictures of them," she said. "It will cause trouble."

I decided to take some pictures anyway. To hell with them. What were they going to do? Shoot down a tourist bus as their final act in the country?

I raised my camera to the window. The soldiers looked like miserable dogs that had been kicked in the ribs with steel-toed boots. The popular uprising in Lebanon had totally thrashed and demoralized them. Every one of them stared into the windows of the bus as we drove past. Many saw my camera and stared at me personally. I decided then that I would follow the tour lady's advice and not take a picture. There was no way I was going to sneak in a photo without them knowing it. So I pointed my camera down and lowered it into my lap.

I did feel slightly intimidated. As individuals many of these men may be exemplary human beings. But the Syrian military is a monstrous thing that should probably not be messed with by anyone who isn't very well-armed.

That's the extent of my personal contact with the Syrian Baath regime. It sure isn't much. It's practically nothing at all - and thank Heaven for that. But it's just enough that I read the following article with a wee bit more satisfaction than I would have otherwise.

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Syrian troops burned documents and dismantled military posts in their final hours in Lebanon Sunday, before deploying toward the border and effectively ending 29 years of military presence in the country.

A few score Syrian troops will remain in Lebanon for a farewell ceremony Tuesday that the Lebanese Army plans to hold in a town close to the Syrian border.

In Damascus, the Syrian capital, a government official said: "Within the next few hours, all the troops will be out of Lebanon."

"What will be left are those who will take part in the official farewell" on Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In the border town of Anjar, home of Syria's chief of military intelligence in Lebanon, Syrian officials appeared to be going about their business as usual Sunday.

But at the Deir el-Ahmar base, Syria's last major garrison in the Bekaa Valley, 15 tanks rolled on to flatbed trucks, ready for the drive home, witnesses told The Associated Press. Soldiers burned papers, knocked down walls and loaded ammunition on to trucks.

Syrian troops had already vacated at least 10 positions in the northern part of the Bekaa Valley on Saturday. Dozens of trucks carrying hundreds of soldiers and at least 150 armored vehicles, towing artillery pieces and rocket launchers, crossed the border into Syria, witnesses said.

"Tomorrow everything will be over," a Lebanese military officer said Saturday.

Buh bye.

(PS - Don't forget to read my own Lebanon coverage over at Spirit of America's Lebanon blog.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:00 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 22, 2005

Change – More Weekend Reading

Posted by Jeremy Brown

"Who does he think he is" I imagine you're asking, "with his 'weekend reading?' Some kind of bigshot?"

Well, no. But I know that there is a certain kind of reading that gets done best during the week, and another kind that you'll want to do on your laptop out on a shady part of the front yard or in the sculpture garden at the museum, or in the safe part of the park in Holyoke. So this is some of the latter...

Neo-Neocon is a great writer whose blog provides another stop on the underground railroad that has been helping people like me along the perilous journey from well behaved pre-9/11 liberal up to the cold North of open-minded, independent thought.

But to be specific, she is coming near the end of a series on Change. (I had an impulse to capitalize that word because change has been like a living creature in our lives these past few years, whether your politics are Left, Right, or somewhere under the fat part of the bell curve).

The latest installment in Neo-Neocon's series is about the Vietnam war and how two famous photos tapped into and transformed how that war was perceived by millions of people:

...The prisoner is young-looking and slight, even boyish, dressed in a checked shirt. He is facing the viewer and we see his face clearly and frontally, wincing, although the shooter is seen only in profile. The Vietcong's hands are tied behind his back, and he seems terribly vulnerable...

That this picture -- and the famously disturbing image of the Vietnamese girl running naked, screaming -- showed the brutality of war is clear. But NN lets us in on the fact that there are stories behind these pictures that we might not know (we have to wait for the next installment).

But before Vietnam is woven in, NN explains the genesis of this series of posts:

When I first started this blog, one of the things I was sure I'd do an awful lot of writing about is what it means to change one's mind on a topic as fundamental and emotional as politics: who does it, why they do it, how they do it. I thought I'd explore the ways in which "changers" differ from those who don't ever change, and the repercussions changers face among friends and family who often consider them to be pariahs. I even thought that, if a bunch of these people ever migrated to my blog, it could function as a sort of combination support group (sorry, it's the therapist in me!) and clearing house on the topic of political changers and what makes them tick.

The best thing to do is pop over to the latest installment so you can see the index of previous posts, then start from the beginning.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 6:29 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 21, 2005

The End of the World as We Know It

Posted by Mary Madigan

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed between 20 and 40 million people. It killed more people than World War I. More people died of that flu in a single year than in four years of the Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as "Spanish Flu" or "La Grippe" the 1918 pandemic was a global disaster.

During the 2001 anthrax scare, after an elderly woman in Connecticut died after having been exposed to “lingering” anthrax spores, I started to worry about my 90+ year old grandmother’s habit of ripping up junk mail. She laughed about that, saying that she had survived the flu of 1918 and she’d survive the anthrax thing.

And she did.

On the other end of the disaster scare spectrum are the Armageddon groupies, people who believe that God, or the earth will use any small excuse to get rid of the majority of the annoying, sinful, wasteful human race. They don’t need a massively fatal flu to launch into their Armageddon dreams. A vague prophecy or an unusually warm winter will suffice.

These Armageddon fans have funded Jerry Jenkins and Timothy LeHaye’s outrageously profitable "Left Behind" industry. Environmentalists’ various end times prophecies fund a series of NGOs. These Armegeddon groupies don’t agree about how the world will end, but they do agree on one thing – the end of the world as we know it is coming, and there’s not much that we can do about it. Oh, we can prepare a little, but, human nature being what it is, we’re doomed.

The funniest example of this attitude was Bill Moyer’s essay Environmental Armageddon, where he raged about how unfair it was that conservatives’ end times scenarios were taking precedence over his end times scenarios.

The least funny example was from 'Critter' Marshall, an activist currently in jail for bombing a Chevy Dealership, who said this about our environmental problems: (NY Times)

..there is no easy solution..for life to survive as we know it, millions of people are going to have to die. It's sad to say that, but it's true. Millions of people are already dying - it's just gonna have to start happening here.

On Winds of Change, 'Cicero' analyzed James Howard Kunstler's predictions that 200 years of modernity will be brought to its knees by an energy crisis. 'Cicero' concluded that “What is truly worrisome is not that there will be an energy crisis in our future; it's that so many of our best and brightest can't positively imagine a future that we can all live in.”

I’ve been wondering about that kind of self-destructive behavior too. As usual, science provides an answer, from Stuart Blackman, a Shakespeare fan and science writer who described the research of Stuart West & collaborators at the University of Edinburgh on the use and results of the tactic of suicide bombing in the E. coli community:

Take bacterial suicide-bombing: Why should an E. coli bacterium go to the bother of blowing itself up to release toxins that kill its closest competitors when it kills itself in the process? Part of the answer is that the spiteful gene can proliferate in the martyr's clonal relatives. But it also requires very intense competition on a local scale to allow sufficient benefit to accrue to those kin. Therefore, spite tends to occur in parasitic species, where host resources are limiting, and where the sphere of competition is confined to the host organism rather than the whole population.

He also asks, “What happens..when mankind perceives that we are outgrowing our host?

Environmentalists would perhaps argue that publicising worst-case scenarios spurs people into action. But the question is: what sort of action will it spur us into? Will it make us more inclined to cooperate to sort out problems, as environmentalists no doubt intend, or will it push us in a different direction - one that is detrimental to our collective survival? Will we be more inclined to use (or refrain from using) resources for selfish (spiteful?) reasons rather than cooperative ones? In which case, is there a self-fulfilling element to those worst-case prophesies?..

..For those sections of the green movement that view humanity as a plague or virus, this might be a welcome prospect. But for those of us who prefer to see Homo sapiens as a remarkable species whose cooperative endeavours have got us through many a tight squeeze in the past, and who are optimistic that, when presented with the best available scientific evidence, we can do the same when faced with the problems that inevitably await us in the future, anything that makes us more like nasty, spiteful, self-destructive Iago is well worth resisting.

The theory that optimism helps us stay alive and healthy has already been proven by history and science many times. We may as well work with it.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 12:51 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

April 20, 2005

Providing Cover for Lebanese Democracy

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Though you read the newspaper and watch the news on TV, it shouldn't surprise you to hear that there is a huge pro-democracy movement taking hold in Lebanon. That's what Michael is currently documenting and making common cause with as I write this. History seems to be sowing the soil for this sort of bloodless revolution -- and we have reason to hope that this is what the Cedar Revolution will turn out to be.

It's not easy to apprehend the precise dynamics that make a movement like this possible, but I'm mindful of a comment by one of the democracy activists in Lebanon that was reported recently by Michael:

Later, inside a different tent, a young woman took me aside. And she said: "I must tell you something. If we didn't think we had American support we would never have done this. They would kill us. We need you. It is just a fact."

This resonates profoundly with my sense that, while Lebanese and Iranian democracy activists might not want to see U.S. troops invading or occupying their country, they need to be able rely on the fact that we've got their backs, so to speak. I don't think, prior to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, that American citizens could have made such a claim and expected anyone in the Middle East to believe it.

And there seems to be a sign this week that Syria is wary of violently opposing this democracy movement with its now credible support from the U.S:

BEIRUT -- Lebanon's prime minister formed a new government yesterday, boosting chances that a general election can be held on schedule, in line with demands by the international community and anti-Syria opposition.

But it's important that the protestors don't let up, and they could use our help.

It's outrageous that American news companies are not treating this as a major story, or are reporting it as a minor blip within a fatalistic perception of the hope for democracy in the Middle East.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Company seems to be under the impression that this call for a genuine election in Lebanon and for the the withdrawal of Syria is important enough to expect President Bush to agree to an interview. President Bush seems to think so too:

QUESTION: Thank you for your time, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: My honor, thank you.

Q: Recently there isn't a day that passes by without you mentioning Lebanon. Why now, this country that was under occupation for almost 30 years, became so important for the United States?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, there's a movement toward freedom around the world. And the Lebanese people have made it clear that they want to be free of Syrian influence, they want there to be free elections. And the United States of America stands squarely with the people of Lebanon.

[...]

Q: I'm sure, Mr. President, you heard what I want to say maybe thousands of times, and maybe from Presidents and Kings that come and see you here in the White House -- some people think that it's not in the best interest of America to have democratic Arab countries --

THE PRESIDENT: Right.

Q: -- because democracy and free elections may help anti-American groups, radical groups to come to power. What do you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT: I respond to them and say, well, I guess they don't really understand me, and they don't understand my view of freedom, because I think freedom is embedded in everybody's soul... [*] ...I believe that a true free society, one that self-governs, one that listens to the people, will be a peaceful society -- not an angry society, but a peaceful society.

*note that I deleted a religious reference that, you would think, Bush dropped in to ensure that liberal atheists like me will have trouble convincing our friends to listen to what he is really saying. The good news: Lebanon is listening to what he is really saying!

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 8:23 AM | Permalink | Comments Off
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