January 02, 2007

Hanging With Hezbollah

“If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” – Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, October 23, 2002

Nasrallah with Gun.jpg

BEIRUT – After Hezbollah mounted a protest aimed at bringing down Lebanon’s elected government, several thousand demonstrators remained downtown and camped out in tents, effectively occupying the center of the city. They first tried to seize and occupy Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s office in the Ottoman-era Serail. But Seniora warned Hezbollah that if his office were taken he could not control his “street.” Translation: If you seize the state’s institutions, the Sunni Muslims of Lebanon are going to kill you. Hezbollah knew this was true, and so they backed off. It didn’t hurt that the government of Saudi Arabia backed up Seniora on this point. But Hezbollah’s occupation of the neutral parts of downtown continues even into 2007.

I ventured downtown myself the day after the made-for-TV protest was over, when Hezbollah and friends no longer wanted attention from foreign media. Their lack of interest, if I could call it that, was instantly obvious. Ubiquitous security agents with the tell-tale sunglasses and earpieces stared at me coldly and turned their heads as I walked past.

Hundreds of tents were set up in parks, parking lots, and squares downtown, most of them made of white canvass. I snapped a few pictures, and nobody stepped in to stop me.

Hezbollah Tent City 2.jpg

One group of tents in a parking lot across from the Hariri mosque were all made of black canvas. What’s up with the black tents, I wondered. So I walked over and lifted my camera to my face.

Five ear-pieced Hezbollah agents aggressively pounced on me at once. They surrounded me and screamed “No!” Then they physically pushed me away from the tents and got in my face so I could not see behind them.

I’ve been accused of spying many times while in Lebanon, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this is what the Hezbollah agents thought I was doing. Many Lebanese are paranoid – often with good reason – but no one is nearly as paranoid as Hezbollah. (As a side note, one Lebanese man who suspected I worked for the CIA literally begged me to get him a job.)

“Sahafi!” I yelled back at them. Journalist!

“No, no, no!” they yelled and pushed me away. I lowered my camera, threw up my hands, and turned to walk away. Then they left me alone.

It’s almost always like this or worse when I run into actual members of the Hezbollah militia.

The first time I met Hussein Naboulsi, Hezbollah’s media relations liaison, he was perfectly friendly. But he later threatened me with physical violence because I cracked a joke about Hezbollah on my blog. On another occasion I was detained for two hours by Hezbollah because they suspected one of my photojournalist colleagues was a Jew. A reporter friend (and I’ll keep his name out of this) was harassed because of an entirely innocuous article he wrote about them for a mainstream left-wing American magazine. Chris Allbritton, who works on occasion for Time magazine, wrote the following on his blog during the July War: “Hizbullah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.”

This is how Hezbollah treats Western journalists. I’d say I’m surprised more journalists don’t mention this sort of thing in their articles. But most journalists don’t write first-person narratives. Industry rules generally don’t allow them to describe these kinds of incidents. Even though it has been years since Hezbollah has kidnapped or physically harmed Western journalists, some may be afraid to rile up an Iranian proxy militia that is listed by the United States government as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah informed me that I’m officially blacklisted (meaning they will no longer give me interviews or even quotes) for what I have written about them in the past.

Some journalists don’t want to burn bridges to their own access and make their jobs harder. I don’t personally care. Last year I interviewed a high-level Hezbollah official, Mohammad Afif, but it was a useless interview that wasn’t even worth publishing. My translator told me that what Afif said matched exactly word-for-word what Hezbollah says every day on their own Al Manar TV channel. Losing access to these guys isn’t that big a deal.

I walked across the street deliberately in full view of the agents who got in my face, sat down on the sidewalk in front of heavily armed Lebanese soldiers, and furiously began taking notes. I chucked inside as I did this because I knew they could see what I was doing.

Leb Army Hariri Mosque.jpg

I knew they wouldn’t do anything to me, and I wanted to let them know that their bullying behavior just earned them bad press. (Israelis who hassle and rudely interrogate journalists in Ben-Gurion airport ought to learn the same lesson one of these days.) I scribbled my furious notes, looked them in the eye, scribbled more furious notes, looked them in the eye again, and scribbled more furious notes.

Hezbollah is not half as media savvy as they like to fashion themselves. Harassing foreign journalists may keep some of them in line, so to speak, but it backfires with the rest of us. Bullying writers who are free of the old school media constraints of “objectivity” is a media war equivalent of dropping a hand grenade down your pants.

At least one of the security agents was smart enough to figure this out. He slowly walked up to me.

“What?” I said as I lifted my head.

He pointed at my camera, said something unintelligible, then pointed at the black tents.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “I know, I know.” I went back to writing furious notes.

“No, no, no!” he said.

What?” I said, genuinely annoyed now.

A group of six teenagers between sixteen and eighteen years old saw the commotion and came over to see what was happening. One of them offered to translate.

“He said it is okay to take pictures,” he said.

“It is okay?” I said, and completely dropped my affected hostility.

“Yes, yes,” another kid said. “Come on.” He offered his hand and helped me up.

“Thanks, guys,” I said.

“Don’t worry about them,” a third teenager said. “They are handicaps.”

“Come on!” another said. “Come with us! We’ll show you around!”

They led me back across the street to the black tents. I lifted my camera and snapped a quick picture.

Black Hezbollah Tents.jpg

It’s not that interesting a picture. It has no real value. What a waste for Hezbollah to earn themselves bad press in order to keep this innocuous photo from being released into the world, especially since in the end I was able to publish it anyway.

But I almost didn’t get it. Another Hezbollah security agent saw me take the picture and ran up to me.

“No!” he screamed and waved his arms. He menacingly put his face four inches from mine. “How many pictures did you take!” he yelled.

“Just one,” I said.

“Delete it right now!” he screamed. “You were told not to take pictures!”

Who were these guys to tell me what to do anyway? Lebanon is a free country, Hezbollah isn’t the government, and I was taking pictures of a public parking lot.

“No,” I said, “I was just told that I could take pictures.” I looked at my new teenager friends, waiting for them to back me up.

“Yes, yes, it’s okay,” one of the kids told the agent.

“No!” the agent said. “You delete it right now!”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll delete it on one condition…if you tell me why I can’t take a picture. What are you doing here that you want to hide?”

The truth is I would have deleted it without any conditions. I didn’t care about having the picture, and the last thing I needed was to get in a fight with these people. I just wanted to know what he would say when I asked him why he was paranoid. Of course he would have no prepared answer.

“Never mind!” he said as he threw his hands in the air, turned around, and stormed back into the tents.

“What on earth is their problem?” I said to the kids who stuck up for me and offered to show me around.

“Don’t worry,” said the one who had taken my hand. “They are handicaps.”

They are, indeed, “handicaps,” at least mentally. If they actually thought I was a spy (but I don’t know, maybe they didn’t) their behavior would have told me all I needed to know. It’s obvious which part of the tent city houses the leadership and the elite. It’s the one place, the black tented section, where the agents completely freak out if you show up with a camera. If I were to call up the CIA or the Mossad and give them air strike coordinates (or whatever it was Hezbollah was afraid of) all I’d have to say is “aim for the black tents.”

The teenagers who had volunteered as my guides, translators, and advocates, led me to the much larger section of the camp where everyone lived and slept in white tents.

Hezbollah Tent City 1.jpg

“Which party are you with?” I asked them.

“Hezbollaaaaaaaah,” said the lead kid and grinned. “Here, here, take a picture of this car!” They talked and moved fast with the boundless energy of young people on an adventure.

I took a picture of the car.

Nasrallah Car.jpg

“That’s Hassan Nasrallah. Do you know Hassan Nasrallah? He is a big hero.”

“Why is he a hero?” I said.

“He resists the Israelis!”

“Are all of you guys with Hezbollah?” I said.

“Yes!” one of them said. “We are all with Hassan Nasrallah!” They said this in such a way that they expected me to share their views even though they knew I am American. At least they expected I wouldn’t mind that they support Hassan Nasrallah. I doubt they felt any hostility to me personally whatsoever.

“So, what is it you hope to accomplish downtown?” I said.

“We want Seniora to leave,” one of them said.

“We want to fuck Seniora,” said another.

“I know,” I said. “Why do you want to get rid of him, though? What do you want from the government that you can’t get with Seniora?”

“War!” said one of the kids.

“We want war!” said another.

A third kid slapped the second up the side of his head. The slapped kid laughed and pushed his hand in his friend’s face.

I couldn’t tell if this playful spat was because they didn’t agree about wanting more war, or because they weren’t supposed to admit it in front of a foreign reporter. I have met Hezbollah supporters whom I know don’t want more war with Israel. Some of them truly believe that Israel will attack no matter what and that Hezbollah is Lebanon’s only defense.

White Hezbollah Tents.jpg

“We want to unite Lebanon and have a democracy,” said the kid who seemed to be their leader. He was the most mature and collected, and the others deferred to him with their body language.

“You have a democracy, though,” I said. “You didn’t win as many seats in the parliament as you would like, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a democracy. You can’t always get what you want in a democracy.”

“The American government rules Seniora,” said another. “They interfere in my business.”

“In what ways?” I said.

“America helps Israel against Lebanon and sells them weapons.”

None of these kids wanted to give me their names. I took notes of our conversation, but I cannot tell you who exactly said what. These quotes will have to go unattributed.

“What about Syria?” I said. “America helps Lebanon against Syria.”

“Bush killed all those politicians because he doesn’t want peace in Lebanon.”

“Why wouldn’t Bush want peace in Lebanon?” I said.

“I don’t know!”

“Americans don’t want war in Lebanon," I said. "It would not serve our interests or yours. Do you think Americans want chaos in Lebanon just for the heck of it?”

“We don’t hate the American people, only the government.”

“Okay,” I said. “So why then does Hassan Nasrallah repeatedly say Death to America?” I asked these questions in the most friendly and casual tone of voice I could muster.

“He only means death to the American government.”

“Why doesn’t he make that clear then?” I said.

“He does!”

“No, he doesn’t,” I said. “He says Death to America. What would you think of George W. Bush if he gave speeches where he screamed Death to Lebanon? Come on, guys. Be honest with me. I want to know what you really think.”

“I want to go to America,” the leader kid said. “I love America and I want to live in America. America is rich and free. I want to be rich and free, too.”

I think the kid was sincere. His politics are a product of Hezbollah’s schools, his community, and his peer group. But politics in the Middle East isn’t as personal as it often is in the West, in part because Middle Easterners are accustomed to having their politics dictated to them by the powerful. Politicians are usually above accountability and beyond control of the people. They assume that’s how it is in the Western countries as well.

Street-level anti-Americanism is sometimes more moderate, complicated, and contradictory than it appears from far away. There is often a vast gulf separating those in the Arab world who incite anti-Americanism and those who more passively go along with it. The difference in temperament between Hezbollah’s bullying agents and the kids who showed me around are just one example.

“So,” I said. “Who do you think won the war in July? Israel or Hezbollah?”

“Nasrallah!”

“We beat Israel!”

“Does that mean you want to do it again?” I said.

“Yes!” half of them said.

“No!” the other half said simultaneously.

One of the kids who said “no” slapped one of the kids who said “yes.” Again, I couldn’t tell if that was because they didn’t agree with each other or because they weren’t supposed to sound like warmongers in front of a foreign reporter.

Most Lebanese will give you their honest opinions, no matter how off-the-wall or crazy their opinions might be. And they’ll do it without showing even a hint of embarrassment. Sometimes, though, I’m not convinced people are being straight with me. This was one of those times.

The gang took me around the tent city and introduced me to their friends. “Check this out! Here, meet these people!”

Hezbollah Tent Gathering.jpg

“Look at that crane. Take a picture of that!”

Hezbollah Crane.jpg

“There’s Nasrallah again. Quick. Take a picture!”

Hezbollah Car.jpg

Some of their friends were clearly a little bit wary. I could read it on their faces. Who’s this American, and why am I meeting him? Most, though, were perfectly friendly. They shook my hand, smiled, and said “Welcome.”

For some now-forgotten reason I thought one of the people I was introduced to was Druze, and I was surprised. Only a handful of Druze support Hezbollah. Very nearly all of them are with Druze chief Walid Jumblatt, who heads up the Progressive Socialist Party, and with the pro-Western “March 14” government. So I was happy to meet one of the tiny fraction of Druze who were outside the mainstream.

“You’re Druze?” I said to him.

He shook his head in confusion, clearly because he didn’t understand English.

“Inta Durzi?” I said. Are you Druze?

A look of horror and disgust washed over his face.

“La,” he said. No. “Ana Shia.” I am Shia.

I didn’t mean to insult him, but apparently I had. So much of what passes for politics in Lebanon is really just sectarian animosity, which is the primary reason most Christians, Sunnis, and Druze are against Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a well-armed Shia militia, the only militia of its kind in the country. The Christians don’t have their own army. The Sunni don’t have their army. And the Druze don’t have their own army. Hezbollah’s very existence is against Lebanese law, not to mention international law. Their existence as a foreign-backed army also violates Lebanon’s delicate power-sharing pact which dates back to the founding of the republic.

“Jumblatt is a handicap,” the leader of the kids said.

“Can I take a picture of you guys?” I said.

Most said no. Almost everyone in Lebanon is paranoid about somebody or other. Most Lebanese fear the Syrians. Hezbollah fears the Americans and the Israelis.

Two of them did let me take their picture, however.

Two Hezbollah Supporters.jpg

I said my goodbyes, genuinely thanked them for their time and hospitality, and walked toward the Beirut city center where most of the restaurants and shops can be found.

Every business was closed. The military blockaded every street leading to the center of town with checkpoints and coils of razor wire. Hezbollah and their friends (apparently) couldn’t be trusted not to vandalize the portion of Beirut that had been rebuilt and refurbished by the Hariri clan whom Hezbollah views as their Sunni enemies.

I approached a Lebanese army soldier standing watch.

“Is it okay if I take a picture?” I said.

He put his hand on his heart. “No, please, not today,” he said. “I am sorry.”

“No problem,” I said. “Thank you, though.”

He must have had no idea why I thanked him. The reason I did is because I appreciated that he spoke to me like a normal human being and like a typical Lebanese – friendly, welcoming, and polite. The contrast between average Lebanese (and I’m including Hezbollah’s casual supporters in that group when I say this) and Hezbollah’s official party members and elite is extraordinary. Most of the people of Lebanon are instinctively decent on a personal level no matter their political views or ideology. Hezbollah itself, though, is instinctively menacing and hostile and belligerent. Their ideology is an alien one, imported from the East, from the extremist regime in Tehran. If they ever end up as rulers of Lebanon – and it will surely mean war if they try – Lebanon will no longer be recognizable.

Post-script: Please help support independent journalism. I have no corporate backing, and I cannot visit foreign countries and file these dispatches without your assistance.

If you would like to donate money for travel expenses and you don't want to use Pay Pal, you can send a check or money order to:

Michael Totten
P.O. Box 312
Portland, OR 97207-0312

Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2007 06:33 PM
Comments

There is something you need to understand, Michael, that clearly you do not understand. THE ELECTIONS IN LEBANON WERE NOT DEMOCRATIC. THEY WERE RIGGED. THEY WERE FIXED. DO YOU GET IT?

You said to these little kids, "You didn’t win as many seats in the parliament as you would like, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a democracy. You can’t always get what you want in a democracy."

Michael, YOU ARE MISSING THIS COMPLETELY. As an America, you ought to understand this fundamental point: THE ELECTIONS WERE RIGGED.

Had the elections been free and fair and non-rigged, Hezbollah would have won MORE seats than they won. Aoun would have won TWICE the seats he won. And the so-called "anti-Syrian March 14th" would have had it's share sliced down to size. Most likely, each of those three--FM, Aoun, and Hezbollah, would have won 1/3 of the seats.

But, because the elections WERE RIGGED--do you understand this?--RIGGED--the FM got 72 seats, the Hezb 30-something, and Aoun 21. So, these kids are correct. THERE IS NO DEMOCRACY TODAY IN LEBANON. If there were democracy, FM, Hezb, and Aoun would be properly represented in parliament, and Aoun would be president. As it stands now, FM is trying to pretend that the results of the rigged elections are a correct representation of the makeup of the country. And America is backing them up, enabling them, to believe this fantasy. And THAT IS WHAT IS DESTABILIZING THE COUNTY. Aoun's FPM and Hezbollah have taken to the streets because they are UNDERREPRESENTED in the governance of the county. It's NOT democratic, it's NOT fair, and if war results, it is the fault of Sinoura/Hariri/Jumblatt, and the US. All these people want is fairness.

So, as you can see, shockingly, and shamefully for America, Hezbollah--regarded by the US as a terrorist group--is behaving in a more democratic way than the USA is. Shame, shame on the US for allowing this to happen!

As an aside, your readers should know one example of how the current government is behaving like a groups two-bit tin dictators. Aoun--behaving as any civilized western-thinking democrat would--appealed the results of certain elections in the North to Lebanon's Constitutional Council, which is supposed, according to the Lebanese constitution, to resolve election disputes. The primary allegation of Aoun was that people were paid out of Hariri's billions, $100US a pop, to vote for the Hariri list. This would have been very easy to prove as true--videos and images of payments have been circulating the internet for years. Do you know what Hariri/Jumblat/Siniora did? They DISSOLVED the constitutional council so that it could not decide the case.

That case, by the way, would have swung the balance of power to Aoun and given him a majority in parliament.

Now, tell me something.... Imaging that Bill Clinton had--just as the US Supreme Court was about to issue a decision in the Bush v. Gore case, purported to DISSOLVE the U.S. Supreme Court? How would you have reacted to that? Not too well I presume, if you REALLY believe in Democracy.

So, in short, the point is that you are WRONG in saying that Hezbollah (or aoun for that matter) "didn't win as many seats as they would like." The point is quite the opposite. They DID win those seats, but the victories were STOLEN FROM THEM. So if you want democracy in Lebanon, pitch your tent down there and support those brave people.

Posted by: John Lennon at January 2, 2007 07:22 PM

Once again Michael, that is a superb and riveting account.

Your style of writing should indeed be more common amongst journalists. It is undiluted, simple, and avoids Orwellian, elaborate words so often used to embed a reporter's opinion and bias into the news report.

You avoid reaching conclusions, and allow the reader to make up their own mind. There was one conclusion you formed about the reliability or honesty of the 3 Hezbollah teenagers, and you were honest enough to qualify your opinion with the words "Sometimes, though, I'm not convinced people are being straight with me"

This post gives a rare insight into Hezbollah, a group which, like most other extremists, hides behind doublespeak, propaganda and media censorship. If only you could do the same in North Korea and Tehran.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Jono at January 2, 2007 07:25 PM

John Lennon, yes I know. The Syrian-imposed election law was used last year. I already wrote about this myself, so you know that I know this and you need to calm down.

If you need someone to scream at you are going to have to go somewhere else. This isn't the place for it, and I am not going to tell you again.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2007 07:36 PM

Anyway, Lennon, I am not going to support people who threaten me personally and scream Death to America. It is insanely not in my interest to do this.

I can sympathize with many of your positions as an Aounist, but that does not change what I wrote above. If you want my support, separate yourself from Hassan Nasrallah and we'll get somewhere.

My support is pretty much useless to you anyway. I'm just a writer.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2007 07:44 PM

One of the kids who said ?no? slapped one of the kids who said ?yes.? Again, I couldn?t tell if that was because they didn?t agree with each other or because they weren?t supposed to

It's like what one of the rabidly anti-Western commenters over at altmuslim.com let slip during the Muhamed cartoon "outrage": what matters isn't what's true or what can be proved, but what Muslims are supposed to believe...

Posted by: Solomon2 at January 2, 2007 07:45 PM

There is a difference between an unfair and undemocratic election!

First, the election law was designed by the Syrian so that Hariri, Kataeb, Qwet, ... "the opposition at that time" will not win. The districts were drawn so that the opposition will not win a lot in the Parliament. Actually, due to the hard work of the oppoistion BEFORE the killing of Hariri and also after, they united their efforts and won the majority! So, it is acknowledged by everyone that the LAW WAS NOT FAIR!

But, the election itself was free and democratic. No significant incidents happened and to John Lennon, please provide us with your evidence that the election was rigged!

Second, great reporting. I can't wait to read more. I kept visiting your blog daily to read your newest report! Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Ghassan at January 2, 2007 08:09 PM

Perhaps I am an internet novice and don't know what qualified as "yelling" but if you can't handle someone challenging you and defeating you in your arguments, then shut down the comments sections completely.

A question for you: did you have a problem when Hariri, Jumblatt, Geagea, Gemayel, Siniora, and everyone else (except Aoun) allied themselves with Hizballah during the elections? Did you attack those people for that alliance? Did you? Did you? Ask yourself why not. Wasn't Hizballah shouting "death to america" at that time too? Hmm? Is it because for some reason it has been determined by the people who determine "what's ok" that was OK for EVERYONE ELSE to ally with hizballah for the purpose of winning elections, but it's actually a NONO for one other person to talk to them for the purpose of resolving the weapons issue, or to demonstrate with them against the government? It's hypocrisy, pure and simple. Everyone else is allowed to ally with Hizballah as long as it keep Aoun down, because god forbid there should actually be a strong christian leader in the country who does not take orders from any external power. But when Aoun talks to them for the national good, Aoun is attacked for trying to do some good... perhaps because these people know that FPM + Hizballah might just be a deadly combo to them.

And finally, you call yourself a "journalist." But then you say, I can't expect you to "support Hezbollah." Explain to me at what school of journalism do they teach that journalists are supposed to "support" certain people over others? I didn't even go to journalism school, and I can tell you that if you are "supporting" anyone, you are not a journalist. Your job is to seek facts, and reveal them. Maybe you wouldn't have to beg for donations if you did it right.

Posted by: John Lennon at January 2, 2007 08:13 PM

Heh. Kids these days.

That was enjoyable reading, Michael. Thank you.

I must say that Levant Arabs that I've met or worked with are some of the most open-hearted and kind people I've ever met. And a lot of passion runs pretty close to the surface. An exciting culture.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at January 2, 2007 08:15 PM

These young guys remind me of young Americans raised in sheltered families who restrict education, stress fundamentalist religions, etc. They would blossom if they got away from Hezbollah and experienced a little freedom.

In a way, even though they were espousing some fairly terrible positions, this piece gives me hope for the future.

Thanks again, Michael. No one does this like you do!

Posted by: JimK at January 2, 2007 08:18 PM

I have had my share of run ins with HA goon squads, but I think most of the sort of unpleasantness Michael describes comes from the fact that the low level security guards wield "power" without actually having any authority. They are, in fact, merely martinets terrified of making a mistake - so they just say "No" to everything...

This sort of person rarely exercises discretion, because that would involve independent analysis and reasoning, and these men have not been taught to think for themselves in that way, they have been taught to obey a system that appeals to the heart over and above the head.

Pity them, don't fear them.

Many, many wannabe policemen are like this Michael, not just HA's stewards. Thye stopped you taking pictures, they didn't beat you up or shoot you dead.

How do you think an Iranian photojournalist might fare taking snaps of George W Bush's accomodation at a Republican Party convention?

Lastly, "Death to America" is not a slogan you should take so much to heart, you cannot relate to people who say it. It is simply a slogan, just that... a verbal rallying cry for mainly ill educated people that sums up their opposition to a Foreign Policy stance.

How much do you think the average Dahiya dweller or south Tehrani knows about American society or the American way of life? How many Americans do you think they have actually ever met?

Exactly.

Rise above it. Cos it's simply not personamatel.

From their POV, it is not controversial. It's a response to what they see as continuous malevolent exploitation of their region, it's people and resources.

It's not a call for genocide, it's a crude call for justice. And let's face it, no-one expects it to actually happen.

It's like you almost pointed out... what is the first thing every Jihadi wants after re-enstating the Caliphate?

A Green Card.

Posted by: Microraptor at January 2, 2007 08:21 PM

Explain to me at what school of journalism do they teach that journalists are supposed to "support" certain people over others? I didn't even go to journalism school, and I can tell you that if you are "supporting" anyone, you are not a journalist. Your job is to seek facts, and reveal them.

JL, I do hope you stick around and share your opinions here, but I have to disagree here. Michael is not an objective journalist, he's a writer. As such, he presents his experiences from his own perspective. I don't often agree with his political perspective, but it's an honest one, plainly stated, and I appreciate it being out in the open.

I'd also suggest that you moderate your tone somewhat. As I said, I'd like to hear what you have to say, but when you pepper your comments with insults, it doesn't help anything.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at January 2, 2007 08:23 PM

Microraptor, do you work for the UN?

Posted by: Corinne at January 2, 2007 08:49 PM

dude, quit humanizing the enemy;)

I don't mean to be this rude, but it seems like the middle east is full of retarded people. The more I read and watch the worse it gets. I hope these kids don't move here and spread the stupidity.

Posted by: mikek at January 2, 2007 08:58 PM

John Lennon, ALL CAPS is considered yelling on the Internet.

I did not go to journalism school, and thank God for that. Journalism school teaches terrible habits and imposes ridiculous rules, one of which is that if a reporter is threatened by Hezbollah they are not supposed to talk about it.

(J-school professors also teach bad writing skills. Read any AP wire piece and you'll know what I'm talking about.)

That's old school journalism, though, and it's specifically American. European journalism is much more openly opinionated and always has been. See Robert Fisk, for example. He and I have the same style if not always the same opinions. But you always know where both he and I stand. It's more honest this way.

Have you ever read George Orwell? That man had plenty of opinions and positions, and he's one of the few journalists anyone still bothers to read after 60 years. No AP or Reuters material will be read in 60 years, I assure you.

All journalists have opinions and positions. One difference between me and the wire agency reporters is that I don't conceal mine from the public.

The reason I work independently and ask for donations from readers is because this way I have complete freedom, not because I cannot sell stories the usual way. I don't pretend to be unbiased. If you don't like what I write, read something else. No one forces you to hang out here.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2007 09:05 PM

"How do you think an Iranian photojournalist might fare taking snaps of George W Bush's accomodation at a Republican Party convention?"

This kind of comparison defies all logic and cannot be taken seriously. Since when are photgraphs of politicians or at political events prohibited in the U.S.? Perhaps you are confused and meant the mullah-puppet and Iran?

In that hypothetical, I would surmise that pictures would certainly be taken. Certainly the same could not be said in certain places in hizboland or in the theological Persian homeland. My impression from MJT in his previous blogs and articles is that the taking of certain types of pictures in certain circumstances, could quite possibly invite a fate similar to the torture and murder suffered by Canadian-Iranian photo-journalist, Zahra Kazemi in Tehran in 2005.

Posted by: ankhfkhonsu at January 2, 2007 09:27 PM

My impression from MJT in his previous blogs and articles is that the taking of certain types of pictures in certain circumstances, could quite possibly invite a fate similar to the torture and murder suffered by Canadian-Iranian photo-journalist, Zahra Kazemi in Tehran in 2005.

Yes, but not in Lebanon. The worst that would happen to me there is Hezbollah would break my camera. They don't kill or kidnap non-Israeli Western civilians anymore.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2007 09:30 PM

1) Not only is it rude to tell someone to shut up on (or shut down) his own blog, but the very fact that such a comment is allowed to be made is proof that you are getting a fair shake.

That's if it is said politely, i.e.: Mr. Totten, I don't like what you write, please change it. With ALL CAPS ungrammatical ramblings FULL OF OBSCENITIES and CALLS FOR DEATH AND DESTRUCTION and YOU-ARE-STUPID and YOU-DON'T-SPEAK-ARABIC, you are simply beyond the pale.

After being warned (and anyone can have a spaz), you are not skating on thin ice, you are dancing. The best excuse is that the offenders are not accustomed to such freedom (i.e. they would get the bastinado or whatever is the local attitude adjustment for saying this at home) and don't know how to modulate it; others understand this and deliberately abuse it in an effort to use our own freedoms against us.

Of course, if not locked into the "objectivity of a potted plant" paradigm, you can do something about it. None of you will be whipped, shocked, etc; the worst is that you will not be allowed to post here anymore. And probably you can apologize and get back on, just dialing the venom down a bit.

So, since Michael is too polite to say so, all you wankers who cannot act politely: Kiss his grits. Or sharries, or whatever you like.

2) To whoever actually tries to justify or excuse "Death to America" cries:

It is to YOUR benefit to understand something.

When we hear this, a large proportion of the American population writes you off as subhuman, inhuman, insane, retarded, or just plain enemies. Who can POSSIBLY care even a little bit about what happens to people who chant "Death to America?" (Well, non-Americans maybe.)

We may not chant "Death to Lebanon" or "Death to Syria" or "Death to Iran" or "Death to Arabs" or "Death to Muslims" as a result, but we may be thinking it, or when it happens, we shrug and say, "Oh, well." You expect us to like this, or accept it? No. NO. How stupid do you think we are?

I'm very sorry, but it is you who need to change your way of thinking. Why not kiss our asses like you do Nasrallah or Assad or the mullahs in Iran? (No, not because they are friends - you play nice with them because you KNOW that there's a very good chance that somebody will promptly come and make you sorry.) You're afraid of them and you submit, tremble, obey. Why not us? Assuming you really feel this way - are you honestly too stupid to lie? I bet that's not the case.

And if your propagandists, your demagogues, your rabble-rousers can't even figure out some middle ground, like "Death to [Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Clinton/Gore/Rice/Kissinger/Nixon/whoever]" or "Death to Imperialism" or "Death to WTO" or some such that can make at least some of us agree, or at least think it over, then you are not doing your jobs.

Well, at least not on behalf of the chanters. I hope you believe me when I say that every time I hear that, I want to send Israel more cluster bombs, I want Turkey to take more of Syria's water, I want the Kurds or the Baluchis or whoever to make whatever trouble for you they possibly can. I want our Marines to run through your houses with flamethrowers. I want you to be eaten by sharks. Not "all of you," whoever you are, but anyone stupid or evil enough to say that, and especially to start others saying it.

What part of "play nice" don't you understand? Unless of course you are trying to provoke us in just that way?

How could you be made to understand this? I am not threatening, I'm asking - how would the message get across? Would somebody have to bomb every speaker at a rally who started such a chant? or bomb the audience? Or just take their names and then the next day they lose their jobs, their bank accounts disappear, their parents disappear?

Please explain, short of "doing what you want," what sort of measures get your respect? Is "Hama rules" what gets your respect? Should we just obliterate some city, town, zone, neighborhood, to show you how foolish you are? Have we been stupid by (believe me when I say this, at least it's how we see it) trying to be nice?

---

Michael, please excuse me, I hope you do not find this abusive. I certainly hope I have not been rude or personally negative. I have been a little blunt but I hope not unfair. I do think it would be kind to make this clearer to some people.

If you like, perhaps you can explain to your audience that at least the more brutish members of our polity, who unfortunately have a fair degree of political power, think in the terms I have expressed, and that the nicer, more sensitive Americans like you are keeping guys like me from their throats, and could thus USE A LITTLE @#$%^&*( COOPERATION, PEOPLE!

OMG, "just ignore it." What words will they use, then, if they ever get REALLY mad at us? How will we know the difference? It's some kind of cultural thing, right, like "mother of all battles" and "stomachs roasting in hell?" Well, hopefully they will learn that it doesn't work on us like I suppose it does when they use it on each other.

I'm sorry. I really think it would be better if they changed, rather than us.

Posted by: nichevo at January 2, 2007 09:58 PM

"They don't kill or kidnap non-Israeli Western civilians anymore."

You mean in Lebanon, or you mean the Hez., specifically?

The one impression I get from many of the things you write is that you wouldn't get away with half of what you do, if you were detectably Jewish, even a Jewish American.

But even you or another Gentile American or other-Western reporter - you have obviously seen points where you have to back down or find some kind of out. Do you really feel that safe, that nobody would actually seize your film/media, eject you forcible, beat you, kidnap you, kill you? That you couldn't make it happen. I mean, all kudos to your street smarts, but ISTM that has as much to do with you as with them.

On the other hand, you have depicted images of disciplined cadres, who go so far and no farther. Maybe this has formed your impression. I hope you remain as lucky. I guess the memory of Steve Vincent isn't applicable.

It is nice to think that a US passport is still some kind of shield. I suppose a local who does what you do would be dogmeat before long? But in fact I hope it doesn't endanger you to say that the US would/could do nothing on your behalf should you have such a problem.

Just be glad no security service has managed to tie a can to your tail, if you know what I mean. I would enjoy it if that black tent got whacked after your visit, but I'm sure you wouldn't.

Posted by: nichevo at January 2, 2007 10:09 PM

I would enjoy it if that black tent got whacked after your visit, but I'm sure you wouldn't.

Don't be so sure about that. Sometimes you just have to shoot people.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2007 10:39 PM

Oh no, Michael, I just mean that I assume they would blame you, come after you, do a TV special on you. I often worry. I am glad you are not afraid but hope that's not just stupidity on your part ;>

Posted by: nichevo at January 2, 2007 10:51 PM

In response to some of the points I have read.

Firstly I don't work for the UN but for a media organisation... and my work has recently taken me to Lebanon and will do again soon.

Secondly I am writing from London at the moment and not beholden to any mullahs, Hezbollah or the Iranian government.

Thirdly, I wasn't drawing a direct comparison between the US president and Hezbollah, but merely pointing out that if a journalist from a Middle Eastern country was accidentally photographing part of a political rally in the US that was for some reason considered security sensative, low level security personnel might also treat them rudely.

The security guards Michael is describing are Hezbollah's unsmiling "discipline men" as they are called. They act as their stewards at the big rallies or as body guards. They look a bit like nightclub doormen in black bomber jackets, with Motorola walkie talkies and little curly ear pieces. They are not the Hezbollah's frontline fighters. They are bullies but not killers.

Lastly I wasn't trying to justify "Death to America" chants, rather than attempt to explain them. In fact Nichevo - despite their vile Napalm fuelled patriotic death rant - has ironically summed it up better than me... essentially it is shorthand for "Death to US Imperialism" and viewed from the perspective of, say, a Hezbollah voter, US policy in the region hasn't really changed much over all the years, and it has not, as they see it, treated them at all well.

But if trying to explain explain the grievances or political mentality of people in foreign cultures - and who have lived all their lives in conflict zones - is humanising an "enemy" who actually need to be flamethrowered, cluster bombed and generally brutalised because they shout slogans that upset your sense of national pride, then let's just give up shall we...?
disengage brains.... return to the Mother Ship... I mean what is the point?

Posted by: Microraptor at January 2, 2007 11:17 PM

Right, see, I reserve the right to advocate firebombing any crazy mob of people who gets up on their hind legs and starts saying Death to America. Can't think of a better idea. You could have that on pay-per-view.

I am grateful for you attempting to explain it though. This might actually help, if you have any power or influence. You should tell whoever is whipping up these mobs to modulate their message. These masses aren't stupid, right? So they should be able to do a little better than Death to America.

Maybe even they could do better than Death to Israel. Maybe just Death to Sharon, Death to Olmert, Death to Occupation, or whatever.

It is not for us to hear your explanation and forgive you. It is for you to take back my reaction to your decision-makers and explain to them why they need to modify their chants.

It is your culture, not ours, who gets caught up in issues of "pride." Whereas you deserve no pride, having no achievements to earn it, the Judeo-Christian culture here is really big on humility. We don't have these shame problems where we can do anything we want as long as we don't get caught. We feel bad about things we do wrong whether we get caught or not. You are indulging in what I think Freud called "transference."

In other words, our feelings aren't hurt because of this ignorant yammering. We are not ashamed. We perceive a material threat - that is, we are afraid. Not really afraid, like the shark is going to jump up on the land and chase you to your house and eat you, but if you should ever fall into the water where they're around, and nobody to help you out of the water, watch out! And of course some sharks now take airliners....

So when we hear this, we thik they really want us all to die. So why not kill them first? Or at least why care if they die?

I can't believe you don;t get this. Surely you are just messing with us. Nobody could be this stupid. But again, it's probably wrong to call this stupidity, it's just some kind of cultural gap we will never cross.

Again, I advise you to change your behavior since we are really very likely to change our reactions. Or perhaps it is better you keep on this way, otherwise we might show you mercy, and perhaps that would be wrong. Yeah, keep it up, and blame us for not getting it. Right on!

You guys must get paid by the corpse.

Posted by: nichevo at January 2, 2007 11:35 PM

Nichevo: I am glad you are not afraid but hope that's not just stupidity on your part

I know what I'm doing or I wouldn't still be doing it. I would not act around Al Qaeda the way I do around Hezbollah.

Microraptor, I do not agree with everything you say, but I do agree with a lot of it. I'm glad you changed your tone from earlier. We can have interesting and productive discussions, I think.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2007 11:40 PM

Excuse me, we are very unlikely to change our reactions.

Should we also not believe, for instance, all this "we love death and you love life" stuff? There would be so much clarity if we could just understand that you are all inveterate liars.

Posted by: nichevo at January 2, 2007 11:43 PM

Nichevo,

I do not believe Microraptor is Lebanese or Arab, and if he is he certainly doesn't belong to Hebollah. Most of what he says about Hezbollah and the Shia is true, in any case.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2007 11:44 PM

Michael, you remind me a lot of Robert Fisk.

Robert Fisk you say, how ? Robert Fisk has lived in Beirut for over 20 years, knew everything that was going on, and yet self-censored to the point where for the entire period, he never called Syria's presence an occupation, nor really explored it until they where leaving.

Your focus on Iranian influence in the Middle East, the dangers of it and limiting it, lead to to blindness when it comes to the domestic scenerio, and the 14th March groups taking up the US' regional agenda in return for the US' support in their domestic agenda. Kinda like 1990 again.

If you truely want to help Lebanon, focus a little on the corruption and the role played for 15 years by those in power. Focus on the lack of state building, on the feudalism practised by the 14 march people.

Tell your readers how gerrymandering was used to win a parliamentary majority by people, who without doubt are a popular minority. Tell them how 14th March got 5000 less votes than the FPM in all Lebanon, yet got 72 MP's as appossed to 21.

In the Lebanese government system based on the Taif accord, for laws to be passed, you need 2 thirds of the government to support. In order to block a bill, you need 1 third + 1.

Hizballah are asking for 3/30 MPS
Amal (are they also an entension of Iran to you), also want 3/30
The FPM (secular, liberal, western leaning - you agree with this I'm sure) are asking for 5/30

This gives the three political parties 1/3+1 combined. The voting will come down to the issue, with the FPM showing consistent independence and definetely not towing any Iran/Syria line.

Worst case scenario for 14th March, the combined opposition vote can block legislation, but it can not introduce it and have it passed, for this they need 2 thirds.

Please explain to your readers how Syria and Iran are made more powerful in this scenario?

It is rather sad how the US administration ignores true democracy and reform in Lebanon, supports the same people that ruled alongside Syria for 15 years, and helps them retain power, turns a blind eye to their actvities in Lebanon and their feudal, corrupt agenda, in exchange for support of the US's regional agenda.

the US realized it made a mistake by selling out Lebanon in 1990, and a future adminstration will realize it's done the same thing again.

You dislike of the principles of an Islamic, Shiite armed group, I understand, but you don't seem to understand that the 14th March has no plan or ability to integrate Hizballah into mainstream society, in fact this is not their aim. If it has been, Seniora + co would not have made an election alliance with them, formed a coalition government with them, and gave their arms legitimicacy in the government agenda document. Then again if he hadn't aligned with them, he would not be in power now.

You seem to dislike the popular support that Hizballah has in the Shiite community. This is a fact, and one that you are ignoring, if anything making look as though they are coarsed into it, or deep down they are all the product of their schools. That statement reminds me of Brigitte Gabriel (look her up in youtube), who refers to the "terrorist who bred a lot of terrorists and took over the south of Lebanon and elected terrorists into the parliament".

You cautioness and general dislike of Hizballah shouldn't stop you from noticing Lebanon's other issues. To people like me (yes, an Aounist, we are convinced that Hizballah can be convinced to integrate into the state, and when the times comes they will do so, but their arms will never be surrendered to a bunch of Guns for hire, feudal corrupt, gerrymandering cake sharers.

Your rose tinted - anti Hizballah glasses, stop you from seeing the winter that 14th March is to Lebanon. For 15 years they've been promising spring, and we realized a long time ago that spring will never come with them, especially the likes of Jumblatt (30,000+ Christians he killed) (geagea - even more).

You dislike of the Turben on the heads of the leaders of Hizballah, is not alowing you to see this, and that's why I truely do not believe you have Lebanon's interests at heart.

Posted by: Robert at January 2, 2007 11:50 PM

Michael, you remind me a lot of Robert Fisk.

Robert Fisk you say, how ? Robert Fisk has lived in Beirut for over 20 years, knew everything that was going on, and yet self-censored to the point where for the entire period, he never called Syria's presence an occupation, nor really explored it until they where leaving.

Your focus on Iranian influence in the Middle East, the dangers of it and limiting it, lead to to blindness when it comes to the domestic scenerio, and the 14th March groups taking up the US' regional agenda in return for the US' support in their domestic agenda. Kinda like 1990 again.

If you truely want to help Lebanon, focus a little on the corruption and the role played for 15 years by those in power. Focus on the lack of state building, on the feudalism practised by the 14 march people.

Tell your readers how gerrymandering was used to win a parliamentary majority by people, who without doubt are a popular minority. Tell them how 14th March got 5000 less votes than the FPM in all Lebanon, yet got 72 MP's as appossed to 21.

In the Lebanese government system based on the Taif accord, for laws to be passed, you need 2 thirds of the government to support. In order to block a bill, you need 1 third + 1.

Hizballah are asking for 3/30 MPS
Amal (are they also an entension of Iran to you), also want 3/30
The FPM (secular, liberal, western leaning - you agree with this I'm sure) are asking for 5/30

This gives the three political parties 1/3+1 combined. The voting will come down to the issue, with the FPM showing consistent independence and definetely not towing any Iran/Syria line.

Worst case scenario for 14th March, the combined opposition vote can block legislation, but it can not introduce it and have it passed, for this they need 2 thirds.

Please explain to your readers how Syria and Iran are made more powerful in this scenario?

It is rather sad how the US administration ignores true democracy and reform in Lebanon, supports the same people that ruled alongside Syria for 15 years, and helps them retain power, turns a blind eye to their actvities in Lebanon and their feudal, corrupt agenda, in exchange for support of the US's regional agenda.

the US realized it made a mistake by selling out Lebanon in 1990, and a future adminstration will realize it's done the same thing again.

You dislike of the principles of an Islamic, Shiite armed group, I understand, but you don't seem to understand that the 14th March has no plan or ability to integrate Hizballah into mainstream society, in fact this is not their aim. If it has been, Seniora + co would not have made an election alliance with them, formed a coalition government with them, and gave their arms legitimicacy in the government agenda document. Then again if he hadn't aligned with them, he would not be in power now.

You seem to dislike the popular support that Hizballah has in the Shiite community. This is a fact, and one that you are ignoring, if anything making look as though they are coarsed into it, or deep down they are all the product of their schools. That statement reminds me of Brigitte Gabriel (look her up in youtube), who refers to the "terrorist who bred a lot of terrorists and took over the south of Lebanon and elected terrorists into the parliament".

You cautioness and general dislike of Hizballah shouldn't stop you from noticing Lebanon's other issues. To people like me (yes, an Aounist, we are convinced that Hizballah can be convinced to integrate into the state, and when the times comes they will do so, but their arms will never be surrendered to a bunch of Guns for hire, feudal corrupt, gerrymandering cake sharers.

Your rose tinted - anti Hizballah glasses, stop you from seeing the winter that 14th March is to Lebanon. For 15 years they've been promising spring, and we realized a long time ago that spring will never come with them, especially the likes of Jumblatt (30,000+ Christians he killed) (geagea - even more).

Your dislike of the Turben on the heads of the leaders of Hizballah, is not alowing you to see this, and that's why I truely do not believe you have Lebanon's interests at heart.

Posted by: Robert at January 2, 2007 11:50 PM

Calculated risks...You and Steve Irwin, man...but I'm pulling for you, believe me. I suppose you've been doing this long enough to know when to get out of Dodge.

BTW, do you intend to stay focused on Lebanon or range around the rest of the ME like before? Not that there isn't plenty going on right there.

...

Micro, don't get me wrong, I am eager to understand these wretches, at least to the point of knowing what pill they need. To that end you are potentially quite helpful.

BTW, you may use the masculine pronoun in reference to me; "their" is so PC - and wrong. At first I assumed you were not a proficient English speaker but then I realized you couldn't guess the sex from my handle or, evidently, my prose.

The old-fashioned way to settle this, as Winston Churchill could have told you, is to default to the male pronoun. I mean, call me "she" if you like, but "their" is loser-talk, whatever you may have learned in college.

Use "his or her" if you absolutely must be korrekt. But unless you think I am a machine, I have a gender and am not an "it" or "their." Don't dehumanize me! {snif}

Posted by: nichevo at January 2, 2007 11:59 PM

Robert, I'm glad you can see where I'm coming from. And yes, I can see where you're coming from, too.

Let's be real, though. It isn't Nasrallah's turban that troubles me.

My only real complaint against you is that you formed an alliance with him. If Aoun breaks away from Hezbollah, he'll get a heck of a lot more support from me, for whatever that's worth. Not much, I'm sure.

Until then, my position will not and cannot change. There is no alternate universe where I can support a group like Hezbollah. I am an American, and this is just how things are.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 12:01 AM

Nichevo: BTW, do you intend to stay focused on Lebanon or range around the rest of the ME like before?

I'm going to Baghdad in a month. Then I will go to Afghanistan.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 12:02 AM

Yes, fair enough, Michael, but a fellow with so very much identification and insight into their culture must have channels back, no? Look at this
'peaceful' sit-in. They have Western media advisors, surely. How has somebody not told them, after all these years, to dial their message down to 10?

And if he's really some kind of straight-up journo, and not some sort of player...where is his(/her?) counterpart trying to carry the message to their masses? (Getting raped in Egyptian jails and such, I suppose?)

I mean, if they don't perceive any changes in US policy over the last 50 years...well...not to keep flogging the notion of cultural mental disability...well, they could damn well use some more and better information, of a kind they apparently don't get from al-Jazeera or their state run media. Is Micro in the business of doing anything about that, or just trying to get us to like being shat upon?

Posted by: nichevo at January 3, 2007 12:07 AM

I will be very interested to learn what you see in AF, Mike.

Oh, Baghdad too, but esp. Afghanistan.
I despair of getting any truth out of Baghdad - eight million Rashomons - but at least I'm sure you will be atmospheric and entertaining. In Afghanistan there may be data, facts on the ground.

I am not even thinking the AF/Pak side, OBL, Wazirs, etc - I am wondering about the Iranian element, myself, in what I presume is the west of AF. But not to tell you your business - I eagerly await your coverage of whatever you see fit. (Obviously you can't go wrong with plenty of maps and recaps for the stupid ;>)

Speaking in terms of following-the-action: anything for you to see in the Horn of Africa, maybe? Or is there too much chaos even for you?

Posted by: nichevo at January 3, 2007 12:17 AM

John Lennon (whatever your real name is)

Yes and the fact that Syria forced Lebanon to change the election law to keep their shill in office is what? exactly?

Also JL and Michael Totten how does Syrian election law benefit Harriri and Senoira? and hurt Hezbollah and Auon (more 'pro' Syrian)
Can you explain that cannundrum please? (links?)

Also love to hear Lennon intimate that Hezbollah is "pro democracy".... lol!! what a joke that is... they are pro Hezbollah through any means feasible... to their end.

Lennon tries to float that Hezbollah is really upset because they want a functioning representatiave democracy and that's "what they're fighting for".... LMAO!!

All they want is to bring down the gov't, prevent the UN Investigation, and gain more power... END OF STORY. Everything else is just sidenotes.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at January 3, 2007 12:20 AM

Somalia is too much chaos for me. I don't know how to operate in that kind of environment. Maybe later.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 12:21 AM

Microraptor
essentially it is shorthand for "Death to US Imperialism" and viewed from the perspective of, say, a Hezbollah voter.[....]
But if trying to explain explain the grievances or political mentality of people in foreign cultures - and who have lived all their lives in conflict zones - is humanising an "enemy" who actually need to be flamethrowered, cluster bombed and generally brutalised because they shout slogans that upset your sense of national pride, then let's just give up shall we...?
disengage brains.... return to the Mother Ship...

LOL Yeah and I'm sure the MMedia [Guardian, Independent, BBC, AFP, Rtrs, AP etc...] afford the same level of "understanding" to any hostile Civilian Israeli sentiments... As we saw when 2 Israeli kids wrote notes on Missiles in Northern Israel this past summer and it was ALL OVER the world news media even "right leaning" Drudge Report.

G-d forbid an Israeli express anything such as "Death to Lebanon" like Nasrallah says at every rally and it would be front page news again.

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at January 3, 2007 12:35 AM

Robert said
You dislike of the principles of an Islamic, Shiite armed group, I understand, but you don't seem to understand that the 14th March has no plan or ability to integrate Hizballah into mainstream society, in fact this is not their aim. If it has been, Seniora + co would not have made an election alliance with them, formed a coalition government with them, and "gave their arms legitimicacy in the government agenda document. Then again if he hadn't aligned with them, he would not be in power now.

That's the problem... like with Poland, if they had simply invited Hitler in he wouldn't have had to invaded... and noone would have had to die in that invasion.... "Idiot Poles eh?"
The key to making Hezbollah arms "legal" is simply including them in a Coalition Gov't.
Like the way Hitler's Brownshirts "became legal" after he won a Coalition.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturmabteilung

They would "integrate" into the General State buy simply taking it over... then at least "they're legal" :-))))))

It's Senoira's fault by not including Hezbollah in his Coalition (which is his Right!) that Hezbollah's Illegal State within a State Militia is being forced to act defiantly

To people like me (yes, an Aounist, we are convinced that Hizballah can be convinced to integrate into the state, and when the times comes they will do so, but their arms will never be surrendered to a bunch of Guns for hire, feudal corrupt, gerrymandering cake sharers.

Cindarella is going to Slide Down over the Rainbow any second now too.

Hezbollah will "give up their arms" when a "non corrupt" entity is in place...
Now we know the answer to the problem!
Yeah that's it that's the ticket!

Your rose tinted - anti Hizballah glasses, stop you from seeing the winter that 14th March is to Lebanon. For 15 years they've been promising spring

Yeah, you're glasses are clear as the Clear Blue Sky too!
(Your kettle is blacker than those black tents pal!)

Come on if Aoun wants to President just admit he'll make a deal with the Devil to get it.
You're Morality Hoops Jumping is so laughable though! Is that what passes for "logic" in your neck of the woods? (You Fiskian you)

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at January 3, 2007 12:55 AM

MJT -

I'm not new here to if you could answer my post above regarding "Syrian election law benefiting? Auon and March 14?" I'd appreciate it.

Thanks.

Mike

PS The pics of last years rally were much more pleasing to the eye than Hzblh's Black Tents! :-)

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at January 3, 2007 01:02 AM

Thank you so much for this well written article.

And thank you for starting with Nasrallah's quote and interviewing the kids on the question of whether they want war because this is the timely point, that Hezbollah is promoting war instead of protecting Lebanon, it's the critical difference.

As the Lebanese teenager "Hezbollah Lover" let finally admitted (after bullshitting us about protecting Lebanon), he said that people support Nasrallah precisely because he's pushing war, and he admitted that he supports Hezbollah because he "arab history is all of war and bravery and battles to prove they are men and fearless, strong etc etc i do not think they will think of being defeated by the zionists who have no history of having any kind of war hero in their history of existence."

He dreams of revenge and glory in war not of peace or freedom, which would get in the way of the war he wants so much. That's the threat of Hezbollah's fascist dream.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 02:08 AM

MJT,
aren't the journalists or writers in the west that dare to critisize israel's policies harassed?
starting from accusing them for being anti-semetic to loosing their jobs and manay many more.. arent these things called acts of violence Mr. Totten?
or just the words terrorists or violent are SELECTIVE to specific people in specific places?

Posted by: Robert at January 3, 2007 02:15 AM

I'm going to Baghdad in a month. Then I will go to Afghanistan.

Somalia is too much chaos for me. I don't know how to operate in that kind of environment. Maybe later.

I wonder if Baghdad is the same or much worse than Somalia right now, and I hope you don't go there. It sounds too dangerous, and I already know that we have Sadr's millitia trying to ethnically cleanse some Sunni neighborhoods and other sectarian violence... At this point I don't even want to know anymore, not unless something more hopeful happens.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 02:35 AM

Robert, I see the sort of journalism that has convinced you that criticism equals terrorism. I call that propaganda, Bob. You've been had.

Yes it is true that American journalists are sometimes critisized for what they write. That is not equivalent to terrorism in any way, rather that is freedom.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 02:38 AM

MJT -
Your blog is always a great read. Many thanks for such a fresh and different perspective than 99.9% of what's out there.
Years ago I lived on a kibbutz in the Emek Valley under the shadow of the Golan and hills of Lebanon to the North and West. It saddens me to hear your first-person accounts of the Jew-hatred virus that seems to be a congential condition of life in Lebanon and elsewhere in Arab and Muslim countries. Beyond that, words fail me at the moment other than to say that the Lebanese should know they would never have a better neighbor than Israel if they (speaking in a crude collective way, I know) could get over this irrational mindset.

Posted by: Li'l Mamzer at January 3, 2007 03:43 AM

The one impression I get from many of the things you write is that you wouldn't get away with half of what you do, if you were detectably Jewish, even a Jewish American.

I have a Jewish nose, does that mean that I'm not welcome in Lebanon, or unsafe in some places?

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 03:48 AM

Or, given that Hezbollah thugs love to check passports, perhaps my name, Joshua, is what will get me killed.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 03:49 AM

It's early, my bad: Huleh Valley, not Emek Valley ('emek' means valley in Hebrew). And congenital, not congential.

Josh Scholar, it could be worse. Your first name could be Israel.

Posted by: Li'l Mamzer at January 3, 2007 04:01 AM

Heh. I wonder if guys whoes first name is "Jihad" have trouble getting green cards.

I suppose there are worse. I remember reading about a Palestinian and a different, Egyptian man who parents named each of them "Hitler" out of admiration for the Holocaust.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 04:12 AM

Quote "My only real complaint against you is that you formed an alliance with him. If Aoun breaks away from Hezbollah, he'll get a heck of a lot more support from me, for whatever that's worth. Not much, I'm sure. "

This is what you don't get, I do care about Lebanon, enough to want to solve problems without violence, and yes, including speaking with Hizballah. Read the agreement with Hizballah, and understand the FPM's aims are the integration of a non-armed political Hizballah into the Lebanese mainstream. We understand that the only weay to do this is through dialogue and to make the need for these arms redundant. The actions of 14th March do nothing to help with the disarmament of Hizballah.
The neocons solution to Hizballah was the July war - it didn't work.

How are you suggesting that Lebanon solve the Hizballah issue without civil and sectarian cnflict? Does the US even care if war returns to Lebanon, and if it did, why is it supporting Lebanon's Ahmad Chalabi (14th March Movement)

Posted by: robert at January 3, 2007 04:29 AM

The neocons solution to Hizballah was the July war

Uhm, "neocon" refers to some American political thinkers, and the July war was something that Israel, (specifically the Olmert government) did.

America is not Israel, Israel is not America (and by the way, all you conspiracy idiots should learn that administrations change in things called "elections" so there is no continuous entity that you can call "America" when talking about policy).

Anyway, if you insist on conflating the America and Israel then you're obviously an ignorant nut.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 04:50 AM

Well, well, well.
It seems like i have an admirer! Don't worry joshua, i admire you too...well actually i don't.

I just want to say something to you totten. As a writter and as someone i think is interested in gaining as much knowledge as possible, afterall knowledge is power and knowledge is one of the doors to heaven and the prophet PBUH once said one should seek knowledge even if he had to travel to china (just a metaphor meaning as far as he/she needs to travel), but please try one thing for me. Try to gain knowledge about why so many people like hizbollah and why they have so much popular support and why people admire them and why and why etc Just take the perspective of the other side, put yourself in the shoes of a hizbollah supporter and find out why they are so loyal to this organisation. It is very painful to see you have so much hate for an organisation for a group just because of their label/name i.e. hizbollah. You seem to ignore all of their acomplishments during their brief history of existance, and how much they have achieved. For once, try to keep out the conspiracies, convictions and opinions out of the picture and focus on the proven facts of the matter.

You can not hate someone for thier name. Another thing is if this man has a beard and looks shia doesn't mean he's a hizbollah member, or even involved in hizbollah. Their could be a million reasons why he prevented you from taking that photo and the biggest reason could be that their were women, especially scarved ones, who wouldn't accept or appreciate their photos taken by a foreigner and then posted on the net for the millions to see. Thats just one of the many reasons. Another thing is, the man did ask you nicely, he said no, which means...well, no! just because that lebanese soldier was english litterate and that man wasn't doesn't mean one is politer than the other, maybe if you respected that reply, no, and didn't bicker with him for the sake of it you wouldn't have been touched by him. Another thing is their are many hizbollah men who enroll in the organisation newly and seem to think they have some kind of power or higher importance to the rest and tend to take things very seriously. Just remember, this was an individual act, not one co-ordinated with any other man or leader or HQ etc. I don't even think this person knows you or your name to identify that your the one who everyone accuses of being a spy. You sometimes get carried away really far and it seems to me you are the one over-reacting and being paranoid, not the man. If this was co-ordinated with any other person within the organisation, they would escort you away from that area and ban you from returning and probably ask you to either delete the picture or hand in the film, otherwise your camera is history. If you admit the worst they would do to you is a little push and delete your photo/smash the camera, i do not think they would "terrorise", as you and some others claim, fellow lebanese, would they.

Posted by: hezbollah lover at January 3, 2007 05:27 AM

It seems like i have an admirer!

No.

You don't.

I did use you to make a point, since your attitude is similar to those other teenagers that Michael talked to who also lust for war.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 05:41 AM

One quick note, MJT.

We have 2 words for "handicapped". "mo3aq", and "mkarsah"; the first one is most likely what the boys meant when they said “They are handicaps”. It means mentally retarded. The second is not from litteral arabic, and means handicapped in the ambulatory sense.

If I remember correctly think the black tents are where some of security guys stay. which makes it a "security" zone.

As you see, those boys are essentially paid to go there; out of school, out of jobs, the 30$/day are no bad thing dyring the holidays. their "supervisors" are salaried, at the equivalent of about 800$/month.

Posted by: Jeha at January 3, 2007 05:42 AM

It is very painful to see you have so much hate for an organisation for a group just because of their label/name i.e. hizbollah

No, that's not what's going on at all.

Michael disapproves of Hezbollah because he wants to see a representative government that gives citizens the power they need to enforce the peace, and has the ability to grant people the freedom they desire.

He also disapproves of Hezbollah's drive to war and it's support for violence in the region.

One might also mention its terrorist act in Argentina, the genocidal hatred it promotes (see the quote by Nasrallah at the beginning of the article), the hatred of America ("death to America") etc.

The name is irrelevent. You're completely failing to address any of the points Michael has ever made and thus failing to make a legitimate arguement.

You seem to ignore all of their acomplishments during their brief history of existance, and how much they have achieved.

The past is over. It's what Hezbollah is doing to Lebanon's future that matters, not what they accomplished in the past.

By the way, I did post an answer to your latest rant in thread at the bottom of the page.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 05:49 AM

Great writeup. This is the most informative thing I've ever read about Hezbollah and Lebanon.

Posted by: jvon at January 3, 2007 06:10 AM

So Josh, what do you think is the solution to the hezbollah problem?

Posted by: NM at January 3, 2007 06:12 AM

So Josh, what do you think is the solution to the hezbollah problem?

Do you mean politically, culturally or militarily?

I can't recommend political steps because that would require a knowledge of details that only native Lebanese know.

And military steps are hard to recommend because I keep reading people saying that the Lebanese military (let alone the police) are incapable or unwilling to oppose Hezbollah. If so then external military help would be needed and unfortunately I don't see any signs that Lebanese politics supports seeking outside help. Also, short of getting American or Israeli help, there are no outside forces who would be willing to effectively fight Hezbollah. And once again, the bigotry of Arab society makes looking for help from those people impossible.

So on military matters and political matters, I can't be more specific than saying that the Lebanese government should resist Hezbollah's attacks on freedom and on peace to the end. There should be no surrender to Hezbollah.

Thus, it's only cultural resistance that I can comment on. Lebanon needs a consciousness raising.

That "why can't Lebanese people be Lebanese" advert was a good start, but a very small one.

Lebanonese society should be trying to improve itself. People should be talking about what makes other democracies and other societies work well.

1 Cultural matters. Bigotry, sectarianism, paranoia, xenophobia, trust also these things should be talked about. Education too. The state of the culture. The state of journalism.

2. Legal principles: "Rule of law", protections of rights, protections against abuse of power, "balance of power", "monopoly of force".

You can't have a functional democracy until everyone understands these concepts, and clearly most do not understand some of them.

3. Society needs to create institutions that can replace the public functions that Hezbollah has been serving without replicating the backward bigotry that Hezbollah has been promoting along with those functions, such as education.

I could go into each one of these points and sub-heading in detail, but I think there should be some brevity to posts on weblogs.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 06:38 AM

So much of what passes for politics in Lebanon is really just sectarian animosity, which is the primary reason most Christians, Sunnis, and Druze are against Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a well-armed Shia militia, the only militia of its kind in the country. The Christians don’t have their own army. The Sunni don’t have their army. And the Druze don’t have their own army. Hezbollah’s very existence is against Lebanese law, not to mention international law. Their existence as a foreign-backed army also violates Lebanon’s delicate power-sharing pact which dates back to the founding of the republic.

This is the essential problem. Hezbollah's values, their relative goodness or badness, their amorality or morality is secondary to the fact that they challenge Lebanon's state sovereignty. Without sovereignty, a state can't legitimately exercise power.

Hezbollah's presence as an armed, powerful militia will be a destabilizing influence no matter what they do. That's why, ideology aside, they can't continue to exist as an armed militia.

Some journalists don’t want to burn bridges to their own access and make their jobs harder. I don’t personally care. Last year I interviewed a high-level Hezbollah official, Mohammad Afif, but it was a useless interview that wasn’t even worth publishing.

Other than your willingness to stand up to Hezbollah, what separates your work from most other journalists is what winds up on your cutting-room floor. Most journalists would have featured the high-level Hezbollah official, while the teenagers would have rated maybe one clipped quote. One unscripted interview tells us much more than a whole newspaper full of predictable 'name' interviews can.

Posted by: mary at January 3, 2007 06:48 AM

I think the most important point I was making is in this summary "Lebanonese society should be trying to improve itself. People should be talking about what makes other democracies and other societies work well."

Arab society is the most closed and most xenophobic culture of its size. That oft cited statistic, that more books are translated into Spanish each year than have ever been translated into Arabic in all of history implies the story, though it misses the frankly insanly xenophobic paranoia and hostility that characterizes Arab thought.

If Lebanon wants to join the rest of world in creating the same sort of democratic system which the rest of the world has come to rely on as the most superior form of government, then Lebanon will have to learn its lessons from the rest of the world.

You have to get over your xenophobia and hostility and admit to yourselves that there is wisdom you need to learn from us outsiders.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 06:48 AM

I don't work for an Arab government or political group or secretive terror cell or death squad, I work for a western media organisation - not even Al Jazeera, fellah.

My bosses... oh my....

The only JIhad they are interested in is the nightly battle for ratings against soap operas and celebrity makeover shows. But... I will endevour to make them aware of the threat posed to their well being by Nichevo if they don't rein in Shia' militancy across the Middle East...

:)

A point I would make is that the reason I wasn't even talking about Israeli children scribbling on about-to-be-fired ordnance - or cutting them any slack - is that I was writing in response to Michael's article, which was all about his experiences with Hezbollah, not about his experiences in northern Israel.

As I understand it the kids in the infamous photographs had only just surfaced after a few no doubt scary and unpleasant days hiding in bomb shelters, and they saw their parents wandering about being cheery with the IDF gunners and writing messages on the shell casings and so the kids copied them.

They were caught on camera and it is without a doubt an extremely powerful image - which says a great deal about how in conflict zones, civil societies can quickly become militarised at all levels - but it does need contextualising.

What I will say about that incident, is that whatever the context, whoever the Officer in Charge was, they shouldn't have let kids casually wander round High Explosive ammunition for the fun of it... or get accustomed to thinking that artillery shells can be touched or written on.

Finally about Hezbollah... It seems they have been rude and aggressive to Michael, due in large part to the paranoid operating mentality of their street activists and the fact that understanding irony and having a sense of humour are not the primary criteria they chose when recruiting their bureaucrats.

They probably have trouble understanding the sort of subjective, personalised jouornalism that appears on this blog, assuming that it is part of someone somewhere's wider malevolent agenda... they also - as I understand it - withdrew Michael's accreditation to work in their areas, which makes his work in Lebanon really difficult and must really p*ss him off.

But I would say that however much this organisation annoy you or scare you Michael it is important to keep in mind that this is a geniunely popular mass movement with a great deal of grassroots support in their communities. So talk of "getting rid of Hezbollah" or somehow hoping they will all fly off to Tehran won't work.

From what I know, Hezbollah has probably the best organised political and electoral machine in Lebanon and a vast array of committed individuals who have got where they are in the party through technical competence, not from who they are related to or how wealthy their family is.

Hezbollah is now deeply embedded in Lebanese Shia political and social culture and it cannot be wished away any more than Lebanon's Christian community can be wished away.

This being the case, we ultimately have to devise strategies for talking to and engaging with this type of group because, strange as it might sound, they are actually trying to play parliamentry politics and become more mainstream.

I don't know, but I would hazard a guess that there is a fundamental and serious internal debate going on within Hezbollah between those who say the movement should always retain an armed element - to "defend" Muslim land and oppose "injustice" wherever they find it (so after Sheba'a Farms march on Jerusalem or Karbala or Bradford.... etc. etc) and those who believe that the movement's long-term future is as a purely Lebanese party and should be secured by making greater inroads into the civil political scene, to guarantee a role when the day comes that Syria has made peace with Israel.

Posted by: Microraptor at January 3, 2007 06:49 AM

One of the first steps is to point out that much of what Arabs think they know about the rest of the world is completly wrong.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 06:54 AM

By the way all three of my last comments were part of one response to NM's question.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 06:58 AM

ME will never never be a quiet region with democratic government and serenity. Too much patchwork and hatred. Incomprehensible.

Posted by: Catherine at January 3, 2007 07:17 AM

Rigged elections or unrigged elections won't change
the Equation.George Naccache once wrote"Two negations do not make a Nation".After Taef and today
we can see that "Three negations don't make a nation".

Posted by: kinlitt at January 3, 2007 07:23 AM

Microraptor, you state that Hezbollah has a "great deal of grass roots support" and guess that they are undergoing a "fundamental and serious internal debate".

However it is important to recognise that Hezbollah is not ruled from the bottom up, but from the top down. It is not a "grass roots" organisation. Whilst their are undoubtedly a large number of "hezbollah lovers" out there, it is clear that they need to bribe people to attend their rallies, and intimidate those who disagree with them. Nasrallah is not their democratically elected leader, but their internal dictator who has god-like status and must not be questioned.

I'd suggest an internal debate with Nasrallah would be like debating the god-father. Refutation would consist of a baseball bat smashing your face in.

Posted by: Mertel at January 3, 2007 07:26 AM

Mertel that's a very important point!

Does anyone care to try to refute it?

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 07:31 AM

I don't know, but I would hazard a guess that there is a fundamental and serious internal debate going on within Hezbollah..

You can hazard all the guesses you want, your speculation that there are elements within Hezbollah who question the permanance of the 'armed element", who want to make "greater inroads into the civil political scene" on the mythical day when Syria has made peace with Israel is not based on any verifiable statements or facts.

So talk of "getting rid of Hezbollah" or somehow hoping they will all fly off to Tehran won't work.

Who hopes that they'll fly off to Tehran? "Fake but accurate" may be a way of life in a major media organization, but it doesn't work in the blogosphere. In any case, the UN also states that Hezbollah should disarm (Resolution 1701). If you're arguing that Hezbollah should continue to exist as a powerful, armed state-within-state, you're arguing against the viability of the Lebanese government.

Posted by: mary at January 3, 2007 08:02 AM

I think I understand. If I write IN ALL CAPS, and say something is true, then it MUST BE TRUE. No further evidence, or compelling argument, is required. My word is bond. Thus the elections were RIGGED, RIGGED I tell you!

Posted by: Kevin at January 3, 2007 08:44 AM

"Bullying writers who are free of the old school media constraints of “objectivity” is a media war equivalent of dropping a hand grenade down your pants."

Laughed out loud when I read this in De Prague. Everyone around me wondered what it was about. You now have a few new readers.

Glad I can comment now, but my IP will change tomorrow.

Posted by: Charles Malik at January 3, 2007 09:18 AM

Michael, fantastic as usual.

So I have a question, though, based on the comments above. Is the "Death To America" chant at the same level as the "Kill A Commie for Mommy" slogan?

I mean, obviously we Americans didn't mean that we wanted to go kill random citizens of the USSR who were communists, but rather it was a propaganda slogan that was used to garner support for the politics of the day. While not quite as crude as "Death to America" it seems that it could be of a similar bent. (Or not, I don't know... I'm just asking).

Ratatosk

Posted by: Ratatosk at January 3, 2007 09:25 AM

Josh Scholar: I have a Jewish nose, does that mean that I'm not welcome in Lebanon, or unsafe in some places?

No.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 09:55 AM

Ratatosk, "Death to Americans" is just a bit of the death to infidels prayers that are common to muslims all over the place.

Read:
here

As well as the comments in this thread

I should point out that former muslims are a great source of information about Islam, but they do have to be careful because their live are forfit

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 09:59 AM

Oops, I mess up the second link

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 10:01 AM

By the way, Ratatosk, I would guess that Nasrallah and Hezbollah DO mean "death to America", and the believing Muslims who chant death to the infidel all over the world are split between those who mean it and those who force themselves into a sort of neutrality to avoid sin. By that I mean, they would consider it a terrible sin to ever side against Jihad and for infidels, no matter how seemingly innocent. So they may not be against us, but many wouldn't lift a single finger to save us from Jihadis either.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 10:07 AM

I am not suggesting that Hezbollah is a bottom up organisation, but that there are different schools of thought within the movement's leadership. This can be seen from Hezbollah's own history.

The first Secretary General was a sheikh called Tufeili and he was voted out because he was...(ta-dah!) too fundamentalist and refused to drop the idea of turning Lebanon into an Islamic Republic on the Iranian model.

Other senior figures realised that if the movement was to survive in Lebanon it would have to work within the multi-confessional state system: a man called, I believe, Mr. Mussawi took over, up until the point he was assassinated by an Israeli operation.

The role of Sec Gen was then taken by Hassan Nasrallah -- who is in many ways the most pragmatic of the lot.

What HA are looking to do at the moment is increase their power within the existing state structure, not overthrow and then scrap the state by violent means. They are very much engaged in Lebanese politics at a local and national level, but seem to feel that the current political set up no longer fairly reflects the numerical and economic clout of their supporters.

It seems to be a very cautious and calculating group. It strategises, anylyses and re-strategises. Looking at it in these terms I don't think it's idle speculation to assume that there is internal debate as to where the movement's future lies.

And if you can be bothered to read books written by Hezbollah leadership figures, you can see that there are different schools of thought within what is basically an umbrella organisation. Sheikh Naim Qassem, HA's 2-IC, has written a book called "Hezbollah: The Story From Within" which is available in English, published by Saqi Books in London, ISBN 0-86356-517-4.

Reading this it seems clear to me that Qassem would prefer HA to concentrate on internal Lebanese politics rather than engage in any sort of "War Without End," but I am quite confident that there are many in HA, especially in the military wing, who do not agree with his prognosis. The last time I saw a picture of Qassem, however, it didn't look as if Mr Nasrallah had worked him over with a blunt object Tony Soprano style.

I don't recall arguing Hezbollah should keep their weapons and I don't see what I have done to warrant Mary's patronising jibes about being "Fake but accurate," or needing to receive little lectures about blogging etiquette or the contents of UNSCR 1701.

I am just trying to explain my point of view on this great resource MJT has made for us, and it is based on my first hand observation of this organisation - from talking to people who are in it or who sympathise with it, as well as those who don't - and on my academic/journalistic research over the years.

And my point of view is that for better or for worse, Hezbollah is a major political player in the Lebanon with genuine popular support and they are here to stay.

If the Israelis can't get rid of them with all the firepower at their disposal, the Lebanese army will never manage to disarm them. In fact, the only organisation which probably could have crushed HA with direct physical violence, ie. the Syrian army/intelligence apparatus, was driven out of Lebanon by the "Cedar Revolution."

That being the case, it might be worth looking at why HA are powerful and popular and how this support manifests and replicates itself.

And then asking the question: under what circumstances might this organisation allow its weapons to rust away - because I am sure that just like the IRA in Ulster, they will never "surrender" their guns, even if a situation arises where they don't plan on using them again.

Posted by: Microraptor at January 3, 2007 10:07 AM

I look at that photo of those boys, who are only a few years older than my own son, and whatever their politics, I hope they get to grow up in a Lebanon that is free and peaceful.

Posted by: Graham Powell at January 3, 2007 10:22 AM

Michael,

All of this story telling is well and good, but I have a point/question about the format of these "articles." You write "BEIRUT" in caps at the top of the post but on your blog you also say that you wrote and (more importantly) published from somewhere near Portland, Oregon. Are you aware that putting "BEIRUT" in caps like that creates the distinct impression you are "filing a dispatch" from a specific location? Andrew Sullivan is linking to your site telling people that you are reporting "from Lebanon," not reporting "on Lebanon."

Apologies for smugness, of course, but I noticed you've done this other times as well. I know it is cooler to have "BEIRUT" written on the top, but if you aren't posting from Beirut its misleading and innacurate.

Posted by: Referred by Andrew Sullivan at January 3, 2007 10:30 AM

All "John Lennon" above needs to do is start spouting Marxist slang -- "The glorious workers of the People's Republic of Lebanon will never bow to the infidel capitalist crusader dogs of Amerikkka!" -- and he will be about the most perfect Internet troll ever.

Posted by: somercet at January 3, 2007 10:30 AM

Are you aware that putting "BEIRUT" in caps like that creates the distinct impression you are "filing a dispatch" from a specific location?

Beirut is the setting. Obviously all the material in this dispatch is from Beirut and not Portland. It would be stupid and bizarrely misleading to insert PORTLAND, OREGON at the top of this article.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 10:35 AM

"Referred" you any of the article if you didn't realize that Michael was just in Beirut.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 10:48 AM

Michael, I understand the blogsphere perspective about channeling Hitler but your last paragraph before the post script stopped me cold. Allow me (and forgive me) a minor rewrite...

>>>The contrast between average German (and I’m including The National Socialists casual supporters in that group when I say this) and The national socialist official party members and elite is extraordinary. Most of the people of Germany are instinctively decent on a personal level no matter their political views or ideology. The National Socialist Party itself, though, is instinctively menacing and hostile and belligerent. <>If they ever end up as rulers of Germany – and it will surely mean war if they try – Europe will no longer be recognizable.

Posted by: Steve Ducharme at January 3, 2007 10:56 AM

Michael,

That was beautifully written. I for one am glad that there are people like you in the world who paint a full portrait of an incident. Your description and the pictures you took placed me right in the middle of the conversation you had. I could envision myself right there, with a full understanding of the environment and why one group did what they did and another group did what they did.

If only there were more writers like you...

Posted by: Daniel at January 3, 2007 11:08 AM

Referred by Andrew Sullivan:

I had always assumed that the location in all caps before the dash meant that the events described in text following that label all happened in the listed place. Notes and photos of a place, compiled into a coherent and edited piece of writing in another place, should be attributed to the place where they were taken rather than where they were published.

I think it would be more misleading than not to see "PORTLAND --" preceding of a piece of writing and photography contained entirely to events that transpired in Beirut.

Posted by: Schneeble at January 3, 2007 11:10 AM

This is an excellent article - I was directed to you from Andrew Sullivan's website, and I think I will be visiting again.

I appreciate that you can be anti-Hizbullah without thinking the entire Muslim world needs to be nuked, as is the prevailing wisdom on another site I visit, Little Green Footballs.

Posted by: Gordon at January 3, 2007 11:22 AM

Michael, will you be in Lebanon in January or February this year?

Posted by: Microraptor at January 3, 2007 11:40 AM

From the person who commented:

"Lastly, "Death to America" is not a slogan you should take so much to heart, you cannot relate to people who say it. It is simply a slogan, just that... a verbal rallying cry for mainly ill educated people that sums up their opposition to a Foreign Policy stance.
It's not a call for genocide, it's a crude call for justice. And let's face it, no-one expects it to actually happen."

There is a quote in FP circles (don't know who said it first, but I won't tell you who I heard it from or half of you would want to kill me):

"It is a virtue to not be gullible (i.e. naive) when it comes to foreign policy decisions"

So to the above writer, generally, when formulating FP/security decisions, one does not go on the sentiments of the rank and file - who do not hold power. One goes on the statements of the leadership - who are the ones who control the weaponry and the forces.

If there is one lesson I have taken from studying FP, it is 'when someone says something (particularly a person in a leadership position)
Take Them Seriously.

You may be wrong some of the time, but more of the time you will be at least prudent - if not also more safe.

.

Posted by: Miriam321 at January 3, 2007 11:45 AM

Question: What was the mood of the official Lebanese army soldiers in all this, like the one you saw on watch? Tense? Worried? Or just standing around, etc? Just wondering what their perception seemed to be. Body language and all that, or if they said anything.

Posted by: Spade at January 3, 2007 11:49 AM

Really enjoyed reading this and I admire your courage and honest reporting.

What you say about journalists not wanting to burn their bridges by pissing off dictators, is so true and I have come across this with many journalists who write about Iran. One of them is the UK's Channel4 anchorman, Jon Snow, who was so pissed off at Jane Kokan's documentary Iran Undercover, because he thought after the broadcast of the documentary, Channel4 journalists will be barred from travelling to Iran!

Posted by: potkin azarmehr at January 3, 2007 11:52 AM

Ok, I will write it in lower-case.

the elections were rigged.

Anyone who does not know and accept this simple, undeniable, and proven fact of recent lebanese history is either ignorant, or actively seeking lebanon's destabilization, or both.

The elections resulted in the election of individuals who had no--absolutely no--votes from the communities they are supposed to represent. One small example: Historically (pre-occupation) in the area of Zhgarta was a discrete, separate electoral district, 100% Christian. Under the syrian-imposed electoral law, Zgharta was attached to Tripoli, which is 100% Sunni. Sleiman Frangieh received 80% of the votes of the people of the Zgharta district. But he lost the election, because most of the people in Tripoli voted for the Christian on Hariri's ticket.

In short, Sunni muslims from Tripoli elected the Christian deputy from Zgharta. The votes of the Zhgarta people were nullified. This type of thing happened all over lebanon. To call what happened during the elections gerrymandering is the understatement of the century. This was not gerrymandering, this was criminalism. Imagine if 80% of the people in Arizona voted for John Mccain, but Canada came in an imposed an electoral law which joined Arizona with Massachusetts are a unified electoral district. And 81% of the people in Massachusetts voted for Kennedy. Mccain loses. The people of massachusetts just elected the Arizona senator. Would you stand for this in America?

Combine this with the fact that in the only Christian areas which were impossible to gerrymander--ie Byblos & jounieh--the FPM won all of the seats by a landslide. all of them, by a landslide. The FPM defeated--resoundingly--even the old-time families from those areas.

So, what essentially was the result? The only Chrsitians who were elected in the vast majority of Lebanon were those who aligned with Hariri--and these Christians have no popular support. The entire Christian community is completely--and intentionally--marginalized. And you wonder what the Christians have in common with Hizballah? Neither one of them is going to stand for a Sunni-dominated state. period. If the county explodes, this is the reason why.

The FPM called repeatedly for a 1 month delay in the elections law so as to make it fair. The FM and the USA flatly refused. Why?

The FPM has called repeatedly for new elections. The FM and the USA have flatly refused. Why?

This is not democracy. This is a perversion of a political process to give the illusion of democracy to guarantee that certain people are in charge. This is fodder for revolution and conflict.

Posted by: John Lennon at January 3, 2007 11:54 AM

"I appreciate that you can be anti-Hizbullah without thinking the entire Muslim world needs to be nuked, as is the prevailing wisdom on another site I visit, Little Green Footballs."

Ugh. Nothing like absurd hyperbole to get my eyes rolling.

Posted by: H2U at January 3, 2007 11:55 AM

Michael and Schneeble,

The format being used on this site mimics the convention adopted by every major journalism outlet on the planet (with the exception of the Economist). The convention is that the byline include the location of the reporter at the time of writing and the date the article was written/published.

If the reasons for doing this are unobvious, then google the name "Jayson Blair" for more information. The issue with the bylines on this site is not as severe (in my opinion) as the issues with Blair's bylines (he didn't go to half the places he claimed he did), but the presentation of this site still misleads a new reader. "Middle East Journal" written on top and "BEIRUT" in caps above a dated post clearly creates the impression that the journalist/author is somewhere other than Portland, Oregon on January 3, 2007.

Posted by: Referred by Andrew Sullivan at January 3, 2007 12:32 PM

Journalists harrassed should inmediately abandon the area and never, never, never again report on Hezbollah, Hammas, Al-Qaeda, ETC. TOTAL SILENCE.......

Posted by: diana at January 3, 2007 12:39 PM

EDIT: The date I should have given is Januray 2, 2007 (not January 3, 2007).

Here is an example of an accurate byline from a non-broadsheet news medium- a Slate article by Christopher Hitchens last week written in Baghdad.

http://www.slate.com/id/2156273/fr/flyout

Posted by: Referred by Andrew Sullivan at January 3, 2007 12:46 PM

Microraptor: Michael, will you be in Lebanon in January or February this year?

I wish! I love Lebanon and would rather be there than anywhere else.

What's your name, by the way? I'm curious what you have written about Lebanon. You can email it to me if you prefer that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 12:56 PM

What was the mood of the official Lebanese army soldiers in all this, like the one you saw on watch? Tense? Worried?

Mildly tense, but not twitchy or obviously stressed.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 12:58 PM

> If they (Jews) all gather in Israel

A minimal amount of research would tell you that this quote -- which you don't footnote or link --is disputed, and a minimal amount of journalistic professionalism would tell you to label it as disputed.

Posted by: Laney at January 3, 2007 01:00 PM

Referred,

I'm not trying to mislead anybody. "BEIRUT" is the setting of the article, not my current physical location. My current physical location is irrelevent. I could be writing from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, or Baghdad, Iraq, at the moment, but the location of the events described is Beirut.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 01:02 PM

Laney, are all of these statements disputed? see thread

Hassan Nasrallah the current Secretary General of Hizballah makes it very clear what Hizballah wants. This is what Hassan Nasrallah says about jews: "If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli". --Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal (2001). Hizbullah: Politics and Religion.

"Jews invented the legend of the Holocaust," --STALINSKY, STEVEN, "The MEMRI Report", The New York Sun, July 26, 2006.

These are Hassan Nasrallah views on Israel: "if they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide." --Nasrallah alleges "Christian Zionist" plot by Badih Chayban, The Daily Star, October 23, 2002 & --"Hezbollah leader targets Christians", WorldNetDaily, 2002-10-23.

"It is an open war until the elimination of Israel and until the death of the last Jew on earth." --Staff Editorial. "Nasrallah's Nonsense", New York Sun, 2005-03-11.

"co-existence with" the Jews or "peace", as "they are a cancer which is liable to spread again at any moment." --Eradication First - Before Diplomacy by Michael Rubin, American Enterprise Institute, July 17, 2006

"There is no solution to the conflict in this region except with the disappearance of Israel." --Markus, Andrew, "Little choice for a defiant Israel", The Age, July 15, 2006.

"I am against any reconciliation with Israel. I do not even recognize the presence of a state that is called "Israel." I consider its presence both unjust and unlawful. That is why if Lebanon concludes a peace agreement with Israel and brings that accord to the Parliament our deputies will reject it; Hezbollah refuses any conciliation with Israel in principle." --"Said Hassan Nasrallah Q&A: What Hezbollah Will Do", The Washington Post, February 20, 2000

“Israel is our enemy. This is an aggressive, illegal, and illegitimate entity, which has no future in our land. Its destiny is manifested in our motto: "Death to Israel." --excerpts from two speeches by Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Al-Manar TV aired these speeches on February 18 and 19: translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 01:30 PM

Michael,

As one who has studied recent(since the 80's) trends in Lebanon, I found your reporting to be most interesting and very accurate. Hizb'Allah, by virtue of being Shia, has had a leg up on some of the other Muslim sects in Lebanon, but I sense a growing disatisfaction with them and their masters in Tehran, especially from some of the Sunni leaders and their allies in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

I honestly believe that the time of Hizb'Allah is about to pass, and I am at least somewhat confident that what takes its place will be better. How could it be worse, you say? Perhaps the Lebanese will realize what a treasure they have in their mix of peoples, and will seek to preserve it, rather than allow Hizb'Allah to destroy it.

Posted by: templar knight at January 3, 2007 02:13 PM

Just once, when someone says,“We don’t hate the American people, only the government," I'd like the reporter to fire back, "The American people are the government."

Posted by: David Pinto at January 3, 2007 02:13 PM

Michael,

I don't doubt for a moment your intentions with regard to your readers. As is evidenced by the amount of time you devote to reader comments and the way you depend on readers for $$$, it would be silly to think you were out to fleece anyone.

I am making this point only because you take what you are doing seriously enough to refer to yourself as a "journalist." Any "journalist" knows that bylines are critically important to a piece's integrity. You might not have realized that what you are doing is tantamount to falsifying a story, but there isn't a single newspaper editor in the country worth the paper their business card is printed on that would allow this practice to continue.

I'm not trying to make a pro-MSM point or anything, and I'm well aware you have no bosses to get in trouble with, but you should at least be aware that the way you are presenting these articles is significantly inconsistent with all modern language convention rules concerning journalism (MLA, APA, etc).

Your reply about how it doesn't make a difference where you are writing from because the setting is Beirut is wrong from an editorial standpoint in absolutely every conceivable way. Even worse, you solicit money from readers by writing "... I cannot visit foreign countries and file these dispatches without your assistance."

The editor at the paper I worked for for my entire adult life would have fired someone on the spot if they "filed a dispatch" with "BEIRUT" in the byline from their livingroom in Portland, Oregon. Then, a lengthy investigation would have been conducted into all of that reporters stories and a thorough apology would be printed for the readers. I'm fortunate to have never had to go through something like what the NYT did with Blair and what TNR did with Stephen Glass, so I can only imagine the pain that those outlets must have felt upon learning about the lies and fabrications... I know you are nothing like those two monsters and I'm just using them as an example of how seriously "journalists" are supposed to take things like accuracy in bylines and reporting.

Posted by: Referred by Andrew Sullivan at January 3, 2007 02:18 PM

By the way, Michael, I was in no way confused about your location, and understood exactly what you intended. I believe we have a nit-picker filled with envy.

Posted by: templar knight at January 3, 2007 02:22 PM

Referred,

There is nothing to investigate. I am as transparent as a picture window. I hide and falsify nothing whatsover. You know I'm in Portland, and you know that all the leg-work for this article was done in Beirut.

Blair and Glass were fired for lying and making things up. I am not doing either of those things.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 02:24 PM

MJT: "I wish! I love Lebanon and would rather be there than anywhere else.

What's your name, by the way? I'm curious what you have written about Lebanon. You can email it to me if you prefer that."

What's your e-mail please?

Posted by: Microraptor at January 3, 2007 02:55 PM

2 Notes:
1. Elections get stolen in the US, all the time. The US has elections every year. It has 50 states, all of which are 95% sovereign in their electoral laws (they're just required to keep a republican form of government), over 3000 counties, each of which has their own electoral commission and many tens of thousands of municipalities. By the law of large numbers at any one given point, there's going to be somebody crooked trying to steal an election and sometimes they get away with it.

We don't generally go out in the street over it but rather endure until next time and work to vote in such large numbers against them that they can't manage the theft. Once they're out, the investigators and prosecutors tend to have a better time fixing things and people go to jail for trying to fix elections on a regular basis in the US.

The people, in general, want sane government but if the corruption is bad enough, they'll vote the crazies in for a term to clean out the corrupt so long as they're sure that after a term they can vote the crazies back out again. This is why NYC, a municipality that was 10:1 Democrat started electing Republican mayors. Similarly, Hezbollah could have power as an honest party if it would simply reassure people that they would allow themselves to be voted out. Their actions argue against that.

2. The Secret Service has wide latitude in its actions but they're usually smart enough to put up a cloth wall around things that are security sensitive. You get a lot less dangerous situations that way. Hezbollah doesn't seem to want to be bothered and would rather bully. Too bad.

A side note, the residence of the President of the US is called the White House. You can take pictures. The residence of the Vice President is at Number One Observatory Circle and, again, you can take pictures (though Google maps seems to have voluntary degraded their satellite photos).

Posted by: TM Lutas at January 3, 2007 03:01 PM

heh. It might not be a bad idea for journalists to focus more on transparency instead of bylines. At least we know the photo's are real and the people he talked to exist.

Why stop at the byline? If you really wanted to cross over into MSM levels of professionalism you could hire members of hezbollah to write the dispatches for you. That way you could save money and the stringers could let the public know what really happened:)

Posted by: mikek at January 3, 2007 04:31 PM

Why are people so stupid around here these days?

Yes, I know, I'm insulting some folks, but frankly, they kinda deserve to be insulted. Acting obtuse because you don't like the truth, and accusing those who spread it of being liars or idiots is an age-old tactic that is apparently entirely too widespread these days...

Sincerely disgusted,

BV

Posted by: BadVilbel at January 3, 2007 04:33 PM

The neocons solution to Hizballah was the July war - it didn't work.

How are you suggesting that Lebanon solve the Hizballah issue without civil and sectarian cnflict? Does the US even care if war returns to Lebanon, and if it did, why is it supporting Lebanon's Ahmad Chalabi (14th March Movement)
Posted by robert at January 3, 2007 04:29 AM

What the hell are you talking about?! Rather, what the hell are you smoking?! What gibberish is this?

March 14 is the equivalent of an exiled Iraqi politicial operator!? Jumblat, Geagea, Hariri, Gemayel, etc. etc. etc. are not rooted in Lebanese political scene and society?! You may not be an Aounist but your views sound just as silly and ridiculous.

And as for that neocon thing. My dear boy, it wasn't the "neocons" who started the war. It wasn't even the Israelis. It was Hezbollah, that crossed the international border, killed soldiers of a neighboring state and kidnapped two more. That is an open act of war (the countries are officially at war) and the Israelis responded to this act of war.

Now you may think that you sound "smart" or "deep" by using stupid cliches like "neocon" or "Chalabi" but let me assure you, it only makes you sound incredibly silly and shallow. Give it a rest.

I will not even address the other silliness about Hezbollah that you uttered.

Posted by: Tony at January 3, 2007 05:29 PM

MicroRaptor claimed, "It's not a call for genocide, it's a crude call for justice. And let's face it, no-one expects it to actually happen."

Excuse me, I dont believe you. It's such apologists for barbarism who are succeeding in converting me from a leftist internationalist to a Bushite despite Bush's obvious ignorance and idiocy.

Because in the end MicroRaptor's apologia/appeasement for would-be genocide is far more dangerous to liberal democracy than even Bush.

Michael, please keep up the good work.

Posted by: SocialistZionist at January 3, 2007 06:22 PM

Just once, when someone says,“We don’t hate the American people, only the government," I'd like the reporter to fire back, "The American people are the government."

As a member of middle-class, working america, I look around at my peers and can't seem to picture any that I know well to be associated with the american goverment... I believe you're referring to an (admirable) ideal, but the realilty is that American people and the American government are, indeed, two distinct entities.

:-(

Posted by: GeorgeW at January 3, 2007 06:59 PM

As a member of middle-class, working america, I look around at my peers and can't seem to picture any that I know well to be associated with the american goverment..

You obviously live in a blue state or a blue part of a state.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 07:22 PM

George W and Josh are both right -- but in my opinion both are pushing things out of proportion.

George, Josh is right in several senses, the most obvious being that the line "we don't hate Americans only the government" is obvious nonsense. I think this point is related to the one behind Michael's comment above (if I may speculate) that as an American he soundly opposes Hizbullah -- that is, pseudo-religious, militaristic, sectarian, authoritarian organisations like Hizbullah are obviously dedicated primarily to their own power and to a conception of use of that power far from the ideal of American or Western liberal democracies, no matter the defects of those democracies. Such defects exist (as George points out) but are small in proportion to the defects in Hizbullah's or Hamas' or Iran's conception of government.

Josh, George is partially right in that the US government does indeed tend to be overly controlled by the interests of the wealthy and the corporate -- massive corporate donations to the parties being just one of the mechanisms. Further, it is intolerant of you to simply attribute such criticism to "blue state" politics; the majority of Americans seem to strongly support (at the same time) moderate social programs, limits to intervention in Iraq, resentment at Bush incompetence, rejection of impeachment nevertheless, and (last but not least) support to liberal democracy in the Middle East, both Israeli and Lebanese.

Posted by: SocialistZionist at January 3, 2007 07:56 PM

My point is that blue state people often really DO feel that this administration represents them. They DID very much support its policies and especially its leaders.

If you tell them that you hate this government but not them, you may get a fist in the face.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 08:34 PM

'Referred...'

For heavens sake, what a nitpicker you are. Give it a rest, please. We all know MJT travels to get his material then returns home to publish his thoughtful pieces. No one and I mean, no one else goes to the trouble that MJT does to write about Lebanon and it's character. And characters.

My daughters adopted 'Grandma' was born in Beirut and raised just outside of Bet'Lehem. Her mother ran an orphanage there. She was caught in the war that was the founding of Israel and then came to the US. Her interest in Lebanon and what is now Israel sparked my own. She is now old and frail, but her memories are sharp.

This influence sparked my travels to Israel and later, Jordan. I found that the Israelis and the Jordanians were both warm, nice people. I have yet to get to Lebanon, but I hope it settles down enough to do so one day. There was hope until the resurgence of the nutters recently.

MJT - Keep up the writing. Some of us really, really like it. And hit the tip jar, now and then.

The Hobo

Posted by: Robohobo at January 3, 2007 08:58 PM

Excuse me, I dont believe you. It's such apologists for barbarism who are succeeding in converting me from a leftist internationalist to a Bushite despite Bush's obvious ignorance and idiocy.

And the radicalization of the 'American Street' continues.

The jihadis don't know what they've started.

Posted by: rosignol at January 3, 2007 09:03 PM

Terrific reporting. Imagine the sense of disbelief and confusion descending on the typical American leftist when he discovers that Hezbolla is a party of thugs where reporters are harassed and teenagers are indoctrinated to repeat a series of gibberish and to contemplate in the framework of such gibberish.

Not a single woman was visible in the tent city pictures. Obviously Hezbolla is discriminating against women, and confining them to their homes to tend the average litter of 8 broods. And then they complain they don't have jobs?

Posted by: manda at January 3, 2007 09:23 PM

And the radicalization of the 'American Street' continues... The jihadis don't know what they've started.

sho'nuff

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 09:31 PM

For the Sake of Christians

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is what Aoun said in regards to why he wants the government to collapse.

"Taking to the streets is our battle to recover the role of the Christians on the level of power, since the electoral law deprived us of our rights and our participation."

For those who want to understand what he means, please read the analysis below.

After the 2005 elections, a lot of the Christian seats in parliament were taken by Hariri, Jumblatt and Hezbollah/Amal, due to the bad election law which sidelined the Christians. Of the 64 Christians in the parliament, 32 were Christians who did not represent Christians. That's 50% of the Christian seats. These 32 seats were distributed as follows:
17 were part of Hariri's bloc equating to 47% of his entire bloc
8 were part of Jumblatt's bloc equating to 50% of his entire bloc
7 were part of the Hezbollah/Amal bloc equating to 20% of their entire bloc

The remaining 32 Christian seats were distributed as follows:
14 to Free Patriotic Movement
5 to Lebanese Forces
5 to Qornet Shehwen
3 to Elie Skaff's Bloc
2 to Kataeb
1 to Tashnaq
1 to Democratic Left
1 to Murr

According to these results:
27% of Christians support Hariri before any other politician
22% of Christians support Aoun before any other politician
13% of Christians support Jumblatt before any other politician
11% of Christians support Nasrallah/Berri before any other politician
8% of Christians support Geagea before any other politician

This is what the 2000 election law did. Everyone knows that Hariri, Hezbollah and Jumblatt don't have more Christian supporters than Geagea. In fact, Hariri, Jumblatt, Hezbollah and Amal combined probably don't have more than 1% support amongst the entire Christian population. The 2000 election law helped deliver 50% of the Christian seats to people that don't represent Christians. This is absolutely disgusting and frightening. To see Christians being insulted in such a way is a massive breach of democracy and of the Lebanese constitution.

The biggest beneficiary was none other than Walid Jumblatt, as Christian seats accounted for 50% of his parliamentary bloc. Hariri was also a major beneficiary with Christians MPs accounting for 47% of his bloc. Hezbollah/Amal also benefitted but not to the same extent, as Christians only accounted for 20% of their blocs. This gerrymandering of election laws and sidelining of Christians has to stop. Not only did the 2005 election sideline the Christians, Christians even had to face the disgusting prospect of Hariri running candidates for seats in Christian areas were he has 'zero' representation such as Zahle and Jbeil. He even wanted to add insult to injury.

The current government make-up is perhaps more disgusting to Christians than the parliament. Of the 12 Christian ministers, 6 are part of Hariri's bloc and 1 is part of Jumblatt's bloc. How do these people represent the Christians? To their credit, Hezbollah/Amal have no Christian ministers. One Christian minister is an independent and one is pro-Lahoud. Only 3 of the 12 Christian ministers were members of Christian parties (includes the late Pierre Gemayyel). We Christians are being sidelined in the government. Because of this reason, the government has to fall. The Christians that are calling for more Christian representation are being labeled ridiculous names such as 'pro-Syrians' and silly things like being against the international tribunal. Hariri/Jumblatt are trying to distract the Christian people with lies so that they can remain in power. I hope the Christians are a bit more intelligent than this. The Christians must continue to call for the government to collapse and for new elections under a fair election law to get back their full representation. The Christians are now being supported by Hezbollah in regards to this and we now form a majority. We must continue to call for this and not back down just because Hezbollah is now with us. We must use Hezbollah's support to get what we want and take advantage of this.

His Eminence Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir in a recent interview with May Chidiac also called for new elections under a fair election law. With pressure from Cardinal Sfeir, Hezbollah, Amal and Aoun and allies, new elections under a fair election law may take place ahead of schedule. What is really important is for Christian parties such as the Lebanese Forces, Kataeb and Ahrar to join in these calls for new elections. What will they do? Do they want a Lebanon where Christians are equal? The Lebanese Forces only have 5 seats in parliament, Kataeb just 2 and Ahrar none. Don't they want more seats in parliament? Why aren't they calling for new elections?

Posted by: Charlie+ at January 3, 2007 09:33 PM

"Israelis who hassle and rudely interrogate journalists in Ben-Gurion airport ought to learn the same lesson one of these days."

How "rude" of the IDF to defend Israel. They "hassle" and interrogate all foreign visitors...especially those who have an explict reason to enter the occupied territories. Implying a symmetry between IDF and Hizbollah tactics is offensive and harmful. I'm sure Israeli interogators wish there was no need for them to have a such a job.

Posted by: Israeli at January 3, 2007 09:34 PM

Wow. I am a new reader who just linked in from Andrew Sullivan's blog. What a wonderful report (?) Michael. As somebody who is trying to devour as much info as possible about the Middle East, your insight and experience is invaluable. I clearly will never have the opp to walk in your shoes so thank you.

nichevo, you are so right about americans writing off the "crazies" when it comes to death to america chants. Any educated American who takes the time to do some reading will learn that there are legitamate greivances by these "crazies". But they are really not doing themselves any favors with the rhetoric. When disgruntled youth in the middle east complain that americans, and the west in general, don't care about their plight, they have a point. But if Joe Smith in the middle of Kansas puts on the evening news and sees 100K+ people marching in Lebanon chanting death to america, does it really make Mr. Smith want to delve deeper into the root causes of that chant? unfortunately the american attention span is not large enough to spend useful football watching time on reading a book/blog/whatever to find out why people sound like a bunch of crazy maniacs.

"oh, cnn just said israel bombed innocent people back to the stone age honey." "where did it happen Joe?" "well, it was in beruit." "Is that where they chant death to america all the time?" "yes honey" "f-em Joe"

And I am glad to hear that you don't worry that much about bad things happening to you Michael. I myself would be scared to death. It really sucks that hezbollah and other "crazies" make it so inhospitable for young americans to travel and learn about their culture first hand.

Posted by: itchy at January 3, 2007 09:58 PM

nichevo, you are so right about americans writing off the "crazies" when it comes to death to america chants. Any educated American who takes the time to do some reading will learn that there are legitamate greivances by these "crazies". But they are really not doing themselves any favors with the rhetoric.

This has nothing to do with the reality of any greivances, although invented and deliberately exaggurated greivances play a role.

Instead consider a mullah who preaches in Tehran every friday beseaching God to destroy the Jews, Americans, Christians and enemies of God (in that order I think). This isn't "rhetoric" since it isn't aimed at us at all, it's just hatred for the sake of trumphalism. And this is everywhere to some extent, not just Tehran.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 10:20 PM

Israeli: How "rude" of the IDF to defend Israel. They "hassle" and interrogate all foreign visitors

Yeah, well, they abusively interrogated me for five hours during the war. I asked why and they said they do it to all foreign journalists.

I call bullshit on that. Israel seriously needs to learn some PR lessons. Number One: Don't be nasty to people who write about you for a living.

I am a pro-Israeli American, not a goddamn terrorist. They could have figured that out by using Google in two minutes.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2007 10:27 PM

I call bullshit on that. Israel seriously needs to learn some PR lessons.

It's true, Israel has been losing the PR war for YEARS.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 3, 2007 10:35 PM

itchy, quit apologizing for this b.s. The whole "I'm retarded and it's your fault" thing isn't ignored by people in Kansas because they are to busy watching football to read chomsky. They ignore it because they don't feel the need to adopt the pet cause of stupid people who want to do stupid things that will lead them to ruin.

Perhaps you, educated American, should read a little more about hezbollah and spend less time tyring to impress your friends with your ability to understand the plight of islamic militias.

Posted by: mikek at January 3, 2007 10:55 PM

Itchy, I would dispute exactly how "legitimate" are the grievances of the crazies.

First, most of the countries in question have been independent of colonial powers for half a century.

Second, their problems are in many ways not different (except for the effects of Islamic/Arabic culture) from many other third-world countries from Asia to Lat Am to (yes) Israel itself.

Third, even the poorer first- and second-world countries, from Portugal to Poland, experienced problems but have handled them better.

Poverty? Colonial or neo-colonial history? India has those complaints yet Hindu culture (chuavinist BJP notwithstanding) devotes its energy to development, not to blowing up London in revenge.

Sectarianism and economic or electoral "justice" for Shia in Lebanon? Israel had somewhat similar Ashkenasi/Mizrachi problems yet didn't descend into civil war. (Yes, one killed. One isn't 150,000.)

Refugees? The Indian partition generated 14.5 million refugees; the Greek-Turkish conflict generated about 1.5 million refugees; post-WW2 Europe forced refugee movements (such as expulsion of Germans); the Israelis absorbed 1/2 million refugees from post-Holocaust Europe and 3/4 million refugees from Muslim countries. In all these cases, both the victims themselves and the host countries decided to adapt (even if imperfectly) and advance rather than remain mired in dreams of revenge; wasted monies, efforts, and youth in civil war or terrorism; etc.

Lat Am and the Philippines have long histories as victims of American neo-colonialism and might to a certain extent blame internal problems on American (or Spanish) colonialism -- but both gave priority to placing themselves on a productive path and are slowly doing so. Yes, Lat Am certainly has had problems of civil strife and terrorism -- but I'd sooner bet on Lat Am advancing than the Arab/Muslim world.

The irony is that the principle of "Orientalism" so slickly put forward by the Tariq Ramadans and the Edward Saids is itself the biggest hindrance to advancement in the Arab/Muslim world. "Let's blame everyone else except ourselves."

Other third-world countries at first headed in the direction of blaming the first-world but realised the harm to their own development. (Ironically, it was a Venezuelan, Carlos Rangel, who early on called for self-responsibility and rejection of third-worldism. See ISBN 0887386016.)

In fact, the success in Lebanon of the Hizbollah-Shia-Tehran axis, and its ascent within the Lebanese government, will if anything encourage the acceleration of the Christian flight occurring these past 25 years. Christian flight will, in turn, begin to limit the openness of Lebanese society which made it so much more cosmopolitan and prosperous than (say) Amman or Tehran.

Legitimate grievances? Perhaps. Excuses for self-destructive tendencies? Absolutely.

Posted by: SocialistZionist at January 3, 2007 10:57 PM

Israelis have gotten so used to being beaten up by the majority of the media for so long that they have gone into an unthinking defensive crouch. Frankly it's stupid, since they are also pissing off the few remaining friendly journalists. This is a little like the Bushies' relationship with the MSM, but at least they are smart enough to give preferential treatment to friendly bloggers.

Israel desperately needs to overhaul its PR machine - not just in how journos are treated at the airport but also the quality (ie fluency and likability) of official spokespersons and timiliness of the info given to said spokepersons.

Posted by: holdfast at January 3, 2007 11:06 PM

Having spent a decade in and about the region, your article rings home. I fully appreciate your journalism and look forward to more of it.

The average Arab has little control over their plight under the heavy weight of politics and those "untouchable politicians" you mentioned. I still think it is unrealistic to believe that much can be done about it without a world wide united effort. I do not invision this happening especially if an attempt is made by our own leadership to head such an endeaver.

As far as what can be done in the region by the United States? I'm afraid I am as clueless as your young Beirut contributors.

Posted by: Peter at January 3, 2007 11:21 PM

Hey Michael,

GREAT STORY! (sorry for yelling)

You say you're a writer, and not a journalist, but maybe you should be a journalist. It would be refreshing.

I have one gripe: Is there any chance of putting your comment-makers' names at the tops of their posts, instead of the bottoms?

I keep having to scroll down before I read each one, just so I know who's saying it.

Keep up the good work!

p.s. A note to 'John Lennon':

Instead of repeating over and over that the elections were rigged, how about posting some facts, instead?

It makes you look ignorant.

ET

Posted by: Eminent Threat at January 4, 2007 01:32 AM

I really wish your dispatches would appear in every major newspaper in America.

There is no substitute for knowledge in the face of ignorance. And your work is a superior example of that.

Keep it up and stay safe.

Posted by: Rick Moran at January 4, 2007 02:39 AM

Interesting...

Any plans to travel to Iran?

Posted by: Winston at January 4, 2007 03:00 AM

BadVilbel, unrelated to the thread, is your handle taken from living in the little American housing area outside of Frankfurt a few decades ago? Or from living in the village itself? Big Al.

Posted by: Big Al at January 4, 2007 03:03 AM

Everyone here really needs to be reading this article! Because Ali "Erataz" explains that Hezbollah exists to attempt to avoid the comming Sunni-Shiite war

"The Shi'a -- by way of today's Iran -- have attempted to neutralize the lie that is perpetuated against them (i.e. they are a Jewish conspiracy), by going after Israel. If they kill Jews, and free Jerusalem, surely no one will think they are a Jewish conspiracy. It is why Hizbollah exists. Not to free the Palestinians. It is a PR campaign by the Iranians. It works."

Here's a more complete excerpt:

...
It is irrelevant what actually happened in the past between Shi'a and Sunni, which is what pundits usually start talking about when they get to this point. Objectivity is irrelevant. What is relevant today is what Shi'a masses and Sunnis masses are taught.

Sunnis masses are taught that shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, a man who was formerly a Jew (and was probably not really a convert at all), helped to stoke the flames that created the Shi'a/Sunni division in Islam. This means that immediately a Sunni equates a Shi'a with a Jew, and that means that today, a Sunni can immediately equate Shi'a with a global Zionist conspiracy. It is why I found this fatwa by a Saudi cleric important enough to link to. This fatwa perpetuates this already long-standing propaganda.
 
Shi'a masses are taught that Ali, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad to whom Shi'a are connected, was inappropriately denied the Caliphate, not once, but on three separate times, and that the worst offender in the usurpation was the third Caliph, Usman, who only cared about nepotism and consolidating power for his family (which is actually kind of true). Thus, Shi'a immediately dislike anyone that comes from Usman's stock -- and that, my friends, has been a huge problem because numerous Muslim leaders since that time have been from Umayyad stock.

The Shi'a -- by way of today's Iran -- have attempted to neutralize the lie that is perpetuated against them (i.e. they are a Jewish conspiracy), by going after Israel. If they kill Jews, and free Jerusalem, surely no one will think they are a Jewish conspiracy. It is why Hizbollah exists. Not to free the Palestinians. It is a PR campaign by the Iranians. It works. Here is a conversation I had with an activist during the Israel-Hizbollah war. Look at the way in which Hassan Nasrallah is beheld by the Arabs. You might also be interested in learning that after the war, Hizbollah gave out rolls of cash worth 12,000 bucks. Iran knows PR as well as the Israelis and Americans. Iran has actually been able to win the heart of fence-sitting Muslims by propping up Hizbollah.

Sunnis, on the other hand, because they are the majority, do not play defense. They simply keep hammering the idea that the Shi'a are a sort of heretic cult, and go to town with it. This should not be as easy as it is, because the Muslim reformists of the 20th century were able to patch up a few of the problems between Sunni and Shi'a and should have been able to resist this. The foremost patching occurred under a modernist cleric at Cairo's al-Azhar university. He made it so that the Shi'a school of law, for twelve hundred years not accepted as legitimate by the Sunni religious authorities, was accepted as the fifth legitimate school of Islamic Law. Those scholars; the ones who ought to be rising up on behalf of Shi'a Sunni solidarity are not speaking up. They can't. They live in a police state (Egypt). Around the rest of the world they simply are not organized. ...

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 4, 2007 03:12 AM

... Also to understand the Arab street you really need to follow the link (also above) to here

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 4, 2007 03:27 AM

"I am a pro-Israeli American, not a goddamn terrorist."

Who interviews terrorists. Unfortunately, they need to keep information on people like you.

Posted by: Israeli at January 4, 2007 05:31 AM

To my untrained eye the picture of Nasrallah at the top of this page looks funny. Color, lighting, shadows, etc.

Posted by: Albert at January 4, 2007 05:47 AM

"Yeah, well, they abusively interrogated me for five hours during the war."

You think "they" interrogated youo for 5 hours because they're sadistic? You don't think they've got better things to do? Me thinks you doth protest too much.

Posted by: Israeli at January 4, 2007 05:54 AM

I have repeatedly heard the argument (both here and elsewhere) that we should not listen to the jihadists when they cry "death to America" or "death to Israel", or say they want to wipe Israel from the map, or kill the infidels, or destroy the west, or build an Islamic caliphate.

Various excuses are offered: it's just rhetoric, they don't mean what they say, they couldn't do it anyway, it's just a negotiating position, they just want to win popularity, they are really saying something else in private.

We would be wise to pay heed to Friedman's recent article in the NYT wherein he explained the rules of the Middle East. One rule stated that middle eastern leaders will lie to your face in private but say what they mean in public. (As opposed to Western politicians who will tell the truth in private but lie in public).

Or, in the words of a Holocaust surivor, "when someone tells you they want to kill you, believe them!"

Posted by: Mertel at January 4, 2007 06:58 AM

Josh Scholar: "You might also be interested in learning that after the war, Hizbollah gave out rolls of cash worth 12,000 bucks."

How are you Joshua? Are you feeling ill in any way? Im really worried about you. WHY and to WHO did hizbollah give $12,000 to? Everyone in lebanon? NO, they gave it to everyone whose property was damages or destroyed in the war, so go do some reading, not reasearch. Just open your eyes and read, im sure you're not blind.

NOW, to show the hypocracy of the west and especially American polacy towards, well, everyone else. I will be comparing the lebanon and palestine crises'.

In lebanon they want the president to go, in palistine they want him to stay. In lebanon they want the PM to stay, but in palistine for the PM to go. In lebanon they want no unity government, in palestine they don't neither, but would accept it if it happened. In lebanon they don't want new elections, in palestine they do. lol this is really stupid, let me think of more. YE a recent one, they want hizbollah's weapons to be given up and certainly don't supply them with any because, as they say, they are not part of the national army etc they are a "militia" as they say, but in palistine they supply fatah with weapons and allow them to have them (also worth to note they don't want Hamas' weapons, they prefer one "militia" over the other). I have more in mind but im not bothered. Everyone gets the point now.

BYE

Posted by: hezbollah lover at January 4, 2007 07:07 AM

You don't think they've got better things to do? Me thinks you doth protest too much.

Speaking of protesting too much, your comments sound like Interrogation 101. You look a little nervous, any reason why?

A policy of detaining suspicious people is good, but a policy of deliberately targeting journalists just because they're journalists is counterproductive. I traveled from Tel Aviv to Amman, I had a Lebanese stamp on my passport and all of my flights were scheduled at the last minute, one way. They really should have given me more grief, but they didn't, probably because my profession wasn't listed as 'journalist'.

Posted by: mary at January 4, 2007 07:57 AM

"Speaking of protesting too much, your comments sound like Interrogation 101."

Don't Americans still read Shakespeare? The meaning of this allusion is slowly being lost I think. Maybe it's just an internet thing. Anyway, I think the IDF has it's reasons for keeping tabs on jounalists who do interviews with terrorist organizations during a war. If Israel was surrounded by Canada and Mexico, perhaps things would be different.

Posted by: Israeli at January 4, 2007 08:18 AM

Yeah, well, they abusively interrogated me for five hours during the war.

While I agree Israel desperately needs to improve their PR, I can't feel sorry for you, Michael, for this interogation. What do you mean by "abusively" anyway? That's a very value-laden term. And you were a single man, whose spent a lot of time in Lebanon, has met with terrorists, was not affiliated with any major news organisation, and had just been in enemy territory. If I were charged with protecting Israel's borders I'd have probably interogated you for 5 hours too.

Similarly, I am tired of muslims complaining when they get searched and interogated when they enter the United States. That's life in a post 9/11 world. We all suffer from the exhaustive security procedures whenever we want to travel.

Blame the terrorists, not those trying to stop them.

Posted by: Mertel at January 4, 2007 08:31 AM

Israeli: You think "they" interrogated you for 5 hours because they're sadistic?

No.

You don't think they've got better things to do?

They have better things to do.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 4, 2007 08:55 AM

The problem, Mertel, is that no country in the world hassles me more upon entry than Israel. Everyone who writes about Israel for a living has this experience. It is terrible public relations. I don't care if you feel sorry for me or not. (I'm a grown-up, I can handle it.) The point is that Israelis really ought to stop harrassing people who put them under a microscope.

The IDF isn't the problem, by the way. The IDF is wonderful to work with. The airport and border security people are the ones who need to get a clue. I dread arrival in Israel a week in advance. This is not helpful. I say this as someone who likes Israel and defends Israel in print more often than not.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 4, 2007 09:06 AM

MJT,

Great stuff, as always.

Yeah, well, they abusively interrogated me for five hours during the war. I asked why and they said they do it to all foreign journalists.

It's probably because you went to Lebanon and/or are independent - which might strike some semi-ignorant kid on airport duty as odd.

I have friends (American and European) in various news bureaus in Jerusalem who sail (for Ben Gurion, that is) through the airport. Maybe it's because they live (i.e. have addresses)/work there on a permanent or semi-pernament basis. But they are foreigners nonetheless.

Not trying to apologize for your treatment - which I'm sure was horrific and unfair. I've had annoying experiences at the airport - nothing like 5 hours though - more like 45 minutes with every piece of luggage and it's contents gone over with a fine tooth comb and annoying questions about what I'm doing/why I'm there/do I have family there, etc...

But considering what tends to happen when the shoe is on the other foot... (consider the case of Bruce Balfour, for example), 5 hours is a drop in the bucket.

Everyone has their security concerns in the region. Two months in jail and a 5 year travel ban - facing 15 years in prison - because he had visited Israel, well....

Posted by: SoCalJustice at January 4, 2007 09:11 AM

By the way, I agree with MJT - Ben Gurion security staff/officers are not necessarily efficient in their decision making.

But I am guessing they don't have a lot of discretionary freedom. Something fits a certain profile (for example a non-Israel based foreign journalist), and I wouldn't be surprised if they went through the same procedure each time, no matter what the bias (perceived or otherwise) of the individual in question.

I was just there in September, and an Arab Israeli (Muslim) family was in line ahead of me, and they made it through security with much more ease than I did.

The people questioning us were in their early 20's - they were probably just doing what they're told.

But I have no doubt improvements can be made. Pissing people off - at first instance - who will be reporting on you, probably not the best idea.

BUT - since the airport is probably on Osama's top ten target list, I understand their paranoia. I wish they dealt with it better on some occassions, though.

Posted by: SoCalJustice at January 4, 2007 09:18 AM

Bruce Balfour wrote about his experience.

Too long to quote reasonably, but well worth the read.

Posted by: SoCalJustice at January 4, 2007 09:31 AM

Don't Americans still read Shakespeare? The meaning of this allusion is slowly being lost I think.

I studied Shakespeare at Oxfordshire and went out drinking with the cast of Richard III in Stratford-upon-Avon, so I know something about him. I was noting that your use of it could be a way of pointing out that someone is losing their cool and saying too much when certain buttons are pushed. It was a deliberately sloppy interpretation of the quote, an indirect way of wondering if you were vehemently defending these interrogation techniques because you worked at some point for security.

While I think it's a bad idea (public-relations-wise) to target journalists, I had no problems with other aspects of security in Israel. Yes, they did ask questions about the Lebanese stamp on my passport at the airport, but I couldn't get into Lebanon with an Israeli stamp on my passport

Posted by: mary at January 4, 2007 09:56 AM

Hezbollah Lover, and all you other (what's a nice word I could use here....) "naive" folks out there:

Watch this, from start to finish:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_O3LcOSK0I&eurl=

It should put to rest once and for all the idiotic claims that:
1. Hezbollah doesn't fight other Lebanese.
2. Hezbollah is a Lebanese-only party and has nothing to do with Iran.
3. Hezbollah is "better" than other civil war era militias, or somewhat more principled or noble.

Also, make special note of the comments by Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah about Hezbollah-Iran at the time (this is dates back to 1987).

And don't even get me started on the visible glee on Ghazi Kanaan's face when the residents of Dahieh are begging him to send Syrian troops in to pacify and restore order...Typical Syrian M.O. since 1976...start trouble then come in as "pacifiers".

Also notice the Iranian-Syrian tension at the time (which played out through Amal-Hezbollah fighting) and how the fighting gets resolved when Syrian Kanaan meets with an Iranian official.

Carry on...

Posted by: BadVilbel at January 4, 2007 10:19 AM

It is nice to see how much this website has grown just in the comments page, in the last year or so. Keep up the good work Michael!

Posted by: Mantis at January 4, 2007 11:00 AM

OK. Im going to explain this video, point by point.

I never ever said Hizbollah did not get involved in an incident or a clash with Amal Movement, whom both now consider each other not borthers but as one soul. This explains why when the Hizbollah HQ was bombed, the military in the south was not disabled, because Hizbollah was co-ordinating commands and orders from Amal HQ's which were secret and untouched.

Now, moving on. Everyone knows it was Amals fault for starting this fight. They were the only Shia movement in lebanon fighting in the name of Shia's and against Israel. They were not impressed with having a Hizbollah, which also was representing Shia, to take over their influence or form any kind of competition. Also, the main struggle between the two occured when an arguement broke out between youths from both parties when they coincided with each other over an operation-battle zone. Both had planned operations in the area against Israel, and both didn't want the other to carry out theirs in case it screws up the whole operation. From their accusations flew out and tempers exploded, which resulted into a full out clash between the two, but battles which lasted days or weeks, not years. And battles which were kept battles, not turned into civilian-massacres or killing by ID, which GaeGae is famous for.

Secondly, Hizbollah had only been established 2 years before the battles started. Their first leader, Tufeili - tottens' main shia source and friend - as we all know is an brutal, extremist fundamental crack head who used to claim he was going down south to liberate it from Amal, and who used to claim people who shave their beards are infidels etc etc. Another thing, everyone knows dawoud dawoud was the most corrupt person possibly to have lived. Hes the one who made friction with hizbollah, and when hizbollah replied he would take it as an insult, and if someone's leader is insulted obviously his followers are too. He was the one also to startintimidating Hizbollah by operating in their "turf" in the south, most of the times screwing up a well planned operation.

Thirdly, if you listen to these people talking in arabic you would understand when the two Amal men were talking, one of them says "they didnt use the 120's on East Beirut, they only use them here...". This shows Hizbollah wasn't interested in the whole civil war. They were drawn into a confrontation and couldn't stand idly while they were being attacked. There was not one militia in Lebanon who attacked Amal when it was formed, and the same with Hizbollah. The rest didn't dare confront it militarily because they saw the concequences if they did, they risked their HQ's being taken over. So instead, they killed any shia person, they had to either support Amal or Hizbollah, both were enemies. Hizbollah never ever retaliated the same way, they always left innocents out of the fighting.

Fourth, you seem to have switched Hizbollah being a syrian-iranian puppet after watching that video, now they are only iranian puppets. Its surprising isn't it. Well, back in those times yes they were under very big influence of iran, but like totten says, stop living in 1985 and move yourself into 2007. They were created by the revolutionary guards who are iranians, they were managed by iranian commanders and and and... I can say more, they had to ask for permission when they wanted to join mainstream politics in lebanon from khaminaei, and had to have supreme permission from the iranian authorities concerning hizbollah whenever they wanted to undertake a decision for an operation. Like you said, whats happened is now in the past, now we live in the present. In the present, the supreme decider is sayyid hassan nasrallah himself, but not always. He is sometimes forced to do or say something by the organisation even if it goes against his ideology or contradicts his politics. He is not a dictator over his group. He could easily be overthrown like tottens' friend was, or elected out etc Sayyid Hassan hardly ever even knows where he is when doing interviews. That is only known by 4 people, the three bodyguards he's always with, and another unknown person.

Another thing is, in the past hizbollah needed iran to survive, and still do in an indirect sense, but what i mean is that they needed iran to survive because no-one else backed it politically, all its members had no experience of warfare, they were not secretive, disciplined, organised etc. Now Hizbollah is a lebanese only Party taking its own decisions. The biggest proof of that is they elect their own leaders themselves every 6 years and also elect the members of their shura party themselves, not iran or iranians. And the biggest proof that hizbollah never and still isn't a puppet of syria is the fact they actually attacked a syrian convoy, as was shown in your own video, i don't think a puppet organisation would dare do that.

The answer to your final point:- "Hezbollah is "better" than other civil war era militias, or somewhat more principled or noble."

Hizbollah presented the mosrt effort and lives and costs and weaponry to the cause of fighting off Israel. They were the only organisation to be allowed to keep their arms "even the taif accord excluded what they named "The National Resistance" to keep it's weapons, while the militias had to disarm) - This shows all arabs who drew up the Taif agreed Hizbollah was a national resistance. Now the people opposed to hizbollah claim that Hizbollah is actually a militia and should be disarmed but what was meant by the national resistance is some pathetic group or the army or some next bullshit. Everone knows the Taif meant Hizbollah but they can't admit it, they say that Hizbollah has turned from a national resistance into a militia...20 years after they killed the last lebanese.

Also, Hizbollah is an umbrella group, therefore when it was created their was no single Hizbollah. Their were many hizbollah cells, most of them under different names, operating in lebanon. Therefore their may have been a single or multiple cell which may have engaged itself in the lebanese civil war, it does not neccesarily mean that the whole organisation planned and co-ordinated on it. Afterall, if this was true, it would contradict the very creation of Hizbollah, which was created after branches of groups split from Amal because of their engagement in the civil war and then became unified later on to make the umbrella group called Hizbollah. The biggest proof of this is the use of the term "the national resistance" by the taif, if hizbollah was one group it would have been named in the document, rather than "nicknamed" if you like.

So, hizbollah was the only group to be allowed to keep its weapons, the only group whose arms were recently legitimised by the lebanese government (in 2005 after the elections), the only lebanese group who did not engage itself fully into the civil war, and whome saved lebanon from civil war 3 times so far and every politician knows and admits so. They were the only group to have a democratic system and which survived to this day fully armed because of the popular support from its people. It is also the only group to, in return, also fully support its own people by being the only group to provide social services such as medication, education, transport, activities etc. It is also the only group to be voted again by the lebanese government as the national resistance (in 2004). I can go on and on. All i know is Hizbollah has not killed a single lebanese since 1989, and especially didn't target any foreigners under the leadership of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. What has past has past, if anyone looks at Sayyid Hassana history profile, its cleaner than clear ice, Thats all im interested in. Because no-one in this world is what we call ma3soum, which means sin-less. Yes hizbollah made mistakes but they were the only one to adapt and learn from them for the future. GaeGae used to claim and still claims lebanon doesn't work as one, that it needs to be made into federations or states for every sect, which total 18! He used to be a stupid dim-wit and still is. Here's mr totten, he can confirm to you personally that hizbollah has made no such mistakes as they did in the past after sayyid hassan nasrallah took office. Period.

Whats past is past, let it gooo

Posted by: Hizbollah Lover at January 4, 2007 11:22 AM

Tufeili - tottens' main shia source and friend

BZZZT. Wrong answer. Thank you for playing.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 4, 2007 11:25 AM

I like how Hizbollah Love uses turns of phrases like "Everyone knows Amal started" and "As we all know..." to state his view of the world as facts.

Nice try, buddy...Maybe later, if i feel so inclined. I'll rebutt your long-winded comment.

I'm curious. Were you around back in 1987? Or were you too young to remember these events?
I happened to be there, and I can pretty much tell you firsthand that the video is accurate and that the conclusions drawn from it are also accurate.
Although, I'm not using "Everyone knows"....clearly, some people don't.

Posted by: BadVilbel at January 4, 2007 11:44 AM

Charlie+,

You write about the injustice of the Lebanese election law; could you please elaborate on the matter.
Here's a link to the details of the law, and the different district. How does this distribution distort the true nature of power sharing?

http://www.arabelectionlaw.net/eleclaw_eng.php?country=5
Thank you.!
.

Posted by: Amir in Tel Aviv at January 4, 2007 12:11 PM

hizbollah has made no such mistakes as they did in the past after sayyid hassan nasrallah took office.

Yeah, right. Nasrallah admitted the mother-of-all mistakes when he ordered the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers in July:

"We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not."

Posted by: Mertel at January 4, 2007 12:44 PM

I don't care if you feel sorry for me or not. (I'm a grown-up, I can handle it.)

I apologise if I caused offense. That was not my intent.

I guess it's always a difficult balancing act when screening, searching and interrogating for security purposes. The more devious the terrorists become, we all suffer from more invasive counter-terrorist measures. It's reached the point that mothers have to drink their own breast milk to prove it's not explosive.

There's always the risk you're going to piss people off with your security checks. Personally I'd rather those in charge of security worry less about inconveniencing people (including myself) and more about saving lives.

no country in the world hassles me more upon entry than Israel

And no country in the world faces more threats than Israel. Not to mention the documented cases where terrorists have posed as journalists, and conversely where journalists have been found to provide material assistance to terrorists.

Posted by: Mertel at January 4, 2007 12:56 PM

hizbollah has made no such mistakes as they did in the past after sayyid hassan nasrallah took office.

Everyone makes mistakes, unless they are God. Typical comment from a worshiper. This really speaks to the core of the Lebanese mentality when it comes to politicians. Everyone believes the leader they are loyal to (thanks to clan or religious affiliation) is infallible. That mentality leads to unquestioning loyalty and lack of accountability. If there is one thing we all need to do it's QUESTION, rather than accept what our god-leaders tell us at face value. The world would be a better place.

Posted by: BadVilbel at January 4, 2007 01:16 PM

"Most of the people of Lebanon are instinctively decent on a personal level no matter their political views or ideology. Hezbollah itself, though, is instinctively menacing and hostile and belligerent. Their ideology is an alien one, imported from the East, from the extremist regime in Tehran. If they ever end up as rulers of Lebanon – and it will surely mean war if they try – Lebanon will no longer be recognizable."

Dear Mr. Totten,

I would like to ask you not to take people for idiots and go on insulting others by claiming they have an alien ideology or they tend to be menacing by nature. Please stop repeating what the Bush administration has been claiming for the last few years and which resulted in endless wars and thousands of deads in the Middle east. Hizballah is a part of the Lebanese society which represents 20 to 30% of the Lebanese population so are we all aliens dear sir? Are hundreds of thousands in the street of Beirut asking for a government of unity aliens to this country. You can be against Hizballah, this is your freedom of choice, but you cannot in the name of freedom refuse to talk or feel hostility against certain people just because they support Hizballah or any other political party ("If you want my support, separate yourself from Hassan Nasrallah and we'll get somewhere" this is how you answered john lennon which shows to what extent you are biased and how you refuse even to deal with people with believes different from yours, and you talk about freedom !!!!).
Dear Mr. Totten, I am not doubting what you said and may be people you met there were hostile in your point of view but always remember that these two kids, or any other random person you met may not be relevant to represent or talk in the name of Hizbllah. And whether you like it or not Hizballah is a major party in Lebanon and if this country is the what it is today it is because every single Lebanese person put his heart and soul to shape this country including Hizballah and all his followers.
P.S: You feel offended by those who say death to America, I totally agree with you but just a couple of simple questions: don't you think that every arab person feels offended when Americam citizens vote for a person like president Bush? Don't you think that we feel offended when America, with the blessenig of a big majority of Americans, sends its troops to Irak and kills 700 thousand persons in 3 years? Don't you think we feel offended when the Americam administration, which came to power by the votes of American people, supports Israel with tens of billions of dollars to build colonies and occupy the land of Arabs while it sits looking at the latter and even cuts financial aids because they choose democratically a political party that America do not agree with? I do understand your point that you are being affended by people screaming death to America but never forget that all what these people are doing is screaming out of despair while America (or the elected American administartion if you prefer) is actually massacring them each and every day.
thank you and take care

Posted by: Amine at January 4, 2007 01:32 PM

Yet more drivel...Did you even bother to read MJT's full story?

Posted by: BadVilbel at January 4, 2007 01:53 PM

Amine: don't you think that every arab person feels offended when Americam citizens vote for a person like president Bush?

No. Believe it or not, Amine, most Iraqis in America voted for Bush. They are grateful to him because he destroyed their tyrant.

If you think Iraqi Arabs feel solidarity with other Arabs who supported Saddam Hussein you are very mistaken.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 4, 2007 02:25 PM

Dear Mr. Totten,

I believe just like you that no Iraqi liked Saddam (after all bo one should like such a person) but that wasn't my point, I wanted you to rather think about the two ways of measuring the importance of human dignity applied by the Bush administartion. Killing thousands of Iraqi is worth it just because so to say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (never found by the way). And please don't forget that all these dead people in Iraq are not Saddam's fighters but citizens of a country trying to live in dignity.
So the point was to shed more light on one side of the American politics that despises a lot o people in the region .

By the way thank you for reply

Posted by: Amine at January 4, 2007 02:37 PM

"I do understand your point that you are being affended by people screaming death to America but never forget that all what these people are doing is screaming out of despair while America (or the elected American administartion if you prefer) is actually massacring them each and every day."

- So America is massacring Lebanese "each and every day"? So how long has this been going on and, if true, why aren't they/you all dead yet? Do all Muslim Arabs have their rhetoric dial permanently set on "retarded hyperbole" or is it just the trolls in here? I mean, seriously - if America wanted to kill all the Arabs in Lebannon, or Iraq or whereever, they'd already be dead - America has more than enough capability to do it (nuke or conventional), and frankly no outside power could stop it. What America lacks is the genocidal inclination - whereas Iran and its mini-me Hezb'Allah certainly seem to have that inclination (or at least they claim to) in spades.

As misguided as the war in Iraq might be, can you explain why America is expending so much blood and treasure to try to stand up some kind of a decent government? If the goal was only to kill Arabs, the US could have been home 2.5 years ago - they could have just invaded, blown everything up, shot lots of people and left. Alternately, they could have ethnically cleansed the populations near the oil fields, kept those and ignored the rest - who would stop them - the UN?

America may, like all giants, be rather clumsy, but its actions disprove the motivations that you attempt to ascribe to it, though I suppose I should just discount most of your blather as one more manifestation of the impotent rage that seems to be the Arab World's main export.

Posted by: holdfast at January 4, 2007 05:25 PM

"No. Believe it or not, Amine, most Iraqis in America voted for Bush. They are grateful to him because he destroyed their tyrant."

MJT,
As an Arab (Algerian) American, I can tell you that many Arabs here are very much against President Bush, even if many Iraqis voted for him. Overall the majority of Arab Americans voted him down in the last election, primarily on the basis of his foreign policy. His policies have largely alienated Arab American voters, despite the fluffy talk that he has given out against violence/hate crimes towards us (which did not accomplish much, because voilent attacks against Arab Americans and South Asians increased rapidly anyway both after 9/11 and his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq), and his liberation of the Iraqis (which most Arab Americans do not look favorably upon because of its disasterous outcome; Iraqi American support for President Bush has also declined, many have actually turned against him at the polls). Arab-American appreciation for President Bush is at a low right now. In the latest round of elections, I personally voted for my Senator, Joe Lieberman (against the ultra liberal/"anti-war" Ned Lamont reccomended by the blogosphere and out of state Democrats), for the sake of Connecticut's senior standing in the Senate and his record in New Haven County, but I know that MANY of my fellow Nutmeg Arabs did not and would probably have scolded me if they had seen me pulling the lever. I doubt that if the election were held today, most Iraqi-Americans would vote for President Bush. This is not to say anything of the widespread belief within the community that the American government and its supporters (re. most major news networks) misrepresent Arabs and Arab-Americans (and Muslims within the Muslim community). The idea of a "clash of civilizations" carries almost zero currency among Arab Americans, especially those who are politically engaged (there are some with whom it does, but from my observations they are tiny minority and tend not to identify as "Arabs"). The Administration, in the view of many, bases its policies towards the Arab world on this theory of international relations; and if not its policies then certainly its rhetoric (which is highly inflamatory, when related to those of us sharing "origins" with the "enemy").

"If you think Iraqi Arabs feel solidarity with other Arabs who supported Saddam Hussein you are very mistaken."

Perhaps not Shiite Iraqi Arabs. I think that the various protests taking place within Iraq by members of the Sunni community (not to mention the indigenous Sunni component of the insurgency) are proof that not all Iraqi Arabs share the same distaste for Saddam. Not to mention that Iraqi Arabs are one of the smaller segments of the Arab-American population; to bring them up when the other reader was referencing Arabs generally would be like bringing up the Kurds of Lebanon to prove some assumption about Lebanese attitudes. Most Arab Americans are Lebanese, Syrian, and Egyptian; their views and experience is relatively insulated from Saddam's "bad side". Many view him the same way the Arabs back in the Arab world do, or with an air of indifference or less contemptuously than do Iraqi Shias and Kurds. I would not be surprised if most Iranian Americans (not Arabs) voted for President Bush, as they are a very different community, but Arab Americans by and large are not some kind of refugee population grovelling at the feet of President Bush thanking him for liberating Iraq. This portrayal of Arab Americans is the sort of thing that irritates many, as they are painted as a monothith often times; ie a buch of terrorists on FOXNEWS or a bunch of subversive Ahmad Chalabis (by many anti-war sites) there or a lot of Arab nationalist radials (in many Arab American newsrags). Very rare is it to find sympathetic, neuanced (sp), and balanced coverage of the average Arab American. It is the perpetual refugee/immigrant/foreign oil lobbyist imagry that does Arab Americans a great diservice and prevents our full integration into American poltical and cultural life (it is no mistake that there are so few of us in Congress at the national and state level except for where we are either in massive numbers (Michigan) or have married out to Italians and do not posssess Arabic names (like in CT), at least how I see it). Out concerns domestically are brushed off because of irresponsible reporting or under-reporting/misunderstanding and our foreign policy concerns are misconstrued by selfish lobbyists (often foreign; eg Saudis or faux "revolutionaries").

I would like to ask you as someone who is a great fan of your writing to be more careful in your presentation of Arab/Iraqi/Lebanese/whateever American opinion and your evaluation of them. Just as the American Jewish population is defamed and misrepresented by those seeking to create a gigantic Jewish monster conspiracy behind our support of Israel or to make them out to be a people with interests that are pernicious to world society (eg associating them with the most extreme and racist forms of Zionism), so to are Arab Americans' reputation and interests confused and hindered by bad media. You being one of those few sympathetic and independent journalists have an opportunity to help to humanize and accurately present the Arab American community as well as various parts of the general Arab context.

I enjoyed your article, keep it up,

Khalid Nouri Lumendifi

Posted by: Nouri Lumendifi at January 4, 2007 05:53 PM

don't you think that every arab person feels offended when Americam citizens vote for a person like president Bush? Don't you think that we feel offended when America, with the blessenig of a big majority of Americans, sends its troops to Irak and kills 700 thousand persons in 3 years? ... I do understand your point that you are being affended by people screaming death to America but never forget that all what these people are doing is screaming out of despair while America (or the elected American administartion if you prefer) is actually massacring them each and every day.
thank you and take care

Where are you getting all of this anti-American propaganda and misinformation? Is Hezbollah giving out free subscriptions to The Guardian?

Posted by: mary at January 4, 2007 05:56 PM

Um, Michael, I'm having a bit of trouble understanding what this article is about. You traipsed around the Hizballah demonstrations with a camera, you shot some banal photos, you interviewed a bunch of young teenagers, and ... what? All I gather from this needlessly wordy article is that you don't like Hizballah people because they are mean to you.

As far as the treatment you get from Hizballah, it's obvious that you approach them in a passively-aggressive confrontational manner in order to provoke a confrontation, whether intentionally or subconsciously. And since you're almost a Lebanese yourself because you used to live there, you of all people should know that the reason they are so paranoid is because they have to be paranoid. Israeli agents are everywhere in the Middle East, and certainly in Lebanon. Lebanon is at war with Israel. Their survival depends upon a strong sense of mistrust of out of place white dudes trying to take pictures of them. Why is this so difficult for you to understand?

Posted by: abraham at January 4, 2007 07:52 PM

I'm having a bit of trouble understanding what this article is about.

You aren't my target audience.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 4, 2007 08:16 PM

A policy of detaining suspicious people is good, but a policy of deliberately targeting journalists just because they're journalists is counterproductive.

Not really. "Journalists" travel all over the wold, usually to places where Things Are Happening, talk to all kinds of people, and have an excellent justification for having expensive, high-quality photographic equipment with them.

It's a great cover for a spy.

http://www.namebase.org/news17.html

The next article was by Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. In a long piece in Rolling Stone, he came up with the figure of 400 American journalists over the past 25 years, based primarily on interviews with Church committee staffers. This figure included stringers and freelancers who had an understanding that they were expected to help the CIA, as well as a small number of full-time CIA employees using journalism as a cover. It did not include foreigners, nor did it include numerous Americans who traded favors with the CIA in the normal give-and-take between a journalist and his sources. [...]

The Israelis may be paranoid, but that does not change the fact that there are people out to get them.

Posted by: rosignol at January 4, 2007 08:39 PM

Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know you had a target audience. Ok, then, who is your "target audience"?

Also, could you please provide a reference for the quote you open your article with?

Posted by: abraham at January 4, 2007 11:56 PM

Abraham, perhaps you could go to Lebanon and write a pro-hezbollah article as a counterpoint to Michael's.

After all, since I read "Mahmood Abbas: Tool of Israel" I know you support Hamas. It's only a step up from there to being a Hezbollah supporter.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 5, 2007 01:34 AM

Multiple comments combined here:

mikek:

I don't mean to be this rude, but it seems like the middle east is full of retarded people. The more I read and watch the worse it gets. I hope these kids don't move here and spread the stupidity.

I wouldn't worry about that. We're already over-quota on stupidity here in the US. More stupid people wouldn't make much of an impact at this point.

nichevo:

We may not chant "Death to Lebanon" or "Death to Syria" or "Death to Iran" or "Death to Arabs" or "Death to Muslims"

No, we don't use silly words. We actually do the deed and rain down bombs on them instead. Because why use empty slogans when you have the means and the will to inflict actual death. I'm just saying...

Michael:

Don't be so sure about that. Sometimes you just have to shoot people.

This works both ways.

nichevo:

It is your culture, not ours, who gets caught up in issues of "pride." Whereas you deserve no pride, having no achievements to earn it

Wow, that's an incredibly ingorant thing to say.

...the Judeo-Christian culture here is really big on humility.

<chuckle> GWB missed the memo.

We don't have these shame problems where we can do anything we want as long as we don't get caught.

Please, then, explain Ted Haggerty, Jim Bakker, Jerry Swaggart, most of the Bible-thumping Republicans of the last Congress, etc. Please.

You are indulging in what I think Freud called "transference."

You are engaging in what I (and probably Penn Jillette) would call "bullshit".

Michael:

There is no alternate universe where I can support a group like Hezbollah. I am an American, and this is just how things are.

You're but one American.

nichevo (sigh...again):

I mean, if they don't perceive any changes in US policy over the last 50 years...well...not to keep flogging the notion of cultural mental disability...well, they could damn well use some more and better information, of a kind they apparently don't get from al-Jazeera or their state run media.

Are you for real? I ASSume you believe that American foreign policy has improved towards the Arabs in the past 50 years? Try telling that to the 1,100+ Lebanese civilians that were killed by American bombs, and the 2-10 Palestinians that get killed weekly by Israel c/o my tax dollars, and then there's Iraq. American foreign policy in the ME was at least not openly biased towards Israel before GWB came into office. In the past 6 years, notwithstanding the hollow words from Bush's hollow head, we've basically demonstrated that we don't give a shit about Arabs or Muslims. I'd tell you to get a clue but...Jeez.

Mike Narqizian:

G-d forbid an Israeli express anything such as "Death to Lebanon" like Nasrallah says at every rally and it would be front page news again.

Of course, as wannabe Europeans, we expect the Israelis to be more civilized than that. Instead of hollow chants they use their civilized bombs to send their message.

Josh:

Uhm, "neocon" refers to some American political thinkers, and the July war was something that Israel, (specifically the Olmert government) did.

A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm (PNAC)

"Securing the Northern Border"

"Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which American can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon"

WATCHING LEBANON: Washington’s interests in Israel’s war (Seymour Hersh, New Yorker)

"A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah.' He added, 'It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.'"

You are ill-informed, Mr. Scholar.

Anyway, if you insist on conflating the America and Israel then you're obviously an ignorant nut.

And later...

I can't recommend political steps because that would require a knowledge of details that only native Lebanese know.

If you believe this, then why do you believe anything Michael Totten has to say on Lebanese politics?

I'm sorry, I can't take anything you have said (or will say) seriously, as I quite honestly find you to be ignorant in the extreme. I think I'll just ignore you from now on.

Except for this one last--telling--comment:

One of the first steps is to point out that much of what Arabs think they know about the rest of the world is completly wrong.

Much of what you think you know about Arabs is not only completely wrong, but laughable.

Posted by: abraham at January 5, 2007 01:48 AM

I'm not for a minute fooled, Abraham. You singled me out for attack because you felt the sting of me pointing out that you're a Hamas supporter.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 5, 2007 02:19 AM

You were hoping that no one here would notice that you support Hamas. It destroys your own credibility, you know?

Posted by: Josh Scholar at January 5, 2007 02:25 AM

SocialistZionist:

First, most of the countries in question have been independent of colonial powers for half a century.

That's just the point, isn't it?

Your selective data is misleading and pointless. The Middle East is still wracked by Western wars of aggression and, in the case of Palestine, colonial occupation by European Jews (a.k.a. Zionists). What chance do they have to "move on" when they don't even control their own destiny to begin with?

In fact, the success in Lebanon of the Hizbollah-Shia-Tehran axis, and its ascent within the Lebanese government, will if anything encourage the acceleration of the Christian flight occurring these past 25 years.

What do you make of the Christian flight from Iraq? Or from Bethlehem? Is that also caused by your (non-sensical) "Hizbollah-Shia-Tehran axis"? Or colonial occupation?

I find your arguments lazy and ineffective.

Posted by: abraham at January 5, 2007 02:38 AM

holdfast:

Israel desperately needs to overhaul its PR machine

No, that's just trying to treat the symptoms. I think rather Israel has to overhaul its concept of human rights.

Rick Moran:

I really wish your dispatches would appear in every major newspaper in America.

Tom Friedman already has that role.

Mertel:

We would be wise to pay heed to Friedman's recent article in the NYT...

No one outside gullible Americans takes anything that Friedman says seriously.

Israeli:

Anyway, I think the IDF has it's reasons for keeping tabs on jounalists who do interviews with terrorist organizations during a war.

Yes, the same reason why Hizballah apparently doesn't trust him.

Mertel:

Similarly, I am tired of muslims complaining when they get searched and interogated when they enter the United States. That's life in a post 9/11 world. We all suffer from the exhaustive security procedures whenever we want to travel.

Oh, so you, too, have been sent off to Syria to be tortured and detained for two days while traveling? So, no, I don't think you've endured the truly "exhaustive" security procedures that some people have had to endure.

Come on, be serious.

Michael:

No. Believe it or not, Amine, most Iraqis in America voted for Bush. They are grateful to him because he destroyed their tyrant.

I'm sorry, you got this statistic from where?

holdfast:

What America lacks is the genocidal inclination...

Most of us at least. If those cute rascals at LGF were representative of greater America then we'd be "nuking Iraq into a plane of glass" right now. But don't kid yourself: America is capable of genocide, too. Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki? With the number of civilians dead due to our invasion, Iraq is nipping at the borders of such. To think we aren't capable of it is arrogant and deceitful.

America may, like all giants, be rather clumsy, but its actions disprove the motivations that you attempt to ascribe to it.

He's back with the strawman again. So either you're saying that America hasn't killed an eggregiously excessive number of Arabs senselessly (as Amine was referencing), or you're putting words into his mouth so you can use your awesome skills of argumentation to make a non-point.

Posted by: abraham at January 5, 2007 03:45 AM

No one outside gullible Americans takes anything that Friedman says seriously.

You must think we're gullible if you expect us to sit and listen to your lame Chomskybot routine. We know the drill - first you cynically ally with and defend 'militant' groups in an effort to gain some promise of political power; you deliberately downplay the fact that pan Arabism/Islamism is a racist/colonialist/imperialist movement; pretend that Israel, America, the deviously clever yet empty-headed Bush are the causes of all the world's woes; prattle about 'occupation', call every non-Islamist bomb a "US" bomb..

Chomsky may be an ureadable, by-the-numbers bore, but his imitators are even worse.

Posted by: mary at January 5, 2007 06:41 AM
The problem, Mertel, is that no country in the world hassles me more upon entry than Israel. Everyone who writes about Israel for a living has this experience. It is terrible public relations. I don't care if you feel sorry for me or not. (I'm a grown-up, I can handle it.) The point is that Israelis really ought to stop harrassing people who put them under a microscope.

Your response to these Israeli security checks doesn't make you sound grown-up, and I certainly don't feel sorry for you. It makes you sound naive, selfish, and pompous.

It is, however, an interesting explanation for the generally negative media coverage of Israel: the Israelis dare to question people -- nay, not just mere people, but journalists -- who transit Israel between meetings and interviews with various terrorist groups and anti-Israel factions in nearby hostile countries. What chutzpah!

Posted by: Shad at January 5, 2007 03:36 PM

"hizbollah has made no such mistakes as they did in the past after sayyid hassan nasrallah took office. (ME)

Everyone makes mistakes, unless they are God. (Mertel - i think)"

You have obviously taken my words out of context. Read that paragraph, or sentence again and note the use of "SUCH mistakes...". If you read the article you would know that the word SUCH refers to the mistake of turning your guns against your people.

PS i believe hizbollah should not be labelled a terrorist group for three simple reasons, it fights a legitimate war of resistance to free lebanese prisoners as well as lebanese land occupied and detained by the IDF illegally.

The second reason would be that the first attribute of a terrorist organisation would be that they terrorise their own people before any other. This is perfectly clear with Al-Qaida and taliban who operate in afghanisatan and terrorize the afghanis, Osama is Saudi Arabian and he has bombed couple of sites in his own country, so has Jordan been bombed, the same country zarqawi was bombed, so was egypt which zawahry is from. These people are too blinded by looking to the sky (i.e. religion/god) that they forget the soil (i.e. their own land/country) which is not evident in Hizbollah, because they obviously don't terrorize their own people and their popular support is proof. IRA terrorised irish people, ESA terrorised spanish people, Ergun gangs terrorised jewish/israelis among the many people, so have the lebanese forces and SLA etc.

The third reason being that hizbollah has incredible support and popularity across the world, not only lebanon and the lebanese, which you simply do not find with other terror organisation, the support from their own people being primary and the rest secondary. Hizbollah have always been focused on the soil and fought for the soil and sacrificed for the sake of the soil (and freedom/dignity/honour/pride) but always done it in the name of their religion and in dependence of their god, and i don't see whats so wrong about that. Hizbollah were the organisation to have made this comment which is so popular in lebanon now.

"Lebanon's problems are alot, but primarily its that all factions are so busy blinding themselves by only looking to the skies, that they can not see the soil anymore, i.e. the lebanese problem is that they consider themselves christian, muslim, druze etc before they are lebanese."

Posted by: hezbollah lover at January 6, 2007 06:00 PM

Abraham (shouldn't that be Abram?), you are a tool. Penn Jillette would open your skull and eat your brains (if he could keep 'em down), but they would hardly cover a cracker spread thin, and as you know, he's a big man.

Do save your rants about genocide. Not. Even. Worth. Discussing. Boo hoo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki! Go to Manila or Nanjing and try to sell that line - poor Japanese! If they send back the pieces they shouldn't need more than a stamp apiece.

Oh, and if you think of any meritorious contributions the Islamic civilization has made to mankind in, say, the last hundred years, do let us know. Last five hundred, even. (Yeah, I know the etymology of "alcohol" and "algebra" and "admiral" and "check." Congratulations on the astrolabe, too. And on saving all the Greek texts you pillaged - the ones you didn't burn. Now, fast forward, eh?) Science, medicine, letters, economics, like that; I don't mean new ways to lie or kill. If not for oil Arabia would be like Africa, but poorer - Niger without the uranium.

...In fact, why don't you hold your breath until you come up with some? Or at least why not simply find a new record to play? This one's broken. Just stick it up your tailpipe like all the others. Mike, it's your blog, and I know there's some merit in keeping the Abrahams of the world around for their entertainment value, but geez, sometimes you gotta change the sheets.

PS You misspelled "egregiously," Abe. It helps, in playing an online Jack Handey Deeeeep Thinker, to sweat the details. I'm sure Chomsky or Zinn or whoever you cribbed it from got it right, why can't you?

Posted by: nichevo at January 7, 2007 03:41 AM

Well said Michael. You hit the nail on the head.

These people are brainwashed and they are the ones that are "retarded" (which is a better translation than "handicapped", btw).

But that does't diminish the magnitude of the problem Lebanon is facing. This is the result of years of letting Hezbollah build-up their strengths at the expense of a weak Lebanese government. This is very similar to the PLO's rise in 1970's which led to the war.

And if they aren't happy about the elections and want to have a democracy, why don't they go and debate this in the Parliament and via normal democratic channels, instead of acting like renegades on the streets. There's no respect for this type of behavior in the civilized, democratic world that we know of.

Posted by: Anon at January 7, 2007 09:39 AM

Unrelated to about the 90% of the comments, but touched on earlier, I'm another person who imagines what it would look like for clusterbombs to land on crowds of people chanting "Death to America". The only thing that would look better than clusterbombs landing on a crowd of people chanting "Death to America" would be much larger clusterbombs full of napalm landing on a crowd of people chanting "Death to America". A Daisy Cutter would produce nice results as well.
It's a war chant. It sounds like a threat coming from an enemy. I don't buy it as "just a slogan" or that there's a distinction between government vs people when it's said. Call me crazy, but find it difficult to trust the intentions of the people who say it.

Posted by: Guy at January 8, 2007 12:35 PM

I am a secular anti Hizbollah Shi'a.
Michael's blog is the closest thing I have seen to reality. I have to say, that as a lebanese American, I am also strongly biases against these thugs. They are corrupting the minds of the young and impressionable with all that propaganda about how they are demonstrating to protest against corruption, what the hell happened to the Sheb'a Farms, their old excue to remain armed and terrorize ? Now theyturned their guns inward and the sheep follow.

Posted by: Basil at January 12, 2007 02:04 PM

John Lenon.... EAT MY ANUS

Posted by: Sam The American at January 13, 2007 07:09 AM

Abraham, YOU are the reason most Americans think Arabs pride- and propaganda-filled fanatics.

In your case, they're right. Your comments might well have been penned by Said or Ramadan.

It's clear Michael's objective (if I may interpret his "audience" comment) is to educate readers (heavily American) about the complexities of the Middle East. For that reason, I doubt he would get intricately involved with debating either side, whether your rabidly pro-Arab one or my own strongly pro-Israeli one. I understood that even before my first posting, and so I wouldn't give Michael a hard time. Why do YOU feel compelled to do so? More excessive pride?

Posted by: ScoialistZionist at January 13, 2007 04:08 PM

Nichevo: An argument may be made that Hindu mathematicians contributed more to algebra than did Arab, and that much of the vaunted Arab algebra contribution was simply imitation of the Hindu.

Basil: Bravo! It is a pleasure to find those like yourself and MJT who are knowledgable in a geopolitical area without being doctrinaire. Bravo for both of you.

Posted by: SocialistZionist at January 13, 2007 05:24 PM

Lol, babe, arab muslims invented algebra so i don't know what you're on about.

Posted by: hizbollah lover at January 14, 2007 11:54 AM

HL: i don't know what you're on about

We know, HL, we know.

Posted by: nichevo at January 14, 2007 12:48 PM

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