Across the Bay

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Flickering Qandil Light

The Lebanese Al-Mustaqbal newspaper published this story containing unsourced information that led to the rounding up of the security chiefs, and former MP Nasser Qandil (Syria's insufferable pit bull, who has all of a sudden lost his bark) for their role in the Hariri assassination:

Former MP Nasser Qandil dispatched a message to the Syrian leadership listing the reasons why the immediate liquidation of PM Rafik Hariri was necessary, such as his [Hariri's] inclinations will lead to a guaranteed majority in Parliament, which will pave the way for the removing of Syrian troops from Lebanon in cooperation with the International Community, which is urged on by Hariri -- as claimed by Qandil -- to implement UNR 1559.

This may explain the quick visit paid by Qandil to Damascus right before his being called for questioning. Smart move!!

The information cited by the paper claims that the main security chiefs, currently held for questioning and likely facing charges, Mustapha Hamdan, Jamil es-Sayyed, Raymond Azar, and Ali Hajj, were holding meetings in preparation for the assassination, and were closely monitoring the execution of the crime, and on the eve of the assassination, they allegedly inspected the exact area where the assassination was to take place. They then tampered with the evidence, obstructed the investigation, and misled the investigators, after the crime.

The story adds that two apartments were being raided today, that were used in the preparatory meetings before the murder. Also, two cars allegedly used in the crime are being examined by the team.

In case you missed it, check out Michael Young's piece in TCS on what if Syria (and Hizbullah) were indeed found guilty. Also, Khairallah Khairallah asked a similar question in the Kuwaiti Al-Ra'y Al-'Am: what will the fallout be in Syria, considering that the Lebanese security officers in custody all received direct and strict instructions from Damascus (hell, Qandil made sure to get them before being called in!), and one of them in particular, Jamil es-Sayyed, is directly tied to Bashar al-Asad?

Update: This has got to be the funniest quote of the week. Nasser Qandil in al-Balad: "Arabism is on trial in Lebanon." HAAAA! What a cockroach.

But what's perhaps funnier, or more pathetic, is the almost exact similarity between his final statement (the last paragraph) about Lebanon, Arabism, 1559 and Hizbullah, and the comment by Walid Jumblat, also in al-Balad. That's what happens when you voluntarily place your eggs in Hizbullah's basket, just to spite Aoun. But Jumblat ought to better coordinate his statements with Hizbullah. At one point they (dishonestly) said that Lebanon is ruled only according to the formula of "no victor no vanquished." Jumblat on the other hand just asserted: "since when is consensus the rule?" The guy's an absolute riot...

Update 2: Georges Malbrunot on Jamil es-Sayyed: "The link between Hizbullah and its Syrian sponsor." "Contrary to his claims, the Syrians dissuaded him from running on Hizbullah's list in the Bekaa, in the last elections." So after Nasrallah trying to prevent the Syrian withdrawal on March 8, and after his Frenching of Rustum Ghazaleh in front of the cameras, Jamil es-Sayyed was going to run on the Party's list, and the Syrians were the ones who dissuaded him from running?! Nice...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Apologies, Clarification, and More

My apologies for the long absence. That's due to two things: tight and successive deadlines, followed by a long overdue vacation with the family. I'm still not totally in the clear work wise, but I'm almost there (before my teaching duties for the fall semester resume in a week!). For those of you still coming back, thanks for your patience!

As for the change in my signature (for those who noticed!), it's just for some esoteric fun. For one, this is how my parents used to playfully call me as a kid, given that my grandfather's name was Antoun. Efendi is a Turkish title of Greek origin (ΑΥΘΕΝΤΗΣ - pronounced: afthendis, which became afendi/efendi. It means "master, lord") that's still used, along with several others (like Bey/Bek, Hanim, Basha, etc.) in parts of the ME (and Greece) as a remnant of the Ottoman heritage.

This heritage with its complex interconnection of cultures is the other reason behind the name Anton Efendi. Anton Efendi was a 19th - early 20th c. Ottoman musician of Greek origin, who played the Lavta, an instrument similar to the Oud, whence his title Lavtaci Anton Efendi (the -ci |-gi| ending is another, linguistic, remnant of Turkish Ottoman influence on the spoken dialects of the Arabophone ME. It's still used to denote profession, e.g.: bostaji = bus driver. Kihrabji = electrician. etc. The form also exists in modern Greek as -tzis.)

The form of the title is typical, as family names weren't used. Anton's family name was Kyriatzis. He and his two brothers, Civan (Zivannis) and Hristo (Christo), were all musicians and players of the Lavta. They, along with other Greek musicians (like Kemençeci [kemençe player] Nikolaki, Udi [Oud player] Marko, Kemençeci Vasilaki, Udi Yorgo, and before them Hanende [cantor] Zaharya, etc.), were a crucial part of the development of Ottoman music in the late 17th-early 20th c. Beside Greek composers (Rum bestekârlar), other "minority" musicians and composers included Armenians (Ermeni bestekârlar), and Jews (Yahudi bestekârlar), like Mısırlı (Egyptian) Ibrahim Efendi, Tanburi Izak (Romano), and Izak Algazi Efendi (click on "Örnek" ["sample"] to hear samples of his songs, both secular and religious). In fact, the notation system of Ottoman musicians, before the introduction of the Western system (and alongside it), was the Hamparsum system, named after the Armenian Hamparsum Limonciyan, the chief musician of the Armenian Church in Istanbul, and was itself based on Armenian church musical neums (somewhat similar to the Byzantine psaltica). In fact, the written repertoire of Ottoman music is indebted to three non-Muslims: the 17th c. Polish captive of war Albert Bobowski (Ali Ufki), the 18th c. Moldavian Prince Demetrius Cantemir, and the Armenian Hamparsum Limonciyan (18th-19th c.), who notated much of the repertoire of the 17th, 18th, and 19th c. and saved it from oblivion.

One severely influential Armenian composer was Kemani [violinist] Tatyos Efendi (Ekserciyan). He was taught in part by the elder Kyriatzis brother, Lavtaci Civan (who also taught Vasilaki), but he was a student of another Armenian, Kemani Sebuh. Tatyos influenced Turkey's foremost composer/musician of the late 19th-early 20th c., Tanburi [player of the Tanbur] Cemil Bey, who studied Tatyos' music, and paid tribute to him by playing several of his compositions and recorded some of them for posterity during the early days of gramophone recordings, with Orfeon Records and the Blumenthal Brothers (in fact, Tatyos' and Cemil's compositions are among the most well-known and often-played pieces of the Ottoman repertoire. Perhaps a good illustration is the fact that on this CD by famed Oud player Udi Yorgo Bacanos, there are two Saz Semais and one Peşrev. The Muhayyer Saz Semai is by Cemil, the Kürdilihicazkâr Peşrev is by Tatyos. The third (Nekriz) Saz Semai is by Refik Fersan, Cemil's pupil! Tatyos' Kürdilihicazkâr Peşrevi and Saz Semaisi, and Rast Peşrevi are among his best known compositions. Cemil recorded his Hüseyni Saz Semai (sample here, under Disc 1). Sami el-Shawwa recorded his interpretation of Tatyos' Rast Peşrevi around 1920, seven years after Tatyos' death. El-Shawwa's interpretation is the template for Levantine and Egyptian musicians today.). My favorite composition of his is the Peşrev Bestenigâr, although his Peşrev Suzinak is simply brilliant. Real Audio downloads of his compositions can be found here, and the musical scores of his compositions, along with those of dozens of other great Ottoman composers, listed under the names of the respective makams (which you'd have to know!), can be found at this magnificent Turkish site.

It's said that, despite the religious discrimination, these "minority" musicians were highly respected. One story relates how Sultan Selim III, himself an acomplished musician and composer (his Peşrev Suzidilâra is very beautiful, and was brilliantly interpreted by famed Egyptian Qanun player, Mohammad el-Aqqad. Sample here. People like Aqqad and the Syrian [Aleppo] Greek Orthodox violinist Sami el-Shawwa, were the transmitters and reinterpreters of the Ottoman forms Peşrev and Saz Semai to the Levant and Egypt), used to always stand up out of respect every time his Tanbur teacher, Tanburi Izak (Fresko Romano of Ortakoy), a Jew, would enter the room.

These "minority" composers fused their own cultural and religious musical heritages with Ottoman music, and the latter itself influenced the former. Hence, Greek composers of Byzantine church music, like Zaharya, Petros Bereketis, and Petros Peloponesseos, used to perform in the Ottoman court. Byzantine music witnessed a reform movement in the 18th-19th c., when the current notation system used in Greek Orthodox (Rum) churches was set. Anyone familiar with Byzantine music cannot but hear the strong, sometimes overwhelming, similarities between Ottoman music and Byzantine music (here's a possible example, continued here, for those familiar with Byzantine chant). It becomes less of a surprise when you know the history of musical exchange between the two cultures. As noted above, the Armenian Hamparsum was himself a Church musician, and the Jewish composers Tanburi Izak (Fresko Romano) and Izak Algazi Efendi, were both synagogue cantors (Hazanim).

Which brings me back to Anton Efendi. You can hear a sample from his Peşrev Hüseyni here, from a CD called Rum Bestekârlar (Greek composers). Those who read music, can see the music sheet for the piece here (see especially the third Hâne). I loved this piece so much that I decided to use his title. The title also reminded me of my parents, so it was a no brainer! Ottoman music and Byzantine music are without a doubt my favorite forms of music. It also helps that they are the forms of music that I've studied (Byzantine), and that I passionately collect, and enjoy playing on my Oud in my basement!

So there you have it... Now, as for the real business, I'll be coming back to it real soon with some posts I've been thinking about and preparing the last few days (and others that I wanted to post earlier, but never got a chance). Let's see how much I can do. Also, let's wait and see what happens with this Mehlis report. Some developments have taken place, including the rounding up of major suspects (probably to keep them from being assassinated, although Nasser Kandil, Syria's pit bull, is said to have taken refuge in Damascus. But he's a loud nobody.) while leading Lebanese political figures have gone to France for the same reason (to escape assassination!). The most interesting circulating gossip is the resurgence of the Hizbullah factor. You may remember that shortly after Hariri's assassination, I posted information I had gotten from Lebanon about some major political figures not ruling out a Hizbullah involvement. Nasrallah has denied it of course, but Bashar also denied his involvement, so that doesn't count! We'll have to wait and see whether the report says they were invovled or not. How that will be dealt with in Lebanon is a huge question. For now, Lebanese politicians have been dealing with Hizbullah like their predecessors did with the PLO in 1969: they went along with what was clearly a horrible idea, but they did it out of fear that confronting the problem would mean war. Well, it meant war anyway.

Update: Michael Young asks the question: what if Syria is guilty? More worrisome, as noted above, what if Hizbullah is indeed involved?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Shebaa Farms: The Last Hoorah?

No one should be surprised to hear Naim Qassem claim that the disengagement from Gaza is a "victory for the armed resistance." Nor perhaps should we be surprised by the following statement by Qassem:

"If the Israelis withdrew from the Shebaa Farms, it would be the third victory in five years," Kassem said.

"But this would not change things; the resistance is there to protect Lebanon and is a defence force in Lebanon's hands to confront Israeli threats which are not limited to Shebaa Farms."

The last part is something they've been saying for a while now, and no one in Lebanon is interested. The first part, however, may be interesting. There have been rumours that during her visit to Beirut, Condi Rice mentioned the possibility of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms, in order to further pressure Hizbullah to disarm.

I have no idea if that is the case or not (I tend to believe it's not), nor am I sure, as Qassem's remarks clearly indicate (that's their purpose), it would make a difference for Hizbullah (it won't). They would definitely claim it as a victory, and have a one-day party about it, trying to revive their brief moment in the sun. But it would be short-lived, as the Lebanese (esp. Aoun) and the intl' community would immediate jump on them, as Aoun already has, to disarm, now that all territorial disputes with Israel have been solved, and to send the Army to the border, including Shebaa.

Of course Hizbullah will reject that and continue in its current policy of evasion and contempt, but it would add more domestic and international pressure. How wise would that move be? I am not sure it's that great.

I also wonder what the Syrian reaction would be should that scenario take place. What would Syria, who has not officially handed over the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon, and who has not properly demarcated the borders with Lebanon, think of HA planting their flag in Shebaa, and how would it react to that?

Obviously this is all hypothetical, and remains to be seen. In the meantime, Naim Qassem can claim, preemptively, one final, short, and hollow hoorah.

Update: Michael Young's op-ed today:

What Hizbullah misses is that the Lebanese system of communal compromise works differently; the imposition of one's power on other communities may well provoke a furious, confessional backlash. It has to be bluntly stated: Hizbullah is increasingly, and unfortunately, seen as a threat by Lebanon's Sunnis and Christians; and even Walid Jumblatt, who has defended the party's right to bear arms, has done so for reasons of political calculation, though he is as alarmed by Hizbullah's pre-eminence in the state as anyone else; indeed, when Jumblatt demands a dismantling of the security apparatus protected by President Emile Lahoud, he indirectly targets Hizbullah's pivotal role in that order.

Here's my fundamental point of disagreement with Michael, on his point of a new national pact. While I agree that a new pact is necessary (especially in light of the March 14th shift in Sunni attitudes), I don't think Hizbullah can ever be in the center politically. That's what you need for a new pact. So far, the center is the Future Movement and the FPM. While the Shiites are needed in order to complete the pact, their leadership, as in 1943, has so far proven incapable of providing that alternative (due in large part to Hizbullah authoritarianism, and Berri's nepotism, both of whom teamed up to crush everyone else in their community). Until proper alternatives emerge, that parallel the developments, say, in the Christian community, it's a waste of time.

I thought the point about violence and placing the onus of violence on Hizbullah was very interesting. I'm still weary of the possibility, which I've expressed before, that Nasrallah, falsely emboldened by Iran's lunatics, will lead us to conflict.

Update 2: Hisham Melhem reporting in An-Nahar today:

[US] Sources said that the easing down on criticizing and publicly demanding the disarmament of Hizbullah in past weeks, which came out of respect for the wishes of certain Lebanese figures, including Saad Hariri and Fouad Seniora, is now over, because Hizbullah misinterpreted it as backing down from the official US position, well-known to the party, and also because US official doubted its validity in the first place.

US sources expressed relief at the fact that the matter of Hizbullah's weapons was no longer taboo in public critical inquiry, as it once was. They added that there were encouraging elements in that regard, which emerged since the formation of the cabinet and the prominent role of Hizbullah not just in appointing a representative in the cabinet, i.e., Minister Muhammad Fneish, but also in the insistence of the Hizbullah-Amal alliance on appointing a Shiite Minister sympathetic to Hizbullah's agenda, Fawzi Salloukh, as Foreign Minister, which prompted questions and open debate in Lebanon on Hizbullah's weapons, especially when Hizbullah's participation in the cabinet and its insistence on Fawzi Salloukh are aimed at protecting Hizbullah and its weapons in the face of expected international pressure.

The sources expressed their hope that the public debate about Hizbullah will touch on the Party's benefitting, under previous cabinets, from particular "services" it obtained from various Ministries, including hundreds of free international phone lines, which earned Hizbullah lofty sums (there were hundreds such free international phone lines at the service of former Syrian intelligence officers in Lebanon, as well as prominent Lebanese officials), and other such practices, including government aid packages spent in some areas through Hizbullah.

Don't let Helena Cobban hear that. You see, Hizbullah for her is the vanguard of non-corrupt secular democracy and reform. And yes, she's serious. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Update 3: Perhaps validating the previous quote about breaking taboos, Edmond Saab (who I don't usually read regularly or particularly like) wrote a devestatingly tough piece against Jumblat and Hizbullah. One of the things that really upsets me in the predominant line in Lebanon's papers is that only Lahoud is a problem, and implicitly, Aoun and the Patriarch are maintaining Syria's man as long as they provide him with cover. Never, and that's why Saab's piece stands out, do the commentators make a reference to Hizbullah (whose leader smooched Rustum Ghazaleh and gave him a farewell gift, and brought thousands of people to the streets in the hope of emasculating the rest of the Lebanese), and Jumblat's alliance with them, and how that torpedoed the March 14th alliance (Saab's piece touches on that and says that perhaps Jumblat "shouldn't have been assigned to lead it"). As if all of a sudden, Hizbullah is no longer Syria's main ally in Lebanon, and as if Hizbullah isn't intimately linked to the military intelligence apparatus. Ali Hamade's piece the other day somewhat exemplified that type of writing, although he does cryptically and in passing touch on the Hizbullah problem, but comes nowhere near to properly addressing that serious problem, which when compared to Lahoud, is far more long term.

Sfeir and Federalism

Patriarch Sfeir, who seems more than ever behind Aoun, has echoed Aoun's rejection (see post below) of a "federalism of sects" (English story here): "some have attributed to us that we're calling for a federalism of sects, and that is not true. We call for coexistence, which should be strengthened. Lebanon is a small country that cannot sustain a federalism of sects. It cannot be that every sect builds a state of its own." (Emphasis added.)

I don't know what's behind this, but I think it's probably related to Hizbullah and the current situation they're forcing on the country. I also wonder if this is not part of an unofficial bargaining of sorts with Hizbullah. At the end of the day, a possible substitute for Hizbullah's weapons (if we accept that logic) is to maintain a hold on the south and be able to run their affairs unchallenged as they are now. One wonders if the maximalist rhetoric from both sides won't result in a settlement that might end up precisely with a federalism of sorts. I think there are a lot of other issues at stake in Hizbullah's weapons, but I also happen to think that there is no way in hell Hizbullah can even dream of taking the whole pie. They know that this is the best they can hope for. So I wouldn't be surprised to hear Hizbullah call not just for a form of federalism, but for keeping the sectarian system intact. In fact, if you contrast the bombastic statements of a HA representative in that piece of crap article by Helena Cobban, and statements they made more recently, saying: "Lebanon cannot be ruled by a majority" (because, you see, they are not the majority in Parliament!), you'll see that it's already happened.

Anyway, I don't really susbcribe to that logic of substituting the weapons, because at the end of the day, as I've said before, all substitutes are fluid and not guaranteed for the long term. Once you open up the political field for Shiites to compete against Hizbullah, even in a quasi-federal structure, and they no longer feel the need to hang on to Hizbullah as a way to safeguard gains and a sense of empowerment, rivals will rise, and Hizbullah's influence may very well be threatened. That's why it'll be interesting to watch the debates over the election law, because Berri will push for proportional representation in order to have a way in with or without a coalition with Hizbullah (which itself cannot be always guaranteed). I'm not sure Hizbullah will be too keen on that. Let's see.

Speaking of Hizbullah, Naim Qassem was quoted in that same article as accusing Israel of sowing the seeds of strife (fitna) between Sunnis and Shia. You know things aren't going well between Sunnis and Shia when you have to blame Israel! But that's related again to my earlier post "The ME as it Really Is" (see below), on which I'll elaborate soon.

Qassem accused Israel of fabricating the recent threat issue by Qaedat al-Jihad fi bilad ash-Sham (al-Qaeda in Syria) which called for the assassination of key Shiite figures in Lebanon. Interestingly, in a story (which I'll come back to later) in al-Mustaqbal on Monday, Nassir al-As'ad (who perhaps along with Fares Khashan, is the paper's best reporter) quoted an anonymous source as saying, based on information from a "Western diplomat," that it may have been Syria who was behind that document, as part of a strategy to counter the possible repercussions of the Mehlis investigation.

Conspiracy theories galore, but the one thing that's true is that Shiite-Sunni relations regionally are incredibly tense, to say the least. Hizbullah's weapons certainly funciton within that framework.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Lebanon, the Palestinians, Aoun and Hizbullah

There are some seemingly bright spots in the relationship between the post-Syrian Lebanese government and the Palestinian Authority. After finally being given work permits (with talks of grants of professional licenses), Al-Hayat reported yesterday (story via Haaretz) that the PA "plans to transfer Palestinian militants from Lebanon to Gaza following Israel's pullout from the Strip."

Apparently, this is going to be sold as compliance with UNR 1559 which calls for the dismantling of all militias in Lebanon (which essentially means Hizbullah and the Palestinians). Whether this actually means that the remaining Palestinians will actually be unarmed remains to be seen, but it's a more or less creative solution.

While not disarming the Palestinians prevents the total embarrassment of Hizbullah (and may indeed provide them with an opportunity to establish more of a presence in Gaza), it does place the Israeli-Palestinian struggle in its proper geographical context. This way, Palestinians claiming to hold on to their weapons for "resistance" purposes (an excuses favorable to Hizbullah), will operate exclusively on their home soil, and not out of Lebanon. Not that this will change Hizbullah's rhetoric, which has become so vague and ridiculous (and lacking any national consensus, making it strictly sectarian). Listen to #2 man, Naim Qassem, talking to Al-Balad:

Trading disarmament for an Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms is rejected because the occupation does not deserve a prize for its occupation.

He went on to say that the weapons are tied to "what we have in Lebanon and the region in terms of Israeli occupation, threats, and dangers." (Emphasis added.) You can't get any more vague than that. Actually, the message is quite clear. Now it's no longer a matter of liberating supposed Lebanese land (Shebaa). It's "Israeli threats and dangers" not just in Lebanon, but "the region."

This type of rhetoric and intransigence has led Aoun to end any prospect of talks with Hizbullah (for the Arabic original, see here and here.) Aoun added that Hizbullah comes to the table with pre-fixed "red lines" which makes dialogue a non-starter. What are we supposed to be dialoguing about, if there are matters which are a priori not open for dialogue! Furthermore, Aoun added, "I can't dialogue with Hizbullah, especially when recently they've been globetrotting from Syria to Iran. I can't catch up. They've established a state within a state as a matter of fact."

Aoun went on to say that "a serious dialogue with Hizbullah necessitates that they clarify some ambiguities regarding thier positions on the resistance. What are the resistance's ultimate goals, and how long will it go on? What interests me more than the elimination of Israel is the preservation of Lebanon. The current approach will lead to the elimination of Lebanon before Israel."

Aoun then apparently continued his assault on the PoG by saying that "anyone who sets up political, geographical or security barriers between the Lebanese serves the 'federalism of partition'." He added, "the current political reality and some of the discourse is leading us toward a 'partitioning federalism'."

Federalism's proponents in Lebanon have been the Lebanese Forces. But they haven't been talking about it, and this is not aimed at them, but at Hizbullah. Ironically, Hizbullah itself has been against that proposal by the LF and the equation of federalism and partition is actually Hizbullah's line (especially in the 80s when they were working on establishing an Islamic state as an extension of the Iranian revolution. Their famous slogan then was la sharqiyya wa la gharbiyya, joumhouriyya Islamiyya: "no east [Beirut], and no west [Beirut], but an Islamic Republic")! So Aoun is using it against them. Finally, he reiterated his desire to go back to the 1949 armistice with Israel, whereby, as he put it, "not even a mosquito would be able to cross the border." And he is willing to forgo asking for the implementation of 1559 if the Taef accord is fully implemented without reservations. The Taef accord also stipulates the disarming of all militias and the dispatching of the Armed Forces to the southern border, two matters that Hizbullah strongly opposes. I should add however, that in a meeting of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement in northern Lebanon, the spokesperson said that international resolutions are made to be strictly implemented.

For more on this matter, see Nicholas Nassif's piece on Aoun and Hizbullah, and this interview in As-Siyassah with Ghassan Mkheiber, who called for the proper demarcation of borders between Lebanon and Syria, and rejected Hizbullah's competition with the state. Similar sentiments about Hizbullah and 1559 have been expressed by FPM MP and political scientist Dr. Farid el-Khazen (the author of one of the finest books on Lebanon, and several other excellent works).

Lastly, back to the Palestinians, the Haaretz story noted what I've seen repeated in various papers about the possibility of opening a Palestinian embassy in Lebanon. This will be a good move and will continue to normalize relations between Lebanon and the Palestinians, and help take that relationship away from the grip of Hizbullah (now that the Syrians are gone). It might also put more pressure on the Syrians to exchange embassies with Lebanon, something which they have refused to consider.

So let's see what actually transpires, and if all Palestinian militants will leave, and if that means that there will be no weapons or armed militias in the Palestinian camps.

Addendum: Hizbullah involved in Iraq?

Over the past eight months, his [Iranian-backed al-Sheibani] group has introduced a new breed of roadside bomb more lethal than any seen before; based on a design from the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hizballah, the weapon employs "shaped" explosive charges that can punch through a battle tank's armor like a fist through the wall. According to the document, the U.S. believes al-Sheibani's team consists of 280 members, divided into 17 bombmaking teams and death squads. The U.S. believes they train in Lebanon, in Baghdad's predominantly Shi'ite Sadr City district and "in another country" and have detonated at least 37 bombs against U.S. forces this year in Baghdad alone.
...
The official says the U.S. believes that Iran has brokered a partnership between Iraqi Shi'ite militants and Hizballah and facilitated the import of sophisticated weapons that are killing and wounding U.S. and British troops.


Update: A couple of columns on the Palestinian arms and Palestinian Minister Abbas Zaki, from al-Balad. In the first one, Ali Al-Amin raises the $50,000 question of whether this move will cause an internal clash in the camps between factions loyal to Abbas, and those loyal to Syria, those allied with Hizbullah, and the Islamists.

Addendum 2: Here's the funniest soundbyte from Lebanon's unrivaled joker, and Lahoud court jester, Karim Pakradouni:

We maintain that there is one occupation and one resistance. The occupation is Israel's occupation of Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. And there is one resistance in Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. We consider resistance to be legitimate, in all its forms.

Rock on, Karim, with your crazy self.

Addendum 3: The head of Hizbullah's politburo Ibrahim Amin as-Sayyed, in what is perhaps the most telling statement about Hizbullah and their weapons:

[Calling on the Lebanese to] Drop, freeze, or postpone, and not exaggerate in their fears regarding the weapons of the resistance, because we have no intention of being weak and defeated.

I'm hoping to address this in more length in an upcoming post about Hizbullah and the segmented reality of the ME (see post "The ME as it really is" below).

Update 2: Hazem Saghieh on the issue of Lebanese political asylum seekers in Israel; a matter which Hizbullah has manipulated and used against Aoun, and Christians in general with nauseating self-righteousness. Saghieh in an earlier piece reiterated "for the millionth time, Lebanon in its nature and make-up and the plurality of its sects is not an ideological entity. As such, dragging it into an absolute enmity towards a particular party, any party, undermines its ability to reach a consensual agreement. The same applies to adopting a language that declares some 'nationalists' and others 'agents'."

This reminded me of a quote in Edmond Saab's column on Friday. The quote is by Mohsen Ibrahim of the Communist Labor Organization:

In supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people we loaded onto Lebanon more than it can bear in terms of military burdens for the Palestinian cause. We all too easily jumped on board the ship of the civil war under the illusion of a shortcut to democratic change. These two mistakes had dangerous negative fallouts that struck a blow to the structure of the country.

Sigh... this is why Farid el-Khazen's book is important. Read it and you'll find out what I mean.

But this quote from Hazem's piece today explains what I said in my previous post below about the Hizbullah discourse becoming not just mainstream, but the only one acceptable, in close coordination with Syria, which elevated the Party to unprecendented "highs":

What we witnessed in past years in terms of the victory of the theory of resistance over its competitors was not restricted to the South, nor to the two parties of Hizbullah and "the agents." It was an indivisible part of a coup against the traditional Lebanese functions between 1926 and 1975, and against the regional position that had Lebanon as a mediator between Arabs and between the West and the Arabs.

This coup was not calm or meek in nature. It overthrew institutions and relations, and repressed ideas, and caused a lot of death and vast emigration and a decline in the liberties of Lebanon, as well as its economy, its educational system, and its service sectors in general.


See also Nick Blanford's piece on the Lebanese SLA members in Israel.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Finally, it's Local Politics

One of the most important pre-requisites for change in the ME is for the people to return to focusing on local politics, as opposed to being suckered by trans-national ideologies. The Arab regimes and "revolutionary movements" have spent over half a century trying to prevent that. The entire history of the region, and indeed of Arab nationalism, shows how such "causes" were used in order to deflect attention from the interior. E.g., note Syria's sounding the call for war with Israel in 1948 in order to safeguard against King Abdullahs plans and to sidestep local weaknesses (see Josh Landis' excellent article on this. Elie Kedourie made similar claims before him.).

In Lebanon, my peers began talking and thinking like that when Syrian domination of Lebanese politics was at its peak, i.e., when there was no local political life. Also, Syria made Hizbullah's rhetoric mainstream and Arab nationalist historiography the norm. All of a sudden, things that were either contested or considered extreme were the only acceptable discourse. Hizbullah's now struggling to keep the revolutionary rhetoric alive and meaningful, and throwing around accusations of treason and such, but it has become an empty (highly sectarian) game, which is what it always was. We were just made to think otherwise.

In Egypt, Mona Tahawi tells us, local politics now dominate conversations:

There were no arguments over the United States, Israel, Palestine, Iraq or any of the other "hot spots" that used to dominate every meal and spill over into tea, coffee and dessert. This time, all conversations were about a small but active opposition movement in Egypt that since December has focused on ending the dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak.

I have never heard so many relatives and friends take such an interest in Egyptian politics or -- more important -- feel that they had a stake in them.

In other words, things are finally (hopefully) being put back in their proper context. Now if only Western ME experts would take note.

Hot Baath

If you want to understand just how insane and out of touch the Syrian Baath is, just take a look at this summary (Arabic) of the official report on the Baath Conference. It's hilarious.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time right now to translate parts of it, but I'll hopefully translate some highlights in an addendum later on, as I'm trying to finish loads of work right now, which is why my posting has been light and short. But Arabic readers looking for a laugh should definitely take a look.

Also, check out the following articles from Elaph, here and here.

The first quotes former MP Salah Hnein as saying that one of the reasons behind Syria's behavior is because it has never really acknowledged Lebanon as a state. Also, Syria has a "totalitarian mindset" which prevents it from dealing with Lebanon in any other way except through security services and bullying, and not through state to state relations.

The second story by Bahiyya Mardini notes the return in Syria of physical liquidation of members of political parties (when did it stop!?). Yesterday, a member of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party, Kamran Hamza Muhammad, was shot dead, in a continuing pressure on Kurdish parties in Syria, which included the murder of Kurdish Sheikh Khaznawi.

The Syrians are afraid of only two parties inside Syria: the Kurds and the Muslim Brotherhood. The rest are bullied every time they try to make an alliance with either one. Read Anwar al-Bunni's interview with Joe Pace for more.

And we're asked to believe that this thug (Bashar) and his posse are the way to go in Syria, if we want reforms! Ammar sees it slightly differently, and more realistically:

The problem with reform in the region, the reason why we don’t have enlightened despots at work, is simply the total corruption of our political and economic elite. We have thieves and thugs for decision-makers, avaricious morons for policy advisors and dreamy nincompoops for technocrats. How on earth can we modernize with this lot?

He also nailed the kind of reforms Bashar has in mind: "a democracy that does not change anything, that does not upset any scheme, that does not antagonize any elite."

That's the paradoxical statico change Bashar has in mind.

Finally, take a look at Michael Young's latest in the DS on how Syria's gambit with Iran is not only empty, but may end up costing Bashar more than he ever bargained for. (See a different version of this article in Reason.)

Update: Joshua Landis alerts us to Megan Stack's piece on the Khaznawi murder. Don't forget to read Josh's remarks as well.

Update 2: Bahiyya Mardini reports new clashes between Kurds (PKK) and Syrian security services in Ayn al-Arab in North-East Syria.

Update 3: Even more on the Kurds, by Joe Pace, courtesy of Syria Comment.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Feasting on Some Cole on the Cobban

In his typical witty yet devastatingly effective manner, Martin Kramer rightfully slaps the insufferable Don Juan de Michigan and that useless rambling twit Helena Cobban for their despicable and cowardly remarks on murdered journalist Steven Vincent. It's a must read.

Martin nailed why Cole decided to take a swipe at a dead man:

The thesis: his relationship with his (Iraqi female) translator offended local sensibilities. This provides Cole with an opportunity to dismiss Vincent as a cultural novice
...
In other words, Vincent got himself killed, out of ignorance. Implication: his journalism should be dismissed.

But maybe what's really at issue here is Cole's ego (on his website, it usually is). Beneath his haughty dismissal of Vincent ("did not know anything serious") lies the fact that Vincent had the audacity to challenge him. Vincent didn't think much of Cole's armchair expertise or his claim to be driven by concern for Iraqis, and told Cole just that on his weblog
...
Cole didn't respond then. But now that Vincent is dead, Cole has seized the last word in the argument. Vincent shamed him, but now he has his honor back. He's taken his revenge. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown among full professors.

Kramer also noted the Raphael Patai material in Cole's post:

It's certainly refreshing to see Cole slip into the style of Raphael Patai, going on about honor and shame and all that. Pentagon, take note: it's all true. (But you knew that.)

Back in 2004, at the height of the Abu Ghraib affair, Cole jumped all over Seymour Hersh's story and called Patai's book, The Arab Mind, "Orientalist," which in Edward Said/MESA talk means "anti-Arab/Muslim racist." Fellow MESAn As'ad "Angry Hair" AbuKhalil, reacting to Lee Smith's Slate piece on Patai's book, called Patai "racist and unscholarly."

So let's do a little comparison, shall we? It may be difficult to guess which is which, so I'll make it easier.

Cole:

In Mediterranean culture, a man's honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men. Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown in urban areas.

Patai:

The most powerful deterrent devised by Arab cultural against illicit sex (which means any sexual relations between a man and a woman who are not married to each other) is the equation of family honor with the sexual conduct of its daughters, single or married. If a daughter becomes guilty of the slightest sexual indiscretion (which is defined in various terms in various places), her father and brothers become dishonored also. Family honor can be restored only by punishing the guilty woman; in conservative circles, this used to mean putting her to death. (p. 120)

The duties of blood revenge and mediation are features of the Bedouin ethos which have passed on almost unchanged into village life and which survive in Arab urban society as well. The persistence of blood revenge makes the work of the police and the judiciary difficult in capital cases or other offenses for which tribal law demands blood revenge: even if a murderer is sentenced to death and executed, the duty of the victim's khamsa to avenge their kinsman's death will not be fulfilled; it will be fulfilled only if they actually kill either the murderer or one of his relatives. (p. 80)

Hmmmm, tough call! Although, you'll note how Cole set himself an escape hatch by labeling this, "Mediterranean" culture, even though southern Iraq is as Mediterranean as Germany.

However, the Telegraph piece actually said Vincent's relationship with his translator offended "religious hardliners," while Johnny suggested it might be "her clan." The Telegraph linked it to the growing extremist climate in Basra, that Vincent reported on, but Cole is suggesting this is just default culture. Um, sorry, default "Mediterranean" culture. Had anyone else written this, Cole would be screaming "racist, Orientalist." In fact, as I noted above, he already did!

But such is Juanito's typical hypocrisy: what applies to mere ignorant mortals doesn't apply to "the expert." He hovers slightly above ground. Wait. That's just the hot air from the self-puffery.

Update: The best antidote to Cobban's and Cole's slimy bullshit is Lisa Ramaci's (Vincent's wife) testimony (Audio).

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Middle East as It Really Is

I was going to address this in my upcoming post on Hizbullah (and I indeed will still do so), but Michael Young beat me to it at Hit and Run.

One of my points was going to be how the veil of Arab nationalism has been lifted from the ME to show what's been lying beneath all these years. As Michael put it:

The Arab states, in concealing for decades domestic sectarian and tribal divisions under an iron curtain of imposed nationalist unanimity (both inside states and within a broad purported "Arab nation"), must now look warily at a reality telling a different story, where sectarian and ethnic identities often prevail.

In Iraq, we're witnessing the consequences of this daily. In Syria, Alawites can no longer purport to be as one with Sunnis under the great Baathist tent, since the levers of power are not only in Alawite hands, but actually in the hands of the Assad family. In Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Shiites remain second-class citizens, despite halting efforts to give them some rights. In fact, in many parts of the Arab world the nation-state format offers few convincing solutions to the myriad social and political cleavages.

One could add the recent clashes in Syria between Alawis and Ismailis. No wonder Buthaina Shaaban's been screaming Arab nationalism like there's no tomorrow.

But Anwar al-Bunni said it well in that interview with Joe Pace (see a couple of posts below):

The regime’s political strategy depends on planting landmines throughout society. But the mine doesn’t explode if you place your leg on it—it explodes when you remove your leg from it. The regime planted the land mines then placed their legs on them so that if the regime goes, the society will explode. We can expect the same thing that happened in Lebanon to happen here. We suffer from the same problems of competing nationalisms, sectarianism, and extremism. So we are held hostage by a regime that says to us “if I leave, the world will end. You’ll suffer through civil war. Best leave me in place.”

We need to mobilize the people to build a new society and minimize the potential for this explosion. But nothing is free. No country can progress without paying a price, be it blood or civil war. Even America had to undergo civil war before it could become a great power—hundreds of people had to die. Europe had to suffer through the Second World War to become what it is today. Big changes require big prices. But we need to work to minimize the price we will have to pay for progress.

Here's where the oft-maligned Lebanon comes in. Again, I quote Michael:

Lebanon alone, while suffering from the same problems as elsewhere, acknowledged this reality by creating a sectarian system. Though much maligned by Arab nationalists and their cheerleaders, it may be a way for the future.

To anticipate my upcoming post, I believe Hizbullah's weapons function in no small part within this matrix. That's why I think anyone speaking about deconfessionalization and majoritarianism doesn't understand Lebanon or the ME. Michael goes on:

Arab nationalism is pixie dust. That's why, even if the Americans screw up in Iraq, those who advised against a war find there themselves defending a mirage: America should have never stuck its hand into the hornet's nest, they argue, because what we have now is worse than what we had before. But the status quo they defended was itself aberrant and abhorrent. The idealists stupidly believed Arab nationalism could overcome sectarian, tribal and ethnic divisions, even as they thrived off them; the cynics argued: Let's stick with dictatorship to guard against sectarian breakdown and Islamism. Both approaches were examples of sins by omission.

The last part echoes Ian Lustick's 1979 World Politics article, "Stability in Deeply Divided Societies: Consociationalism versus Control":

[W]hereas consociationalism focuses on the mutual cooperation of subnational elites as decisive in this regard, a control approach would focus on the emergence and maintenance of a relationship in which the superior power of one segment is mobilized to enforce stability by constraining the political actions and opportunities of another segment or segments. (Lustick, p. 328)

Confronted with both, I invariably choose consociationalism.

More to come on this matter. But here's a preview, from Elie Kedourie's "Ethnicity, Majority and Minority in the Middle East" (in Esman and Rabinovich [eds.], Ethnicity, Pluralism, and the State in the Middle East, pp. 25-31). Kedourie understood the ME incredibly well. The article puts so much, including, as I hope to show, the question of Hizbullah, in perspective:

If political legitimacy is conferred by the suffrage of the citizens, and if the majority of the citizens in a state are members of one "nation" among two or more inhabiting the state, the majority becomes a national majority -- that is, a permanent and fixed quantity -- which is pitted against other, smaller permanent, and fixed quantities, namely of national minorities. Nationalism, then, radically changes the concept of majority and minority. This is not only because majority and minority become permanent and fixed quantities, but also because the notion of consensus, without which the maior pars cannot be accepted as the sanior pars, is subverted and in the end destroyed. With the nationalist idea of the nation, and the existence of a permanent majority, majority comes simply to mean force, the force of number, and force gives no legitimacy. ... The transformation of majority and minority into national majority and national minority is fatal to the idea of government by consent. It is transformed in this way, and divorced from its conciliar and representiative matrix -- as a free-floating idea endowed with great dynamism -- that the notion of majority and minority came to the Middle East. (p. 29)

The echoes of consociationalism in Kedourie's article are unmistakable, even if he didn't address it directly. His contempt for Arab nationalism, however, continues to be validated.

Payback?

I just spotted this story in An-Nahar. It reports that the US have pulled a Bashar and stopped 700 Syrian trucks on the Syrian-Iraqi border from entering into Syria.

Obviously, I don't know the reasoning behind this, but I'd say it serves as a reminder that if Syria thinks it can use geography and economic pressure to muscle Lebanon, two can play at that game: on the eastern front. This may be a reminder of what the US and the EU can do to Syria's economy. For more on that, read Peter Schweizer's piece in USA Today.

The Syrian papers went nuts. And, on a seperate note, the story notes how Syrian papers are continuing to harp on the "Syrians missing in Lebanon" (before and after Hariri's murder) issue. Again, that's fine. But until the Syrians start taking seriously the plight of the parents of the missing Lebanese, many still languishing in Syrian prisons, there's very little to talk about.

Hazem Saghieh had a piece last week that while lamenting the ugly way in which Syrian and Lebanese issues are being played out, actually embraces the move away from all the "brotherly" talk to actual sovereign state to sovereign state relations.

Maybe the US move on the Syria-Iraq border will help speed up that process and take away the bullying blockade card away from Bashar, and force him to deal properly with Lebanon (no intelligence services, no blockade, no car bombs); even perhaps encourage him to do something he and Farouq Sharaa hate like poison: open up an embassy in Beirut!

Well, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's see how this plays out.

Addendum: This story in today's DS reports:

"A joint Lebanese-Syrian committee is already meeting to manage the issue of workers moving between both countries. The committee already presented to the High Syrian-Lebanese Council a report to establish five bureaus on the borders to grant working permits to Syrian workers similar to other foreigners working in Lebanon."

Nevertheless, it is still unclear when the bureaus will be established at the border crossings. Such an action is not strictly administrative; it also requires political backing.

In 1994, the ministry tried to regulate the Syrian labor pool by presenting a draft law to Parliament that would have established a special section at the ministry to deal with Syrian workers. However, the draft law was shelved, as none of the parliamentarians elected since 1994 were willing to sponsor it.

Now that Syria has withdrawn from Lebanon and the two countries are moving toward normalizing relations, the issue is once again on the table. Remittances from Syrian workers employed in Lebanon are a major asset to the Syrian economy, and opportunities across the border have helped keep a lid on Syrian unemployment. While Syria maintained a powerful military (and political) presence in Lebanon, few Lebanese leaders openly questioned the arrangement.

According to Lebanese law, all foreigners are required to obtain a permit and pay a tariff in order to work in Lebanon. In practice, however, these regulations are seldom, if ever, applied to Syrian laborers.

Oh, and by the way, I'm not a protectionist!

Update: The Daily Star now has the story about the Syrian trucks in English.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Interview with Anwar al-Bunni

Take a look at Joe Pace's very interesting interview with Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni.

The Lebanese papers, mainly An-Nahar, have provided Syrian dissidents like Bunni and Michel Kilo a forum to write freely. It's been reported that one of the main reasons why Syria has been enforcing a (still ongoing) blockade on Lebanon was to deny such activities in the press, and any opposition organization in Lebanon. Hazem Saghieh's piece yesterday touched on that (see also Ali Hamade's piece that mentioned it as well):

The point of these apprehensions – mentioned explicitly by official sources in Damascus in recent days, and followed by a tough punishment of both Syrian and Lebanese economies – is that Lebanon should be less democratic. For when Lebanon allows more freedom for the press, it harms “brotherly relations.” It also harms relations when it hosts opponents of the regime, especially when opposition for the Baath means sabotage.

Makes you rethink the Qassir assassination.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Arabist Islam

One of the many stupid observations Juan Cole made after the London attacks was how the perpetrators could not have been South Asian because of the Arabist references (what Cole called "diction") in the statement issued after the bombings.

At the time (and in one of my much earlier posts), I contested this dogmatism, and pointed out what I called (Pan-)Arabist Islam. I made reference to V. S. Naipaul's Among the Believers for examples in South East Asian Muslim circles. (Cole later had the audacity to write this: "If you try to 'profile' the terrorist using such social markers as class or ethnicity, maybe even religious background, you will go badly astray." I guess he was channeling his own experience.)

The other day I came across the following interview in Prospect Magazine with a South Asian British Islamist. He had this to say:

So far afield in this case, that for many second-generation British Pakistanis, the desert culture of the Arabs held more appeal than either British or subcontinental culture. Three times removed from a durable sense of identity, the energised extra-national worldview of radical Islam became one available identity for second-generation Pakistanis. The few who took it did so with the convert's zeal: plus Arabe que les Arabes.
...
no nation matters save the Islamic nation and its Arab culture. Butt spoke passionately about Arabia and wants to go there. "I believe the Arabic language will give me that key to have access to those things I don't have access to at the moment." Again, that yearning for Islam to fill the gaps in his own identity.

Then today I was checking out one of my favorite magazines, Reason, and spotted this interview with Salman Rushdie. This statement stood out, and it added another confirmation to what I've been trying to highlight:

For example, the kind of Islam that is being forced on Kashmir is very much a kind of Arabist Islam, which is alien to Kashmir.

There you have it. Once again, you see the problems with this rigid dogmatism displayed by Cole. So much for expertise.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Lebanon, Syria, and Christian Marginalization

Take a look at this roundtable on Lebanon featuring Farid el-Khazen and Nick Blanford along with Nizar Abdel-Kader and Rime Allaf.

The following quotes from Nick and Farid respectively highlight the fact, I believe (and I think Michael Young wrote something to this effect as well), that Lebanon won't truly have normal relations with Syria until there is true change in Damascus. First Nick:

[T]he border crisis merely underlines the difficulty both countries face in allaying the ghosts of the past and forging a new and equitable bilateral relationship. Furthermore, the UN investigation into Hariri's assassination hovers over Lebanon and Syria like a sword of Damocles. The UN commission headed by Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor, is reportedly making progress in tracing who was responsible for Hariri's death. If it transpires that senior Syrian officials were involved, it would pose a potentially insurmountable obstacle for the resumption of normal relations between Beirut and Damascus. Siniora was a lifelong friend and ally of Hariri, and the largest Lebanese parliamentary bloc is headed by Saad Hariri, the former premier's son and political heir.

And Farid:

Lebanon is currently in a transition period after nearly 30 years of Syrian hegemony, and it will take time for the Lebanese government to exercise sovereignty fully now that it has regained it. The duration of the transition period will depend on several developments, some of which are beyond Lebanon's control. In the short run, the outcome of the international investigation of Hariri's assassination will have a bearing on Lebanese politics, perhaps on Syria and, by extension, on Syrian-Lebanese relations. Moreover, the full implementation of UNSCR 1559 concerning the disarming of Hizballah and of armed Palestinian groups is the greatest challenge facing Lebanon in its dealings with the international community. In the long run, Syrian-Lebanese relations will constitute the major source of tension facing Lebanon both internally and in its external relations.

Also, Nick made the following remark about Aoun:

Michel Aoun, a former army commander who has emerged as a populist Christian leader, eventually opted to remain out of government to spearhead the opposition in parliament. While his decision will enliven parliamentary debate and is probably healthy for Lebanese democracy, it does mean that the Christian community lacks a truly representative figure in the government, which risks aggravating their sense of marginalization in the new Lebanon.

This echoes the sentiments explored in more detail in Michael Young's op-ed today:

When Michel Aoun decided to retreat to the opposition, the act was remarkably, if unintentionally, prescient. Here were the Christians on the threshold of returning to political life, and the general, instead, chose to stay outside the ring. For better or worse, this was an accurate summation of the destiny of Lebanon's Christian community today, as it faces the reality of growing marginalization.

This insight has long been circulating among the numerically declining Christians, but paradoxically it was the Syrian withdrawal - the catalyst of postwar Christian irrelevancy - that brought it home. The reason is that, broadly speaking, there are two forces at the national level today competing with one other, albeit peacefully, to fill the vacuum left behind by the Syrians: the Sunni community around Saad Hariri, and the Shiite community around Hizbullah's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. Facing this duopoly, Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea have been reduced to playing strident gadfly or subordinate ally.
...
Michel Aoun made a mistake in segregating himself at a moment when Christians need to be more involved in policy matters. However, his decision to remain outside the governmental game, and the fact that the system is functioning normally despite this, demonstrates that Christians, or at least the more influential leaders of the community, are not as essential as they used to be.

I will return to this issue in my upcoming post on Hizbullah, as soon as I can spare the time.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

In the House of Saud

I figured that since the King has left the building, some readers might be interested in what lies ahead for Saudi Arabia.

The WSJ featured the following article by Simon Henderson of WINEP. For more in depth analysis and background, the place to go is Mike Doran's excellent Foreign Affairs article.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Michael Totten Goes Fisking

Michael Totten decided that pictures speak louder than words as he went fisking in the pond.

The prey? Simple. Who is the most fiskable, almost invariably wrong, and self-puffed pundit (ad explosio) in the blogosphere? Here's a hint. I'm sure you won't be shocked.

The post Michael is referring to is classic Cole.

After spectacularly botching the analysis of the London attacks, Cole gives it another shot:

The Scotsman reports on the spectacular arrest of the Somalian suspect in the July 21 failed bombing attempts, saying, "The ethnicity of the eight London bombers, ranging from Somalis, to British-born sons of Pakistani parents and an Anglo-Jamaican Muslim convert, have surprised detectives investigating the attacks."

They should not be surprised.
...
If you try to "profile" the terrorist using such social markers as class or ethnicity, maybe even religious background, you will go badly astray.

Hmmm... Am I missing something here? I must admit, I am surprised! I've lost count as to how many times the Professor has changed his mind on this matter (as he did with the Iraq war before that). He's been steadily redefining his position after his miserable, yet typical, performance. The last part is particularly amusing when you consider what Cole's initial analysis was based on.

Inspector Cole is one of a kind, and there is no denying that his analysis and investigative powers are breathtakingly penetrating. It never leads astray! Just give him time to go back and reedit and backtrack.

Update: Michael Young gives Juan an "F" for his (usual) dishonesty.

Just In Case...

... you were wondering about Hizbullah, Ayatollah Khamenei and Hassan Nasrallah have got the answers for you.

I'm planning on posting at length about Hizbullah soon, after I'm done with some deadlines. In the meantime, check out Gary Gambill's piece.