Across the Bay

Friday, March 10, 2006

I Should've Known

Never give a phone interview. Always do it by email, so that you make sure your own words are printed, and so that you wouldn't have to do what I am about to do right now.

The Daily Star ran a piece about the Lebanese blogosphere in which I was interviewed. The article was unfortunately very sloppy in how it misquoted, rephrased, and misrepresented most of what I said.

First of all, the author got my blog's name wrong. That set the tone I guess.

The main theme of the discussion was about Lebanese identity and sectarianism. That was in response to the issue of March 14. In explaining my view about layers of identity and such (themes that my readers are familiar with), I quoted Theo Hanf (see below) and others. Yet, Hanf gets dropped (perhaps he's the "obscure social scientist" mentioned in the piece) while a joker like As'ad AbuKhalil becomes the main issue!

AbuKhalil was one of the people interviewed as well, so I explained how his disparaging remarks about the March 14th phenomenon missed the point that Hanf notes, and how that hinted at a problematic understanding of identity to begin with. But don't bother to try and find that argument in the piece. Snippets of what I said in this context were cut, rephrased, and redistributed in different contexts rendering them incomprehensible and nonsensical.

Add to that of course outright sloppy errors. I never said AbuKhalil sought to Arabize the March 14th phenomenon. That's actually asking too much of AbuKhalil whose intellectual contribution peaked with the term "Hummus Revolution."

I of course was referring (by name I might add) to Chibli Mallat's article. If you go back to my posts at the time, you'd see a post dedicated to this issue. My argument was noted and elaborated on by Chuck Freund in a piece in the DS. He got it right of course.

So her quote attributed to me about AbuKhalil not acknowledging dissonance is neither comprehensible nor accurate. (The worth of AbuKhalil's commentary is encapsulated in the word Hummus. Enough said.) I said that I acknowledge the dissonance (notice the title of Chuck Freund's piece linked right above), and that I don't mind it, and I don't think it's mutually exclusive with an encompassing Lebanese national identity. Here is where I put the quote about essentialization, which got totally rephrased and misplaced. Here's where I also referred to Hanf and how he explained the layering of identity and how most Lebanese identify first as Lebanese but also as something else (family, sect, region, etc.). For more, click on the link on Hanf above.

Also -- again in the context of talking about Lebanese identity, Lebanese communalism, etc. -- I made the point I've repeatedly made on this blog about the usefulness (or lack thereof, to be more precise) of categories such as "right" and "left" in the Lebanese context. Nevertheless, I'm labeled a rightist. How so? "[I]n that [I am] supportive but critical of the March 14 movement." How does that make one a rightist again? And were the crowds of March 8 "leftist"?! (And for the record, I never said "what is that anyway?" And that's not the only thing I never said that was attributed it to me in that piece!)

Everything I mentioned about either AbuKhalil or Cobban was secondary in relation to what I said about Lebanese identity and sectarianism (in response to what was asked about March 14). Dropped were far more relevant and important names than those of these jokers. Names like Amin Maalouf and a quote from his book on identity (here's where the bit about the "core" comes from, but it's completely incomprehensible in the piece) that I also had used in one of my posts. I also mentioned how Hanf was dropped.

The end result is a piece that is essentially about AbuKhalil! He was only brought up secondarily (only because he was another interviewee!) as an example in my explanation of my position on identity and communalism. As I mentioned to the author, my overall attitude towards that joker is perfectly worded by Martin Kramer's masterful quote in a puff piece done on AbuKhalil for the LAT. The brilliant quote is worth repeating here:

"AbuKhalil speaks for a certain brand of revolutionary, utopian secular Arabism that lost most of its following in the Middle East 20 years ago." "He is against the Arab regimes, against Israel, against U.S. policy, against the Islamists, against the liberals, against the reformists. ... He's the perfect example of the supremely principled and supremely irresponsible Arab intellectual. And so he's a luxury only America can afford."

So my quote ("anti-everything") was a direct (and explicit) reference to this.

And so on and so forth. Anyway, I thank the author for including me in the piece, I just wish I was properly quoted (it's not too much to ask!). But the most ridiculous thing is that a discussion that was centered on identity and communalism in Lebanon somehow got turned into something mainly about a third-rate jester, at the expense of relevant and edifying quotes from a serious scholar like Hanf, or a serious writer like Maalouf!

So learn your lesson kiddies. Always send your quotes in writing.