Across the Bay

Saturday, October 06, 2007

NYT: All the Absurdity Fit to Print

It's now old news that the NYT's coverage of Lebanon is beyond piss poor. I've already covered the example of Hassan Fattah, but this piece today by Thanassis Cambanis, which came to my attention via David Kenner, hits new lows in the annals of stupidity regularly published by the NYT.

Such is Mr. Cambanis' achievement that one really must struggle to find a single accurate statement in the whole piece.

Consider the lead graph: "the country’s once-dominant Christian community feels under siege and has begun re-establishing militias, training in the hills and stockpiling weapons."

Nowhere in the entire piece is a single shred of evidence provided to support this dangerous allegation. In fact, so poor is the reporting that Cambanis mentions the cabinet session that discussed the issue of armament but does not mention its substance. For instance, the reports of the various security and intelligence officers proclaimed that the Lebanese Forces were not rearming or training. It did not mention the Phalange in any such capacity either. So it wasn't "Christian factions" who "had opened militia training camps in the mountains." It was that Hezbollah was providing training and weapons to its allies, the Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun and other pro-Syrian groups. The other group, which has a number of Christian members (but is not "Christian" per se), whose stockpiles the security services has uncovered in recent months is the Syrian proxy, the SSNP.

Cambanis unsubtly hints that the Phalange and the LF are the ones arming, or at the very least, "everyone is arming." And he frames the Hariri quote about trainings in that context, but it's a dishonest framing, as Hariri is referring to the reports about the Aounists and Hezbollah allies.

The same misleading is reflected in this graph, which gives the impression of military mobilization, which is completely misleading and unsubstantiated:

In the Christian suburbs of Beirut, activists from the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces have opened recruitment offices, organized marches to protest the killings of Christian politicians, and are preparing for a hotly contested campaign in university student council elections this month, which are taken seriously as a proxy for popular support.

There's no correlation whatsoever between "recruitment" (whatever the hell that's intended to imply) offices and the talk of military training and rearmament.

These observations have a direct bearing on the rest of this pathetically bad and ignorant piece. Prior to blurting out this nonsense, Cambanis introduced it as follows, in what can easily be described as one of the dumbest lines written on Lebanon in recent years:

But the larger question — one that is prompting rival Christian factions to threaten war — is whether Lebanese Christians must accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority (the choice of the popular Gen. Michel Aoun) or whether Christians should insist on special privileges no matter what their share of the population (the position of veteran civil war factions like the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces).

Again, not a single statement in this graph is accurate.

First of all, the only Christian threatening a war is Hezbollah's ally Michel Aoun, who sees his maniacal fantasy of becoming president disappear as a result of his political idiocy. His only response is to issue threats. This is echoed by the pro-Syrian pitbulls, who issue regular threats on behalf of the Syrian regime.

Second, the "big question" that Mr. Cambanis supposedly brilliantly identified -- whether Lebanese Christians "must accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority (the choice of the popular Gen. Michel Aoun) or whether Christians should insist on special privileges no matter what their share of the population (the position of veteran civil war factions like the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces)" -- may be the most confused, stupid, clueless, irrelevant and laughably ignorant statement made about Lebanon in recent memory. Quite an achievement for the NYT and for Mr. Cambanis personally I must say.

Let's inform the NYT and their reporter of some obvious basics about Lebanon, as they apparently didn't bother educating themselves before publishing this embarrassingly asinine garbage.

The basis of the post-civil war republic of Lebanon is the settlement reached in the Taef Accord. That settlement, agreed to by both Christians and Muslims, stipulated a power-sharing formula based on the principle of shared existence in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims. As such, Cambanis and the NYT are, oh, about 18 years late when it comes to the developments in Lebanon. The "question" of whether the Lebanese Christians and Muslims must "get along" was already settled in 1989. It's not the choice of the "popular" Michel Aoun, who in '89 rejected the Taef Accord. It's the choice of all the mainstream Christian parties as well as the main Druze and Sunni parties allied with them. I don't know if the NYT and Mr. Cambanis have heard of the March 14 alliance, but I'm sure that constitutes a decent example of Christians "getting along" with Muslims (this is not to mention the March 14 Christians' praise of the Sunni PM Seniora as someone who is fully in sync with their political outlook).

Now on to the next idiocy in that statement: that the "veteran civil war factions" -- the Lebanese Forces and the Phalange -- "insist on special privileges no matter what their share of the population."

Again, the NYT is about 20-30 years behind. This discourse, in case the NYT didn't notice, was folded with the Taef Accord. The only factions reviving it today are not the Phalange and the LF. It's precisely the two factions that Cambanis embraces in his ridiculous report: Michel Aoun's FPM and pro-Syrian pitbull Suleiman Frangieh's Marada.

The entire basis of the FPM's battle cry is the sectarian demagoguery of "restoring Christian rights" and unsubtle hints at a desire to reinstate presidential powers stripped in the Taef Accord. The Phalange and the LF on the other hand are operating within the contours of the Taef Accord and are not seeking to alter the constitutional powers of the presidency. Furthermore, Aoun's electoral campaign was that the March 14 Christian MPs were "elected by Muslim votes" and so were not "authentic Christians." This sectarian populism personally attacked able and decent people including the late Gebran Tueni, who was murdered by the Syrian regime and whose murder was celebrated in Hezbollah-dominated areas.

Therefore, so far Mr. Cambanis has it exactly backwards on all counts.

But it continues throughout with ridiculous and baseless assertions, such as the ubiquitous throwing around of faulty numbers and insinuations about communal sizes, which only reveals bad preparation and laziness.

However, the most pernicious aspect of the piece is its peddling of political propaganda. It reveals the true meaning of the earlier statement about "the position of the popular Gen. Michel Aoun" on the need to "accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority." What is really meant here is the need to accept protection status from and ally with the Khomeinist Islamist Hezbollah militia, which has its own barrack state within the state. Otherwise, as I showed, the statement doesn't make any sense at all.

That's actually spelled out explicitly in the accompanying slide show: "Once a majority of the population in the country, Lebanese Christians are divided over whether they should continue to demand special privileges or whether they must accept their status as a minority and make alliances with the Shiite population." (Emphasis mine.)

It is also very obvious in the piece itself from the set of selective, unchallenged quotes picked by Cambanis from a representative of the parochial pro-Syrian pitbull Frangieh faction: "only an alliance with the dominant Shiite Muslims can protect the Christian community."

This pathetic, deceitful insanity is somehow presented as an enlightened, wise decision for a minority (in a country of minorities, mind you): "The Christians allied with Hezbollah have had to overcome their own deeply entrenched prejudice against Muslims, Mr. Franjieh said: 'We were always taught that we were superior to the Muslims. Now we must realize they are our brothers, and we must help each other.'"

Yes, heartwarming. Only of course this is not just absolutely ridiculous, it's also deceitfully misleading. The basis of Aounist and Frangieh sectarian demagoguery is a blistering anti-Sunnism. This was covered recently by Hazem Saghieh, and I've commented on it briefly as well.

The pseudo-liberal discourse might snake-charm the proclivities of the NYT into a comatosed snooze, but it's otherwise laughable. This is not a humanistic, universalist statement about brotherly love: this is deeply problematic sectarian agit prop that aims to drag Lebanon into the orbit of the militant Iran-led axis. This is about Frangieh's (and now Aoun's) delusional and suicidal "vision" of a Maronite-Shiite-Alawite alliance that completely destroys the very idea of Lebanon as a state.

Furthermore, the entire notion of seeking "protection" from "the Shiites" (against whom!?), which specifically means, the Khomeinist Islamist arm of the IRGC allied with the regime that's butchering Lebanese figures, being presented as somehow a good thing is nauseating. The concept of "protection" has no place in Lebanon. That's the whole point of Lebanon, not that the NYT or Cambanis have the slightest clue what that even means.

This is not the first time this deeply offensive and problematic sewage was published. It was spewed earlier in a truly remarkable profile in the LAT that really shows the extent of Aoun's ruinous delusional insanity. Aoun repeated the same nonsense to the LAT's Megan Stack back in December 2006:

The general brushed off criticism, insisting that Christians could not be secure in the Middle East unless they dealt pragmatically with the Muslim majority.

'They can’t be different, like they’re imported from another area,' he said.

Of course, the term "Muslim majority" here is misleading. As evident from the Cambanis piece, that's not what's really being peddled here. What's being sold is that the Maronites need to ally with Hezbollah against the Sunnis and the Druze (with the false conflation of "Shiites" and "majority" -- one that has no bearing to reality). Needless to say, the generalissimo's repugnant vision for Lebanon -- one where difference is held in disdain -- is precisely the antithesis of what Lebanon was and should always be.

What's at stake here, as noted by Saghieh, is not a domestic sectarian alliance. It has deep implications about the nature of Lebanon itself, and the finality of the Lebanese state. This is why the March 14 Christians subscribe to that vision, whose destruction and undermining is systematically and relentlessly sought by Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. Aoun is the mere mindless battering ram.

Maybe the NYT, in its feverish kneejerkism, hasn't heard.

Update: More on this from David Kenner:

Gee, isn't it strange that the Aounists -- the Christians, according to the Times, who want to "accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority" -- are also the ones training for the next war? A better editor could have pointed this out to Cambanis, in the process of sending him back to the drawing board.

Finally, as Mustapha pointed out earlier, it's impossible to write about the reason that there is pressure on any Lebanese party to rearm without mentioning the one faction that never disarmed in the first place: Hezbollah. The Christian factions are not only eyeing each other nervously, they are worried about the militia that has a fifteen-year head start, foreign support, and actual battle-hardened troops. This is yet another point that would be too much to ask the New York Times to point out.