Across the Bay

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dilettante Journalism

It seems that every other day we undergo the same exercise of trashing some dilettante journalist in Lebanon who knows nothing about that which s/he writes. The latest case is Hugh Macleod, in a remarkably bad and ignorant article on Hezbollah in the SF Chronicle.

What's the latest? Hezbollah's "expanding its military power by recruiting Sunnis, Christians and Druze in preparation for another conflict with Israel."

Mmmm, yes. Aside from the fact that this was fed to Macleod by "sources close to Hezbollah," what's the evidence supporting this? Well, your guess is as good as mine, or Macleod's for that matter. Not a single example of a Christian or Druze recruitment is given. What is given is Christian and Druze support in the rallies against the Seniora government last January, which have fizzled out and failed completely in achieving their objective.

I mean, Macleod could've at least talked about a certain marginal Druze who was created by the Syrians and who has zero constituency, the Syrian pitbull thug Wi'am Wahhab, who has claimed that the arms he's been smuggling and receiving from Syria were under the aegis of the "resistance." But that hardly constitutes an "expansion" of Hezbollah's power, given how Wahhab is a minor tool of the Syrians, so he hardly counts.

And what is the Christian example? Ummm... nothing.

OK, so what about the Sunnis? After all, this is the most important target for Hezbollah. They had tried hard to get the Jama'a Islamiyya on their side, but failed. Patrick Haenni and the latest ICG report mention this. In a recent interview, Haenni told NOW Lebanon, "Hezbollah can no longer recruit the Sunnis at the same level as its main-stream competitors. Basically they lost influence." (Emphasis mine). So they didn't "expand" their power, they lost power.

So who is the Sunni example offered by Macleod? Ansar Allah!

This is when you know that the journalist is an amateur with no serious knowledge whatsoever, and that he has not done any background work on the story.

Serious observers would know that "Ansar Allah" (whatever its latter day re-inventions) was an Iranian asset in the mid-80s. So, like Thanassis Cambanis in the NYT before him, Macleod is about 20 years behind the times on this "scoop."

The fact that this is the only example the "sources close to Hezbollah" are able to point to Macleod, for him to carry their propaganda for them, is itself a screaming indication of the loss, not expansion, of influence, and highlights, as Haenni said, the desperation of Hezbollah in trying, unsuccessfully, to stave off a Shiite sectarian label.

People interested in background on this, one which Macleod never bothered to do, can read Bernard Rougier's Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam Among Palestinians in Lebanon. Rougier writes (p. 47):

Today, the members of Usbat al-Ansar trace the founding of their group to 1985, and Shaykh Sharaydi's initiative. At that time the militia did not yet bear its current name, and in fact was called "God's Partisans" (Ansar Allah). The difference was not only one of semantics: originally the group belonged to an Iranian network and carried out its military operations in cooperation with the Lebanese Shi'ite groups that went on to form the nucleus of Hezbollah.

Rougier talks also about the Iranian use of Sunni Palestinian and Lebanese preachers in the camps, who preached the Iranian Khomeinist message, to try to create a shared Islamic identity, under Iran's guidance:

In the region of Saida, Iran's influence among Sunnis was manifest in the early 1980s in the creation of a network of preachers responsible for spreading a revolutionary vision of Islam in line with Khomeini's message. These religious figures of Lebanese and Palesitnian origin were co-opted in a pro-Iranian organization known as the Congregation of Muslim Ulema (Tajammu' al-Ulama al-Muslimin). The congregation had been set up in 1982 by the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon, Shaykh Ruhani and had two objectives: to weaken the role of Lebanon's traditional notables (zu'ama) so as to give the religious elites authority over the country's political affairs, and to unify the Muslim religious communities in order to reduce sectarian antagonism between Sunnis and Shi'ites. (pp. 31-32).

The fact that Hezbollah is falling back on all this only highlights how they are an organic extension of Iran, a fact that has become a common daily feature of political commentary in Lebanon, especially since last year. But it also highlights the extent of their internal isolation, the loss of their raison d'ĂȘtre and the loss of all support for their continued autonomous armed presence. They are now finally exposed as the thing they always were: a sectarian militia.

This is why, there might be more to this story, beyond the Hezbollah propaganda, that Macleod missed, even as he acted as a carrier disseminating it. We were told that the recruitment of these supposed Sunni, Druze and Christian elements (although, not a single example of the latter two was given) was to prepare for "another conflict with Israel." Right.

Well, it could just as easily be something else, not the Macleod-disseminated propaganda, that Hezbollah doesn't want to talk about. Maybe attempting to recruit these elements is aimed at domestic targets.

In fact, even the propaganda reported in the piece itself is for domestic purposes. Hezbollah is now building infrastructure in Christian, Druze and Sunni areas, which is being faced with mounting concern and angry displeasure from these communities. Hezbollah is now in their backyard. Similar to what Haenni said (or the flip side of it), should Hezbollah start another war, which extends to north of the Litani, the likelihood of communal tensions exploding becomes rather high.

Even if they don't start another war anytime soon, and Macleod stresses that Hezbollah is "unlikely to provoke another war," tensions are already quite high, and Hezbollah knows that despite its threats of taking to the streets (which, I remind you, they did last year and failed) to try to prevent (or in reaction to) the election of a March 14 president, or even if no president is elected and the presidential powers are constitutionally transferred to the Seniora cabinet, such a move could degenerate (as it did briefly in January) to sectarian, namely Sunni-Shiite, clashes. And so, Hezbollah (and, in particular, Syria) could very well (as many reports have claimed) be training and arming marginal factions in other sects, like that pitbull Wi'am Wahhab and other Syrian tools like Zaher Khatib or Abdel Rahim Mrad, etc., perhaps to have them take to the street, with clandestine Hezbollah support, so that clashes would be intra-Druze, intra-Christian, or intra-Sunni.

But Macleod is too busy uncritically regurgitating Hezbollah propaganda to notice. Aside from Haenni, all the other sources for this story are Hezbollah members, agents, or official flacks.

Witness for instance the Hezbollah propagandist-in-chief at the Carnegie Endowment's Beirut Center, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. Leaving aside all the nitty-gritty of what this flack said, her statement that Hezbollah views March 14 as the executive tool of a US policy to disarm Hezbollah, and weaken Iran and Syria, rather says it all doesn't it?

The main target therefore, is not "preparation for conflict with Israel." Rather, it's March 14 (and there have been growing reports and speculation about Hezbollah's possible complicity in the assassination of March 14 figures), on the one hand, and the protection of Iran and Syria on the other, highlighting once again the non-Lebanese, regional extensions of Hezbollah.

But the propaganda Macleod is willingly disseminating doesn't stop there. Incredibly, we are treated to the following jaw-dropping bit:

[I]n an earlier interview, the group's foreign affairs spokesman, Nawaf Mousawi, blamed the rise of Sunni extremism in Lebanon on Washington and the government coalition, which sees such groups as a bulwark against Hezbollah. Washington and Beirut adamantly deny the allegation.

In a March article in the New Yorker magazine, reporter Seymour Hersh quoted a former British intelligence officer saying the Sunni extremist group Fatah Islam was "offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government's interests - presumably to take on Hezbollah."

It's astonishing, and incredibly irresponsible, that Macleod is repeating this disinformation, which, as I noted before, is pure info ops against the Lebanese state.

The choice of Nawaf Musawi is quite apt actually. Recently, after Hezbollah and the Syrian regime launched yet another info ops campaign, claiming that the US is working with March 14 to build military bases in Lebanon (a "story" that actually first appeared before the Nahr al-Bared fighting in the pro-Syrian rag, al-Diyar, in April, and then was picked up, as is the MO, after the fighting began as "proof" that the "real" reason behind the Nahr al-Bared episode was to empty and flatten the camp to build the base!).

Musawi himself, in what NOW Lebanon's editorial perfectly dubbed a "line dripping with mafia machismo," threatened the US that should they build such a base they would be attacked. As with this article, the real message is beneath the propaganda and the mafia machismo.

Last week, after Musawi's statement, al-Hayat's Walid Choucair spoke with sources close to the Iranians about it. When he asked about this affair the sources told him, "with a telling smile, 'maybe the [rhetorical and media] campaign [against the alleged US base] was a response to the request of the leader of the Future Movement, MP Saad Hariri, during his visit to Washington, for protection from the Americans [against Syrian assassinations]."

Once again, therefore, it's actually warfare against March 14, adding to the suspicions and reports of Hezbollah's complicity in the assassinations of March 14 figures.

And now, Macleod essentially revalidated Musawi's attack against the parliamentary majority accusing it and the US of being behind Fateh al-Islam.

The propaganda in Macleod's piece still doesn't stop there. Aside from rehashing the (Syrian- and Hezbollah-fed) Hersh nonsense, it adds the umm, "authoritative" testimony of the Iranian and Hezbollah asset, Ansar Allah, to Musawi's claims that Hezbollah is really interested in preventing the rise of al-Qaeda and groups like Fateh al-Islam, who supposedly were funded and equipped by the government and the US to "take on Hezbollah"!

But I'm confused. Why then was it only Hezbollah and Syria's tools (both Lebanese and Palestinian) who tried to prevent the government and the Army from taking out Fateh al-Islam? Why did Nasrallah seek to impose a so-called "red line" against military action to eradicate Fateh al-Islam? Why did Syrian tool and Hezbollah ally, and by the way, self-professed Zawahiri and al-Qaeda follower (you know, because Hezbollah is against al-Qaeda in Lebanon), Fathi Yakan, seek to find a deal to get Fateh al-Islam and its leadership out from the country safely? This is Fathi Yakan and his Islamic Action Front (which includes other Islamist Syrian agents Bilal Shaaban and Hashem Minqara, which is allied with Hezbollah, whose offices were raided by the state and found to be stocked with weapons. Of course, that too was "in preparation for the conflict with Israel"... at the opposite border up north!

Aside from Haenni's remarks, Macleod has produced a fine piece of Hezbollah propaganda and participated in their and Syria's info ops. This is the danger of irresponsible and dilettante journalism.