An op-ed today in al-Akhbar referred to Israel as “the enemy” in Arabic. Although use of this term to describe Israel was once very common in Arab popular parlance and in local media, its use in this context has significantly decreased since the Syrian uprising. Once a term reserved almost exclusively to Israel, the concept of the enemy from without has been fast replaced by the enemy from within in both pro-government and opposition circles. While government supporters can hardly be faulted for depicting the Zionist-normalizing, NATO-loving FSA as an “enemy” force, especially given its proxy status and military links with Syria’s strategic enemies, as well as its intent to destroy Syria as a state, it is both morally inexcusable and intellectually indefensible for Syrians and Arabs who profess enmity towards Israel, to use this term to describe the Assad government or Hizbullah or Iran, all of whom have paid a high price for confronting the Israeli enemy both politically and militarily.
The danger of such labeling can hardly be overstated in this case; the link between power and language has been well documented by the likes of Michel Foucault and Edward Said. As these thinkers have noted, language creates not only knowledge, but reality itself. The resulting discourse, which becomes internalized by its subjects shapes their assumptions, values and cultural habits. In short, it changes and re-fashions their political identity and beliefs.
To be more accurate, this discursive onslaught began in 2005 when the Lebanese became divided over whether Syria or Israel was their real enemy, with some March 14 politicians referring to the Zionist entity as “our neighbor”. But irrespective of this semantic divide and March 14’s collaboration with Israel during the July war as Wikileaks documents later revealed, not once did Hizbullah refer to the opposing camp as “the enemy”,” and settled on terms like “ our opponents/rivals” and “the other camp”. Compare this to the Syrian opposition camp today, whose leading “intellectuals” and activists in the Arab world have no qualms about speaking of the “Shia enemy” or the “Iranian enemy”, or cheering on the FSA who issue empty threats to attack Hizbullah and assassinate Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah.
By redefining the concept of the “enemy”, both the Syrian uprising and to a lesser extent, its US- engineered counterpart in Lebanon, have succeeded in reversing decades of Arab political socialization, whereby those who prioritize resistance to Israel and the US are mocked and dismissed as old-school anti-imperialists, or more disparagingly by Third Wayers like Bassam Haddad, as “Fumigating Anti-Imperialists”.
The Arab Spring may not be a revolution in the economic or political sense of the term, but it has achieved a semantic revolution which, if left unchecked by counter-hegemonic forces, will lead to the full intellectual and political colonization of the Arab mind and the Arab identity.
This is probably going to antagonize many of my Lebanese progressive comrades, but what’s the deal with this new “Neither March 14 nor March 8” campaign which denounces both camps for sectarianism? I have nothing against a third political force in principle, but when this campaign comes at the heels of March 14’s sectarian discourse, incitement and violence, why are we blaming March 8, i.e. Hizbullah, which is exercising admirable restraint in not responding to the Hariri militia’s attempts to drag it into a sectarian war? Why do we always need to revert to this Third Way nonsense at such strategically critical times? It is March 14 which needs to be called out for its warmongering, period.
So al-Mustaqbal (Harir’s Future Movement) are playing the “Oh no we di’int , oh yes we did” game. After years of denying they were armed, the commander of their militia has now admitted to the existence of a militia—“the Mustaqbal Supporters”— which fought Hizbullah in the May 2008 clashes and its latest incarnation, the “Awfaj al Mustaqbal” (Mustaqbal Regiments) . According to their military chief, retired Lebanese army colonel, Amid Hammoud, former Prime Minister and head of the Future Movement, Saad al-Hariri, had asked him to submit a proposal to improve the performance of his militia after its humiliating defeat in 2008.
In his first media interview, Hammoud admitted to Akhbar (the Arabic version) that he is arming “the Sunni sect to confront Hizbullah,” which he accuses of destabilizing the country with assassinations and bombings. He acknowledges that his movement and the Syrian “revolutionaries” are on the same battlefront against Hizbullah.
Although Hammoud is quite equivocal and self-contradictory in the rest of the interview he admits the following (which I have translated and paraphrased):
1)Although Sunni fighters in Tripoli are not “his”, he wields influence over them and provides them with funding with which they purchase arms.
2)Although he doesn’t deploy his men to Syria to fight alongside the FSA, he strongly supports the Syrian “revolutionaries” and helps Syrian fighters escape, receive shelter, medical treatment etc. He also admits to giving funds to Syrians, “even if it is for the purpose of purchasing weapons”. And although he doesn’t distribute weapons, he directs them to arms dealers from whom they can purchase them. He admits that “tens” of Syrians came to him for assistance in smuggling weapons into Syria by sea. While denying he has gone to Syria, he says he would consider it in the future since he sees himself as “an inextricable part of the Syrian revolution”. While claiming he went to Libya to congratulate the “revolutionaries” there, rather than to procure weapons for the FSA, he insinuates that he would not hesitate to do so if need so required.
3)Regarding the recent clashes in Beirut, Hammoud argues that he doesn’t have “armed fighters as such” but has “youths” deployed there. Although he distributed weapons in the 2008 clashes, he claims he did not do so again.
4)Hammoud blames Israel for Wissam Hassan’s assassination but paradoxically also holds Hizbullah responsible for his killing because Hizbullah’s security apparatus cannot be separated from the Syrian regime’s, and because it has been “infiltrated internationally [by the CIA] and by Israel.
So there you have it, a sometimes explicit and other times veiled acknowledgment of Hariri’s complicity in the Syrian conflict and in the recent attack on the Lebanese army and security forces. This is the same political force that the West lauds for its “state building” project, and its noble pursuit of justice, freedom and democracy, against authoritarianism and terror. This is the same movement which western mainstream media refuses to associate with the recent clashes, the terrorizing of civilians at checkpoints and general instability, preferring instead, to attribute the violence to unknown “Sunni gunmen” rather than to Hariri’s sectarian militia.
A case in point is this New York Times piece which not only uses the “masked Sunni gunmen” euphemism, but attempts to misrepresent the clashes in Beirut which occured between the army and the Hariri militia, among other Sunni militias, as sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shi’ites which the army tried to end, by claiming:
“Gun battles broke out in Tariq Jdeideh, a neighborhood where Sunni and Shiite militiamen clash regularly, in the early hours of Monday.”
The double-standards of mainstream media’s coverage of Lebanon has reached a new low. If Shi’ites unaffiliated with Hizbullah had been involved in the clashes, western journalists would not have hesitated to refer to them as “Hizbullah militiamen”, even if they had belonged to the AMAL movement or some other force. And if those Shiites had been attacking the army and the ISF, as well the Hariri militia, the media narrative would have excluded any mention of the latter and the violence would have been described solely as an attack on the “Lebanese state.”
What is lost in all this, is that contrary to its more “democratic” counter-part, Hizbullah, has never been involved in any attacks or clashes with Lebanese state institutions; only with March 14 militias in May 2008. And it was the Lebanese Army, serving under a March 14 government at the time, which attempted to disarm these militias. In effect, it is not Hizbullah’s resistance, which cooperates with the Lebanese Army, that is undermining the state’s monopoly on the use of force, but March 14’s sectarian militias.
You know you are witnessing a glorious revolution that seeks freedom, dignity and independence when you realize that you can no longer carry your ID any more which identifies you as “Muslim Shi’ite,” given that March 14 gunmen are stopping drivers along the southern coastal road, checking their IDs for sectarian affiliation and shooting at cars that don’t stop. You know you are witnessing a popular uprising which claims it seeks to restore the state’s monopoly on the use of force [which Hizbullah has supposedly undermined] by arming sectarian thugs who reject the authority of the state. You know you are witnessing a justice-seeking movement when your children debate with their friends if it’s safe enough to go to school tomorrow while your concerned students send you emails asking if you are going to be giving class tomorrow because of the deteriorating security situation.
If that isn’t a democratic revolution, then I don’t know what is.
And to express their outrage at the assassination of Wissam Hassan, March 14’s mobs show their respect for the institution he headed by attacking ISF troops who are trying to protect the government building. Such is the moral and ideological bankruptcy of March 14’s sectarian agitation masquerading as a cause.
A March 14 “NGO” participating in the demo in Downtown Beirut is leading a campaign called “Divorce until Justice”. Apparently, the divorce is from Hizbullah which is “occupying Rafik Hariri airport,” in the words of the reprehensible Nadim Koteish, who just spoke on New Tv. That’s right, Shi’ite Hizbullah is “occupying” the Sunni airport. Just a sample of what’s to come.
More terrifying than the deterioration of Lebanon’s security situation with the re-introduction of terrorist bombings, assassinations and sectarian clashes—and irrespective of whether Syria or Israel or whoever else was responsible for Wissam Hassan’s assassination— is the naive criminality of the March 14 camp and the Future Movement specifically. As expected, this faction has tried to make major political capital out of the incident, and in so doing, has resorted to stoking sectarian tensions.
March 14’s official statement read: “Hasan’s murder was committed by the regime of (Syrian President) Bashar Assad, his regional allies, and local tools.” In a similar vein, Saad al-Hariri seemed to implicate Hizbullah in yesterday’s bombing when he told CNN: “some of the allies of Syria in Lebanon are proxies of Syria and proxies of Iran. Today when we’re talking about Syria, we’re talking about Syria and the allies of Syria in Lebanon.” Other Future Movement MPs like the “butcher of Halba”, Khaled al Daher, were less subtle and directly accused Hizbullah.
Over and above this incendiary rhetoric, is their escalating pressure on the government to resign with planned protests, without any consideration of the political vacuum and state paralysis that would likely ensue, not to mention expected counter-protests, circa 2006-2008. One could more easily understand this pressure and sectarian incitement if this camp could ever score a military “victory” in the event of clashes along the lines of May 2008. But we saw how Hizbullah overtook Beirut in 48 hours back then. Of course in the current regional climate and the movement of fighters and arms to and from Syria, as well as the armed Salafi phenomenon, such clashes would necessarily result in all out prolonged civil war, which would neither serve the interests of Hariri or his Sunni supporters. Not even his GCC patrons would benefit from Sunni-Shi’ite regional warfare and the mobilization of restive Shi’ite communities in their countries.
Nobody but the Empire and Israel would benefit from sectarian divisions and the fragmentation of Lebanon and Syria. In promoting such a scenario, the March 14 camp is once again proving that it is a mere tool of imperialist and Zionist schemes.