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Reckless Anthropolitics: Human Beings & Politics in the Middle East
All this is planting hatred and anger into more and more hearts. Destruction is not constructive. Violence will not bring peace. There are many examples throughout history [...] - Roger Assouf, Letter from Lebanon, 4 August 2006

7 August   |   2006   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Over the past twenty-seven days, which is more or less the time that the war in Lebanon has been raging on, I published two articles that endeavoured to put this inferno in the proper context of global politics and regional interests. I also tried to underline the absolute necessity for an immediate truce, followed closely by a ceasefire, which would facilitate humanitarian relief efforts as well as apply ultimately the fundamentals of peace between the different warring protagonists - including the deployment of a transitory but robust stabilisation force.

Although a tentative draft resolution, agreed upon by France and the United States as co-sponsors, is currently doing the rounds at the UN Security Council in New York, it is self-evident that every day this war goes on and a ceasefire does not take hold in this country of cedars, the greater become the casualties and colossal costs on all sides. A haunting website, The Israeli-Lebanese Coffin Counter , estimates the death figures today at 85 Israelis, 4 Blue Helmets, 8 Canadians and 900 Lebanese. Such gruesome figures do not even address those who have been wounded and displaced, or the carnage that has ravaged Lebanon at an alarming scale.

Perhaps one of the more sobering chapters of death and destruction, resulting in at least 28 deaths, took place on 30 th July in a small Lebanese village southeast of Tyre (Sur in Arabic). This is the village of Qana, where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-11). But those 28 or so casualties are not the first ones either, since this biblical village had already suffered in 1996 the deaths of 100 refugees as a result of an Israeli attack on a UN compound. A report, Fatal Strikes: Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon , issued last week by Human Rights Watch, documented a systematic failure by the Israeli Defence Force to distinguish between combatants and civilians. In some cases, the report added, the timing and intensity of the present attack, the absence of a military target, as well as subsequent strikes on rescuers, suggest that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians.

Sadly, innocent human beings in both Lebanon and Israel - overlooking for a moment Palestine or Iraq - are being immolated mutatis mutandis on a merciless theatre of operations whilst politicians lull the general public into a sense of future optimism with their turgid concepts. Here is a country, Lebanon, that has been a battleground for different ideologies and interests, and this latest hammer blow that ushered in so much destructive violence comes just as its dazed citizens were beginning to gasp for air and daring to hope for a better future. Yet, whilst the lives of human beings are being terminated or mutated, politicians are talking about 'visions of the Middle East that are based on democracy, liberty and the rule of law'. Indeed, if it is not about a 'New Middle East', it is about an "axis of evil" that has recently transmuted into an "arc of extremism". But whether things are as straightforward as such phrases, or hugely more subtle and complex, the stark reality is that more and more human beings continue to have their precious lives stolen from them in coffins and shrouds every day for the sake of transforming or remodelling the region once more - a mission whose aims could be laudable but whose methodology is certainly faulty.

Human beings and politics: welcome to the messy anthropolitics of the Middle East. Although I could write about the heart-rending plights of many children, women and men who were not spared by this conflict but were killed or wounded in South Lebanon, the Beka'a Valley, Tripoli, Tyre, Ba'albek, Haifa, Nahariya or Hadera, I would like to share with you one story that echoes with a degree of poignant immediacy the daily and mundane hardships, frustration and sense of loss felt by countless Lebanese citizens across the whole spectrum.

A Lebanese friend of mine was offered a visiting professorship at Yale University for the coming academic year. But today, she is trapped in her flat in Beirut, fretful about how she would be able to travel out to the USA when Israel has been systematically destroying the airport, bridges and roads across her entire country. She has no water to take a shower or flush the toilet, no electricity to run any appliance, no petrol for her car and no diesel for her generator. The shops in her neighbourhood are mostly shut, and she is struggling - psychologically and logistically - to figure a way out of her dilemma. I realise that this is admittedly the less-than-dramatic story of someone who is living in a neighbourhood that has been spared further attacks: but multiply her case hundredfold, or even just tenfold, and you might begin to draw a sharper picture of what is truly happening across Lebanon today.

So why is Lebanon being "punished" in this wilful way, I ask myself? Is it being punished because Hizbullah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers? True, the abductions were deplorable, let alone illegal under International law, but they did not deserve this disproportionately vindictive and at times random riposte on a whole population. Is it being punished because Hizbullah is lobbing missiles into northern Israel? True, but Hizbullah has also pledged to stop its attacks if Israel stopped its attacks too, so that the dynamics of international mediation (as the UN is attempting at the moment) begin to take root. Or is it being punished because it has not managed to enforce UNSC 1559 that clearly includes the disarmament of Hizbullah? True, but Lebanon does not have the wherewithal to do so anyway. Besides, it seems interesting that Israel has eagerly jumped on the bandwagon of enforcing UN Resolutions when its own history is chequered with non-compliance. So where would this tit-for-tat punishment lead us? In The real estate war , published in Ha'aretz on 6 th August, Gideon Levy posits that "the current war could yet turn out to be only an appetizer for the coming wars, which will be far more dangerous."

As someone who has often observed the truth become the first casualty of war, what worries me is that we are being duped and the current war is no longer being fought over two abductions, or even over an exchange of prisoners (including that of Samir Kuntar, as the media revved up the story recently). Instead, I am beginning to wonder whether this war is more the result of a pre-planned and regional policy that is being executed with almost pathological global determination. Or else whether it is being fought through the prism of the fight against terrorism without due regard to the realities on the ground, and is even basing itself in some form upon a Western evangelical interpretation of scriptural concepts such as "chosen people", "covenant" or "Armageddon" in the Old Testament.

Hundreds of human beings lose their lives, scores more are wounded, orphaned, become refugees or are displaced from their own homes, and a country is reduced to rubble. Should I dread that we are heading toward a nihilistic design that degrades both human worth and purpose? Could we - you and I who are away from the conflict - imagine the sense of trauma and fear felt by the millions of human beings - young or old - held hostage to such violence? Have we questioned the political character of Hizbullah in Lebanon, or conversely the consistent impunity with which Israel is getting away with so many war crimes (as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both indicated already)? Have we - you and I - truly appreciated the human dimension of the conflict as it is being swept aside for the sake of broader - some would add meritorious - objectives that have nonetheless been misapplied in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and now Lebanon? Do we Europeans not need to wake up and ask some hard questions? Was the lifeless tragedy at Qana not enough of a compelling reason to institute a ceasefire? Is it therefore not irrelevant that the Muslim and Arab worlds are irate at what is unfolding at the moment, so much so that they have lost any faith in their own rulers let alone in the brokering energy of the West?

But that is not the issue anymore, is it? So it is not too surprising that we are witnessing today an Israel that is chasing at all cost a pyrrhic victory in the region, a Hizbullah that is behaving as if it is both inside and outside the Lebanese government, fighting back tooth and nail and exposing the country to even more Israeli bombardments, or an America that is not standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in his hour of need. As the syndicated journalist Rami Khouri wrote from Beirut this week, "It turned out, in fact, that she [Dr Condoleeza Rice] was more like the eunuch of the realm - because the United States, through its all-out alignment with Israel, has effectively castrated itself diplomatically. Like the eunuchs of old, for this moment and in this conflict at least, it has power, but not much impact, and presence but not much consequence."

My memories of Lebanon are still fresh from my last visit there only days before this latest war broke out. But those same memories are also being collectively - even if only virtually - refreshed in the consciousness of a whole Arab world as Lebanese hit-songs can be heard throughout North Africa, the Gulf and elsewhere across the region, as a pan-Arab populist gesture of solidarity with the Lebanese people.

One of my favourite songs is Ya Beirut, Sitt-e-Dunia by the Lebanese singer Majida El-Roumi. Entitled in English O Beirut, the Lady of the World , its lyrics include, "Rise from under the rubble, like a flower of almond in April. Rise, O Beirut!" Has this song been torn to shreds again? As I watch the pictures on my computer, and as I speak with men and women whose lives have been ruined or violated by such human malice aforethought, I simply hope that the UN-based parameters of a just solution to this conflict would appear sooner than later, and that vicious vendettas or regional politics let alone global designs would somehow desist from messing up Lebanon, its peoples and the Middle East anymore. All human beings truly deserve better from their politicians, or don't they?

I have no words. The whole world seems to be without words.

Mario Giovanniello, photographer & blogger, 26 July 2006

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2006   |   7 August


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