Archive for October 2011
The great Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa reads ‘After 42 Years’ – his reflection on the fall of the tyrant.
Some very silly ‘information sheets’ have been doing the rounds on Facebook and elsewhere. They purport to show how wonderful Libya was under dictatorship, how generous Qaddafi was in building a limited welfare state. The people who produce such propaganda are infantile leftists (that wonderfully apt phrase was first used by Lenin) – that’s why they don’t produce similar propaganda on behalf of the royal dictators in the Gulf, although the Gulf dictatorships have also built welfare states, much better ones, in fact, than Qaddafi’s. Libya is a vast lake of high quality oil. Libyans should be as rich as Emiratis or Kuwaitis. The reality is that much of Libya is poor, and that if a Libyan needed a major operation he had to travel to Tunisia, a much poorer country. And the oil wealth is a gift of God or nature, not of Qaddafi. The only thing Qaddafi gifted to the Libyan people was death.
It’s wise to be suspicious of Britain, France and Qatar and to resist the ‘humanitarian intervention’ propaganda. Every state acts according to perceived interests, not according to moral principles. But there’s nothing wise or intelligent in opposing a revolution and insulting a revolutionary people because they choose to accept help from outside rather than die. The more repulsive armchair revolutionaries (almost all of them Western) are calling the heroic Libyan people ‘quislings’ and ‘traitors’ and imagining an alternative reality in which the revolution was begun by Western agents provocateurs. The film below is a timely reminder of how the revolution started in Benghazi – with the blood of martyrs. (I wish the Iran regime-controlled Press TV was also capable of broadcasting sensible documentaries on Syria).
I am going through a period of (relatively) silent reflection on Syria. Of course, in Syria history continues to move at a rapid pace. At least 44 people were murdered by the regime yesterday. Today there is news of 17 soldiers killed by army deserters in Homs, a city which now appears to be in the early stages of a civil war. Syria’s criminal regime has brought this catastrophe on the country.
I’m remaining quiet for a while, but here are some highly recommended sites and articles. First, Walls is rapidly becoming the successor blog to Syria Comment, a space for intelligent discussion of the situation. Syria Comment was perceived by many (including me) to have lost its bearings. It always had a pro-regime and somewhat anti-Sunni slant; as the regime proved its stupidity and it became clear that the country would come closer to disintegration so long as the regime retained power, SC only reinforced its loyalty. Its reporting of events in Syria was highly selective, it gave a false view of the protestors, their motivations and leaders, it sometimes repeated absurd regime propaganda verbatim, and it even stooped to repeating false regime slanders of opposition figures. Now that Joshua Landis has taken a back seat the site is in less academic, even more blatantly partial hands. So it’s really good to see the Walls blog attracting SC’s best commentors and building such a big audience.
Congratulations are due to the Hamas movement for the successful conclusion of the process set in motion when its operatives captured a soldier of the Zionist occupation in June 2006. On October 18th 2011 the enemy soldier was returned to his commanders after Israeli authorities agreed to release 1027 Palestinian hostages.
It wasn’t easy to arrive at this point. Over 400 Palestinians were killed by Zionist rampages in Gaza shortly after the capture of the terrorist (and thousands more have been murdered since). In July 2006 Hizbullah sought to take the heat off Gaza and at the same time to ensure the release of Lebanese hostages by capturing Israeli terrorists on the Lebanese border. Israel responded by launching a full scale assault on the civilians of Lebanon. Over 1000 Lebanese were killed – but Israel received an unexpected bloody nose. It aimed to finish Hizbullah off; instead Israeli cities and military installations came under rocket attack, Israeli soldiers failed to move beyond the Lebanese border villages, and Hizbullah was strengthened. In 2008 the Lebanese hostages were exchanged for the captured Israeli terrorists. Israel’s defeat in 2006 shifted the balance of power, and the current prisoner deal also shifts the balance, albeit in a smaller way. It comes after years of Zionist siege of the already impoverished refugees in Gaza, after Israeli-American-Mubarak sponsorship of a bitter split in Palestinian ranks, and after the massacre of 1400 Palestinians in the winter of 2008/2009. It comes in large part as a result of the momentous changes occurring in a revolutionary Arab world and the wider region, because of the decline of American power, and Israel’s increasing isolation. Israel was forced to break its own taboos, not only to deal with Hamas but also to release Palestinian prisoners from Jerusalem and from the lands occupied in 1948.
A message from the father of the murdered nine-year-old Ibrahim Shayban to Russia, China and Bashaar al-Asad.
The Russian and Chinese vetoes to protect the Syrian regime from UN Security Council condemnation are reminiscent of all those American vetoes to protect Israel. Both countries have their reasons for shielding the Syrian regime: Russia’s naval base at Tartus, discomfort over the way the Libya No Fly Zone slipped into more overt intervention, the fear that UN condemnation may one day focus on Russian abuses in Chechnya and Chinese abuses in Tibet and Xinjiang. But both countries should consider their own interests more creatively. Ultimately, their influence in Syria and the wider region will depend on their image in Syrian and Arab eyes. The Syrian regime will not be there for ever. The Syrian people will.
Iran is another state which has repeatedly shot itself in the foot since the Arab revolutions began, first by mischaracterising as Islamic uprisings the deposings of Mubarak, Bin Ali and Qaddafi, then by opposing the revolution which seems most similar to Iran’s in 79 – the Syrian revolution. Iran used to be popular in Syria even amongst many sectarian-minded Sunni Muslims. It used to be popular in the wider Arab region. This popularity was Iran’s best guarantee against marginalisation and even military attack from the region’s pro-Western forces. But its popularity has evaporated this year.
Back to Ibrahim. He was martyred while leaving a mosque in the Qaboon suburb of Damascus. His funeral was held today in Meydan, in the heart of the city. Here’s some footage. Apparently insecurity forces killed two of the mourners when they came out of the mosque into the street.
Commentators have been telling us that central Damascus remains quiet. It’s true that many areas have been quiet, either because the upper middle class inhabitants still support the regime or are sitting on the fence, or because of the overbearing police and mukhabarat presence on the streets. Damascus has certainly not slipped out of regime control, as Homs, Hama, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib sometimes have. Yet Damascus has been bubbling for a long time. Pro-regime commentators will say that Kafar Souseh (which has demonstrated frequently since Shaikh Rifa’i of the Rifa’i mosque was shot) is a suburb, not the city itself – which is true, if Camden Town isn’t part of London. Suburbs further out – like Harasta, Douma, Muadamiya – have been veritable war zones for months. Imagine if Streatham, Hackney, Tottenham and Ealing were in a state of war and commentators told us ‘London remains quiet.’ And Meydan and Rukn ad-Deen have witnessed frequent, large demonstrations, and savage repression. These places are as central as Chelsea and Kensington. Smaller, briefer demonstrations have occurred in high-class Malki, in Sha‘alaan, Shaikh Muhiyudeen, Baghdad Street, Muhajireen. You can’t get more central. The last place is within earshot of Bashaar al-Asad’s house. If the quietness of Damascus reassures the regime, I think they’d better start panicking.
This review was written for the Guardian.
“These Muslas,” says Joseph Bhatti, father of Alice, “will make you clean their shit and then complain that you stink.” This is pretty close to the mark. Pakistan won’t forget the low-caste origins of most of its Christians, or ‘Choohras’, who constitute an ‘untouchable’ sweeper and maid class. In recent decades, with the rise of increasingly intolerant forms of Islam, the Choohra plight has worsened. Christians are victims of obscene ‘blasphemy’ laws and frequent sectarian violence. The outside world is often ignorant of the minority’s very existence.
How refreshing, therefore, that Mohammed Hanif, Booker-listed author of ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ and perhaps Pakistan’s brightest English-language voice, has chosen to view his country through the eyes of a (lapsed) Christian – the eponymous Alice Bhatti, a hard-nosed, warm-hearted nurse, too beautiful for her own good, also nifty with a razor blade.
Her lover and foil is the ‘Musla’ Teddy Butt, a thigh-waxing, body-building, Mauser-packing lowlife. Teddy works unofficially for the Gentlemen’s Squad, a police unit somewhat darker than the Keystone Cops staffed by partially reformed rapists, torturers and sharpshooters.
Malta is a speck or three of rock distantly cradled by the Tunisian-Libyan coastline, south of Sicily, midway between Gibraltar and Suez. It’s an ideal location for a Mediterranean Literature Festival.
Megalithic people built temples here six thousand years ago. The Phoenicians established a trading colony. The Greeks and Romans valued the place for its honey (and the Greek word for honey-sweet – Melite – is one possible origin for the name). For a few centuries Malta was ruled by Arab dynasties; a foundational period of immersion in that civilisation which brought in the Siculo-Arabic language, precursor to modern Maltese.
The language is Malta’s idiosyncracy: half Arabic in vocabulary, more than half in structure. The verbs, prepositions and pronouns are Arabic. The rest is mainly Italian. The air hostess asked us to store our bags ‘fowq raasikum’. When we landed she said ‘saha wa grazia!’ In the airport before the return flight I needed no translation for ‘Wait Behind the Yellow Line’ – Stenna Wara l-Linja s-Safra. (The only word there which isn’t Arabic is ‘linja’.) There is, I think, controversy over the extent of Arabic influence on the language. Our tour guide was certainly downplaying it. On the other hand, the Maltese prose writers and poets I met seemed very proud of the heritage. The writer Albert Marshall called Arabic ‘the mother’, and told me how, as he saw it, the gutturals of Semitic jostling Romance language softnesses offer a tremendous sound range for the poet.