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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Lebanon’ Category

David Hirst Interviewed

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My interview with David Hirst, author of Beware of Small States, reviewed here, was done on behalf of the indispensable Electronic Intifada.

Veteran Middle East correspondent David Hirst, author of the seminal work on the Palestinian plight The Gun and the Olive Branch, has a new release: Beware of Small States, an equally important book on Lebanon’s complex tragedy. The Electronic Intifada contributor Robin Yassin-Kassab interviewed Hirst on his work and views.

Robin Yassin-Kassab: You did your national service in Cyprus and Egypt just before the 1956 Suez War. What effect did your first experience of the Middle East have on you? Why did you end up spending your life in the Middle East, particularly in its more violent corners? Have kidnappings and bannings discouraged you?

David Hirst: Yes, I was one of the last generation of British 18-year-olds obliged to do two years of military service. Politically speaking, it had virtually no effect on me; I was an immature youth from a thoroughly apolitical middle class background, and knew next to nothing about international affairs, and hardly knew, for example, the difference between Arabs and Israelis. But — unusually for a mere private soldier — I sought and secured permission to use a fortnight’s leave to travel round Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. I enjoyed the experience. After three years at Oxford, I could not think of a career to embark on. Remembering the American University of Beirut, I wrote and asked them if there were any kind of introductory course about the Middle East that I could follow there. There was. With a vague idea of staying there for a couple of years or so, I found myself drifting into journalism, and, taking to it, I ended up staying fifty.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

July 15, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Beware of Small States

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The chaos of Lebanon has thrown up an Arab horror parallelled only in post-invasion Iraq. It has also produced the Arab world’s most urgent intellectual life, and its first victory against Israel. Lebanon is the most contradictory of countries, “a more open, liberal and democratic society than any of its Arab neighbours” precisely because of “its vulnerability to domestic dissension.” So, with its seventeen sects and constantly shifting allegiances, who would dare to explain Lebanon?

No better candidate than David Hirst, whose 1977 book “The Gun and the Olive Branch” was one of the very first to sympathetically present the Palestinian plight in English. Hirst’s latest work “Beware of Small States” is a panoramic study of Lebanon’s difficult history which strikes exactly the right balance between close detail and broad interpretative sweep. The writing is precise, penetrative and elegant. For sober, logical analysis, “Beware of Small States” outstrips Robert Fisk’s “Pity the Nation.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 29, 2010 at 1:14 pm

A Process of Change – Nasrallah to Petraeus

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It’s important to remember that Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches consist of more than mere rhetoric. One of the reasons for Nasrallah’s enormous popularity in the Arab and Muslim worlds is that, unlike other Arab leaders, he says what he means and means what he says. Hizbullah is the only force to have defeated Israel – once in 2000, when the brutal occupation of south Lebanon was brought to an end, and once in 2006, when Israeli troops attempted to reinvade in order to dismantle the resistance, but bled on the border for five weeks instead. During the 2006 war Israel bombed every TV mast it could find, but failed to put Hizbullah’s al-Manar off the air. Nasrallah spoke on al-Manar of “the Israeli warship that attacked our infrastructure, people’s homes and civilians. Look at it burn!” As Nasrallah uttered these words, a Hizbullah missile did indeed disable an Israeli warship, forcing Israel to move its fleet away from the Lebanese coast.

In mid-February 2010, Shaikh Nasrallah made a speech which may well mark a fundamental change in the Middle Eastern balance of power. The speech, quoted below, should not be read as a string of empty threats, but a signal of new weaponry and fighting capabilities.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 23, 2010 at 7:16 pm

What Comes Next

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This is the extended version of a piece published in today’s Sunday Herald.

Erdogan reacts to his war criminal neighbour

A strange calm prevails on the Middle Eastern surface. Occasionally a wave breaks through from beneath – the killing of an Iranian scientist, a bomb targetting Hamas’s representative to Lebanon (which instead kills three Hizbullah men), a failed attack on Israeli diplomats travelling through Jordan – and psychological warfare rages, as usual, between Israel and Hizbullah, but the high drama seems to have shifted for now to the east, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Arab world (with the obvious exception of Yemen) appears to be holding its breath, waiting for what comes next.

Iraq’s civil war is over. The Shia majority, after grievous provocation from takfiri terrorists, and after its own leaderhip made grievous mistakes, decisively defeated the Sunni minority. Baghdad is no longer a mixed city but one with a large Shia majority and with no-go zones for all sects. In their defeat, a large section of the Sunni resistance started working for their American enemy. They did so for reasons of self-preservation and in order to remove Wahhabi-nihilists from the fortresses which Sunni mistakes had allowed them to build.

The collapse of the national resistance into sectarian civil war was a tragedy for the region, the Arabs and the entire Muslim world. The fact that it was partly engineered by the occupier does not excuse the Arabs. Imperialists will exploit any weaknesses they find. This is in the natural way of things. It is the task of the imperialised to rectify these weaknesses in order to be victorious.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 31, 2010 at 12:18 pm

After the Massacre 1 – Palestine and Israel

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A version of this was published at The Electronic Intifada

artist Marc Rudin

artist Marc Rudin

Hamas isn’t Hizbullah, and Gaza isn’t Lebanon. The resistance in Gaza – which includes leftist and nationalist as well as Islamist forces – doesn’t have mountains to fight in. It has no strategic depth. It doesn’t have Syria behind it to keep supply lines open; instead it has Mubarak’s goons and Israel’s wall. Lebanese civilians can flee north and east; the repeat-refugees of Gaza have no escape. The Lebanese have their farms, and supplies from outside; Gaza has been under total siege for years. What else? Hizbullah has remarkable discipline. It is surely the best-trained, best-organised army in the region, perhaps in the world (I’m not talking of weapons, but of men and women). Hamas, on the other hand, though it has made great strides, is still undisciplined. Crucially, Hizbullah has air-tight intelligence control in Lebanon, while Gaza contains collaborators like maggots in a corpse.

But Hamas is still standing. On the rare occasions when Israel actually fought – rather than just called in air strikes – its soldiers reported “ferocious” resistance. Hamas withstood 22 days of the most barbaric bombing Zionism has yet stooped to, and did not surrender, and continues to fire rockets.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 1, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Letters

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I’ve recently written to Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Khaled Mahmood MP to complain about their positions on the massacre in occupied Palestine. I’ve also written to Gerald Kaufman and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, to praise their calls for an arms embargo on the apartheid state. And I walked into the office of my local MP, Russell Brown, and spoke to Mr Brown’s assistant. A few days later I received a letter from Mr Brown which repeats the usual rubbish about ‘peace’ and the need to disarm the resistance so the oppressor can sleep more soundly at night. At least he bothered to send me a letter. I received responses from Brown, Cameron, Clegg and Kaufman too, but none from Khaled Mahmood. Mr Mahmood was quoted by the Guardian as “dismissing” calls for sanctions and an arms embargo. Mahmood is a Birmingham MP who no doubt receives a lot of votes because he has a Muslim name. Not only is he betraying his Muslim voters who would like to see their representatives develop a peaceful strategy of resisting the murderous British-Zionist alliance, he isn’t even capable of replying promptly to letters.

Here’s my response to Russell Brown’s letter. I won’t publish his letter because I don’t have permission and because it’s on paper, but I quote some of it. You can imagine the rest – it’s the standard New Labour magical incantation.

Dear Mr Brown

Thank you for your letter in response to my conversation with Cameron concerning the situation in occupied Palestine.

You write: “It is not difficult to understand the frustration, fear and anger of those Israelis who are the targets of Hamas rocket attacks, and the pressure on Israel’s democratic government to take action.” You then state the government position, and that of the European Union Presidency, that Israel’s use of force is “disproportionate.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 24, 2009 at 11:09 am

Against ‘Peace’ and ‘Moderation’

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unknown artistThe numbers of the dead don’t mean much any more. It was round about the five hundred mark when I realised the impact of death on my mind was lightening. There are pictures on the internet – burning half bodies, a head and torso screaming, corpses spilt in a marketplace like unruly apples, all the tens and tens of babies and children turned to outraged dust – but how many pictures can you keep in your heart? How much anguish can you feel? Enough anguish to mourn 500 human beings? And of what quality can your anguish be? Can it be as intense as the anguish a bystander to the murder would feel? As intense as that of a friend of a victim, or of a father? What about the fathers who have seen all their children burn?

I remember the days when I was outraged if ten were killed in one go. Ah, happy days! Ten in one go would be good. But of course, this is what the enemy wants: the enemy wants us to value Arab life as little as it does. It wants us to stay in our numbness, to descend deeper in. It wants us to forget.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 8, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Lebanon, Palestine, USA, Zionism

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