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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Lebanon’ Category

Bomb in Damascus

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P1071119This morning a car bomb exploded in Mahlak street, Damascus, at a junction with the airport road and not far from Sitt Zainab. Seventeen are dead and 14 injured. That sounds like a powerful bomb, killing more than it maims.

In 1997 I found myself walking over what appeared to be blood and oil stains in the Victoria area of the city. There were soldiers gathering shards of glass and hosing the street down. Bystanders were subdued, not meeting your eye. I asked someone what had happened and he mumbled something about a gas leak. In fact a bus had been blown up minutes after leaving the old station at Baramkeh, and nine people had been killed. Afterwards there were whispers about Lebanese Maronites (the Lebanese Sunnis still supported Syria) being behind it, and of course Israel was a suspect. But the whole thing was kept as quiet as possible. The deal the regime has made with the people is: allow us corruption and thuggishness if we give you in return a foreign policy which doesn’t shame you and, most fundamentally, a guarantee of security. Exploding buses are a message from whoever sends them to the Syrian people, and the literal translation of the message is: the regime can’t protect you.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 27, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Posted in Lebanon, Syria, USA, Wahhabism, Zionism

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Sense, Mainly

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The Lebanese government took the first steps towards dismantling Hizbullah’s vital communications network. The opposition closed roads and demonstrated. Pro-government thugs shot at civilians, as they have done many times before. This time, the opposition responded decisively. Disciplined Hizbullah fighters and their unruly allies from Amal and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party quickly took control of West Beirut. Hundreds of Hariri’s Future militia surrendered. In the Shuf, pro-opposition and pro-government Druze forces fought it out, with the opposition winning. The north was messier. In Tripoli the Sunnis fought, Hariri supporters against Omar Karami’s opposition-linked group. Future men ransacked and burnt offices of the Ba’ath Party, of Ayatullah Fadlallah, Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, and the Syrian Social Nationalists. (This party, by the way, is not Syrian but ‘Greater Syrian’; while the Ba’ath envisages a union of all Arab countries, the SSNP wants a state covering Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Kuwait and – believe it or not – Cyprus, a Fertile Crescent state.) At the time of writing, things have calmed down in Tripoli.

So far, it looks like a clear victory for the opposition and a resounding defeat for the government and its Saudi and American backers. Hariri and Junblatt have been humiliated. Sinyura said he would let the army decide on Hizbullah’s communications network. The army accepted the offer and promptly declared that the resistance would be protected. It also announced that the Hizbullah-linked head of airport security would be reinstated. The government (if it is still the government) must be bitter that the army, which it had heralded as the symbol of a neutral state, has shown more understanding for the opposition than for the leaders who provoked it.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

May 12, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Lebanon

Sect or Sense?

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The Lebanese government wants to remove surveillance cameras at Beirut airport, and has suspended the official in charge of airport security because of his links with Hizbullah. Hassan Nasrallah has responded by warning that the government plans to turn the airport into a base for the CIA and Mossad. For the last two days Hizbullah and Amal supporters have closed roads leading to the airport.

The government aims to dismantle Hizbullah’s communications system, which one minister referred to as “Iran telecom.” Nasrallah describes this move as “a declaration of war,” and he may not be exaggerating. Israeli inability to destroy Hizbullah communications in 2006 meant that Israel was unable to achieve any of its war aims. The destruction of the system now would leave Hizbullah vulnerable to assassinations and full scale military attack from Israel.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

May 9, 2008 at 9:09 am

Posted in Lebanon

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Imperialism Resurgent

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In “The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain”, Arun Kundnani writes, “Racisms are no longer domestically driven but take their impetus from the attempt to legitimise a deeply divided global order. They are the necessary products of an empire in denial.”

Steve-BellGordon Brown says, “The days of Britain having to apologise for the British Empire are over. We should celebrate!” Sarkozy urges France to be “proud of its history,” meaning its imperial history.

European empires did sometimes construct railways and drainage systems in the conquered lands. They did build law courts and disseminate a certain kind of cuture. But these questionable achievements must be understood against the larger ugly backdrop. Economies under imperial rule stagnated at best. Huge swathes of Africa were transformed from subsistence agricultural land to cashcrop plantations. When the value of the crop plummetted, or when the crop was grown more cheaply elsewhere, local people were left hungry and unskilled on exhausted soil. Africa has still not recovered from this deliberate underdevelopment. During British misrule, preventable famines killed tens of millions of Indians. Elsewhere in the empire, hundreds of thousands were forced into concentration camps, and torture was institutionalised. There were the genocides of indigenous Australians and Americans, by massacre and land theft as well as by disease. There was the little matter of the transatlantic slave trade.

The ethnic-sectarian tensions and political backwardness of much of the third world have roots in imperial power games. For instance, when the 1857 Indian uprising against the British was put down, the British developed a policy of excluding Muslims from education and economic power. A divide and rule strategy to exacerbate pre-existent Hindu-Muslim tensions was implemented precisely because the revolution had shown a remarkable degree of Indian national unity. And, as usual, traitors were rewarded. The twenty two families that rule what is now Pakistan (staffing the military high command and both major political parties) are the landowning families that ‘acquired’ their land in return for loyalty to the occupiers during the colonial period, especially in 1857.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 18, 2007 at 8:56 am

Bad Signs

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Two things. First, Shaikh Yusuf Qaradawi. A ‘moderate conservative’ linked to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Qaradawi has previously made positive statements about the need for Sunni-Shia unity, particularly in Iraq. At the Doha Inter-Islamic Dialogue Conference a couple of days ago he condemned the cleansing of Sunnis from mixed or Shia areas. “No one can tolerate such unspeakable hatred,” he said. “Sunnis are suffering more in Iraq. I had repeatedly called upon the Shia scholars and leaders in Iraq and Iran to intervene to stop this bloodshed.” He continued, “Iran has influence in Iraq. It can stop this violence and put out the fire that could destroy everything.” Then he went on to complain about Shia attempts to convert Sunnis living in Sunni majority nations.

Qaradawi was right to raise the issue of Shia death squads. He was wrong to keep silent about Salafi/ Baathist/ extremist Sunni terrorism. The Shia of Iraq put up with more than two years of massacres before they began to respond.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 24, 2007 at 10:50 am

Gemayel Assassinated

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Now here’s a tricky one. When Rafiq Hariri, the erstwhile ally of Syria but latterly a quiet but effective opponent, was assassinated by a huge car bombing in central Beirut on Valentine’s Day 2005, I was convinced that Syria was not the guilty party. I knew the regime could be brutal and stupid, but I didn’t think it could be quite that stupid. As expected, the assassination of Lebanon’s best-connected multimillionaire (and the man who, as prime minister, had rebuilt Beirut after the civil war and 1982 Israeli invasion) led to massive anti-Syrian protests in Beirut and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country.

There were also massive pro-Syrian demonstrations, called by Hizbullah, which were not covered in nearly as much loving detail by the Western media. But in any case, it was a good thing that Syria pulled out. Although the Syrian presence had been one of the factors preventing an Israeli-Phalangist takeover of Lebanon, and although Syria had contributed to ending the civil war and reconciling Lebanon’s warring factions, its clumsy militarism, corruption and police state interference naturally alienated many Lebanese, probably the majority. What was so damaging to both Syria and Lebanon was not that the withdrawal happened but that it happened like this, like a particularly bad-tempered divorce.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 21, 2006 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Lebanon

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Taking a Step Back from Taking a Step Back

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male course boundaryIt was two weeks into the Israeli blitz against Lebanon. Was it about to escalate to include Syria, where most of my family, and my wife’s people, live? My wife’s best friend, Randa, had already lost 22 members of her extended family under the rubble of their southern Lebanese village. The kind of epic tragedy, like Iraq and Palestine, that I follow on the internet for several hours a day, and get emotional about. But on this occasion, I couldn’t do so. I was booked in for 10 days of meditation at a retreat in Herefordshire. Fate decreed withdrawal from the war. No internet. No TV. No newspapers. No contact with the outside at all.

And no contact with the other meditators. We had to agree to maintain ‘noble silence’ for the duration: no talking, no physical contact, no eye contact.

Ten days of silence at the end of a hectic summer. I’d travelled in Iran from the migrainous Tehran traffic to the desert peace of Yazd, experienced a spiritual moment in Shiraz’s Nizam ul-Mulk mosque, and another by a spring in a mountain village, spliff in hand, taking a step back from my chattering voice, and observing it. I’d seen Kandinsky’s revelations in London and the Kirov ballet in Petersburg. I’d been racially profiled by a Finnish border guard, and felt how much more uncomfortable it’s become to be an Arab and Muslim in Britain. After all these environments, all these preoccupations, it was time to detach myself.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 5, 2006 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Lebanon, Meditation

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