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the human province

Last Build Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2017 08:50:37 +0000


This site has moved

Mon, 06 Oct 2008 07:23:00 +0000

I'm not sure why, but overnight, my internet connection stopped allowing me to connect to blogspot/blogger sites. I can connect from friends' houses and from work, but I can't seem to figure out why I can’t connect from home. This is decidedly inconvenient for updating my blog, which I haven't been so good about lately anyway. So I've decided to change my host from blogspot to wordpress, which means that I won't be updating this site anymore. I think I was able to import all the old posts and comments without a hitch, but if anyone notices any problems with anything, please let me know.

Otherwise, I've taken advantage of the move to change the layout, which has always been pretty bare bones due to my limited skills in web design.

So please come over to the new site and update your bookmarks. Ahlan wa sahlan.

History as a political tool

Mon, 29 Sep 2008 14:48:00 +0000

Jeffrey Goldberg has a dishonest account of Tom Segev's review of a book on Haj Amin al-Husseini up. He makes it sound like Segev is only down on the book because it emphasizes Arab extremism, whereas his problems with the book are much more substantial:

The lack of solid evidence is the main problem throughout the book. While the authors do cite prominent scholars like Martin Gilbert, Bernard Wasserstein and Rashid Khalidi, some of the most outrageous quotations come from quite arguable sources. Hitler’s alleged and highly unlikely pledge to Husseini (“The Jews are yours”) is based on a passage in the mufti’s own memoirs. But there is an official German record of his meeting with Hitler that contains no such statement. In fact the mufti did not achieve his major goal: Hitler refused to sign a public statement of support for him.

Then Goldberg makes it sound like Segev is comparing Jewish extremism in mandate Palestine with Husseini's support of Nazi Germany:

Segev compares the Mufti's behavior to that of Yitzhak Shamir, the former prime minister of Israel who was once a terrorist with the Stern Gang, and he criticizes the authors for neglecting to mention Jewish extremism in the time of the Mufti. I'm not sure why a book about pro-Nazi sympathies among certain Arabs need include this...

Actually, what Segev does is remind us, as we can read in his excellent book The Seventh Million that Husseini was not the only anti-British nationalist to make overtures to Nazi Germany for the purpose of throwing off the yoke of British imperialism:

The mufti’s support for Nazi Germany definitely demonstrated the evils of extremist nationalism. However, the Arabs were not the only chauvinists in Palestine looking to make a deal with the Nazis. At the end of 1940 and again at the end of 1941, a small Zionist terrorist organization known as the Stern Gang made contact with Nazi representatives in Beirut, seeking support for its struggle against the British. One of the Sternists, in a British jail at the time, was Yitzhak Shamir, a future Israeli prime minister. The authors fail to mention this episode.

So while it's true that a book on Arabs seeking German support against the British and the Jewish colonialism needn't mention the terrorism of the Irgun or the Stern Gang, it seems dishonest not to include the fact that some of Husseini's local Jewish enemies also sought the support of Nazi Germany.

But that's the whole problem here. The importance accorded to Husseini is meant to conflate anti-Zionism and Arabs with anti-Semitism and Nazis. During World War II, there were many subjects of British imperialism from Ireland to Egypt and beyond who saw the time as ripe to back another European power, not because they were Nazis or anti-Semites, but because they were anti-British and saw Germany as means to the end of breaking British rule over their lands.

We've seen politically expedient but strange bedfellows time and time again, like how many exiled Iraqis supported an American invasion -- not because they were particularly pro-American, but rather because they were anti-Saddam. To argue that the the two are necessarily the same is either obtuse or dishonest.

On the seam

Thu, 11 Sep 2008 12:57:00 +0000

Last night I saw a collection of Israeli and Palestinian short films about Jerusalem, one of which (made by an Israeli) took a look at the Museum on the Seam. The museum describes itself like this:

The Museum is committed to examining the social reality within our regional conflict, to advancing dialogue in the face of discord and to encouraging social responsibility that is based on what we all have in common rather than what keeps us apart.
And it describes its location like this:

The Museum is situated in a building constructed in 1932 by the Arab-Christian architect, Anton Baramki.

While Jerusalem was divided (1948-1967), the building served as a military outpost (the Turjeman Post) which stood on the seam line between Israel and Jordan across from Mandelbaum Gate, the only crossing point between the two sides of the divided city.

The Museum on the Seam was established in 1999 with the generous support of the von Holtzbrinck family of Germany, through the Jerusalem Foundation and by the initiative of the designer and curator of the Museum, Raphie Etgar.
What it fails to mention is that Baramki and his family lived in the house until they were displaced during the war in 1948 and that ever since 1967 the Baramki family has tried in vain to reclaim their house. The museum has refused to give them their property back, relying on the Israeli law of "absentee" landowners that has allowed the Jewish state to confiscate Palestinian land.

Social responsibility indeed.

More of the hack you love to hate

Tue, 02 Sep 2008 14:42:00 +0000

It seems that Michael Totten's hackery isn't limited to Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world. Take a look here for an amusing take down of his recent reporting on Georgia.

Orwell: Dear diary -- hot again!

Fri, 29 Aug 2008 14:27:00 +0000

I've just stumbled across an online version of George Orwell's diaries.

I've only scratched the surface, but considering how much Orwell talks about the weather and crops, I feel somehow a little less pathetic for not being able to talk for five minutes without making a comment on the hot and sticky weather that greeted me upon my return from Africa back to Beirut. Who'da thunk I'd be pining for Congolese weather? It's not much, but I suppose Goma's got at least one thing going for it this time of year.

American Palestine

Fri, 29 Aug 2008 12:36:00 +0000

For reasons I won't go into, I was at the American embassy a couple of times earlier this week. Draconian security measures notwithstanding (you're not allowed to bring a phone or bag onto the premises), the place seemed more Lebanese than American, with Lebanese security guards, Lebanese employees and Lebanese-Americans queued up in the consular section.

Another touch was a world map in the consular section. It is a map with political boundaries, and while I was in the consular waiting room, I took a look at it while trying to recover from the disgusting humidity that all of Beirut's been suffering from this summer. The map is in Arabic, and like most maps in the region, Israel is nowhere to be found. Instead, the map shows Palestine. This wouldn't be surprising, except that it's in the American embassy.

Back from the bush

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 13:52:00 +0000

I've been really, really terrible about keeping the site updated. And for that I apologize. Before, I could blame the state of African telecommunications, but since I'm back home where I have the internet at home and work, I've got no such excuses.

While I was away, I read Ngugi wa Thiongo's Wizard of the Crow on the recommendation of a friend of mine. It was really wonderful, a mixture of Rushdie and Gunther Grass, but à l'africaine. Then, to keep with the theme of African dictatorships and as suggested by another friend, I read Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savanna, which is also a great read. There are so many passages that stood out on the page, but this is one of my favorites:

[A] genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy.

Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners. In the grand finale of things there will be a mansion also for them where they will be received and lodged in comfort by the single-minded demigods of their devotion.

My trip was incredibly interesting. I traveled from Kenya to Zanzibar to Tanzania proper to Rwanda and Congo then through Uganda back to Kenya before leaving. It was tiresome to be on the move so much, so I was happy to come home to Beirut.

That being said, given our excruciatingly humid heat here, I miss the cool evenings of East and Central Africa. I also miss the smell of smoke that always seemed to fill the night sky. The latter, by the way, is completely different in the southern hemisphere. The stars are much more numerous and fill constellations that I'd never before seen. It's amazing to think that something so fundamental to our lives as the sky can change upon crossing an imaginary line in the African dirt.

On crowds and Tanzanian trains

Thu, 24 Jul 2008 06:39:00 +0000

I was expecting a leisurely train ride through the inland to Lake Victoria from Dar-es-Salaam. That's not at all what I got. The train was scheduled to leave Dar-es-Salaam at 5 on Tuesday evening, and I was pleasantly surprised when we left on time. The Tanzanian scenery was beautiful and the couchette not that uncomfortable. I awoke to a couple of sudden jolts, and then we stopped for a while. Finally, we started back up again and I fell asleep. The only thing that woke me up was a Tanzanian cabin mate who decided that 1 am would be the perfect time to listen to his telephone's radio at full blast, despite the fact that there were five people trying to sleep in the same tiny cabin.I finally fell back asleep and then woke up in the early light of the morning to see a train platform. We must be in Dodoma, I thought, and then went back to sleep. I woke up a couple of hours later to see that we hadn't moved, so I decided to get out and see what the problem was. I asked where we were, to which someone responded: Dar-es-Salaam. Thinking that he’d misunderstood my question, I mimed that yes, of course, we'd left Dar-es-Salaam, but where were we now? He shrugged and repeated: Dar-es-Salaam. It was only then that I recognized the buildings around us. I'd just spent 14 hours to end up in the exact same place I'd left. After some investigation, it seems that the jolts had been two of the train cars being derailed, but fortunately no one was hurt. We were told that the tracks would be repaired and that we were expected to leave again at 5 in the evening, but that we should stay close to the train anyway, just in case. So I spent the day lounging in the sun watching as an African village sprung up on the train platform. Men lounged and ate oranges, while women washed clothes and children. Wet laundry soon adorned the rusty tracks and open train windows. This, I assume, is how shantytowns are born. To my surprise, mothers led their children to defecate mere feet away from the water spigots, which left human shit in disconcerting proximity to drying laundry and dishes. It also made the whole place smell like a public toilet. All in all, I was surprised by the fact that no one seemed particularly upset about the inconvenience of the situation. Everyone was taking it in stride. After being told that I couldn't get my money back for the train ticket, I left our new village for some fresh air and Indian food, passing an enormous line of people waiting to get a two-dollar food allowance from the rail company. By the time I got back, it was nearly time to leave. Or so I thought. The departure time of 5 pm came and went without so much as a train whistle. We were then told that we’d be leaving at 9, so I settled in to read with the last of the sunlight. I fell asleep in my couchette and only woke up at around 9:30 to loud music and a crowd of people obviously upset about something. It seems that they were mad, and understandably so, about not getting a refund for their ticket. Every once in a while, the crowd's singing and chanting would take on a nasty edge, and rocks and Swahili curses would be hurled. After a bit of this and three pops that sounded like firecrackers and which were explained to me to be local bombs (made by the police or the crowd, I couldn't tell), I decided that it is decidedly unwise to be different in a crowd of angry people who want their money back. And especially unwise when that difference, in my case that of skin color, is seen mainly as a financial difference. I was worried that the leap from "give us our money back" to let's take the mzungu's money" could be quick and unforgiving. So I left. And now I'm stuck trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to make it to Kigali by tomorrow.Apparently the local press has written up the story, but with no mention of the rioting.[...]

African pics

Wed, 23 Jul 2008 11:44:00 +0000

Here are a couple of pictures I've taken so far:

Giraffe on the road between Nairobi and Masai Mara

Great Rift Valley

Zebras in Masai Mara

Sunset in Masai Mara

Lioness feeding on zebra

Lions lounging in Masai Mara

Somali Camel on beach in Mombasa

Masai kids at school

Zanzibar beach

Market in Zanzibar

Homemade lipstick in Zanzibar

Train wreck in Tanzania

Wed, 23 Jul 2008 11:31:00 +0000

I left Dar-es-Salaam last night and thought I was well on my way to Lake Victoria, but then I fell asleep and woke up this morning to find myself in.... Dar-es-Salaam. It seems that part of our train derailed last night (which must have been the couple of jolts I felt), so we turned around and came back. Shortly after arriving, the passengers set-up a makeshift village on tracks, with women washing clothes and children while the men mostly sat around chatting and eating oranges.

I looked into a plane ticket to Kigali from Dar, but it is an astounding $440, so it looks like I will be giving the train another try this evening. They said that the tracks are being repaired, but I don't know how much I trust that. In either case, by the time I'd figured out what was going on, it was too late to catch a bus to Mwanza, and I still haven't heard back from Rwandair, so it looks like I'll be on the train.

Otherwise, Mwanza was the film featured in the documentary film Darwin's Nightmare about the Perch Nile in Lake Victoria. It was poorly received here, and even non-Tanzanian friend who live here can't stand it. Personally, I really liked the film when I saw it, but I'd never been to Tanzania before, so if I finally make it to Mwanza, I suppose I'll be able to see if the film was fair or not.


Thu, 17 Jul 2008 14:13:00 +0000

This is just a quick note to let my few but faithful readers know that I've not been killed in a matatu accidend on the roads of East Africa. I'm alive and well in Zanzibar, after having been through Nairobi, Masai Mara, Mombasa, Tanga and Pemba. I'll be heading to Dar-es-Salaam next and then taking a train crosscountry to Lake Victoria from where I'll launch into Rwanda.

I've got a fair amount to write about, but little time in which to do so.

More later, insh'allah.

Leaving for East Africa

Sun, 06 Jul 2008 21:26:00 +0000

I'm about to leave for a five-week trip seeing East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda), but I wanted to post a link to an execrable op-ed about learning Arabic in the Washington Post by Joel Pollak.

I sent out a hasty letter to the editor, which reads as follows:

Joel Pollak complains that there isn’t enough of an Israeli perspective in Arabic language classes. He then goes on to describe “West Beirut,” a gem of Lebanese cinema that recounts a love story between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl, as a film that casts Christians as “the prime bad guys in Lebanon’s civil war.” Obviously Pollak’s Arabic has not progressed far enough to have understood the movie.

He then assures us that he refused to talk about Abdel Nassar in class. In French courses, one learns about Napoleon as a grand statesman, not a brutal imperial dictator. Likewise in Arabic classes, as well as in much of the third world, Nasser was seen as a hero.

One of the points of language courses is to better understand the culture of the speakers of that language. Since Pollak would obviously prefer to learn about Israeli and Jewish history, one can only assume that mistakenly signed up for Arabic lessons when he was actually looking to learn Hebrew.

In other news, there's this nasty piece calling for collective punishment. I'd have more to say about this last one, except that I'm in a hurry.

I don't know what the internet situation is going to be like in any of the places where I'll be over the next month or so, but I can't imagine that posting will be any slower than it has been in the last month or two. Which means that I'll do my best to step it up considerably.

Mugabe's "do or die" campaign

Mon, 23 Jun 2008 07:11:00 +0000

Zimbabwe's opposition party, MDC (Movement for Democracy and Change) announced yesterday that it will not be contesting the election on Friday, since it was nothing but a violent illegitimate sham anyway. Dozens of opposition partisans (and their families) have been killed in the last few months. PBS's Frontline has an excellent piece on Mugabe's "do or die" campaign to hold on to power in Harare:

I pose as a member of a Roman Catholic church from Harare in order to visit the local hospital. There I meet Thabita Chingaya*, a 42-year-old widow and leader of the local MDC women's league. Thabita is being treated for massive injuries to her vagina, uterus and womb. A discharge constantly oozes from between her legs. Tabitha says that she was coming home from drawing water from the river the week before when she came upon seven young men she knew who happened to be Zanu-PF party members. They blocked her path saying she would learn a lesson for being "Morgan Tsvangirai's prostitute."

She was knocked down by blows to her face and kicked with booted feet. But then suddenly the beatings stopped, she says. One man called "Max," who seemed to be the gang leader, ordered the others to stop. He removed his trousers and raped her. All the others followed suit, taking turns to hold her down. When they were done, Max took a log and began poking her vagina until she bled. She says the other six laughed and left her for dead.

Sea and Desert

Thu, 19 Jun 2008 06:37:00 +0000

So I'm back. I finished grading and braved the torrents of students begging for grades. I also read Kapuscinsky's Travels with Herodotus. While speaking of the coup against Ben Bella in Algeria, he brings up a schism in Islam that I'd been thinking about even before having him articulate it. He speaks of a

conflict at the very heart of Islam, between its open, dialectical -- I would even say "Mediterranean" -- current and its other, inward-looking one, born of a sense of uncertainty and confusion vis-à-vis the contemporary world, guided by fundamentalists who take advantage of modern technology and organizational principles yet at the same time deem the defense of faith and custom against modernity as the condition of their own existence, their sole identity.

Algiers, which at its beginnings, in Herodotus's time, was a fishing village, and later a port for Phoenician and Greek ships, faces the sea. But right behind the city, on its other side, lies a vast desert province that is called "the bled" here, a territory claimed by peoples professing allegiance to the laws of an old, rigidly introverted Islam. In Algiers one speaks simply of the Islam of the desert, and a second, which is defined as the Islam of the river (or of the sea). The first is the religion practiced by warlike nomadic tribes struggling to survive in one of the world's most hostile environments, the Sahara. The second Islam is the faith of merchants, itinerant peddlers, people of the road and of the bazaar, for whom openness, compromise, and exchange are not only beneficial to trade, but necessary to life itself.

Under colonialism, both these strains of Islam were united by a common enemy; but alter they collided.

I don't know enough about Algeria to know if Ben Bella is really a good specimen of the sea variety or Boumedienne an example of the Islam of the desert. I do know though, despite its simplicity, this is a distinction that's been forming in my consciousness for a while now. It's certainly one way of explaining the differences between Islam in, say, Saudi Arabia and the Islams of Lebanon.

Three years later

Wed, 11 Jun 2008 07:11:00 +0000

Sometimes when I'm bored (or should be grading papers), I take a look at my stats to see how the few people who read this blog got here. I often feel a mixture of fear and pride when I see that people from the State Department or the Senate or the Pentagon have made their way here. Other times, I wonder what someone was doing googling Hezbollah and skinnydipping.

Every once in a while, I come across someone who's seemingly been caught googling himself. In this case, it looks like UCSD's Bill Decker came across a post about Guantánamo Bay after doing a Google search to see if anyone was talking about a letter to the editor he wrote three years ago.

It must not be very often that this physics professor finds talk about him online that's unrelated to bifurcations in natural convection, much less remarks that compare him with a Soviet Chief State Prosecutor. If you've come back, Bill, welcome. Please feel free to continue patting the US on the back for only imprisoning people at Guantánamo Bay instead of having them summarily executed.

Brazil in Beirut

Thu, 05 Jun 2008 09:16:00 +0000

In Terry Gilliam's movie, Brazil one of the characters (Tuttle played by De Niro) is walking when a newspaper is blown against him just to cling to him while another does the same. More and more papers are thrust against him until he's a walking mass of paper. Finally, all the papers are blown away to reveal that the man is no longer there.

That's pretty much how I feel at this time of the year, when the semester is over, and I'm flooded with a mass of papers to grade. When the wind blows hard enough, and grades are turned in, I'll be back.

Israel blocks fulbright scholars

Fri, 30 May 2008 07:03:00 +0000

The US government has had to rescind the Fulbright awards for the 7 students in Gaza who won the awards, because Israel won't let them leave the territory:

The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.

...The study grants notwithstanding, the Israeli officials argued that the policy of isolating Gaza was working, that Palestinians here were starting to lose faith in Hamas's ability to rule because of the hardships of life.

..."We are fighting the regime in Gaza that does its utmost to kill our citizens and destroy our schools and our colleges," said Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker from the opposition Likud Party. "So I don’t think we should allow students from Gaza to go anywhere. Gaza is under siege, and rightly so, and it is up to the Gazans to change the regime or its behavior."

Hadeel Abukwaik, a 23-year-old engineering software instructor in Gaza, had hoped to do graduate work in the United States this fall on the Fulbright that she thought was hers. She had stayed in Gaza this past winter when its metal border fence was destroyed and tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt, including her sister, because the agency administering the Fulbright told her she would get the grant only if she stayed put. She lives alone in Gaza where she was sent to study because the cost is low; her parents, Palestinian refugees, live in Dubai.

"I stayed to get my scholarship," she said. "Now I am desperate."
Now I'm no expert on Islamic militancy, but I'm pretty sure that desperation isn't exactly the quickest route to winning hearts and minds.

Shake and Bake, or MacBeth

Thu, 29 May 2008 08:04:00 +0000

A good friend of mine, A, sent me a link to an article about Scott McClellan's new memoir to see if I could spot the reference to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Needless to say, I laughed out loud when I saw that McClellan calls Dick Cheney "The Magic Man" in his new book:

[McClellan] accuses former White House adviser Karl Rove of misleading him about his role in the CIA case. He describes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as being deft at deflecting blame, and he calls Vice President Cheney "the magic man" who steered policy behind the scenes while leaving no fingerprints.
Somewhere in this book has to be an anecdote about Bush "El Diablo" and Cheney "The Magic Man" bumping chests and yelling, "shake and bake, baby!"


Surely, it is no coincidence that Will Ferrell has played Bush in the past:

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But on a more serious note, I find it disgusting how people like McClellan go along with horrible, dishonest policies and then expect that all will be well after a memoir. Someone should tell Scott "the lady" McClellan that a critical memoir isn't enough to wash the blood of hundreds of thousands of people from his hands. I'm afraid a little water isn't enough to clear you of this deed and that here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

Democracy and economy

Thu, 29 May 2008 07:54:00 +0000

It's the end of the semester, and most of my students are giving final presentations. Two of my students have been working on the economic consequences of the sit-in, on a micro-level, by interviewing business owners and protesters. At the end of their presentation, the conclusion they came to (fueled by the "Dubai model," I might add) was that in the Middle East, a country needs to choose between democracy and economic livelihood. They seemed torn as to which should be Lebanon's priority, but they agreed that in this neck of the woods, aiming for an economically successful democracy was the same thing as wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

Sometimes this country depresses me more than I can muster the strength to convey...

New President in Lebanon

Sun, 25 May 2008 14:50:00 +0000

Even if I didn't have cable, I'd be able to tell that the new president had just been appointed elected by the gunfire that we can all hear throughout Beirut.

There's one thing that I've noticed since the Doha agreement was reached: both sides seem to feel like they've won. Part of me (the realist or pessimistic part of me) thinks that this is another example of the Lebanese "lick-and-stick" philosophy that is equally present in the domains of plumbing and politics. This philosophy states that it's much easier to make a minor, temporary adjustment than to fix something properly. This means that my electric wire that used to run from the meter through the walls to my apartment now comes in through the window in the corridor.

The other part of me thinks that maybe, just maybe, if both sides think they've won, then maybe that means that we're in a win-win situation.

More overheard in Beirut

Tue, 20 May 2008 08:22:00 +0000

One high school or young college student to another in the back of a cab:

Student 1: "All I need is a night away from my parents."
Student 2: "Yeah, but you'll need some proof."
Student 1: "What, like her panties? Or what about pictures?"

Still alive

Fri, 16 May 2008 08:55:00 +0000

Thanks to those who have sent messages wondering if I was all right and where I was. I took a trip up to the Chouf on Tuesday and spent the night in a village in the mountain. I visited some of the Druze shebab to see how things were and how they were feeling after their unexpected victory over Hezbollah in Barouk.

When I got back to Beirut, what I thought was just a long electricity cut turned out to be several days without power (that's getting fixed while I type, insh'allah). So I've been out of the loop, news and otherwise, and will need some time to wrap my head around things before posting any comments about the situation.

There's also the fact that during the last week, I've not really wanted to do much except sleep. As a result, I didn't get any work done and am now swamped with things that have been left undone up to now.

Hezbollah coup

Sun, 11 May 2008 22:36:00 +0000

This seems to be shaping up to be a full-scale coup d'état by Hezbollah with the support of the army. It looks like they're going piece by piece. Future was first, now the PSP is being taken in the Chouf, and I imagine the Lebanese Forces in the Christian sectors will be next.

The rest of the Lebanese parties were no match for Hezbollah, but when you throw in the army, what can you expect? Hariri and Joumblatt seem to have agreed not to fight, probably to save the bloodshed that would not have stopped the coup in any case. So they've agreed to go quietly in exchange for there not being a battle to which Future and PSP partisans would have gone like lambs to the slaughter.

The army seems to have cut a deal with Hezbollah, but it's hard to say what they could have done in any case, since they're so much weaker than the Party of God. So the current government will most likely be forced to resign, Suleiman will be appointed as president, and someone pliable will be appointed to be Prime Minister. Things will be like before 2005, except that instead of taking marching orders from Damascus, the new government will answer to Harat Hreik.

Niagara Falls

Sun, 11 May 2008 16:15:00 +0000

by John Barth

She paused amid the kitchen to drink a glass of water; at that instant, losing a grip of fifty years, the next-room-ceiling-plaster crashed. Or he merely say in an empty study, in March-day glare, listening to the universe rustle in his head, when suddenly the five-foot shelf let go. For ages the fault creeps secret through the rock; in a second, ledge and railings, tourists and turbines all thunder over Niagara. Which snowflake triggers the avalanche? A house explodes; a star. In your spouse, so apparently resigned, murder twitches like a fetus. At some trifling new assessment, all the colonies rebel.

The centre cannot hold

Sun, 11 May 2008 14:55:00 +0000

Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day in Hamra, where SSNP thugs were still armed and around. They broke up a group of unarmed neighborhood residents (most of whom were with Future) by shooting in the air and shouting. The night before a 16-year-old boy had been killed while delivering a narguileh for the shop he worked for. When they finally had a hard time getting the group of the boy's friends, family and neighbors to go inside despite plenty of shooting, they left. Shortly afterward, the Army finally showed up. The SSNP gunmen were going around Hamra without any challenge from the Army.

Today, things seem to be much better in West Beirut (although I haven't been there today), but fighting has spread all over the country, with Hezbollah apparently shelling a Druze village and opposition Druze forces fighting the PSP in Aley. Clashes are also going on in in Shweifat.

Add this to the fighting in Tripoli, and the death toll is nearly 40 now. In the words of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.