December 01, 2007

Anti-War Shenanigans and the Lebanese Presidential Crisis

As you may know, Abu Muqawama attended his first-ever anti-war conference and demonstration today. The editor of a Hizbollah newspaper was speaking, and Abu Muqawama went to hear what he had to say. Arriving early because he had not pre-registered, Abu Muqawama waited for a good two hours for the event to begin, which it did, 30 minutes late. (Timeliness and general we've-got-our-shit-togetherness may be two of the reasons the military industrial complex seems to out-perform the anti-war crowd nine times out of ten.)

Abu Muqawama sat next to a very nice Swiss woman who came all the way from Zurich for the event, and he politely introduced himself as "Mr. Maceo Parker, from the People's Coalition to Free James Brown." She asked where he was from, and Abu Muqawama said the American South, and that was pretty much it until Ibrahim Mousawi, editor of the Hizbollah newspaper al-Intiqad, got up to speak. When Mousawi greeted the audience with as-salam alaykum, Abu Muqawama responded back with a wa alaykum salam, and this drew an appreciative nod from his Swiss neighbor, who turned her head and smiled. Who knew Tennesseans could master such complex Islamic rituals!

Ibrahim Mousawi was very good. He certainly knew his audience. He spoke in English, clearly and forcefully, and drew more applause than any of the other speakers in the plenary session, George Galloway aside. (More on him later.) Mousawi drew a parallel between Hizbollah's resistance against Israel and the resistance of the anti-war protesters against the forces of imperialism, and this drew much applause. So too, somewhat oddly, did the line that "the future of the region is political Islam, like it or leave it." This surprised Abu Muqawama considering the entrenched secularism of the British Left. But, hey, anything's preferable to American hegemony. Right, comrades?

Anyway, it was interesting, for this blogger, to watch Mousawi interact with an almost entirely western audience. He gets full marks for being eloquent and firing up the crowd without saying anything inflammatory that's going to make the newspapers tomorrow. What was more interesting, though, was watching Mousawi re-act (and not re-act) to Galloway's speech.

"If there was a democracy in Lebanon," Galloway began by thundering, "Hassan Nasrallah would be president!"

This line spurred great applause from the audience as Abu Muqawama thought whether or not this would actually be the case.

"But you have to be Christian to be president!"

This line set in motion furious shaking of heads from most people in the hall, and Abu Muqawama turned to look at Mousawi. This cannot have been too comfortable for him, but he wasn't showing it. Lebanon's politicians -- Hizbollah included -- are currently trying to find a suitable Maronite president while the country remains on a knife edge, and this jackass Scotsman standing on the stage is stirring things up, calling for an end to the entire confessional system. This blogger expected to see Mousawi start squirming in his seat any moment. But Galloway wasn't done showing off his knowledge of the Lebanese political system:

"The prime minister has to be a Sunni. And the Shia ... well, they get the speaker of parliament."

Galloway then tried to convince the audience that the Lebanese speaker of parliament is a nothing post, akin to the Speaker of the British House of Commons. The name of that office-holder, Michael Martin, drew laughs from the assembled masses. But you know who would not have been laughing had he been there? Nabih Berri. The Lebanese speaker of parliament, an important Hizbollah ally who has put together a massive patronage system over the past 30 years, would have been shocked to have discovered he occupies a joke position with no real power.

Abu Muqawama then began to feel genuinely sorry for Mousawi, because Galloway moved on to an even more uncomfortable subject ... Iran:

"I've never been to Iran, have never met an Iranian leader, and don't particularly like the government."

Abu Muqawama had his eyes on Mousawi the entire time, and now he was looking really uncomfortable. It's all well and good to slag off the Iranian regime, George, unless you happen to acknowledge the Supreme Leader of that country as your supreme leader. Which Hizbollah and its followers -- including, presumably, Mousawi -- do.

"You don't have to like the government of Iran," Galloway assured everyone in the room except for the one guy who, actually, kinda does have to like the government of Iran.

But it was all okay, because Galloway then went on to describe the evils of America, and once he started talking about the occupation of Iraq, it was safe for Mousawi to clap again.

Abu Muqawama, meanwhile, left after the plenary session and took advantage of the fact that his gym was a 10-minute walk away. He was going to stay for more, but honestly, there is a limit to the extent to which this blogger will go for the sake of his readers and the greater academic truths. Squat cleans and dead lifts sounded a lot more appetizing.

A few observations:

1. Galloway went on about the inconsistencies of the West -- we want democracy in the Middle East but not Hamas; we can have nuclear weapons but the Iranians cannot -- but one of the things that struck this blogger was how difficult it must be to keep all of those leftists, with all all their individual causes, from contradicting one another. Tony Benn started off the conference by dismissing some environmental conference at Bali as being relatively unimportant, and then a Green Party MEP took the podium and talked about how important the upcoming Bali conference was going to be. George Galloway led the cheers for Iran's nuclear program, which precipitated an awkward silence when Hans van Sponeck called for a WMD-free Middle East and defended the NPT. Talk about a big tent! On one side of the auditorium there was a Free Palestine! desk and on the other end was a crew demanding the immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. What do those two causes have in relation to one another aside from a common enemy to be found in the U.S. of A.?

2. It's interesting how two different narratives have built up as to how the 2006 Lebanon War started. The established, fact-based narrative says the war began on 12 July 2006 when Hizbollah attacked across the Blue Line and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Pretty much 98% of the world's population is cool with this fact -- even those who aren't big fans of Israel. But Hizbollah and the radical Left talk about "the Israeli war on Lebanon" as if nothing happened on 12 July. Abu Muqawama has intelligent, otherwise-reasonable friends who dispute the established narrative, saying Israel broke certain "unwritten rules" when they responded to the kidnapping. Okay, Abu Muqawama says, the response was certainly over the top and strategically foolish, but what are these unwritten rules that govern the Blue Line and say Israel can't respond militarily to a kidnapping? Does UNIFIL know about them? Does Israel? Abu Muqawama then gets patronizing rolling of eyes and shaking of heads as if to say, You stupid American, you're so locked into the hegemonic discourse that you can't open your eyes to see the truth. Maybe Abu Muqawama is a stupid American, but he's traveled up and down the Blue Line on both sides of the border and has yet to hear of any "unwritten rules" that Israel broke when they responded on 12 July. That's not a value judgment -- that's just the way it is. But Abu Muqawama doesn't think there were many people at the conference who would have disputed the Hizbollah narrative.

3. The entire session -- even when he had to listen carefully to the Iraqi delegate, who was speaking in Arabic -- Abu Muqawama could not for the life of him get the Outkast song Two Dope Boys (In a Cadillac) out of his head. Seriously. It's been in his head all day.

It goes chromes to the Fleetwoods, Coupes to the Villes...