Wednesday, August 16, 2006

End of the begining?

The picture above is one I took yesterday of a temporary memorial set up in Beirut's Martyr's Square. I wonder if martyrdom will ever be something we Lebanese can read about in history books rather relive every few years. Here's a letter I wrote later that night


Hi there. Hope you're well. Things have calmed down a bit over the past two days in terms of bombs and jets, but the blockade is still in full force and emotions are running high. I guess that’s why it’s been hard to focus on the blog. There are so many new concerns now, from political posturing to far-reaching economic devastation. Almost every sector of the economy, which finally began experiencing real growth for the time in decades, has been paralyzed and the future seems increasingly uncertain. Half of my office staff and half of my friends have left the country. The existing divisions among Lebanese are at levels I have never seen since the end of the civil war-- much more than during the assassination of the prime minister, the withdrawal of Syrian troops and the recent series of bombings and assassinations mainly on Christian neighborhoods and journalists. Curiously, each Lebanese political/religious group has suffered an individual blow over this last year and half of sporadic instability. The most recent catastrophe though, a brutal swing at the most heavily armed segment of the population, has really shaken society to its core, especially the fragile new government. Some people are even talking about the return of militias. I could go on and on.

Downtown was quiet today. Thousands of refugees flooding back to their homes yet it is still dangerous, with a high number of unexploded ordinance littering residential areas. They are also beginning to discover more bodies under the rubble as the streets are cleared. I could tell you about waiting in long lines for gasoline, people filling their freezers with ice and massive effects on jobs and the economy, but the shift in society seems paramount to everything at this point. I surprised my self tonight when I pulled into the driveway and stared at our house while sitting in my car, wondering just for a moment, if our whole package of dreams for this country was some kind of allusion that was beginning to unravel. Today, colleagues and friends even joked about living in other places like Paris and the Caribbean. It felt weird to fantasize with them about peace. It felt weird to reconsider Lebanon as one of the coolest places to be. At the same time, talk of racial profiling in the states is not really encouraging me to go back there either! Anyway at least I can smile now as I watch the anchorwoman at CNN ask the weather lady about climate conditions for the people in south Lebanon. Least of our worries! Regards,HB


Blogger Chris Baker said...

Seymour Hersh is the US journalist who broke the story this last weekend on the Bush administration's pre-approval of Israel's attack plan against Lebanon. Hersh was interviewed Monday on the US independent TV program "Democracy Now" and he sounded especially ominous about the fact that the Bush administration refuses to talk to Syria. Hersh even said "he won't breathe easy until we get to 2009, inauguration of a new president".

Hersh has extensive contacts in US intelligence as well as in Israel so this is probably a well-founded warning. These were Hersh's comments on the US situation with Syria:

I’ve interviewed the President of Syria, Bashar al-Asad, a couple of times. And one of the last times, with great pain he told me -- I think he showed me, even showed me, he was -- this was in 2005. He's written letters to George Bush, saying, “Let's get together. Let's talk. We have a lot in common. We can help you. We and Iran basically both have more -- we can do more for you in Iraq than any other country. Why aren't you using us? We don't need a Somalia on our borders. We're not interested in chaos there.” And this White House doesn't believe it. And the letters weren't answered, he told me. His ambassador here in Washington, Imad Mustafa, is absolutely isolated. All this talk that the White House has made, Condoleezza Rice, about having openings to Iran, to Syria, are just, you know -- they're not worth much. There's been some low-level talk. Nobody has made any efforts.

Syria has, as I’ve written in the New Yorker years ago, was one of the biggest helpers we had after al-Qaeda struck us, because Syria is -- the old man Asad, the father of the current president, hated Jihadism. He did not like the Muslim Brotherhood. They were his opponents. And he kept the best books going on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very closely connected to al-Qaeda. In fact, we learned more about al-Qaeda from Syria after 9/11 than from any other country. Asad, the president, gave us thousands access -- agreed to give us access to thousands of files. And I wrote a story, I think in ’02 or ’03 for the New Yorker, in which I quoted a senior intelligence official of Syria saying, “We're willing to even talk about our support for Hezbollah with you. We want to see you win the war on terror.”

So it's been an amazingly horrific performance by this White House, which is of par. You know, I don't think any of us -- I certainly won't breathe easy until we get to 2009, inauguration of a new president. But there's just no question that if we were to approach Syria right now, something else I didn't write at the time -- that's because I wasn't writing about it -- I don't think there's any question that Israel was interested in talking to Syria in ’03, even about the Golan Heights, which is a tough issue for them, and ... we discouraged Israel from doing it.


8:57 PM  
Blogger clare said...

I really believe that one of Bush's biggest failures as a president is not engaging in dialogue with other nations. It seems as if he is incapable of this for some reason. I am praying that Lebanon can get back on it's feet soon. I wish I could do more, but maybe learning and talking to others here where I live can in some small way help. Many Blessings, Clare

9:23 PM  

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