29 June 2007

in Fisk's World

In Fisk's world, Shiite Hizbullah is kind charitable organization, born out of the natural and historically repressed aspirations of the Lebanese Shiite population to defend them from Lebanese militia killers such as Samir Geagea - yes, Fisk actually has in his writings recently described the Lebanese Forces leader as "killer Geagea."

Most strikingly for a professional journalist, Fisk is certain that that Sunni "semi-Al-Qaeda-satellites," whatever that may be, were behind the bombing that killed the UN soldiers, breaching security in the Lebanese Hizbullah stronghold. Inexplicably, Fisk suggests that many Lebanese consider the UNIFIL forces to be really a NATO force.

Fisk's intrepid reporting reveals to us that a secret meeting between French, Spanish and Italian officers and Hizbullah officials took place three weeks before the bombing, in which the latter assured the UN that they would do their best to protect its soldiers on the ground. Alas, the "Al-Qaeda-type groups" were too clever and the tragic result was six dead peacekeepers. Now Fisk states with confidence: "We shall now find out if America believes this - and it is the truth - or whether Western governments decide to blame Iran by claiming Hizbullah was behind the bombing of the UN troops." For the readers that missed it, Fisk writes "AND IT IS THE TRUTH." The capitalization is for effect but the result is the same. Our long-serving Beirut correspondent has in the mist and fog of Middle East politics seen the light. He knows the truth.

This is all extremely worrying. Fisk's writings have consistently tried to absolve Iran, Syria and Hizbullah in the same way others have blamed them for everything. His reluctant descriptions of Al-Qaeda accept an increasing recognition that it is not a single tangible group with a defined structure operating from above the clouds somewhere. With the leadership driven out of Sudan and then severely restricted in Afghanistan, what is left is in fact a loose network of extremist cells that needed another state structure to provide it with cover, logistical support and intelligence guidance. Each cell invents a name for itself, tagging on the words Islam or Jihad for added value, and then claims allegiance to Al-Qaeda. A simple but seemingly successful formula by states that need proxy groups to fight their battles against stronger opponents.

We therefore find an emerging unholy alliance between militant Islam (both Sunni and Shiite) and the secular anti-Western forces in the region. The tactic is to create violent anarchy in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories and terrify the international community out of the Middle East. The motive of all these cells and the state or states that sponsor them is one and the same: to violently eliminate all reform-minded elements and to keep the region in the dark ages of tyranny. Robert Fisk's dubious journalism, under the comforting sheepskin guise of anti-war campaigner, makes his motives more difficult to grasp.

Political scientist Talal Nizameddin is writing a book on Russia and the Middle East

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.