Arab Politics, Lebanon

Axis(tential) Questions

A couple of days ago, I sat in on a lecture about Nasser’s foreign policy in the 1950’s-60’s, and the importance of regional axes in the Cold War world. It left me wondering about the extent to which we still live in such a world today, at least as far as Middle East politics are concerned.

This question would have been easier to answer a few years ago, when the region was conveniently divided into “moderates” and “radicals” (or the camps of “resistance” and “surrender”, depending on your perspective.) These days, however, as I noted in a Year in Review piece back in 2009, the divisions are not so straightforward.

Rob Malley and Peter Harling concur. In an excellent op-ed for the Washington Post, they argue that international relations in the Middle East today reflect a far messier reality, one that is full of opportunities for engagement by a superpower that tragically can’t seem to read the writing on the wall. Check out the whole article, but here are some suggestive bits:

Changes over the past few years have blurred the region’s purported lines. Qatar brokered the inter-Lebanese accord in May 2008, while Turkey started to mediate Israeli-Syrian negotiations. Neither country “belongs” to one axis or the other; both have earned reputations for talking to all sides. While Saudi Arabia had long echoed U.S. skepticism and overall objectives regarding Syria, engagement between the two has resumed. Riyadh and Damascus reached common ground in implicitly rebuking any Iranian role in Yemen, much to Tehran’s irritation, and in quietly opposing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who enjoys U.S. support. The Saudis also renewed contact with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas after a period of estrangement.

From Syria, too, come interesting signals. Uncomfortable with what had turned into a monogamous affair with Iran, Damascus began courting Qatar, France and, most prominently, Turkey. Deep strategic ties notwithstanding, Damascus and Tehran are waging a discreet proxy war in Iraq, backing different allies and combating different foes. Damascus broke a historic taboo in dispatching an ambassador to Beirut. In Lebanon itself, segments of the two political camps — until recently split in ways that mirrored the militants-vs.-moderates divide — are signaling a desire to reshape the political landscape.

Today, the relevant competition in the Middle East is not between a pro-Iranian and a pro-American axis but between two homegrown visions. One, backed by Iran, emphasizes resistance to Israel and the West, speaks to the region’s thirst for dignity and prioritizes military cooperation. The other, symbolized by Turkey, highlights diplomacy, stresses engagement with all parties and values economic integration. Both outlooks are championed by non-Arab emerging regional powers and resonate with an Arab street as incensed by Israel as it is weary of its own leaders.

These developments, Malley and Harling argue, are remarkable, and yet have largely gone unnoticed by the Obama Administration, which is still stuck in the rigid “moderates-versus-militants” paradigm of its predecessor. The Leveretts make a similar plea for more engagement with Iran and Syria by the White House, while plenty of others believe that the engagement policy has proven to be a complete failure (see here and here).

Meanwhile, the issue of regional axes has recently come up again in Lebanon, with Amin Gemayel reportedly asking (at the national dialogue talks) whether Lebanon should be a “confrontation” state or a “neutral” one, vis-a-vis the conflict with Israel. Here’s Michel Aoun’s response (which is, more or less, that Lebanon has no choice but to be a confrontation state because it is directly targeted by Israel), and here’s a piece by Walid Maalouf arguing that neutrality is Lebanon’s only hope.

Finally, see Nick Blanford’s short piece on the national dialogue talks for the Christian Science Monitor.

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Discussion

68 thoughts on “Axis(tential) Questions

  1. Walid Maalouf now dispenses his advice after being completely neglected and ridiculed in 2009 when he participated in the Lebanese Parliamentary elections! No one cared about him then. Hahaha. It proves how much the NowHariri’s crowds are desperate to fill the blank spaces on their website. When he was with Bolton’s gang, he was welcomed as a hero on his visit to Beirut. I bet Hanin Ghaddar, who was so anxious about “mut’a” marriage in an undecent article that was republished on the Foreign Policy blog, was very happy to meet him. If Maalouf has a small once of integrity, he would shut up and stop parading himself as a “former US Public Delegate to the United Nations and former Director of Public Diplomacy at USAID”!

    As for the Bushama-Binetenhayou administration, there can be one advice: pack your filth including the Zionist state and the NowHariri people and leave the region and its people alone.

    Posted by Jihad | March 11, 2010, 3:48 pm
  2. I don’t get it. The middle east was always more messier than any two camp definition, and there were always overlaps. So what else is new? Seems like stating the obvious.

    As for the US it has specific interests. For example, stopping terrorists from reaching Iraq, supporting democracy in Lebanon, making sure there is no war and the oil flows. It talks to different countries based on these interests, not based on any preconceived notion of camps.

    Posted by AIG | March 11, 2010, 4:24 pm
  3. I’ve been hearing a lot about the Syrian-Iraqi relationship and how Syria’s interests differ from Iran’s, in Iraq.

    The emergence of Iraq as a powerful sovereign player in the Middle East has to be one of the most important factors determining Syrian foreign policy. Any insight into these matters?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 11, 2010, 4:30 pm
  4. “speaks to the region’s thirst for dignity and prioritizes military cooperation”

    How so? Where exactly is military cooperation the greatest priority? Lebanon? I would say that, over the years, meaningful aid has taken form beyond pure military (case in point, reconstruction aid post 33-Day War). And while a certain amount of military assistance and cooperation has flowed from Iran to Syria, there is also economic cooperation flowing in the same direction, not to mention Iran’s diplomatic efforts to assist Syria from the US’ previous efforts at isolating it. And Iran has certainly valued “economic integration” with Iraq over anything comparable coming from Turkey; without Iran contributing meaningful or official military cooperation to Iraq. So why the obvious distortions from Rob Malley and Peter Harling? (As if everyone doesn’t know the answer already.)

    BTW: I see eye to eye with nearly all aspects of the Leveretts’ analyses on the region.

    Elias, that’s a curious map accompanying this post. Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran, I can see how Herat was included in this imaginary redrawing, but why were Afghanistan and Tajikistan left independent? In the north, to be more creative, shouldn’t Azerbaijan have been included into Iran (only the US prevented this from actually taking place in the early 90’s.) And it’s obvious the designer of this map has never been to Tabriz. Any Tabrizi will tell you they are 100% Iranian (like my grandmother used to insist on.) Furthermore, the northern boundary just doesn’t work in a military sense as a defendable border. Neither does the Arab Shia state’s sliver down the Persian Gulf coastline. How on earth did Kuwait get spared absorption by a surrounding Arab Shia state? Was Bahrain returned to Iran? (Many of the Shia residents are in fact ethnic Iranians.) Anyway, one could “spin their wheels” over this piece of fiction for far more time than it’s worth.

    Posted by Pirouz | March 11, 2010, 6:05 pm
  5. QN,
    Can Asad afford to be a neighbor of a successful or even almost successful democracy?
    I doubt it. That will show the Syrians that there is an alternative and will endanger the Asad regime. It is clear that Asad will continue to attempt to destabilize Iraq.

    Posted by AIG | March 11, 2010, 8:45 pm
  6. AIG

    Last I checked, Turkey was both a successful democracy and a neighbor of Syria. So maybe your argument doesn’t hold?

    Plus, why does a country have to neighbor Syria for Syrians to be aware of the fact that there is such a thing as democracy?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 11, 2010, 10:04 pm
  7. Here’s Ayad Allawi, on Syria: (courtesy of Mideastwire)

    – “Allawi to Al-Watan: Syria enjoys great role in Iraqi stability…”
    On March 11, the state-controlled Al-Watan daily carried the following report: “Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad al-Allawi who is now one of the strongest candidates for the assumption of the premiership of the upcoming government, summarized his perception of Syria by saying: “Sister Syria enjoys a great role at the level of stability in the region and has played a major role in supporting Iraq’s stability,” hoping that “all the tensions” provoked by Nouri al-Maliki’s government between the two countries will be eliminated. Allawi who expressed his willingness to ally with Nouri al-Maliki “to serve Iraq” pledged in exclusive statements to Al-Watan that he will establish “good and normal relations with Iran” in case he were to become prime minister. He also described America as being a “friendly state,” stressing at the same time that the “people of Iraq need their Arab surrounding and the support of the Arab brothers.”

    “He then praised Syria’s hosting of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, saying: “Just like Syria hosted the Iraqi resistance during the previous stage, it is now hosting hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.” Allawi whose list, the Iraqi National Accord, achieved victory in many Iraqi towns and villages during the legislative elections held on Sunday, added: “This is how we have known Syria and the Syrian people and we hope we will eliminate all the tensions and go back to being one people collaborating to build a stable and prosperous future for the region.” On the other hand, he hoped that the Iraqi elections will produce a national alliance and entail the arrival of a strong and capable government which will handle the problems and build a unified and democratic Iraq that is free from political sectarianism and is based on national reconciliation.

    “He said: “We want an Iraq for all the Iraqis. Such an Iraq can certainly be an important factor at the level of the region’s stability as a whole…” Ayad Allawi then pledged that in case he were to become prime minister, he would establish good and normal relations with Iran. He assured: “I have no personal problems with Iran or its rulers and the same could be said about Iraq’s other neighbors with whom we enjoy historical relations. We wish to extend bridges of trust with all the states around the world. In any case, the issue of my assumption of the premiership is being addressed too early.” He added: “We want to secure stability, employment and peace in our country and I would not mind allying with any of the brothers who have won in the elections to achieve the goals of our people and build our country on sound democratic bases. I would not mind allying with Nouri al-Maliki to serve Iraq.”

    “Asked about the relations with the Arab neighbors and about his visits to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, the Emirates and Egypt a few days before the launching of the Iraqi elections, the leader of the Iraqi List stated: “I conducted these visits to deliver a message saying that the Iraqi people needed their Arab surrounding and the support of the Arab brothers during the upcoming stage which will follow the legislative elections…”

    “On the other hand, Allawi seemed certain that he and his Iraqi List will be a difficult figure during the process to draw up the Iraqi policies awaited by the country following the formation of the anticipated government, especially since the preliminary estimations indicate that Allawi is following Al-Maliki like his shadow in many big and small towns in the South after he earned the majority of the votes in the provinces of what used to be known as the Sunni triangle which includes Al-Anbar, Diyala, Mosul and Salahuddin.” – Al-Watan Syria, Syria

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 11, 2010, 10:07 pm
  8. Pirouz,

    The map is the infamous “map of the New Middle East” that got everyone in a huff a few years ago.

    Read more about it here.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 11, 2010, 10:10 pm
  9. Thats the thing. The whole plan for the New Middle East where the US brought a new golden era to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan while the Israelis “liberated” the people of Palestine and Lebanon of the Islamists sorta didn’t go to plan. Both failed miserably.

    So now, the Americans are twisting and turning to try and bring the area back under its heel. But until they realise that their actions did in fact create a “new Middle East” (just not the one they envisioned) they will always be flailing.

    Biden’s impotence at the slap in the face he got in Israel is a case in point and just another example for the Arab world of US emasculation by the Zionistas. I don’t think its that these developments have gone unnoticed by the US but that they believe that they can turn things round and refuse to publicly acknowledge them.

    The important thing about Syria and Turkey is that they are both drifting towards the “other” side while remaining entrenched in their own alliances and both are doing so from relatively strong positions. It was not too long ago that the respective diplomatic positions of both nations made them pariahs to the other side.

    And a “powerful sovereign” Iraq? I don’t see that happening any time soon. By allowing the current cretins to take power, and turning the Shia leaders who are trusted by the Sunnis into fugitives, the US has already sowed the seeds that will keep the Iraqis at each others throats for long time yet.

    Posted by mo | March 11, 2010, 10:40 pm
  10. This is a good piece and certainly more interesting than the Byzantine so-called Lebanese national dialog even though Elias very smartly injected some elements of this dialog into the whole picture.

    First on Iran and Syria: It is more than strategic. As sad as it may sound, there are indications that high ranking Syrian security apparatus officials are actually directly commanded by the revolutionary guard. Iran was not going to invest billions of dollars in the Syrian economy, support the Syrian pound when Syria was ostracized by the rest of the world in order to make it submit out of poverty, and then simply just watch Bashar trading his relation with Iran when the US finally decides to make a trade. The Iranians are good chess players and unfortunately the US policy makers can only think in terms of cards collected and traded. I doubt they know anything about chess, otherwise Iraq and Afghanistan would not have been in such a mess So, Elias, the picture you posted with your previous article when Nejjad visited Damascus sums it up very accurately. It is exactly as Nejjad was musing in that picture: BASHAR IS HIS. Please go back and have a look at that picture. Syria is officially an Iranian province. Let those US policy makers take note of this fact and stop going in circles. By the way, if any US policy makers are interested in some lessons, I did beat the champion of Lebanon who is a grandmaster in a game that devastated him totally in front of over 20 spectators and was reported in the Lebanese newspapers. A joke, of course to mock the US, but the game and my winning it was real. If you want to know how I achieved that, the answer is simple. It is in the family. I inherited the skill from my grandfather.

    Secondly, on Iraq: I agree with mo. It is never going to be strong and stable in any way that may threaten any of its neighbors. Its best chance is to become another Lebanon albeit on a larger scale where the interests of Iran, Turkey and Syria are taken into consideration. This will show in the upcoming formation of the new government which will take months to form and eventually it will be another consociational gathering of a hodge-podge of warring factions that will keep all neighboring states happy and joyful.

    Thirdly, Aoun wins in the dialog and Maalouf doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about. Neutrality needs an innate coherent force to enforce. Ask the Swiss. They will tell you they have the highest military force per square kilometer in Europe which guarantees their neutral status. Neutrality is not for the meek. So please scrap Maalouf. I’d rather deal with Ayatollah Aoun. We’ll call him AA from now on.

    Regards,
    Mustapha

    Posted by Ijlisa Nabki | March 12, 2010, 1:22 am
  11. QN,
    Turkey is not an Arab state. Iraq is. That is why it is more terrifying for Asad if there is a successful democracy there.

    Posted by AIG | March 12, 2010, 1:51 am
  12. I agree with mo and mustafa on being pessimistic about Iraq’s near future. I don’t know if lebanonization is “its best chance”, but the seeds of conflict are planted deep and enough people are ready, in and around Iraq, for watering them. A -much much bigger- Lebanon with oil…imagine how much fun that could be for the Devil. One of the biggest clients, Kirkuk, has been waiting for a while now, for this seasoned advisor to finish with the election break. Mister Devil, -Middle East’s busiest and best paid counselor- is busy right now paying his respects to the democracy ceremonies , but he will certainly be back at work in no time.

    Posted by mj | March 12, 2010, 4:35 am
  13. Mustafa says “It is never going to be strong and stable in any way that may threaten any of its neighbors”. I would put it this way: It is not going to be allowed to be strong and stable any time soon, because, in the actual state of affairs, that could only happen with one of the contenders of the recent civil war having clearly the upper hand. And that would threaten one or more neighbors, be it KSA, Iran, Turkey or Syria (and not necessarily in that order). Many Iraqis will certainly enjoy the goodies of a more open political situation, they are already, and I feel happy for them. The tyrant is gone, but Iraq’s structural problems will remain the same, with the additional grievances caused by the occupation and the sectarian cleansing during the recent civil war. Because of that, I think the best Iraq can hope for is to be “neutral” in the near future, in what concerns the Middle East politics. It’s in everyone’s interest.

    Posted by mj | March 12, 2010, 4:43 am
  14. QN,

    I think Friedman articulates your point brilliantly in showing the inability of the US to think beyond the moderates/radical (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/opinion/10friedman.html?scp=14&sq=iraq&st=cse). It is a truly stupid article.

    But I disagree with you overall; the region is not “messy” yet. I think there is potential for the region to go that way. But overall there is still the Saudi-Israel-US axis vs. Iran-Syria. Arguments that Saudi or Syria are breaking away from their respective axises are currently overstated. Turkey though is def something to think about.

    Posted by deen Sharp | March 12, 2010, 6:11 am
  15. deen,
    I think Turkey is as likely to break from its western alliances as Syria is from Iran. It would be suicidal for them to do so, both internally and externally.

    I think what has happened is that they have realised that no matter how much they cosy up to the West, they will never be truly accepted (eg see EU membership, anti-Islamic propoganda etc. ) so they have, quite smartly, to turn to the “smaller pond” where they are a bigger fish. Here they can act as lynchpin and go- between in many issues. This puts them in a position where they can turn back to the West and say “ignore us now”…:)

    Posted by mo | March 12, 2010, 6:48 am
  16. I look at the Mideast map above and I keep asking myself: What can tiny and microscopic Lebanon do in such a hellish environment more than trying to become neutral and being accepted as a neutral country? With due respect, this have nothing to do with the opinions of scholars and pundits, but with the fact that Lebanon and Lebanese should simply and humbly accept their obvious mediocrity and try to live with it. Unfortunately.

    Posted by Voice from Brazil | March 12, 2010, 10:43 am
  17. Voice,

    Didnt anyone ever tell you that its not the size that matters but what you do with it….:)

    Posted by mo | March 12, 2010, 11:06 am
  18. Mo,
    keep trying my friend, keep trying…
    one day you’ll arrive somewhere. But do not rub it too much. That’s my advice to you.

    Posted by Voice from Brazil | March 12, 2010, 11:13 am
  19. Why is every one writting off Iraq as unimportant? It is a large country with adequate water supplies and a decent potential to produce food in addition to its huge oil reserves that could by 2015 rank it ahead of Saudi Arabia. Add to the above a good financial bill of heath after all the write offs of its sovereign debt and what emerges is a country with a huge potential to influence its environment.
    If the Iraqis can learn to accept each other as citizens and share the wealth then there is no reason that they will not be a major regional power that is to be feared by their oppressive and dictatorial neighbours whether it is Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Iran.
    Wouldn’t it be ironic if ten years from know Iraq is a thriving democratic economy of a substantial stature? My only problem with the above scenario is that I would not be able to look at the smirk on Condolezza Rices’s pucker as she goes around saying I told you so.:-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | March 12, 2010, 11:52 am
  20. “Why is every one writting off Iraq as unimportant?”
    The question is very good but the analysis that follows it is fundamentally flawed.
    First you’re asking too much in terms of credit. Secondly, you are assuming too much. Just look at how many big if’s you have in your little comment.
    if after 7 years, over million Iraqis dead, over 700 billion dollar of wasted expenditure from a US economy on the brink of bankruptcy and the Iraqis still do not know how to count ballots, then common sense should tell you you’re going in the wrong direction and shouldn’t wait for Gondaleeza to childishly glee over a failed project.
    How did you get the idea that the sovereign debt of Iraq mostly held by regimes that will get threatened by Iraq, according to your wishful thinking, will actually be forgiven? Isn’t this like saying I owe you money but I have a lot of resources. So forgive me what I owe and then I come back and take you over. Silly, don’t you think?
    It seems to me that that you, Deen and to a lesser degree Elias are all trying to justify some role that the US can play in the Middle East and you are all at pains to find a meaningful role at a point in time when the region can be seen at a crossroads. If I am correct in my persception, then I may have to disappoint you all and simply state the obvious. The US has no role in the new Middle East. It has consumed its goodwill, its line of credit (both at home and abroad), and there is only one way for it out. Pack up and leave and the sooner the better for it has more pressing tasks to deal with at home. The alternative on insisting to stick around is for it to be spread thin both militariliy and economically thereby accelerating its downfall, and the end result will still be the same. It’ll still have to pack up and leave.
    I agree with Deen’s opinion about Friedman’s article. It is stupid. Deen did not mention why it is stupid. I’ll try to give it a shot. Friedman wants to brush aside the econmic cost and leave it to the historians. That is less painful for his brains to digest. The US will continue to borrow its way out of the hole just like what the Ottomans did before they had o pack up and leave. It is also stupid because it relies on the analysis of the ‘gut feelings’ of Gondie’s boss who he too would like to show us some glee at some point down the road . Finally, the perceived US role depends heavily on the o-called Arab/Iranian/Shia/Sunni mumbo jumbo rivalry that has suited the imperialist quite well over the last couple hundred years in their effort to plunder the wealth of those who are seeking to prove one superirity over the other. Good luck Friedman.
    As a matter of fact Friedman and others could have arrived at the same conclusion, i.e. US has to pack and leave, if they have adopted a different kind of ‘analysis’ which has no rational basis. This so-called analysis relies on some kind of agnostic know how that some co-religionsts of Friedman seem to have experienc withe. It is no different than the art of reading the countours formed by the inverted dried Arabic coffee cup or the so-called art of striking the sand and reading the future out of formed contour. Believe it or not people do believe in these things.
    Anyway these Kabalistic Jews announced recently that Biden’s visit to the area was accompanied by a series of bad omens. The first one is Mubarak’s hospilitization – one pillar of the axis left in Deens comment is about to fall. The second bad omen was the power outage that occured during Biden’s visit to the so-called Holocaust museum – the zionist lie is about to become a joke. The third bad omen was the sand storm that blew from Jordan that forced Biden to delay his visit – the king of Jordan is in trouble. Pressure is mounting both from east and west. Another pillar of Deen’s axes is in trouble. The fourth bad omen was the accidental breakage of a present Netanyaho was preparing to hand over to his guest –Minor at this point in time but we’re still exploring any possible significance . The fifth bad omen was the announcement of the interior ministry of its plans to build 50000 homes to settlers in and around Jerusalem – will there be a third intifada?.

    So at least according to these eccentrics who claim to have superior knowledge, The US presence in the region brings bad tidings from the netherworld.

    Finally, and back to Ghassan’s request for 10 year credit, The Arabs may be stupid according to the western perception of this race but they do have a very quick mind. In the time of Ali and Muawiya dispute, similar arguments like yours were raised. The argument of the camp that won, which did not necessarily have the superior ideals, was Ali pays on credit (i.e. he can only promise paradise for those who fight on his side), Muawiya on the other hand pays in cash. The US, it seems, is very much in need of this cash and not necessarily in a monetary form – its state of goodwill in the region has expired.

    Regards,
    Mustapha

    Posted by Ijlisa Nabki | March 12, 2010, 1:19 pm
  21. Dear QN,
    I have to apologize for my comment n. 18. I shouldn’t have accepted provocations made by other commentators. That’s why I do sincerely apologize for you and your readers. On the other hand, I still maintain my comment n. 16. I am absolutely convinced that Lebanon has to be neutral in the region if it wants to survive as a nation-state.
    p.s. For those who don’t know, “mediocre” means regular, average. Originally it has not the depreciative meaning that people tend to associate with this word.

    Posted by Voice from Brazil | March 12, 2010, 1:23 pm
  22. Ijlisi Nabki,
    As you have rightly pointed out my post was a short note that was not meant to be a detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Iraqi economy. I might write later on, not necessarily for this blog, a detailed exposition of Iraq but suffice to say that :
    The US and the Paris club have written off close to $40 billion back in 2004.
    On paper Iraq has more potential than any other Arab country. (Just like Brazil:-))
    The plan, endorsed by major oil companies and some top geologists is to produce 10 million barrels of oil a day by 2015. If that materializes then even at the current $82 per barrel will amount to a staggering $300 billion a year.
    I am not advocating any neo colonial or neo imperialist role for any country but I am gazing at my cloudy crystal ball to guess what historians will say IF Iraq does become a thriving democracy. I have opposed the war before it started very actively but I am afraid that George might have the final laugh.

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 12, 2010, 4:21 pm
  23. GHASSAN @22,
    You did write your ‘if’ this time in uppercase and thanks for doing that sparing me the effort of pointing out your assumption.
    “I am not advocating any neo colonial or neo imperialist role for any country”
    But this is exactly the end result of what you are advocating. The people of the region do not want outsiders to come and teach them how to rule themselves. They want the end of US imperialism and its zionist offspring and all the other dictators supported by the US. Did you overlook the fact that all of what you call dictatorial regimes are actually supported by the same imperialists?
    Any sane person would reject out of hand the idea of achieving democratic rule under occupation. How can you claim sanity while advocating such heresy? I’m sure Bush will laugh as much as he likes. But would any sane person take his claims seriously?
    Given the choice between getting rid of US imperialism (which would include getting rid of all its client dictators and Israel) and democratic regimes, the people would chose the former.
    The people of the region have only one choice which I made reference to in a previous comment under the article relating to Nejjad’s Damascus visit. They have to adopt the culture of resistance which has proven itself in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and soon in Afaghanistan. The only regime offering this alternative is the Islamic regime of Iran.
    Iraq’s recent exercise of so-called casting ballots and coloring fingers with violet ink has just proven a sham even before the resulst are announced. Any kid is very much aware this whole thing is a play orchestrated by an occupier at the cost of the welfare of Iraq and its people. And do you think a functioning government will result out of all this?
    The real test will happen when Iran slowly or even violently starts absorbing Iraq into its domain which will happen when the US gets out either voluntarily or forcefully. Then I’m afraid the only one who will be laughing is Saddam from his grave saying: I told you so. There will be no Iraq after me.
    But anyway, thanks to the US and France for forgiving their share of Iraqi debt. I’m sure Iran, after it absorbs Iraq, would consider that a small compensation for the destruction brought upon it by the same powers who encouraged Saddam to wage his stupid war for the benefits of the colonialists fearing the rise of a new Islamic age.

    And Voice From Brasil,
    We all wish for things in life but we have to come to grips with realities in the end. Lebanon cannot be neutral for reasons that Aoun very accurately spelled out in the video and another fact that I pointed out in a previous comment @10.

    Regards,
    Mustapha

    Posted by Ijlisa Nabki | March 12, 2010, 5:53 pm
  24. Ijlisi Nabki,
    Mustapha, there are many things that we see eye to eye but obviously not when it comes to Iran. The current Iranian regime , in my mind, is a bankrupt one. It is a revolution that devours its own children by repeating the tired mantra of beinf an anti colonialist and an anti imperialist when it acts in a much more brutal manner than the so called agents of neo imperialism ever did.
    Yet that was not the main point of either the original thread or my comment on it. I do accept the criticism often directed at me that I do have the tendency to favour idealist solutions that come across as utopias. I make no apologies for that. I would rather shoot for an ideal and mis it rather not to try and settle for something further away from my goal. In that sense I might arguably be an ideologue but definitely I refuse to have a knee jerk reaction to any and all positions eminating from certain sectors even when these developments are in favour of my seminal beliefs.
    I would not object for a moment if democracy is brought about by a group of people that I loathe. If my real goal is democracy then the I will not refuse it just because it might have been brought about as a result of either a planned or an unplanned action by my nemisis. Actually , blowbacks, have a funny way of demonstrating at times that a misguided policy could result in very positive unintended consequences to the party that it was expected to punish.
    My only conjecture in this case was that it would be ironic and beneficial wouldn’t it, if the neoconservative policies in Iraq do result in creating a viable democracy in the region that could influence and transform its neighbours. Has Iraq achieved that status, of course not but given its potential natural resource wealth, its size and its human capital I would not be as quick to write it off just because I happen to loathe George Bush.

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 12, 2010, 7:50 pm
  25. I love those “resistance” fighters living in the US. Schizophrenia anyone?

    Why do people in the mideast want to get rid of the US but line up to get visas to the US? Stay where you are, America will come to you.

    Posted by AIG | March 13, 2010, 12:34 am
  26. Rather be a schizophrenic resistance fighter than a paranoid illegal settler like you are, AIG.

    Posted by quelqu'une | March 13, 2010, 8:02 am
  27. quelqu’une,

    Do you introspect at all?
    Do you ever ask yourself: Why do I live in the US if I hate it so much?
    Or: Why don’t I move to Iran or Syria if they are so great?
    And: Why do people want to move out of Syria and Iran to the US if the US is so evil?
    And of course: How is living on land that was taken from Native Americans different than being a settler in the West Bank? It turns out you are a settler yourself!

    Let me help you get on your introspective way. People are judged first and foremost by how they treat the people close to them. If you treat your kids like shit, even if you give millions to charity, you will still be a bad person. Iran and Syria treat their citizens like trash. The US doesn’t. That is the difference. That is why the US is good and Iran and Syria are morally corrupt.

    Posted by AIG | March 13, 2010, 1:19 pm
  28. GHASSAN @24

    I take note of your statement describing colonialism and imperialism as a mantra used by the Iranian revolution to devour its people. After finishing my laugh, I should say this is bizarre coming from a person claiming to always aim for higher ideals. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised. After all, one should expect no less than bizarre statements from anyone who may even entertain the thought that Bush may somehow end up with a legacy that can come close to getting vindicated. Or even worse, what’s more laughable than the claim that the author of the expression “the birth bangs of democracy” who herself never experienced such bangs, for reasons yet unknown to us, would somehow make a come back and show us a smiley gleeful face ten years from now? And no, I neither loathe Bush nor Gondi. For doing so, I will be giving them too much undeserved credit!

    Imperialism and colonialism are the root causes of the region’s problem. They are very real problems. You cannot simply brush them aside as mystical ambiguities. No sir, we do not see eye to eye on anything. Iranian Islamic regime is not devouring its people. Iran’s rate of scientific advances is the highest in the world with the admission of the UN. It has exponentially progressed economically, culturally and scientifically since the onset of the revolution in 1980, while its neighbors have regressed in all fields and became more and more enslaved to imperialism, Zionism and American colonialism. You seem to be immersed in a neocon hallucinating vision (or lack thereof) that somehow a group of misguided so-called ‘liberal’ Iranians would fulfill the task, previously assigned to Saddam by the imperialist west, of extinguishing this revolution. Now with Saddam no longer available, and due to lack of alternatives, with their tunnel visions, the imperialists are left to dream to achieve the feat through the use of modern tech tweets and some $500 million financing on the bottomless credit account of the ‘mighty’ USA. So exactly what are you? A neocon? A Clean Break demagogue? Or just a playing fool claiming idealism?

    The Islamic age is coming and will shape the new Middle East despite all odds and the plots of the US, Zionism and all the imperialists. Nothing will stop the march. The people of the region would gain nothing by getting their energies and their focus sidelined by a comic show of so-called ‘liberal democratic’ transformation. On the contrary they stand to lose their identity, wealth, dignity and future. And believe me your vision is not as utopic as you like to think- not to mention that only a fool would make such a monstrous thing an objective. The Middle East has its own history and culture. It does not need to import any foolishness from the west, Zionism or even your so-called Athenian ‘idealism’. The people of the Middle East are more knowledgeable of its terrain and they are the best suited to shape it. The end of colonialism is a coming certainty and with it Zionism will be buried for ever. The land will be taken away from the settlers that raped it and given back to its authentic owners, and all that will happen despite the will of the West and its high-tech gadgets, the Zionists and their stooges.

    The Middle East does not need Western Democratic foolishness. It only needs Islamic Resistance in order to replicate the Iranian example. That’s all it needs. Finally, the Pentagon would do itself a big service if it simply boils the map shown in the main article in hot water and make soup out of it while it packs its gear on its journey beyond the seven seas. That’s all this map is good for.

    Regards,
    Mustapha

    Posted by Ijlisa Nabki | March 13, 2010, 4:09 pm
  29. Ijlisi Nabki,
    The next thing that you are going to tell me, maybe you already did, that the salvation of the Middle East is through the Wilayat Al Faqih and that democracy was invented in the West in order to subjugate the people of the rest of the world. You do not believe any of these empty cliches about the glories of Islamic Republic do you? You speak about liberation and freedom and yet you advocate the rule of religious zealots who claim to be guided by the word of God.
    “In this democracy, however, the laws are not madw by the will of the people, but only by the Koran and the Sunna of the Prophet…. Islamic government is the government of divine right, and its laws cannot be changed, modified or contested”
    Is the above statement by Ayatollah Khomeini what we should aspire to? How tragic!!

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 13, 2010, 4:45 pm
  30. Let me help you get on your introspective way. People are judged first and foremost by how they treat the people close to them. If you treat your kids like shit, even if you give millions to charity, you will still be a bad person.

    AIG,

    On the other forum, one participant was calling GWB a mass murder, but he didn’t have anything to say about Saddam Hussein, despite the articles about the mass graves.

    I’m convinced that arab despots can do ANYTHING they want and the arab street will follow quietly and loyally.

    Meanwhile arabs and muslims are getting killed daily and no one complains about it, except, of course the usual suspects (America and Israel).

    http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Afghanistan/abused-women-afghanistan-helped-secret-shelters/story?id=10074409

    Posted by Akbar Palace | March 13, 2010, 4:53 pm
  31. I personally don’t hate anybody, please stop being paranoid. The fact I hate US policies – in particular, those supporting the illegal colonial settlements in Palestine – doesn’t make me hate other human beings (simply because they happened to be Americans). Many of the writers I read and the musicians I listen to are American. “Let me help you get on your introspective way.” No, thanks. Really. Don’t help me. You’d better help yourself first by starting your own introspection and wondering why are you so obsessed by Syria and Iran – as if they were the only corrupted regimes on this planet. “US is good and Iran and Syria are morally corrupt”. This smart and nuanced analysis reminds me of those of G.W Bush – who obviously didn’t treat his people “like trash” by turning the poorest among them into civilians killers just for the sake of oil. I would neither
     add any data and references about the imperialist wars in Iraq/Afghanistan or write more developments about what “introspection” really is, simply because I don’t want to abuse of QN’s hospitality.
    Though it seems these “axistential” questions really have a massive existential ground – at least, that’s what I think when I read AIG’s comments.

    Posted by quelqu'une | March 13, 2010, 4:59 pm
  32. I’ll smoke whatever Ijlissa is smoking.

    long live the Abu Steiff revolution !

    Posted by V | March 13, 2010, 5:19 pm
  33. GHASSAN @29
    What problems do you have with Wilayat al-Faqih, the Koran or even the Sunnah?

    If you have problems with any of the above, then we, the people of the Middle East, do not need your version of Democracy no matter how good you think it is.

    The things you mentioned are sacred to the vast majority of the people of the Middle East. If as you seem to admit that Democracy conflicts with any of them then take it away back to Texas cowboys and go there and sing its praises along with them. Bring Gondi as well because you may need lectures on big bang theories of democratic transformation.

    Thank you for clarifying your position. We are Muslims, we like that very much and we do not want to transform to any big bang democrats.

    Regards,
    Mustapha

    Posted by Ijlisa Nabki | March 13, 2010, 6:01 pm
  34. quelqu’une,
    I am not trying to be facetious by asking the following question:
    It has become a dominant mantra by many to speak of the Iraq war as a war for oil with the implication that the US comes in pumps the oil dry and then moves out.
    Reality is far more different. When the Iraq war started the price of oil was just over $23 and it went to establish a new high both in nominal and real terms. It is currently over $80 and most probably there is a triple digit in the not too far away future. Furthermore as you have indicated the price of the war in blood and treasure has been enormous.
    Let me also add that I am in agreement with the point of view that had Iraq been a lettuce producer then it would not have been of the same geopolitical importance but I want to make sure that when we use the term that people have died for oil that we are clear about what the term means.
    I am very cognizant of the pain and horror that war inflicts especially becasue of the loss of life but I mean no disrespect to those that have died when I say that the estimated cost of the war by Joseph Stiglitz amounts to over $3 trillion. That would have purchased around 30 billion barrels of oil at $80 per barrel.
    I have no problem in the argument that the West would go to war in order to maintain an orderly flow of oil in the world but I reject, until someone can demonstrate the opposite, the implication that oil the US invaded Iraq to steal its oil.
    BTW, if one can show that civilization as we know it is based on the oil reserves then no one has the right to use nature’s gift as a weapon against humanity at large. That would be similar to saying that the handful of wheat exporting countries should use food as a political tool.

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 13, 2010, 6:13 pm
  35. Ijlisi Nabki,
    Well, finally the veil goes down and the real Mustapha is revealed:-)
    The person who sings the praises of freedom and liberty is nothing else but a religious fanatic who believes that he has the absolute truth and everyone else should conform to his interpretation that is whipered into his ear by God.
    Mustafa, I have a problem with practically everything that you have said. Theocracy is not compatible with democracy, the Koran and the Sunna might be very helpful and constructive to some but in a free society individuals make up their own minds and are free not to believe. Sadly it is crystal clear that what you support is nothing short of an authoritarian dictatorship where no dissent is allowed and all must sing the praises of the Faqih.
    That is not my vision or I should add the vision of any democrat or Marxist for that matter. Your vision of the promised land is so distorted that any further dialogue is a waste of time.

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 13, 2010, 7:19 pm
  36. @35
    You should have spared your effort and shouldn’t have made your last comment which only adds to your idiotic performance. The debate was closed already when I thanked you @33. But it seems, despite all your pretensions, you lack civility and understanding and you need to have things made crystal clear.

    What veil are you talking about? You’re either blind or making yourself look blind.

    Since day one, I never used any veil to hide myself. On the other hand, your veil is the one that just got dropped. I have always showed my Muslim beliefs to be parmount above all and even above your sense of distorted beliefs of so-called western freedom.

    Our beliefs in the supremacy of our faith is above all. Whether you call it theocracy, wilyat faqih or whatever else, this is what it is. If you want to be close to it or live in its domain, make sure you either submit to its tenets or exercise wise discretion.

    And yes (you @34) when all the oil fields fall under the control of the IRI, the tap will be turned off from the imperialists. Bring all your knights, cavalries, heavy guns along with destroyers and carriers and cut off the wheat supplies. We heard this before and we know exactly where you’re coming from.

    I wouldn’t consider a debate with anyone like you to be of any value.

    Posted by Ijlisa Nabki | March 13, 2010, 8:08 pm
  37. Ghassan,

    To get back to the debate, I don’t think anyone is writting off Iraq as unimportant.

    A huge country that borders the main Arab and Islamic states it is never going to be unimportant.

    What we are debating is the likelihood of Iraq becoming a powerful and sovereign nation anytime soon.

    Its water situation is not nearly as rosy as you say but it does have the oil

    But the rest of your optimism is based on a whole lot of hope –

    “If the Iraqis can learn to accept each other as citizens and share the wealth”

    Maybe, but if its current, and likely next, leader remains in power, I doubt it. A sectarian cretin already up to his eyeballs in corruption

    “then there is no reason that they will not be a major regional power”

    Seriously? You believe the US will allow a nation that hasn’t done the peace deal routine to become a “major regional power”? Why do you think the rush to invade Iraq just before Hans Blix was to announce that Iraq had no wmds?

    And “to be feared by their oppressive and dictatorial neighbours”

    You way want to look up how beholden Dawa is to Iran before you envisage that scenario.

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if ten years from know Iraq is a thriving democratic economy of a substantial stature?

    Ironic? No. And I sincerely hope it does, and if it does it will be in spite of and not because of Bush and Cheney. In fact, if its not a nation in a deep and bloody civil war at that time, I will be happy.

    Unfortunately, I do not share your optimisim

    Posted by mo | March 13, 2010, 9:14 pm
  38. mo,
    What started all of this debate about Iraq was a brief tongue in cheek remark about how ironic it would be if Iraq does play a major role in democratizing the Arab world.
    Of course there are challenges but believe it or not I don’t think that they are any larger than those of Lebanon. In a sense the natural wealth and the size of the country might make it easier for the Shia, Sunni and Kurds to form an agreement of sorts. As far as I can tell their basic differences revolve around local issues and not not statehood. If that proves to be the case then a potential rapprochement of sorts is much easier to forge when the oil revenue is so massive.
    But if there are many who believe that “Islam Is The Solution” then the future of the Middle East is bound to be “messy”.

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 13, 2010, 10:22 pm
  39. Why should Islam be any messier a solution than “democracy”. It is not something you subscribe to but if the people want it and it is applied properly then I disagree (Note, im not saying they do or it will be, I simply disagree with the assertion).

    Of course the challenges are larger than Lebanon’s. We have no oil and are self sufficient in water. If you see evidence that the Sunnis are going to allow themselves to become irrelevant or that the Kurds are going to allow the Iraqi state to take back control of the north and its oil fields then please share it as I would love to share your optimism.

    Mustapha ,may have gone off on a tangent but he is right that your hope for an Iraqi future relies on a lot of “ifs”. Also, you seem to be looking at the situation from a pov that the major players outside Iraq would want or allow it to become a stable and strong state. For one thing, you may find the Israelis strongly oppose the notion.

    Posted by mo | March 13, 2010, 10:42 pm
  40. Mo, I respect and will fight for the rights of every individual to have any personal beliefs that they wish. But I will never support giving personal religious beliefs any role in the public square. Theocracies by definition are an exercise in discrimination and supremacy. Citizens of a state must have equal rights in every single area irrespective of who they pray to or how thet choose to pray. That is simply why a future built on theocracy will be messy. It will be discriminatory, inequitable and ultimately stiffling and inefficient.

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 13, 2010, 10:58 pm
  41. There is a fundamental schism between the West in general and Islam which always leads a debate into a dead end. Those who prescribe to the western view of the progress of history cannot understand why Muslims think it is perfectly valid to include Islamic Religious beliefs in public life including governance and politics. On the other hand Muslims look down upon the west because of its deviation from its Christian roots, allowing secularism to become the one and only driving force of public life relegating matters of faith to the narrow domain of the personal life even to the point of driving it out of the family domain altogether in some cases. The West of course answers back based on arguments such as personal freedoms and freedom of choice and freedom of belief.

    The evolution of Christianity and Islam in history is almost the opposite mirror image of each other. In order to be fair, one has to replace the word Christianity with Church in the previous statement. The Church was in fact the institution which defined Christianity, and during a period of history exercised direct political authority. Islam on the other hand was always a socio-religio-political force which shaped civilizations it absorbed into its domain. There was no Islamic religious authority comparable to anything like the Christian Church. On the other hand, no political authority in Islam can survive for long without the blessings of a spiritual ‘authority’ that maintains observance over the tenets of the faith. This spiritual ‘authority’ was never elected nor was it made absolutely hereditary. Authority was EARNED by recognition from the public at large based on religious competence. Even the Shia-Sunni dispute on this issue is a dispute over religious competence and nothing else. As such the dispute is very healthy for the overall well being of the faith. I know of Sunni Imams who pray behind Shia Imams and vice versa and neither would find any dogmatic issues that would require negating such practice. What we saw happening in Iraq in terms of sectarian violence over the last seven years is the ultimate tragedy caused by none but the foolishness of Bush and his failed project.

    Europe describes its history when the Church was in control as the dark ages. It, Europe, came out of these dark ages when it finally succeeded in confining the political authority of the Church to what is today the Vatican – a symbolic state reminding the Europeans and the West in general of their spiritual roots. Europe felt that it had seen the light by its success in defeating the Church in the political domain thus opening the gates to civic governments and the so-called rule of the people.

    On the other hand, Muslims look at their history and they can only discern their bright spots in it when Islam was vibrant. Islam never ceased to evolve and remake itself as good and corrupt rulers came and went. In fact, the faithful always found refuge against injustice in the confines of mosques and with learned Imams who fulfilled the task of guarding the faith.

    Colonialism came to reinforce Muslims view of history. Almost all liberation movements that guided Muslims out of 19 and 20th century colonialism were spearheaded by religious movements. The Iranian revolution further reaffirmed such view and Turkey’s latest developments are yet further proof of the vibrancy of Islam in social, religious and political affairs. In fact, the remarkable alignment within Iraq of political parties to mostly religious affiliations can only be understood as a reaction of the mass consciousness of the people to the dangers accompanying the onslaught of an invading power. Iraqis were well known for their unprecedented tolerance regarding matters of belief. However, this reversion towards the secure refuge of one’s faith by projecting it into public life attests to the unparalleled role that Islam commands in the life of its adherent unlike the Europeans or the Westerners in general. Anyone who wants to tell Muslims otherwise will never be taken seriously and will be dismissed out of hand.

    I do not want to ask the question or even get involved in a debate on why one religion had such success in the socio-political sphere while the other failed miserably. The point that I want to emphasize is that the conclusion that a society or civilization can derive based on some historical experience may be the complete opposite of another that did not experienced the same set of events. Any attempt to generalize from one to the other is sheer foolishness, short sightedness and blind self righteousness.

    Regards
    Mustapha

    Posted by Ijlisa Nabki | March 14, 2010, 3:14 am
  42. If the Islamic revolution victoriously sweeps over and sends the American and Israeli imperialist colonialists packing and out back to their far continents across the seas, who will we be left with to blame for our continued misery, poverty, injustice, human rights abuse, tyranny, corruption nepotism, cronyism and complete utter failure as a nation?
    And one more thing please, who will be in charge the Shiaa or the Sunni ?

    Posted by V | March 14, 2010, 3:39 am
  43. Ijlisa Nabki, sorry for going back so far, but I smelled contempt in your first comments (#10) that did not make sense later when I read the rest of your contributions. Is there a problem with Syria being an “Iranian province”, given the extraordinary advances –social, cultural, nationalistic etc- the revolutionary country has realized in your opinion? You seem to believe that Islamic government is the answer in the Middle East. Like you, I’m convinced that road will sooner or later be tried again , unless of course we all blow up in the meantime. On the other hand, I don’t expect that exercise to last, nor succeed. But coming back to my question, where is the problem, I repeat, if, as you suggested, “high ranking Syrian security apparatus officials are actually directly commanded by the revolutionary guard”? Isn’t that a step in the right direction?

    Posted by mj | March 14, 2010, 4:14 am
  44. mj,
    I would call that sarcasm and not contempt. The sarcasm was meant to highlight the futility of attempts to seek a Syrian-Iranian breakup.

    Does it make sense now?

    Posted by Ijlisa Nabki | March 14, 2010, 4:37 am
  45. I sensed no sarcasm in your comment, but you certainly know better. There was no sarcasm in mine neither. I just tried to follow your logic. With difficulty, I have to admit. Your speech exudes a confidence, a tone of victory and self-righteousness that I would not take seriously in an intellectual debate…if you were not so many to think in that way.

    Posted by mj | March 14, 2010, 5:37 am
  46. Isn’t it curious that every time we talk politics in the Near East we end talking about religion? It is only one more sign that Islamic governance of some sort is coming to this region. In my opinion, it is not the case of a schism of any kind. The schisms happen inside a body of thought, dividing it. The actual thinking of social majorities about religion in politics, or in everyday life for that matter, in what you call the West, compared to Muslim majority thinking in post colonial societies, is more a case of historical diachrony, one more that the increasingly global communication reveals at its fiercest. I was born and raised in Europe, I’ve lived almost half of my life in the ME. But my first surprise in matters of religion came, not in any Muslim nation, but when I first went to the USA. The very day I was asked, inside the plane, to write down in an application if I was catholic, protestant, muslim, or other.

    Posted by mj | March 14, 2010, 6:32 am
  47. MJ – “But my first surprise in matters of religion came, not in any Muslim nation, but when I first went to the USA. The very day I was asked, inside the plane, to write down in an application if I was catholic, protestant, muslim, or other.”

    I don’t know what sort of application you were asked to fill on that plane, but in the USA no one cares what your religion is and there are laws that protect against all types of discrimination.
    In the USA There are no applications that require you to state your religion except those for a Top Secret Security Clearance with Government agencies.

    From my experience only in the Middle East and in Muslim countries you are asked to state your religion on all types of applications and conversations!

    Posted by V | March 14, 2010, 2:26 pm
  48. It was a long time ago to remember exactly what that was, but I assume it was for border formalities. Maybe that has changed in the meantime. I don’t usually fill anything I’m not strictly required to, so I’m sure it was official. Anyway, later on I realized that religion had indeed a place in the US society that surprised me as a European. Comparing to the old continent, God is all over the place. And people asking you your religion was at the time the question that came right before, or after, the amount of money you paid for your rent! I never met anybody pretending he was agnostic or atheist. (Kind of prepared me for the coming ME years, after all, where, by the way, I don’t remember having answered that question in any official paper).

    Notice that I’m not saying anything about discrimination. That was not my point.

    Posted by mj | March 14, 2010, 3:24 pm
  49. mj,
    I believe that V is right. Could it be that your memory is mixing a personal experience that you might have encountered with a customs official?
    To the best of my knowledge the US government is prohibited by law of collecting such information about religion even for the census. I have never seen nor heard of such a form ever in the US. Remember that this is the land of separation between state and church. Public land and public money cannot be used to promote any religious beliefs.
    Your impression about the Americans being much more religious than Europeans is also accurate but this in no way contradicts acceptance of all others on equal terms. Secular states do not dictate personal beliefs but are built on the foundation of personal liberty and diversity.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | March 14, 2010, 4:55 pm
  50. GK, it was a paper distributed on the plane. Or was it a dream? Maybe my first sign of Alzheimer! I’m too far to check it now. Ma lesh.

    Posted by mj | March 14, 2010, 5:02 pm
  51. They must have served good wine on that flight :)

    Posted by V | March 14, 2010, 7:13 pm
  52. mj,

    I have to agree with Ghassan & V on this. If you’re flying into the US, you have to fill out a custom declaration form that only deals with what you’re bringing in as far as goods being valued above a certain amount as well as bringing cash above 10k. No mention of religion at all.

    This type of question is forbiden by law here in the US. No exception, whether you live here or flying in.

    Maybe you were on a flight to another country long ago, and you don’t remember.

    If you

    Posted by Ras Beirut | March 14, 2010, 8:00 pm
  53. Please, never mind the “If you” in my last post.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | March 14, 2010, 8:03 pm
  54. I’ll try to join the discussion at some point. I’ve been busy changing diapers all weekend.

    Carry on.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 14, 2010, 8:46 pm
  55. Elias,

    I graduated from changing diapers, but I’ve done my share. As they say, It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

    Give us a report on how the baby is doing.

    Take care.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | March 14, 2010, 9:01 pm
  56. Elias,
    If I remember correctly the tender skin is partial to real diapers. Do real diapers still exist? Take care.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | March 14, 2010, 9:11 pm
  57. since this turned into diapers discussion, here’s a tip for Elias, use Mustela cream on the bambina much better than Desitin and will prevent rash. its not available at CVS but you can find it at any Babies R Us store.

    let us know if you need more tips :)

    Posted by V | March 14, 2010, 10:36 pm
  58. I see you guys have turned the discussion into diapers while I was asleep. Diapers is a field I invested A LOT in…and have forgotten completely afterwards, with the help, I won’t deny it this time, of a very selective memory.

    V. (51) Meals served on planes, in tourist’ class at least, rarely fulfill my requirements for having wine with. And I never drink wine far from a good meal.

    GK, RB, although I joked about Alzheimer, I really don’t see why I would have invented or imagined such episode. The only information I can add is that it was mid eighties, the flight was definitely going to the US, and it was probably an entry form for non permanent residency. (There was indeed Reagan immigration Law reform in 1986…help anyone?)

    Although it was long time ago, I clearly remember my surprise, and having hesitated at the answer. I really can’t tell what case I finally put my cross in, nor if there was a little box for “non-believer”. Definitely, the choice for the answer that I later got used to give to the question, i.e. “catholique, pas très” was not available…

    PS: Now that I think of it, dear Qifa, and in the event rushes should occur, the best remedy against it is fresh air, meaning no diaper for as long as the caretaker can take it (definitely, the baby won’t complain)

    Posted by mj | March 15, 2010, 3:38 am
  59. “Remember that this is the land of separation between state and church.”

    “Secular states do not dictate personal beliefs but are built on the foundation of personal liberty and diversity.”

    Ghassan, are you truly believing in these myths?

    A secular state is still a state – that simply uses different forms of coercion to be maintained.

    “Personal liberty” and “diversity”?
    Tell the French girls expelled from schools (public schools, partly funded by the taxes paid by their parents) about it – simply because they were covering their hair.
    Diversity? Tu parles!

    PS – Better, healthier and much more efficient than mustela or any other crème : OLIVE OIL

    Posted by quelqu'une | March 15, 2010, 5:37 am
  60. quelqu’une,
    At times one does not need to keep on inserting the qualification that it is very rare for any idea to be fully realized. All what we can do is set a concept as a goal and approach it asymptotically. And guess what, many countries have moved much closer to the target than others. Whether you approve of it or not the level of diversity, right to dissent, personal liberty and freedom of speech that is found in Western society is difficult to match especially in the Arab world and its environs.
    I happen to think that the French should not have passed the law against headdress but you must admit that the law prohibits the display of other religious signs but this is a far cry from religious persecution or outright prohibition on religious beliefs that you seem to imply that it is.
    As for coercion by the state let me remind you that this is a world that is “full” and the utopia that we will be better of in a state of nature is rather silly. If I want to live in a crowded plant with tremendous scarcities then the best guarantee for my personal freedom is the social contract with the state. It has been labelled by Hardin “Mutual coercion mutually agreed upon” since absolute freedom in the commons would inevitably lead to ruin.

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 15, 2010, 7:55 am
  61. Hi everyone

    Thanks for the tips, but I’m an old hand. (This is baby girl #2) :)

    V, we’ve been keeping Mustela in business for the past 4 years. Amazing how much better those wipes are than anything else. :)

    But thanks for the tips.

    e

    PS: Can anyone direct me to some good Lebanese cartoons available on the internet? I want stuff in Lebanese Arabic, not fus7a. And I’d prefer it didn’t have a religious content. Also, it doesn’t have to be cartoons… it can be one of those “studio” shows that every Lebanese channel seems to have on the weekends with people dressed up in enormous animal costumes.

    New post coming today. Stay tuned.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 15, 2010, 8:17 am
  62. Ghassan, the fact I consider olive oil as a universal remedy does not imply I also believe in a natural state : ) I am not that naïve and I know what a social contract is. The “level of diversity” in a western society?
    mmm.. Maybe you should leave Garrett Hardin just for one minute and open Vogue magazine.

    Posted by quelqu'une | March 15, 2010, 12:45 pm
  63. http://kootoob.blogspot.com/

    Try this one, it seems he knows a lot of artists, cartoonist and etc

    Posted by Alberto | March 15, 2010, 3:17 pm
  64. quelqu’une
    So after all is said and done you want to judge the whole Western world on the basis of Vogue? I sure needed a laugh, thanks:-)
    You cannot be serious if you think that “The Devil Wears Prada” is the yardstick (metric) to judge a civilization? But maybe you are. So you don’t like fashion. Well guess what neither do I nor Hardin that you dismiss neither did Roegen who popularized the idea that fashion “is a disease of the mind”. But that is exactly what personal freedom and liberty implies isn’t it? People are free to indulge , be selfish and even bigots as long as they respect the rights of others.
    I think that the lady protesteth too much:-)

    Posted by ghassan karam | March 15, 2010, 6:26 pm
  65. Ghassan,
    Fashion is certainly not a metric to judge a society but it’s a symptom. When I use the word “fashion”, I’m not speaking about art and stylists – that I may like – but about an ideology and a market.
    What you call “the level of diversity” in western societies is either an illusion or a bias : “diversity” and “personal freedoms” both underlie a massive standardization of tastes and choices in western societies. “People are free to indulge” :
    1- as long as they can afford it
    2- as long as their way to indulge meet the needs of the market

    Posted by quelqu'une | March 16, 2010, 6:46 am
  66. quelqu’une,
    I probably should allow this thread to die gracefully but, what can I tell you, I just cannot:-)
    Your criticism of Western society is right on if what you are talking about is the greater issue of how history unfolds and that we are far away from any absolute whether it be freedom, diversity etc… No one questions that we are not at the end of history and that society will keep on evolving , hopefully towards a more just and a better world.
    Unfortunately I do not think that is what you are talking about. You seem to be leveling some harsh criticism not only abought our inability to rise to a higher standard but as if there is currently a better alternative only if we will chooseit. If that is the case then please do not keep us in suspense but let us know what is it that we are missing about the Chinese society or is it the Iranian model or possibly the Russianone. Or is it that of Singapore or Saudi Arabia. Inquiring minds would like to know.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | March 16, 2010, 10:55 am
  67. Ghassan,
    I also wanted to leave the thread die but since you ask me not to keep the suspense, here is my reply.
    In the first place, it’s very interesting to notice how easily one can be accused of being a supporter of China/Russia/Saudi Arabia/Iran/Singapore – all in one, lovely! But you missed the Talibans, Adolf Hitler, Global Warming and Darth Vader, ya Ghassan – when they simply express a doubt about the excellence of liberal democracies.
    Your last paragraph tends to suggest there’s no valuable alternative to Western liberalism. I personally give no credit at all to this ridiculous Thatcherite motto.
    I believe in the capacity of each people to organize themselves independently – according to their own situation and historical/geographical/cultural background – without always referring and paying tributes to the dominant narratives.
    You wrote : “No one questions that we are not at the end of history and that society will keep on evolving , hopefully towards a more just and a better world”.
    But why don’t you give the same chance to other societies? Why would the Chinese society and even the horrrrrible Iranian one have no chance to evolve – while the Western have? Do you think the capacity of progress is inherent to Western societies exclusively? Inquiring minds would like to know.

    Posted by quelqu'une | March 16, 2010, 12:58 pm
  68. quelqu’une,
    Remember that you were the one that didi not think that one should have the right to refer to the Us as the land of the separation between state and church or the one with diversity of opinion that is protected by law. The implication is that is a charade and that better examples of freer and more diverse societies exist.
    I still believe that you are not making enough distinctions between what is and what ought to be but be that as it may, I sure respect your right to think that the West is the embodiment of evil.:-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | March 16, 2010, 1:56 pm

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