The indefatigable Camille-Alexandre Otrakji, over at Syria Comment, has published an exclusive interview with Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States. The interview consists of questions submitted by various Syria Comment regulars, and to his considerable credit, the ambassador agreed to field them in a two-part series. Part One covers the topics of the Israeli peace talks, Lebanon/Hizbullah, and Palestine.
On the whole, I must say that I find Imad Moustapha to be a skilled ambassador, one who represented his country during a very difficult period and did a competent job, considering the many closed doors that he probably faced in Washington. Most of his responses are worth reading for their directness. The only part of the interview that irked me was Ambassador Moustapha’s response to question #8:
Question: Many Lebanese who listen to Mr. Nasrallah’s speeches are worried that Hizbollah does not want to stop fighting Israel until Israel is wiped off the map of the Middle East. Can you reassure them that their country will not necessarily continue to be paying the heavy price for its “resistance culture” after Syria signs a peace treaty with Israel?
Imad Moustapha: If certain speeches by Mr. Nasrallah have worried some Lebanese, they should address their concerns directly to the leader of Hezbollah. Asking a Syrian official to ‘reassure’ them regarding the Lebanese resistance reflects a profound and disturbing refusal to come to terms with the fact that Hezbollah is part and parcel of the Lebanese political and social fabric. The notion that Hezbollah gets its orders from outside Lebanon is both absurd and counterproductive. Those in Lebanon who have a problem with the “resistance culture” should understand that it grew out of a purely Lebanese context. I find it embarrassing that I need to explain to anybody in the world, let alone to Lebanese individuals, that this culture evolved as a result of decades of continuous and extreme Israeli violence committed on Lebanon.
By insisting on perpetuating this remarkable state of denial, those who refuse to accept that Hezbollah is a partner in what they consider ‘their’ Lebanon, will do themselves and ‘their’ Lebanon a great disservice…
Methinks the ambassador doth protest too much.
If one wanted an example of why so many Lebanese think bitterly of the Syrian regime, one would have to look no further than this statement. Of course, there are more varieties of Lebanese arrogance and chauvinism towards Syria than one can shake a stick at, but most of these are well-known and are anyhow not the fault of Syria or its government. What I am referring to is this brand of patronizing revisionist historiography that is routinely expressed by Syrian officialdom.
How cynical and insincere it is of Ambassador Moustapha to speak about Arab unity in one breath, while wiping Syria’s hands of Hizbullah in the next. Nowhere in the question is it stated that Hizbullah “gets its orders from outside Lebanon,” and yet the Ambassador cannot wait to invoke this point as a straw man to knock down. Furthermore, the notion that the Lebanese resistance “grew out of a purely Lebanese context” is, once again, completely out of touch with the vocabulary of Arab nationalism. (I don’t think even Hizbullah defines its identity and its strategic goals so narrowly.) This blatant flip-flopping between the valorization of regional and local identities to score a cynical political point only serves to divest the entire interview of seriousness.
Ambassador Moustapha may “find it embarrassing” to explain to the well-informed and intelligent readers of Syria Comment that the resistance evolved as a product of Israeli violence upon Lebanon. For my part — if I may speak on behalf of at least some of those readers — I find his feigned embarrassment to be unconvincing and a little bit comical. How simple it would have been for him to utter a more banal and politic response, something along the lines of: “It is not within Syria’s capabilities to guarantee when or if Israel’s vicious aggressions upon Lebanon will ever abate; this is in the hands of Israel itself, and it is Israel who bears the moral responsibilty for its crimes. Similarly, we cannot speak for Hizbullah, which is the Lebanese party that has sacrificed the most for the defense of its cherished homeland, etc.”
Instead of contenting himself with this standard brand of diplomatic filibuster, Ambassador Moustapha went out of his way to ensure that his retorts contained a moralizing and insulting rebuke to his readers. At a time like the present, when Syrian-Lebanese animosities are finally beginning to abate (thankfully!) the tone of this interview seemed rather out of place.