The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

When Thomas Friedman doesn’t even read the whole article, in English, given to him and then goes Flip-Flop

One always bristles when hearing that Tom Friedman is “back in town” in Beirut, walking the common man streets and talking to his hotel receptionists and other experts that only serve to confirm his napkin theories.

First, read of course Belen’s hilarious and incredibly well written and well researched takedown of Tom here (her book for Verso called The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work is simply great).

TF’s piece today here suffers from so many of the problems that have made TF an unserious commentator – though still influential one. I am constantly amazed by folks that come through Beirut thinking that Tom is a well respected commentator and are shocked to hear “the truth.”

Point 1, he writes: “There is a highly revealing graffiti war going on here pitting opponents of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and his Lebanese ally, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, on one side and their Lebanese and Syrian supporters on the other. Assad and Nasrallah have long called themselves “the resistance” to Israel, using that to build their legitimacy and to justify arming themselves against their own people. What is stunning to me is how much their masks have now been ripped off by their own people. It is written on the tenement walls around Beirut. The latest collection includes slogans like “The resistance is only resisting our freedom,” or Assad’s picture above the words “Step here” and “The one who kills his own people is a traitor.”

–  Ah but Tom, you need to read the whole Now Lebanon piece you yourself cited  – and as will become clear in a minute we have another problem of citing “their own people”… but wait… – because the example of the two artists you are citing – which is NOT EVIDENCE OF “THEIR OWN PEOPLE” ON ITS OWN – DOES NOT fall into the clear binary you want. If he had bothered to read on in the NL piece he would have read this:

“…Perhaps ironically, the graphic that got the pair arrested was actually intended as a dig at both the regime and the opposition: “[The recycle logo] was a call for the Syrian revolution to correct its path. The true path is to get rid of the dictatorship, not to ask for international intervention, and definitely not to ask the Syrian regime to change its attitude. We want to remove this regime,” said Fakhry. And he is keen to stress the internationalism of his cause, which he staunchly denies is affiliated with Lebanese party politics: “We are entirely independent activists supporting all the Arab revolutions. We are with the Syrian revolution, and at the same time we’re with the Bahraini revolution and the Saudi Arabian revolution. We are neither March 14 nor March 8, because we believe that both are the source of problems in this country. For us, to write ‘Down with the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad’ is the same as writing ‘Down with Solidere’.

“Indeed, theirs is only one of many pro-Syrian-uprising stencils to have appeared in recent weeks, both in Lebanon and the wider region. Their idea, said Fakhry, was inspired by the Syria Freedom Graffiti Week campaign, which saw activists spray anti-Syrian-regime graphics in the streets of a host of Arab countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine. But even prior to this, he added, a “war on the walls of Beirut” has been waged over the past six months, “especially between pro- and anti-Syrian-revolution people. We spray ‘Down with Bashar’ one day, then the next someone else will spray ‘Long live Bashar’ over the top.” Salameh agreed, pointing out that the night after their arrest, “someone sprayed our graffiti in black to cover it….”

— Hmm, what to make of this Tom? It seems a bit of mask ripping is needed on both sides then? He essentially stole the “native’s” agency here for his own purpose/idea which, typically, makes sense in his head but is not true on the ground. Moreover, as becomes clear later, the simple idea that the opposition was radical secular/liberal until assad started killing is immediately thrown off base by the artists’ suggestion that there are deep, structural problems in the opposition.. which have been present since the beginning at least of the SNC. Of course, on this score, Tom completely ignores the google-ready articles about the genesis of the SNC and how some important oppositionists have been accusing the SNC of being a front organization for exactly the “bad” islamists which Tom LATER says might take over UNLESS there is some kind of limited foreign military intervention (his proposal, for safe zones, no fly zones etc which we know is a recipe and code word for WAR).

Tom then has this to say: “Both Assad and Nasrallah still have their sectarian followers, but outside of that shrinking circle they have lost the aura they cultivated from “resisting Israel.” Now both men stand naked before the Arab world for all to see — one using arms to “resist” the will of many Syrians and the other to “resist” the will of many Lebanese. Their people are no longer afraid to openly mock them.

— Now this may FEEL true… especially to hotel journos like Tom, BUT WHERE is the evidence? I am in Tunisia now in fact and, using the Tom Friedman method, I have talked to my hotel cleaners and taxi guys (in my beiruti arabic which is admittedly still lacking) and I am consistently running up against smart analyses about the information war over syria, power dynamics in the region, yes, praise of nasrallah and deep skepticism over the US role, gulf role and opposition role in syria. Tom RELIES COMPLETELY ON Hanin however to prove his claim that HIS OWN PEOPLE ARE TURNING AGAINST HIM!

He writes: “Hanin Ghaddar, a rising young Lebanese Shiite journalist, last week wrote an open letter to Nasrallah published by the popular, saying, “You were the brave hero who vanquished the Israeli Army in 2006 and brought dignity back to the Arabs. But you know what? These glorious days are over…Can you imagine how popular and loved you would have been today? The Syrian people, from all sects, had photos of you hanging in their shops and homes after 2006. Today they burn your pictures on the streets. They hate you. The Syrian people hate you. The Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans and many other Arabs hate you, because you support a tyrant who is killing his own people.””

— Hanin is a good writer and a great person, but she has ALWAYS been vigorously opposed to hizbullah – SO WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE OF A CHANGING TIDE that is the peg for tom’s piece? PLUS, no mention of the funding for NOW LEBANON, Come on!… and then using the word POPULAR to describe NL.

Hanin and Eli Khouri of NL are trying to make it popular, and have tried to move the arabic away from the narrow polemics…. but lets not get carried away and call it POPULAR!

He goes on: “But what to do about Syria’s uprising? Let’s start by putting it in historical context. What is happening in Syria, and across the Arab world today, is the first popular movement since the late 19th and early 20th century that has not been animated by foreign policy or anticolonialism or Israel or Britain.”
— But TOM just wrote this, below, in the NYT a week ago, reversing his embarrassing claim to the contrary from February 2011 and effecting a Jumblatt type move:

“First, it is now clear that Arab autocracies are being replaced with Islamist/populist parties. And, in Egypt, in particular, it is already clear that a key issue in the election will be the peace treaty with Israel.

Ignoring this contradication with what he wrote LAST WEEK, and ignoring therefore the foreign policy aspects of the arab revolts AND IGNORING THE MANY popular movements for democracy and economic justice over the last 200 years QUASHED in the region (often by pro US regimes), Tom ends with this bit of belittling of Arab opposition to Israel and Imperialism by using Hazem Saghieh who tells him: “All these years, the only thing that was allowed to come to the surface was that there is a consensus on the beloved leader and animosity to Israel and imperialism. There was no room for politics and differentiation. Behind this facade, Arab society became rotten, and now we are seeing the return of the repressed.” It’s like a kid who was beaten and left uneducated by his parents for 50 years and one day the kid finally decides to fight back, he added. “Morally, you have to support his right to revolt, but this guy is very traumatized.”

— So ALL resistance is considered childish and uneducated, silly natives….and why, Hazem and Tom should tell us, did arab society become so calcified? Was it because of anti-israeli and anti-imperialist movements ONLY? Who nurtured these calcifiers? What role did the US and the West have in this… How did they collude over time with efforts to kill off, imprison and decimate the ranks of those arabs and movements that were questioning BOTH imperlialism, occupation AND dictatorship of the pro AND anti-US stripe?



Written by nickbiddlenoe

April 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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