Saturday, July 4, 2009
1. Just came out in The National, a UAE based newspaper. It is about the drug trade and clan rule in the Beqaa region in Lebanon. Worth a read for sure! (PS-- A few weeks ago I remember an Israeli guy complaining that the IDF had pulled out of Lebanon in 2000 because that meant that the hash runners could no longer use the IDF to smuggle their product into Israel. Very sick, yet very humorous.)
2. An older piece done by some dude about trying to go to the "Hezbollah museum" in what the Lebanese refer to as al-Janoob, or the Shia dominated south of the country. This is basically a gonzo story of a Westerner who jumped the Islamist hurdles and went this propaganda show Hezbollah has set up for tourists. You just have to read this one for you self.
As for the surf in Lebanon, well, it's been showing signs of life. But still, nothing major. I mean, take a look:
Thursday, July 2, 2009
The following is an impressive piece of scholarship on the Salafi/Jihadi radicalization of the Palestinian refugee camps in the Levant. Ever since the PLO cracked--oops, can I say that on the Internet?--Islamism has been on the rise.
One thing, however, I would like to question: Islamism has been reborn ever since the Arab nationalists lost to Israel in '67. Has the Salafi/Jihadi connection in the Palestinian camps of the Levant been more about this regional trend or the actually weakening of the PLO? BECAUSE, they are not the same.
Check out this take on it over at Jihadica:
On 29 June 2009, the Jordanian journalist Murad Batal al-Shishani published an article in al-Hayat titled “Salafi–Jihadism: A New Face in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria’s Palestinian Camps.” The article talks about the new generation of “neo-Zarqawis” and the increasing radicalization of Palestinian refugees. This radicalisation, he argues, stems from the failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict, the deterioration of the PLO and its control over the refugee camps, the political ramifications of the Fatah-Hamas conflict, and rising poverty and unemployment. Al-Shishani states that attacks such as the 2008 incident in Jordan where Thaer al-Wahidi, a refugee from the al-Baq’ah refugee camp, assaulted a Lebanese classical music troupe, are emblematic of this phenomenon.
Al-Shishani argues that the Salafi-jihadi ideology in the refugee camps has come in three phases. The first was the establishment of the ideology in the mid-1980s. The establishment of ‘Usbat al-Ansar in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon was typical of this phase. According to al-Shishani, this period witnessed the beginning of nationalist groups using Islamic slogans and the establishment of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
Al-Shishani writes that the second phase was when the Salafi-jihadis started playing a larger role in sheltering and training non-Palestinian Salafi-jihadis. Al-Shishani cited the 2003 bombing of the McDonalds in Lebanon by the Yemeni Muammar al-Awami as an example of this development.
According to al-Shishani, the third phase is when the Salafi-jihadi ideology becomes the primary ideology for Palestinian youth in the camps. This phase is occurring now, as individuals and small groups are increasingly taking up the ideology. Al-Shishani states that the members of this new generation “are described as ‘neo-Zarqawis,’” and are the legacy of the Levantine Salafi-jihadi current that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi started in his Afghan training camp in 2000. They believe the route to Israel is through Iraq. Al-Shishani maintains that this trend is regional, centering on Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and it rejects the Salafi-jihadism of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (more on the al-Maqdisi dispute here and here).
So what is the deal? I think we have all heard enough about this population-centric counterinsurgency that "worked" in Iraq. Many journalists--and unemployed maniacs with a news fetish, like myself--thought that Obama would try a similar thing in Afghanistan. Long story short: The Obama Administration did not want to invest this kind of commitment because the American people A) couldn't stomach it and B) couldn't afford it. So Obama was all set out to try this so-called "region solution," and try to bring calm by engaging regional players and surging a few more thousand troops.
Sounds good. I mean, plausible enough that Congress would fund such an adventure. Right? And now it is up to the Marines:
US forces have launched a major military operation in southern Afghanistan in the first big push to drive the Taliban out of a key stronghold since Barack Obama became US president.
Four thousand marines, backed by Nato aircraft and a 650-strong Afghan force, are moving into towns in Helmand province, where the Taliban has been intensifying its challenge to the Kabul government and allied forces.
Pentagon officials say the plan - said to be the largest US marine offensive since Vietnam - is not just to inflict casualties against the enemy, but to dig in and hold on to territory.
Notice "Pentagon officals" said, "dig in and hold on to territory." Sounds a bit to me like a twist of that whole clear, hold, build thing all those intellectuals were talking about. This leads me to ask: Aren’t we really--I mean at the end of the day--going to do the same thing in Afghanistan as we did in Iraq? CLEAR the area of "insurgents?" HOLD the place like it is ours? BUILD, or at least help our regional allies build, an economy that attempts to marginalize the legitimacy of the "insurgents?"
All of a sudden these elements of population centric counter insurgency--clear, hold, build--are starting to pop up in Central Asia. Hmmm, I guess we will just have to wait and see what the Marines do once they clear the place of insurgents...
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
My answer, in short: "yes, I am."
But what can ya do? This is surfing. You can't change the waves; all you can change is where you look for them. And as I right now, I am lookin' on Google Earth for potential places on the Lebanese shore that would pick up the most of a brisk Mediterranean swell. In Arabic we say: Inshallah, God willing.
So what is a Beiruti based blogging guerrilla do when the surf is flat?
Read, of course! And in honor of Franco, a long time reader/commenter in this Casbah, I would like to share a conversation I had the other day with an ex-Army Ranger I met in Beirut. It went a little something like this:
Abu: "So what do you think about the U.S. turning over security to Iraqi forces?"
Army Ranger: "I think it's about damn time. We should have started to do this a long time ago."
Abu: "What? What do you mean? Do you really think the U.S. should have pulled out mid civil war?"
Army Ranger: "Of course not! This whole thing isn't about the U.S getting out of Iraq, it is about semantics."
Army Ranger: "Yeah, semantics. The Americans are not leaving Iraq. Remember all of those bases we spent millions on building? The embassy? This whole thing is about showing that the Iraqis are in charge. There will be American boots in Iraqi patrols for a long time."
Abu: "So you think...?"
Army Ranger: "Yup. It's all semantics."
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The "S and S" factor? Syria and Saudi have allegedly struck some deal that has allowed Saad Hariri to become prime minister. (Don't ask me guys, it wasn't like I sitting at any table.) This article in The Star today really stuck a chord of self-empowerment among the Lebanese. It downplayed the international relations theory explanation that both foreigners and Arabs alike tend to use as an excuse for Lebanon.
The solution this author recommends? Simple:
"While we can't ignore the regional equation, it's too simplistic to blame others for incidents like Aisha Bakkar. It's obviously the sign of a much deeper problem: disrespect for society by politicians, who provide their supporters with arms and licenses to carry them, without discipline."Interesting... While I don't think we can forget the "S and S" factor--the author doesn’t say we should--I do believe that it is hard to place the blame on these Aisha Bakkar-type clashes on anyone other than local militants.
"Our politicians must eliminate the militia-like behavior that erupted in Aisha Bakkar, and remember to whom they're responsible - the majority of society, the kind of people who rebuild after destruction, not engage in it."
Monday, June 29, 2009
By Jesse Aizenstat
"But there's no surf in the Middle East," proclaimed the curly haired Hasidic Jew and recent immigrant to Israel who told me he was originally from Long Beach, California.
"Sure there is," I replied. "I was just surfing in Haifa and now I'm headed north to Lebanon to surf what was once the same shore."
"Aha," he muttered, staring at the ground, "I didn’t even know you could surf here."
"You can, and I'm writing an article about the enormous hassle of closed borders, passport shuffling and the general heartbreak of a divided coastline."
"Well, good luck," he said, rather bewildered by my proposal, as he walked off.
The idea of surfing from Israel to Lebanon came to me about a year ago when I driving along the sun-drenched costal highway in California. This distance, ironically, between San Diego and Long Beach, is almost the same exact length from Tel Aviv to Beirut.
Yet, in a region that has spent the past 60 years fighting wars and erecting walls, travel is not as easy as it once was. What was just a simple drive in California is a detour of absurd proportions in the Middle East.
And as an American surfer and journalist who dreams of the day when the train tracks from Damascus to Cairo reopen, I feel that it is my responsibility to come up with new and innovative ways to relate this conflict to the world.
Click to read more.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
"Jesse Aizenstat is an American surfer who has been visiting Israel and Palestine - and he has carried his surfboard everywhere: “Walk from the Jerusalem bus station to the Muslim Quarter. This took about a half-hour; perhaps more because of inquisitive strangers questioning my sanity for bringing a surfboard to the holy city.”
"At least one person in Beirut (Jesse Aizenstat of Blogging the Casbah) heard automatic gunfire. One 30-year-old woman is reported dead, and Now Lebanon says a member of the army was wounded by a "sniper"."
About an hour later, I noticed the guards at Hariri normally sleepy palace were on full alert. The roads were blocked off and the convoy of armored personnel carriers rolled down the street next to me.
I asked a friend who goes to my university that happened to walk by what was going on:
Abu's friend: "It was between Amal and Hariri's people in the Aisha Bakkar (Aicha Bakkar) district. Some rivalry between March 8 and March 14. We saw it on al-Jazeera."
Abu: "Wow, that is fu*ckin' crazy. I can't believe I was taking to my mom when it happened! Good thing I didn't say anything...."
Abu's friend: "Yeah, it happened near the
Syrian Socalist Nationalist Pary's headquarters, a few blocks away."
Abu: "HA! Are you kidding? I walked by that place on my way to check the surf today!"
UPDATE -- here it is.
From West Beirut and a block from Harari's palace,
UPDATE #2: So if Amal's MP's are going to back Harari in parliament... why not on the streets? A misunderstanding? Or is this the type of "power sharing" that we can expect?