Darkness Falls on the Middle East


So where do we go from here? I am talking into blackness because there is no electricity in Beirut. And everyone, of course, is frightened. A president was supposed to be elected today. He was not elected. The corniche outside my home is empty. No one wants to walk beside the sea.

When I went to get my usual breakfast cheese manouche there were no other guests in the café. We are all afraid. My driver, Abed, who has loyally travelled with me across all the war zones of Lebanon, is frightened to drive by night. I was supposed to go to Rome yesterday. I spared him the journey to the airport.

It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to be in a country that sits on plate glass. It is impossible to be certain if the glass will break. When a constitution breaks–as it is beginning to break in Lebanon–you never know when the glass will give way.

People are moving out of their homes, just as they have moved out of their homes in Baghdad. I may not be frightened, because I’m a foreigner. But the Lebanese are frightened. I was not in Lebanon in 1975 when the civil war began, but I was in Lebanon in 1976 when it was under way. I see many young Lebanese who want to invest their lives in this country, who are frightened, and they are right to frightened. What can we do?

Last week, I had lunch at Giovanni’s, one of the best restaurants in Beirut, and took out as my companion Sherif Samaha, who is the owner of the Mayflower Hotel. Many of the guests I’ve had over the past 31 years I have sent to the Mayflower. But Sherif was worried because I suggested that his guests had included militia working for Saad Hariri, who is the son of the former prime minister, murdered–if you believe most Lebanese–by the Syrians on 14 February 2005.

Poor Sherif. He never had the militia men in his hotel. They were in a neighbouring building. But so Lebanese is Sherif that he even offered to pick me up in his car to have lunch. He is right to be worried.

A woman friend of mine, married to a doctor at the American University Hospital, called me two days before. "Robert, come and see the building they are making next to us," she said. And I took Abed and we went to see this awful building. It has almost no windows. All its installations are plumbing. It is virtually a militia prison. And I’m sure that’s what it is meant to be. This evening I sit on my balcony, in a power cut, as I dictate this column. And there is no one in the street. Because they are all frightened.

So what can a Middle East correspondent write on a Saturday morning except that the world in the Middle East is growing darker and darker by the hour. Pakistan. Afghanistan. Iraq. "Palestine". Lebanon. From the borders of Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean, we–we Westerners that is–are creating (as I have said before) a hell disaster. Next week, we are supposed to believe in peace in Annapolis, between the colourless American apparatchik and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister who has no more interest in a Palestinian state than his predecessor Ariel Sharon.

And what hell disasters are we creating? Let me quote a letter from a reader in Bristol. She asks me to quote a professor at Baghdad University, a respected man in his community who tells a story of real hell; you should read it. Here are his own words:

"’A’adhamiya Knights’ is a new force that has started its task with the Americans to lead them to al-Qa’ida and Tawheed and Jihad militants. This 300-fighter force started their raids very early at dawn wearing their black uniform and black masks to hide their faces. Their tours started three days ago, arresting about 150 citizens from A’adhamiya. The ‘Knight’ leads the Americans to a citizen who might be one of his colleagues who used to fight the Americans with him. These acts resulted in violent reactions of al-Qa’ida. Its militants and the militants of Tawheed and Jihad distributed banners on mosques’ walls, especially on Imam Abu Hanifa mosque, threatening the Islamic Party, al-Ishreen revolution groups and Sunni endowment Diwan with death because these three groups took part in establishing ‘A’adhamiya Knights’. Some crimes happened accordingly, targeting two from Sunni Diwan staff and one from the Islamic Party.

"Al-Qa’ida militants are distributed through the streets, stopping the people and asking about their IDs … they carry lists of names. Anyone whose name is on these lists is kidnapped and taken to an unknown place. Eleven persons have been kidnapped up to now from Omar Bin Abdul Aziz Street."

The writer describes how her professor friend was kidnapped and taken to a prison. "They helped me sit on a chair (I was blindfolded) and someone came and held my hand saying, ‘We are Muhajeen, we know you but we don’t know where you are from.’ They did not take my wallet nor did they search me. They only asked me if I have a gun. An hour or so later, one of them came and asked me to come with them. They drove me towards where my car was in the street and they said no more." So who are the A’adhamiya Knights? Who is paying them? What are we doing in the Middle East?

And how can we even conceive of a moral stand in the Middle East when we still we refuse to accept the fact–reiterated by Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, and all the details of US diplomats in the First World War–that the Armenian genocide occurred in 1915? Here is the official British government position on the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. "Officially, the Government acknowledges the strength of feeling [note, reader, the ‘strength of feeling’] about what it describes as a terrible episode of history and recognises the massacres of 1915-16 as a tragedy. However, neither the current Government nor previous British governments have judged that the evidence is sufficiently unequivocal to be persuaded that these events should be categorised as genocide as it is defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide." When we can’t get the First World War right, how in God’s name can we get World War III right?

ROBERT FISK is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s collection, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Fisk’s new book is The Conquest of the Middle East.

Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?
Barry Lando
Syria: Obama’s Bay of Pigs?
Karl Grossman
The Politics of Lyme Disease
Andre Vltchek
Southeast Asia “Forgets” About Western Terror
Jose Martinez
American Violence: Umpqua is “Routine”?
Vijay Prashad
Russian Gambit, Syrian Dilemma
Sam Smith
Why the Democrats are in Such a Mess
Uri Avnery
Nasser and Me
Andrew Levine
The Saints March In: The Donald and the Pope
Arun Gupta
The Refugee Crisis in America
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Elections and Verbal Vomit
Dan Glazebrook
Refugees Don’t Cause Fascism, Mr. Timmermann – You Do
Victor Grossman
Blood Moon Over Germany
Patrick Bond
Can World’s Worst Case of Inequality be Fixed by Pikettian Posturing?
Pete Dolack
Earning a Profit from Global Warming
B. R. Gowani
Was Gandhi Averse to Climax? A Psycho-Sexual Assessment of the Mahatma
Tom H. Hastings
Another Mass Murder
Anne Petermann
Activists Arrested at ArborGen GE Trees World Headquarters
Ben Debney
Zombies on a Runaway Train
Franklin Lamb
Confronting ‘Looting to Order’ and ‘Cultural Racketeering’ in Syria
Carl Finamore
Coming to San Francisco? Cra$h at My Pad
Ron Jacobs
Standing Naked: Bob Dylan and Jesus
Missy Comley Beattie
What Might Does To Right
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi Jayanti, Gandhi’s Dream
Raouf Halaby
A Week of Juxtapositions
Louis Proyect
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Iran
Christopher Washburn
Skeptik’s Lexicon
Charles R. Larson
Indonesia: Robbed, Raped, Abused
David Yearsley
Death Songs
Jon Hochschartner
Does Word Policing Actually Help the Left?