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Monthly Archives: March 2010

My latest piece for http://www.allvoices.com is on Lebanon’s built environment. The destruction of Lebanon’s built heritage is a very disturbing negative aspect of the very good business that is real estate development. Without an effective state the ability to enforce protection measures the continued destruction of Lebanon’s rich built environment will erode away to the chaotic city that is already emerging:

Lebanon has seen remarkable boom in real estate construction over the past two years. Construction sites dominate Beirut and the sound of drilling emanates from all parts of the city. Real estate investment is derived from a large part of the Lebanese economy which has achieved a growth rate of 7 percent in 2009 and looks to continue growing this year. While many have been enjoying the rich dividends from these real estate investments, the unplanned and unrestricted developments are causing many people to lament the state of the built environment in Beirut.

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Sari Hanafi, a sociology professor at the American University of Beirut, has done an incredibly brave or stupid act (depending on your perspective) co-editing a book with Israeli academics. This is particularly perplexing considering that Hanafi has put his name to the Lebanese Campaign for the boycott of Zionism in solidarity with the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. This includes boycotting Israeli academics and their institutions, as the statement reads:

Specifically, we ask our colleagues worldwide to support the call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to comprehensively and consistently boycott and disinvest from all Israeli academic and cultural institutions, and to refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joining projects with Israeli institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.

The book is called The Power of Inclusive Exclusion and looks fascinating. The website details that the book is about:

The Power of Inclusive Exclusion analyzes the Israeli occupation as a rationalized system of political rule. With essays by leading Palestinian and Israeli scholars, a comprehensive chronology, photographs, and original documents, this groundbreaking book calls into question prevalent views of the occupation as a skewed form of brutal colonization, a type of Jewish apartheid, or an inevitable response to terrorism…. The Power of Inclusive Exclusion uncovers the structural logic that sustains and reproduces the occupation regime.

I imagine that Hanafi would take the argument that this project does not contribute to the continued occupation.

The Israeli co-editors of the book are Adi Ophir is Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University and Michal Givoni is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University.

The move by Hanafi has caused a quite a stir at the AUB campus and a petition has been created against normalisation of relations.

I have written a book review in what is now my monthly book review slot for Executive Magazine on Brian Whitaker’s new book What is Really Wrong with the Middle East. It is a really interesting book that certainly made me think about the issues of the Middle East in a much broader way. Click at the bottom to read the whole thing on the Executive website:

There are many people in the Middle East who hold an opinion on the region’s ills, but whatever their view, very few choose introspection over finger pointing. Brian Whitaker, the former Middle East editor of The Guardian, in his new book “What’s Really Wrong With The Middle East” aims to realign the trend of shifting blame. “The problems of the Middle East are always someone else’s fault,” writes Whitaker. “While the West blames dictators and extremists, Arabs often turn the tables, blaming centuries of foreign interference. Both sides are right, up to a point, but they both also ignore a large part of the picture.”

The picture that Whitaker offers after interviewing “intelligent, independent minded people” (meaning not government officials or religious extremists) covers four central issues: knowledge, equal rights, secularism and citizenship. In surveying these four topics, Whitaker leaves no doubt that there is something deeply wrong with the region, underlining his views with a damning array of statistics. Whitaker explains that, “Arab societies have, in the past, [balanced] science and Islam very successfully. But many of Islam’s contemporary manifestations are backward looking and anti-intellectual, while the high value placed on conformity in Arab societies is suffocating change.”

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The parked car that was smashed up by a drink driver the next morning

I admit to drinking and then driving home in Lebanon. It is something I would not even contemplate doing in the UK and shows how stupid and lemming like I can be. And I don’t want to be a hypocrite but far too many people drink drive in this country and drink to levels where they cannot even walk straight and then drive home. For the second time outside my house a car smashed into one of the cars parked alongside the street. I was woken up by the now to familiar screech and bang. The guy could not even walk straight when he got out of the car, he was completely wasted. Matt Nash did a nice article on Lebanese roads in 2008:

The law has been amended but remains flawed. For example, it does not make seatbelt use mandatory, and only in 1995 was driving drunk outlawed, though the amendment concerned does not define “drunk.”

When this guy got out the car completely wasted he was not arrested by the ISF who were promptly on the scene but instead ordered to give his insurance details. This will not be a great suprise to anyone, as Fady Gebrane, president of the traffic-safety-focused NGO Kunhadi told Nash:

“First of all it doesn’t tackle everything,” he said. “For example, drunk driving is not included, which is the second [leading] reason for accidents in Lebanon.”

What is amazing is that there is so little discussion about this issue. Type into google “drink driving lebanon” and little to nothing comes up concerning Lebanon, it is all about drink driving in the US. It is amazing that in a country where around 2/3rds are not even supposed to drink alcohol that there is no outrage at the number of accidents that are caused by drink driving. In the UK drink driving is a mortal offence and a subject that gets a lot of air time. That guy who crashed outside my apartment in Beirut would have been dragged out of his car and marched straight to jail in the UK; not asked for his address and his insurance details like it was an ordinary accident!

Image from arablit.files.wordpress.comThe 3rd Arabic Booker has been announced and the winner is Saudi writer, Abdo Khal (left) for his book  “Throwing Sparks as Big as Castles”. The book is about the excesses of the royal family and the books title is from a Quranic description of hell. Like all great fiction it is not so fictional. Brian Whitaker’s blog has a great low down and links to the book that is well worth a visit. Also the Arabist gives a nice take on the book also complaining of the titles translation. Abdo Khal certainly appears to quite the character. Like all good Arab stereotypes he was a Suadi preaching Jihad. Here is an interesting extract from an article from the Art Fuse Blog where journalist Johnathan Levi went to meet Khal:

“I was out in the streets preaching, ‘you’ve got to believe in jihad or you’re going to hell.’ I really believed it. I even went home and tore up all the pictures and smashed the TV.” But Abdo’s spiritual leader was someone slightly more frightening than Elmer Gantry or Jerry Falwell. Juhaiman Al Otaibi was a militant fundamentalist who, at the end of 1979, in the company of 200 followers, attacked the Grand Mosque in Mecca and took hundreds of hostages, protesting the corruption of the royal family. It took two weeks for the government to retake the holy places. 250 people died, 600 were wounded. 68 terrorists were beheaded in the aftermath. Juhaiman was one. Abdo could have been another.

Now of course he is the Arab worlds new international literature star.

Novels have an important role to play in political discourse and it is pleasing to see the Arabic Booker getting more prominent each year. The fact that this book is speaking out again the “excessive world of the palace” should give hope to all who want to see people take on the big men of the Arab world.

Finkelstein has brought out a new book “This time we went too far” on what went on in Gaza and Mondoweiss has an excerpt from Chapter 5. It appears to be much of the same from Finkelstein who I am not a huge fan of. But I feel a duty to promote his book given the attempts to silence him and he having two talks cancelled in Germany due to protests by pro-Israeli groups. The book in typical Finkelstien style goes right for the jugular of his opponents and is on the one dimensional side. But in a conflict that is very one sided here is a nice fuck you.

Finkelstien:

At each of the parleys with Hamas members I repeated the same message: the current diplomatic posture of Hamas seemed in alignment with representative political organizations, respected juridical institutions, and major human rights groups. Many Hamas members appeared genuinely surprised when I rattled off the “pro-Palestinian” positions espoused by these mainstream bodies. If I was correct, then Hamas should couch its political platform in their language because the chink in Israel’s armor is its diplomatic isolation. Hamas must hammer away the critical point that Israel is the real outlier in the international community and obstacle to peace: not “Hamas says,” but “the U.N. General Assembly resolution supported by 160 nations says”; not “Hamas says, but “the International Court of Justice says”; not “Hamas says” but “Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say.”