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21 May 2007


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W. Patrick Lang


You are right about the number of Palestinians. I was listening too much to the news people yesterday. That was the number they kept saying. See. It works on me too. all you have to do is say it enough.

You are right that HB leadership in Lebanon has decided to make common cause with all the Sunnis that it can attract, but it would be difficult to argue that HB is really an organization that is seeking a kind of Islamic ecumenism. On the other hand, AQ in all its manifestations is utterly hostile to the Shia.

As for Syria, even CNN this morning made it clear that the leader of Fath al-Islam spent three years in a Syrian jail and that he and his men are wanted by the police in Syria. A cover story? Well, that would be a pretty good one.


I think you have missed the current phenomenon of distributed talking points in today's news operations. pl


I vote for complicit.

Gulf War II saw the Kenneth Joseph stories, the Lincoln Group efforts and of course the NYT stories by Judith Miller. This is quite obviously premeditated.

The same can also be said for Gulf War I, the effort run largely by the same personalities including Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney. Does anyone remember the baby incubator story, or the troops allegedly massed at the border of Saudi Arabia? We all knew we were lied to, but nobody was outraged and it would have seemed a bit unpatriotic to rain on that parade.

When this Administration is over, there may be a true inquiry which exposes these lies. But the truth is that we actually like being lied to, it makes things so much clearer.

Had we been as successful in Gulf War II as in Gulf War I, no one would care about the lies that got the ball rolling. Yellow journalism appears to flourish in times of change and upheaval, perhaps it is part of the consensus building process and it will flourish until a new consensus or a new "center" is formed. In the mean time, with a confused and uninformed populace it is so much easier to rule through appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Clifford Kiracofe

I am out of date on all this by a good decade. One can argue broadcast "journalism" of the 24/7 type is a form of entertainment rather than journalism. Or is it propaganda via those distributed talking points you point out? Print media seems about the same these days with some exceptions. American journalism has become, in a sense, a branch of advanced stenography based on those official "distributed talking points."

For journalism and official propaganda (the "Mighty Wurlitzer" on which Google) the classic analysis is:
Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood in Wartime (London, 1928) for the intro see:
Quoting Ponsonby,
"Falsehood is a recognized and extremely useful weapon in warfare, and every country uses it quite deliberately to deceive its own people, to attract neutrals, and to mislead the enemy. The ignorant and innocent masses in each country are unaware at the time that they are being misled, and when it is all over only here and there are the falsehoods discovered and exposed. As it is all past history and the desired effect has been produced by the stories and statements, no one troubles to investigate the facts and establish the truth."


I agree and disagree with Mo. Agree on the "anti-Sunni" comment, and would push the Colonel's qualification a bit further by merely saying that this is just a reality of politics a la libanaise -- sectarian through and through, but not without intercommunal alliances made to protect the flock. As to points of disagreement, I would say I believe that various indicators suggest the number of refugees is in fact these days closer to the 200,000 than the 350k, although as the Colonel points out, I cant figure out why this seems to matter much. If anyone is interested, I can get the statistics. Finally, a last point, I dont think a proper history of modern lebanese politics will ever be written because death has robbed us of the opportunity for Ghazi Kenaan and Uri Lubrani to sit down and compare notes. I always felt that Kenaan spent most of his time as a telephone operator, fielding calls and complaints from the various lebanese prima donnas. Of course, this image of a schoolmarmish telephone operator obscures some realities, but so to does any reading that suggest Syria's total callibration and control of the lebanese scene. That's all. Great post.



In regards to Syria, it is highly unlikely that they are supporting Fatah al-Islam, however, as I understand it, they are wanted because they took money from Syrian intelligence to set up cells in the West Bank and Gaza but used the money to start recruiting for Iraq and Lebanon.

However, my point was, that Syria has a long history of backing both sides in a battle so that they could be supporting both should not be discounted.

I would also add that I do not believe they "support" Hizballah as such further than allowing the transfer of resources as a favour to Iran. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Syria probably dislikes Hizballah quite a bit. Syria does not traditionally like or tolerate organisations or people that it cannot own, threaten or kill and which it cannot use to line its pockets.

In regards to their attitude towards Sunnis, would that I could get you to meet with these people or take a walk through the southern suburbs of Beirut and see the Shia-Sunni unity in action. They are not what I think you believe they are. Nasrallah himself has long called for Sunni-Shia unity and has long warned of attempts to sow disharmony between the two.


HA's outreach to the Sunna was demonstrated spectacularly when Israel improvidently expelled some Gaza Hamas leadership to Lebanon.

"Experts trace the connection between Hizbullah and Palestinian militants to 1992, when Israel expelled more than 400 Palestinian extremists to Marj-el-Zhour, the Valley of the Flowers, in southern Lebanon. After their expulsion, the Palestinian militants, mainly from Hamas, set up a camp in Lebanon that was supported for months by Hizbullah. Some of Hamas's expelled Sunni leaders were eventually brought to Beirut, and introduced to Hizbullah's Shiite leaders there, experts say."

Christian Science Monitor Article

Mike G

Pedantic of me, I know, but I shall say it. Sorry, but it really bugs me to see sentences such as "Is the media stupid....." or "The media is......" and"The media goes to.....". Polease, folks, the word Media is plural. "Are the media......","Do the media.....","The media are going to......"

Abu Sinan

Good points Mo. Hizb'Allah's support is much wider than a narrow Shi'a base.

Both Christians and Sunni in Hizb'Allah areas support them and actually vote for them.

Pat, as to AQ being utterly hostile to all Shi'a, the US government doesnt believe it.

Please see the link below. It would seem that the US government is going to try to blame the inevitable failure of "the surge" on Iran and it's work with the AQ groups in Iraq.

It would seem that AQ doesnt hate the Shi'a enough to not take arms and cash from them.

Personally? I dont buy it, but it might be Bush's excuse to attack Iran when the surge goes south.

See what they are trying to sell us now:

"Iran's secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq"



Pat's reply to Clifford has the kernel of truth that must be "read" - as discussed earlier in this blog - to comprehend what "news" is.


I think you have missed the current phenomenon of distributed talking points in today's news operations. pl"

"Distributed talking points" says it all.

A distributed talking point is not news, it is self-interested propaganda. There is no news. There are a very few western mainstream reporters, whose output is to be found only in obscure places at the fringes of the mainstream "debate". On the other hand, the web is awash with access to foreign press and courageous independent reporters who post in a variety of forums and are generally not as beholden to one gigantic smokestack spewing out the day's gibberish far and wide, clouding the view of the facts on the ground - which are usually thousands of miles away from the "target" audience.

All the rest are mere talking heads, regurgitating what official "spokesmen" parrot for their employers - their governments. These bingo-callers and their ilk live in fear of being "scooped" or "cut out of the loop" or losing "face time" during question period thus being deprived of their easily parroted bit of cost-free "news" - and the influence that comes from spreading it.

News would require ignoring what "authoritative senior administration figures" spew out, and traveling to the areas themselves to interview and report on the actors and the stage they act on. There is no money for that - or in that. If there is, it is money spent and limited to "embedding" - that is, sleeping with the source itself. Which produces fine and rousing theater, the quality of which is on a par with the irresistible appeal of a car wreck or the surreptitiously titillating photo of the man who could fellate himself - and must be seen to be "believed".

Why travel to the source for your unrefined Soma if the source will package it and deliver it to you - and then grant you absurd dominion over the media and especially the public electronic spectra that sell for the price of a Congress? Anybody knows that retail is where the real markup occurs, and if the government can both supply and reward the traffickers, why bob's your uncle, your ticket is punched.

It works for drugs and energy, independents are to be shot on sight. The addicts may squeal, but they keep on buying, whatever the quality, whatever the cost(s), and only the dealers and a few determined junkies ever travel to the source.

News indeed.

W. Patrick Lang


Yes. Yes. I know that Hizbullah in Lebanon is looking for allies all over the place. God knows I have written about it enough.

Nevertheless, the idea that Hizbullah really like the Sunni is absurd. don't let your hopefulness overwhelm your critical sense.

As for the policy driven opinion of the US about the interaction of AQ with the Iranians, I hope you are being ironic.

And let's not hear any crap about divide and conquer either. We are supposed to be adults here. pl

W. Patrick Lang


In American English collective nouns are treated as singular for agreement in number.

On this side of the water, it is:

The team is..


The team are.. pl

Cloned Poster

Posted by: Charles | 22 May 2007 at 02:24 PM

or the surreptitiously titillating photo of the man who could fellate himself - and must be seen to be "believed".

Those words alone describe the media whores that ride on the back of Fox America and every other media player (see PL's post above).


Mike G

I know you'll be the only one to agree with me, but 'news' is plural. It's not 'what is the news,' but rather, 'what are the news.' It's you and me against the world, Mike...hang in there.


Ok Col, we will agree to disagree about Hizballah and the Sunnis although I must point out it is not hopefuleness but experience I speak from.

Meanwhile, reports suggest there is something deeper afoot. The attack on the UN Relief convoy that entered the Palestinian camp has been confirmed by the army to not have come from Fatah Al Islam positions but from snipers with high powered rifles OUTSIDE the camp.

Furthermore, Beirut is rife with rumour that the Head of the Army accused the cabinet in a stormy closed cabinet session, of intentionally causing this problem in order to see the army disintegrate (and be replaced by a more pliant one). If that is true, and the army truly believes this, then Sinioras govt. may have bigger problems than HB after this is all over.

What goes around may rather belatedly be coming around...


The actual number of Palestinians in Lebanon really is closer to 250,000 (or less)--not 350,000. The latter number is based on UNRWA registration data, but many of those registered with UNRWA in its Lebanon field of operations are not actually IN Lebanon.

Both the Palestinians and the Lebanese government find it convenient to use the larger number, but we've known for years now (and, in private, they freely admit) that the real number is much lower--as can be seen from registration data for UNRWA schools (if there were 350,000 refugees, there ought to be a lot more kids in UNRWA primary schools...). Indications of a much lower number have also come from living conditions surveys done by Fafo and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics/Damascus.

The lower numbers are, in part, the product of decades of employment and legal restrictions on Palestianians, which encouraged many to find a way out (as expatriate workers, refugee claimants in other countries, etc). The Siniora government has been the first Lebanese government in half a century to show any inclination to improve the living conditions of Palestinian refugees, to the point of including a "Palestinian refugee" section in its submission to the Stockholm donor conference (http://www.undp.org.lb/lebanon/Lebanon_Early_Recovery_Framework.pdf), repeatedly raising this issue with Western governments as well as initaiting some modest (and very preliminary) internal policy planning on the issue.

It remains to be seen whether events in Nahr al-Barid will lead to an intensification of these efforts ("we must reduce poverty to reduce radicalism") or a return to old attitudes ("if they are miserable, maybe they'll leave").

On another note, much of the media coverage notes that the Lebanese Army's deployment in the camps is restricted under the 1969 Cairo Agreement. The actual agreement doesn't forbid this, however (although that was the reality after 1973). In any case, the agreement was abrogated by the Lebanese parliament in 1987.


Would this perhaps have something to do with the proposed US/NATO airbase planned for Klieaat?

John Howley

Just heard an American recently returned from Lebanon interviewed on BBC. Identified as being from the Middle East Institute.

He argued strongly for a connection between situation in refugee camps and Gaza/West Bank. To wit: US/EU effort to cut-off funds to Hamas and Fatah have shriveled the patronage systems that ruled in the camps.

Salafists are moving in to fill the vacuum.

JT Davis

Perhaps this anecdote is apocryphal, it's no less a truism today:

"John Pilger addresses Columbia University in New York"

On 14 April 2006, the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University in New York brought together John Pilger, Seymour Hersh, Robert Fisk and Charles Glass for a discussion entitled 'Breaking the Silence: War, lies and empire'.

Tne following is a transcript of John Pilger's address - 'War by Media':

"During the Cold War, a group of Russian journalists toured the United States. On the final day of their visit, they were asked by their hosts for their impressions. “I have to tell you,” said their spokesman, “that we were astonished to find, after reading all the newspapers and watching TV, that all the opinions on all the vital issues were, by and large, the same. To get that result in our country, we imprison people, we tear out their fingernails. Here, you don't have that. What's the secret? How do you do it?”


Clifford Kiracofe

"Unlike the early years of the movement, today's neoconservatives enjoy a serious—and powerful—presence within the mainstream media. Though this level does not generate the political faction's ideas and policies, it does generate influence. Access to the gates of mainstream media has enabled the movement to actually implement and market its objectives to America."

JT Davis

That's an excellent source, Clifford. IRC's RightWeb. See what they say about Eleana Benador and Benador Associates:

"When historians look back on the United States war in Iraq, they will almost certainly be struck by how a small group of mainly neo-conservative analysts and activists outside the administration were able to shape the US media debate in ways that made the drive to war so much easier than it might have been… But historians would be negligent if they ignored the day-to-day work of one person who, as much as anyone outside the administration, made their media ubiquity possible. Meet Eleana Benador, the Peruvian-born publicist for Perle, Woolsey, Michael Ledeen, Frank Gaffney and a dozen other prominent neo-conservatives whose hawkish opinions proved very hard to avoid for anyone who watched news talk shows or read the op-ed pages of major newspapers over the past 20 months."
— Jim Lobe, The Andean Condor among the Hawks, Asia Times, August 15, 2003."




As per Mo's agree to disagree:

Can't we have post on "ecumenicism" of various Islamist groups. It seems you have an allergic reaction to some strands of this argument, but it seems lurking in the comment sections. We could sound it out all at once, and you could show us why the rest of us are wrong and be done with it. Just an idea.


I have heard the same things, but don't know what to make of it. It is true that many LAF higher-ups are very upset with the situation they find themselves in, so it would not surprise me if some had gone ahead and called it a set-up (the shouting matches between ISF and LAF are true). I still think the conflagration was a coincidence, but the trolls were awfully ready to climb out of their caves, so it makes one wonder.

PS: I actually share you sentiment as to HA, but could one not say the same thing about Hariri, Aoun, Gemayel, etc (all staunch sectarians when need be). It seems to me always a double game, even as, or perhaps especially as, a group reaches the rare heights of national pre-eminence. Curious why you think HA might be different.

W. Patrick Lang


My problem with this line of discussion is that I will spend a lot of time arguing with you folks who want to believe that "ecumenism" in the Islamic World is other than political and short lived. I do not believe that there is any more prospect of real ecumenism in Islam than there is in Christianity.

Nevertheless, I will open a thread on "The Athenaeum" for you all to talk. pl



Why I think they are and will be different? Well mostly on the evidence I have seen:

- The southern suburbs of Beirut are staunchly Hizballah, there are other areas staunchly Lebanese Forces or PSP. You will be hard pressed to find people of other sects living in these areas and if there are they get hassled. I could take you to the Hizballah areas where two of my best friends live and run businesses, one is Sunni and the other Christian. They have always been afforded the services Hizballah provide to the Shia there, no questions asked.

- When they have had the opportunity to act secterian such as during the civil war or towards the Christian population of Southern Lebanon after the Israelis withdrew in 2000, they did not. In fact during the civil war they were only involved in defensive actions against the other militias and ironically it was against Amal, the other Shia militia that they fought; And after the Israelis withdrew it was Hizballah
who made it known that any reprisals against the Christian population of Southern Lebanon would be considered an attack on them.

- The likes of the Hariris, Jumblatts etc. are what we call Zaim's. It is much more than a local strongman but slightly less than a
feudal lord. They believe and act as if the people exist in order to follow them and make them wealthy. Hizballah have always acted the opposite. If you go to one of their hospitals to ask for blood for a relative who is in another hospital, they do not ask if the relative happens to be Shia or even if you happen to be Shia. And considering Nasrallah had $500 million in his hands after the summer war, the man is still paying his mortgage.

- Finally, I know a few of these guys and have met many others. Their secular outlook is inward rather than outward. What I mean by that is they are interested in protecting themselves, their land, their people and giving the Shia strong representation. Outwardly, some are married to Sunnis or have Sunni relations.

The Shia, being the minority, have in general have never had the superiorty complex, or the paranoia that comes with that, that the Sunnis have.

Clifford Kiracofe

So just what is Fatah al-Islam, its composition, and leadership?

According to Patrick Seale:

"Fatah al-Islam is far from being an ordinary armed Palestinian faction. Indeed, it seems hardly to be Palestinian at all. Whereas a minority of its members may be Palestinian, the others -- judging from those who have been killed, wounded or captured -- come from half a dozen Arab and Asian countries, some of them jihadi veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its parent body -- or at least its inspiration -- seems to be Al-Qaida.

Fatah al-Islam is a fundamentalist offshoot of Fatah al-Intifada, a Palestinian faction which Syria backed over the years to contain and fight the influence of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement among Lebanon’s refugee population. But, in the last year or two, Fatah al-Intifada was routed by Fatah al-Islam, a dissident group within it, which seized control, if not of the whole camp, then at least of part of it.

This development appears to have attracted jihadis of various nationalities, eager to exploit the relative freedom from government interference the camp enjoys, and determined to carry their struggle into Lebanon and Syria, ever closer to their prime enemy, Israel itself. ...
The leader of Fatah al-Islam, a certain Shakir al-Absi, spent the years 2002-2005 in a Syrian jail. He is the sort of Sunni fundamentalist the Syrian regime has been fighting ever since the late 1970s. Men of his sort detest and anathematize the Ba‘athist-led government in Damascus for ideological and sectarian reasons. It seems implausible that they would agree to be manipulated by Syria’s intelligence services. It certainly does not look as if Syria could have created Fatah al-Islam, because this fundamentalist Sunni movement would, from its base near Tripoli in north Lebanon, pose a potential threat to Syrian security."


Any other assessments out there?

Chris Marlowe

I heard a very good analysis of the present Lebanon camp fighting on CCTV (China Central TV) Channel 4, the Chinese language international channel last night. The program is in Chinese and called "In Focus".

Apparently this fighting all started with a bank robbery.

Some thugs hit a bank, made off with some money, and went to the Palestinian camp, presumably where they came from. Now, there is a kind of unwritten agreement that the Lebanese national army would not enter the Palestinian camps; the camps have their own people in charge of law and order. (I don't know if this is some leftover law from the Sabra and Chatila massacres of 1982.)

But Siniora figured that he was going to be tough on those Palestinians (maybe with some kind of silent nod from US/France?) and show the Lebanese people that Hizbullah is not the only tough kid on the block and chased the bank robbers into the camp.

Then all hell broke loose because the Palestinians aren't overly fond of the Siniora government and the Lebanese national government. And they get especially unhappy when people drive tanks and all that other heavy equipment into their homes. So they started shooting back.

I looked at this and thought "This explanation makes much more sense than what's coming out of the US mainstream media."

The thing I can't figure out is how a common bank robbery with Lebanese tanks in hot pursuit going into a Palestinian camp and fighting it out with their local sheriffs can morph into a conflict with an Al-Qaeda supported faction in the US press.

I guess anything is possible in the US now.

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