Monday, June 15, 2009

Australia's Thomas Friedman?

"Is there anything more annoying than a Western correspondent parachuting into a foreign country and offering, only hours after his arrival, words of wisdom and analysis about that country? And who can compete with Thomas Friedman* in that regard? Really. He said: "First, a solid majority of Lebanese Christians voted against the list of Michel Aoun, who wanted to align their community with the Shiite Hezbollah party, and tacitly Iran, because he viewed them as best able to protect Christian interests - not the West." Of course, he was wrong... not only did Aoun remain the person with the largest Christian bloc in parliament (in fact, his bloc expanded from 2005) but he received 50% (versus 49%) of the Christian vote nationwide. And, in the key areas where Aoun lost, such as Zahle, it was due to Sunni votes... He then said: "Second, a solid majority of all Lebanese - Muslims, Christians and Druse - voted for the March 14 coalition led by Saad Hariri , the son of the slain Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri." Well, sorry to disappoint, but if you measure the popular vote, it was in favor of the opposition: "the 'losers' got 54.8% of the total vote (839,371) and the 'winners' 45.2% (692,285)."** He then adds: "Ballots were the only weapons the March 14 coalition had against an Iran-Hezbollah-Syria alliance..." Well, yes, ballots and: 1) Saudi & Western money; 2) acute sectarian mobilization and agitation that would have made Zarqawi proud; 3) Hariri money; 4) intervention by the Lebanese president against Aoun; 5) intervention by the Maronite church in favor of March 14... He then said: "I watched the voting at a school in Brummana. People came by car, by wheelchair, by foot - young, old and sick." Don't get me wrong: Thomas Friedman can only write recycled cliches, but could you find a more hackneyed cliche about an election than this one?" (Thomas Friedman in Beirut, The Angry Arab News Service, 10/6/09)

[*New York Times columnist. Friedman often crops up in The Sydney Morning Herald, most recently on 5/6/09;**Ah, that damned popular vote,, 9/6/09]

But don't worry, we have our own Thomas Friedmans. Some gems from The Australian's Middle East correspondent John Lyons, 'reporting' from Beirut (Vote for bombs or business, 13/6/09):-

"... the 40,000 missiles that Hezbollah claims to have along the border with Israel..." Hang on, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, your foreign editor, said on 11/6/o9 that it was 50,000 (A new cold war in the Mid-East). Do I hear 60,000?

"Lebanon... voted to keep Hezbollah from formally taking control in a country awash with weapons. The result highlights two Lebanons: the victorious March 14 Alliance, led by Saad Hariri, which is popular among young Lebanese who want to engage with the world, and the defeated March 8 Alliance whose support base, Hezbollah, is made up of fundamentalist Shi'ite Muslims who look to Iran for religious and financial support." How to explain then that 50.3% of Christians, 25% of Sunnis, and 30% of Druse voted for March 8? (Brilliant insights on Lebanon from Elliot Abrams, The Angry Arab News Service, 13/6/09)

"The two Lebanons are obvious to see when The Inquirer takes a tour of one of Hezbollah's strongholds, the southern suburbs of Beirut. Leaving the city we drive past the Sabra & Shatila camps for Palestinian refugees, made famous in 1982 after 800 Palestinians were massacred there by militia allied to Israel." Alas, the most definitive study of the massacre to date - Sabra & Shatila: September 1982 (2004) by Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout -estimates 3,500 victims. So here's the trick: If it's Hamas/Hezbollah rockets, the sky's the limit. If it's Palestinian/Lebanese victims of Israeli aggression, no number is too low.

"Pacifist Hezbollah is not." Pacifist Israel is...???

"While Nasrallah, with his firebrand speeches vowing wrath on Israel...." How impressive! Lyons of Lebanon has not only mastered Arabic, but he's actually heard/read all of Hassan Nasrallah's speeches!

"Although the location of Nasrallah's home is secret because of fears that the Israelis want to kill him, one local tells me he knows where it is, then takes me down a side street. Uniformed Hezbollah soldiers sitting on the corners of an otherwise abandoned block suggest someone of importance is being guarded."Lyons puts Mossad to shame. His talents are obviously wasted at The Australian. He should be put on the trail of Osama bin Laden immediately.

"The enthusiastic local takes me past Hezbollah's military headquarters... Around here are dozens of new buildings that have replaced those bombed by Israel in 2006. Iranian funding is obvious from the many buildings displaying Iranian names." Amaazing! Lyons is also fluent in Farsi!

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