During the noisy aftermath of a basketball game in Beirut a couple of years ago, I asked my Lebanese companion when the sport had become popular in Lebanon. "When we discovered we could make it sectarian," he joked.
Now, the occasion has again arisen to contemplate themes of sectarianism and athletics in the context of a short documentary film titled Lebanon Wins the World Cup, originally released in 2015 but currently available for free streaming on Vimeo for the duration of this year's World Cup competition.
The title is indeed fitting; after all, if you've ever experienced a World Cup in Lebanon, you're likely to have assumed the Lebanese won the whole darn thing based on the amount of horn-honking, flag-waving, and general ruckus that transpires. This is particularly the case following a win by Germany or Brazil, both of which play host to sizable Lebanese populations.
The film's synopsis reads: "On the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, two former enemies from the Lebanese civil war prepare to support their favourite team Brazil. Can the tournament unite them despite everything that's gone wrong?"
The duo consists of Edward Chamoun, a former fighter with the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces, and Hassan Berri, a Shia Muslim who fought with the Lebanese Communist Party for several years of the conflict, which lasted from 1975-1990.
The film spotlights their individual reflections on life and war, and then follows them as they meet in Beirut to root for Brazil. The answer to the question of whether or not the tournament can unite them isn’t difficult to predict.
Both men, it turns out, had supported Brazil in the 1982 World Cup, which took place in the middle of the Lebanese civil war and overlapped with Israel’s summer invasion of Lebanon, a devastating affair that killed some 20,000 people, the majority of them civilians.
Recalls Berri: "Your country is being invaded, it's under attack. And imagine, all I could think about was a game." Hooking up a car battery to a small television, he and his comrades tuned into the Italy-Brazil match, at which point the bombing suddenly stopped: "It was as if the Israeli Army wanted to watch the match too."
Lebanon clearly didn’t win that World Cup, and neither did Brazil, with victory instead going to the Italians - who incidentally also won the 2006 World Cup, which concluded a few days prior to the launch of Israel’s bloody 34-day assault on Lebanon. Some might therefore view Italy’s failure to qualify this year as reassuring. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
Some years ago, I stumbled upon a (now-defunct) website operated by the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, which encouraged Israelis travelling or living abroad to serve as “novice ambassadors” on behalf of the state of Israel by countering international “misconceptions” and “barbs of criticism” wherever they turned up.
The site’s stated aim was to “make it possible for each one of us to arm ourselves with information and pride in Israel’s global contributions and history and to present a more realistic image of Israel to the world”.
Among the inventory of “information” compiled for the benefit of the aspiring novice ambassador were factoids such as that “an Israeli invention for an electric hair removal device makes women happy all over the world” and that “Muslim terror takes place throughout the world with no connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian issue, Israel-US relations or the existence of Israel and its policies”.
Another, subtler weapon of sorts has now turned up in Israel’s public relations arsenal: Palestinian-Israeli vlogger Nuseir Yassin, better known by his Facebook page Nas Daily, which currently boasts nearly seven million followers.
A Harvard graduate from the town of Arraba in the Galilee, Yassin quit his $120,000-per-year high-tech job in New York City in 2016 at the age of 24 to travel the world posting daily one-minute videos that are often gratingly chipper.
The one-minute formula is no doubt well-suited to the global non-attention span, while the perks of the Nas Daily brand aren’t hard to guess at.
A report in the Times of Malta, one of Yassin’s recent destinations, noted that the vlogger was lodged in an “executive suite in a top five-star hotel, whose corporate sales manager [said] she is happy to provide the suite free of charge in exchange for a single mention on Instagram”.
In 2017, Yassin explained his motivations as follows: “Look, I’m just a 25-year-old hairy kid who wants to live the best possible life… That’s it.”
Speaking to an audience of military personnel in California earlier this year, United States President Donald Trump unveiled his scheme to create a sixth branch of the US military: the "space force".
According to Trump's version of the story, the idea had unfolded as follows: "I was saying it the other day cos we're doing a tremendous amount of work in space. I said maybe we need a new force; we'll call it the space force. And I was not really serious, and then I said what a great idea, maybe we'll have do do that."
Of course, such flashes of creative brilliance are to be expected from the man who self-identifies as "a very stable genius".
It seems, however, that the whole space force notion may not have materialised in as spontaneous a fashion as Trump has implied. As CNN pointed out, the idea for a "space corps" as a distinct military branch surfaced last year but was ultimately "nixed from the final version of the $700 billion bipartisan defence policy bill".
Rewind a bit further in time, and we find that a similar suggestion was also put forth in 2001 by a commission headed by soon-to-be US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
And as NPR recalls: "The concept of a space force goes back to the Cold War".
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Edward Said’s celebrated text Orientalism, in which he explored various interconnected meanings of the term in question, such as "Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient".
In the preface to the 25th anniversary edition of the book, published shortly before Said's death in 2003, he took the opportunity to provide some critical updates to the Orientalist scene on account of that ongoing post-9/11 exercise in Western domination known as the War on Terror, which was to thank for, inter alia, "the illegal and unsanctioned imperial invasion and occupation of Iraq by Britain and the United States" in March of that year.
Naturally, Orientalist strategies of reductionism and demonisation had proved a boon to the war effort, with "mobilisations of fear, hatred, disgust, and resurgent self-pride and arrogance" pitting the "West" against the Arab/Muslim "Other".
Said noted the proliferation in US bookstores of "shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, Islam exposed, the Arab threat, and the Muslim menace", not to mention the "omnipresent CNNs and Fox News channels of this world" as well as other media outlets regurgitating the same fabricated generalisations "so as to stir up 'America' against the foreign devil".
Indeed, one need not look very hard to discern a symbiotic relationship - between the US establishment on the one hand and peddlers of sensationalist drivel on the other - that furthers the bellicose aims of empire while also generating handsome profits for individual "terror experts" and the like.
In the meantime, America's own frequently diabolical behaviour - including the slaughter of countless Arab and Muslim civilians - is conveniently relegated to the realm of non-issues, or else is magically converted into Just One of Those Things That Happen When You’re Spreading Freedom and Democracy. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
Everyone has heard the saying: "It's like shooting fish in a barrel."
These days, it seems the expression was perhaps expressly designed to describe events in the Gaza Strip, where on 14 May the Israeli army slaughtered no fewer than 60 Palestinians, among them paramedics, disabled persons, and a baby. The occasion: Palestinian protests against 70 years of vast injustice and a continuing panorama of brutal Israeli oppression and blockade, topped off by the recent inauguration of Donald Trump's US embassy in Jerusalem.
Israel has, of course, assigned blame to the Palestinians themselves - as no good assault on Gaza is complete without an attendant assault on logic. According to the official Twitter account of the Israeli military spokesperson, the episode unfolded as follows: "Throughout the day, the Hamas terror organisation led massive and violent attacks, which IDF troops operated to thwart."
Never mind that there's no detectable violence in the photograph accompanying the tweet, which instead appears to depict young and old Palestinians standing and walking in the charming prison-esque landscape to which Israel has reduced the Gaza Strip.
Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous, reporting from the Gaza protests for Democracy Now, surveyed the terrible weaponry at the disposal of the Palestinians, including rocks, kites, balloons, and some Molotov cocktails - none of which, he specified, could reach the Israeli soldiers, "who are sitting behind these ramparts and picking people off with sniper rifles".
In addition to "high-velocity sniper bullet", Abdel Kouddous noted that doctors in Gaza had reported Israel's use of fragmentation bullets, as well, and had "seen injuries with fist-sized holes in the exit wounds". New and exciting tear gas-dispersing drones were also on the scene in the besieged Palestinian coastal enclave, which has previously played host to Israeli white phosphorus munitions, missiles and numerous other projectiles.
Facts on the ground notwithstanding, Western mainstream media has long had a knack for converting the fish-in-a-barrel scenario into a drastically different one. Think headlines along the lines of: "Fish in barrel clash with shooter", or "Fish die in barrel as shooter retaliates against aggression".
Or "Fish drawn to surface of water, and into centre of earthly turmoil" - a possible equivalent of the New York Times' take on Israel's deadly air strike on four boys playing football in 2014: "Boys drawn to Gaza beach, and into centre of Mideast strife". READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
"I am the Anne Frank who lived to tell about it, and I'm trying to warn the world."
These rather intense words were spoken not by a survivor of the Holocaust but by Brigitte Gabriel, a well-known Lebanese-American Islamophobe and self-styled "national security expert" who in 2017 discussed her "childhood under brutal terrorism" with US talk-show host Dave Rubin.
But while Gabriel's tale of personal victimisation by "Islamic terror" may be an easy sell in a post-9/11 era of intensified bigotry - particularly given apparent Trumpian efforts to Make Fascism Great Again - her version of history isn't exactly reconcilable with reality.
As Gabriel tells it, she was born in the "once peaceful, idyllic Christian town" of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon - a country whose capital, Beirut, was "commonly called the Paris of the Middle East". A lengthy Buzzfeed report by journalist David Noriega points out that Gabriel was in fact born Hanan Qahwaji, but perhaps this name was too Middle East and not enough Paris. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
Journalist and former teleSUR English director Pablo Vivanco remarked to me in an email that, while the violence was no doubt "deplorable", it is difficult to view the events in Nicaragua outside a current context in which "left-leaning governments in Latin America have faced increasingly violent opposition coupled with mounting hostility from Washington".
And while the proposed social security reforms "can certainly be criticised", Vivanco said, "it is also necessary to point out that some of the leading organisations in the protests were actually calling for harsher cuts and privatisations".Predictably, the right-wing crowd in the United States has commenced accelerated salivation at the prospect of the demise of one of the remaining leftish entities in the Americas.
The US media has been helpfully dramatic, with the Wall Street Journal, for example, editorialising that "Ortega Has to Go".
To be sure, Ortega & Co are nasty characters indeed .- but that doesn't mean the US should be involved in their departure. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.
This May, Israelis will celebrate their 70th anniversary of "independence" - a grotesque euphemism for ethnic cleansing and the forcible establishment of the state of Israel on Palestinian land. The process entailed the killing of some 10,000 Palestinians, the expulsion of 750,000 more, and the destruction of 500 or so villages.
April, meanwhile, hosts the 43rd anniversary of another terrible regional episode in which Israel played no minor part. This one goes by the name of the Lebanese civil war, a 15-year affair with complex and multifaceted causes, ranging from egregious socioeconomic injustice and a disproportionate distribution of political power and resources to increasingly self-fulfilling efforts to channel public discontent into sectarian antagonism.
The civil war is generally regarded as having commenced on 13 April 1975 - when right-wing Christian Phalangists massacred 27 Palestinianstravelling by bus through the Beirut suburb of Ein el-Rummaneh - and ultimately eliminated an estimated 150,000 people.
An additional 17,000 were disappeared, their surviving family members condemned to continuous psychological punishment and grief due to the Lebanese state's unwillingness - to this day - to exhume mass graves or otherwise pursue accountability. After all, any such resurrection of the past would have obvious implications for the civil warlords who remain in power.
As in the case in the present Syrian conflict, however, the term "civil war" can almost be seen as a misnomer in the Lebanese context, given the extent of outside involvement. And while there are plenty of players - both foreign and domestic - with a surplus of blood on their hands, it’s useful to reflect on the Israeli role in particular, if for no other reason than to highlight the fact that Israel’s habitual terrorising of the Middle East has done nothing to jeopardise its service as BFF and supposed terror-fighting partner of the global superpower. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
In a recent dispatch for Politico Magazine, Elliott Abrams - neocon extraordinaire, former component of the Ronald Reagan and George W Bush administrations, and current senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC - warns that “Lebanon is boiling” and that “thousands of Americans could get stuck in the middle of a war”.
The gist of the article, co-written by Abrams’ colleague Zachary Shapiro, is that the United States must formulate a comprehensive evacuation plan for its citizens in Lebanon, in preparation for the next seemingly inevitable showdown with Israel.
During the 2006 war, in which Israel killed an estimated 1,200 people in Lebanese territory - the majority of them civilians - the US deigned to evacuate some 15,000 citizens, after initially attempting to bill them for the privilege.
The US undersecretary of state for political affairs defended the attempted billing on the grounds that the government had had to “go out on an emergency basis and rent [evacuation] vessels”.
By contrast, rush-shipping bombs to the Israeli military was apparently neither too much of a hassle nor too much of an expense.
Evacuation will be even trickier in the next war, Abrams and Shapiro argue, as “every indication is that it will be a fiercer conflict than in 2006”. This is presumably true, since Israeli officials have spent the better part of the last 12 years threatening that they will no longer hold back in Lebanon - as if they ever did. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
The theme of this year's World Water Day - marked annually on 22 March - is "Nature for Water", which, as the website of the United Nations Environment Programme informs us, "explores nature-based solutions (NBS) to the water challenges we face in the 21st century."
The challenges are clearly dire; as the UN notes, 2.1 billion people currently "lack access to safely managed drinking water services," while an estimated 1.8 billion "use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination from human faeces."
In theory, of course, nature-based solutions are the obvious answer to problems in nature. The UN advises planting more trees, restoring wetlands, and reconnecting rivers to floodplains.
But while the whole "NBS" campaign will no doubt generate handsome revenues for a UN system that specialises in self-enrichment, no solution to water or related challenges is possible within a global capitalist system that is itself destroying nature.
And even if water is considered a basic human right under international law, there isn't much room for "rights" in a neoliberal milieu of comprehensive commodification and the eradication of any sort of terrestrial harmony in favour of the financial tyranny of an elite minority.READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.