*This is the time of year in Beirut when we should be relishing the
sweet smell of fresh rain on dusty streets, mixed with the delicious
aromas of fresh ka'ak simsim, za'atar and the season's first
tangerines. Tragically, that does not seem to be the case this week .
. . . . . . .
*Darkness Falls on the Middle East
By ROBERT FISK
November 24/25, 2007
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
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 the 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
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
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
is also a contributor to CounterPunch's collection, The Politics of
Fisk's new book is The Conquest of the Middle East