Saturday, July 29, 2006

When I really pitied the Lebanese

As I mentioned in my previous post, when Israel begun military operation in Lebanon, most people were quick to express sympathy for the Lebanese. I didn't hurry, because I was angry at them for their complains against Israel and their calls for international intervention to achieve immediate cease-fire. My thoughts were generally as follows:
"Why do you say you have nothing to do with Hezbollah actions, after you have a Hezbollah minister in your government? But even if you hadn't this minister, aren't Hezbollah acting from your territory? Or you don't mind armed thugs on your land, as long as they shoot at someone else? Then, don't turn into crybabies at the moment when somebody begins shooting at you.
Imagine that I live alone. A man comes to live with me, shoots at my neighbour from my window, then kidnaps his sons and hides them in my house. My neighbour invades my house, hits me, smashes my furniture while looking for his sons and the kidnapper. I scream, "Don't touch me! And spare my furniture! I'm innocent! It was a big bad guy who harmed you! And I'm not his girlfriend, he's just raping me! Anybody help me!" Then people could be excused if they think, "You must quite enjoy the raping."
Dear Lebanese, until recently you didn't mind Syrian occupation forces. You don't mind Hezbollah even now, just some of their side-effects. But you are against the Israeli troops. What, any army or militia is welcome to trot on your land except IDF? This is what people call anti-Semitism.
And what is your so-called army doing while the Israelis are fighting Hezbollah? A foreign army is fighting a gang of armed thugs on your land and your army is standing by! Such an army is a joke. Such a country is a joke. Nobody can take it seriously."
Such were my thoughts and I don't think I was wrong, though I admit it's cruel to think this way when hundreds of civilians are dead and hundreds of thousands are fleeing. It was a short post by Big Pharaoh that made me feel real pity for the Lebanese: his friend, a young Lebanese woman who was demonstrating against Syria, has now fled to Syria (http://www.bigpharaoh.com/2006/07/18/she-fled-to-syria-she-fled-to-syria/).
Perhaps because for me possibly the worst thing that can happen to somebody is - to be forced to speak or act against what he really feels and thinks, against what he is. Loss of identity. Death is of course also awful, but we are all mortals, and if somebody has an identity and keeps it until his last moment, even if his life has been relatively short, people usually say that it has been meaningful.

11 comments:

Big O said...

Lebanon is clearly not capable of taking care of itself. An international force is probably the best way to disarm the Hezbolah.

Maya M said...

You are right that a small country like Lebanon cannot hope to defend itself against the regional powers. However, "international force" usually means UN, and everybody knows how good job they do in Lebanon and elsewhere. NATO or US troops are necessary, I think. But in order to have them, Lebanon first has to ask, and here intervenes the famous Arab pride and honour.

Non-Blogging said...

Maya,

I really think you should be able to put Lebanon's problems in the right context. It's too small a country in too bad a location surrounded by two countries with far bigger military might, both of whom have occupied at least parts of it until very recently. Furthermore, Israel claims the occupation was necessary to defend itself and Syria denies it ever occupied Lebanon. Why not just openly agree that they were occupiers?

Coming from Bulgaria, you should understand small countries very often lose in the great game. If I used the same kind of language you use against Lebanese and other Arabs, I think you'd find it insulting. Like claiming that you Bulgarians first were occupied for a long time by the Turks and didn't do anything to fight them. Note that 900 volunteer soldiers from my country helped you in the 1870s to fight the Turks, a conflict which my country shouldn't logically have anything to do with. Then I'd go on by claiming that you messed up your independence and were occupied by Nazi Germans after which you turned into the most loyal Soviet puppet state in Eastern Europe and participatied happily in the invasion of Czechoslavakia in 1968. Finally I'd reach the conclusion that because of this your country and army has been a joke not only once but repeatedly?

Of course the above isn't my opinion but a lecture from the history by dummies class.

I think if I said the above seriously you'd have a reason to get offended and explain to me how it all was possible because my outline of Bulgaria would just have the hard facts, not the contexts which are behind them.

Maybe if we understood Lebanese history better, we could also put the current events and the inabilities of small nations in the context they deserve?

By the way, the UN is exactly as efficient as its members states are. The most important of them are the five permanent members of the Security Council which can veto anything they don't like. Knowing what kind of a bunch they are it's no wonder things get messed up and narrow-minded national(ist) attitudes prevail.

Maya M said...

Non-Blogging, let me first mention that I have special feeling towards your country because of its contribution to Bulgaria's 1878 liberation and because the Finnish, unlike the Russians, never demanded from us in return to do what they want, or any resources, or even plane gratefulness.
I wouldn't be insulted if you meant seriously what you wrote. With 1 exception, it is quite true and is often presented exactly in this way in public discussions. Some Bulgarians (not me) would be insulted to here it from a foreigner, but I don't think they are right.
Bulgaria didn't resist seriously the Turkish 1393-1396 invasion that joined it to the Ottoman empire. It wasn't even united. Indeed, other nations such as Germans and Italians have passed a similar stage of division io numerous small parts but had the luck not to have Ottoman troops at their gates exactly at this time. This doesn't excuse the stupidity, shortsightedness and cowardice of Bulgarian rulers of that time.
Throughout the nearly 5 centuries of Ottoman rule, Bulgarians made only local and inefficient uprisings. I am not sure that withouth the ouside help in 1877-78 Bulgaria would exist today.
We were not occupied by the Nazis (the only point where you are wrong). We were their ally. I am not proud of this fact.
While we could not prevent our inclusion into the Soviet bloc, it is true that we were the most loyal Soviet puppet state in Eastern Europe. As under the Ottomans, there was no serious and nation-scale resistance as in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Poland in 1970 and later. We were under pressure to take part in the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia, but could refuse, as Romania did. Also, most of our soldiers in the occupation corpus were send against their will, but some volunteered, because they were offered admission in any University they wanted without candidate student exam.
Of course all the above has its contexts and excuses, but I think that if you resort to excuses to justify your miserable past, you doom yourself to exactly as miserable future.
However, there seems to be one important point where Bulgaria is significantly better that Lebanon. While we were a Soviet satelite, we never protested when the West regarded us as an enemy. The Lebanese, on the contrary, claim that their government is pro-Western because such an impression is good for tourism and trade, and this same government has 1 or 2 ministers from a terrorist organization created and existing to fight the West. The whole South of the Lebanon is given to this force, and the numerous Lebanese Shi'ites support it. This hypocrisy makes me angry.

Non-Blogging said...

Maya,

Non-Blogging, let me first mention that I have special feeling towards your country because of its contribution to Bulgaria's 1878 liberation and because the Finnish, unlike the Russians, never demanded from us in return to do what they want, or any resources, or even plane gratefulness.

Well, the cynic I am I think it was just because Finland wasn't independent then itself. An autonomous part of the Russian Empire can't demand too many things ;-). Or then the previous generations were just too naive to offer unconditional help.

Of course none of this is my responsibility. Just like today's people can't be responsible for crimes of the earlier generations (German youth shouldn't be blamed for Nazis anymore etc.) I can't be respected for something some people in my country did 130 years ago. I can't even be sure if any of my ancestors even had heard about Bulgaria at that time.

I wouldn't be insulted if you meant seriously what you wrote. With 1 exception, it is quite true and is often presented exactly in this way in public discussions. Some Bulgarians (not me) would be insulted to here it from a foreigner, but I don't think they are right.

But for example, I'd never go to Bulgaria and present this outline to any Bulgarians. Just because it's insulting and distorted and it'd be by a foreigner who just reads the facts and has no idea of the ordeals of a small country (see I have sympathy for small nations).

You could also have the same kind of outline of Finnish history, with facts but without contexts: You were colonialized and civilized by the Swedes for almost 700 years, before that you lived in the forest and couldn't even read or write! Then you happily betrayed the Swedes and succumbed to the Russians for another century! Then you got independent by luck, had a bloody civil war, became German allies and the most loyal Western country to the Soviet Union after World War II! Finally, you're now the most loyal EU member state!

Actually, all the above are at least close to the truth but if anyone outlined Finnish history like that, it'd show me a lack of deeper understanding of the context and comparisons in the same way I parodized Bulgarian history to you.

How history turns out is in my opinion a mixture of events and luck. Like, I like to compare the fate of Finland and the Baltic States in World War II. The Balts lost, unfortunately, and at least partly to unfortunate decisions by their political leaderships. However, I believe the decisions they made at the time seemed logical then. Had they had this crystal ball, they'd decided otherwise. I pity them as I like the Balts a lot.

We were not occupied by the Nazis (the only point where you are wrong). We were their ally.

Sorry, I was really wrong in this. I knew about Bulgaria being a German ally but I thought Germans had finally occupied Bulgaria about to change sides before the Red Army invaded. My fault - probably mixing up with Hungary (but that's not an excuse for factual mistakes).

Summa summarum, history is about luck, unavoidable things and personalities. Just think of Zhivkov, Ceausescu, Tito, Hoxha or Kádár. It's possible even the personality of a longstanding leader has an effect on the way an entire country does for decades. Something like Tito would have been better for Bulgaria but in my opinion you're lucky to have avoided Hoxha or Ceausescu.

By the way, as you can see I'm a complete layman to Bulgarian history but I'd like to see you post more on topics like that in your blog!

Maya M said...

Your comments are very interesting, I would wish to comment extensively your last one also, but I want to write another post, so - just several brief sentences.
You are amazingly familiar with Bulgarian history (a minor factual mistake doesn't count, actually the treaty for disposition of German troops in Bulgaria was signed 4 hours after the troops had crossed the frontier, so technically we HAVE been occupied). I have very little knowledge of Finnish history. I admire the Finnish resistance against the Soviet Goliath during the Winter war. (I've read that the expression "Molotov cocktail" was coined for bottles of flammable liquid used by the Finnish against the Soviet tanks.) So I have no raw stuff to make a "parody" of Finnish history, but I state again that your "parody" of Bulgarian history was quite accurate and shouldn't offend any reasonable Bulgarian.
Because I value sincerety, clarity and information content more that politeness, I agree that I presumably offend Arabs from time to time. I'm afraid that I am reinforcing the conviction that Bulgarians are Arabophobes able to infect Arab children with HIV. But can I spend all my day (or night) over the keyboard to seek more polite ways to phrase the same things? And don't you think that they will be polite enough only when they are so polite that no criticism is evident?
My excuse is that, first, I wouldn't be offended if somebody criticizes my culture and nation in a similar way, and second, that I still keep much quieter tone than I would if it were my culture, leaving the harsher words for "internal" Arab criticism. You can find an example of such criticism at http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=23044 and see for yourself that the author begins well beyond the point where I end!

shlemazl said...

What I can't figure out is how come NB imply that Lebanon, Bulgaria and Finland are small weak countries but Israel is a big strong one?

You make yourself strong or weak - YOU decide as individual and as a nation.

Without a shadow of a doubt Israel has been attacked from Lebanese territory since before it was founded (first attack by murderous bandids took place in 1947).

Israelis don't have a choise. Hezbollah is like cancer, killing healthy cells and Israel is chemotherapy trying to cure it. If Israel destroys Hezbollah it will help Lebanese, spineless as their government is...

Non-Blogging said...

Ah, Shlemazl, read what I wrote at Highlander's. For some time now I'm refraining from commenting things directly related to the Israeli/Palestinian/Lebanese conflict. I can't break that promise this easily now :-).

Maya, of course you have the right to criticize Arab culture and as you rightly point out, the most critical Arabs will always outdo anything you'll write.

Besides, everybody who reads your blog knows you're critical towards your own country and culture as well. The ability to self-reflection gives you an even better "right" to tell your critical opinions on others.

Myself, I'm not offended by outside criticism of Finnish culture or history. Sometimes I'm irritated by some comments I've read in some other blogs but it's because the facts in them have been slightly distorted. This has little to do with the object of criticism - I've been irritated at stupid comments on things I've no part in as well.

In my opinion, nothing in the world should remain above criticism and everybody has the right to criticize if he's able to criticize himself as well. As I guess you remember, that was exactly what irritated me so much during the cartoon conflict: the criticism of the Western freedom of speech and alleged lack of tolerance and respect by individual people and governments which are among the most intolerant, despotic and uncritical of their own deeds in the world.

If you ever want to have Finnish friends, praising the Winter War is the method to winning frienships, as a very central element in the Finnish mythology :-). Unfortunately I can't claim I was ever part of that, having not even ben born or, erm, planned at that time ;-).

Edy said...

Dear Maya,

I was reading your blog with a lot of interest. Given that I am half Lebanese and half Bulgarian ( very proud of both), made it even more interesting. Although I agree with most points mentioned in your discussions I believe that what your looking at in terms of historical facts are only the results of a much deeper and complex struggles. Usually "smaller" countries are used as disposable tools for achieving world dominance by major players. The real struggle in the Middle East region is not between Hezblollah and Israel nor it is about nationalism or Arab pride. It is about major players like the US, China, Iran, EU .... using the ponds on the chess board to try and gain a bigger share of the world. By this comment of mine I am not undermining the great revolutionary movements in history, however freedom is rarely achieved by great revolutions rather it is granted to ponds that have achieved their objective.
I don’t want you to understand that my comments are in defense of the Lebanese Government or any other party it is just a role that the have to play. It is very easy to voice patriotic slogans but unfortunately those are only there to blur and distract peoples attention from what the real issues are.

Thank you

Edy said...

Dear Maya,

I was reading your blog with a lot of interest. Given that I am half Lebanese and half Bulgarian ( very proud of both), made it even more interesting. Although I agree with most points mentioned in your discussions I believe that what your looking at in terms of historical facts are only the results of a much deeper and complex struggles. Usually "smaller" countries are used as disposable tools for achieving world dominance by major players. The real struggle in the Middle East region is not between Hezblollah and Israel nor it is about nationalism or Arab pride. It is about major players like the US, China, Iran, EU .... using the ponds on the chess board to try and gain a bigger share of the world. By this comment of mine I am not undermining the great revolutionary movements in history, however freedom is rarely achieved by great revolutions rather it is granted to ponds that have achieved their objective.
I don’t want you to understand that my comments are in defense of the Lebanese Government or any other party it is just a role that the have to play. It is very easy to voice patriotic slogans but unfortunately those are only there to blur and distract peoples attention from what the real issues are.

Thank you

Edy said...

Dear Maya,

I was reading your blog with a lot of interest. Given that I am half Lebanese and half Bulgarian ( very proud of both), made it even more interesting. Although I agree with most points mentioned in your discussions I believe that what your looking at in terms of historical facts are only the results of a much deeper and complex struggles. Usually "smaller" countries are used as disposable tools for achieving world dominance by major players. The real struggle in the Middle East region is not between Hezblollah and Israel nor it is about nationalism or Arab pride. It is about major players like the US, China, Iran, EU .... using the ponds on the chess board to try and gain a bigger share of the world. By this comment of mine I am not undermining the great revolutionary movements in history, however freedom is rarely achieved by great revolutions rather it is granted to ponds that have achieved their objective.
I don’t want you to understand that my comments are in defense of the Lebanese Government or any other party it is just a role that the have to play. It is very easy to voice patriotic slogans but unfortunately those are only there to blur and distract peoples attention from what the real issues are.

Thank you