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[Jul. 13th, 2006|11:09 pm]
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anljeducation

[slammerkinbabe]
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[mood |confusedconfused]

Well, having started this community, I am going to start it off by posting its first question. This question can be roughly summarized as:

What is the deal with Lebanon?

I seriously tried to Wikipedia this for like two hours today, and I just. don't. get it. Today, obviously, there were all kinds of bombings and bad things going on between Israel and Lebanon. Lebanon abducted some Israeli soldiers; Israel retaliated with bombings, leaving a whole bunch of people in Lebanon dead. I was completely confused. I was like, "But... Israel is at war with Palestine! Lebanon? WTF Lebanon?"

In Wikipedia-ing, I got a very incomplete picture of what's up. I got that decades back a whole bunch of displaced Palestinians moved out of Israel and into the southern part of Lebanon. I get that those displaced Palestinians weren't big fans of Israel, and that the situation worsened in like 1981, when they attacked Israel across the border one too many times, and Israel sent an army in in response. And then there was some messiness with civilian slaughters and things, and things got worse. But I'm missing so very much information.

I'm missing, first of all, what the deal is between Syria and Lebanon, and how it relates to the situation with Israel. I'm gathering that Syria isn't a big fan of Israel, and I'm also gathering that the Syrian government has had a finger in the pie over in the government of Lebanon for awhile. I am not getting whether this means that the Lebanese government is anti-Israel or not. I know that the original kidnapping that sparked this mess today was by Hezbollah, a political party (not the ruling party if I understand this correctly) in Lebanon that I think was founded by those displaced Palestinians from long ago, and that the US and the EU class it as a terrorist organization, though the UN is apparently still on the fence about that. Hezbollah is obviously anti-Israel, but I'm not clear on where the current Lebanese government stands. And I'd like to know what Syria has to do with it. (I also want to know what the heck is up with last year's assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former PM of Lebanon - Syria is apparently implicated in that, but if Syria and Lebanon are buddy-buddy why are they assassinating its former prime minister? But I don't think that's related, really.)

I just... aaargh. As you can see, my knowledge is very, very limited, and I'm sure I have much of the above-listed information wrong. Can anybody help?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sioneva
2006-07-14 11:05 am (UTC)
There's a lot that I still don't know about Middle Eastern politics, but Syria and Lebanon are NOT buddy-buddy. Syria has been interfering in Lebanese politics for a very long time but at the moment Lebanon is really struggling to get pro-Syrian politicians OUT and pro-Lebanese politicians in.

Also, Lebanon is an interesting country because it doesn't necessarily consider itself part of the whole Arab world, for one thing because it has a pretty large Orthodox Christian population. Rafik Hariri was a very nationalistic politician who wanted to have Lebanon really step out of the shadow of Syrian interference and he had a lot of popular support in Lebanon.
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[User Picture]From: sioneva
2006-07-14 11:07 am (UTC)
Oh, and my pathetic pseudo-knowledge is based on brief conversations with a Lebanese student who works as one of our student assistants. I wish I'd thought to ask him a lot more questions before I went on maternity leave! I'll ask him more about what's going on the next time I visit work if he's there.
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 01:21 pm (UTC)
a-HA. See, the distinctions you miss when you just get this stuff through Wikipedia. The way they kept phrasing it re: Syria's involvement in Lebanese politics, they didn't make it at all clear that it was *interference* - it made it sound as though the two governments were working together, or at any rate that's what I took from it. This makes a lot more sense now.
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[User Picture]From: sioneva
2006-07-14 02:04 pm (UTC)
Nope, it's meddling, pure and simple. That's not to say that there aren't pro-Syrian politicians in the Lebanese government (or at least that there have been in the past) but the vast majority of *Lebanese* are most definitely NOT buddies with Syria! My co-worker has been very clear on that topic ;)

I think the US even told Syria to back off when the Rafik Hariri assassination happened but of course nothing came of it. And, of course, now the Lebanese are terrorists because ONE GROUP set things off.
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[User Picture]From: comeonbringit
2006-07-14 11:08 am (UTC)
On the BBC News website is a Syria and Lebabnon Q&A, which I hope is helpful. There are probably other links on that page that might help you, and try searching on the BBC site, because they have to be impartial about things, so you won't get a bias :)
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[User Picture]From: sioneva
2006-07-14 11:19 am (UTC)
Well, some people would disagree that the BBC is impartial but I still find it the best news source going, so I'd second the recommendation.
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[User Picture]From: comeonbringit
2006-07-14 11:21 am (UTC)
Well, it's supposed to be impartial! I nearly put that in.

I think Ofcom found a few instances where they were showing an obvious bias, but it's in their Charter that they have to be impartial.
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[User Picture]From: sioneva
2006-07-14 02:00 pm (UTC)
I think they do a lot better with impartiality than the vast majority of other news sources but no matter how hard you try, humans spin things - simple decisions on what to include and what not to include introduce bias and there's no way to exclude it. I know that many Israelis feel that it's biased towards the Palestinians - not being Israeli and not being familiar enough with the issue I couldn't say what they do and don't choose to report!

That said, though, I trust them over every American news source except for NPR, although I think the website and World Service are still a million times better than the pap that's currently served up on BBC Breakfast in the morning.
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[User Picture]From: winterbadger
2006-07-14 02:06 pm (UTC)
My biggest problem with the BBC is that the quality of their reporting is very variable. They have some quite excellent reporters with tremendous experience (IMO, Jim Muir is probably one of the best journalists for Mid East affairs). Other times, especially unattributesd articles, the things they write a hashes of a few facts and some very speculative analysis mixed together without much checking to be sure the details are right.

I would second NPR and add the Christian Science Monitor as an excellent, usually unbaised, and very professional news source (obligatory disclosure: redactrice used to be the MidEast editor for the CSM's now-departed international weekly edition).
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[User Picture]From: sioneva
2006-07-14 02:09 pm (UTC)
That's exactly my point, though, about the BBC - certain aspects of their reporting are stellar and others are incredibly bad.

Take, for example, a personal bugbear of mine, the issue of the "obesity epidemic" - the BBC is obsessive about its coverage of new studies that "prove" how dangerous being overweight is...but is remarkably quiet about studies that indicate it's not as harmful as past research may have shown. Omission there is very telling about the bias of the organisation as a whole.

Still, I'd rather read their website and listen to NPR than page through the Daily Telegraph. I've never follwoed the Christian Science Monitor, so won't speak as to its quality.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-07-14 02:13 pm (UTC)
oh, d00d, coverage of the "obesity epidemic" is a trainwreck in like every news source known to the English-speaking world. AAAAaaAaAaaaaAArgh.

This is a separate rant, but it is one that I am quite happy to have with only minimal provocation. ;)
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 02:13 pm (UTC)
Hi! The anonymousie is me. I do not know how to log on before I leave comments.
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[User Picture]From: sioneva
2006-07-14 02:36 pm (UTC)
Same here - both on the anonymous comment front as well as the ranting on the bloody "obesity epidemic". Maybe we need a community like "obesityepidemicisbullshit" to go along with your other journal and the general atmosphere of educating the masses in this community ;)
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 01:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! That's *really* helpful.
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[User Picture]From: bopeepsheep
2006-07-14 11:24 am (UTC)
[Grrr, LJ ate the first draft of this comment. If it turns up later, it's only half-finished so delete it!]

The wider picture is useful when looking at things like this, I often find. Lebanon and Syria 'go way back', as the phrase goes. Lebanon was a Christian country before the 7th century CE, when its neighbours were not. It supported the Crusaders later, making itself the odd one out in the region, and unpopular among the surrounding Islamic countries. In the 19th century, religious-fuelled unrest and massacre led to intervention/rule from France, and as a result after the League of Nations was created post-WWI France got control of Syria and Lebanon, lumped into one territory. Catholic France was horrified at the idea of a Christian and Muslim country being smushed together like that, and tried to separate them, causing upset among those who were looking for a unified Arab state (and those who just thought it was a bit rude of them to behave like that). During WWII as a result of the Vichy government, Lebanon had to be 'conquered' by the British & Free French, finally gaining independence in 1944. They joined the UN and the Arab League, but had a pro-Western ruler who called in US troops to help when rioting broke out in 1958, which increased their unpopularity in the region. Syria left the Arab League in 1961 and the conflict between pro-Westerners and pro-Arabs got stronger as a result.

Lebanon nominally declared war on Israel during the 1968 war but in fact were hosts to Palestinian terrorists during this time, so although they weren't actively fighting Israel, Israel attacked them as a result. All this unrest led to civil war in 1975/6 and Syrian forces invaded at the Lebanese President's request, really upsetting most of the population... it's all gone downhill from there.
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[User Picture]From: dyddgu
2006-07-14 12:19 pm (UTC)
Where "there" presumably is the 1918 withdrawal and Mandate business ;-)
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[User Picture]From: bopeepsheep
2006-07-14 12:39 pm (UTC)
Well, I was simplifying somewhat. :-) It's all been going downhill since 1869 from one perspective, 1919 from another, 1976 from another... repeated interventions/occupations/invasions have a cumulative effect as well as an immediate one, and I know from a neighbour that 1976 was the impetus for quite a lot of people to give up and get out of Lebanon, even before the troubles of the 1980s. As with anything like this, it's hard to spot the one true turning point of a bad relationship that goes back umpteen centuries, as there are so many factors that play in to it.
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[User Picture]From: dyddgu
2006-07-14 12:42 pm (UTC)
*nods* We did some of this stuff for GCSE History coursework. Barely scratched the surface, of course, but it was bloody confusing even simplified that much. I've been reading a book about women followers of the army in the past three centuries, and there have been real moments of deja vu, especially with "unwise invasion of Afghanistan to keep it out of Russian hands, guerrila warfare waged on the redcoats", "ditto silly invasion of Mesopotamia (Iraq)..." It's all read like better-written versions of today's news, I swear.
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[User Picture]From: bopeepsheep
2006-07-14 12:47 pm (UTC)
History is doomed to repeat itself, as they say...

My grandfather grew up in colonial Africa, then lived and worked in North Africa and the Middle East during the end of the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s. The stories he tells sound very familiar today, not even the place names or protagonists change in some.
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 01:36 pm (UTC)
That's really great background to know, thanks.

The more I hear about Middle Eastern politics the more I get creeped out by the way that countries just got divvied up without apparently having much say in the matter after various wars. I guess it's just the way things go, but seriously, sounds like "Lebanon! Who wants Lebanon? France! You take Lebanon. Excellent. Palestine? The Territory Formerly Known As Palestine? Anybody? Going once, going twice - oh, hell, won't anyone - Britain! Excellent."

Not that I know what I am talking about, but this is the impression I get, again, from Wikipedia-ing.
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[User Picture]From: jandyle
2006-07-14 02:07 pm (UTC)
That's...pretty much the history of everywhere, though. The US was divided up between France, Spain, Mexico, Britain, etc. after they swiped it from the Native Americans. It wasn't until the people here got all "tax my tea, will you? I THINK NOT" about everything that we became the conquerors instead of the conquered. Countries do rather like to boss other countries around. Like bullies on the playground.
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 02:19 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I know that's the way it is everywhere, but all the same it creeps me out. :-S
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[User Picture]From: winterbadger
2006-07-14 03:41 pm (UTC)
Well, from the point of view of the great powers at the time, they were dismantling a big state (the Ottoman Empire) and *someone* had to be in charge of each of the bits. They wanted to protect their national interests in those areas, so they arranged for locals who supported them to run things.

Not arguing for the morality of the arrangemnt, just pointing out why it happened.
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[User Picture]From: gigolohitman
2006-07-14 03:00 pm (UTC)

Clarification

It is certainly not the case that Lebanon has abducted Israeli soldiers.

The extent to which the parties that have kidnapped soldiers are supported by their governments depends on who you believe, but the Lebanese government is at least one step removed from having kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

I think it's useful to be accurate about details like this, because they colour the whole situation in a different way.
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 03:02 pm (UTC)

Re: Clarification

What did happen to kick all this off then?
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[User Picture]From: winterbadger
2006-07-14 03:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Clarification

*Hezbollah* (an Islamic group) attacked an Israeli patrol, killed some soldiers and took others prisoner.

Hezbollah is a paramilitary group, a political faction, and it runs a lot of social programs. It has members in the Lebanese government, but its fighters are not official Lebanese army troops.

The Lebanese government would like everyone to keep in mind that it does not control Hezbollah. On the other hand, the government has done nothign really to control Hezbollah. Which is hardly surprising since (a) if it tried to, Hezbollah would probably pull out of the ruling coalition and bring down the government and (b) it's an open question as to who is stronger--Hezbollah or the Lebanese military.
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 04:27 pm (UTC)

Re: Clarification

Oops. I apologize. You're completely right, and what's worse, I knew that and just phrased it lazily. Thank you, and thanks to gigolohitman for pointing it out.
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[User Picture]From: winterbadger
2006-07-14 04:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Clarification

Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to sound snarky. No apology necessary. I reread your OP, and it was only your first bit where the confusion lay; your later bit clealry showed you had the idea.
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 04:59 pm (UTC)

Re: Clarification

That wasn't snarky at all! I did misphrase it, and I should edit that now. I really do appreciate that my misphrasing was pointed out to me.
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[User Picture]From: winterbadger
2006-07-14 03:33 pm (UTC)
Just to fill in from where bopeepsheep left off, in the early 1980s (1982 to be precise), Israel invaded Lebanon in force to try to stop once and for all the continuous sheeling and guerilla attacks from the PLO into northern Israel. Under the guidance of then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, the IDF pushed the Palestinians all the way back to Beruit, encircled the city, and besieged it, turning large parts into rubble. They allied with the Christian milita groups (principally the Phalange, which had originated as a fascist political group in the 1930s); these were mostly family/clan-based political groups with weapons. They operated partly as private armies, partly as political parties, and partly as mafias. Similar Islamic groups, including Hezbollah and the Amal militia, fought agains the IDF and the Christian militias, not specifically in support of the PLO but against the Israeli invaders. Israel and Syria also took the opportunity to blow up each other's military units (mostly Israel blew up Syrian stuff; the Syrians haven't been great soliders since the 12th century). But mostly the Syrians pulled back ot hte east and north, where the Israelis didn't cre to go, and they avoided full-scake war.

Eventually the PLO evacuated most of its forces from Beruit. The IDF stayed behind, and Sharon got distracted playing politics with the Lebanese factions and trying to create a puppet state friendly to Israel (as the Syrians had been trying to create a puppet state friendly to them). The Christian faction leaders tricked him (IMO) into thinking they were much more cohesive and much more powerful than they were, which left Israel pretty exposed when it became clear that the Islamic factions were much more powerful. Whether you believe that Sharon was personally responsible for it or not, a massacre took place in refugee camps in the Beruit area in which Christian militamen killed a large number of Muslim refugees. The IDF began pulling out shortly thereafter, keeping a zone of occupation in southern Lebanon that they eventually turned over to the pro-Israel Christian South Lebanon Army (another factional militia that they armed and supported) with a few Israeli minders.

A multinational peacekeeping force eventually moved in to try to maintain order, protect the refugee populations, and allow the Lebanese government time to reform and assert itself. The Multinational Force got more and more entangled in Lebanese factional fighting, took casualties (especially in the barracks bombing of the US & French contingents), and was eventually withdrawn.

Hezbollah's star rose politically in Lebanon as a result of its opposition to Israel and the MNF. Its fighting and its social programs, plus its patronage by the Syrian government, seem to have made it the predominant Muslim power in Lebanon. When all the other factions eventually were persuaded to disarm, Hezbollah didn't. Hezbollah also receives support (funding, equipment, training) from the Qods Force (the covert action arm) of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the "Red Guards" of the Islamic revolution in Iran.

Wikipedia has good articles on this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1982_Invasion_of_Lebanon
Schiff and Ya'ari's book, listed in the bibliography of that page, is a good one. I seem to recall reading a book by Amos Oz as well, though I don't recall its name right off.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabra_and_Shatila
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multinational_Force_in_Lebanon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hezbollah
http://www.fas.org/irp/world/iran/qods/index.html
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 04:30 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks so much. That really clarifies a lot for me, and helps to cohere a lot of stuff I've read on Wikipedia in my head.
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[User Picture]From: winterbadger
2006-07-14 04:41 pm (UTC)
I did the whole Lebanon War in one class in college (Settler Colonialism) and then again in another just recently in grad school (Middle East Intelligence Issues). The latter gave me an opportunity to read up on the IRGC (I ended up writing a hole paper on them)--bad, bad people thems. They have a line of "national defence militias" back in Iran that are basically used to attack (literally) secular and liberal political groups, protestors, and basically anyone they perceive as "betraying the revolution".
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[User Picture]From: hihankara
2006-07-14 05:25 pm (UTC)
Ok I dont want to read through all these comments, but one thing that I find useful is Slate.com's daily emails called "Today's Papers" where they cull the headlines from major American newspapers and give you a brief synopisis of their various perspectives and slants (the NYT is invaribaly pro-Bush, grr) and provides helpful links to articles for perspective. Its a very basic approach to finding out whats up, but I find it more useful than sitting through the news with yet another story about Britney Spears or how to lose weight, when I really want to hear or read about things that MATTER.

http://www.slate.com/id/2145771/fr/nl/
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[User Picture]From: slammerkinbabe
2006-07-14 05:51 pm (UTC)
What a great feature! I will have to register for that.
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[User Picture]From: idonotlikepeas
2006-07-15 12:54 pm (UTC)
Brad Hicks has some more on this stuff: http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/254384.html
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[User Picture]From: beckyzoole
2006-07-19 07:40 pm (UTC)
I don't have much to add to the background history -- winterbadger did a great job -- but I could add the Israeli perspective.

I watch Israeli TV news on streaming video almost daily, to keep my Hebrew language skills up. The Israeli news media is very independent and not likely to back the government, but I don't know how the channel I've been watching compares to others, that is, whether this particular perspective is conservative, liberal, or neutral vis a vis Israeli politics.

Anyway, what I'm getting from their features and analysis is this:

Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, is the most hated man in Israel. This is because of the Hezbollah shelling of northern Israel for years, made worse now by the rocket attacks on places that used to feel safe: Haifa, Nazareth, Tiberias, Safed, etc. Most Israelis hate him so much, they'd willingly sleep in bomb shelters and see their own homes be blown up, if it meant that Nasrallah would be killed and Hezbollah would be crippled. They can't imagine that sane Lebanese would feel any differently -- in fact, they figure the Lebanese must hate Nasrallah even more, because of the intense warfare he has brought to their country.

Israelis almost unanimously like Lebanon a lot. They see Lebanon as their natural ally in the Middle East. They think that a strong, independent Lebanon is in Israel's best interest. They think that getting the Syrians and Hizbollah out of Lebanon will allow the Christians to regain power, allow Lebanon to be a European foothold in the Middle East, and allow Lebanon to have a happy, prosperous relationship with Israel. They view Lebanon's natural, ideal relationship with Israel as like the one Canada has with the US (northern neighbor, very similar and yet surprisingly foreign, major trading partner, ally even if they do resent it occasionally, etc.)

I think the visceral feeling in Israel is as if you were attacked by swarms of rats that lived in a neighbor's cellar. Your neighbor tells you he can't manage to get rid of the rats. So you go in his cellar with a flame thrower and kill them all. In the process you might burn down your neighbor's house, but you hate rats so much you know you'd be willing to burn your own house down to get rid of the nasty things, so you expect your neighbor will feel much the same. Besides, you'll let your neighbor sleep in your garage while he rebuilds, so that's OK.
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