June 14/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 5,17-19. Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Free Opinion
French Policy Toward Lebanon Between Bush and Sarkozy-Dar Al-Hayat-June 14/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for June 14/06/07
Beirut blast kills anti-Syria lawmaker,Eido, his son and eight others-AP
Two more soldiers die in fighting at Lebanon camp-ABC News - USA
Sadr: Lebanon's Hezbollah & Mahdi army are 2 sides of the same coin-Ya Libnan
Mofaz: We should've pounded Hezbollah for weeks, not days-Ha'aretz
French President Nicolas Sarkozy will invite Hezbollah-Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Army Reports Progress Along Seafront, Tightening Grip on Fatah al-Islam
Fatah Islam Threatens to Kill Lebanese Politicians-Naharnet
Syria Slams U.N. Over Report of Arms, Militias Crossing into Lebanon-Naharnet
Lebanon Informs U.N. that Pro-Damascus Palestinians are Massing Fighters-Naharnet
U.S. Slams Lebanon for Abusing Asian, East European Women-Naharnet
French Diplomat Suggests Dialogue Among Rival Lebanese Leaders-Naharnet
Syria ready to discuss land for peace-Jerusalem Post
Syria predicts record tourism in 2007-Middle East Times
Militant leader & deputy missing from Lebanon camp-Ya Libnan
Syria rejects allegations on arms smuggling into Lebanon-People's Daily Online
World Vision alarmed at aid worker deaths in Lebanon-Mission Network NEws

French envoy touts progress in bid to ease Lebanese tensions-Daily Star
Security Council repeats support for Siniora's government-Daily Star
Army pushes Fatah al-Islam back, prepares to use heavier artillery-Daily Star
The Security Council speaks on Resolution 1559: full text of presidential statement-Daily Star
Senior Hizbullah official urges all sides to respect
-Daily Star  
UNIFIL: Threats by militants 'will never prevent' mission-Daily Star
Ex-general explains limits on troop actions in North-Daily Star
AUB alumni postpone polls until stability improves-Daily Star
PM promises to keep welfare of civilians in mind-Daily Star
LBCI dismisses LF's 'unfounded, illegal' demands-Daily Star
NGOs stress cluster-munitions ahead of treaty talks-Daily Star
Red Cross insists loss of two workers won't deter work at Nahr al-Bared-Daily Star
Universities tighten up security in wake of recent bombings-Daily Star

Explosion kills lawmaker in Beirut
By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer
BEIRUT, Lebanon - An explosion rocked Beirut's popular sea-front area Wednesday, killing at least 10 people, including a vocal, anti-Syrian lawmaker who was close to slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, security officials said.
The explosion, apparently from a bomb-rigged car, killed Walid Eido, his son and two bodyguards, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. Six others were also killed and at least 11 were wounded, the officials said.
Eido, 65, was an ally of Saad Hariri, the leader of the parliamentary majority and son of Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2005, in a suicide truck bombing in Beirut. Eido is the seventh opponent of Damascus to be killed in two years in this conflict-ridden country.
The explosion occurred less than a mile from the site of blast that killed Rafik Hariri and 22 others.
A car was in flames and black smoke was seen rising from a narrow street off the main waterfront in Manara, which is in the Muslim sector of the capital. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. TV station said the explosion came from a bomb-rigged car, a method that has been used to assassinate opponents of Syria in the past.
Two bodies covered with plastic bags lay in a smoldering car. The explosion shattered apartment windows, knocked down walls and scattered debris on top of parked cars in the area, which is near an amusement park, a military club and popular beaches.The U.N. Security Council has ordered the creation of a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for Hariri's assassination, despite virulent opposition from Syrian-backed groups in Lebanon. Hariri's killing sparked huge protests against Syria, which was widely seen as culpable. Syria denied involvement but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, ending a 29-year presence.
The issue of the tribunal has sharply polarized the country. It is at the core of a deep political crisis between the U.S.-backed government led by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the Syrian-backed opposition led by Hezbollah. The tensions have taken a more sectarian tone in recent months, with 11 people killed in clashes.
In Washington, a spokesman for President Bush's National Security Council said the U.S. "deplores this latest attack in Beirut" that killed Eido and his son.
"We stand with the people of Lebanon and Prime Minister Saniora's government as they battle extremists who are trying to derail Lebanon's march to peace, prosperity and a lasting democracy," Gordon Johndroe said.
Eido, who was known to frequent Manara in the afternoon to play cards with friends, was a vocal opponent of recent Hezbollah-led protests and sit-ins outside Saniora's office aimed at forcing him to step down. He has called the encampment in downtown Beirut an "occupation."Eido also was among the 70 legislators from the pro-Western majority that petitioned the United Nations along with the government to impose the Hariri tribunal.
Six other explosions have hit Beirut and its suburbs in the past three weeks, killing at least two people, as Lebanese troops battle Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp in the northern part of the country.The Lebanese army clashed with Fatah Islam militants in the Nahr el-Bared camp again Wednesday, and confirmed that a soldier had been killed the day before, bringing the number of troops killed since the fighting began to 61. At least 60 Fatah Islam militants and 20 civilians have also died. The New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the military Wednesday for allegedly detaining and physically assaulting some Palestinian men fleeing the fighting at the besieged camp.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said that while the Lebanese troops may question Palestinians leaving Nahr el-Bared about the Fatah Islam militants, "resorting to physical abuse is clearly against Lebanese law and international human rights standards."
Lebanese officials and the military did not immediately comment the allegations. Most of the camp's 31,000 residents have fled since the violence broke out on May 20. But the International Committee of the Red Cross said that between 3,000 and 6,000 civilians remain behind.

Army Reports Progress Along Seafront, Tightening Grip on Fatah al-Islam
Occasional rattle of gunfire echoed Wednesday through Nahr al-Bared as the Lebanese army said it had progressed along the seafront at the northern side of the Palestinian refugee camp, approaching positions where Fatah al-Islam militants are holed up. "There is sporadic fire today, and the army is now cleansing the positions taken over on Tuesday," a military spokesman said. LBCI television said Wednesday that Fatah al-Islam extremists fled towards the southern old sector of Nahr al-Bared, after troops, backed by heavy artillery barrages, hammered overnight the militants barricaded in dense neighborhoods still housing thousands of civilians.
The fighting has claimed more than 128 lives -- 61 soldiers and 50 Fatah al-Islam fighters -- since gunbattles erupted in the camp and the nearby port city of Tripoli May 20. It is difficult to ascertain what is happening inside the besieged camp. Journalists have been kept away, and the media has had to rely on statements from the army and militant leaders, who spoke to reporters by cellular phone from hideouts inside the camp. The daily As Safir said Wednesday that the army has taken a new tack in fighting, with airborne and commando troops adopting "new combating tactics."
It said troops are now in "full control" of all the camps' land and sea fronts following heavy gunbattles late Tuesday. On Tuesday, the state-run National News Agency reported that Fatah al-Islam buried 20 fighters Monday night. It also said the army fired at militant infiltrators, killing nine and seven in two incidents. It did not say when the infiltrations took place, and the report could not be confirmed by Fatah al-Islam, which in the past has reported fewer casualties than the numbers provided by the army. Also Tuesday, the army arrested four Fatah al-Islam fighters.
Lebanese security officials also said a fuel ship attempting to dock near power station south of Nahr al-Bared was forced to leave Tuesday after several mortar rounds were fired toward it from the camp. The ship was not hit. Also Tuesday, the bodies of the two Red Cross volunteers killed Monday were taken to their hometowns in the northern Akkar region. Dozens of villagers showered the caskets during services with rice and flowers, a traditional Arab sign of acute grief.
The volunteer workers were killed Monday when a shell fired from Nahr al-Bared struck near a first aid post on the edge of the camp near an army position. They were the first aid workers killed in this fighting, Lebanon's worst since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
The Red Cross pledged to continue operations, though it was not allowed to enter the camp Tuesday. "We're not canceling our operations. ... We continue our work," Virginia de la Guardia of the International Committee of the Red Cross told The Associated Press Tuesday. "We know 100 percent that the Red Cross was not targeted." De la Guardia said two bodies were removed from the camp and 75 civilians, including two who were wounded, were evacuated Monday. Aid workers have evacuated 342 people from the camp since Sunday, many of them children and babies. Most of the camp's estimated 30,000 residents have fled to a nearby camp, though De la Guardia believed between 3,000 and 6,000 remained inside Nahr al-Bared.
The army, which on Saturday suffered one of its biggest losses in a push into the camp, appeared to be slowly flushing out militants who have taken up positions in apartment buildings, basements and even manholes. The army announced three more deaths from Monday's fighting but had no casualty report from Tuesday's combat.
A senior military official said that the army was consolidating its positions and "tightening the noose" on the militants. The official urged Fatah al-Islam fighters to turn themselves in. Fatah al-Islam leaders have pledged to fight to death but also have been talking to Islamic clerics about finding a way out. One mediator, Palestinian cleric Mohammed Haj, was lightly wounded by gunfire Monday as he left the camp.
There have been persistent reports that Fatah al-Islam ranks have been swelled by outlaws wanted by authorities and fighters from the pro-Syrian Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. But the Damascus-based group's leader, Ahmed Jibril, adamantly denied the accusations Tuesday and accused Lebanese pro-government political groups of supporting the militants before the fighting erupted. "We did not take part in the fighting or provide military supplies to Fatah al-Islam," he told the Associated Press in Syria.
Pro-government groups have rejected accusations they had supported the militants and instead have accused Syria of orchestrating the rebellion to destabilize Lebanon. Damascus denies the allegations, saying it is fighting such militant groups. The violence at Nahr al-Bared has also threatened to spread to the other 11 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Two other soldiers were killed in clashes last week with militants in another camp, Ein el-Hilweh, in southern Lebanon.
A Syrian-based al-Qaida-inspired group on Tuesday also warned it would carry out attacks, "kidnapping, shooting and chopping of heads" of Lebanese in Syria if the Lebanese army doesn't stop bombarding Fatah al-Islam. The group, known as "Tawhid and Jihad in Syria," pledged support for Fatah al-Islam, according to a statement posted on a Web site commonly used by militants.(Naharnet-AP) Beirut, 13 Jun 07, 07:56

Fatah Islam Threatens to Kill Lebanese Politicians
Fatah al-Islam leader threatened to kill Lebanese politicians, including Premier Fouad Saniora, if the army staged a final showdown on its militants in the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. "Leading political figures on Lebanese territory would be targeted by explosive charges and booby-trapped motorcycles if we were confronted by the (Lebanese) government," said Abu Masaab in a telephone interview with the Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat from his Nahr al-Bared hideout.
Topping the "Assassination List" were Saniora and Druze leader Walid Jumblat, said Abu Masaab, identified by the newspaper as a 30-year-old Palestinian from Fatah al-Islam's second row leadership. He said Shahine Shahine, a Saudi, took over the leadership of Fatah al-Islam after the "disappearance" of its leader Shaker Abssi and his deputy commander Abu Hureira. Abu Masaab said Shahine, Fatah al-Islam's military commander and official spokesman, who is flanked by four aides, pledged allegiance to al-Qaida. He said he was charged with recruiting via the Internet the largest possible number of young men from various Arab and Islam states to join Fatah al-Islam. He said among those countries were Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Algiers, Morocco and Syria. Beirut, 13 Jun 07, 09:53

U.S. Slams Lebanon for Abusing Asian, East European Women
The U.S. State Department has said that Lebanon is a destination country for trafficking in persons and criticized the government for not complying with minimum standards for the elimination of such acts. "Lebanon is a destination country for the trafficking of Asians and Africans for the purpose of domestic servitude and for Eastern European and Syrian women trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation," the Department said Tuesday in its 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report. It also said that children are trafficked within Lebanon for sexual exploitation and forced labor and that Asian women are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude. "Many (of the Asian women) suffer physical and sexual abuse, non-payment of wages, threats, and withholding of passports," the report said.
"Eastern European and Syrian women come to Lebanon on "artiste" visas, but some become victims of forced prostitution," it added.
"The Government of Lebanon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so," the Department said. It said Premier Fouad Saniora's government set up on January 2006 an inter-ministerial committee to address the rights of migrant workers.
"Nonetheless, Lebanon continues to lack a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, and its record of criminal prosecutions of abusive employers and sex traffickers remained inadequate," it said. The Department also said that Lebanon made little progress in the prevention of trafficking in persons. However, it said, the Lebanese government continues to distribute brochures highlighting workers' rights and remedies in partnership with a local non-governmental organization.
The State Department's annual report has analyzed efforts in about 164 countries to combat trafficking for forced labor, prostitution, military service and other purposes. Launching the 236-page report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cited "disturbing evidence" that prosecution of human trafficking cases had leveled off across the globe. In countries with major human trafficking problems, "only a couple" of traffickers were brought to justice," she said. "This cannot and must not be tolerated." U.S. government research shows 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, about 80 percent of them women and girls and up to half minors, the State Department said.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 13 Jun 07, 11:10

Syria Slams U.N. Over Report of Arms, Militias Crossing into Lebanon
Syria's Foreign Ministry dismissed accusations by a U.N. envoy who expressed alarm to the Security Council over reports by the Lebanese army and observers that both arms and militiamen were crossing the border from Syria into Lebanon. Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, quoting an unnamed Foreign Ministry official, called a report by U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen "misleading" and "rumors released for political purposes." The U.N. Security Council has reiterated its "deep concern" about what it said was mounting evidence that arms were being smuggled across the border from Syria. The council adopted a non-binding statement after Roed-Larsen, the U.N. envoy for Lebanon-Syria issues, briefed it on the 2004 resolution that called for disarming all militias in the country and extending Lebanese authority throughout the southern region. The resolution is linked to another adopted at the end of last summer's 34-day Israel-Hizbullah war that banned arms smuggling. In his report, Roed-Larsen said "the picture that emerges from the Lebanese army report ... is that there is a steady flow of a variety of weapons, other provisions and armed elements, across the border from Syria."
But Syria's Foreign Ministry accused Roed-Larsen's report of trying to "harm Syrian-Lebanese relations and augment hostilities between the two sisterly countries," SANA reported, quoting the official. The Security Council adopted the statement on the day a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri went into effect. The issue of the tribunal has sharply polarized Lebanon. It is at the core of a deep political crisis between Premier Fouad Saniora's government and the opposition led by Hizbullah. At the same time, the Lebanese army is confronting Fatah al-Islam militants in the north that some pro-Lebanese government supporters have accused Syria of supporting to destabilize Lebanon.
The Foreign Ministry official denied any links between Syria and Fatah al-Islam militants battling the Lebanese army.(AP-Naharnet)) (AP photo shows a U.N. team walking outside a border compound after meeting with customs and immigration officials at the Masnaa border crossing in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley earlier this month.) Beirut, 13 Jun 07, 07:22

French Diplomat Suggests Dialogue Among Rival Lebanese Leaders
French envoy Jean-Claude Cousserain discussed with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora an offer to host a meeting of rival Lebanese leaders in Paris in a bid to end the ongoing political impasse. Cousserain, a Middle East expert, said after meeting Saniora that France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will head the talks that are scheduled in Paris later this month. He did not give a specific date. He said that he briefed Saniora about the French proposal.
Lebanon is facing its most serious political crisis between the Saniora government and the Syrian-backed opposition since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
Rival Lebanese politicians have not met since a national dialogue conference ended last year without agreement. Cousserain has met leaders of pro- and anti-government political factions over the past two days. "The initiative is clear, simple and friendly and is based on our conviction that our Lebanese friends have to meet and talk," the French envoy said. "The aim is to bring Lebanese politicians to talk to each other about their problems."
Since Nicolas Sarkozy replaced Jacques Chirac as France's leader last month, Paris has taken a more conciliatory line toward the Lebanese opposition. Chirac, a longtime friend of the slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has sided with the pro-government majority. Anti-Syrian parties, who do not support neighboring Damascus' involvement in Lebanese affairs, won a majority in the 128-member legislature in the 2005 parliamentary elections and have rejected the opposition's demands for early elections and calls for a national unity government. The next elections are due in 2009. The opposition that is led by Hizbullah has been campaigning with street protests and sit-ins since Dec. 1 in downtown Beirut -- just outside Saniora's office -- to try to force him to resign or share power in a Cabinet of national unity that would give the opposition veto power. Saniora has refused to resign but recently hinted he might be ready to expand his government of which six pro-Syrian ministers resigned in November. The French move comes after the U.N. Security Council's approval of the international tribunal to prosecute suspects in Hariri's killing, a major stumbling block to any reconciliation between the two camps.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 13 Jun 07, 07:20

Lebanon Informs U.N. that Pro-Damascus Palestinians are Massing Fighters
Lebanon has informed the United Nations that pro-Damascus Palestinian militants are massing fighters near the border with Syria, an official said Tuesday, as the U.N. voiced fears of rising strife in the divided country. "The government sent reports to the United Nations noting the observation last week of concentrations (of armed men) from Fatah-Intifada and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command," the source said. The fighters were seen in two areas, Qussaya and Halwa, in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley close to the Syrian border, the source said.
The Western-backed government says Syria is seeking to destabilize its smaller neighbor, from which it was forced to withdraw troops in 2005, by allowing arms and militants to cross its border. The warning about the two Damascus-based militant factions came as the Lebanese army besieged terrorists of Fatah al-Islam at a northern refugee camp for a fourth week. The U.N. Security Council on Monday voiced deep concern at reports of arms smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border, amid fears of escalating strife in a country battling deep sectarian and political divisions. U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said that PFLP-GC and Fatah-Intifada appeared to be growing stronger with higher quality arms thanks to "a steady flow of weapons and armed elements across the border from Syria."
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon recently sent an independent mission to fully assess monitoring of the Syria-Lebanon border and a report is expected at the end of the month.
The U.N. Security Council resolution that brought an end to last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah called on the government to secure its borders to prevent the entry of illegal weapons. It also called on the 12,700-strong U.N. peacekeeping force patrolling the Israeli border in the south to assist the government in achieving that objective, if requested.
The Beirut government has requested technical assistance to control its borders with Syria.Syria has objected strongly to any suggestion that foreign troops be deployed along the Lebanese side of its borders and threatened to shut the crossings.Syrian President Bashar Assad has said such a deployment would be considered a hostile act.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 12 Jun 07, 17:07

You thought you knew Satan? Here is what the “experts” say about him.
SHIITE Deputy Secretary-General of Hizbullah Sheikh Naim Qassem: America Is the Great Satan (June 4, 2007)
Naim Qassem: Imam [Khomeini] taught us to reject injustice, and to never accept the barbaric America , which is trying to take over the world. Many people have come up with terms to describe America . But let me be frank with you, I haven't found any term more beautiful, lofty, and noble than the term "the Great Satan" to describe America . America is indeed a great satan in this world in our times, and it will join Satan on Judgment Day.

SUNNI Lebanese Mufti Sheik Mustafa Ghader: Fatah Al-Islam supports Satan! Israel More Merciful Than Syria. (June 5, 2007)
Mustafa Ghader: With regard to the so-called "Fath Al-Islam," we call it "the gang of terrorism." This gang must be eradicated from our land, because it was sent by the so-called brother [ Syria ] – but it is no brother, and even Israel is more merciful than it. I say this without reservation, because I'm familiar with Israel , and it never did what Syria has done in this country. This virus calls itself "Fath Al-Islam," but Islam has nothing to do with it, because Islam is the religion of tolerance and brotherhood, a religion of love and justice, and not a religion of terrorism. We call upon the courageous army – and we ask Allah to protect it – not to be held back by mercy and compassion. Even if they enter mosques, destroy these mosques over their heads, because they deserve it. […] Adhere to the book of your God, because victory is to those who support Allah, and not those who support Satan."

PROTESTANT Minister Jerry Falwell: Satan Behind Global Warming and Homosexuality. Separation of Church and State invented by Satan.
According to the late Jerry Falwell, Satan is to blame for Global Warming — apparently the Prince of Darkness is determined to turn evangelicals into environmentalists. According to the Associated Press, Falwell told his congregation that global warming is “Satan’s attempt to redirect the church’s primary focus from evangelism to environmentalism.” Elsewhere, Falwell declared that homosexuality is Satan's diabolical attack upon the family that will not only have a corrupting influence upon our next generation, but it will also bring down the wrath of God upon America . Finally, Falwell also said that the idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.

CATHOLIC Pope says Satan no match for God.
“Satan is still at work in the world unleashing ‘evil energy’, but God will be the final arbiter of history,” Pope Benedict XVI said at his General Audience Wednesday at the Vatican . (May 11, 2005). Speaking at the third general audience since his election last month, the pope also said that nations and leaders had to look for God's hand in history in the past and learn from it.

"History, in fact, is not in the hands of dark forces, left to chance or just human choices," he told thousands of people in St. Peter's Square.
"Above the unleashing of evil energy, above the vehement interruptions of Satan, above the so many scourges of evil, rises the Lord, supreme arbiter of history," the pope said in an address reflecting on the Book of Revelation in the Bible. He urged Catholics to look for and recognize what he called "hidden divine interventions in history". 

The Arab defeat
The Arab world is in a protracted and deepening decline that is less to do with the regimes that govern it than with its society and culture, says Hazem Saghieh.
From openDemocracy.
By Hazem Saghieh for openDemocracy (12/06/07)
Better that we, Arabs and Muslims, should surrender than continue as we are.
Japan 's experience in the aftermath of the World War II offers an example of unusual courage. In the first place, the country had two atomic bombs dropped on it, and then General MacArthur imposed a new constitution which shook Japan 's traditional way of life to its very foundations. The reaction of Japanese society was to concede defeat unequivocally, recognizing that as the losers they must pay the price for their loss. But the Japanese elite went one step further, arguing that Japan should actually "embrace defeat," reconciling itself to its loss and learning from the occupying power that had vanquished it. For it had to be possible to learn from the causes of America 's strength, without necessarily accepting the justice of its cause. And the loser in a conflict as complex and protracted as World War II surely had much to learn.
The lessons the Japanese took from their defeat enabled them to become a global economic power. How different are the conclusions the Arabs have drawn from their own losses. Not one of four Arab-Israeli wars - of 1948, 1967, 1973 or 1982 - was sufficient to convince the Arabs that they had been defeated; nor was even the course of events which led ultimately to the destruction of Iraq, to the jeopardy in which Lebanon finds itself, to the growing tide of fanaticism, to the bland acceptance of bloodshed, to the curtailment of women's freedoms and to widespread economic, academic and institutional decline. None of this has been enough to force an admission of defeat from us or a change in our intellectual mood.
We find ourselves in this bitter predicament largely because we keep trying to overstretch a period that is over. Some people deny this, maintaining that the Arabs have indeed admitted defeat and surrendered. They point to the conciliatory approach to Israel adopted by Yasser Arafat and his successor as president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, despite the lack of positive responses from Israel . The same people argue that the majority of Iraqis welcomed the American invasion of 2003, implying a willingness to engage with the west, and the United States in particular. There is certainly an element of truth to this. Few United States and Israeli policies have been of the kind to encourage a conciliatory attitude on the Arabs' part, and many of their strategies have on the contrary been so coarse, so grasping or simply so stupid that they have served only to harden already negative and inflexible attitudes among the Arabs.
The limit of politics
But there is an overall problem with such narrow political arguments - they risk obscuring the heart of the matter, namely Arab culture and society themselves. The current situation in the Arab world, or at least in the Middle East proper (the Mashreq), is the result of a cultural crisis which we will underestimate if we examine it only from a political standpoint. It is no coincidence, for example, that Arab intellectuals in their broadest terms still reject any normalization of relations with "the Zionist enemy." Nor is it insignificant that the fundamentalist movements are getting stronger and stronger. Take Egypt , which despite having signed the Camp David accords with Israel in 1978, has not budged one inch from its so-called "cold peace" with its neighbor. Or Lebanon , which clings to the rhetoric of "resistance" to Israel , despite the fact that Israeli troops withdrew to the international borders seven years ago. As for Syria, it remains highly doubtful whether it really wants to give up its quasi-imperialist role in the region and recover the Golan Heights , or maintain its current stance and thus ensure the opposite outcome.
This willingness of both the general populace and the intelligentsia to tolerate despotic regimes merely because they claim to stand up to "imperialism and Zionism" is extremely indicative. People, all over the region, are more than ready to excuse blatantly backward and fanatical movements on the flimsy basis that they are the product of "the resistance." Or they refuse to criticize foreign interference in the Arab world - such as Iranian meddling - when they know full well that there is nothing to be gained from such "anti-imperialist" meddling economically or in any other way, and that it can only lead to violent and costly repercussions.
In addition, there is the Arabs' penchant for claiming "victory" when in reality the reverse is invariably the case. This chronic need for triumph was seen most recently in the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah in July-August 2006, which the latter claimed as a "divine victory" despite the devastation wreaked on Lebanon . It is an eloquent indication of the prevalent attitude in the Arab world which regards war as the only currency that could be squandered in the market of populist politics.
The argument that most Iraqis supported the invasion of their country, while more subtle than the rhetoric associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict, is similarly narrow in its political outlook. For while the majority of Iraqis may have supported the war (a war unworthy of support), the majority of Arabs did not (albeit for the wrong reasons). Moreover, as it subsequently became clear, Iraqis' backing for the war was intimately bound up with their thirst for revenge: what they wanted from the United States was to depose Saddam and eradicate the Ba'ath party, and nothing more. Washington 's talk of moulding a new Iraq met with swift and radical opposition that left no room to examine the real intentions of the Americans. In a wider regional context of disintegration and the resurgence of petty chauvinisms, Iraqi nationalism post-Saddam soon splintered into the assertion of contradictory ethnic and sectarian allegiances, all hostile to modernization and the west.
The evasion of blame
The monuments of US-Israeli brutality stretch from Abu Ghraib prison to Guantánamo Bay , via the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin in the West Bank (levelled by Israeli bombs and bulldozers) and Qana in southern Lebanon (where scores of Lebanese civilians seeking shelter were killed by Israeli missiles). Once again, this cruelty only strengthens the argument of those who wish to prolong the conflict and legitimizes those who seek to rule by dictatorship and protect the interests of their military establishments.
We must stop denying our defeat: the sooner all sections of Arab societies face up to the truth, the sooner we will bring a halt to our agony and humiliation. The rising chorus of those who claim that our predicament is the product of American and Israeli policies is itself another incentive to admit our defeat openly, and the sooner the better. Things cannot go on as they are. True, we cannot transform our situation into a bed of roses overnight, exactly because we are defeated, but at least we can halt the deterioration and open the way to a more modest, more realistic starting-point for honest reflection and self-examination.
The first thing we must do to find a way out of our protracted and deepening decline is to face up to it. And this is something that the democratic agenda cannot bring about. Democracy implicitly means that Arab societies should be given a bonus in the form of freeing them from the burden of dictatorships, but the fundamental question facing the region has to do with the dominant aspects of Arab societies and cultures, and only secondarily with the regimes that govern them.