Monday, July 31, 2006

Lebanon for Dummies

PHOTO: Women at evening prayer before the free weekly Suffi Qawaal concert. Nizamuddin's Tomb and Shrine are
considered sacred by both Muslims and Hindus. New Delhi (Oct 2005). Obviously this photo is not representative of all Muslims!! Use your brain!

Watch John Stewart interview Dr. Alon Ben-Mier (make sure to watch part I and II) for some very accessible information on the current situation in Lebanon, with concise discussions on
  • Shiite vs Sunni Islamic movements
  • Who are Hezbollah vs Hamas
  • understanding Syria vs Lebanon vs the rest of the Middle East
  • situating Israel and the Americans
This is a great backgrounder for those who don't know some of the larger politics of the region.

An excellent. up-to-date report from Lebanon by Robert Frisk
can be found at the Democracy Now website- watch, listen and/or read the transcripts.


R.W. Twain said...

You can read a much more complete (and unbiased) report on Lebanon here: and some biased commentary at

Comments welcome!

globalhammock said...

Thank you r.w. twain, I found both links excellent and urge others who need a more in-depth account (more in-depth than john stewart that is!!) of the construction (and destruction) of the 'middle east' to follow up on your two blogs.

Regarding my biased postings, of course they are biased. I am biased. I come from the school of thought (critical feminist theory) that sees all knowledge as biased. I am politically positioned and from this 'situatedness' present a partial knowledge of Lebanon.

To suggest that a historical account of Lebanon is not biased is inaccurate... who writes history? What facts are kept and which are left out? Your historical account is great, so please don't misread my intentions here, but it is not written by, for or about say poor and/or illiterate rag pickers, mothers or plumbers, it is about states and global politics... hence it is biased. I want to be clear that bias is not a 'bad' (it does not need to be avoided), it needs to be acknowledged. Claims of objectivity are projects of hubris and false rationality. Knowledge is subjective.

globalhammock said...

ps I look forward to reading more on your bog!

R.W. Twain said...

Your comments re the bias inherent in history and the subjectivity of knowledge are appreciated and, in my humble opion, mostly correct. You are correct that narrative history is written with the victors' bias and is typically unconcerned with the perspective of the common citizen or the vanquished foe. However, from my point of view as a lawyer/historian, some knowledge is objective-- to use my history of Lebanon as an example, it is indisputable that Alexander the Great conquered the region and that the Caliphate and Ottoman Empire later occupied the region. Thus, my claim that the history I have written is "unbiased" results from my effort to detail only those facts that are documented in primary sources (whether the arcaeologal record of Antioch or the scandalous Sykes-Picot Agreement). Admittedly, bias in its simplest form exists in the characterization of those events and the significance given them by different actors in today's geopolitical environment, but the events themselves are objective, historical truths.

In any event, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. There are roughly ten essays published there, ranging from politics to economics to law. I generally publish once every two weeks. Please keep coming back and leaving comments.

Finally, I am enjoying your blog as well. We seem to share an affinity for current events and, particularly, the nascent crisis in Lebanon and debunking the flimsy, politically convenient "truths" espoused by the Bush administration re 9/11, Iraq, etc.

Keep up the good work.

globalhammock said...

I see your point of view and I guess I need to recognize and account for the existence of facts in my discussions on subjectivity. So here goes:

I’m just not sure that it is possible to divorce fact from the discourses that produced and relied upon those things we call facts. I’m not sure it is possible to isolate fact from the very messy social and political positions from which we use them, create them, find them, write about them, talk about them, make them valid or acceptable.

We may count as fact that combinations of methotrexate and misoprostol or mifepristone (RU 486) and misoprostol cause induced abortion, but the ways in which women's bodies have become understood, constructed and regulated create very different meanings of these allopathic medications that can not and are not separable from the pills or facts themselves.

You write, "It is indisputable that Alexander the Great conquered the region and that the Caliphate and Ottoman Empire later occupied the region."

Could this not be rewritten as "Alexander, brutal murderer, or "the accursed Alexander", ravished the hereditary/previously conquered/disputed (?) territories of x,y,z...” and that his colonization of vast areas east of Europe has been glorified by western scholars and may be evidence of early Orientalist constructions of “the middle east’ and/or other (re)constructed places.

I must confess I know very little of the long time history of this region. But, to me the word 'conquered' is loaded with meanings that may glorify military might instead of say diplomatic measures and the idea of his ‘greatness’ is based on masculinist notions of strong heros, putting aside the fact that this man encouraged his troops to ‘mate’ with ‘the locals’. Is this another way of saying rape? Again, I don’t really know that much about this person and the histories written about him. I’m not just suggesting discourse analysis here but recognizing the epistemologies that produce these facts.

I just think that these objective, historical truths are actually subjective knowledges and open to reinterpretation and tied to ways of knowing. My point however is not that everything is false because objectivity is unattainable, but that if we recognize our subjectivity, and validate partial knowledges, we might have a better grasp on what we actually do know and why we know it and maybe more importantly, what we don’t know. The uncertainties that exist between my thinking and your thinking about say Alexander the Great, may actually produce or enable new ways of thinking about history, conquerors and so on. Gillian Rose 9(1997) “Situating Knowledges: positionality, reflexivities and other tactics” Progress in Human Geography 21(3): 305-20) has an excellent discussion of these issues.

While you present a fact- that this man called Alexander became ruler of certain lands- the ways in which this fact is presented, creates very different meanings and understandings of him, the lands, not to mention the construction of gender, race, political rule and place. Beyond the positioning of the historian the language s/he uses, the theories of knowledge used to produce and present that piece of fact are always present. I feel that fact and epistemology are inseparable.

hmmm, now that is one long babble. Maybe I'll have to blog on this topic, with a more thorough argument!