A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘rumors’ Category

Waving the flag

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 30, 2009

This week has been one inordinately rich in flag imagery. On Wednesday, B kindly pointed me to this article from Now Lebanon, about a new “Arab Islamic Resistance Party” founded as a Shia alternative to Hizbullah. The party, which seems to have come out of nowhere, burst on to the scene last week with the claim that it has over 3,000 armed fighters, and that it might – it suggests coyly – have had something to do with the rockets fired into Israel during its bloody Gaza invasion.

Despite the press coverage, AIR-P (my suggested acronym) is having trouble getting itself taken seriously. Even Now Lebanon, which slavishly supports any non-Hizbullah Shia group, titled the article “Party of Odd”. As for Hizbullah (which translates to “Party of God”), its spokespeople have had nothing to say. As the article states:

Despite the Arab Islamic Resistance’s open and vocal opposition to Hezbollah, the Party of God has remained silent. They have not threatened Husseini as they are accused of doing to other anti-Hezbollah Shia politicians and religious figures. A Hezbollah press spokeswoman told NOW the party had no comment on Husseini or his new Resistance.

I don’t think AIR-P requires threats. In this case, I imagine that silence equals pity. The chattering class of Lebanese political commentators seem to have had much the same reaction:

Resistance watchers – analysts, authors and journalists – contacted by NOW said they’d never heard of Husseini and found it strange it took a television interview to bring a 3,000-strong actively-training force to come to light. Wouldn’t someone have noticed them earlier, was the resounding refrain.

As the author finally concludes:

it was quite a challenge finding people who knew much about Husseini.

“I doubt his wife supports him,” one religious leader said, after making yet another phone call on the ancient Panasonic fax machine at his side to a colleague in search of information on Husseini. In fact, interview after interview ended with the same conclusion: This is mostly talk.

The only person who seems to take AIR-P seriously sounds like a total oddball:

One person contacted for this article, Sam Bazzi, a Lebanese living in America who runs a website that monitors terrorist activities, claimed Husseini’s money comes from Iran and that he is, in fact, an undercover Hezbollah agent.

Right.

As far as B and I are concerned, the best part about AIR-P is its flag:

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Where to begin?

First, the new resistance is partly armed with a pencil. As a writer, I am a strong believer in the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword. But a pencil? In the age of computers, this seems seriously retrograde. Also, this pencil has no eraser. Is AIR-P infallible?

And – not to quibble – the pencil and the gun are the same size. AIR-P is either planning to resist with one giant pencil or one very small gun.

Ah, the gun. I’m not an expert, but that looks much more like a M16 (American assault rifle) than an AK-47 (Kalashnikov). What self-respecting resistance uses U.S.-made weapons?

Next, the lettering. This script to me looks like the Arabic equivalent of bubble letters. I don’t find anything fierce, strong, upright, or resistant about those rounded qaffs and taa marboutas – they look like they belong on a twelve year-old girl’s school notebook.

Finallt, the rose dripping blood. Leaving aside the fact that the rose should also be red (historically, a yellow rose means happiness and/or friendship), the red of the blood means that this flag is a three-color print job – which is much more costly than a two-color job. As a budding resistance movement facing a tough economic climate, shouldn’t AIR-P focus on demonstrating fiscal prudence?

AIR-P is the most entertaining resistance movement that Lebanon has had in some time – or at least since Wiam Wahhab faded back into the woodwork. I can’t wait for Husseini’s next interview.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, art, Beirut, friends, Lebanon, politics, research, rumors, vanity, words | 2 Comments »

a venti of Zionism, extra hot: Starbucks and Israel

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 17, 2009

I saw that protesters closed one of the Starbucks in Beirut this week, my father said after he and my mother picked me up at the Seattle airport. Did we pass that one when we visited?

They definitely did – I took them on a full tour of Hamra. But we didn’t stop at any Starbucks during their visit to Beirut – the Starbucks franchises in Lebanon used to drive me nuts. First, because of their unapologetically erratic tea supply, and second, because of the lack of milk at the milk station. At Lebanon’s Starbucks, the only way to get milk in your tea or coffee is to ask for it when you order – and then ask for it again when the barista makes your drink, since the message never seems to get passed otherwise. Nor does the order-taker ask you whether you would like milk. Sigh.

But at least Lebanon has Starbucks, so I could order a venti to go whenever I needed a portable shot of caffeine in a jumbo size. Guess what country doesn’t have a Starbucks? Not even one?

Israel.

I understand that Starbucks did partner with a local company to open a few franchises there in the early 2000s, but they failed: not enough customers. Meanwhile, the Arab world is filled with Starbucks outlets.

Maybe Howard Schultz is an ardent Zionist, but it 1) doesn’t seem to have gotten in the way of the company’s business focus and 2) doesn’t seem to have driven Israelis to patronize his shops.

The wide currency of the belief that he donates 5, 10, or 15% of the company’s profits to Israel (in a publicly traded company?) meant that Starbucks issued an official “Rumor Response” on January 5, long before the Beirut dozens decided to gather on Hamra. The response stated:

Rumors that Starbucks Coffee Company and its management support Israel are unequivocally false.

Starbucks is a publicly traded company with stores in 49 countries. Though our thousands of partners (employees) and business associates around the globe have diverse views and share many beliefs about a wide range of topics, our primary focus remains to deliver the best customer experience possible. Starbucks is a non-political organization and does not support political causes. Further, the political preferences of a Starbucks partner at any level have absolutely no bearing on Starbucks company policies.

I’m perfectly willing to protest the fact that Lebanon’s Starbucks miss the boat when it comes to adding milk, because I have proof. I’ve looked into the Schultz/Zionism connection, and while he seems to be an observant (Reform) Jew who has been to Israel, he doesn’t appear to be rabidly Zionist. (If he were, why open so many Starbucks outlets around the Arab world?) Before I boycott the company, I would like to see the paper trail.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, college, economics, Israel, Lebanon, news, rumors | 15 Comments »

Warden weenies: the US Embassy in Damascus on last night’s strike in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 27, 2008

Earlier this morning I noticed a warden message from the US Embassy in Syria sitting in my inbox. I give the embassy kudos for quick response time – unlike the US Embassy in Lebanon, which takes days to respond to US-related Lebanese events. But I can’t stand its “know-nothing” attitude: it treats the strike as an “alleged action” and takes no responsibility for US action. Nor does it cite any of the mainstream media coverage (the New York Times, the BBC, the Washington Post, Reuters, etc.) – only SANA, which makes the “Syrian allegations” sound like just that.

I was taught as a child to take responsibility for my actions. The US Embassy in Syria represents the United States, and it should take responsibility for our actions.

Or at least acknowledge that the US charge d’affaires in Damascus (who stands in for our missing ambassador there) was summoned to appear before the Syrian Foreign Ministry yesterday evening to explain the raid.

Warden Message:  Media Reports Concerning a Military Action at the Syrian/Iraqi Border

The Embassy of the United States of America in Damascus wishes to inform the American community of media reports about a military action at the Syrian/Iraqi border near the town of al-Boukamal.  According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the alleged action occurred on October 26, 2008 at 4:45 p.m. and there were several persons killed or injured in this action.  SANA has reported Syrian allegations this action was carried out by the U.S. armed forces.

Also according to SANA, the Syrian government has condemned the action as an aggressive act and holds the United States responsible for this military action and its repercussions.

In light of these reports, the U.S. Embassy wishes to remind the American community to review their personal security practices, such as avoiding areas in which demonstrations take place and to not draw undue attention to themselves.  The U.S. Embassy in Damascus remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and their interests overseas.

The American community in Syria should be aware that unforeseen events or circumstances may occur that could cause the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to close to the public for an unspecified period of time.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Iraq, politics, rumors, Syria, words | Leave a Comment »

Send in the clowns

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 6, 2008

No parade would be complete with clowns, and the Fourth of July parade we attended had several:

But these aren’t professional clowns – they’re volunteers. And they have a very interesting tie to the Middle East. Here’s where these clowns hail from:

That’s right: these clowns are all Halabi – they hail from Aleppo. They are all Shriners – an American offshoot of Freemasonry.

I know, I know: some of you are puffing yourselves up right now, getting ready to launch a long comment about how the Freemasons are a global conspiracy to take over the world. Or about how the Freemasons already have taken over the world. And, oh, by the way, they’re all secretly Jewish.

Maybe. I’ve looked into the conspiracy theories without finding any hard evidence, but since its nearly impossible to disprove to believers’ satisfaction, we may simply have to agree to disagree.

And in any case, in between their efforts to establish and/or sustain world domination, America’s Shriners put a great deal of time and effort into their Hospitals for Children, which provide no-cost care for children with burns, spinal issues and other serious medical conditions. Local chapters hold fundraisers for the Hospitals, and they also organize many patient events – hence the clowning.

If you look closely at Shriner clowns, you will notice that most have wrinkled faces. That’s because in order to be a Shriner, a man must first be a fairly advanced Freemason – a Master Mason (its just a title – don’t call these men if you need a new stone fence laid). So most Masons don’t become Shriners until they are, er, enjoying the fruits of maturity.

The Shriners incorporate a surprising amount of Arabic into their organization, starting with their official greeting: salam w `aleikum. The gathering of local chapters is called a divan (well, that’s Ottoman Turkish, but when the Shriners were founded in the 1870s, the lines between Ottoman and Arab were more blurred).

The local chapters themselves are named after Arabic men’s names, like the Abu Bakr chapter of Sioux City. Some of them are a bit more stereotypical, like the Aladdin Shriners chapter, and some are just odd, like the Mocha Shriners chapter of London, Ontario. And some are just laugh-out-loud funny, like the Wahabi Shriners of Jackson, Mississippi. Try to imagine how the average Saudi cleric would feel about a chapter named Wahabi 🙂 .

(I had great fun looking at the Shriner chapter names, although I noticed that there is no “Beirut” chapter, and not even a “Lebanon” chapter. You can have fun, too: here’s the listing.)

The Shriner clowns were a big hit at Friday’s parade – and for me, a nice link between the parts of the world I love.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Iowa, rumors, Syria, words | 6 Comments »

lingering mysteries

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 21, 2008

This is my last night in Lebanon – tomorrow I fly back to New York, leaving poor H to deal with all the unfinished bits I’ve stuck him with, like Aramex’ing the stuff that just wouldn’t fit into my luggage. I thought I live low on the earthly possessions food chain, but 90 minutes of solid packing and “oops, forgot THIS thing too!” had H raising his eyebrows.

“Don’t worry babe – this will only take twenty minutes”, he said, smiling, as we pulled away from my building to head up to his parents’ house. Grrr. I hate being quoted when the quote demonstrates how manifestly wrong I’ve been.

Luckily for me, I had packed my little camera (I have two: a tourist pocket camera and the big “I am a super-geek” film-style one) in my handbag. As we drove, I realized that I was about to have one last chance to photograph a sight that has always made me curious: the Dbayeh-Tripoli/Antelias highway signs.

Here they are from afar:

And here is a closer view:

What. On. Earth. Happened. To. These. Signs?

They’re fairly far off the ground, so my initial theory that a semi caught them doesn’t seem likely.

Plus, the metal pieces below (which in the US are designed to hold lights that illuminate the signs at night – not sure what their purpose is here!) are bent, but not twisted into different shapes as I think would have happened had they been caught on a truck roof.

Since my first trip north out of Beirut, I have been wondering about these signs. What could have bent them: A localized tsunami? A grumpy giant? The old Geant mega-shopping cart?

As I turned my camera to “playback” to view the photos I had just taken, H looked at me and smiled.

I know, he said. Its a mystery to me, too.

H has one more week to figure it out – he joins me in New York next weekend. Of course, he may not have much time for sleuthing after dealing with all the “sweetie would you mind” errands I’ve pressed upon him.

So if not, I’m looking forward to puzzling through this and many other Lebanon mysteries on my next trip back here.

And in the meantime, I have a whole backlog of posts to publish, on everything from yin-yang balconies to excess qaff’ing :).

Posted in Beirut, Lebanon, research, rumors | 4 Comments »

rumors from the grounds up

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 23, 2008

I thought you would already have left the country, the neighborhood coffee vendor said to me this morning as I walked past him.

What? I said, snapping out of a hausfrau-like but pleasant daydream about which stores I would go to on my Saturday morning grocery run.

Aren’t you planning to leave? he asked me again.

I assumed he was asking about my reaction to the “situation” here, and the increase in gunfire & scuffles over the past few weeks.

No no, I said, trying to snap myself from “do I need peanut butter?” to “calm, reassuring foreigner” mode. I’m fine here – and I’m busy with work.

But you must leave, he said, shaking his hands and frowning. By Wednesday. On Wednesday, Israel will attack.

Um, WHAT? The peanut butter debate whisked itself to my mental back burner.

Yes, he continued, with bombs and airplanes. And just in case I didn’t get it, he made “boom boom” and fighter jet noises.

Mmm, I said. Yes, I remember those sounds from the 2006 war.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t take invasion predictions from my coffee vendor terribly seriously. But earlier this week a Lebanese colleague told me about the homeless man who lived in her neighborhood during her childhood. He was sweet, harmless, and slightly touched in the head – and when the Israelis invaded Beirut in 1982, he turned out to be one of their top brass.

Although I appreciated his warning, I can’t imagine that Israel wants anything to do with the words “Lebanon” and “invasion” these days.

And if it does, I sure hope it doesn’t happen on Wednesday. I have two morning meetings and a heap of other things to do that day – and no time to deal with an onslaught of Israelis.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, childhood, espionage, explosion, Israel, Lebanon, politics, rumors, time | 4 Comments »