Friday, March 11, 2005
Melanie Phillips on Lebanon. posted by Richard SeymourMelanie Phillips , Britain's foremost crackpot of the Right, is taking what she calls the "msm" to task for not highlighting the possibility that the massive pro-Syrian demonstration organised by Hezbollah was not quite as it appeared. The msm is right-wing shorthand for "mainstream media", which is the right's version of "corporate media" - the standard right-wing "anti-elitism" objects to the liberal cultural elite rather than the capitalist economic elite.
The source of Mad Mel's dissension is an article which appeared in World Net Daily, claiming that most of the demonstrators weren't Syrian at all. She cites former Lebanese Prime Minister Michel Aoun:
"This was not a Lebanese showing, and many of those who actually were Lebanese were not there because they support Syria. We know that at least three Palestinian camps were present. And there are 700,000 Syrian workers inside Lebanon, many of whom are not even supposed to be there. They were urged by Syria to attend so it looks like many Lebanese are protesting. Plus Syria bused in their own citizens from Syria through the border into Lebanon to join the rally."
"Yesterday was not a spontaneous outpouring; it was planned and orchestrated," he said. "You see in the opposition rallies that they happen every day. People are going because they they want to, and they are going regularly."
It isn't a particular surprise that Aoun is making these claims. He had been appointed Prime Minister when he was known as General Aoun, was armed by Saddam Hussein, and led Christian Maronite forces against the Muslim fighters. Aside from trying to evict Syria, his main enemies were the Druze and Muslim forces. He is considered a war criminal, and is not associated with the bulk of the Lebanese opposition.
However, is he nevertheless right? The last claim must be right: demonstrations are planned and orchestrated, that's how they work. How did the demonstrations against Syria's occupation begin, and where did all those flags come from? Someone must be organising something. But what about the attendees. First of all, let's get the numbers right.
According to USA Today , at least 500,000 turned out for the demonstration, dwarfing previous anti-Syrian demos. According to Brian Whitaker in The Guardian , "Trying to estimate the number was futile, but half a million would be plausible and a million not unbelievable".
As to the character of the demonstration, Whitaker observes that:
The anti-Syrian protesters who have attracted worldwide attention are mostly Christians, plus Sunni Muslims and Druze, and they are generally from the better-off sections of Lebanese society. Yesterday's masses were overwhelmingly the poorer -- and historically downtrodden -- Shia, who form 40% of the population.
Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon are not small in number, then. Shi'ites in Iraq have, in Zogby polls , reported deep worry about the international pressure being placed on Syria:
Almost 60% of Shi'a, on the other hand, now worry that in the wake of this assassination measures will be taken that will result in a deterioration of the Lebanese security situation, an attitude shared by only about 15% of Maronites and Druze.
How best now to proceed with securing Lebanon? Only Maronites see a Syrian withdrawal as key with one-half agreeing with this as the solution. About one-third of Shia and Sunnis and less than one-fourth of Orthodox agree. Many Lebanese, in particular Orthodox, Sunni, and Shia, see the solution to Lebanon's security in "reinforcement and deployment of the Lebanese army and security forces all over Lebanon." And while 60% of Druze see the disarming of Lebanon's militias as necessary for the country's future, only about one in seven Maronites, Orthodox, and Sunni agree. Not surprisingly, only 5% of Shia agree, since the "disarming" provision of UNSC 1559 specifically has Hizbollah in mind.
As Critical Montages notes, if the estimates are right, about 13 to 26% of the total population of Lebanon arrived at the demonstration in support of Syria. This is massive, but it would not be a surprise given the reported views of many Lebanese people. There isn't a clear consensus in support of removing the Syrian regime (although I am personally not in doubt that it should be evicted). Part of the reason for this has to do with Israel, which was in occupation of Lebanon for some 20 years, and wishes to destroy Hezbollah, the primary force responsible for evicting IDF forces. There is presumably a worry that Israel will reinvade.
So, yes, the demonstrations probably are representative of much Lebanese opinion, and no there is no evidence of them being simply bussed in from other countries etc. Nor is there evidence of the coercion that Aoun speaks of, and no one will provide it because this is the sort of thing one floats to plant seeds of doubt - it is not the kind of thing one expects to be called on. If anything, what we have seen has been a popular expression of hostility to US interventionism. And that, dears, the "msm" will never touch. Damn the lot of them.