Saturday, August 19, 2006

Q&A with South Korean newspaper

Several days back, I was interviewed by a South Korean newspaper. They've published the interview in Q&A format. Here are a few selections from the article.

On your homepage, you write that "Religion is great, if only it is used as was originally intended." In the case of Lebanon on which you write, will you say that Hezbollah has taken the country hostage with a different version of the Koran? If yes, what is the original message?

Of course I believe that Hezbollah has taken the country hostage! Over the past few days, Lebanese have jokingly asked each other whether they have paid homage to their new military dictator!

As for my personal interpretation of religion vs. Hezbollah's, allow me to boil it down to the separation of religion and politics. I despise the "holier-than-thou" attitude. These people wear their religious garb, yet practice politics. When you criticize them, their supporters take to the streets and protest the fact that you insulted their religious symbols (a relatively new phenomenon in Lebanon, that has come about with the emergence of Hezbollah). These developments only serve to harden my position regarding the separation of state and "mosque" even more. It is clear that the image Hezbollah has for Lebanon is mutually exclusive with the vision I, and the majority of other Lebanese, have for our country.

How do you characterize Hezbollah? A resistance group, freedom fighters or a terrorist organization?

I classify Hezbollah as a Shi'a militia supported with funds and material from Iran, Syria and Shi'a who reside in Lebanon, the Gulf, Africa and all over the world.

At one point in Lebanon's history, there was a consensus to refer to it as a "resistance group." Today, that consensus has faded.

President Assad of Syria, who attributed victory to Hezbollah, said the crises helped create a new Middle East. Do you agree?

I think that Assad is an isolated and desperate president. Internationally and even in the Arab region, the man is a pariah! Of course, that scares me, because a desperate man can do very stupid things. However, whatever he said is simply false. Tell me what has changed! Do you see any differences? Okay... people are very emotional right now, but so what? Emotions are fleeting, and if nothing happens in the coming days and weeks, they will go back to business as usual.

Is it right to say Lebanon is back to where it was 50 years ago, as your prime minister qualified it? What do you think is the way forward now?

We did not go back 50 years, however we were taken back quite considerably. Lebanon's Council for Development and Reconstruction just announced that it will take at least a year to rebuild all the infrastructure and over $2 dbillion. Some estimates project 3 years -- and this is just infrastructure damage!

However, when we talk about Lebanon's economy, I am afraid that it all depends on political developments. A considerable number of factories were destroyed by Israeli bombs over the past month. These damages sum up to tens of millions of dollars in damage. The retail sector is, if anything, on life support, and the tourist industry can be characterized similarly.

It is safe to say that investors will only return if they believe that nothing similar to this war will happen any time in (at least) the near future. In order for them to be convinced, they will need to see a political settlement and a solution to the problem of Hezbollah's arms.

Check out the rest of it.

note: sorry about the mix-up. It turns out that the journalist who interviewed me was based in Finland.


JoseyWales said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dimitry said...

50 years ago, no organizations dedicated to the destruction of Israel operated from Lebanese territory, and accordingly, no Israeli military actions were carried out against targets on Lebanese soil.

So no. You're most emphatically not back 50 years, although in some regards, that should definetly be your goal.

anthonyb said...

Congratulations on the interview.
You did a good job, articulate and to the point.

Fearless said...

Your comments are excellent and objective- without the hollow nationalis clutter. My compliments to you and your clear insight.

Ask your self is Hizbullah interested in overtaking Lebanon?
Forming it's own government?
Non-state actors like the Hezbo crowd and al-Qaeda have no interest in graduating to statehood. They've got bigger fish to fry. If you're interested in establishing a global caliphate, getting a UN seat and an Olympic team only gets in the way. The "sovereign" state is of use to such groups merely as a base of operations, as Afghanistan was and Lebanon is. They act locally but they think globally.

And that indifference to the state can be contagious. Lebanon's Christians may think of themselves as "Lebanese," but most of Hezbollah's Shia constituency don't. Western analysts talk hopefully of fierce differences between Sunni and Shia, Arab and Persian, but it's interesting to note the numbers of young Sunni men in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere in recent weeks who've decided that Iran's (Shia) President Ahmadinejad and his (Shia) Hezzbo proxies are the new cool kids in town. During the Nineties, we grew used to the idea that "non-state actors" meant a terrorist group, with maybe a few hundred activists, a few thousand supporters. What if entire populations are being transformed into "non-state actors"? Not terrorists, by any means, but at the very minimum entirely indifferent to the state of which they're nominally citizens.

Hence that statistic: seven per cent of British Muslims consider their primary identity to be British, 81 per cent consider it to be Muslim. By comparison, in the most populous Muslim nation on the planet, 39 per cent of Muslim Indonesians consider themselves Indonesian first, 36 per cent consider themselves Muslim first.

Loli said...

You're a brave man and a clear thinker.

Chris from lebanon said...


Great interview.

The problem is that our leaders are chickening out down here.

They claim the need for hezb to disarm yet they are in clear violation of the peace treaty.

Therefore, i'am afraid there will be a replay of the july 12th events again and again.

Our government isn't taking the hard stand. This window of opportunity will close soon.

Bye bye investements and freedom. Our country is sinking deeper and deeper. We need courageous leaders. We need a rallying leader.

mcreider said...

Raja, sorry for the repeatition, but I missed the train again and everything has already been said: great interview of a brave man and a clear thinker. I am probably becoming sentimental and pathetic - but if only people like you in our countries could just stand together for a better life in this region.
Regards from Tel Aviv, Maxim
(I also want to ask you about one of your favourite books, that of Vassiliev. As far as I can imagine, he should be a typical Soviet colonialist - just look at his CV. That said, he could be a talented and educated man. So what is so great abt his book on Saudi Arabia? Is not it biased?)

Raja said...

maybe if you guys voted for governments that could resolve the palestinian issue, a lot more of us "liberals" would emerge from cracks and crevices.

you're not exactly angels yourselves, you know!

Chas said...

Great interview, I think you and your colleagues deserve a lot of regognition for maintaining this blog .. it is a such positve contribution. When I first discovered this blog there were so few signs of hope. Now I visit every day to get my "peace" batteries recharged!



Ergotelina said...

Bravo Raja, for the interview...
it indicates the bloggers-power..

but the newspaper
is korean...
or am i wrong?


Raja said...

ergo, i saw some koren stuff there, but the guy who interviewed me said it was a finnish paper. whatever! it's a paper.

carine said...

sorry to be a freak but these things pique my curiosity :)

~2 mins of research concludes that: the newspaper is korean, but the reporter who interviewed you is a freelancer based in finland. so presumably either he was unclear or he got his assignments mixed up.

it doesn't particularly matter, of course-- what matters is that you were fantastic!!

you guys at lebanese bloggers have really done such an amazing job, on the blog and off, since the conflict began. you were obviously always one of the core blogs i read, but from the early days of the war you managed to snag the top spot, i'd say :) so, thanks-- to you, doha, hassan, and everyone else.

Dimitry said...


Every time Israel votes for a government that promise to appease the palestinians, it ends up with buses and cafes exploding.

Really, I thought reasonable Lebanese usualy wish to seperate themselves from the Palestiniansin both politically and on this blog.

mcreider said...


who the hell is angel here, who speaks abt angels at all? May be your weak gvt, which let the HA flourish? Anyway, the majority in Israel voted Kadima, the semi-late Sharon's party, since it intended to continue solving the Palestinian question, i.e., to withdraw from the West bank. Not on agenda anymore, due to HA little tricks, of which you, not anybody else, said ENOUGH.

Amin George Forji said...

Paper is S. Korean

Sorry for the mixup. I did the interview, and am based in Helsinki, Finland.
However the newspaper i work for is South Korean based.

Kindest Regards,
Amin George Forji

Gosudarynya said...

dimitry -
Every time Israel votes for a government that promise to appease the palestinians, it ends up with buses and cafes exploding. Even recent history contradicts that statement. The entire 1st Intifada, which was not organized as such, occurred during Shamir's time largely in revolt to policies against Palestinians. Shamir was no dove, please! Rabin signed Oslo and died for it when that right-wing crazy killed him. There were bombings at that time attributed to Fatah's signing of Oslo. Peres was barely in office; I was busy elsewhere then and would have to look up events. Bibi, hawkish to the point of absurdity, did nothing for Israeli "security" but was busy settling. Barak said he'd work toward Palestinian self-government but turned around and built more settlements per month than any other PM. Meanwhile, however, there were few bombings under his watch compared to 2001-2003, which were the worst years for suicide bombings in Israel.

Intifada II started after Sharon's campaign walk; you know that he knew what he was doing. So as buses and cafes blew, Sharon was elected. He ran on a security platform when he saw how well his stroll worked. The Intifada was not stopped after he became PM (in the most blatant violation of Kahan commission recommendation). He advocated more bulldozing (both innocent and families-of-guilty) and encouraged even more settlements in the WB as though Barak had not built enough. Bombings killed many more, but nowhere near the number of Palestinians killed.

Palestinians in recent years have had so many events to juggle, I really do not think the diminished acts of the second Intifada reflect Sharon's wall or accelerated WB "security" efforts accurately. I've observed greater, not reduced, participation in peace groups and organized protests against various elements of the Occupation, Palestinian-Israeli organizations seeking solutions those currently in power do not offer etc. All while Israel goes on a rampage to arrest all Palestinian government officials.

Anyway, Hamas had agreed to a one-year hudna after its electoral victory, with some top officers ready to propose a one-generation hudna to Khaled Meshal in Damascus. Two days later the IDF killed the family on the beach in Gaza and the cease-fire ended.

That was 9 June. HA had the border skirmish with IDF on 12 July after things had gone wild in Gaza. I presume one day we will find out if there was any intent. Reading the original news items from the 12th, I tend to think not. The news was adjusted to fit circumstances in following days.

moriclanuser said...

"Two days later the IDF killed the family on the beach in Gaza and the cease-fire ended."
so cease-fires end when a palestinian gets killed, not when the shooting starts?

even though Hamas and Fatah are mad for israeli arresting it's officials, there had been no suicide bombings. this clearly shows that the wall that Sharon built works.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"Religion is great, if only it is used as was originally intended."

It's amusing. The salafists claim the same thing.

Dimitry said...


While I simplified matters somewhat to put it into a single line, the gist of my post was correct. Under Netanyahu there were extremly few terror attacks. The second Initifadah was launched after Camp David - Arafat saw Barak folding from Lebanon, and figured he can cook an even better deal by applying some more pressure. Not entirely wrong, btw - in Tabah, Israel proposed even more. It didn't end until Protective Wall operation, and only the combinatin of the wall and constant military activity kept the lid on the terror attacks. In the last weeks, literally tens of massive terror attacks were preveneted. And of course, completely leaving Gaza showed led to massive increase in artillery attacks from there.

As for the hunda, don't make me laugh. Rockets kept flying all that time, tunnels to attack Israel were dug, and at any rate, I don't put much stock in cease fire for the porpuse of rearming for the next round.

mcreider said...

The crawling Israeli aggression

I pity you, Lebanese bloggers!

Raja, this b&b (brave and brilliant) young man has created this blog as a meeting place for the Lebanese, which in these troubled times manage to keep their mind clear and more often than not - hatred free. And Lo! Here the Israelis come and express their opinion. And as if it is not enough that every second forum participant is a Zionist, most of them are of the Russian stock.
Cry, beloved country! Not much hope for Lebanon.

Gosudarynya said...


so cease-fires end when a palestinian gets killed, not when the shooting starts?

Pardon my brevity/lack of clarity. The one-year cease-fire was decided after much discussion after Hamas chose their cabinet and were faced with the responsibility of actually running it despite the withholding of necessary everyday funds, which is now being dealt with somewhat. It also had to do with Fatah and Hamas either working together or working against each other, but that's another issue with which I won't clog this blog.

After the Gaza bombing of the family on 9 June (no, nothing to do with "terrorism" or "hiding amongst civilians"), there was a number of meetings and a wait to see how the IDF treated the incident. The IDF did not handle it well IMO. See Human Rights Watch's reports on it; I also talked to a couple Israeli friends who think things could have been handled in a way that didn't give Gazans such leeway to react in the manner they did.

Russkaya, da, maya mama iz rossii - odnako ya amerikanka.

Gosudarynya said...

Dimitry & Moriclanuser,

I don't know how much you look into a longer timeline and other events when determining whether or not the wall works. It takes more than a few newspaper articles to be informed of everything that affects this situation. There are those who disagree with your conclusion and present strong arguments for multitudinous other reasons why attacks are down.

Dimitry said...


Well, Israel checked when and where it fired shells that day, and examined a shrapnel pulled out of a body of one of the wounded. I suppose the only problem with these steps was that it failed to supply a proof that Israel shelled the beach intentionally, out of bloodthirst.

Seriously. Israel doesn't deny such things when it finds itself responsible.

On longer timeline, the wall alone won't be very useful, as the Palestinians would find ways around it. Combined with constant IDF activity however, it's a different story.

Concidering the number of terror attacks preveneted I hear about, I can safely say the number of attempts haven't changed much. So unless your elaborate theories somehow explain an indendent-of-any-Israeli-action loss of competence, I'll stick with my theory. Sometimes, giving KISS to Occam gives you the best result, if you get my drift.

Yael K said...

This was a really excellent article and interview that you gave. Congratulations and congratulations to the reporter who allowed your responses to remain in full context as well.