June 04, 2010

What Ails The Lebanese Political System.

The modern concept of sovereignty of a nation state and all its implications to the inviolability of borders, the sacredness of its territorial integrity and the supremacy of the state are traced to the treaties that ended the thirty year war through the Peace of Westphalia. I mention this only to highlight that this took place almost 400 years ago.

A young nation state can be excused, during its first few formative years, for its inability to exercise its sovereignty immediately at its inception despite the fact that independence for a nation state is usually based on the idea of sovereignty. Realistically no society can be expected to make the transition from dependence to independence overnight. Institutions have to be created, elections held, laws promulgated and citizens informed and educated. But a learning curve of 65 years that fails to make any progress whatsoever is only a sign of total failure in the effort to establish a viable independent sovereign state. Under such circumstances one must wonder whether the experiment that has so far gone awry is worth continuing or whether it would be more advisable to just stop the pretense and dissolve the state.

As you might have already guessed, the above scenario is not fictitious. It is a perfect description of what passes for political leadership in the nation state of Lebanon and for either the inability or the refusal of its citizens to act responsibly by demanding accountability from their so called leaders.
There is no doubt that the present is the sum total of our past decisions and choices. We are what we have become because of our history. But it is wrong to even suggest that the past shapes our future. The only time that the future becomes an identical image of the past is when we keep making the same decisions and choices over and over again. The future doesn’t have to be an extension of the past since its most significant feature is that it embodies immense possibilities. Whether these possibilities are actualized or not is a function of the decisions that we undertake in the present. Our present is the history of the future moment.

So it is not enough to dream about equality, dynamism, individual freedom, economic prosperity, responsible government or a sovereign state. We need to take action that is commensurate with our objective if that goal is to ever stand a chance of being fulfilled. But we can never set our sights high and yet proceed to act as we always have when we were greatly displeased with the outcome. The same input will result in the same output irrespective of our hopes. For our hopes to be fulfilled, we must have the courage to reject business as usual. It will always fail to deliver on our dreams and aspirations because if we cannot change our actions then our goal would be only a wish. Lipstick on a pig.

If we are dissatisfied with the performance of the political regime and with all the politicians in Lebanon, as we should be then we have no right to complain if we do not have the courage to show our outrage at their incompetence, exploitation and feudalism. Note that the 4.5 million Lebanese sheeple find it easier to put up with the inconvenience of having one of the most outdated unreliable and expensive public electric power system in the world by installing private generators, at a great expense, rather than demand a solution to a problem that is simple to solve but that has persisted for over a decade. Why did we reelect the same rascals who created the problem in the first place? We complain about the lack of law and order but when the politicians elect a president by violating a very clear constitutional clause no one questions the decision. How can we expect a person to respect the sacred constitution when the same person accepted to be elected under unconstitutional grounds? The message is simple. Laws, including the constitution were made for the convenience of the Lebanese oligarchy. Their disregard to the constitution and the rights of the citizens is all around us. Its best manifestation is the unworkable new interpretation of a national unity government whereby the executive branch is a tower of Babel, the legislative branch has for all practical purposes been subsumed by the cabinet and the judicial branch has been abrogated. I ask you, have you seen any demonstrations against the above?

Then we have our “Progressive Socialist Party” that is everything but progressive or socialist. It is run by a feudal lord and its leadership is passed along as part of the inheritance. Actually the ever charismatic head of the party regaled us on a recent popular TV show by the analysis that part of the current Lebanese political problem is that PM Hariri represents the Sunni while President Suleiman does not have the support of the Maronites. And that from a progressive socialist. Somebody should remind Mr. Jumblatt of the high regard that Karl Marx had for religion. He went on to say that he; Jumblatt; will not accept an invitation to visit Iran unless King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia gives him his blessings. And that from a progressive socialist in Lebanon. (What is true of the incongruity of the positions of Mr. Jumblatt is endemic of all other parties bare none.

Given the above few examples, and they hardly scratch the surface, it should be clear to any observer that Lebanon is neither independent, nor sovereign. Its inhabitants talk the talk but never walk the walk. If freedom, democracy and sovereignty are important then let us act as if they are by vowing to hold all the current politicians accountable. We need to remind them that they work for us and we should make it sure not to reelect any of them again. The problem of Lebanon is not its politicians. It is its voters. Unless we learn to act upon our convictions then we deserve the government that we get.

June 03, 2010

The Gaza Fiasco: What Next?

There is no need to get bogged down in some peripheral details meant to obfuscate this human tragedy that was committed by the IDF opposite the coast of Gaza. At times the specific details of an act are much less important than the major principle that is to govern human actions. In the words of the philosopher, Peter Singer, it is the oral obligation of every single one in the world to do whatever is possible in order to decrease the hurt and the pain to others when such action will keep us at least at the level of wellbeing of the party being helped. Simply stated, we have an obligation to help the worst off all over the globe as long as we are not to become worse off than the party being helped.. Give until it hurts is his very well thought out solution to need, misery and hunger. The fact that there are many other people in the world whose rights and human dignity is at least as much violated as the people of Gaza and yet the world chooses not to do anything about it is not an excuse to be silent about Gazans also.

Officially Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. Shortly after that Hamas won the elections of the Palestinian Authority and were asked to form the PA cabinet. Internal disagreents with Fatah led to a quasi civil war after which the forces of Hamas occupied the Gaza strip while the PLO maintained control of the West Bank. Hamas proceeded to allow militants, to target and shell; by rockets; some southern Israeli towns. This behviour angered the Israeli colonizing forces who launched a massive attack on the poorly equipped Hamas forces during 2008. The savage attack on the Gaza strip leveled many quarters of Gaza and killed over a 1000 Palestinian civilians during a debilitating attack in which the IDF is accused of having used new and potentially illegal weapons.

As if the utter devastation of Gaza, the potential use of illegal weapons and the international condemnation of the Goldstone report were not enough the IDF determined to continue the sea blockade to prevent ;not arms and war materiel which would have been understandable; the delivery of food and any humanitarian aid to the whole population held hostage by the IDF. Yes Israel, through its intransigent policies, has imprisoned 1.5 million people, many of whom are elderly, women and children. This abominable act is a clear violation of international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in particular Section 24 which states” Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” Israel’s’ efforts to subdue a population by starving it is an ironic policy to be adopted by the children of the Holocaust survivors. Unfortunately their message to the rest of the world is clear: Holocaust is an ugly and deplorable act that is never to be forgotten when committed against the Jews but such genocidal measures are acceptable tools if used by the children of the Jews of that most abominable Nazi and Fascist policy.

So what is the lesson from this recent outrageous act of Israeli hubris. An act of piracy in international waters that was so badly planned and misexecuted that it has resulted in the unacceptable loss of 9 innocent lives by those who were trying to alleviate human suffering ? There are two possible responses. One response is to decry the barbaric Israeli action and to use this event as a rationale to sever relations with the Israeli regime. That would be a mistake. Such a reaction would only drive the parties more apart and will result in an increase of hurt on both sides. A better path would be to use this occasion to increase the pressure on the current Israeli government to approach the two state negotiations in good faith. This dark cloud could have a silver lining but only if the international community takes a unified strong plan to resolve once and for all the Palestinian Israeli question that neither the region nor the world can afford to leave unresolved. If we show resolve , courage and creativity then this sorry chapter could become the beginning of a peaceful and comprehensive solution to what thus far has been an intractable problem.

A Curious Life is Worth Living

I have lots of questions but not as many answers--I realize how little I know, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Those who believe they know everything they have no need to learn anything else. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinions but not to their facts.  We can disagree based on our values and priorities but there's got to be some mutually accepted reality.

Now, that's the problem: How we perceive reality, methods of acquiring knowledge, and standards of evidence. Fortunately, we do have methods of inquiry and logic. Unfortunately, they are often discarded in lieu of confirmation bias, lack of interest in asking questions, and personal identity issues.

Since at least the ancient Greeks, we have the fundamentals of reasoning and the scientific method but even after thousands of years and many civilizations later we don't seem to want to learn. We still cling to primitive taboos, superstition, and willful ignorance. It's very frustrating to see a preference for old inadequate answers to some big questions. Many students aren't interested in learning other than the basic mechanics of a profession that will enable them to become rich... That's how most young college students perceive their efforts and expectations.

Perhaps it's only in the US where a highly advanced country with lots of scientific talent and research has such great numbers of people who are basically anti-science. That's why in several states (yes, where religion is the strongest) they're still debating about the validity of the theory of evolution--one of the strongest scientific theories we've got!

At any rate, for those of us who are awed by the richness of the universe and the thrill of scientific exploration, it's worth watching Brian Cox lecture at Ted. Enjoy--as I know you will.

" Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam"
 Carl Sagan on the occasion of the Voyager taking a picture of Earth in 1994, 4 billion miles away.