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Positive changes?

Guest post by DaveM

It’s the little, almost insignificant, things from my time in Syria that will never leave me.

The big things you thought you’d never forget, such as the constant explicit news footage during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, the pictures of dead children from that war displayed on lampposts, etc., just faded into the background.

It was relentless and once you got over the initial shock it was as if your subconscious, as some sort of defence mechanism, just shut all that stuff out. After a while you became so desensitized it just became invisible, though you did find yourself getting angry and stressed for seemingly no apparent reason.

Nonetheless, small things would always find a way into your head. Such as when I was buying blankets and told the shopkeeper that I didn’t expect that Syria actually had winters.

“It’s always winter here,” he muttered under his breath unable to look me in the eyes.

The time I was in Beirut’s Virgin Megastore, saw Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies Volume 2: Hegel & Marx, and asked the clerk if they sold an Arabic translation of this book. He looked at me, laughed and said, “Maybe if you come back in about 200 years time”.

The time I was at a friend’s house, the doorbell rang, he went white and the first thing he did was hide his books. That’s right. Books.

But most of all it has to be Farouq’s look of dismay when Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Damascus, and he asked me, “What kind of message do you think that sends to us? Those of us who want democracy and freedoms that you have in the West, how do you think this makes us feel?”

Those words never leave me. They’re always there in my head.
They motivate me.

I tried to reassure him by telling him she was a US opposition member of Congress, and Britain would never do anything as naïve that; after all they have many years experience in the region.

I could not have been more wrong.

Hezbollah MP, Dr. Hussein El-Hajj Hassan’s visit to Britain has people wondering if London and Washington are seeing eye-to-eye on this issue.

Especially as 2 weeks ago the US administration expressed its unease with Britain’s overtures towards Hezbollah [which took place in Beirut].

And US administration officials are wondering exactly what distinguishes Hezbollah’s political wing from its military and social wings

El Hajj Hassan: “In regards to this issue– Europe in general, and specifically I’m talking about Britain here, has relationships with the area [Lebanon and the Middle East] and views the area from a position of neutrally. We’re not demanding that they fully align themselves with us, but at the same time it’s not understood how they can align themselves with Israel or are biased against our causes”.

Dr Hussein El-Hajj Hassan was happy with his meetings with the different groups during his visit, most notably one at the House of Commons along with other meetings with British political and media personalities such as MP Tony Benn and members of both House of Lords and House of Commons.

El Hajj Hassan: “I think that there are a number of developments taking place in the world which have lead to Western governments, specifically the British Government, understanding some of the realities in the Middle East and specifically Lebanon, and changing their stance [towards them].

“And so we heard an announcement from the British government in which they talk about their wish to communicate with Hezbollah in order to specify some of the goals connected with the peace process, UN declaration 1701, and internal Lebanese issues.

“From our position we have made clear our willingness to communicate and we’ll listen to their point of view on all the issues at stake here”.

If the Foreign Ministry wishes this opening up to Hezbollah to transform positively on the Lebanese field it’s clear that this visit hasn’t impressed Washington.

Barry Marston, Foreign Office spokesperson: “Britain has taken this decision against the backdrop of positive changes in the Lebanese domain. These changes include the Doha Agreement, agreements re national dialogue, forming a national unity government and efforts that will ensure successful elections. Therefore Britain wants to endeavour to move these positive changes in the right direction.”

I really don’t understand what the government is trying to do here.
Discourage Hezbollah from violence? Convince them to give up their weapons? How exactly?

Hezbollah use violence because it works. And they’ll continue to use it as long as it works. No amount of cups of tea overlooking the Thames is going to change any of that. So what’s really going on here?

And Barry Marston: I understand only too well the sacrifices, the hard work, the long hours, the frustration, the isolation and the loneliness which is all part of learning Arabic. Maybe I’m not the one to be saying this, as I’m not exactly Mahmoud Darwish myself, but you have to realise this is how you sound to native speakers.


Hezbollah must be laughing their asses off at us. If I was a member of that militia I know I would be. And this is a slap in the face to Lebanon’s independence movement and an insult to those in it who were killed.

So why stop at Hezbollah? I think Ayman al-Zawahiri has an opening in his schedule, so why not invite him too?

After all doesn’t he represent Al Qaeda’s political wing? And we’re all OK with political wings, aren’t we?