Sonia Farid: Let’s call a mask a mask

In May 2000, Israel ended its 22-year occupation of Lebanon after sustaining serious losses at the hands of Hezbollah militias, which not only forced the Israeli Defense Forces to retreat to the Blue Line, demarcated by the UN in 1978, but also dealt a fatal below to Israel’s proxy, the Southern Lebanon Army, which totally collapsed after a spate of attacks by the Shiite resistance group.

In July 2006, Israel waged war on Lebanon in retaliation for the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. For 34 days, the militia surprised its opponents with sophisticated weaponry and highly trained fighters as well as an unprecedented number of rocket attacks into the inside of Israel.

In February 2011, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said the Egyptian revolution is bound to change not only the region, but also the entire world. “Today, with your voices, blood and steadfastness, you are retrieving the dignity of the Arab people; the dignity which was humiliated by some rulers of the Arab world for decades,” he told Egyptian revolutionaries.

In January 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of Davos after a heated debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres over Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza and after giving a speech slamming the Hebrew state for the atrocities committed against civilians in the strip and accusing the rest of the world of cowardice and inaction.

In May 2010, the Turkish ship MV Mavi Marmara led a humanitarian aid convoy heading to Gaza to defy the Israeli blockade on the strip and was attacked in international waters by Israeli Naval Forces, which resulted in the death and injury of several Turkish nationals.

In January 2011, Erdogan declared his support of the Egyptian revolution, warning the former president that he is not immortal, and asking him to step down. “No government can survive against the will of its people,” he said emphatically.

Throughout all this time, Egyptians were watching with a mixture of astonishment and fascination as they saw other leaders in the region taking such a firm and honorable stance in support of the Palestinian cause, which the Egyptian regime had technically abandoned in favor of catering to Israel’s “security concerns” and abiding by the United States’ rules of strategic partnership. While Egypt was placing one hurdle after another in every chance Palestinian factions had to reach reconciliation, Hezbollah fighters were dying on the Israeli border to liberate Southern Lebanon and Turkish activists were risking their lives to break the blockade on Gaza, Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah crossing, gave the Egyptian citizenship to children born to Egyptian mothers except if the father is Palestinian, and approved of—or at least never openly objected to—the killing of civilians in Gaza. So whereas Egypt had Mubarak, Lebanon had Hassan Nasrallah and Turkey had Mr. Erdogan.

Putting aside the first’s “suspicious” ties with Iran and what they imply as far as Shiite infiltration is concerned or speculations about Hezbollah’s involvement in the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and also putting aside rumors about second’s keenness to restore the “glories” of the Ottoman Empire and apprehensions of the way his Islamist tendencies might undermine the only secular state in the region and which constitutes a pattern several liberal intellectuals look up to, the two men have for the past couple of years been hailed as heroes in Egypt even by those who had strong reservations on their ideologies or internal policies. The “heroism” bestowed by Egyptians upon Messrs. Nasrallah and Erdogan, from my own point of view, was emotional rather than political, for both men provided them with an example they have not seen for years, particularly since Mubarak came to power since even Nasser and Sadat were looked upon as heroes in some way or another.

The comparison between Messrs. Erdogan and Nasrallah might seem far-fetched for many since one is the prime minister of his country while the other is the leader of a militia specialized in guerilla warfare and labeled terrorist by several world power, yet let me point out that within the context of the resentment Egyptians felt for their president for his subservience to the U.S. and Israel made all those demarcations fall and rendered the two men simply “brave,” “honest,” and “strong.”

The protests in Egypt ended with the toppling of the regime and we all became one happy family—the freedom fighters—and the two “great” men were sometimes even cited as role models of the Middle East people’s ability to rise against injustice and put an end to tyranny. Then came quite an unexpected sequel—the Syrians followed suit. Are you familiar with the Jekyll and Hyde story? I bet now you are!

In May 2011, Hassan Nasrallah rejected the sanctions to be imposed on the Syrian regime, whose endless merits he kept enumerating, probably on the grounds that the killing of hundreds of peaceful protestors does not call for such a harsh action and definitely because it is an American and Israeli ploy—not sure if using the Western conspiracy card can work here. He also called upon the Syrian people to support their president and he even said why they should do so: unlike other Arab leaders Bashar al-Assad is serious about implementing political reform. It is just that those protestors are not giving him the chance. Oh! That makes a lot of sense. Now I can see why he’s killing them.

In a not-so-subtle reference to protestors as saboteurs, Mr. Nasrallah said Syrians should “preserve” their country, and in a not-at-all-subtle menacing remark he added that they should preserve the “ruling regime.” What if they don’t is something he didn’t tackle, possibly because the answer is known and has been implemented since the protests started, only it will be on a much bigger scale if that warning is not heeded.

Also in May 2011, Mr. Erdogan reiterated—in case his earlier statements were overlooked or misunderstood or most probably thought of as absolute gibberish—his support for Bashar al-Assad who, he said, is currently working on meeting his people’s demands. He even went as far as claiming that he is indeed a popular leader: “I see the people’s love for Bashar al-Assad each time I visit Syria.” Looks like he and Nasrallah study from the same textbook for the later said almost the exact same thing: “The majority of the Syrian people still support the regime and believe in President Bashar al-Assad.” Where is the problem then? If the president and his people seem to be enjoying an open-ended honeymoon, who is protesting? And would any of the gentlemen care to let us know what he thinks of the torture and killing of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb? Maybe later… when they have time… or when, and if, they have something to say…

I don’t think it is important now to use clichés like double standards, hypocrisy, and the prioritization of interests over any ethical or humane considerations because all this has been said over and over in different situations, especially by those very same men in reference to the United States, Israel, and the European Union. I am not also sure if it is important to investigate the motives behind this utterly shocking change of heart or mind or whatever. I only want to say that if—as is apparently the case nowadays —part of the job description of a politician (my deep apologies to Mandela and Gandhi and all those who remained the pride of their people and the whole world in life or death) is manipulating the truth and twisting facts and sanctioning the bloodshed of unarmed civilians and endorsing despotic regimes when common interests are at stake, then it is better for all of them to do so in silence and to refrain from issuing chivalrous statements in defense of democracy and in support of human rights and from lashing out at rulers—who are not friends or allies of course—who violate any of those much-cherished values.

Wouldn’t both Mr. Nasrallah and Mr. Erdogan been in a slightly better position now that they support the Syrian regime had they not repeated those empty slogans about Palestine or Egypt? In fact, there is a double benefit in that. They would not be as loathed as they are now since being always the devil is one thing and being the devil now when a couple of minutes ago a halo popped out of your head is another. Let them just stay silent so they won’t be faced by those waves of anger and this spat of disgust. They better become like Hitler—Nazi all through—and always bear in mind that no one seemed to have been shocked when Stalin starting killing members of his own Communist Party or when Slobodan Milosevic turned out to be the mastermind of the Bosnian genocide campaign.

Instead of bearing the weight of the masks and the health hazards this might entail on the skin and the respiratory system, they should have left their faces bare so that we could have seen the malicious grins and the sly eyes from the start. The effect of the sudden removal of the mask is traumatic for both the one who wears the mask and those who witness the taking off process, so why bother? In The Phantom of the Opera, Christine insisted on seeing the Phantom’s face and when she did, it was the beginning of the end, for she realized how repulsed she will always be and he realized she will never be his. Had he deposed of the mask before he first met her, they would certainly not have lived happily ever after, but at least each of them would have known where he/she stands and both would have been spared the shock that accompanies the discovery.

In Egypt, we refer to an insolent person as one with “a bare face.” Well, that is how it is supposed to be from now on. Better insolent than hypocrite! Masks have become démodé and faces are back this summer… so better stay as “stylish” as you are always known to be!

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Sonia Farid

I teach for a living... write for a life!

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