By Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog, cross-posted with PressTV
(Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the upcoming ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’.)
In a recent column I debunked the West’s primary propaganda lines regarding Lebanon’s ongoing protests: that Iran has somehow silently usurped a century of French colonial dominance, and that Lebanese Shia – represented by Hezbollah and Amal – should be held responsible for the nation’s corruption woes despite having always been the biggest victims of the French-penned system of anti-democratic sectarianism.
In another column I stated what all Lebanese know but which the West never admits: the Maronite Christian community has been given preferential treatment for a century – regarding the army, the central bank, and Western media tolerance for their militias – and this has been the primary catalyst for neo-colonial corruption, inequality and inefficiency.
This article will continue to insist that Lebanon’s problem is not Christian nor Muslim but a question of classic right-versus-left political ideologies. This reality is illustrated in the very unequal fates of three Lebanese Maronite Christians: Michel Aoun, Samir Geagea and Georges Ibrahim Abdullah.
Michel Aoun – the real, but bygone, patriotism of ‘petit de Gaulle’
To many people Michel Aoun is likely the only recognisable name among the three. However, many would still be at pains to explain why the right-wing Christian has had a political alliance with Hezbollah since 2006.
Despite all his faults, we cannot say that Aoun is not a Lebanese patriot. He chose exile rather than acceptance of the US-backed peace plan in 1991, which saw Syria occupy and finally pacify Lebanon.
Was Aoun also wanted for war crimes and corruption charges? Yes. Was he also defeated militarily by Syria? Yes.
However, we should acknowledge that Aoun’s mutiny against Washington was exceptional. Aoun exiled himself to France because he would not accept a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty. This decision helps explains his enduring popularity: “petit de Gaulle” is more appropriate than “Napol-Aoun”, though the latter is more popular recently.
Aoun has openly declared Hezbollah to be part of Lebanon, and it’s easy to see why he appreciates them: Hezbollah has defended Lebanese sovereignty from arch-reactionary and hyper-belligerent Israel. The alliance between Aoun and Hezbollah is understandable – both are patriotic.
It’s facile to say that the Aoun-Hezbollah March 8 Alliance is “pure politics”, because the reality is that neither group would degrade themselves morally and ideologically in a “pure politics” alliance with the divisive extreme-right Christian parties, as the Hariris have done with their March 14 Alliance.
It is only if we believe the sectarian-promoting, identity politics-obsessed Western press that we could imagine that total enmity between Hezbollah and Aounists must exist simply because they are of different religions. Both Aoun and Hezbollah oppose the corrupt Hariri clan, who are adored by Western neoliberals and Saudi reactionaries alike.
However, when viewing the anti-corruption protests of 2019 it is important to remember the political reality that many young Lebanese believe Aoun is beyond redemption – they will not look past Aoun’s Phalangist past, war crimes, corruption, and ardent neoliberalism. Such a view is very understandable: patriotism is not the ultimate virtue, contrary to the assertions of the conservative Aounists.
Aounism’s determined, yet flawed, form of patriotism is dying also because many young Lebanese have been hypnotised by the West’s “globalisation” mindset. In this view “jingoism”, “nationalism” and “patriotism” are interchangeable, even though the latter is the admirable, unique and even necessary love and respect one has for their national community. Such a worldview is personified by French leader Emmanuel Macron, who repeatedly states that, “Nationalism is war.” For many young Lebanese Aoun’s patriotic virtues are totally lost on them.
Aoun is now reportedly asleep 12 hours a day and incapable of playing a direct role anymore – his worldview is equally tired, and will not endure because the Great Recession has accentuated classism and not his “semi-sectarian patriotism”.
However, I have related why Aoun does deserve some appreciation. His patriotic bonafides are strengthened by the fact that the most divisive and bloody battles were between Aoun and the rabid sectarian Samir Geagea.
Samir Geagea – freed, despite his crimes, because he has the wrong friends
I expected online commenters to object to my treatment of Aoun in my previous two articles. I did not expect anyone to publicly stand up for Samir Geagea – no one did. His supporters are the type who leave anonymous, racist, ill-informed comments.
Bombing churches, assassinations of Christian leaders, fighting alongside Israeli Defense Forces – his crimes were the most atrocious of his era, and he was the only warlord to serve jail time for that reason.
And yet he was released. (This is obviously in contrast to the ‘Arab Nelson Mandela’.)
Geagea may have been released to avoid national disunity, but his return to political prominence was no doubt aided by the fact that he worked for the “right” (far-right, in fact) people – the Israelis, French and Americans. From Ukrainian neo-Nazis to Al-Nusra to Bolivian Christian fascists and beyond the West is happy to work with religious fanatics who seek to subvert national unity and morality.
Geagea’s primary ally is Lebanon’s top central banker, Riad Salameh, who for three decades has allowed Lebanese inequality to explode, its corruption to proliferate and who also unjustly serves Washington’s blockade on Hezbollah.
Crucially, Geagea’s divisive politics totally contradict any idea that he is reformed or repentant. That his party was the first to pull out of the government when protests started only fuelled speculation that any foreign-dominated “color revolution” will surely utilise Geagea.
You can find Western mainstream media releases which try to whitewash his crimes, but the West generally prefers to keep quiet about him. To many Lebanese Geagea is just a thug, the “biggest crook of them all”, and not worth my time, but he is critical to understanding Western influence and modern Western ideology in today’s Lebanon.
The West’s treatment, leniency and open support of the Maronite Geagea is far different from how they view another Maronite, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah.
Georges Ibrahim Abdallah – the man beyond reproach, and thus the most feared by the US and Israel
Abdallah is Europe’s longest-serving political prisoner, at 35 years and counting, and is known as the “Arab World’s Nelson Mandela”.
Every October there are protests in front of his prison in southwestern France, and PressTV is usually the only media covering the anniversary. That is a sad commentary on my French journalist colleagues, indeed.
In 1982, with Israel invading Lebanon yet again, Abdallah’s group took responsibility for the death of a US and an Israeli agent in Paris.
It is incredible that Geagea, whose militia killed thousands, goes free yet Abdallah remains in jail over the deaths of two.
Geagea has remained the head of the Lebanese Forces, obviously ready to re-warlord immediately. After 35 years Abdallah wants to go back to his job as a schoolteacher.
Why is the Maronite Abadallah seemingly going to serve a life sentence while the Maronite Geagea, the undoubted epitome of 1980s Lebanese carnage, got released? Clearly, the sectarian/identity analysis pushed so strongly by Israel, the US and France does not truly trump all.
The problem is that Abdallah had the “wrong” enemies – the US and Israel. Abdallah’s pro-Palestinian stance, as well as his socialist demand that the lower classes are more important than the 1% and central bankers, are why France’s leaders willingly collude to condemn Abdallah to death in prison.
Contrarily, Geagea obviously had the “right” enemies: anyone opposed to imperialism, ruthless capitalism, racist sectarianism and anyone who believes that Palestinians deserve to be treated like humans. Who upholds these ideologies more than Israel and the US?
Georges Ibrahim Abdallah is indeed the Arab World’s Nelson Mandela because both were leftists who used violence in defense (not in attack) and because Abdallah has been imprisoned so long and so very unjustly. Without any doubt Abdallah, who has always refused to renounce his actions, has stood up for justice longer than any person in Europe today.
Geagea’s release and public rehabilitation shows how Lebanon has granted amnesty to all their wartime leaders – only Abdallah does not walk free. French judges granted Abdallah parole long ago and he was ordered to be released multiple times, but France’s executive branch will seemingly always work on behalf of Washington and Tel Aviv.
The sad reality which must be changed is that the prominent parties in Lebanon are not pushing for Abdallah’s release.
Hezbollah and Amal simply do not have any leverage to put pressure on Paris, but they should immediately do all they could to draw more attention to Abdallah – they obviously support Abdallah’s fight against imperialism and injustice, and they are present at pro-Abdallah demonstrations in Lebanon. Making Abdallah a more prominent symbol would also help demonstrate to their shameless accusers that their ideology is not sectarian, but universal and moral. The Maronite Church fought extremely hard to get Geagea released but have done nothing for Abdallah because of his pro-Palestine and pro-socialist stances – Hezbollah’s members need to fill their regrettable, shameful void.
Clearly, all of protest-wracked Lebanon needs Abdallah more than ever.
Lebanon’s protests are extremely Westernised in the sense that they have no class component – they rightly reject Aounist “semi-sectarian patriotism” as inadequate, but how could a movement based on patriotism galvanise a Lebanon that is no longer under occupation? Answers to what many young Lebanese are blindly groping against – an end to Salemeh-led inequality, French-led sectarianism and US-Israeli accommodation with imperialism – can be found personified by Georges Ibrahim Abdallah.
Abdallah is the man of this moment in Lebanon, yet he cannot be there to help.
But is this not the case for the anti-imperialist left in so many countries? Their leaders have been jailed or killed by Western nations. Don’t young Lebanese realise that they are no different?
Many believe that the only way to keep Abdallah from unjustly dying in prison is via a hostage exchange. Abdallah is undoubtedly a hostage held by France’s leaders, but I don’t know who could be exchanged for him in 2019?
Abdallah is also Europe’s oldest political prisoner and the hero of this article’s trio. His case disproves Western lies about “sectarian-religious conflict” in Lebanon, but also in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Mali, the Central African Republic, Ukraine, Bolivia, Western China, etc.
When viewing Lebanon actions and ideology are the only proper lenses, not religion. French neocolonialism, Israeli Zionism and Western anti-classism all reject this modern view.
The man who was the least “warlord” in Lebanon is still imprisoned precisely because he was the most patriotic, the least sectarian and the most enlightened politically. Does not his case represent the depth of “Lebanese corruption” in every sense?
Lebanon’s protesters need to realise that an incorruptible Lebanese has remained in prison on their nation’s behalf for 35 years.
The time is now – nothing could represent a renewed, united, moral Lebanon better than the return, finally, of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah.