Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 13th, 2021

Farewell Beirut (Book review, part 2)

Posted on November 16, 2008

Note: Paragraphs in parentheses are my own interjections.  The names and characters in Mai’s manuscript are not fictitious; she personally eye witness the stories.

The main theme in “Farewell Beirut” is “revenge” and the associated concepts of honor, genocides, nationalism, heroes, traitors, martyrdom, hate, love and the fundamental human emotions that might be interpreted differently through the ages, periods and civilizations… but where the moral values of wrong and right should not be personal matters of point of vues.

In part 1, I related the stories of “Um Ali”, “Said”, “Abu Firas”, and “Hashem”. 

This part would be more related to fundamental questions that Mai Ghoussoub tried to struggle with and to investigate moral issues.

But first, I present the story of Fadwa.

“Fadwa” was sent overseas in 1916 in order to avoid famine and be married to Salem.  In those years parents sent their children by sea, supposedly destined to “America” (USA or Latin America) because they paid high fees.

Instead, and frequently the ship Captains landed them instead in Africa telling them “We reached America, get down” And thus, many Lebanese ended in Africa and kept sending letters to their folks not daring to acknowledge their wrong destinations, and parents resumed sending people to “America”. 

The mother of Fadwa reminded her daughter, before sailing, that she is from a much higher social stratum than her future husband Salem and that Fadwa should remind her husband of that difference. 

Fadwa landed in Ghana (Africa) and had five boys and one girl and she expected Salem to worship her for giving him so many boys. 

Fadwa refrained from mingling with the Lebanese and Syrian families on account that she is of a higher status and had many helpers at home. 

When Ghana got its independence Fadwa was sent back to Lebanon with all her children for fear of reprisals. 

At the airport, the immigrating ladies made sure that Fadwa overhears their conversations that Salem was cheating on her and that he had married an African girl and has African offspring. 

Salem joined Fadwa a month later looking much older and deprived of wealth; but he didn’t expect the hatred and all consuming feeling of revenge that were eating up Fadwa. 

The couple slept in separate beds and Fadwa never called her husband by his name or even faced him. Salem was the “He” or the “decrepit old man”.

Salem’s old friends were admonished never to pay him further visits. Salem was homesick to Ghana because he spent most of his life there and the surrounding family was not cheerful.  Fadwa never smiled and children were scared of her outbursts and rigidity. 

When Salem became handicapped, Fadwa confined him for perpetuity in the house and never cooked his preferred dishes and locked on the sweets and chocolates on grounds that they are forbidden to his health.  Salem died miserably. 

Fadwa died shortly after Salem, totally frustrated and a very unhappy old lady that could not feel that the fruits of her revenge were satisfactory.

The author Mai returned to visit Lebanon after the civil war.  She is repainting her apartment to erase the slogans that militias have painted over the walls; she kept the slogan “Those who teach us lessons in moral values are hypocrite and insolent”.

In the seventies, saying that a person is sure of his opinion was a bad connotation of someone who refuses to detach from traditions.  It was a period when moral issues were not absolute: a person had to take into consideration the environment, the period, and all the facet of the story. 

Opting for neutral stands were cherished values. That was fine and dandy until you are confronted with these sample accidents: thousands of women raped in Bosnia, racist gangs killing whole families in London, cutting off the sexual parts of a 4-year old girl by its family living in Paris according to customs… 

Then you realize that wrong and right are no longer personal opinions.  Vaclav Havel said “The concepts of justice, honor and disloyalty are palpable nowadays”

A chapter compared the act of martyrdoms of the young 16 year-old Lebanese girl Nouha Samaan against the Israeli invaders in South Lebanon and Flora in 10th century Andalusia (Spain).

(Between 1983-87, at least 3 young girls committed suicide acts against the Israeli forces of occupations, such as Sanaa Mheidly, before the young males replaced women).

In Flora’s period, Spain was ruled by the “Arabs” and mostly the Muslims from Morocco and it enjoyed a long period of prosperity and cultural development and tolerance for other religions and ethnic immigrants. 

The mother of Flora was Catholic and her father a Muslim and they lived in Cordoba.

By the age of 16 Flora became a ferocious, one sided Catholic zealot; she proclaimed in front of the tolerant judge that the Prophet Muhammad is a cheat and the devil. 

The judge had the right to execute her but let her go.  Flora would not desist. She associated with the bigot preacher Yologious who claimed that the educated Catholics have taken the road to perdition: instead of focusing their readings solely on the Bible “they are reading literary manuscripts, scientific books, learning to write well and composing poems”. 

Many young disciples of Yologious were harangued to sacrifice their lives for Catholicism and finally Flora had to be executed. 

At that time Europe needed “martyrs” while the Muslims were tolerant.  In this century Europe stopped commemorating its “martyrs” while the Muslim World need “martyrs” for their struggle. (To be continued)

Sustainable agriculture in the Middle East: Environmental emergency and food security challenge

Fabienne Durand , Political scientist consultant on sustainable development and global warming.

The Covid crisis has highlighted the need to relocate what is essential, such as food and drug production.

In the Middle East, it is clear that the supply of basic foodstuffs depends heavily, and increasingly so, on international markets, as arable land and water resources are becoming increasingly scarce.

Policies support the production and consumption of cereals, with the result that these water-demanding products, especially wheat, which is a major component of the calorie intake, take up 65% of the cultivated area.

Food consumption is projected to grow in the region, with a gradual shift in diet towards animal products.

And when we talk about animals, we are talking about livestock farming, and therefore about agricultural areas dedicated to food production to feed farm animals, which are voracious for water.

Water use is expected to remain at unsustainable levels and dependence on global markets is expected to increase, if nothing changes.

A sustainable turnaround is needed more than ever in the world, and even more so in this environmentally fragile and geopolitically unstable part of the world.

As one of the world’s largest importers of food products, the Middle East faces many uncertainties on both the supply and demand sides.

Uncertainty regarding the supply side is particularly linked to the limits and sustainability of the spaces that lend themselves to production.

On the demand side, the uncertainties are the result of the repercussions of conflicts on the geopolitical level and the instability of the world markets for hydrocarbons, which constitute the first of the region’s sources of economic wealth, which are not sustainable.

This poses increasing food and nutritional problems. A major concern is that the region’s supply of key food products is highly, and increasingly, dependent on international markets.

This situation has led to the adoption of measures that seem inappropriate in view of the resources available in the region. For example, the region is among the poorest in terms of water and arable land in the world, but water prices are among the lowest in the world and the region heavily subsidised water consumption up to about 2% of its GDP.

Regenerating the soil is a real problem, as the region’s crop rotation is difficult to reconcile with the scarcity of water. For example, water-hungry cereals still account for 60% of the harvested area, even though most countries in the region have a comparative advantage in the export of fruit and vegetables.

One of the main reasons for the apparent inconsistency between policy and water scarcity is a vision of food security that aims to reduce dependence on imports, especially of cereals. Yet many countries subsidise the consumption of staple foods and this policy, combined with rising incomes, encourages excessive consumption of starchy foods and sugars, leading to nutritional and health problems such as obesity and diabetes, according to the latest FAO reports.

Food security is affected by conflicts and agricultural choices in this fragile region. It affects 30 million people, particularly in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Sudan. This food security is more than ever a challenge. The support of public authorities is not enough. We need to put in place strategies and a more virtuous agriculture as in the time of the physiocrats.

The Middle East is a difficult environment for agriculture. Water and soil resources are scarce and land, both irrigated and non-irrigated, is constantly suffering degradation caused by wind and water erosion and unsustainable agricultural practices.

In most countries in the region, farms are quite small and their owners therefore face the same difficulties as small-scale producers around the world.

Climate change in the region is resulting in a warmer and drier climate and increasing water stress.

In addition to the lack of arable land, the cultivated soils are severely degraded, to the extent that they have lost 30-35% of their potential productivity.

Ploughing depletes the soil, causing harmful effects such as a decrease in water and organic matter content, making the soil more vulnerable to wind and water erosion.

Land productivity is low in the region.

It is also very uneven and can only aggravate tensions between states, but also generate problems of political stability in the region.

Let us not forget that the drought in Syria caused a massive rural exodus of the population to Damascus, which contributed to the destabilisation of the regime in 2011.

And Egypt, with its rich soils, irrigated cereal production and almost no grazing land, is clearing more than $6,000 per hectare from its agricultural land, while Bahrain, which is content to grow horticultural and livestock crops, is clearing more than $4,000 per hectare.

Similarly, in Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, the value of production per hectare amounts to more than $1,000, with a very small area under cereals.

Finally, water is a real issue in the Middle East, beyond conflicts.

The problem stems from the scarcity of the resource, but also from the unsustainable use of surface and underground water, which is causing the depletion of the aquifers on which the Middle East is highly dependent. The unsustainable use of water is encouraged by the policies pursued and by poor governance of the resource, irresponsible as in Iran.

Water prices in the region are, of course, the lowest in the world, as water consumption is subsidised (around 2% of GDP). However, the majority of countries in the region are below the generally acceptable “water scarcity threshold” of 1,000 m3 per capita per year of renewable water resources.

Agriculture is the sector that uses the most water in each country. In addition, improved water management in the agricultural sector is essential to halt land degradation and enable adaptation to climate change.

What would be the medium-term solutions for the agricultural, fisheries and aquaculture sectors? Awareness of environmental problems is fundamental.

This will require the use of the media to enlighten and influence public opinion. Education and training in sustainable problems and solutions are also essential to reverse the trend.

We know that regenerative agriculture is the main way to contribute to the reduction of temperatures by capturing CO2. It is important to better manage water resources and to save and regenerate the soil, through no tillage (ploughing) or minimal tillage, and to ban the use of plant protection products.

The roots remaining from the previous crop stabilise the soil, protecting it from erosion, and the organic matter on the surface improves the fertility and water-holding capacity of the soil.

Seed drills (machines) can be used to insert seeds and fertilisers directly into the soil without ploughing. Admittedly, seed drills are expensive (about $30,000) and the majority of smallholders cannot afford to buy one.

For example, the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas and the Australian government have encouraged the collaboration of local farmers and artisans to produce and sell at an affordable cost nearly 200 seed drills that are now being used in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.

Moreover, the size of farms in the Middle East is one of the most unequal in the world.

In some countries in the region (Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon and Iran), the majority of farms are smaller than one hectare.

At the other end of the spectrum are a relatively small number of large farms owned by a small number of landowners or the state. Because of their size, small farms do not qualify for public support or bank loans.

Sectoral ‘modernisation’ measures have largely excluded small farms from public support: as a result, they are not expanding, are technologically backward and remain poor. There is an urgent need to subsidise these small farms to start the transition.

Soil data are important for farmers and decision-makers. Faced with the outdated soil maps available in the countries of the region, the Institute of Digital Soil Mapping in Amman serves as a regional platform for a global consortium of scientists and researchers.

Thus, on GlobalSoilMap.net you will find data from several sources for all audiences. The data can indicate soil pH, volume of water stored, electrical conductivity and carbon content. They are obtained by remote sensing, near and mid-infrared spectroscopy and field sampling.

The Global Soil Partnership system of the International Network of Soil Information Institutes can also be used.

On this topic as on others, whether it is the urban or rural universe, which says “sustainable” says “green” and “smart”.

It is too often forgotten that the sustainable future depends on this and on the development of another cognitive matrix.

* Political scientist consultant on sustainable development and global warming.

The bad faith try to win the left? Which left?

Jonah Goldman Kay and Sylvie Rosen February 7, 2021

By JACK GUEZ/Getty Images

On Monday, Rudy Rochman, a bombastic, keffiyeh-wearing Zionist activist, will debate famed academic Noam Chomsky.

It’s a mismatched and bizarre pairing: a world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky whose ideas on Zionism and the state of Israel have shaped leftist discourse for decades versus a glorified college activist whose works include the YouTube videos “Avatar Jewish Connection” and “Breaking Down Seth Rogen’s ‘Internalized Anti-Semitism.”

The fact that this event is happening at all demonstrates the unfortunate success of Rochman’s approach to activism, which stands in contrast to traditional Zionist advocacy. Organizations like the Jewish National Fund, AIPAC and the Zionist Organization of America have historically adhered to a limited ideology that has gone largely unchanged for 7 decades, one that sells Israel as a post-Holocaust bastion of security for the Jewish people and a perpetual underdog.

They see the role of American Jews as being to uncritically support Israel, both financially and politically.

And many of them still wrongly identify support of Israel as a shared issue with those on the left.

There was substantial support for Zionism on the American left around the time of Israel’s founding. (Actual it was the “left” movements in the colonial powers that supported Israel at its creation because the right wings were and are still racist and value apartheid policies)

But after the 1967 Six Day War, which saw Israel occupy the Golan, West Bank, Gaza and Sinai, Israel increasingly ran afoul of growing anti-colonial sentiment among those on the left.

But to more traditional American Zionists, it was not Israel that changed, but the left itself. Unwilling to adjust their ideas about Israel as it gained power, their arguments for unfettered support of the country increasingly failed to resonate with new generations growing up in a world where Israel was an occupier, not a victim.

Debate | Is anti-Zionism anti-Semitic?Ari Hoffman and Joel Swanson April 19, 2020

Rochman represents a new approach: He is part of a growing wave of Zionist activists that aim to appeal to a younger audience by mimicking forms of activism that are already popular in leftist circles.

By blending historically leftist language about indigeneity and solidarity with the hasbara of clickbait Zionism, Rochman and his ilk have created a form of activism engineered to appeal to the liberal tendencies of a younger Jewish audience.

But Rochman’s ideology centers on the notion that Jews deserve a voice in discourse about indigenous rights, and that denying them that is antisemitic.

He claims that the Jewish people are indigenous to Judea, the Biblical name for part of what is today part of the state of Israel. He has stated that Zionism is the “most successful indigenous liberation movement that has ever existed.”

That position is a canny twisting of true Indigenous rights movements, which exist everywhere from Australia to the United States and seek to gain recognition for the suffering of native groups.

As in many places, the Palestinian cause centers around the issue of dispossession at the hands of European colonial powers — in their case, Britain’s decision to carve out part of Mandatory Palestine as a Jewish state (and pseudo-State of monarchic Jordan to become a buffer zone to Israel)

Zionism, on the other hand, echoed those European colonial movements.

This new face of American Zionism is deeply connected to the peculiar position of younger American Jews. American Jews aged 18-29 are substantially more “progressive” than their parents, particularly when it comes to Israel.

We witnessed the development of Rochman’s ideology and influence as his classmates at Columbia University. As leaders in left-leaning groups like J Street and IfNotNow, we watched as Rochman founded Students Supporting Israel, a group notorious for its almost comical pro-Israel antics, which included flying a plane over campus during Apartheid Week with a banner that read “HEBREW LIBERATION WEEK.” (Actually, J Street movement support excommunicating Jews who support divestment in West Bank).

One of Rochman’s earliest experiments with indigeneity discourse was his highly memeable “Indigenous People’s Unite” event, for which he brought together speakers from a variety of indigenous groups with the purpose of validating his belief that Israelis, or “Israelites,” as he referred to them, were indigenous to the Land of Israel.


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