Friday, March 11, 2005
the fake revolution
‘Out Syria! Out Syria! Out Syria!’ cried the crowd. ‘We’re revolutionaries!’ said my friend happily. But I felt a bit gypped. Everybody around me was young, good-looking, having fun, but that wasn’t really what I had had in mind. Only 1,000 or so people? I thought it was the whole of Beirut. Why was everybody under 30? Even in the middle of the crowd, right at the front, it felt less like a national protest than a pop concert. Bouncers in black bomber jackets wore laminated Independence ’05 cards round their necks, screens to the left and right of the platform reflected the crowd back at itself, and up against the Virgin Megastore wall were five plastic Portaloos. To the left of the main speaker, a man in a black flying suit with blond highlights, mirrored Oakley sunglasses and an earpiece seemed to be conducting the crowd. Sometimes he’d wave his arms to increase the shouting, sometimes, with a gesture, he’d silence them. The upturned faces of the revolutionaries were bathed in white light from the TV arc lamps.many have pointed out the similarity between the manufactured "uprising" in beirut and the orange revolution in ukraine last last year -- coordinated, colorful, televised, telegenic, well-financed, consisting mostly of young partiers and naive optimists. hardly a picture of a popular uprising of the aggrieved.
Eventually I worked out what was bothering me. ‘This whole thing is for the cameras,’ I said to my friend. ‘It’s a television show.’ ‘Don’t be so cynical,’ she said. ‘It’s a celebration — they brought down the government, remember.’ I walked over to the vast tent that covered Hariri’s grave in the Virgin car park. Production assistants with clipboards busied themselves around trucks full of monitors and amplifiers. Girls from a company called Future TV were putting make-up on teenagers selling ‘Freedom bracelets’, and the Future Youth Association stood behind a trestle table giving out stickers and blue ribbons in memory of Hariri. In front of the grave, hundreds of multicoloured candles had melted on to the ground. Wreaths of lilies lay in piles and two or three white doves tottered about in the wax. By Hariri’s head, a mini advertising hoarding demanded ‘The Truth’.
As if it were that simple.
in fact, the occurence begs the question: who pays for all this? cui bono? as raimondo notes, cynicism leads home:
For whose benefit is this show being put on? Surely not the people in the Lebanese street, who know perfectly well what is the real balance of forces in the country: this song-and-dance is strictly for home consumption. We are all supposed to parrot, along with the editorial page of the New York Times and every two-bit pundit under the sun, the latest talking points put out by the White House and its neocon amen corner: that Bush was right, after all. The invasion of Iraq, we are told, has felled a whole string of "democratic dominoes," including not only Lebanon but also Egypt (not likely), Saudi Arabia (a farce), and Palestine (an undeniable step forward made possible not by the Iraqi invasion but by the Intifada).at the risk of seeming self-obsessed, i fear that the propaganda of color-coded beautiful-people revolutions (if not the "revolutions" themselves) is likely directed at an audience sitting not between istanbul and peshawar but between bangkor and san diego. and if that is in fact the intended audience, the next question is "why?"
Those who raise objections to the meme-of-the-moment and question the bona fides of the latest color-coded "revolution" are derided as "apologists" for various unsavory characters, from Saddam to Bashar to the Ukrainian Yanukovich (and don't forget Milosevic) – we are "counterrevolutionaries," in the neo-Soviet parlance of our neocon liberationists.
the answer i come to is entirely depressing. painting syria as the bad guy to a gullible, indolent american electorate paves the political path for regime change, and frees the bush administration to start making the most outrageous demands of syrian affairs both in lebanon and within its own sovereign borders -- regardless of what the people or factions of lebanon may truly believe is wise. non-compliance with such demands, of course, becomes -- as it did in iraq -- the pretext for sanctions, bombing and worse.
one has to hope that the course of affairs leads to both american moderation of its blind militarism and syrian reform on a scale that does not undermine stability within syria or lebanon. there's been too much killing already.