The Fatah al-Islam saga continues – the Arab “conspiracy theory” view

It ain’t over till it’s over. The army is still hunting Shaker al-Abssi, unsuccessfully up to now, but escaped fighters keep being arrested – recently Palestinian organisations in Beddawi camp handed over two more of the shady characters to the Lebanese authorities, including a military leader of the organisation. Meanwhile 14 members of the group have been charged with “belonging to the Fatah al-Islam terrorist group with the aim of committing crimes against people and property”. Six of the defendants are Palestinians, three are Syrians, there are two Lebanese, two Saudis and one is “a German of Turkish origin”. They include the group’s spokesman Abu Salim Taha, who is still being questioned and has made some interesting confessions. Among other things, he has said that Fatah al-Islam had/has ties both to Al-Qaeda in Iraq and to “elements in the Syrian intelligence services” who facilitated their travel through Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Al-Akhbar, however, was the only media outlet to report yesterday (wednesday) that Taha also talked about Abu Hureira, the group’s (killed) deputy leader, trying to set up talks with (Hariri’s) Future Movement after the start of the (mainly shia and christian) opposition’s sit-in “to defend Lebanon’s sunnis” – as the Daily Star today translated parts of the al-Akhbar article. A certain Michael Bluhm in his Daily Star article describes the opposition newspaper as “a local newspaper (… with a) political agenda (… that) aimed to heap dirt on Future”, and went on to slag it even further. The mere fact that the Daily Star sees itself forced to comment on the news, however, proves the impact in the country of the “local newspaper” and the “news that no other media outlets judged reliable”. (The Daily Star itself, I am told by one of their interns, runs on a staff of about 5 (mostly relatively young and unexperienced) people and has a considerable part of its articles written by unpaid interns). Bluhm could not deny that there have been “persistent but unproven reports” on ties between the Future movement and F al-I. He describes Bahia Hariri’s confession that she has supported islamist groups as “The Hariri family has said that it gave money to Palestinian refugee groups after clashes at the restive Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon, and that some of the funds might have found their way to the many militant groups based in the camp”. Observe the carefully established difference between “refugee groups” and “militant groups”…

The “persistent but unproven reports” have been published by various journalists and writers, most prominently by Seymour Hersh. Hariri funding (which means Saudi-directed which means US-approved) of sunni islamists in Lebanon is perceived to aim at countering the shia (read: Hezbollah) influence and military strength in Lebanon, as a part of the dangerous sectarian game the US, Israel and their allies are playing throughout the greater Middle East, with talk about a “Shia crescent” first started by King Abdullah of Jordan last year and then enthusiastically taken up by Mubarak and others. In the predominant Arab political analysis – persistently described in western media, if mentioned at all, as a “conspiracy theory”, even while it is shared by many prominent analysts, journalists and writers who are definitely not “islamists”or even “fanatics” in any sense – the US/Israeli strategy for “a new Middle East” is seen as an effort to break up the more powerful Arab countries that are not “moderate” (i.e. not pro-US/Israel) and divide them into as many powerless sectarian statelets as possible. In that view, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the continuous threats and war-mongering against Iran and Syria and the July 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon, all fit into a strategy of “divide and rule” whereby Israel would emerge as the only viable and powerful state left in the Middle East, surrounded by small, isolated, easy-to-manipulate sectarian statelets locked in eternal fighting among each other. The US congress’ recent “decision” (and how arrogantly colonial is that?) to partition Iraq pretty much corroborates that point of view.

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