I am still struggling my way through Charles Glass’s book on his travels in the Middle East, ‘Tribes With Flags’. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it, rather there is so much to take in. I have sort of teid to follow Middle Eastern politics over the years, mostly via the various wars and bombings, so it’s a hard thing to really engage with. also, there are so many different nationalities – or tribes – and countries. Unless you really know the place, it is just too much.
Here’s him visiting the Lebanese Forces’ Foreign Affairs Department in Beirut, talking to a young woman Naila Hammamji:
I said, “History seems always to repeat itself in this part of the world.”
“I think we are inheriting the same conflicts because we eat from the same earth,” she said. “It’s been the same since Abraham’s time. We now have the same cries as from the refugees in 1860. L’histoire se repete. We are not learning enough from the past. We believe we are stronger than those who went before us. ”
“But you’re not?”
“No. When the French left, the United States and Soviet Union were not strong enough. There was a conflict between France and Great Britain. Great Britain was the winner after France left here. Great Britain was working from the beginning of this century to ceate Israel. when the French left here, Britain helped Lebanon and Syria to be against the French. Britain was helping the Druze against the Christians. France helped the Christians against the Druze. In the 1930s, the British created a Lebanese Christian movement against the French Mandate. When the French left here, they created a government with the benediction of churchill. In 1948, when the Palestinians were expelled from Israel, Lebanon was the first country to accept the refugees. Why?”
“The biggest part came to Lebanon. 400,000 refugees are too many for 3 million people. This had all been prepared. In Lebanon, if there had been a pro-Fench government, they would never have accepted the refugees. We accepted. 20 years later, we accepted the Cairo Accord.” The 1969 Cairo Accord between teh Lebanese government and the PLO gave the Palestinian commandos the right to carry weapons in south Lebanon, a right they had already taken anyway.
“You’re not blaming Britain for that?”
“It was a consequence of the first.”
“You say it’s not a superpower game here, but indirectly…”
“Very indirectly,” she said. “They are playing par personne interposee. Every 3, 4 or 5 years, they change the name of the game and some of the players as well. It’s like a chess match -”
“In which you cannot have checkmate.”
“When all the pieces are out of the game, the black king will shake hands with the white king.” She laughed and shok her left hand in her right.
“I’m a dreamer. Sometimes dreams come true. ”