Jumblatt: jubilant with the spark of democratic revolt spreading in the Middle East:
“The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”
Let freedom reign. Since last week, Jumblatt’s words have been pinging round the blogosphere with ever increasing velocity.
And now the Syrians sniff freedom
OK, brainboxes, fingers on the buzzers. Here is your starter for 10. Who is Mr Walid (“Wally”) Jumblatt? That’s right, he’s something to do with the Middle East… You’ve got it, we’re talking Lebanon. Yes, I think he may well have a moustache, but that is fairly common in Lebanese politics. Did you say he was the leader of the Jews in Lebanon? Close. For Jews read Druze.
Shall I remind you? Walid Jumblatt is of course the very distinguished patriarch of the Muslim Druze community, leader of the Lebanese opposition and a man who is not known for being a huge fan of America.
Here are the views of Walid Jumblatt on American soldiers: “We are all happy when an American soldier is killed.”
Here are the views of Mr Jumblatt on Israeli soldiers: “The fall of a Jew, whether soldier or civilian, is a great accomplishment.”
I think we can take it that Mr Jumblatt is not the sort of man we would expect to find at a Washington think-tank whose patrons were, say, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz or Dick Cheney. He could not normally expect a rave write-up in a column by our own Mark Steyn. From the point of view of the neo-conservatives who run Washington and so much of the world, Mr Jumblatt is about as unsound as it is possible to be.
And yet here he is, last week, in conversation with David Ignatius of the Washington Post. Their talk took place over dinner in Beirut, at the height of the anti-Syrian protests. Not far away, 25,000 people were chanting for freedom, amid all the paraphernalia that we remember from the democratic revolutions that swept Europe in 1989: guttering candles; beautiful long-haired student girls with democratic logos lipsticked to their foreheads; hastily mass-produced flags; the whiff of cannabis; the strumming of guitars; the tent cities and the endless felt-tip scrawling of slogans on concrete.
I am unsure about the exact prohibitions of the Druze religion, but we can take it that Mr Jumblatt had ingested nothing more intoxicating than falafel when he made the following sensational statement.
“It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.” Jumblatt then went on to say that the spark of democratic revolt was spreading. “The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”
The Berlin Wall! The end of the Middle East’s Berlin Wall! One can only dream of the ululations of rapture that will have greeted this phrase, when the neo-cons of Washington rose from their slumbers and switched on their blogs. Here it was, from the mouth of the top Druze himself, a genuine Muslim, a freedom-fighter, a man with anti-American credentials as long as your arm, the admission that the war in Iraq was not an epic and unparalleled disaster – as portrayed by some of the drips in the London media – in which 17,000 civilians had so far died and more than a thousand US soldiers. On the contrary, that war, that liberation, had provided the spark for the flame of freedom that was now burning in Beirut.
Yes, folks, it was the vaunted domino effect. First, Iraq. Then, Lebanon. Next stop, Syria. Just listen to Jumblatt. Democracy would appear to be on the verge of germination in the parched wastes of the Middle East.
Let freedom reign. Since last week, Jumblatt’s words have been pinging round the blogosphere with ever increasing velocity. For all I know, they have already been struck into bronze plaques and posted on the walls of the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for a New American Century. They are political gold: an apparent validation of George Dubya Bush’s hugely dangerous and controversial invasion of Iraq, the war against which so many hundreds of thousands protested in this country and across the world.
And because the events in Lebanon are proving so deliriously pleasing to the neo-cons, they are also, of course, symmetrically irritating to the Americo-sceptics and all those who opposed the war.
I am sad to say that I have friends and colleagues whose first reaction, on seeing the bunting of the Cedar Revolution, was to scoff. “Huh,” I heard someone say, “just look at those flags – I bet they were all provided by the CIA. You could never run off a load of flags that quickly. It’s all an American plot,” he said, “just like that business in the Ukraine.”
“Yeah,” said someone else, “and the last time I was in Beirut I talked to a taxi driver who said he liked the Syrian army. These neo-cons don’t understand that the Syrians have brought stability to Lebanon. The Lebanese like having all those Syrians standing around with guns.”
Well, my friends, I can understand your pique at the way in which history is apparently vindicating Mark Steyn. If there is one thing worse than a stridently triumphalist American neo-con, it is a stridently triumphalist American neo-con who seems to be right.
But in so far as the Americosceptics think the Syrian army has been good for Lebanon, they seem to be at odds not only with the Lebanese people, but also with most of Arab opinion. The Syrians have been intermittently brutal in their occupation; they have taken Lebanese water; they have kidnapped and detained without trial. It is time that Bashar Assad removed all 14,000 of them, and so say 77 per cent of the Arab world, according to Al-Jazeera, and newspapers from Jordan to Kuwait to Egypt.
The protests in Lebanon have hugely increased the likelihood of that withdrawal and, if Jumblatt is right, those protests have been sparked by democracy in Iraq. We may be on the verge of a process as wonderful as he thinks; and we should not allow any anti-Americanism, any hatred of Bush, any doubts about the war, to tempt us to hope otherwise.
Map of Lebanon here