Jim Muir recently wrote (and broadcast) about Lebanon, Sunni/Shia tension and the Middle East in general for the BBC's "From Our Own Correspondent" program last Saturday. It is an interesting essay, but it repeats many of the duck-billed platitudes mouthed by statesmen and pundits without giving much new insight. However while it didn't give too much that was new most of Jim Muir's report was a decent summary of the various conflicts and tensions in Lebanon and the Middle East in general so some sort of faint praise is appropriate. I temper that priase for a couple of reasons, the first is that to my mind any of Michael Totten's recent pieces on Lebanon would be far more informative and could easily be condensed into a similar length monologue/essay if they were too long. I wrote some time back about getting my news from the Michaels and this is very much an example of why.
Secondly I temper the praise because Jim Muir states a couple of things as neutral fact that I would consider to be somewhat more like biased conjecture.
The first is the idea that Israel "came nowhere near destroying Hezbollah last summer". I think that statement depends very heavily on how you define "destroy" and for that matter paints a rather optimistic gloss on what looks to any observer like a heavy Hezbollah defeat. Sure it didn't kill all of Hezbollah but it did apparently remove a large amount of its military capability, including perhaps a thousand of its fighters, a number of top commanders and a lot of missiles. In addition, despite the claims in the MSM that Israel was bombing or destroying things indiscrimminately, the eveidence on the ground from people such as Mr Totten is that it in fact was remarkably good at only hitting Hezbollah infrastructure and did so to great effect. Hezbollah may not have been destroyed but its air of invincibility was dealt a severe battering, as was its popularity within Lebanon. In fact I would say that the recent disturbances have been driven in large part by Hezbollah trying to reassert the influence it lost when it precipated a war that caused such widespread destruction of Lebanese infrastructure.
The second and worse one is in the following sentences where Jim Muir seems to feel that he has to drag in some gratuitous Bush-bashing. He writes sneeringly:
But for President George W Bush's America, it is all part of the "war on terror", against those villains from the "Axis of Evil" - Iran and Syria.
Enemies - the extremists - Sunnis and Shias alike - have to be isolated, confronted, and defeated.
So Washington has given millions of dollars to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, to help him defeat Hamas; and it was instrumental in winning billions of dollars of aid pledges for the Sunni-led government in Beirut, to help it defeat Hezbollah and stave off Syrian and Iranian pressures.
Thousands more US troops are heading for Iraq, and another naval battle group, to hover menacingly off Iran's coast in the Gulf.
If calming all these conflicts and turmoil needs Washington to reach a strategic entente with Iran and Syria, that seems highly unlikely under George W Bush.
All this seems to contradict the earlier statements that Shia and Sunni extremsits are happy to fight each other anyway and for that matter to make it seem like Sunni and Shia extremists are perfectly fine folk. Given that his colleague Frank Gardner was shot and nearly killed by Sunnis extremists in Saudi Arabia, not to mention the less than subtle pressure put on the BBC reporters in Iran, it looks like Mr Muir is guilty of, at the very least, misleading his audience about the relative threat levels of the Americans and the "extremists".
In fact since we know that there is a lot of pressure on Lebanon based journalists by Hezbollah (see numerous M Totten articles) I wonder if the anti-America bit wasn't put in there as a way to let Mr Muir continue to have access to Hezbollah PR flacks. Liekwise it is notnoticeable that he seems to treat Hezbollah and (Lebanese) Shia as being more or less interchangeable, suggesting that all Lebanese Shia are supporters of Hezbollah and failing to mention people like Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini or for that matter the Amal movement which is only partially aligned with Hezbollah. When Michael Totten interviewed the former he learned the following:
My translator Henry informed me that Lebanese journalists are no longer allowed to publish or interview Sayyed Husseini. Dissent from the likes of this man is intolerable and has to be smashed. Hezbollah issued its threats. After the two-year spree of car-bombs against journalists, threats from Nasrallah pack weight.
Foreign journalists, though, are allowed to meet with Husseini. Foreign journalists can’t be managed and bullied the same way local journalists can. Foreigners like me are, so far anyway, outside the bounds of car-bombs and murders.
“How does Hezbollah prevent you from getting media coverage?” I said.
“I studied in Qom [in Iran] because Saddam was still in Najaf [in Iraq],” he said. “Iraqi Shia all had to go there and get their degrees. I wrote two articles in the newspaper talking about the real brotherhood between Lebanon and the USA and asking Lebanese Shia to open relations with the USA. Hezbollah worked to stop my ability to continue publishing in the newspaper. So I rely on foreign journalists to tell the world what I and my friends think.”
It occurs to me that Hezbollah may well also threaten foreign journalists too, just not quite as overtly. Given that a search of the BBC websites for "Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini" or even "El Husseini Lebanon" draws a blank even though Mr Husseini is quite well known the possibility seems high that the BBC is either intimidated by Hezbollah or incompetant at its stated role of giving us neutral unbiased information.