#RIP: remembering two anniversaries

from time to time i force myself to seek out an online stream of the Fox News Channel (“The Most Powerful Name In News”).

without meaning to sound like a masochist or some sort of self-nominated martyr, i consider it a sort of unpleasant discipline.

for obvious reasons, i assumed that the last few days would prove an apposite opportunity to observe the FNC team in full rhetorical flow, and i have been both not disappointed and very much so.

as the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place in New York and Washington on the 11th of September, 2001 draws nigh, Fox News has thrown itself headlong into a dizzy maelstrom of archive footage spliced with emotive testimony of those involved, sandwiched between up to date comment and analysis on 9/11 during its feature slots.

there has of course been some room for breaking news stories, but even many of those covered have been artfully woven into the overarching rhetoric of ‘9/11 remembered’.

‘minority’ complaints about tribute fields of American flags, the NFL’s (now reversed) decision to ban players from commemorating 9/11 on their equipment (cleats, gloves, etc) and the rumoured threat of another terrorist attack in NYC have required little effort, but, more creatively (for example), the current economic crisis has become an aspect of the long-term legacy of 9/11, rather than profligate, brutal Capitalism, and the (reportedly violent) protests of Wisconsin union members are especially ‘unpatriotic’ given the calendrical context.

(nb. those interested in the wrapping up of the American financial crises with the effects of terrorism should note the growing profile of USAA).

however, setting aside the highly rhetorical, overarching and all-encompassing tone, the one thing that has saddened (although not altogether surprised) me the most is the continuing expression of ‘clash of cultures’ ideology.

the othering of those responsible for the attacks served an obvious sociological function in their immediate aftermath, but the ongoing emphasis in much of the Fox comment and analysis on how ‘they’ wanted, and still want, to destroy ‘our’ freedom, religion, democracy and way of life, goes way beyond that sort of emergency consolidation strategy.

ironically – considering the orgy of 9/11 anecdote that is currently consuming the space between the main slots on FNC – regardless of the nationality and political or faith persuasions of those caught up in what happened a decade ago, the spectre of broad-brush categorization (e.g. American (=Christian) vs. Muslim (nb. the use of the term ‘Muslim world’)) haunts ground zero as it is constructed by many in the America media.

as a Christian residing on the other side of the Atlantic, it would be easy for me to close my eyes to all this, to dismiss Fox News as a product of the neo-conservative fringe, and to console myself that HBO is a far more powerful cultural entity.

the reality, however, is that there are plenty on the American right who are deeply invested in the notion that Islam is a religion of violence, hatred and ignorance and that the ‘Muslim world’ is the chief enemy of America and the ‘Christian West’ (a strange geographical construct that includes Israel and excludes most of Europe), and Fox News is a popular, ‘legitimate’ funnel through which varyingly diluted elements of their perverse ideologies freely and widely flow.

rather than risk both causing unnecessary offence and alienating myself from the discourse by opposing certain 9/11 memorials on the grounds of the rhetoric that shapes them, i simply wish to direct attention to another impending and tragic anniversary which is worthy of equal remembrance.

29 years ago this coming Friday (16th Sept, 1982), somewhere between 1300-3500 Palestinians (the exact number is disputed) living in the Shatila refugee camp in the slum neighbourhood of Sabra in southern West Beirut, were massacred by the militia wing of the Christian, right-wing, Lebanese political party Kata’eb, aided by the Israeli Defence Force.

the Shatila camp first sprung up as a result of the inability of the large number of Palestinians that had fled into Lebanon during the 1948 Palestine war (both the ’47/’48 civil war and the ’48 Arab-Israeli conflict) to return home because of the land claimed by the newly created State of Israel.

then, during the 1970s – following their expulsion from Jordan – the camp became a significant power and operations base for the PLO. Shatila became a target during the Israeli military incursion into southern Lebanon in June 1982 which resulted from the attempted assassination of Israel’s UK Ambassador, Shlomo Argov, in London. although Argov was actually shot by members of the ANO, a rival Palestinian group that were planning a similar strike on a PLO official, Israel used the incident as justification for a military operation against their larger and more well-known enemy.

following two months of intense fighting, in August the US brokered a cease-fire between Israel and the PLO, under the terms of which the PLO agreed to leave Lebanon (under international supervision) and Israel agreed not to venture further into the country.

on the 23rd of August Bachir Gemayel, a senior Kata’eb member, was elected President of Lebanon. the ascension of a Christian party, and one of their key allies against the PLO, further strengthened Israel’s position.

by the 1st September the supervised exit of the PLO from Beirut was complete and, ten days later, the international force that had been in place to guarantee the safety of Palestinian refugees also withdrew from the region.

however, on the 14th of September President Gemayal was assassinated by a bomb that Kata’eb supporters immediately attributed to a PLO remnant in West Beirut. in response, the IDF broke its treaty and reentered West Beirut, completely surrounding Shatila. having taken control of all entrance, exit and nearby, elevated observation points, the IDF began to shell the camp.

two days later, Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon met with members of the Kata’eb militia and agreed that while the IDF kept Shatila on lock-down, the militia could enter the camp and seek out those they considered responsible for Gemeyal’s assassination.

for the next three days (16th, 17th, 18th), while the IDF guarded its perimeter and illuminated the camp at night with overhead flares, the Kata’eb militia massacred up to 3500 Palestinian men, women and children.

bodies discovered later showed signs of mass ‘firing squad’ executions, rape and severe mutilation – including young men who had been castrated, others scalped and yet others had crosses carved into their chests, pregnant women whose torsos had been ripped open, and infants who had been sliced open and left in piles.

it later emerged that Gemeyal had been killed not by the PLO but by a disgruntled, left-wing Lebanese national.

you may not come across much coverage of the anniversary of the Sabra-Shatila massacre over the next few days – i certainly doubt that any major news agencies will given it even a fiftieth of the coverage devoted to the 9/11 attacks (with the potential exception of Al Jazeera). however, i will be remembering both with equal lament and heaviness of heart.

in fact, just as i imagine mental images of the 9/11 pilots praising Allah as they flew into the towers of the World Trade Centre or the Pentagon haunt many Muslims, i cannot help but feel especially affected by the notion that a fellow Christian could carve the symbol of our shared faith into the writhing chest of another human being.

i do not for a minute believe that any RQT readers will have been swayed by the notion that there was anything definitively Islamic about what played out ten years ago in New York and Washington, but we should also never become blasé, or kid ourselves that we are ever immune from the effects of media rhetoric.

both, therefore, because i think it is equally important in its own right, and because it serves as a fitting rejoinder to any latent Islamophobia that might be encountered in the media over the next few days, this week i will be remembering the 16th of September, 1982 as well as the 11th of September, 2001.

ps: if you’ve not yet seen it, i heartily recommend Ari Folmam’s animated, autobiographical documentary Waltz With Bashir (from which the animated images above are taken). it explores Folman’s attempts to recall the precise nature of, and then come to terms with, his role in the massacre while on National Service with the IDF as a teenager.

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  1. People will always act in this way, these people are in all societies and we never know for sure who they are until circumstances arise that give them power and opportunity. One thing is clear to me, religion is only the catalyst that helps with the dehumanisation if others.

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