Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Robert Fisk is great today.
"If the Americans expected submission, they didn't get it in Beirut yesterday afternoon. President Mohammad Khatami of Iran – whose election gave him a far more convincing majority than George Bush received in America – insisted that Tehran's support for the Lebanese Hizbollah would remain firm, that Israel must leave the last square miles of Lebanese territory and that – here was the old, familiar Khatami refrain – there must be a "dialogue" of civilisations.

The Shia Muslims of Lebanon, the largest if largely unacknowledged community in the country, flocked to see their hero in Beirut, women in chadors and great bearded men weeping with delight at the mere sight of the thin, ascetic but humane cleric who once offered a real hope of democracy in Iran.

Alas for hopes. The religious hierarchy in Tehran has crushed President Khatami's spirit of freedom – it tore up two parliamentary bills demanding yet more freedoms this week – but his message to the Lebanese contains a powerful emotional charge: don't give in, trust in God, believe in humanism. It is very much the message of the Renaissance with which the West was blessed but of which the Middle East – we are talking here about Islam – was deprived. Vincent Battle, America's unimaginative ambassador to Lebanon, has been preaching the lessons of Israeli submission to the Lebanese for weeks: disarm the Hizbollah fighters, put the Lebanese army on the border with Israel, learn the lessons of the "war on terror".
The Independent

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