What happened to Lebanon’s most popular rock star?
On a fine February afternoon at the Café Nicola in Lisbon my Lebanese friend sipped his wine, turned to me and explained the meaning behind the glittering “Turkish model” of the early days of the Arab Spring in 2011: “[Turkey is a model] because anyone who stands against Israel is a friend of Arabs.”
Then he added: “But that thinking has only built temporary alliances, which [later] easily turned into longer-term hostilities among the Arabs.” Not only among the Arabs, apparently.
In July 2010, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, when Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah – who, according to his followers, was “a wise man and outstanding fighter who stood bravely against the Zionist enemy” – died. Having accepted Mr. Erdoğan’s condolences, Mr Nasrallah thanked the prime minister “for his stance regarding the Palestinian cause.”
In November 2010, Mr. Erdoğan said Turkey would not remain silent in the event of an Israeli attack on Lebanon or the Gaza Strip. Speaking in Beirut, where he was greeted “like a rock star,” Mr. Erdoğan also said Hezbollah was not involved in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. How did he know? He did not. He only thought that it would not be nice if anti-Zionist Muslim brothers were murderers.
In those days, Mr. Nasrallah, after meeting with Mr. Erdoğan, spoke of “the spirit of resistance in Lebanon,” which Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said “would live as long as Zionists continue to exist.” And in June 2010, Mr. Erdoğan invited Mr. Nasrallah to Turkey, “on the recommendation of Hamas’s political bureau chief, Khalid Mashal,” when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad spoke of “the possibility of an Iranian-Turkish-Syrian alliance with Hamas and Hezbollah.”
In August 2012, Mr. Ahmedinejad said “confronting Zionists will… pave the way for saving the whole world from exploitation, depravity and misery.” The Iranian president called Israel a “cancerous tumor,” and said “there [was] no place for the Jewish state in a future Middle East.”
In August 2012, Turkey is in a not-so-cold war with Syria and in quite cold wars with Iran and Iraq.
Lebanon? Oh, yes, in August 2012, Ankara issued a travel warning advising Turkish citizens against all non-essential travel to Lebanon after two Turkish nationals were kidnapped by a Lebanese clan. A statement from the Foreign Ministry said that “the situation in Lebanon is taking a course that threatens the security of our citizens.”
The kidnappings are believed to have been in retaliation for the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese pilgrims in Syria. Possibly risking raising always-too-confident Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s eyebrows, Turkey’s Ambassador to Beirut, Inan Ozyıldız, acknowledged that “Turkey did not have the means to secure the release of the kidnapped Lebanese.”
It was not long ago that Mr. Erdoğan was loudly boasting about visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to Iran, Syria and Lebanon. True, there are no visa restrictions, but one border is closed due to war, the other is not really a welcoming destination for Turks, and the last is not safe for Turks to travel to.
True love tends to forget? I still recall what my Lebanese friend told me in Lisbon: “The Lebanese tend to forget their identities because Nasrallah speaks of unity… unity against Israel.” What a pity that with the Arabs (and Persians and Turks) it’s never unity for something, but unity against.
Perhaps I must repeat a line I wrote in this column seven months ago: “Simple populism based on ‘Zionist-bashing’ is too weak a bond to keep Muslim solidarity up and running.” (“Turkish belly-dancing to Persian santouri,” Jan. 11, 2012)
How sad that in this part of the world, even brotherhoods based on unity against something fail to last longer than a couple of years.