[Ikhras Note: As we were writing this blog post Hisham Melhem appeared on CNN to once again repeat the comments that are addressed in it and added what appeared to be a justification for Israel’s extrajudicial assassination of Lebanese citizen Samir Kuntar.]
After news of the extrajudicial assassination of Lebanese citizen Samir Kuntar in a Damascus suburb by Israel broke we could not help but remember a recent series of tweets by Hisham Melhem about the Arab resistance icon. After Syrian officials confirmed the death of Kuntar the Israeli hasbara machine immediately began repeating the stale propaganda narrative about “operation Nasser” that Kuntar led into occupied Northern Palestine in 1979 during which he was captured. Kuntar spent 30 years in prison before Israel was forced to release him in a prisoner swap with the Hezbollah resistance organization seven years ago. Melhem’s comments deserve to be highlighted as illustrative of a certain type of Arab, but first some background.
Melhem, like all Arabs that consider their conditional acceptance by the White Man to be an affirmation of their civility and humanity, adopts and internalizes the same racist discourse of the U.S. political culture in which he (and others) seek to immerse themselves as a means to gain acceptance and approval. One of the most obvious manifestations of this behavior is their willingness to contribute to the dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims. The racism and dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims is especially blatant when offered in the context of Arab resistance to Israeli occupation for reasons that need no explanation. Masquerading as that rare civilized Arab living among the White Man and taking on the barbarians and terrorists of his region of origin, Melhem, like his good friend and Arab-American Neocon, Hussein Ibish, routinely employs abrasive, crude and not so subtle racist language to describe Arabs and Arab culture. But even for Melhem, his recent and repeated outbursts against Kuntar are especially despicable
To begin, Melhem basically parrots the official Israeli version of events. So the first question for Melhem would be why do you accept the Israeli propaganda narrative as truthful and reject Kuntar’s version of events as a lie and fabrication? On what basis did you make that judgment? How did you determine the credibility of the competing versions?
— Hisham Melhem (@hisham_melhem) September 8, 2015
Those interested in what happened the day Kuntar led a group of resistance fighters into occupied Palestine can easily confirm what actually took place. Kuntar himself has always denied the Israeli version and has given extensive interviews regarding the events of that day. After his release Kuntar also wrote a book that included, in addition to his memories and writings from his 30 years in Israeli prison, a detailed account of how the resistance operation unfolded that day back in 1979. Unlike Ibish, who was also born and raised in Lebanon, Melhem is able to understand and read Arabic with native ability.
Melhem then went on to add the following:
@fanaha No. The whole damn political class in Lebanon went to the airport to welcome Kuntar. It was a shameful day
— Hisham Melhem (@hisham_melhem) September 8, 2015
Here Melhem’s anti-Arab racism is fully revealed. He not only condemns Kuntar as a child murderer, but goes on to indict the entire Lebanese political class, and, by extension, Arab society and culture. Melhem is arguing that a child murderer capable of smashing the head of a 4-year old girl is treated as a hero in Lebanon. Melhem goes to great lengths to condemn not only Kuntar, but also the culture and society to which Kuntar and his comrades belong.
Putting aside the factual record of the operation itself, let’s assume, for arguments sake, that the Israeli version is the accurate and truthful one. This presents another more troubling question. Melhem is well aware that hardly anyone in Lebanon or the Arab world accepts the Israeli version of events. Nevertheless, he is so determined to denigrate and dehumanize Arabs that he insists that the millions that came out in support of Kuntar after his release did so because he murdered a 4-year old girl by smashing her head with rifle. As a proponent of the delusional, self-deceiving Arab meme, Melhem can accept the Israeli propaganda narrative without attributing Arab support for Kuntar to a culture that approves and celebrates the murder of a 4-year old girl. So why did Melhem choose to not point out that the crazy Arabs simply do not believe the truth-telling Israelis? Why not explain that Kuntar’s supporters are the same delusional, self-deceiving Arabs he has been analyzing and talking about all along? This would be a more honest explanation (if you believe the Israeli version) of Arab support for Kuntar, but it would also undermine efforts to ingratiate himself with Washington officialdom and U.S. regime journalists. It would also require a professional and personal set of ethics and integrity that Melhem simply does not possess.
When Kuntar was captured by Israel in 1979 Melhem was a self-described “leftist” (it would be interesting to know what Melhem said about Kuntar and the Palestinian resistance fighters back then). At some point during Kuntar’s period of captivity Melhem, through some introspection, discovered the values and traditions of American capitalism and imperialism, not to mention Saudi Wahhabism, are superior to those of the left. So by the time Kuntar was released Melhem had completely transformed himself into an obnoxious, unabashed right-wing apologist for empire and a hired pen for the Arab oil and gas media.
Along the path of his transformation Melhem was required to sacrifice his journalistic ethics and self-respect. He may consider it a small price to pay for an approving pat on the back from a David Ignatius, but Melhem’s political pathology and careerism do not fully explain his particularly intense loathing for Kuntar. We suspect that Melhem, who would not be welcomed in polite circles in his native Lebanon, became unhinged after watching Kuntar receive a national hero’s welcome following his release from prison. Perhaps, he realizes that Kuntar, who lived a consistently principled life and became a symbol of Arab dignity and personal moral courage, represents his own antithesis.