Amusing! A former ambassador to Lebanon (and now the assistant secretary of state for the whole region) goes old-fashioned and sends a letter to the editor of the New York Times reporting that a Beirut-based newspaper isn’t the bastion of awesomeness that a prior profile made it out to be. Said profile utterly lionized the paper, Al Akhbar, with such phrases as “hawk-eyed editorial chairman”; “gleefully cataloged various embarrassments to the region’s kings, princes and politicians”; “the most dynamic and daring in Lebanon, and perhaps anywhere in the Arab world”; “a remarkable blend”; “an alluring product”; and “the finest luxury sedan to come on the market in at least a decade” (okay I made that last one up).
But, according to Jeffrey Feltman, the former ambassador, this is the same paper whose editorial board was the only one that refused to meet with him; which frequently committed errors in reporting his activities; and “will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria” (“Critics say the paper’s protestations of editorial freedom ring a little hollow,” the profile acknowledged, “given that it operates under the tacit protection of Hezbollah”).
The discrepancy brings to mind Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith’s piece last week, in which he alleged that many Western observers condescend to certain regional actors and hold them up as beacons of morality when, if they behaved identically but did so in the West and as Westerners, they would be condemned. “While it is man’s ability to tell good from bad that makes him most human, certain Western intellectuals take the unwillingness, or inability, to do so as a sign of the genius to rise above the small-minded morality of the masses,” Smith argued. “Excusing Hezbollah may seem like the rational decision-making of a thoughtful intellectual who is observing a society ostensibly different from his own, but in reality the moral universe of the Middle East is no different from in the rest of the world.”