Wednesday, April 2, 2008

EU talks with Hezbollah...uh...or not

A friend informed me that a Lebanese newspaper reported last week that the Dutch ambassador has had a meeting with Mr. Moussawi, who is the Hezbollah guy-to-go-to for anything that has to do with international affairs. Now that’s news: an EU country talking to a representative of a blacklisted organization!!

To note, I am not a reporter, but like most bloggers there’s always this desire to stumble across hard hitting news and being the first to report it. To be a blogger or journalist, you must possess a strongly developed sense of self-importance: what I have to say, matters. In fact, it matters so much I want a larger audience than that guy in my bathroom mirror every morning. However pathetic it may sound, but the thought ‘The world needs me!’ should be the attitude for any journalist/blogger.

So imagine my excitement when I heard about that article: what’s better news than having an EU country ignoring the EU guideline of not talking to organizations they consider being terrorist? The apparent reason was to be proactive about the anti-Koran movie Fitna that was about to be released. Still, would that be a good enough reason for talking to people you call terrorists? Hell no! Pulitzer here I come!!

First step was to get confirmation from the Dutch embassy, but they denied flat out that the ambassador has had any contact with any Hezbollah representative whatsoever. Uh-oh…not good. If I’d be truly paranoid, this would confirm the story even more: of course they’d be denying the fact that they’d be breaking all the rules! But, I happen to see them regularly and the Dutch ambassador with his staff are truly nice, professional people who wouldn’t have any reason to lie.

Yup, I know: such a trust in people counts as a huge disqualifier for journalism! So I had to continue searching for The Truth™. How about giving the newspaper a call that originally published the article? Good thinking Riemer, you rool!

[Like any blogger/journalist, you have to fully believe in yourself. Even after seeing a story being destroyed upon hearing the flat-out denial from a key player, you have to pick yourself up and keep on going. Self-delusional thoughts of your own importance are crucial in this field. The world needs you, remember!…one can only wonder how this affects the overall quality of news providing in general]

So I called the newspaper to get at least a confirmation that the article describing the meeting between the Dutch ambassador and the Hezbollah representative had indeed been published last week. That turned out to be quite a challenge.

- “Hi, I am Riemer Brouwer and I am from Holland. Your newspaper has published a story about the Dutch ambassador…”
- “Afwan?”, the operator asked, followed by some Arabic
- “Do you speak English?”
- “uh…wait”

After waiting for a few minutes, they had located a person who could speak English. “Yes sir, how can I help you?”. So I launched into my question all over again and asked him if he could remember this article.

- “Uh sorry, no article like that. Not written by me”
- “Perhaps one of your colleagues wrote it?”, I tried
- “Uh, sorry, I don’t know”
- “OK, who would know?”
- “Uh sorry, I don’t know”, was again the answer
- “Can I talk to your boss, perhaps he knows”
- “Uh sorry, he is on a lunch break, try after 5PM, then he will be back”

I called the newspaper at around 2PM, so that’s quite a nice lunch break they’re having. Obviously, the assistant should have told me that his boss was out hunting down a scoop or something equally sexy, but his honesty was actually much more interesting.

At 5 o’clock I called again and asked directly for his boss. Luckily, he spoke English albeit barely. Luckily, he was also very friendly, especially when I told him I was from Holland and writing about Fitna . Unluckily, he couldn’t help and gave the impression he had no clue what I was talking about. “Dutch ambassador? Who? Fitna movie about Islam from Holland? Movie, what do you mean?”

So I explained a bit more, but it felt like talking to a wall. It’s an experience shared by most foreigners in the Arab world: it can be amazingly difficult to have a normal conversation with someone who doesn’t know and thus doesn’t trust you, especially over the phone. It’s almost always necessary to meet with the person, sit down and have coffee with him and after this huge waste of time you can ask your question.

My attempt to get information over the phone from a guy who has never met me was therefore doomed to fail. Sure enough, after a few minutes, the man defaulted into the familiar “Uh sorry, I don’t know” answer.

Seriously frustrated by now, I decided to give up. Hard-hitting journalism is just not for me. Hence, any real journalist looking for a scope, this might still be it: EU talks with Hezbollah. Feel free to write about it…no, wait, change that in: You must write about it. Remember, the world needs you!

7 comments:

Abraham said...

The EU has not ''blacklisted'' Hezbollah. Some EU-member states have, which is a different thing.

Riemer Brouwer said...

@Abraham,

Thanks for the correction. Wikipedia has a list of all countries that consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization, The Netherlands is one of them.

Italy, however, is not, which could explain why Moussawi was invited by the Italian ambassador.

Anonymous said...

It's really idiotic to be a diplomat in Lebanon and ignore Hezbollah. They are so strong on the ground that this simply would not be possible!
I know for a fact that the French for instance contact regularly Hezbollah officials.

Anonymous said...

Nee nee, je moet die krant niet bellen, je moet hezbollah bellen. Ik heb hun nummer wel. Maar volgens mij is die Moussawi van Hebollah geditched na zijn wat 'bange' reactie op bombardementen tijdens de zomer van 2006 in het bijzijn van buitenlandse journalisten. Kan het mis hebben, hoor.
Sietske

abraham said...

anonymous 2.28:

you have a point but you're being much too harsh on diplomats. they represent their countries abroad and are required to do just that, i.e. to represent their governments' policies. if they fail to do so, a fate worse than death (i.e. dismissal) or a posting as second vice-consul in charge of number plates will certainly await them. those policies may be idiotic (your words) but that is hardly their fault. the exceptionally talented diplomat is one who manages to manipulate and dress up wrong-headed policies to suit his own ends.....and get away with it. but he, or she, remains the exception.

blogger riemer 216: as a rule i don't consult wikipedia on middle east politics. let me put this to you: my guess is that member states
of the eu that have not blacklisted hizballah are states with an historical interest in lebanon and/or play a relatively important role in this region, while those who regard hizballah as an incorrigible gang of terrorists are states with little or no influence or role to play in this part of the world.
check it out (but please not thru wikipedia)

Riemer Brouwer said...

@Sietske,
thanks for the offer, but i've had it with trying to be a hard-hitting journalist: it's too damn tiring! So chapeau bas to the professionals out there and feel free to use any and all of my story.

I'd be happy to provide you with the names of the newspaper and the journalists I talked to, but off-list.

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