A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bizarro World Canossa?: Hariri's Road to Damascus

UPDATE: Qifa Nabki calls my attention in a comment below about an outbreak of Road to Damascus rhetoric earlier this year. (But I still claim orginality for "Bizarro World Canossa.")

Now that Sa‘d Hariri is Prime Minister of Lebanon, there comes the ironic crux: Prime Ministers of Lebanon traditionally take the Road to Damascus (though not exactly in Saint Paul's sense), and at some point Hariri must too. Although there had been reports that it wouldn't be soon, now we're hearing it might be as early as Sunday. (Both are Naharnet reports, so the situation is shifting.) Qifa Nabki approaches it with a reader poll. Will it exonerate Syria in Rafiq Hariri's death, or are the issues separate and irrelevant, or "Don't Know". Go on over and vote if you like. I wish he, who knows Lebanon so much more than I, had said more, but oh, heck, I guess I can share my 1) pop culture and 2) really obscure academic historian's views of the matter.

Trying to picture what it will be like. My first reaction was a Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker dialogue:

Hariri: You killed my father.
Asad: Luke, I am your father.

But that's a bit puerile, though I'm posting it anyway.

My second immediate thought, though a whole lot more obscure in this age when history has dissolved into "social studies," and people have (mostly at least) stopped arguing over the Investiture Controversy at every bar, was the penitential walk of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV through the Alpine snows to ask forgiveness of Pope Gregory VII in the fortress of Canossa in 1377. When the Pope kept the Emperor waiting three days in the snow before letting him beg forgiveness. (Picture shows the wait.)

The only problem here is this is the Bizarro World version of Canossa. (For my Middle Eastern readers who didn't click the Wikipedia link: it's a Baby Boomer's American popular culture Superman reference. It's probably not in your dictionary. Just know that in Bizarro World, everything is the exact opposite of our world.) In other words, the Pope is asking the Emperor for forgiveness, or, to mix still more metaphors, the liege is coming and shaking hands with the lord who may — and the various investigations remain really Byzantine in their intricacy — have ordered his father killed.

Can you really patch things up with the person who you suspect may have ordered your father killed, short of an intricate plot like Hamlet? (Which, of course, was the exact same plot.) He could, of course, ask Walid Jumblatt for advice, since Walid Bey's father was killed by mysterious forces that looked rather Syrian, but Walid Bey, having bounced back from his neocon binge in the Bush 2 era (making him the only neocon who was a member in good standing with the Socialist International), is in a rapprochement with Syria. (And Michel Aoun might have some really helpful advice on rationalizing your conscience, too.)

And Saint Paul thought he had a rough time on the Road to Damascus.

Oh, and as of this posting, the three words "Bizarro World Canossa" do not appear to have ever appeared on any site indexed by Google. (Though I can't imagine why.) That may be the first time I've pulled that off.


JR said...

I think a quote from that great political analyst Robert Allen Zimmerman may be relevant: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows'.

Qifa Nabki said...


This may be of interest:


Michael Collins Dunn said...

Qifa: I've updated the post and linked. At least I think I'm first with "Bizarro World Canossa."