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Sami Al Banna’s Powerpoint on the War In Iraq

April 18, 2008

I didn’t imagine – when I read his name – that it could be anyone else but the Sami Al Banna that I knew more than 25 years ago. And it was indeed the same. He’d been invited by the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center in Boulder to give a talk there as a part of their Middle East Series. He was also scheduled to come to Denver as well, where I heard his excellent presentation, a political analysis on the US War in Iraq, which teased out the main lines of what the United States is doing in Iraq and why the US military will probably be there for some time unless world public opinion – that other superpower as it is sometimes called – can get it to close down the operation, dismantle all those bases and high-tail it out of a place it has no business being in the first place.

I have very many memories of Al Banna from the old days, but one stands out. In July 1981, I had the good fortune to visit Syria and Lebanon. It was a year before the 1982 Israeli invasion of that country. In Syria there was what I can only today refer to as one of those bullshit international conferences I used to attend, interersting only in the sense of those present, but otherwise of much fanfare and no substance. In my excitement of being in the presence of so many players, I failed to appreciate the conference’s irrelevance to the general flow of events. Par for the course, I’d soon learn. Still, many of the main players in the Arab world in those days – most now dead, politically obsolete or investing in strip malls in central Florida – were in attendance lending the impression of seriousness to the circus atmosphere. That conference was followed by what I can only describe now as a `rather colorful’ trip to Lebanon to see the sights. The sights included the Sabra and Chatilla Palestinian refugee camps outside of Beirut, the south (Sidon and Tyre) during which time I got within a few miles of the Lebanese-Israeli border.

There were many meetings, insights – the kind of powerful impressions one remembers 27 years later as if they were yesterday. Two days after I left Rashidiyyah, a Palestinian camp in the South, US made Israeli F-16s bombed the place, destroying I was told, the home of my host among others. Four days after I flew out of Beirut, the Israeli’s dropped a 600 pound vacuum bomb on the apartment building where I was staying, killing hundreds, mostly civilian women and children. The memory of Al Banna is a part of that tapestry. He was living in Beirut at the time. There was a party at his home to which I was invited. Early on in the evening, I heard the sound of machine gun fire which seemed to me right outside the window. Not accustomed to the mix of machine gun fire, music and good cheer all blending together in one strange symphony, I went to Sami to ask if perhaps we should take cover, …or something. Showing the degree to which he’d adjusted to `the normalcy of war’ he listened for a moment and then commented quite calmly `Oh, it’s a block away’..and went on partying.

I came away from that journey with the strong impression that war was in the making, that an Israeli invasion – with US permission if not complicity – was in the making – as I could see no diplomatic momentum heading towards any kind of peace settlement. With some minor differences, it bares an eery resemblance to the current situation.

In any case, for those interested in Al Banna’s excellent powerpoint on Iraq, just email me for the pdf version. I’ll try to put it up on the website but for the moment, I can’t seem to get it up here.

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