Patrick Seale Responds


In response to my article last week on Patrick Seale, I received this note from Patrick. While the blog may not be a place for letters to the editor, it seems only fair, inasmuch as the piece was focused on an individual and there was a mistake on my part pertaining to his sources for the famous Al-Hayat expose, to publish this clarification:

I have the hide of an elephant–you need one in this business–so I did not of course take [the article] amiss. It's just that a few of your facts were wrong.

It's true that I had something of a special relationship with Asad pere. For some reason he trusted me. I could not have written his biography without access to him and his entourage. But, in his defence, I should tell you that he always said 'Write what you like!' and never asked to see the text before it was published. I would not have agreed to show it to him, in any event. Nor–and you should be very clear on this point–did money ever change hands.
Quite the contrary. You may not know that Rifaat [Assad, the president's brother] sued me in the British courts because I linked him to drug smuggling in the Beqaa. I threw in the towel after about three years of legal dispute and agreed to change the text in subsequent editions, but not before it had cost me some tens of thousands of pounds (British pounds) in legal fees. So it is a bit galling to be called a propagandist for the Asad regime! As you probably know, [my biography of Assad] was banned in Syria for years, and I never got a penny for the thousands of copies of the Arabic edition which were sold …

You should also know that Syrian officials did NOT leak to me 'valuable details of their negs with Israel' which formed the basis of my Hayat articles. My sources were Western.
The proposal to break the deadlock over the north-eastern corner of Lake Tiberias by making it into a joint tourist site was my own. The Syrians shot it down–before the Israelis did.

I could go on and on, but to what end? I happen to believe that the Arabs should close ranks if they want to keep their enemies at bay. If this makes me an Arab nationalist, so be it. It doesn't mean that I believe in 'a golden Arab future'. Far from it, the Arabs have never been weaker and their prospects never so doubtful. If you think Lebanon can get by on its own, think again.
I also think it is rather short-sighted to think in terms of Lebanon versus Syria, or of democratic Lebanon versus authoritarian Syria. The two countries are as flawed, as corrupt and as violent as each other. They are also indissolubly linked in a thousand ways. One day, their relations will be put on a healthy basis, free from the disgraceful networks of the past. They have many common interests, not least the need to deter Israel. If you hope for another 17 May 1983 accord [between Israel and Lebanon, since abrogated], I'm afraid I would have to part company with you. I note that even the 'anti-Syrian' Michel Aoun understands the need for a relationship with Syria. It's always worth remembering that Lebanon has only two neighbours–Syria and Israel–and must choose between them. The idea that it can somehow escape from the regional power struggle is pure utopia.

As a footnote to my piece, in the original version Seale had written considerably more on the shenanigans of Syrian officials, but some key passages were subsequently taken out (both in the version published in Arabic in Al-Hayat and the version I received for publication in the Daily Star). The uncut text is available on an opposition Web site in Syria, but it is in Arabic. Seale has no idea how the original version got onto the site.

I thank him for taking the trouble to respond.