Monday, June 19, 2006


[From last night. Posted today because Blogger was down]

Recently I paid a long overdue visit to the General Directorate of General Security in Beirut. The ambigious jurisdiction implied in the agency's title, does justice to the experience: it is generally a bureaucratic nightmare and an all around pain in the ass, which is quite possibly why the visa expiration had slipped my mind by 11 days. My last effort to get a six day extension required four visits and the scrutiny and stamps of at least a dozen individuals, housed in two buildings which are separated by a 12-lane stretch of highway, and a handful of roundabouts where 20-something lanes of traffic converge without a traffic light. I had sworn on the holy book of every officially recognized sect in Lebanon to the officer who finally processed my application that I would never return to this “banana republic” of his. He had smiled and responded by offering me coffee and a tissue to wipe my tears. I asked him if I would have to endure the same procedure if my gardener’s dog played with [Druze leader] Jumblatt’s dog --a lame analogy in a city where gardens and dogs are scarce. He had smiled again, and said, "Madame, please don't be sad".

Preparing to apologize for having belittled the agency, I entered the monolithic complex to confess to my illegal status, turned off my cell phone and prepared to deposit it, removed any jewelry prone to setting of metal detectors and handed the soldier at the door my German passport. He looked pleased by the cover, as some Lebanese are prone to when encountering a member of the “master race”, and then gulped when he glanced at the expiration date on the visa. “What happened?” he asked, baffled by the uncharacteristic lax behavior of the presumed Aryan specimen in front of him. “I, eh, I forgot. Don’t you know how sometimes you remember something the day before, and then you forget again for a very long time?” Oh yes, he knew precisely what I meant, his smile revealed. “Are you with Germany?”, he said cocking his head to the side. “No, no. God no”, I responded. “Brazil. Argentina. Italy”. “Ok, mademoiselle”, he grinned. “Please go to this desk here and talk to Colonel Yazbek”.

Colonel Yazbek smiled triumphantly, as he clutched my passport. “Ah, Deutschland ueber alles! You are with Germany?” “No, sir, I’m with Brazil. Argentina. Italy. In that order”. “Why?! You must be with Germany. They are the best. We will win the World Cup!” “Will you give me a visa extension if I am?”, I bargained opportunistically. “Yes, of course! Fadalleh (please, come in)”. After completing the obligatory final six steps of photocopying, explaining why I was late in extending my visa to seven other men in uniform, and declaring my support for various teams, I had my visa. On the way home, I purchased Iranian and Angolan flags, and swore never again to fawn patriotic sentiments under duress.

For many Lebanese, rooting for any team but the one most likely to win is an alien concept, a defeatist stance, a spoilt ballot. Without the incentive of gleaning personal gratification from the antics of Ronaldinho, what would be the point of the game? While I am sympathetic to Brazil because they are a creative, lively and fun bunch from a non-belligerent country, the German team doesn’t do a thing for me. They are stoic, uncharismatic, have names which include the root “pig-“, and they score goals by simply overcoming the statistical odds that at least one out of 20 attempts will succeed. Also their uniforms are a bland white, and their trainer a fair-weather sap who resides in California. Klinsmann emanates the same long-faced frigid lack of charisma as Steffi Graf, a German tennis player whose daddy beat the living daylights out of her and lied to her about having to pay taxes, before she sued him. But I also just don’t think the Germans stand a chance; they're not that good, even if they go into Blitzkrieg-mode during the last five minutes of the match. Maybe the sterile rigidity of the German Nationalmannschaft is somehow exotic to the Lebanese (the commentator on ART which has the exclusive rights in the region to screen the matches always refers to the team as “Nationalmannschaft”, as if that were a proper name rather than German for “national team” .) In any case, I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to enduring enthusiasm for the German team and occasionally—by extension--for me. I no longer wince when I hear a car radio blasting the German national anthem, or see a limbless paraplegic braving traffic, his view obscured by the many German flags inopportunely attached to his wheelchair. They know something I don’t. (Something in addition to the fact that Hitler was a courageous heroic leader with a noble vision for his people.) All the teams I like are losing (except for Ghana), and the American players are robots who don’t even flinch when they get an elbow smashed in the face. They are incorrigible optimists, even-tempered good sports and fast sprinters. They don't have the same easy familiarity with the ball as the players from other teams; they look like their training consists of running, running, running, followed by a few rounds of high-kicks. And there’s no glory when your fellow countrymen aren’t watching.

The Brazil-Australia match ended an hour ago, and people are still ceaselessly honking their car horns, shouting and firing rounds of ammunition into the air.
By the way, I’ve heard much talk lately of the 1982 World Cup, which was also the summer of that deathly Israeli invasion (Nr. 2). Some resentment was voiced over the convenient distraction posed by the tournament for the other Arab nations, while west Beirut was under heavy bombardment for weeks and some 18,000 Lebanese and Palestinians perished. Yes, much of the world recalls events and sentiments in relation to the World Cup. “It was a World Cup summer, when I lost my virginity/ we had our first child/ the Israelis invaded.” My thoughts go out to the Iraqis and Palestinians who aren’t out getting sloshed every time Brazil scores a goal.


Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hi Lily,

This fascination for Germany one finds amongst many Arabs and Muslims has very little to do with the “anti-Semitic” (and anti-French and anti-German) sentiments harbored by rightwing German nationalists in the first half of the 20th century.

In other words, I don’t think the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” paradigm alone can explain the infatuation of many Arabs for Germany and German nationalism.

The real root cause of that Alemanic preference is to be found in the 19th century, when Prussian nationalism was fueled by Lutheran/Hebrew concepts taken from the Old Testament (similar in many ways to Koranic theology) such as “unity”, “unification” and “the chosen people”…

The fact that Prussia’s Kaiser was able to “take back” and bring together within a single nation-state all the scattered lands where Germanic people lived could only force the admiration of disenfranchised Arab and Muslim masses longing for the glory days of the Caliphate.


Dr V

PS. I still think you should call your blog “Anecdotes from a Baklava Republic”!

EDB said...

Hi Dr. V,

I was not under the illusion that the fascination with Germany, nor Hitler for that matter, was fueled by anti-Semitism. Before the World Cup, 90% of the time, I would get "Ah, Hitler! I love you Hitler" as a response to telling someone (cab drivers, landlords) that I was from Germany. Which is only partially true; i'm no Aryan goddess, and i've been told I smile too much to be German, don't look German, etc on many occasion.
I agree that German pan-nationalism and the related rhetoric resonates with many Arabs and Muslims today, and that the Nasserite void of unifying visonary and defiant leadership is sorely missed by many. Many people here in Lebanon-- much less so in Palestine in my experience-- express admiration for Hitler for that reason. That's not to say that the entire world doesn't entertain certain stereotypes about the Germans being efficient and punctual, which I find equally bizarre, given the effects of a cushy welfare state (and socialism) on the German work ethic, and the Feierabend mentality that reigns nowadays.
But the Lebanese, and especially a particular segment of this society, you know the ones that look down on southeast Asians and are fixated on their Phoenician rather than Arab identity, do seem to entertain, at times, a racial hierarchy, where white Europeans rank high. This is not limited to the upper crust; many a servis driver has kicked out an Ethopian or Srilankan passenger to make room for me, much to my horror. Not only that, but those Lebanese-- many of whom have lived abroad and long for "law and order", admire Germany and in particular the postwar reconstruction and economic boom, the healing of a "divided city" and other parallel aspirations.

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Dear Lili,

[As you’ve probably guessed] in my first paragraph, one should read:
“This fascination for Germany one finds amongst many Arabs and Muslims has very little to do with the “anti-Semitic” , and anti-French and ANTI-BRITISH … etc.

“I'm no Aryan goddess”
Jeez…and I pictured you as a blond beach babe on high stilettos at La Voile Bleue beach club or something!
But we can still have a few glasses of schnapps or other Teutonic liquors at some trendy bar in Gemmayzeh next time I’m in Beirut i.e. in July

EDB said...

Emphasis on "Aryan", Dr. Vic...
Be in touch when you're in Beirut, and we can air the mystery of Dr. Vic's age. Some suspect a precocious, oddly well-informed, multilingual and -literate 12-year old (Jamal Ghosn). I hold no such suspicions.

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...
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