I have never been gripped by such unease on the eve of the new year, nor have I experienced a collective malaise in anticipation of the impending political escalation. Should one be grateful for the respite politicians politely granted for the holiday season? I don't make much of the Lebanon's "diviners"-- whose predictive powers are held in high esteem. (2006 was going to be a "hot summer." Duh.) But the shit-hit-the-fan talk does coincide with an abundance of regional disaster scenarios. A US/Israeli attack against Iran still tops my list.
The jury is still out on the White House's record-- if the destruction unleashed in the region is due to sheer arrogant incompetence or a grander lucrative "controlled chaos" plan to fuel sectarian and factional violence. Or a combination of the two. Perhaps this year will tell. Don't promise yourselves too much from Pelosi's reign.
I had an illuminating meeting with Sayyid Hassan's favorite "foreign journalist". If I take the man by his word then the hawks are willing to use any means to keep Hezbollah from increasing its share of power in the government. You don't need the Lebanese Forces hustler Michel Hayek to tell you that there will be more assassinations.
Needless to say I did not attend the "I love life" festivities at Biel, despite my voyeuristic instincts and occasional desire to mutilate my senses. Nor was I downtown with "the people".
You don't need to go to the official event to suffer noxious exposure to their campaign. They obstruct traffic with their "I love life" promotional trucks and their "martyr" Christmas trees are a sorry sight. Walid Jumblatt and Samir Geagea love life? I noticed that Dani Chamoun has a martyr tree downtown, too. I wonder who killed him?
I nearly had a violent altercation with some of the life-loving elves who were blocking my path in Achrafiye. They offered me a pamphlet, which I politely refused. They persisted. I told them that I find the whole campaign sickening. Within seconds a mob of rabid elves descended upon me, accusing me of loving death and being a Hezbollah sympathizer. It felt like some sick twist on the "Night before Christmas" story.
Apparently some people don't know that "I love life" is a March 14th ploy. One friend who recently returned from Beirut mistook the massive billboards for Exotica ads.
"I love life" mission statement reads, "We believe that Lebanon stood up to all angst because it has always embraced the Culture of Life." Really? Always?
"We understand the Culture of Life, as opposed to the Culture of Death, as a deep, well-developed sense capable of discerning true values and interpreting authentic needs in our communities and society."
Well that all sounds fine and dandy, indicative of the blossoming "maturity" of Lebanon's political culture. The former bloodletters and Syrian stooges are desperately prying themselves free from the "forces of darkness" (to quote that madhatter Jumblatt). Jumblatt now accuses Iran of a "Zionist"-like plot to buy up real estate under "false names" in his neck of Mount Lebanon. What a paranoid wreck. Things must not be looking good for Walid Beik.
The "culture of death" of course refers to the Shia who all want to martyr their children for Imam Hussein and plunge this country into perpetual war. How can you say you're either with us or you worship death? Hey poor people, we love life and unbridled capitalism. Get with the program!
The tent arrangments in downtown now resemble a semi-permanent slum city. Tarps have been hitched to the walls of nearby ruins and construction sites. And some tents are even equipped with satellite dishes. There area is almost deserted during the day, perhaps due to the recent cold spell. Many of the steadfast revellers lost their homes during the war and the government isn't doing anything for them. Paris III won't do anything for them. A heated tent isn't worse than crashing with the neighbors or sharing an overcrowded apartment.
I watched a film entitled "Notes on War" by Maya Mikdashi last night. The filmmaker(s) conducted interviews with displaced people in schools and shelters during the summer war. It was a sobering reminder of those "invisible people" who were most effected by this war, how utterly helpless they were, ignored and abandoned by the government. Many of them railed against the Arab states whose complicity in the campaign to "eliminate" Hezbollah wasn't lost on them. Some of the interviews reminded me of the squandered"non-sectarian" potential of present in every class and sector of Lebanese society. "Squandered" because these people are constantly pushed around, forced to seek help from their own, categorized and marginalized by sect.
An older lady who suffered a severe eye infection during the war was interviewed. She recounted visiting Nayla Moawad's house, to ask the Minister for help. The guard at the door asked if she was "Sunni" or "Shia". When she told him she was nothing, he told her to go see Nabih Berri. "My husband and children are Sunni! I don't want Nabih Berri. I don't want Hassan Nasrallah. I want someone to treat my eye," she complained. Eventually she traveled to Syria to seek medical treatment and returned to the shelter in Lebanon. She spoke about how dissappointed she was with the inept Siniora.
Yesterday evening at the height of rush hour I spent a good 45 minutes stuck in a traffic jam on Fouad Chehab bridge, just above downtown. The army had blocked off all the surrounding streets bringing the entire area to a standstill. And so people turned off their engines and got out of their cars to see what all the fuss was about. Finally, the Turkish Prime Minister's motorcade whizzed by at a million miles an hour. This enraged the hapless drivers who furiously honked and yelled, as if to say, "Spare us your hollow diplomacy, asshole! You're wasting our time!"
It reminded me why I love this city and brought to mind stories about the late Hariri's obnoxious motorcade blocking cellphone reception and causing traffic jams everywhere he went. When I first arrived in Beirut, someone told me that the widespread outrage with Hariri's security measures was enough to get anyone killed.