Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sectarian Venom & Cynical Christmas Greetings

The hapless Amr Moussa is back to save the Lebanese zuama from eachother. Nobody knows what's going to happen from one day to the next. Adapting to this atmosphere of uncertainty, many Lebanese are doing a phenomenal job of buckling down, shopping, partying and forgetting about politics.

Denial is not a river in Egypt; it's a shopping mall in Achrafiye. ABC is reporting record sales as are all the off-downtown businesses and restaurants. Future Movement has put up christmas trees along the periphery of downtown decorated with "I love life" ribbons. We wouldn't want the "culture of death" to ruin our Christmas cheer.

A friend who teaches at a snazzy private school outside Beirut reports that when a Shia student misbehaves, the other teachers attribute it to typical "Shia behavior". He says this attitude predates the summer war; the only difference is that his Shia students are no longer shamed by the prejudice against them, but rather proud and defiant.

In Germany we have something called the "Weinachtsmarkt", which runs from December 1st until the new year. White tents are pitched to serve as booths, food and drinks are available, and entertainment is provided, all in a central area. In Beirut, we have the opposition sit-in in the center of the city, which has become a venue for affordable entertainment. My friend, the teacher, reports that his Shia students tease the others by boasting of the cheap narghileh they enjoyed at the "new downtown". Apparently the Shia boys go to to meet Aounist girls, but all the students have to leave the encampment by a certain hour on week nights.

His Sunni students have adopted the following slogan for their MSN messenger profiles: "If we ruled by majority, we would be ruled by cockroaches." Cockroaches = baby-making Shia.

And there you have it. This is an adaptation of Henry Kissinger's infamous comment, after the Chileans voted for Allende in the 1970s: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people." Walid Jumblatt couldn't have said it better himself.

Supplement "Communist" with "Hamas" or "anti-western", and you have American and March 14th policy in a nutshell. The US support Abu Mazen's opportunistic call for new elections in the Palestinian territories, less than a year after free and fair elections (freer and fairer than the Lebanese buy-yourself-a-Tripolian-vote tactics embraced by Hariri's Future Movement.) But does the same go for the opposition in Lebanon? Nah. Fouad Siniorita will reign until kingdom come. If he's going to stick around for much longer, I recommend he start speaking out of the other corner of his mouth.

Have you noticed how Hezbollah's Al Manar now runs happy-go-lucky music throughout the day to accompany the endless flag-waving clips? It must be a real provocation for March 14th, who first coopted the (Maronite) flag as a symbol of unity last year, to see Hezbollah crowds waving it deliriously to upbeat tunes. Not to suggest that ALL sects haven't come to love the cedar symbolism over the years, even if the Christian rightwing Phalangists slaughtered other Lebanese under a variation on the same theme.

There is discussion of "expanding the cabinet" to reach a compromise between the ruling coalition and the opposition. Does that mean they will simply create MORE ministries to faciliate powersharing? As if to say, it's easier to divide the cake into 30 rather than 24 pieces? If so, I would like to suggest some ministries:

- The Ministry of Honoring Phoenicia
- The Ministry of Elite Martyrdom
- The Ministry of Flags
-The Ministry of Loving Life
- The Ministry of Choreographing Demonstrations
- The "We-want-the-Truth" and Reconciliation Commission

And here's a few serious ones:
- Ministry of Stringent Media Reform
-Ministry of Marginalizing Clerics & Patriarchs
- Ministry of Eradicating Sectarianism. Add to that, for good measure, a competing "Agency for Phasing Out Confessionalism". That way they can shuffle the blame (and paperwork) around.

Feel free to suggest additional new ministries. Trust me, new ministries will create jobs, help ease unemployment and Paris 3 will finance the expanding bureaucratic nightmare.

I just heard this from a "second hand" source, which makes me the "third" hand to relay this: Hezbollah has PROOF that a Portugese military plane from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, landed in Beirut and left again, the very day of Gemayel's assassination. That's breaking news on Al Manar TV. That's terrific, guys. Good work. I look forward to the "proof". Would they be stupid enough to fly in straight from Tel Aviv to knock off Gemayel? Did the plane have a distinguishing scar on its face?

Keep stretching the epistomological boundaries. I find it ever so haughty to present half-ass evidence or no evidence but rather constantly refer to it. Citizens should trust no politician blindly because he or she claims something is true. Your own solid reasoning and penchant for conspiratorial reverie will suffice.

I know who I blame for the current mess, but people deserve a break. Virgin Megastore deserves a break. Couldn't they have saved it for the "lull" between Christmas and New Year's, where everyone just sits around getting fat on leftovers?

Thank you to the bloggers who did not post this video, the one that poses the daunting question, "When will we be Lebanese?" The whole "anti-sectarian" campaign is missing a crucial element: systemic criticism. I mean, Lebanese sentimentalism has never helped people to overcome their differences. It's not just a deeply engrained prejudice that keeps this country trapped in the throes of infighting; it's the system-- the way you are born, vote, marry, die-- that crushes in its infancy any serious attempt at de-confessionalization. Which is one of many reasons why the whole March 14th "100% Lebanese" fest was a bunch of bollox. I've heard from someone who worked at the PR company that created this particular slogan that the guy who dreamed it up was a real "kill all the Shia" type.

The "stop sectarianism before it stops us" campaign, the most recent brainchild of international PR mogul Leo Burnett, fails for the same reason. It's cheesy, it's simplistic, it's ultimately meaningless, and if it really sought to be provocative it would mock the real issues-- marriage and electoral laws, the sore absence of civic institutions. Instead of this "c'est pas cooooool to be sectarian, dude" approach. It's like those abstinence-only ad campaigns in the US. Stop premaritual sex before it stops you.

The success of such a campaign is of course hindered by the feudal elite's interest in maintaining the system, but also because too many people aren't really willing to part with the tribal guarantees, grand and petty wasta'ism, what they perceive to be the preservation of culture and tradition, etc.

A friend recently pointed out that many Sunnis now miss the pre-1975 balance of power, when Maronites and Sunnis ruled together sans Shia, so to speak. Because now the Shia have overtaken them in size and demands and the sectarian power-sharing formula can work without the Sunnis. But instead of pushing for de-confessionalization, the Sunnis (and Druze) desperately cling to it and labor under the illusion that a regional and international campaign to wish the Shia away will serve them better. (Not to say that the other sects are less sectarian.)

Think back to before the war when Saudi Arabia & co were still somewhat closeted about their anti-Shia sentiments. OK, one of the King Abdullahs said something about the threat of a "Shia crescent". But that did at least cause a minor outrage at the time.

Since the summer war, when the "moderate" Arab regimes came out of the closet to say the Persians pose a greater threat than the Zionists, Iran has become the culprit in Iraq, in Palestine, in Lebanon, and so on and so forth. And the Saudis are openly talking about backing the Sunnis in Iraq if the US withdraws. No wonder Nancy Pelosi's new candidate for the Senate Intelligence Committee doesn't know the difference between Sunnis and Shia. They are supposedly there to fight (Sunni Salafist) Al Qaeda, but (Shia) Iran is the motherf****ing problem, right? It's very confusing. I love the way the Sunni-Shia rift is ascribed to a petty doctrinary schism 1400 years ago that defies comprehension. As if to say, they disagreed on what color to paint the livingroom and have henceforth been estranged.

Merry Christmas. I mean that in the purest secular sense of eat, drink and be merry. Let's hope the next year brings prosperity to Virgin Megastore at Martyrs' Square, and all will be well.

Thank you for having me in 2oo6. It goes without saying that I prefer living in your country to mine, despite all the cruel things I say about your flags and leadership. Anyone prefer Angela Merkel over Walid Jumblatt? What a scary couple they would make. A hairdresser's nightmare, to say the least.


Anonymous said...

loved it! great post!

Marta said...

Angie, of course...

Guthman Bey said...

Great post as always. Sure sign of quality: it made me congratulate myself once again for not living in the Lebanese twilight zone anymore. And yet somehow...
In any case, frohe Weihnachten.
(And Mehlis be damned).

Anonymous said...

I usually lurk, but EDB this has to be one of your best comments. Your black humor at the sectarianism and hypocrisy in Lebanon helps to stop me from crying in desperation.

Angela Merkel and Walid Jumblatt would be a terrifying couple.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

I can understand any German who suffer from self hate. after all with a history like yours no wonder why you hate your country so much. I am afraid to say that your democratic education is not of the best quality. Are you a political refugee in Lebanon .If you would like your prime minister will you choose to go back. Or will you prefer to continue live in a country that is not yours where you can be so detach that mocking everyone and everything is what you do at best .let us know

Anonymous said...

You see too many puppet strings behind March 14.

Anonymous said...

Wow! You should be a writer.. I was studying, but when I started reading your posting, I could not stop..

I live in Alaska, and I bet I am the only Lebanese in town! Alaska is great! I work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but I miss home.. :(

Merry Christmas to all, hope that things will get better in Lebanon.. it is so so SAD...

Take care,

Zeina Nehme

EDB said...

Oh anonymous, you humorless hag,
Of course I don't not live in Germany because I don't like the prime minister (and it's a chancellor, silly). Ever heard of the EU? Yes I could live and work anywhere there.

Perhaps I have a German passport and grew up there and yet, am not "German" in the sense that you understand it? That would boggle your narrow ethnocentric mind, wouldn't it? Your petty contributions over the past few weeks on the German brain, psyche, education etc. are straight out of the anals of Nazi eugenics and/or turn-of-the-century American anthropological nonsense. A country that is "not yours". I'm not settling your land, nor chopping down your precious cedars, alright? Lighten up and in 2007 strive to be a citizen of the world rather than your daddy's village.

The Dreamer said...

EDB, great post as always.

never mind that moron anonymous, he was probably pissed that u criticized his beloved feudal lord or his tribal sect.

i must say you have an amazing insight of the Lebanese society, and an unusual point of view for a westerner.

Anonymous said...

University PressWire (UPR)
Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hand Gesture Conveys New Message

RMF now conveys generic 'Happy Holidays' message

Sociologists at the University of Okoboji have determined that the meaning of a hand gesture common in North America has undergone a recent, dramatic shift. Semioticians, who study signs and symbols, and how their meanings are constructed and understood, have theorized the possibility of what is called "sudden denotative shift," but only a few considered it a real possibility.

"We have vindicated the SDS (sudden denotative shift) theory," said Peter Watson, a member of the UO research team that conducted the study. "These new findings should open up completely new avenues for research."

Watson likens his team's efforts to recent work in evolution, which had long been thought to move so slowly as to be nearly undetectable. "Just as Hoffman at Melbourne showed a species can evolve in as little as 20 years, we have shown that the meaning of a gesture can evolve--but even faster," Watson said.

Watson was referring to the work of Ari Hoffman at the Center for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research at Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia, who determined that the Australian fruit fly had adapted to global warming in the last 20 years. His findings were published in the journal Science.

James Pike, a statistician and member of Watson's research team, said that gestures, like languages, were also assumed to move very slowly. "Population dynamics and stable communication media, such as the printed word, audio and video recording, were thought to make SDS nearly impossible," Pike says. "Their value as media depend on a stable substrate of meaning. However, meanings are constructed by humans as an abstract process, making them susceptible to nearly arbitrary changes."

To ensure the objectivity and quantifiability of their study, Pike and Watson, along with a group of student volunteers from UO, collected data on the frequency of a gesture involving the use of a raised middle finger at local shopping malls and parking lots during the year, and correlated the data against weather variables, times of day, days of the week, and finally, to days of the year.

"The strongest statistical association between use of the RMF (raised middle finger) came out in the final correlation," Watson said. "In fact, time of the year was the only statistically significant correlation with changes in the rate of the [RMF] gesturing."

Because of this, the researchers conclude that use of the RMF no longer denotes "opprobrium or disrespect," but something more positive in meaning. "Use of the RMF now actually denotes, or conveys, 'Happy Holidays' in the most general sense," Pike says. The gesture was found to have a generic meaning, rather than an association with a particular sectarian holiday, during follow-up interviews with gesturers. The RMF was used in nearly equal proportions by Christians, Jews, Wiccans and atheists.

Watson does not believe this signals a wider cultural use of the RMF. "Since the RMF now denotes 'Happy Holidays,'" he says, "we predict that its use will merely become increasingly more prevalent during the holiday season."


Walid said...

I live by your posts. When it the book coming? Please do not ever get tired of us Lebanese and many happy returns. ;).

Liliane said...

Hey there,

First of all I want to say I love this post especially, and I like it even more when I found we said some things in common (well each in her own way of course).

I precisely mentioned the whole The Nile (Denial) thing here.
And I gladly did not post the whole "when will we become Lebanese" video, reasons here.

It is interesting when you pointed that Future Movement / 14 March (I hate calling them this) should actually work on accomplishing de-confessionalization in Lebanon. But I guess this is only to prove, that nobody gives a flying f*ck about Lebanon, and as long as they get their money and million $ interest per month...

And I have to say, thank you for ABC, although I curse everytime I go there because of too much traffic, and some people are really taking things to the extremes... but I mean if we don't take things to the extremes we're not really Lebanese are we.

And one more thing, the funniest thing of this all is that our politicians keeps saying the only positive thing about this whole sharade (I said that), is that the division this time is political and not sectarianist. And the media keeps focusing that we should not be sectarnist. But once again, they are both wrong.
This division is religional, and Lebanese people are still prejudice.

Instead of doing ADS to promote non-sectarianism, why don't they start by doing better activities, something like let's go clean the roads, or help poor people, feed hungry children, give christmas presents for orphans etc... But even if they do that, they will use it as an AD to show off being so damn secular.

Anonymous said...

Will you accept greetings from us "awful" March 14ers?

Merry Christmas EDB and a Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Happy holidays. Thanks for your posts.

About Jumblat, read a very funny article at

savonaroll said...

The ministry of sri-lankese rights.

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hi Lily,

2006 ended with a major debacle for the Pharisaic thugs of Washington: let’s hope the political wine of 2007 will be as sweet to our pallets...

I look forward to hearing Jim Webb’s first speeches in the US Senate: the Virginian will be Cheney’s worst nightmare!

I look forward to seeing Fuad Saniora's collaborationist government fall in the first days of 2007

In the meantime, I wish you a merry Christmas & happy new year.

May the Western God Crom and the Holly Tarim of Arabia both be with you and your loved ones

V. the Barbarian

Oberon Brown said...

I still can't understand how a witty (and probably smart) person like you can be that much pro march 8th! I can think of only two possible explanations for this phenomenon:
A- You are deeply in love with that Mad Arab guy, and he has completely brainwashed you into becoming a march 8/Hassan Nasrallah fanatic. Being a sentimental person, you naturally follow your heart before your mind, and there goes the result...
B- (which is a more plausible hypothesis) You are actually a NATO spy undercover, sent to infiltrate Hezbollah, and the best way to gain their trust is by simulating this whole enthusiasm for the Resistance thing. Therefore, you cannot allow yourself friendly connections (or blind date requests) with March 14ers, in order not to raise any suspicions in the ranks of the targeted parti.
... Well, anyway Merry Xmas to you, and to all the "campers" downtown, cause despite everything (like they being wrong and all), we are all still in this country together, and we're gonna have to learn to live with each other :)

EDB said...

Yes, Merry Christmas to you all, la Lebanessa. You never did respond with an example of something good the current ruling coalition has done, since taking power...
And Oberon, I am NOT by any stretch a March 8th fanatic. This is a severe misreading of my political views. I just happen to dislike M14th more. In fact, if i wasn't a visitor here, I would be throwing tomatoes at those preposterous "I love life" vans that have been cruising through the streets. More on that in the next post.

Anonymous said...

Your fervent hate for this government (I mean, wow, for a non-Lebanese you sure can get emotional about this) means that you will jump on whatever I say but here goes anyway: The Summer War got stopped only through their politico-diplomatic manouvering and contacts, and ofcourse they finally got the Army deployed in the South.

Anyway EDB, for now since you are in Lebanon do like the Lebanese: forget the politics for a few days and enjoy the Holidays. It's all coming back with a vengance in the new year so we might aswell enjoy a little reprieve while we can.

Anonymous said...

Hah, I work in DC and I can tell you for a fact that March 14th wanted the war to continue and in fact had their envoys in DC begging our, USA, government to allow the Israelis to keep bombing. If anyone stopped that war it was Israel and Qatar.

The Army deployed to the South? Are you serious? It was the west that got the Army deployed to the South and only because of Hezballah's blunder. How can you give the government any credit for this? It boggles the mind.

Anonymous said...

good one anon,

Since you "work in DC" you must be "in the know" because you have a direct line to Georgie Porgie as well as the Congress, Senate and the Qatari embassy.

We do agree on one thing though, Hizballah did blunder.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi there,
where are you/ Did anybody blow your cover?

Téméraire said...

You have an interstin Blog. Bravo

Anonymous said...

Last News in Electronic world in the net

Anonymous said...

It’s Christmas again!! A time to cherish the beautiful white snow, smiling snowman, brightness of the Christmas décor and the yummy candies and cakes! From November onwards it becomes impossible to forget that Christmas is coming. Well to be honest I personally wait for it so that I can return home to meet my parents and girlfriend of course!
With the passage of time lots of things about the celebration of Christmas has changed. I still remember when I was a kid, mom use to wait near the phone so that she becomes the first one to pick my brother call. We all use to have a fight as who is gonna be first to talk to him. Then I use to visit my relatives and friends with my parents who stayed near by.But now the net world has changed everything, especially the ecard trend. It’s so easy now to connect with our loved ones especially when you have so many ecard sites! One of free Christmas ecard site Being a new website really has fresh and cool greetings. The best part is if I write too regarding some card or idea they do take it seriously. Although the site has several errors but cards are really cool! So guys why don’t you check it out, you will also get the right ecard you are looking for! And if any one of you knows any other fresh ecard website do let me know!

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