Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sirens & Stagnancy
I barely pay attention to the hysterical wailing of sirens whizzing by, perhaps on their way to diffuse bombs planted in potato-chip bags or to remove a crate of TNT deposited next to an overflowing garbage vat. I no longer ponder why the Lebanese security agencies successfully hunt down liquid bomb detonators and uncover terrorist cells and spy networks, but fail to resolve a single assassination case. When I opened the newspaper over my morning coffee I chuckled at the suspect sketch issued a year-and-a-half after an unsuccessful attempt on Elias Murr's life. I am enjoying the stagnant calm.

The suspect has short dark hair, a smudge on his forehead, and a rather sullen expression. If you recognize him, you know what to do.

Occasionally I mistake the late-night chorus of screaming cats, screeching tires, slammed doors and raised voices with an ominous sign that the lull is over. But I reassure myself that whatever happens will catch me by surprise, at a moment when my mind has drifted from politics to the banal-- plans for dinner, or during a weekend out of town. In Lebanon you can theoretically ignore the news and rely on your friends and acquaintances to inform you of momentous developments by text message.

The young men slugging it out for their respective sects and feudal lords have no say in any matter, despite the vitriolic hatred they muster towards each other. Riyadh, Mukhtara, the White House and Tehran, et al. will ultimately decide what's best for you and yours.

In a recent interview, Saniora made no secret of this when he called for the "eleventh" cabinet member to be hand-picked by the Saudi King. The Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon rejected Siniora's suggestion: “Regarding PM Al-Sanyurah’s proposition that Saudi Arabia names the eleventh minister, Khoja said: 'With all due respect to PM Al-Sanyurah whom we appreciate, respect and trust, we do not interfere in such issues. Maybe PM Al-Sanyurah said that out of his love for Saudi Arabia.'" What's there to love? Yuck.

The "opposition" botched the timing and ends of their bid for increased power. By giving the pro-government forces the time to conspire with the White House to draw Hezbollah into a sectarian internal feud, by begging for crumbs, they lost momentum and meaning. Their sit-in has become as watered down and senseless as any other choreographed spectacle. The lifeless tents in downtown are surrounded by the 24-hour buzz of Solidere's inequitable construction enterprise. In villages in the south, people squat a single room in a bombed out house, they live crowded into the homes of extended families and neighbors; in Dahiye bombed out crater holes serve as massive garbage depots, while Solidere erects more unaffordable luxury housing and commercial buildings a t a frightening pace, unperturbed by the opposition's trivial demands. The cruel foundations of dispossession and privatization upon which Solidere was established, the iron grip of the embezzlers and warlords whose faces adorn every billboard and building in the country remain unchallenged by this "opposition". And still their demands are not met! Siniora will infuriatingly remain the unabashed kind of his castle, until someone in a far away capital blows the whistle.

But any settlement between the government and opposition would leave open the door for so many variables of violence. If Jumblatt is betrayed, what then? Will the Lebanese be satisfied if Berri and Hariri agree on a "no victor, no vanquished" formula, if the ruling class goes back to sharing Syrian sweets for the cameras around a roundtable?

"March 11th" is as conceptually preposterous as Lebanese political movements come, not to mention the irony that this date coincides with the anniversary of the 2003 Madrid train bombing. As if this country needs another silly date, another demonstration, another flag to parade under; as if a sectarian middle ground exists.

On Friday night, I sat outside a cornerstore in Gemmayze with a few young men from the Internal Security Forces. They readily accepted my friend's invitation to share a bottle of vodka (I don't drink that stuff). One of the young men, Bashir, age nineteen supports Aoun; the other young man who he is on duty with is follows the Lebanese Forces. "We are like brothers. We would never fight. That is why I hate my job. But there are no other jobs. Otherwise I would never work for them," Bashir said. Their captain arrived and swigged from the bottle before he drove off to quell a disturbance somewhere.

Sectarian school outings
My friend R., a teacher at a snazzy private high school, recently took his students on a paint ball outing. Instantly they organized into political factions-- PSP and Future versus Hezbollah and FPM. "It was like a prelude to the war", R. said with characteristic exasperation. Whenever a student was hit by a paintball and -- as per the rules-- had to leave the game, his fellow party members would instead use him as a human shield.

Natural Selection

A friend who teaches at AUB overheard two of her students discussing her class. One of them was complaining that he had to drop the writing course she teaches because of a conflict in his schedule. The other student responded, "Drop the other class instead. This teacher, she's from the M. family. They are from Baalbek." (The assumption being that they are Shia.)

I., a Palestinian born in Lebanon, volunteers as an architect down south in Aita Shaab, a village on the Lebanese-Israeli border . His father came down to visit. They drove to the border village Marwaheen, because --they say-- you have a view all the way down the coast, to Haifa. A UNIFIL jeep pulled up next to them (you rarely see UNIFIL outside of their armored vehicles.) The UNIFIL soldier told I. and his father that they couldn't stand there and look. I. asked, "Why not? It's forbidden to look?" "Yes," the UNIFIL soldier responded. "Who gave you those orders?" I. asked. "The Israelis," the soldier replied. "They don't want you to stand here and look." "Well this is my country and that is my country. So I should be allowed to look, shouldn't I?" I. rebutted. The UNIFIL soldier shook his head, and waited in his armored vehicle until I. and his father complied, and drove off.

Mandate II
I have been following the misconduct of a certain guard stationed near Hariri's palace in Qoreitem. Dressed in plain clothes, this blimp-like imposing figure takes pleasure in humiliating and occasionally smacking around Syrian workers-- street cleaners, bottle collectors, and long-term employees at local establishments. Two days ago I watched him apprehend a young boy, no older than nine, who might have looked Syrian to his scrutinizing gaze. Perhaps some of you March 14th supporters would like to report this to your goateed zaim? Unless of course these security measures are absolutely imperative...

Priorities of a Ne'er existent state
The south is in shambles; reconstruction is slow, funding is politicized and additionally complicated by the pervasive pessimism that another war with Israel is on the horizon. Living between adjacent generations of rubble does not inspire confidence in a better future. Apparently some school children in Aita Shaab are refusing to study for their exams or to apply for universities, because they are sure the war will start soon enough.

The new face of chocolate

The boy whose face adorned the Kinder chocolate package for 32 years has been replaced
with a little goody-two-shoes punk ass who probably doesn't let people copy his homework.

I grew up in Germany; I know his type.

I am boycotting Kinder, and I suggest you do the same. Change for the sake of it is frequently good, but not in the case of Kinder's packaging. I feel my childhood being torn asunder.

Meanwhile, Emir Peretz is busy trying to retroactively christen Israel's misadventure in Lebanon this past summer. Initially coined "Operation Just Reward", the 34-day bombing campaign was apply re-named "Operation Change of Direction" by the army when things started looking bleak. That doesn't suit the families of the fallen IDF soldiers, who don't want to bury their sons under some lame wishy-washy title-- "Schlomo G. 1987-2006 fell in southern Lebanon due to a royal fuckup."

How about "Operation Kidnap the Grocer"? Please e-mail any suggestions to Knesset member Yaakov Everi by Monday at yedri@knesset.gov.il.


Unknown said...

edb, thank you for this great blog! although I havent commented before, i have been following it ever since the summer.

your rendering of overheard conversations and friend's stories are the best to feel what is Lebanon really like!

Anonymous said...

As cosmic sectarianisms go I have, ever since early childhood, been lined up firmly in the Anti-Kinder camp. I have always hated this chocolate, because it is too sweet, too milky, and featured this nauseating Kindergesicht I just wanted to smash and often did when another stupid aunt had given me a Kinderschokolade instead of a real present.
Sorry EDB: Ritter Sport mit Haselnüssen is the only edible German Supermarktschokolade.
By the way this is not the first time they changed the face: I remember a different one in the early seventies (which is when I was a little 'un). That boy was a brunette and, of course yet another nauseatingly grinning kid, this one flashing a mouthful of awful tiny Milchzähne...
Now you got me all nostalgic from walking down the memory lane of chocolate hate...

Anonymous said...

edb wasn't born then guthman bey.....

Anonymous said...

Nooooo! Not the Kinder!
As upset as I am over the change of faces, how can you boycott Kinder with easter coming up? Where will you buy your eggs from?

Anonymous said...

EDB, I enjoy your blog. You describe so well the absurdity that we are living in. You also do a great job in portraying Hariri, Jumblatt and Co.
I'd like to know what you think of Hassan Nasrallah. I've never seen you poke fun at him or his party (except a few hints here and there).
Are you afraid your blog will cause havoc like the tv episode of basmat watan? :P
based on what you write, I am sure you are no chicken. So please entertain us with some anecdotes from the yellow republic of the southern suburb.

EDB said...

Anonymous, I will soon oblige you with anecdotes from the "southern suburbs". If March 14th could stop being the butt of my distaste for five minutes, I would have done so a long time ago.
And Guthman Bey, I appreciate your contempt for the old Kinder boy. He always looked a bit HJ to me. But I got used to him. Of course Rittersport Haselnuesse is in a different league entirely from Kinderschokolade. I only started to appreciate Kinder when I moved to Beirut. Nostalgia moves in mysterious ways...

nemesis said...

EDB, May i modestly recommend some topics for satire from the southern 'burbs?
1. Hezbollah's ability to wiggle out of promises they make and still maintain a Godly reputation of honesty. Example: after having agreed on the necessity of defining the shebaa' farms boundaries and ownership they threw the whole initiative into a linguistic debate of "drawing" or "defining" the border (or whatever the arabic words TAHDEED or TARSEEM translate into).
2. Al Manar's reporting style. The questions are courageous (or meant to sound that way) but why do they read them off of a script? and why do some of their lead interviewers have cheesy smiles of I-am-a-smartass-are-you?
3. Hizbollah's ability to turn around artistic material so fast. Hassan N. makes a speech at 8:30 pm and by 10:00 pm a new song incorporating his speech is airing. Oh and as you noted once EDB, the tunes are so dreadfully addictive. Goebbles would turn around in his grave if he'd know.
4. Their attitude of we-love-Syria-and-we-love-Aoun-whose-political-career-is-based-on-hating-Syria. Maybe all those unshaven beards are from the Hippie days of universal LOVE.

Dr Miletzki said...

hey guthman bey: living in germany, i just wanted to point out that much progress has been made in terms of german supermarktschokolade. nowadays, you can walk into any ALDI and buy dark chocolate with 60% high grade coacoa imported from brazil, or something like that. so cheer up! returning to 'serious matters', i actually swung by here as a regular reader, hoping to find EDB's take on the bitch fight currently taking place between michael young and joshua landis. i am most intrigued.( i felt free to add my own wish-list of topics, since people are asking you to write about the suburbs anyway...)

Anonymous said...

my own bitter, bitter ressentiments about changing German food icons concern the much beloved (by me) Erdnusswürmer by Balsen. A few years ago some idiot bastard changed the name of the Brand to ... Lorenz, which I have been unable to forgive.
I fail to appreciate what fascinates you about "Michael Young", who is nothing but a particularly silly, hired hand. Like Jumblat, he'll change his tune (yet again) if and when his paymasters tell him to do so. Landis is a fool to try to argue with a piece of shit like that