Friday, May 23, 2008
Posted by Naja
Thank you AK for the invitation to post this. This is nothing more than a cry from the heart.
On Tuesday afternoon, as the country began its plunge into the depths of depression, my CEO walked into my office. I knew what was coming. Ours is one of the few remaining multinational companies whose Middle East and North Africa headquarters, against commercial realities and pressure from global management, remains stubbornly based in Beirut, an aberration I thought was just about to be corrected. I waited for the Dubai blow. I was wrong. “We stay in Beirut”, he stated instead. There was a hint of a question, and somehow I heard myself reply: “we stay in Beirut”. Then we laughed. Boy, did we laugh. We laughed like schoolchildren who have just seen a far-fetched prank come off. We laughed like Robert De Niro laughed as he played Russian roulette in The Deer Hunter. We laughed like the idiots we knew we were.
Today we’re no longer laughing. Because now, that insane switch that controls Lebanon’s mood has been at work again and that potent mixture of euphoria and amnesia has been swallowed in one shot. We’re unapologetically drunk. Indeed I am as I write this.
When I left Lebanon during the Civil War, driven out by a collision between fresh-faced journalistic ideals and militia threats to my life, I left with a sense of disgust. A few years later, that disgust slowly metamorphosed into a latent desire to justify my absence from my country, a justification fueled by every possible pragmatic reason one can think of. These reasons don’t differ much from those that have been exposed, ad nauseam, in the comments section of this blog. In fact I too have ranted against that collection of flaws that somehow contrive to make Lebanon what it is, more than any blog can handle. The corruption, the one-upmanship, the communities that dictate where love should be found, the families that strangle the rebel in every child until he or she is a child no more, the cronyism, the quality of the asphalt, damn it. You name it, I have ranted against it.
But rants do not nations make. The Jewish Lobby doesn't waste time sniggering about Hamas' lack of a long-term plan. The mullahs that hijacked the real Iranian revolution did not spend their time ranting against un-Islamic practices. Neither did the glorified thugs, camouflaged as they were in their divine resistance slogans, before they seized Beirut. In fact, I doubt very much that Steve Jobs had been bitching about the gargantuan power of the music industry when he was setting out to dismantle it with iTunes and iPods. Ranting, moaning and hand wringing is in my book the most fake-elegant antiseptic handwash for lazy intellectuals and the educated wastes as a whole. It is the real obstacle to progress, disguised as it is in the cloak of pseudo-knowledgeable analyses while being nothing more than a barricade of defeatism, manned by people who believe that history repeats itself rather than strive to avoid it doing so.
A lifelong card-carrying member of the live-it-to-the-max brigade, child of the who-knows-what-tomorrow-may-bring-so-lets-fuck-tonight generation of civil war epicurists, I may be one of the Beiruti liberal bourgeois former expats who believe that you shouldn’t have to do today what you can postpone until tomorrow. But I do not live in an ivory tower. Today, I genuinely feel that, as I happily soak in the now-traditional post-worry atmosphere that only Beirut can conjure up, we should raise our glasses not just to our resilient spirit, but to what we can do.
The Lebanese diaspora – and that includes many of you people – is one of the largest in the world. Some 11 million, I think. It may not compare in size and weight to the Jewish wordwide lobby, but damn it, it’s one hell of a body. What if, like our Jewish brethren (yes, and no apologies for that) we drew a plan? What if the thinking fraction of those millions turned rant and exodus apologies into action points, into suggestions at least, into idea kernels that can grow into the oaks they can be? “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death”, said the Bard. Can we look forward rather than let our past experiences and learnings blight our possibilities? Today, several embryonic, forward-looking movements are trying to break through the Lebanese feudal media blanket. We, you guys abroad, and those of us with courage and conviction here should fuel them rather than drive them to despondency and flight. This blog is – and forgive me AK if I’m abusing – a perfect platform for a start. Ghassan Karam outlined once some points in what some saw as a naïve proposal for a better Lebanon. Well, hail naivete, I say. More, please. Lets turn this into a forum for what can be rather than an easy deconstruction of what we all know is. Regardless of what you may think of parliamentary elections in Lebanon, they do sometimes spring surprises. Hell, the 2000 law was supposed to thwart Hariri. Look what happened instead. We have just about enough time to make the 2009 elections a turning point. Not with some miraculous touch of a magic wand, of course not. But by planting a seed. Or at least by handing over a watering can to those who believe that there is a garden of hope out there, not just the pointless, self-serving disgust I was once guilty of. What say you?