Creating people's geographies
Having a good sense of humour is not a prerequisite for being Lebanese or living and visiting this simultaneously magical and troubled country, but it sure helps. (Fortunately, ordinary Lebanese, if not always their elected representatives, seem to be blessed with an abundance of good humour.) Marc J. Sirois demonstrates this nicely by mapping out a few keywords for a tongue-in-cheek introduction to Lebanese politics. Sirois is managing editor of The Daily Star, from whence this is excerpted (25 Feb).
Bekaa Valley: Fertile region nestled between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges. Known for amazing Roman ruins and all manner of high-quality produce, some of which make the ruins even more amazing.
“Birth pangs of the new Middle East:” How US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the summer 2006 war in which the Israeli military killed 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians. Clear indicator that Dr. Rice is confused about the order in which the reproductive cycle takes place.
Beirut: Centre of the universe.
Civil disobedience: What do-gooding Westerners have been telling Arabs and Muslims to adopt for a generation or two.
Coup d’etat: What Western governments have called it when Lebanon’s opposition uses civil disobedience.
Left: 1) A political movement defined by claims to represent the interests of the common man. Virtually extinct in Lebanon since being subsumed by big money; 2) What Lebanese have historically done – and are doing now – to escape the consequences of their politicians’ serial shenanigans.
Foreign interference: What Lebanese political parties accuse their rivals of encouraging, even as they openly do so themselves.
Hizbullah: “Party of God.” Powerful movement based on confrontation with Israel, supply of social services to historically disenfranchised community, and austere religiosity. Only thing in Lebanon that works as advertised but pursues risky strategies that threaten to destroy that which it has fought so hard to achieve.
Iran: 1) Model society; 2) Theocracy; 3) Player.
Israel: Nasty neighbor. Individual citizens met in airports are often perfectly normal, but ruling class is led by mystic racists bent on punishing Arabs for monstrous but decades-old crimes perpetrated, in any event, by an Austrian who was himself a mystic racist.
Lebanon: A magical but forlorn place stuck between two devils and the deep blue sea. Filled with beautiful scenery, great food and wonderful people who don’t get along very well.
March 8 Forces: Opposition alliance named for largest mass demonstration in Lebanese history.
March 14 Forces: Government alliance named for largest mass demonstration in Lebanese history.
March 11 Forces: Small group of pragmatists sick of both March 8 and March 14 but itself in competition with other independents.
Sectarian strife: Tensions between believers in rival superstitions, usually stirred in concert by competing Mafia families to keep the masses from noticing that they are all being screwed – left, right, and centre – by sectarianism.
State: Figment of many imaginations.
United Nations: Organization of sovereign states that pretend to act in concert but are prevented from doing so by veto-wielding great (and formerly great) powers. Sets myriad rules for relations among peoples and nation-states but enforces them selectively. World’s leading manufacturer of acronyms – e.g. UNDP, UNAMID,UNESCO,UNICEF, UNPROFOR, UNTSO, etc.
United States of America: 1) The Great Satan; 2) The Great Savior; 3) Useful Idiot. 4) Dangerous Idiot.
Warlord: Individual who commanded militia forces during Civil War, responsible for loss of hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of innocent human lives. Most now playing roles as respectable politicians and managing to fool large numbers of people here and abroad.