Conversations With Our Mothers

The end of summer is something, isn’t it? Thunderstorms and rain showers. The earthy scent in the air that puts you at peace with your angst if only for a little while. Relief from the heat and mild depression at the specter of school–again. That one never leaves you even decades after you got that diploma and bolted to your real life.

What Do you See?

While in Amman last week, I sat on the porch of a friend’s on Friday for brunch. The first day of the weekend, unusually nice weather for August, French press coffee, home baked sour dough pita bread, omelet, foul and hummus, olives, the company of close friends, and all the time in the world to gab about everything and nothing.

The Irony About Self-Awareness

People without a sense of irony are a wretched lot. They have no humor, no fun, are lousy conversationalists and even worse debaters, have no appreciation for nuance, and generally speaking are hypocrites of the worst kind: the high falutin’ one.

I can’t prove it, but I also suspect they are the overwhelming majority of humanity. I say this because the one essential virtue without which there can be no sense of irony in a person or a people is self-awareness: self-awareness of your history, your situation, its relation to that of others, your ambiguities, paradoxes, faults, fallibilities,…

Is There Anything Left to Say About Lebanon’s August 4?


Everything that needs to be said about the Beirut Port explosion on August 4 has been said. The suspicious circumstances that put the Ammonium Nitrate in hangar 12, the very likely reason for its presence there, the silence of multiple high, middle, and low level officials about it, the corruption it exposed in every nook and cranny of the port, and the collective guilt of the state and its resistance to a serious investigation. Debate still rages about Hezbollah’s culpability in storing the Nitrates, Israel’s culpability in causing the inferno, and mysterious deaths surrounding the case.

This Week’s Sobering Tally

A flowless Mediterranean this morning, azure and marble like. A swim, I am sure I will replay in my mind for months to come. The heat has broken and a tender wind blows and sighs.

But this week somehow starts somber. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s nothing more than the ebb and flow of life’s fickle moods. Perhaps it’s something more. It’s as if the week’s tally is rigged to jolt.

The Wonderful Inventiveness of Us

I am away from Beirut, again. A month of solitude and repose, summer friends and reads, early morning writing and walks, afternoon research when the pen is no longer willing, and open sea swimming.

These are not small mercies, and for that I am forever grateful to a fate that decided I should be so lucky. It hasn’t been a good month for many peoples in the Arab world, certainly not for Levantines.

This Post Is Not About Sidon

I visited Lebanon four times during its 15-year civil war. The longest I stayed was a month in 1980, the shortest a week in 1984. The country was broken, its warlords were many, their militias, depending on their size, in control of anywhere between whole regions and small neighborhoods. Beirut itself was still reeling from Israel’s 1982 siege. It was devastated, filthy, rat infested, with a party scene like no other.

Who Likes Goodbyes!

What to write about This Arab Life this week, when I am far away from it if only for a little while?

Write in situ, my best friend Joye volunteered before she set out back to D.C.

And so I shall.

Vacations turn their temporary dwellers into the tightest of tribes. To them belongs the
the wonder of the time and the intensity. For a few days, life obtains a certain rhythm and its inhabitants find themselves reflexively dancing to it even as they bring to the scene their own peculiar habits or inevitably indulge in the occasional spar. By the end of the journey, they become the keepers of a mood, a laugh, conversations familiar only to them and inexplicable to others, however hard they try.

Ill-imagined Lebanon

“Disorder remained the fate of many nations that had been insufficiently or too fervidly imagined,” wrote Pankaj Mishra in The Age of Anger.

And so, disorder has remained our fate in the Levant. That we have been insufficiently or too fervidly imagined is not the only source of our ceaseless pain, to be sure. But we would be unfair and disrespectful to our colonizers if we didn’t recognize the significance and durability of their handiwork.

Between France’s Burkini and Lebanon’s Bikini

You will remember, perhaps, that incident in 2016, when the French police asked a Burkinied (add this nifty new word to your dictionary) woman on a beach in Nice, in the South of France, to remove her garb. Around the same time, another hijabed woman on the shores of Cannes was fined for a dress code that does not “[respect] good morals and secularism.” The jeering crowd in Cannes weighed in with “go home.” She was a French Muslim.

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