Arab Life Blog

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.

The Syrian Refugees’ Predicament and Ours In The Levant

Do we Lebanese know where we stand on the issue of Syrian migrants and refugees? Not really. We have no credible public opinion polls, no in-depth, nationwide research on this community, and very few independent media platforms covering its situation with reliable facts and figures.

But do we actually have a Syrian problem? We sure do.

Do we know what it is? Not even the half of it.

In 2011, Syria’s population was an estimated 21 million. By 2022, it had shrunk inside the country to around 18 million. Per the UNHCR’s data, there are also six million Syrians who have been displaced internally. In other words, the country has experienced a violent external and internal cleansing.

Lebanon’s Golden Age through A Different Lens

Not every reference to a country’s golden age implies a current one made out of muck.

In Lebanon, it does. Almost always when Lebanese are referring to the country’s golden age, they mean to juxtapose it against today’s dark one.

There is the broken, bankrupt, corrupt, soiled, pervasively sectarian Lebanon that we have now. And there is the Lebanon that was once the jewel in the Levantine crown.

That moment of zenith, in the mind of those Lebanese who hark for it, stretches from, let’s say, the late 1940s all the way to the late 1960s. And it is usually told through visuals.

We have elegant and beautiful Lebanon, like one of its presidents and his wife, Camille Chamoun (1952-1958) and Zelfa.

The Changing Mood Of The “Westward” Arab Elite

It’s always been a rather complicated relationship, the US and Arab elites. There’s nothing unusual about that between empire and those it proposes to sponsor and instruct (its allies), and those it intimidates and subverts (its adversaries). But in the Arab world, it’s been a  wretched experience all around, especially for the “westward” ones in our midst.

Israel-Palestine Or Is It Palestine-Israel?

In the early 1980s, Georgetown University’s Foreign Service School, where I was an undergraduate student, held an international conference in Amman, Jordan. The theme was the Arab world and the US.

Professor Jack Rudy, who taught at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, gave a very interesting talk at the conference. Unusually for that period, his presentation was data driven, centering on American public opinion on Israel and Palestine.

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