Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 10:52pm
Days ago, I went to meet a Lebanese friend for coffee. He was there with a French friend of his, who apparently was about to go to Lebanon for a year, within an academic exchange program. Since the French guy was a “Lebanon virgin”, my Lebanese friend was giving him some advice and good addresses to visit while he’s there. Then he turned to me and asked: “So, do you have something else to suggest for him?” I look at the guy, and say:
– So it will be your first time in Lebanon?
– Good. Don’t get killed.
My Lebanese friend is immediately outraged. “M’enfin, André, is this what you say to people who want to visit your country?”
Please allow me to plead not guilty. I never intended to convey the wrong image of my country. But I said that for a specific purpose, which I will tell you later, for the moment, let me resume my story:
“Sorry, I was just being facetious. Just don’t hang out in the wrong areas, and don’t party too much if you’re going there to study. Watch the alcohol and the women”.
Clearly my friend was now satisfied. I had brought up the topic that all Lebanese like to brag about in front of their Western friends: Beirut, bling-bling capital of the Middle East, yay!
Until now, all of my Facebook friends have abundantly posted links glorifying Beirut and the Lebanese Way of Life: Beirut, ranked prime destination 2009 among 44 cities by the NY Times, Beirut gay capital of the Middle East, Beirut party city, Incredible Nightlife in Beirut, Sexual Revolution in Beirut, The Beauty of Lebanese Women, The Beirut Spirit, etc.
It seems to me that there is more and more one single discourse about Beirut and Lebanese society: having fun, going out, partying all the time, dancing, drinking, eating, etc. Alongside with the classical subject (civil strife, ethnic killings), this seems to be the alternative.
Don’t get me wrong, as any other Lebanese, I like to talk highly of my country, glorifying our forebears’ splendid deeds, spreading all kinds of facts and infos on our history, culture, cuisine, and even our decadent political system. At any occasion, I try to tell the story how the Phoenicians scammed the Greeks by selling them the alphabet (a story which I invented by the way). Our history is great, our cuisine is the best, our culture is a unique mix of East and West: this is the basic credo of the average Lebanese. And in that respect, I am, too, an average Lebanese.
But there are things I refuse. I refuse to be the needy Lebanese. I refuse to be the Lebanese in constant need of approval by the West. I refuse to fall into the obsession of self-promotion in order to be validated and “accepted as similar” by a European or an American or a Canadian. We are so needy; we want so desperately to be reckoned, to be acknowledged as “similar” to the West, or at least comparable to it. We need to *show*, we need to *demonstrate* that we might even be part of it, that we understand it. And we need the West to understand us — please do!
This is where I beg to differ. Don’t understand me, I don’t give a shit.
Love me or leave me.
I refuse this Lebanese idiosyncrasy of craving for approval, of begging for validation. We even need Oprah Winfrey’s approval. “No, Oprah, Lebanon is not like that!” They all joined the Facebook group thinking they were going to change the face of the world.
Well, you know, Oprah Winfrey, I couldn’t care less if you have a good or a bad idea of my country. And to be honest, your cliché of Lebanese conservatism, although not completely true, is not utterly erroneous either.
Things are what they are. Deal with it. Lebanon stands for itself. It’s not paradise on earth, it’s not the perfect society where everybody’s happy and everybody drinks and dances. In fact, people cry more than they dance in Lebanon, and this is what my friends tend to forget. I reject this monolithic discourse of unbearable lightness propagated by journalists and the “jeunesse dorée libanaise” (merci Marina).
I don’t want to post links in order to give my foreign friends the incentive to come visit Lebanon. Lebanon is mysteriously beautiful, but Lebanon has a lot of misery. Lebanon deserves to be lived to the full, but Lebanon is ruthless. Lebanon lets you fall in love with him, but Lebanon kills you while you’re sleeping.
This attitude of constant promotion of Lebanon betrays our passionate yearning to be equal with the “Westerner”. This is precisely the “complex of the colonized”: an attitude of submissiveness towards someone we deem as “superior” and “developed”. If I didn’t think you were superior to me, why then would I seek your approval? Have you ever sought the approval of someone you perceived as “inferior in rank”? We might not be colonized anymore, but we still act like we were. The French left Lebanon in 1943, then in 1946, but the West remained in our minds and conscience.
Let me now go back to Beirut. Yes, when I say Beirut, I think: nose jobs. I think: boob jobs. Beirut is an extraordinary city, but Beirut is sometimes turning into a grandiose whorehouse. Downtown Beirut? I never liked it. Since I was 16, I never felt it was mine; the walls there have no soul anymore. The memory is gone.
There are many things I am unsure of, but as a sociologist, I know full well that each individual knows automatically where he stands in the social order. By gauging the others you are principally gauging yourself. To some of them, we feel superior, to other we feel inferior – and envious, greedy, jealous. This is our situation with the Arabs and the Westerners. We want to be so much like them – the Westerners – that we want to copy them at all cost.
This is why some of my comments on Lebanon may seem unpleasant to my friends. Provocation is my middle name. And I don’t like one-sidedness. There is the good, the bad, and the ugly Lebanon. I don’t intend to be negative; I am just here to put some balance.
This is why, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have dubbed Beirut: The Planet of the Apes. For we always have aped Western culture. Look at us, we’re OK! See the pictures, see the videos: we’re modern! But guess what, all of it is fake. You know the saying: Fake it till you make it. Well, we’re still in the “faking-and-fail-making” phase.
Our “modern” ideas are superficial (for we aped them).
Our “modern” behavior is superficial (for we aped it).
Our “modern” sense of fashion is superficial (for we aped it).
Our “modern” institutions are superficial (for we aped them).
Our “modern” so-called state is superficial (for we aped it).
Our “democracy” is superficial (for we aped it).
Our “open-mindedness” is superficial (for we aped it).
Our “tolerance” is superficial (for we fake it).
Our “pluralism” is superficial (for we overdo it).
Our “rationalization” is superficial (for we ape it).
Lebanon is but one of many examples of mitigated “modernization”, where everything is mixed, and deeply paradoxical.
I will certainly revise this fragment in the coming days.