Well dear readers, I want to write about some of the reasons I want to go back to Beirut, and what I intend to do when I go there. I unfortunately had someone who used to be very close to me, and who I thought believed in me, doubt my intentions to return. Of all the people I know in the world, I would have expected him to encourage my passion for Lebanon and for a region he knew I loved for a long time. Yet apparently there is something wrong with focusing on the bright side of life and remembering the good times… I mean… its strange… isn’t this the way most people live their life? Or should live their lives? I mean logically, if you have a choice to live on the bright side or the dark side… well, it certainly seems much nicer to live on the bright side to say the least. Where the sun shines and illuminates the beauty in the world. The same goes for memories. Why trap yourself in a cycle where you only remember the negative moments about an event or a person? It just doesn’t compute. Joy is far more important – remembering the experiences that caused the soul to soar into the heavens. It’s far easier to love than to be angry or focus on the negative. But fear causes people to do things out of character. Like chopping off hands.
American television occassionally has informative programs on, and tonight on PBS, Charlie Rose interviewed Thanassis Cambanis (sounds oddly like cannabis, doesn’t it?)- about his new book regarding Hezbollah. It was interesting to hear his opinions on whats coming next in Lebanon with the verdict of the Tribunal. Some of the major points he raised that I think are worth mentioning… its hard to imagine that the Syrian Intelligence network nor the Hezbollah Intelligence network, which were the predominant forces at work in the country at the time of Hariri’s assassination in 2005, were completely caught unawares with regards to such a major plot unfolding in the country. It’s hard to imagine they didn’t have at least a shred of evidence. As the author of the book said – they were complicit in their inaction. If even a whiff of a plot had passed under Hezbollah’s nose, they should have informed the Lebanese government, or at least the Syrian power apparatus which controlled most of the country at the time, as this was during a period when Lebanon was under occupation. It’s just odd. It strikes me as rather strange. And of course, this doesn’t mean that Hezbollah is complicit in the assassination. The Tribunal itself has been plagued by difficulties. I don’t know much about it myself, in terms of the details revolving around the ‘False Witnesses’ but it just seems like the Tribunal was initially set up to blame Syria, which at the time of the Tribunal’s creation after the assassination was squarely in the focus of the Bush Administration’s Axis of Evil. Now that we’re trying to engage the Syrians, well obviously we wouldn’t want to do anything to tick Bashar al-Assad off, certainly not by saying he murdered Rafik al-Hariri. So now the onus is on Hezbollah. And I think Hezbollah has a right to raise the issue of Western domination of the Tribunal as a political tool, because it certainly seems as much from the outside. Still the whole thing has turned into a bit of a media circus, and apparently now Nasrallah is saying that he’ll cut off the hand of anyone who interferes with the Resistance in Lebanon.
This brings me to my next point. The interview on PBS underscored just how popular Hezbollah is in Lebanon, and this is why they are so particularly fascinating to study. They are winning a war of ideas in the Middle East. Even many Lebanese who don’t like Hezbollah certainly hold Hasan Nasrallah in high regard for a number of reasons. He’s very well spoken in Arabic and an incredible orator. He tends to follow through on his word. And his own son was sacrificed in combat with Israel, when most other Lebanese politicians send their sons and daughters to America and England for education. This gives him some serious credit on the Arab street and the Lebanese street for that matter. And one certainly cannot ignore that Hezbollah has had some success in its geopolitical aims of driving out Israel not only physically from Lebanon, but also disrupted its intelligence apparatus in the country. They deserve credit for this, though the enormous cost of this war on the Lebanese state and people must also be factored in.
Hezbollah is really absolutely fascinating to study from a variety of perspectives. From a Lebanese political perspective. From a media perspective. From an Islamic perspective. And this is really what I want to continue doing. The question is if, not only will the country be safe for me to go back to in February, but if its the right place to go to study what I want. Admittedly, I am sure that many U.S. and European institutions of higher education run some fine programs in Middle East Studies, and perhaps I’ll do one of those later on. But if you want to study Hezbollah, or Lebanese politics in general… well, why not go there? It seems logical does it not? And frankly, I have plenty there still to do. I am greatly interested in becoming involved with an LGBT activism organization called Helem, which means Dream in Arabic. They are really the biggest organization in Lebanon promoting LGBT rights and the removal of condemnation of homosexual acts from Lebanese law. I would really like to get involved with them and the work they do. It seems like it would be highly rewarding. There are numerous opportunities to volunteer in the country, and honestly some of the best times I had were taking bus trips down to the South to discover what some of these organizations do.
I had a fantastic opportunity to visit the Lebanese Mine Action Center, which in correlation with the Lebanese Army and multiple NGOs is responsible for the de-mining of Southern Lebanon following the most recent 2006 war with Israel. It was incredible to see the work they do, the risk many of these soldiers put their lives at. Following this, I visited a Rehabilitation center in the South where many people who have suffered injuries as a result of mine explosions are trying to repair their lives. It was humbling to say the least. To see how these people’s lives have changed because of a mine dropped from the air. These people’s stories need to be told. And the world needs to know.
I don’t feel like I’m going to get anywhere staying in the West, let alone America – as much as I love it. I love it more from the outside. I want to be on an adventure, which is definitely what my first 10 months in Lebanon was, though in a much different sense. It is a wonderful and powerful thing to know true love and I’m certainly glad I was introduced to it and came to know it innately. I shall never forget that person, nor the country he caused me to further fall in love with.
It is best to be grateful, and to live our lives on that bright, gleaming edge where the magic and excitement happens. It’s better to remember the amazing experiences we have had and know that we are young and there are so many more to come our way.
America needs statesmen. It doesn’t need more people from the Ivory Tower. It doesn’t need more people who are byproducts of the system. It needs specialists. It needs people who are passionate and know a country, a region, and the issues by the back of their hand.
To conclude… so why? Why care about Lebanon in particular? It’s not just that I think they are more of an asset to U.S. foreign policy that Israel could ever be. It’s not just that the way things happen in Lebanon and the issues at hand form a microcosm of the entire region… no. It’s not just that. It’s more that it falls along the lines of how heartbreaking it is to see a man who tried to do something genuinely good for his country, whether he was corrupt or not, and was killed in the process. And this isn’t the first time, when we talk about Rafik al-Hariri. I’m not trying to make him out to be some Saint. Neither was Bashir al-Gemayal. But these were men who tried to do something for Lebanon, to unify it and reduce its divisions. To let the Lebanese stand on their own as they should, as a sovereign, self-determinant nation. They gave their lives for this. And it may be that neither one of their murders is ever solved. But Lebanon deserves its chance. It deserves its chance to shine and be a model for the region. A place where a growing movement for LGBT recognition in the Middle East can thrive. A place where such unbridled economic prosperity can turn Beirut into the capital it is famed to be, in an almost mythological sense. The Lebanese deserve this chance. And as Americans, instead of fucking things up as we’ve done of late in the Middle East, we should do all we can to help them decide their future on their own.
A note on the picture above… I took this photo this past February on Valentine’s day (the first Valentine’s Day that I wasn’t alone on), which marks the day that the former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated in 2005. I mean nothing political by the picture. But it’s one of my favorites that I took because it shows a young boy who enthusiastically holds up the Lebanese flag, and it was just a fleeting moment, when he looked at me and said in Lebanese Arabic to take his picture. It was awesome. I want more moments like that. And that’s why I love Lebanon.