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Aug 19, 2006

Cruising

Cruising-Beirut

What happened to the Cedar Revolution(aries)?

During the "Cedar Revolution" a year-and-a-half ago, the English-speaking press created the illusion of a monolithic, more moderate and pro-Western Lebanon.  With that stereotyping in mind, it seems that the coverage over the past three weeks has elicited the same skew, this time in the "opposite" direction.

Because of the cultural disconnect, this image -- which ran on the LAT front page on Wednesday -- is particularly fascinating.  Before considering the Middle Eastern aspect, though, the Southern California layering alone is interesting.  I included the headline because "cruising" in car obsessed L.A. has its own connotations.  Noticing only the foreground at first, I thought these were Latina.  But where would they be cruising?  Westwood?  Beverly Hills?  Quickly taking in the full scene and caption, however ("Affluent Lebanese drive through a bombed-out south Beirut neighborhood"), everything was suddenly backward.  Seems it would make more sense if white kids were cruising East L.A., or upscale Hispanic kids were cruising South Central.  Anyway....

Maybe the fact there are "two Beirut's" is no different than how it is here in America.  If this country is that stratified, however, just how generalized (culturally, ethnically or geographically) is the damage inflicted on greater Lebanon or greater Beirut?  Not to generalize too much, myself, but I am inspired to ask the question by these beautiful people with cell phone cameras at the ready.

(image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.  August 16, 2006.  Los Angeles Times.  p. A1)

Comments

That is a very good photographer. I also saw the LA layering, like one of them is looking for a Starbucks.

For many in the Arab world, the people in the car are the kind of people they usually think of when they think of Lebanon. Lebanon used to be known as the "Paris of the Middle East" or the "Switzerland of the Middle East", and every company that did business in the Middle East had its headquarters in Beirut.

(I remember seeing ads on CNN International some years ago promoting Tel Aviv as the place to locate your headquarters for Middle Eastern businesses. Of course, that's absurd, since the overwhelming majority of Arabs wouldn't even travel to Israel, and anyone who does so has to make sure their passport isn't stamped, since they wouldn't get back into other Arab countries with an Israeli stamp in their passport. But when I saw that ad campaign, I realized that Israel would never let Lebanon rebuild and become anything like what it was before. After spending billions, Beirut had just come back, and tourists were back in force this summer.)

Lebanon has a strong connection with the West; many Lebanese speak Arabic, English and French and graduates of the American University of Beirut comprise a sort of elite group of "movers and shakers" in the Arab world.

Lebanese satellite stations (not Hezbollah's Al-Manar, of couse) are known for showing beautiful women wriggling around, scantily clad and heavily made up. Lebanese singers like Nancy, Haifa (who's Shia, by the way), and Elissa are known around the Middle East, whether they're loved or hated.

Israel destroyed roads and bridges all over Lebanon, but certainly some areas of the country were fairly safe. Most of the destruction of homes was in Shia areas - whether southern Lebanon or the southern suburbs of Beirut, and the Shia areas have traditionally been the more deprived areas. Hezbollah has been much stronger than the government in providing social services, and they're certainly showing that now, as they hand out compensation for destroyed homes and promise to rebuild.

Supposedly, Lebanon is about evenly split among Christians, Sunnis, and Shias. It has too many factions to keep track of, and they were fighting each other during their civil war. Some were allied with Israel. One of Israel's (and America's) goals in this war was to push a wedge between the Shias who support Hezbollah and other Lebanese. That's why it was so significant that even Christians, Sunnis, Communists, and everyone - including people like the ones cruising in this photo - were gathering to protest the attacks and to cheer Hezbollah.

When I look at this photo, I see Lebanon and it's choices. There is the part of Lebanon which wants to rebuild itself as the Paris of the Middle East. This is a Western path that is secular and nonviolent but sometimes decadent and materialistic. In the background we see that other path- an Islamist one which dreams of building a religious highway across the middle east to establish a new caliphate. Those who travel this path are willing to kill thousands of their fellow citizens in pursuit of their goal. Which path will the Lebanese chose-it is their choice, not Israel's.

Notice the woman casually using her mobile phone to take a photo?, send an SMS? or update her calendar? From that perspective the whole picture looks like an ad saying, 'never miss a moment when out with friends...". I would love to expose this picture to a random sample of Americans and publish the results to the question, "What do you see in this picture!"

MichaelDG,

Unfortunately, there is no one else the Lebanese have to look up to or who resembles a leader in some way other than Nasrullah. Surely he is exploiiting this to the full extent, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that he is very media-oriented and media-savvy.

Realistically though, I really don't think the Lebanese people have a choice - their fate is ultimately decided by those outside and around their borders (and now, by unelected organizations from within those borders). There is a long history of Syrian and Israeli incursions into Lebanese territorism - and politically, they were only now starting to get back on their feet when large parts of their infrastructure was once again demolished and destroyed in these past few weeks.

If anything, this will certainly only strengthen Hezbollah even more, and already the "official" government is losing power and credibility as each day passes. Who is handing out cash and cheques and promises to rebuild real homes? And who is sitting by and waiting for the bureaucracy to funnel something out already?

Unfortunately for everyone, Hezbollah is the real winner in all of this.

MichaelDG, when you posit that Lebanon has only two choices, "to rebuild itself as the Paris of the Middle East" or "building a religious highway across the middle east to establish a new caliphate," you narrow and filter Lebanon's choices according to your Western prejudices, completely disregarding the complexity of the demographic makeup of Lebanon. Lebanon will choose whatever path gives it the best options for survival and prosperity, which will likely be a third path you haven't conceived of. Since Syria's withdrawal, the West has not offered Lebanon the best options. And that is the West's choice, fault, and problem. That pile of rubble in the background has Made in USA written all over it.

Furthermore, what's so secular about the West? I'd like to point out that the U.S. government is currently being run by radicals, an idea advanced not by liberals, but by many old-school John Dean-type conservatives lately. During the Bush reign of terror, so much of our own democratic system has been abducted by conservative religious agendas in the form of debilitating restrictions placed on existing laws, blocks on the passing of new bills or addendums to them, and a deep undermining and corruption of the balance of power favoring the executive brach. The religious makeup of the Lebanese government is mandated, while the nonsecular influence in our own country operates underground and off the radar and with spectacular success.

As for the babes in the convertible, rich people on the whole are not revolutionaries. They don't need to be.

P.S.: It's a total fantasy to call the West nonviolent!

I think the underlying analogy in this image is that these people are just like us. The allusions to California and Los Angeles make perfect sense - just like they can drive off after touring the carnage, we can turn off our tv's and put away our newspapers whenever we want. Unfortunately, these people are certainly not representative of the Lebaneses majority, but I wonder how many people make that distinction upon viewing the pic.

Choices? That's am interesting way of putting it. But what happens when they make the "wrong" choice? If the goverment and people of Lebanon choose to side with Nasrallah and Hezbollah for fear of further IDF incursions or a return to full blown civil war (rember that while Beirut was once known as the Paris for many years, it was the heart of darkness during the 80s, the last place on Earth anybody wanted to be). I believe that this choice is a false one, choose one, and your swell, choose the other and you will pay....

Looking at this picture makes me want to invite you all over to look at the many pictures of Beirut and surroundings that I posted in June. The Lebanon posts are listed at the top of the right sidebar. I made a real effort to catch the diversity of people I saw in a trip which took me to all areas of the country in the company of a Lebanese friend. The areas in the South Lebanon post have now been fought over and the Corniche is oil fouled and has lost its lighthouse -- but I suspect the people look the same.

When I first saw the picture and the caption, before reading the comments, I thought this was an example of disaster tourism in New Orleans.

MichaelDG,

I have reviewed your website and the glowing commentaries of your work, I look forward to reading about a good Nazi, for I'm still enraged over the *good Nazi's* employed by the USA (CIA) after the war.

But now to this statement > "This is a Western path that is secular and nonviolent"

Before rtbag stated the obvious > "P.S.: It's a total fantasy to call the West nonviolent!"

I randomly picked 1492 to calculated how many millions of people were in "This is a Western path that is secular and nonviolent": as the victims of a religious rampage, plunder and murder spawned from Europe. After a few hundreds of millions I ran out of time and patience.
WW II totals are 50 million's, in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia more bombs were dropped than in WW II, historians still argue, whether it was 2 or 3 million we liberated to another place from that tiny part of Asia. I could go on but you get the picture.

Your reference to "caliphate" was an inspiration to put on more coffee and study additional historical reviews and critiques especially of what I call "new speak"
As a person of advanced learning you may be interested in this extract, from a lengthy article as a historian checks in on politicians and sorting out the nomenclature of his profession.

"In the final analysis, then, “Islamic fascism” or “Islamofascism” is a term that should be dropped from our political lexicon. But what could replace it? With whom are we are at war? Islamic fundamentalists? Too unwieldy. Islamists? Confusing to non-specialists. Caliphists? Again, too specialized. Perhaps the best term is one that has already gained some resonance: Jihadists. It’s short, it’s descriptively accurate and even although it will try—won’t be able to convince the American public that jihadists are simply mundane Muslims struggling to be pious.
http://hnn.us/articles/29162.html (*Council on American-Islamic Relations)

If your new to the site AOG's pops in ever so often which his concept Califascists but this label hasn't received academic attention, if "W" mouths it, there's always a possibility. GWB has traded in GWOT (a tactic) to Islamofascism (a concept?) which is intended to describe an ideology I suppose.

Sounds good, now back to sports and my six pack.

Later I will review my notes on how these "jihadists" came to flower in the last 50 years with such vengeance attacking us the Christian caring democratic loving West.


Uhm....so you are saying that we ought not to think of Lebanon as poor, bombed out folk? That really they enjoy crusing, cell phones, and we shouldn't generalize the bombed out photos to all of Lebanon? Yikes.

They could be Latina, tho!

It's interesting to see how sensitive we are to ethnic divisions close to home ('latinos' and 'whites' in LA) and how blind to them we can be abroad. Lebanon, it pays to remember, fought a long, nasty, divisive civil war just a few yeras ago largely along ethnic lines - which in the Lebanese context, is tantamount to saying along religious lines as well. There isn't even a pretence of a Lebanese ethnic identity that transcends these sectarian divides - the constitution allocates representation and positions along sectarian lines, no one dares to take a census for fear of upending the status quo, and the different groups overwhelmignly live in separate villages. Even in Beirut, the closest thing Lebanon has to a melting pot, most of the neighborhoods are identified with a particular group. With the notable exception of some critical pieces of infrastructure, the Israel bombardment and ground campaign was almost entirely confined to the southern suburbs of Beirut, South Lebanon, and the Bekaa Valley - all overwhelmingly Shi'ite areas. Christian and Sunni villages were largely bypassed or spared the brunt of the assault.
For all this, the media persists in reporting on Lebanon as if it were a country bound together by nationalism, rather than by geography. The Cedar Revolution was embraced by the Christian communities and by the Sunnis, as well. The Shi'ite parties (Amal and Hezbollah) supported their Syrian sponsors, and felt tremendously threatened by the upheaval. In the zero-sum game of Lebanese politics, the strengthening of the Sunnis and Christians necessarily implied the weakening of Shi'ite influence; the move in to the Western orbit implied the decline of Syrian power; and the secularizing trend more prevalent in those communities suggested a threat to the influence of Shi'ite clerics, as well. This helps explain Hezbollah's need to provoke a new confrontation and shore up its own support - the Cedar Revolution represented a dimunition of its influence and authority, a trend that it has succesfully reversed by positioning itself as a defender of Lebanon, not an armed militia of a single community.
So how did the Western media miss this? It's partly a function of cultural illiteracy. To Western eyes, a Shi'ite, a Sunni, a Maronite and a Druze all look more or less the same - the sectarian divisions are not based on anything so superficial as skin color. It's also the case that in the limited space of a caption or a news brief, it's easier to say "Lebanese" than "Maronite Christian, a Lebanese religious community in communion with the Holy See in Rome but adhering to the Eastern Orthodox rites." But I think the most important element is that most Western reporters are not comfortable in Shi'ite communities, and are not welcome there. The Christians are wealthier, better-educated, more likely to speak English, more accomodating of Western ways, and more secular. Let's be blunt - it's the Christian community of Lebanon that has traditionally formed the core of its extraordinary commercial class, and that has made the city the Las Vegas of the Middle East, a place in which Muslims can escape the religious strictures of their own states and communities. The Shi'ites (like Hispanics in LA) form a plurality of the population that remains impoverished, poorly-educated, confined to limited social and economic opportunities, and more deeply religious and committed to traditional culture. So Western reporters and photographers socialize with and live among the Christians, some secularized Sunnis, and a handful of Shi'ites who have left their culture behind. That's why the Western press relies so heavily on stringers for stories and pictures from the Shi'ite areas of Lebanon. And it's why it consistently overstates the amount of support for the secular West.

So when you post that photo, I see a group of young, affluent, secular Maronites driving past the rubble of a Shi'a neighborhood for voyeuristic thrills. And yeah, I think 'cruising' with all that it implies is just about right.

jt from BC, you speak as a silver-tongued devil. I love it. Keep it up.

And I'm happy to see that LongWinded knows as much about Hispanics in LA as he does about Muslims.

Cactus, *for your eyes only*, I'm not from British Columbia, BC means 'Before Christ' so hanging around for a while has its benefits. I'm not confident about the silver description but I do like the devil bit, thanks, jt

De nada, caro.

Obviously, these men and women are of the westernized side of Beirut, (maybe Christian, perhaps not). I think this photo is an interesting perspective on how a lot of westernized Lebanese, (those whose lives have not been destroyed), see this conflict: as a Hollywood stage set, cruising around with the top down, enjoying the sights. I mean, its disgusting! They remind me of actors and singers, doing a photo op, while their fellow citizens are suffering.

If this is what it means to become westernized in Lebanon then this should be a lesson to all.

jt from BC,

Many thanks for your thoughts on what to call our enemies in this "war on terrorism"- those who out of religious-political fervour would purposely kill thousands of civilians anywhere in the world. Jihadists seems to be exactly what I have been looking for.

"those who out of religious-political fervour would purposely kill thousands of civilians anywhere in the world"

How about neocons? The Bush administration? Christian fascists?

Michaeldg > your looking may not to be over *if...

Jihadists is not my term but one advocated by that historian who did not claim to be a religious scholar, and appears like David Horowitz to have shifted though the lexicon for a label from which to construct or rearrange his ignorance to fit a preconceived idea or a political agenda.

"It is handy because Jihad has a negative connotation and reputation in much of the West, on par with the reaction to the Christian term crusade in much of the Islamic world" (wiki)

(GWB's first response *crusade*, now X rated and censored comes to mind although officially struck from the record)

*If your up for a historical, spiritual, intellectual, military and political roller coaster ride spend some time @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jihadists.

And don't forget to check out the Christian forms of Jihah under Church Militant religion: Religious Wars militant: Crusade, Crusade (modern), Just war, Goumiere political: Proselytism, Inquisition (Gitmo and Renditions my update).

I found the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid) very appropriate when instructing young people in soccer. When experts use this principle especially in religious or historical contexts I wait for the punch line which never seems to come or I miss their jokes entirely.
Yours, in paying greater attention to labels, and in the on going pursuit of meaning, to be found I suspect somewhere between common sense and nonsense far removed from the daily drumming of sound bites.

I love this photo. Fredrico Felini couldn't have done it better.

CATERING TO A LEBANESE CLICHÉ
World Press Photo Mix-Up
By Ulrike Putz in Beirut

The World Press Photo of the Year 2006 shows upscale young Lebanese men and women visiting a bombed-out Beirut neighborhood like disaster tourists -- or at least that's what everyone thought. Bissan Maroun, one of those featured in the photograph, told SPIEGEL ONLINE the true story.

ummabdulla.....Great catch! You must be a voracious reader to find this. Bissan IS smiling in this photo, but the others do have expressions more of concern, now that I take a second look.

I think I saw that at Angry Arab (who I enjoy reading sometimes, although I don't always agree with him), so I thought I should mention it here. I'm not sure I would take Bissan's explanation at face value, but it's part of the story of this photo.

actually, i heard that some research was done on this picture, and the women in the car actually live in a neighborhood very close to this one, so this picture does not back up your stratification theory.

however i do not have any hard proof for this assertion, maybe someone else can find it??

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