A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for January, 2007

Greenline photos

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 31, 2007

The Unbuilt Project Dossier has just posted stunning photos taken earlier today along Beirut’s old greenline.

They show the effects of war, but also of time.

Most of the wartorn buildings that linger today do so because of ownership disputes, rather than some desire to preserve a visual witness of the emptiness of the country’s civil war. Real estate is one of the few solid investments possible in this country. Those who can rebuild, do.

The photographs are breath-taking:

Remnants of a Greenline.

Posted in art, Beirut, film, Lebanon, photography, time, travel | 1 Comment »

Little Mosque on the Prairie: a thoughtful critique

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 31, 2007

I am pining for episode 3 of Little Mosque on the Prairie to be posted online. Please, Canuck Youtubers, let me in on the fun! Downloading Desperate Housewives from Itunes is a poor, poor substitute.

I did find a very thoughtful critique of the show as a show from a self-described semi-successful Canadian television writer, Denis McGrath. He analyzes (analyses, I suppose, since he is Canadian) the effectiveness of each character, the staging, and the script – from the vantage of someone who wants the show to succeed and is dissatisfied with its prospects if it continues as is.

Here it is, posted on January 22, just over one week ago:

Little Mosque: My Take

Okay, so I finally got a chance to see the second episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie.

I was really reticent about posting anything negative about the show at all, because I thought that those premiere numbers and the coverage was such a good step in the right direction for CBC that I don’t want to rain on the parade. But let’s face it, no show is perfect. And if CBC wants a long term hit with the show, there’s definitely some things that need a good tweak.

I did not think the Pilot of Mosque was very good television. The most interesting thing about it was the concept. The execution, I thought, was lacking. I thought Episode Two was better, which was a personal relief.

You can argue all you want about the backseat driving discussions — ie: the howiwouldhavedoneits — it should have been edgier, etc, etc, but on the merits of the show they say they’re going for — a straight down the middle family, wide appeal comedy, here’s what I think’s good, and what needs attention in the next batch of eps (assuming, as seems likely, that the show gets a pickup.)

The Good:

  • Babur. I think this character is clearly the Hiro of the show. (See what I did there? I made a pun, kind of, on the guy from Heroes. Aren’t I just so…oh wait…arrrggh…I just broke my arm patting myself on the back. ow. ow.) Babur is a muslim Archie Bunker. He’s intolerant and dogmatic, conservative and doesn’t question things. He’s rigid and inflexible, but still somehow pretty lovable. The masterstroke: making him a single father of a Canadianized girl. I wish they’d hit a little harder the fact that he didn’t push the hijab question because he wants his daughter to fit in, not because he didn’t want to talk to her about her period. This plotline has the most juice in the show.
  • Yasir. He proves it on 24, but CarloRota is clearly a star. He’s got presence for miles, a good nature, and you just want to spend time with him.
  • Sheila McCarthy. I think her character is odd. It’s problematic to use her, as they did in the pilot, to express “outsider” views of Islam (like being more ignorant of how Ramadan starts, or what foods are traditional, etc, when in her backstory she converted long enough ago that she has an adult daughter with Yasir. But in both the pilot and the 2nd episode, she had little comic awkward moments — with the press in Ep. 1 and the Protesters in Ep.2 where she showed a goofy looseness that was winning.)
  • The occasional sharp line. The joke about the pot-smoking guy joining the United Church, the “You dress like a protestant. You mean Prostitute. No I mean protestant.” Occasionally, there are lines that land that are good. It would be easier if the premises were inherently more funny, but there you go.

The Bad:

  • Zaib. He looks good, he could probably be good in his role as the Imam, but he mugs and overacts insanely. The guy needs to be reined in, hard. It’s like he believes no one will find it funny unless he actually rolls his eyes. (I’m not dreaming that, am I? He really did roll his eyes?)
  • Wake Up, White People! Neil Crone, who plays the right wing radio host, is a great comedian who is absolutely stranded in his role. It’s decent, at least, that they managed to spin it in Episode 2 that he was fomenting intra-Muslim conflict as well as conflict with the community…but come on. Compare this character to Maurice Minnifield in Northern Exposure. Where does he go in three eps? What is the slightest bit interesting about him?
  • Fatima I hate to say this, but the fact that Sheila McCarthy’s character got to use her as a tactic to play on the feminist protestor’s political correctness (because she’s a person of color, see?) was the best use of this character so far. She plays the same role in the show as Babur. Two characters who play exactly the same role does not work in Comedy. You don’t need two Dumb Joeys…you don’t need two space cadet Phoebes, and you don’t need Fatima and Babur, both. One’s gotta show a different side or it’s gonna be a bitch trying to service them both. It’s not enough that she’s a person of color. What makes her distinct and unique? She was useful as a plot point (she’s a woman and wants the barrier too!) but useful as a plot point does not a good character make.
  • The Imam vs. Rayann. The standard Romantic, “they hate each other, but they like each other” thing that they’re going to play here is a big problem for one big reason: there’s nothing keeping them apart. She’s a progressive single Muslim, He’s a progressive single Muslim. They live in a town where Muslims are a serous minority. They agree on most things theologically. What’s keeping them apart? What’s the obstacle? Diane was brainy and Sam was dumb and brawny. Then they got together, and once it didn’t work, the obstacle was external: Frasier. (Thanks to my friend with the house for this point.) Also, they missed an opportunity by putting the most interesting thing about Rayann: that she discovered her faith as an adult, in the backstory. Why would you not have dramatized this journey in the show? Could have been a brilliant way in. If they’re not careful, Rayann could turn into a scold.
  • The Direction. From scenes that are overacted, to scenes that are staged wrong, the comedy is consistently crushed through bad choices in shooting. You also get the sense that there’s A LOT of editing surgery going on to put this together. Two examples that explain all: The Pilot, where the Imam’s on the phone and is mistaken for a terrorist. The women in front of him reacts, big, and goes off. If only that was staged as a slow burn with her behind him, it would have actually have been funny. Dont’ announce, “ATTENTION AUDIENCE, JOKE AHEAD!” Trust them to find funny things funny. Example two is in Ep 2, the sequence where the women get on the board to prevent the men from putting up the barrier again. This could have been rich. But it was shot indistinctly, there was no build to it, and a potentially funny sequence (Imagine what Niles Crane would have done here, or hell, Lucy) was as flat as the board it was played on.
  • The Scheduling. Good God Almighty. The one thing the CBC has going for it is that because it’s not a slave to simulcasts, it can put a show on and run it and not move it, so people can get used to when it’s on. So they premiere in one slot, move, run a rerun, then get pre-empted. Are they TRYING to shake off 500, 000 viewers, or what.

There’s also a lot of merit in what Alex said when he wrote about the show:

A really clever look at Canadian society, seen from the point of view of people who are outsiders in some ways and insiders in others. Sometimes it takes a fish out of water to notice how odd terrestrial critters really are. This is where the show really fails for me. I don’t feel its white characters are keenly observed at all. They seem to be mostly racist and all stupid. Whereas I bet most white people in the Canadian Prairies are extremely tolerant, and racists are in the minority. Most Canadians bend over backwards to be nice to minorities (except possibly not to the Natives), reserving their passive aggression and venom for empowered white people. Instead of making out every white character to be a buffoon, why not write episodes based on actual observation of white society, from a Muslim’s perspective? How white people’s kids are defiant to their faces? How white women wear push-up bras and low-cut shirts but get mad when people stare at their breasts? How white people worship an impoverished, anti-intellectual, rabble-rousing mystic carpenter and cherish money, hierarchy and dogma? Etc.

I think the show really does have promise. It’s still not my type of humor, but I wish CBC every success with it, and I hope it will lead to lots more “higher concept, boundary breaking” shows on CBC.

And like Matt Watts observed a few days ago, it would be nice, now that they have their feel-good Muslim comedy, if at least one or two of those new boundary breakers was pitched to be edgier and more clever, a la the last time CBC really, really broke through with a critical homegrown hit: those first glorious eps of The Newsroom. (Before Auteur Ken disappeared up his own digestive tract, I mean.)I don’t watch enough television to understand all the references and allusions, but I think his critique of the characters is valid. Babur, Fatima, Sarah, Rayyan, and the Imam all have more interesting roles to play, and deeper personal narratives, than the show has allowed them thus far.

Meanwhile I shall continue with my pining, hoping some kind soul’s internet intervention will bring episode 3 to my eyes soon.

Posted in Canada, Canadians, Islam, media, mosque, television, time | 1 Comment »

A New Look at Lebanon: Yezid Sayigh on Paris III

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 31, 2007

A very thoughtful piece by Professor Yezid Sayigh of King’s College, London, has been making its way around the world’s English language newspapers.

I doubt it will find a home in the US, the UK, or the Gulf – his analysis of Lebanon’s political situation does not mesh well with the Lebanon storyline already in play there.

Here it is, a reflective and analytic piece that focuses on Lebanon’s real crisis – its economic state – rather than the media-friendly specter of civil war:

Navigating Lebanon’s Political Minefield

On the face of it, the donor conference of Western and oil-rich Arab nations in Paris this week merely continues the work of two previous multilateral conferences in 2001 and 2002, aimed at helping Lebanon to rebuild its infrastructure after years of civil war and Israeli occupation and to tackle its massive debt. This time, donors will additionally help offset the $3.5 billion in direct and indirect losses caused by last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah, and the further rise of debt to $40.6 billion, a staggering 180% of Lebanon’s GDP.

The agenda appears straightforward, but “Paris III” has acquired a barely concealed political purpose: to bolster the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in the face of a powerful domestic challenge led by Hezbollah, and by extension to curb the influence of Hezbollah’s regional backers, Syria and Iran.

The West should tread carefully. There is a real risk that it will become entangled as a partisan actor in Lebanese domestic politics. Nor should it seek to play into the regional agendas of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan – hardly paragons of democracy – which are anxious to confront what they portray as a menacing “arc” of Shi’a Muslim power extending from Iran to Lebanon via Syria, and in Iraq.

Consider this. The United States and France, which have taken the West’s lead on Lebanon, have both confirmed the “democratic and constitutional nature” of the Siniora government. This is true, but only up to a point, for Lebanon’s confessional-based political system assigns the Shi’a, who make up close to 40% of the population, only 21% of parliamentary seats. The Sunnis, who comprise at most 20% of the population, are given the state office with the greatest executive power, that of prime minister.

Furthermore, the Sunni-based, anti-Syrian Future Movement to which Siniora belongs effectively extended this inequity into the present parliament when it overrode the opposition and insisted on conducting the 2005 general elections on the basis of the Electoral Law gerrymandered by Syria in 2000.

The West should therefore be wary of dismissing the Lebanese opposition out of hand as the cat’s paw of Syria and Iran. Rather, it should welcome proposals by Arab League mediators for immediate electoral reform and early parliamentary elections. At the same time, it should expect the opposition to endorse the establishment of an international tribunal to adjudicate the matter of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, albeit after clarifying and narrowing the current excessively broad United Nations rules governing the investigation.

The West should also recognize that the constituencies of Hezbollah and its allied, largely Christian, Free Patriotic Movement, led by presidential contender Michel Aoun, will be hit hardest by many of Siniora’s proposed economic and administrative reforms, such as lifting fuel subsidies and sharply raising value added tax. Already the 200,000-member Federation of Labour Unions has joined the opposition bandwagon, and Siniora’s proposals will further fuel grassroots populist nationalism.

All this might be seen as a predictable, conservative reaction to urgently needed reforms, were it not for the poor track record of the Sunni economic establishment, which for many years adapted well enough to Syrian domination. Part of Hariri’s legacy was the award of quasi-monopolistic licences to cronies – for mobile telephones, for example – and the sale of government debt at highly profitable rates to local banks in which had a direct interest. So were the profligate borrow-and-spend policies and the use of public-sector hiring to co-opt political factions, both of which resulted in Lebanon’s massive debt problem.

Yet the real challenge for Western policy in Lebanon is neither constitutional reform nor establishment of the Hariri tribunal. The Siniora government and the opposition are likely to reach a compromise within the next few months, probably on the basis of some variant of Arab League proposals. The tougher challenge is to solve the Gordian knot that binds Hezbollah (and the issue of its disarmament), Syria, and Israel together in a fateful triangle.

In short, the West needs to pre-empt a resumption of hostilities in Lebanon by seeking unconditional talks between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights. Failing that, Paris III will represent a sidestepping of the key political issues that must be addressed, and thus merely stock up trouble for the future.

Posted in economics, Lebanon, media, news, Paris, politics | 2 Comments »

The song of rain

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 30, 2007

Whether for Imam Hussein or for the sake of preserving national tranquility, the heavens above Beirut opened this afternoon, sending thunder, lightning, and a pounding of rain down to this earth.

In his “Hymn of the Rain”, Badr Shakr al-Sayyab asks:

Do you know what sorrow the rain can inspire?

In me this rain inspires no sorrow – only awe, and delight. As a midwesterner, my first thought when seeing rain is “oh, how wonderful for the farmers”, though I don’t know whether the farmers here truly need more rain. It might be good for cooling tempers in Mazra3a, though (patting myself on the back for that pun).

I took photographs out my patio:

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Looks like this weekend will be a good one for planting flowers (and rearranging the soil that will have migrated to my patio tiles).

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This one I took when the sky was clearing and the rain slowing from torrential downpour to ‘string’, as a long ago host in Innsbruck described the steady Austrian regen.

Posted in Arabic, art, Beirut, Iraq, Lebanon, music, news, photography, rain, religion, weather, words | 3 Comments »

finding one’s way (ii): a map of Amman

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 30, 2007

My blog seems to have become a way station for lost souls around the region. Today’s search results referrals (Amman + city + map) are less specific than the ones last week for Damascus.

The city of Amman itself has a clickable map online, although it has fewer landmarks than the Damascus map: http://www.amman.com/map.htm. As with most cities here, cabdrivers tend to know areas, not street names. Try to find the circle nearest your destination, and orient yourself from there.

I downloaded this map last summer, before a conference. Unfortunately, I cannot remember my source, so am posting it with apologies to the author:

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Amman is an under-rated city, full of hidden charms. If you are looking to ‘find your way’ in a more metaphorical sense, please let me know. I’m happy to suggest restaurants, hammams, etc. to while away the time there.

Posted in Amman, Jordan, maps, research, tourism, traffic, travel | 5 Comments »

Beirut’s hidden dangers: a heedless Virgin

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 29, 2007

This morning I almost lost my life to the Virgin Mary. She sailed by me, upside down, at top speed, and I jumped back just in the nick of time.

She wasn’t a statue but a painting, 3/4 life size and rendered on a rather formidable sheet of something stronger than canvas. plaster-board, perhaps? Whatever it was, I stood no chance of coming out the victor in any less-than-friendly encounter between us.

Her porter, a young man on a scooter, was holding her up with his left arm, which transformed his entire left side into a blind spot.

It also seemed to have played havoc with his front vision, as in order to reach me he had to first zoom across the intersection, whose far side I was in the middle of trying to cross.

After catching my breath, I began to see the deep humor in what could have been a most unpleasant encounter with the blessed among women. I started to giggle, first inwardly and then … out loud.

In the eyes of my aunt’s Qatari friends, I demonstrated a terrible lack of self control.

Even by American standards, someone walking alone on a street, laughing, raises more eyebrows than approving smiles.

But there I was, laughing and laughing at the idea that in a city so often stereotyped as riven by its religious identities, I could have been a casualty of a church icon.

Update:

This afternoon (Thursday) I noticed that WordPress’s “search engine referrals” included one on “visions of Mother Mary in Lebanon”.

I cano only imagine what that poor searcher thought upon clicking through to this posting.

Posted in Americans, art, Beirut, family, Lebanon, Qatar, religion, traffic, travel, women | 3 Comments »

no news is good news: peaceful morning adventures in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 29, 2007

After having coffee last night with a friend who waxed lyrical about my sister’s photographic skills (“she tells a full story with her photos, from beginning to end – amazing!”) I decided that it was time that I trotted out my own camera.

I had meant to photograph the banner I mentioned in my last books around the world post, but first thought: oh, I’ll just start with a few shots of my favorite mosque.

Silly, silly – what was I thinking? My favorite mosque sits in the middle of a sea of barricades, which protect civil and military outposts.

I heard the steps and the calls as two soldiers ran up to me, but ignored them – the sign of innocence. “Mademoiselle”, one (rather breathless despite the short jog) said, “this is a security area.”

Darn, I thought – I should have saved my innocent-foreigner capital for the shot of the banner.

I showed them the photos I had taken and they (clearly wondering why on earth I wanted to take a picture of some obscure mosque) let me keep them. They apologized; I apologized. I apologized again; they did the same. We apologized to one another once more, following some kind of three-time’s-the-charm Lebanese ta`arofi logic, and I walked off.

So, no photograph of the banner, but I do have one of the mosque:

 

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For people more alert than I, those metal barricades lining the sidewalk would have been a good clue that photographs were not welcome.

Pouting, I made my way to the gym and a bit beyond, where I took a few (mostly dreadful) photographs of the sea. The waves were wild this morning – a product of the wind and yesterday’s rains. I could hear them crashing against one another – a sound I love.

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My two radio stations this morning are utter vacuums of news: Radio Orient spent at least ten minutes giving the weather reports for western Europe (given by a dj I suspect of having overdosed on tranquilizers), while Radio Nour was broadcasting the latest episode in a musalsala (serial) titled “The Days of Hussein”.

Those looking for thoughtful commentary on the past week’s events – reflection that goes beyond the “Civil War LOOOOOMS” hype – will find it in another very nice piece by Andrew Butters: Covering the Street Fights:

For the moment there’s lots of ink being spilled in local newspapers about the possibility that Iran and Saudi Arabia might be able to broker some kind of deal between Lebanon’s government and opposition. More power to them. Though it’s unlikely that Lebanon’s internal problems can be settled for good without a full scale regional diplomatic agreement, anything that lowers the temperature in Beirut’s streets — even temporarily — is for the better as far as Lebanon is concerned, and from a shallow and self-centered perspective, as far as journalists like myself are concerned.

That’s because the pattern of these streets fights foreshadows a conflict that’s going to be pretty tough to cover. Beirut is a beguiling city, and Western journalists who cover the Middle East from their home-base here wouldn’t be the first foreign invaders to have been lulled into a false sense of security by the balmy Mediterranean lifestyle. Unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, one lives in Lebanon with ones’ guard down. On Thursday, I was eating a fancy turkey sandwich at a business lunch in a California-style restaurant. Thirty minutes later I was trapped in a firefight, without a flack-jacked or helmet, without my notebook, and when the city’s mobile phone network went down with the surge of phone calls, I also found myself pining for a satellite telephone.

Another problem is that no one wants coverage of their side causing trouble, no one wants to be blamed for starting a civil war, and everyone wants to play the victim. Your average Beirut street fighter (who may well be a finance or marketing MBA student) is pretty media savvy. He knows that he is going to have a tough time explaining why there’s a picture of him on Time.com with a Molotov cocktail when he goes for his next job interview at the Price Waterhouse Coopers Dubai office. So when I trained my camera on some Sunni guys throwing rocks on Tuesday, one of them decked me. Not long afterwards he apologized (which was nice) but his buddies then tried to get me to take pictures of their Shia opponents making mischief on the other side of the street. “I can’t believe you don’t have a telephoto lens!” one of them practically screamed at me. “Are you sure you’re a journalist?”

It was also hard to miss how many of the rioters on Tuesday and Thursday were so clearly enjoying themselves. Over and over again, I’ve heard how people in Lebanon don’t want to go back to the bad old days, and that only outsiders agitators are the ones responsible for causing trouble. But there’s a subsection of bored and underemployed young men who want to bring it on. Why else were they pouring into the neighborhood around Beirut Arab University from all over town to join a fight between students they didn’t even know? I was hiding from gunfire behind a soda machine a couple of streets down from BAU on Thursday, when some alpha male street fighter with a submachine gun ran around the corner followed by a wannabe entourage of about seven cronies, one of them carrying an extra ammunition clip, like teenagers trying to get a turn on their rich friend’s new toy. It was a scene from high school with small arms.

Obviously, the tragedy of what may happen here won’t be its effect on the foreign press. And of course we’ll figure out a new set of do’s and don’ts to keep working. And it’s true that anytime something bad happens in Lebanon, there’s a lot of breathless stories about a new civil war being on its way. (I just wrote one myself.) But defending for a second a profession that is often accused of wanting disaster to happen to other people so that they can write about it, I just want to say right now that I’d much rather Lebanon stays as it is, with its ski slopes, and beaches, and lifestyle that appears to be as superficial as I am.

It reminds me in spirit of a piece he published last summer in the Washington Post, a comfort-the-afflicted-and-afflict-the-comfortable piece that broke through the dominant narratives of the summer war: “Disappointed in Lebanon“:

Not even a week after Israel started bombing Beirut, an act of war that inadvertently revived my failing journalism career, friends began e-mailing their concern and wondering whether my suddenly frequent appearances on television would finally change my luck with the ladies of Lebanon. But the reality of life under siege is not so glamorous. When the two French students living next door snagged a last-minute berth on a Greek ferry bound for Cyprus, they asked me to take care of their hamsters. “We’ll be back in September.” Great.

I plan to be here when they return. I’m making the usual preparations: buying a generator, setting up a satellite phone and finding a flak jacket for my driver. I’m also making the not-so-usual ones: After the Israeli air force attacked a dairy processing plant, I filled my freezer with yogurt. But if journalists thrive on other people’s misfortunes, I’m not even sure that will last long enough. Because Israel will probably never disarm Hezbollah by force, the war in Lebanon could become just another of the world’s seemingly endless, certainly stupid and ultimately boring conflicts — sort of like Turks and Kurds, Russians and Chechens, and, well, Israelis and Palestinians.

For one thing, the world — or at least its only superpower — seems to care more about Jewish than Arab suffering. How else do you explain that the United States has aided and abetted its client state as it creates half a million refugees on the pretext of two kidnapped soldiers? When I recently wrote a feature about Lebanon’s refugees for a major U.S. newspaper, the editor deleted a story about the father of one displaced family who said he survived an Israeli massacre in 1983. Israeli atrocities during that time are well documented. But the editor explained that this was a major allegation and that we had only the man’s word to back it up. I didn’t put up a fight; after all, I just wanted my article to run. But I wondered: If I had written about a Hezbollah rocket hitting the house of a Holocaust survivor, would any editor have doubted that Jewish person’s story?

Of course, I’m just as disappointed in Lebanon. When my country was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of us lined the streets of New York to give blood that day. There has been no comparable outpouring of civic feeling in Lebanon. Most of my Lebanese friends with money and options and foreign passports left their country — during a time when it needs them most — to sit out the war in Paris or London or New York. Others seek comfort and safety in resort towns in the mountains, where the air is dry and cool and the hotel bars are packed and you can’t hear buildings disintegrating and illusions shattering.

The other day I found about 150 refugees living without assistance in a public school in south Beirut. It had taken them a week to make the three-hour trip from the war zone in the south, stopping in towns where they’d been gouged by taxi drivers and shopkeepers and had run out of money and food for their babies. Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, there was an American-style supermarket groaning with goods. I started filling three shopping carts with water and bread and infant formula to donate, but when I told the other shoppers and the store managers what I was doing, not one person offered to help, chip in or give me a discount.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. How can you care about your country when your country doesn’t care about you? The warlords who run Lebanon and pretend to be leaders have reverted to type. They aren’t out filling sandbags or having their pictures taken with war widows, or doing what politicians do when they believe in democracy or the appearance thereof. They’ve retreated to medieval mountain fortresses or ersatz hillside villas, where they polish their gun collections and their armored Mercedes-Benzes as though readying for a gangland war. No matter how many hundreds die or thousands become homeless, they’ll still be here when the fog of war clears.

But if the Lebanese have their failings, then I also have mine. I left New York three years ago to write about America’s involvement in the region — not about Arabs and Israelis killing each other. Somehow I thought I could separate those two things, and write about the Middle East in a new way, avoiding the same old debates and the same old categories. So I worked in Iraq and used my Beirut pied-à-terre to blow off steam and hit the nightclub scene like all the other Iraq correspondents who made Beirut their Bangkok to Baghdad’s Saigon. I didn’t read books about Israel or care about Palestinians or go looking for Hezbollah. Instead, I wrote about Arab pop stars and Kurdish feminists and grouse-hunting trips in southern Iraq, and thought that the worst thing happening here was runaway development and environmental decline.

But sooner or later in Lebanon, history returns, usually in the form of a bomb.

So now I sit with my unpublished stories and my illegible notes in this spacious hipster hideaway in Christian East Beirut, the same home that I am wary of sharing with even a hamster. I think about a 12-year-old Shiite girl and her refugee family living with 20 other people in a schoolroom not far from here, and I remember she told me that she wasn’t angry at the Israelis for destroying her neighborhood. “God sees everything,” she said. The thought gives me no comfort.

I remember reading this article when it was first published, a time when comfort of any kind seemed very far away. I hope that today is quiet, and that we all can take comfort in another day’s tranquility.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, film, friends, Islam, Lebanon, mosque, news, photography, politics, sea, tourism, women | Leave a Comment »

the streets of Beirut, where hygiene meets politics (ii)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2007

A new advertisement from Sukleen appeared this weekend, and again (see: the streets of Beirut, where hygiene meets politics) I am not sure what to make of its timing:

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(I stole this jpg’d version from the Daily Star, to which I have an online subscription. thank you!)

The text is, at least to my eyes, ambiguous:

An announcement from Sukleen SARL.

“Sukleen SARL” is undertaking to replace a large number of trash bins [al-7awiyyat] which were damaged during the past days [al-ayam al-ma`9diya] in the different areas in which Sukleen works [lit., of its work] with new trash bins, just as the company is carrying out the elimination of what remains of the debris and cleaning the roads and streets. This is to inform you that the completion of these works will require some additional days.

At the same time, the company thanks the honorable citizens [like “gentle reader”, a rather stock phrase] for their cooperation, and promises them that it continues to work for all Lebanon and in all circumstances [or, under all conditions].

Were trash bins a casualty of the past week’s unrest? Is the company merely hoping to prevent unpleasantness for its workers should residents object to the (unexplained) removal of their trash bins? The wording is either extremely euphemistic (“al-ayam al-ma`9diya”) or the scheduled bin switch-out awkwardly timed.

At times here it can be quite difficult to decide whether I am reading too much or not enough into things.

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, economics, garbage, Lebanon, media, news, politics, religion | 1 Comment »

following the money trail: Indian investments in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 27, 2007

The Oxford Business Group‘s latest report on Syria interprets the same 2006 FDI numbers quite differently than I did in following the money trail.

OBG’s Syria: Ties with India emphasizes a number I mentioned but thought little about: the $84 million that India invested in Syria during 2006.

Here is OBG’s take on things:

Having enjoyed considerable and profitable success with both Iran and China, Syria is now turning its attention to another of the emerging giants of Asia – India.

Like China, India has been increasing its profile in the Middle East, seeking new markets for exports and ramping up investments so as to gain a stake in the energy sector and to open trade doors. India’s booming information technology (IT) industry is also looking to the region, where countries such as Syria are just entering the next stage of the technology and communications revolution.

In 2006, India was one of the largest non-Arab investors in Syria. Though well behind front runner Iran, which accounted for half of the $800m of investments from non-Arab nations, India came in a respectable third with $84m, just behind neighbour and rival China, which contributed $100m to the total.

India’s contribution to Syrian foreign investment looks even more healthy when it is considered that fourth ranked Germany directed just $24m, while total European investments added up to $155m.

Most of the Indian investments in Syria to date have been relatively small scale, mainly in the energy sector. However, this is something Damascus is seeking to change.

In mid-January, Fouad Issa al-Jouni, the Syrian industry minister, was in the Indian city of Bangalore to tout his country’s investment potential. Taking part in the annual Partnership Summit, staged by the Confederation of Indian Industry, he said his country had much to offer Indian investors.

Syria is a good option for investment with its unique geographical location, diversified economy, ongoing trade liberalisation process and good infrastructure base, al-Jouni said.

Al-Jouni also said that his visit would allow him and members of the accompanying delegation of Syrian businessmen to get acquainted with the latest technological and economic developments in India, and to promote Syria’s major industrial advancement and available investment potential.

Another prominent figure to recently give a sales pitch for Syria was India’s ambassador to Damascus, G. Mukhopadhyaya. Addressing the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Indian city of Hyderabad on January 9, the ambassador described Syria as virgin market for investors.

Saying that there had been a major liberalisation of the Syrian banking and finance sectors, Mukhopadhyaya said these offered good business opportunities.

There was also immense business potential for Indian businesspeople in the country’s pharmaceutical sector, railways, information technology, education, tourism, construction, agro-processing, textiles and textile machinery industries.

Another move to deepen cooperation came on December 18, 2006, when the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce (FSSC) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC) outlining plans for cooperation and promotion of bilateral business relations between the two groups.

Fascinating. Now that my eyes have been opened, I can’t wait to see where these new partnerships lead.

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depending on one’s definition of fun: the week in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 27, 2007

Last night I had supper with a friend who lives in Syria but comes to town occasionally. We were four, dining in a quiet restaurant in Gemmayzeh: two Americans, two Lebanese.

Midway through a supper filled with talk of the “what do YOU think will happen next” variety, our conversation hit a brief lull.

“So,” my friend asked, “did any of you do anything fun last week?”

I looked at him. I looked at the other two. They looked at him. They looked at me. We started, slowly, to laugh.

Not hysterical giggles – a big full laugh from each of us, that rose and swelled with the relief of knowing that this wretched week was ending.

“Honestly”, I finally gasped, “this really wasn’t the best week for fun”.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, curfew, Damascus, food, friends, Lebanon, media, news, politics | Leave a Comment »