A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for July, 2009

loving thy neighbor

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 29, 2009

Today’s post was intended to be a tour of Doha’s nightlife. But my eye was caught yesterday by two news stories – or rather, by the popular responses to each.

When it comes to Lebanon, I sometimes find it hard to follow Christ’s second commandment. And as a Christian, the neighbors I find harder to love are more often than not Lebanon’s Christians.

I don’t mean this post to be one of casting the first stone – after all, the United States has had its share of intra-Christian sectarian woes. I recall one of our childhood neighbors telling me that as a child his schoolmates demanded to see his horns, because as Protestants they had been told in church that Catholics have horns on their head like the Devil. But that was 50 years ago, and I am shocked by what I have read this week.

My first shock came from an article in Monday’s Daily Star about the current mayor of Broumanna, Waleed Rizk. Rizk, the town’s long-time vice-mayor, whatever that means, became mayor after the previous mayor, Pierre Achkar, stepped down in order to be eligible to run for Parliament in the recent elections.

That isn’t the shocking part – I think that requiring candidates for one post to give up their current post is not a bad idea, and one that the United States  might consider. What shocked me is the reaction of some Broumannis to the fact that their new mayor is Greek Orthodox and not Maronite:

Traditionally the mayor of Brummana is Maronite, usually running along family lines with Pierre’s own ancestors Georges, Chachine and Georges standing before him.

But, for the first time in Brummana’s history the position has been given not only to a vice mayor but to a Greek Orthodox candidate.

“Usually they say in Brummana the mayor has to be a Maronite, and the vice is Orthodox but now what has happened is I am the mayor and I am Orthodox,” says the newly-appointed Rizk. “When people come into the office surprised that I am Orthodox, I say ‘no, I am not Orthodox, I am simply Brummanese.’”

Rizk says this couldn’t have happened unless the last mayor was forced to step down to run in the parliamentary elections and forfeit his job, leaving little time for a new election.

But now Rizk is having to battle people’s perceptions. “Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my religion, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget this issue,” Rizk says. “And I do believe the Brummanese will soon forget about it.”

This was shock number one: that the sense of sectarian entitlement extends to the municipal level, and is so deeply felt. For an American equivalent, try substituting race:

“When people come into the office surprised that I am African-American, I say ‘no, I am not African-American, I am simply a New Yorker’.”

“Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my race, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget the issue.”

Lovely. But there was a second shock – Rizk the sectarian under-dog is also Rizk the very self-entitled member of a big family:

He says that there have always been two families in Brummana who had the ambition to be mayor – the Achkar family and the Rizk family, which caused many years of rivalry. “Our ancestors always used to fight, but now we need to put the past behind us – we are doing what is best for the municipality.”

Right. What if ‘what is best for the municipality’ were the creation of a mayoral position open not only to residents with varied religious backgrounds, but varied family backgrounds as well?

The third shock, as some of you may already suspect given the theme of this post, has been the reaction on assorted blogs and other websites to the wedding of Nayla Tueini and Malek Maktabi, such as these. (I don’t mean to pick on the Ouwet Front exclusively, but the Orange Room’s website is currently down and I’m searching primarily for comments in English.) There are a few voices of reason, but what I notice most is the vitriol of those unhappy with her marrying a Shia – some because she is a Christian MP, and some just because she is Christian.

I personally am not a great fan of Ms. Tueini (or of Mr. Maktabi’s talk show), but the explosive hostility of some of the commentators leaves me with a deep cold pit in my stomach. This type of irrational anger can be  deeply corrosive. On the other hand, both their Facebook pages are filled with congratulations, and at least those posting their anger online are still in conversation with others more sanguine about the ‘mariage’.

I don’t have a good conclusion to this post. I hope for better things in the future, am glad to see  any movement in the political system, and think that mixed marriages could be a major source of strength for the Lebanon of tomorrow.

And I’m looking very much forward to writing a nice quiet post about Doha nightlife tomorrow.

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Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, Lebanon, politics, religion, vanity, women, words | Leave a Comment »

imagining a big bottle of water

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 28, 2009

Generally speaking, I prefer not to be a spectacle. In public, I like it best when people look at me once, decide that I am of no particular interest, and move on to look at other things.

But sometimes a little spectacle is a worthwhile price to pay for a great outing – as when my aunt and I go out with some of her Doha friends.

The morning after I arrived in Doha, we went to the beautifully restored Souk al Wakif for breakfast with Umm M and three of her daughters. I hadn’t seen any of the Umms in four years, and it was a delight to reconnect.

Our outing was a delight for everyone in the souk that morning as well. To the untrained eye, we don’t look like a group that should belong together. Some of the Umms wear niqab; some wear abayas with headscarves. I dress in the Gulf in what might be best described as “bohemian music teacher” style: long swoopy skirt, long-sleeved shirt, and hair left to its own messy devices. The khala wears tea-length linen or cotton dresses. As a group, we look like a live-action staging of Sesame Street‘s “One of these things is not like the other” series.

We know this, and we accept that together we are indeed spectacular. (The six of us think that the stares are kind of a hoot, actually.)

After gracing the souk with our collective presence, and providing its merchants and shoppers with ample topics for morning chats, we entered one of the nicer restaurants and sat down for a heart-healthy breakfast of hummus and falafel.

Our waiter, a young Levantine man with beautiful eyes, did his best to act nonchalant, and to cope with the fact that each item ordered prompted extensive discussion among the five of us, in a mixture of Arabic and English. And this is where things got tricky.

Umm M had been doing most of the ordering – in Arabic. But when he asked whether we wanted anything to drink, our ordering was derailed by the need to count and recount the number of women who wanted tea. I love tea, but only with milk, so I wanted to be sure that we had water as well.

Ou 2aninat mai2 kabireh, please, I said.

It didn’t seem like a difficult request. After all, I was the person nearest to him, I was speaking clearly, and I wasn’t whispering.

I’m sorry? the waiter said, looking at me as if I had just broken into Japanese.

Sigh. I’ve mentioned my troubles with the Arabic word for “water” before – but the problem was one of having a culturally awkward pronunciation (Syrian rather than Lebanese), not one of having an incomprehensible pronunciation. And “large bottle of water” is a phrase that I have said at least one thousand times – so I didn’t think that I had mucked it up too badly.

I tried again, in English, with Umm M backing me up in Arabic.

When the waiter left, she burst out laughing.

Did you see, IntlXpatr? she asked my aunt. The waiter looked at her and couldn’t imagine that she was speaking Arabic – so he didn’t understand her.

Thank you, I said. I was beginning to wonder whether I had really lost my Arabic.

I haven’t lost it, but I did forget how jarring it is for people when I speak – a total face and language disconnect. In Beirut I used to find that people were much more willing to take me as an Arabic-speaker when I kept my sunglasses on.

So: lesson learned. The next time we have breakfast with the Umms, I’m going to add to our collective spectacle by wearing a pair of massive sunglasses inside the restaurant :).


Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, family, food, friends, Qatar, women | 2 Comments »

diamond vs. naharnet: a recipe for disgruntlement

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 27, 2009

Just don’t put this in your blog, H said yesterday, frowning at me across a Skype connection after finishing a particularly juicy Beirut story.

I stopped blogging months ago, I said, frowning back. Didn’t you notice?

H frowned more deeply, a familiar look of ‘oh no: she’s about to go beyond all bounds of rationality’ settling on his face.

Honestly, d., he said, trying to be conciliatory. I haven’t been online at all this summer. I haven’t even been on Naharnet.

Did you just compare my blog to Naharnet? I asked, eyebrows arching. Don’t get me wrong – as a blogger, I loved Naharnet. It gave me almost as steady a supply of entertaining language gaffes and random ‘news’ stories as the Daily Star.

But did I want my sweet little blog to be spoken of in the same breath? Certainly not.

That’s not what I meant, H said urgently, still trying to stave off the logic meltdown that seemed likely to take out much of Brooklyn.

I meant that I haven’t been online even to look at serious sources of news and analysis, like your blog and like Naharnet.

Argh.

Please stop, I said. The only saving grace is that you didn’t compare me to Now Lebanon.

I don’t have much to blog about these days, but thanks to a recent trip to Doha to visit my aunt, I do have a few stories to share. Look for a series of short, non-Naharnet’y anecdotes to stream their way from New York later this week, before I return to blog hibernation :).

Posted in Beirut, blogging | 2 Comments »