A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘Tripoli’ Category

more on Iowa newspapers and the Obsession with radical Islam

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 29, 2008

Its been an up-and-down weekend, both in my own life (I was meant to spend the weekend at a family wedding in Vermont, but thanks to a trifecta of flight cancellations, spent a good chunk of it in the airport without actually getting anywhere, bah humbug) and in Lebanon’s. We cheered the removal of all the party posters and flags that started the weekend – cheered, and wished that we were there to see the removal (and the change in street feeling) first hand.

And this morning the cheers stopped when I sleepily turned on my laptop to read the news over breakfast.

At first I didn’t quite believe it. I saw “Deadly blast rocks Lebanese city” on the BBC news site and thought: there’s something wrong with the BBC today. Its broadcasting old news – this bombing happened in August.

But it didn’t. I’m so sorry for the people of Tripoli, who already face the challenges of deep poverty and political powerlessness. And I am terribly sorry for the Army, whose soldiers and commanders do not need these terrorist attacks when they are trying to build a strong institution for all Lebanese to be proud of.

This weekend also brought a funny Iowa connection to my Lebanon experience. When I clicked on the “Letters to the Editor” section of Saturday’s Daily Star, I found one that mentioned a familiar newspaper:

I love that someone with such a typically Scandinavian name (which is more typical of Minnesotans than Iowans, but there is a lot of overlap) can read a Lebanese paper, thanks to the Internet.

Mr. Johnson’s letter prompted me to return to the Des Moines Register‘s own website, where I found a few more reader responses to the paper’s decision to include copies of Obsession in its Sunday issue.

This letter appeared just yesterday – a happy sign that the debate continues:

We received a copy of a right-wing terror propaganda DVD bundled into our Sept. 14 Sunday Register, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” I checked out the distributor, the Clarion Fund, and found that it is a New York-based group, an outfit that claims a 501c(3) nonprofit status despite an article recently on its Web site, since removed, that backed Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

We wondered when the scare tactics of the 2004 campaign would return. To coincide with Sept. 11, 28 million copies of the 60-minute film went out bundled with the ads in 70 newspapers in 14 swing states, including Iowa. First shown on Fox News during the 2006 mid-term elections and on college campuses, the production shows a long series of unsubstantiated experts equating radical Muslim movements with the German Nazis.

Despite two mild verbal disclaimers that not all Muslims are radical, there were two printed and verbal “quotes” about Muslim radicals planning to eventually occupy the White House. This is a not-so-subtle tie-in to the ideas behind the hate e-mail frequently passed along over the Internet this past year depicting Barack Obama as a Muslim, along with other supposedly despicable traits.

I would have thought the Register knew better than to pass along such drivel.

– Joann Estle, Washington

(It appeared with another letter, whose writer had a very different opinion. Gerald Haas of Alba wrote: The DVD included in the Register Sept. 14 provides insight into radical Islam that is lacking in the mainstream media. It is to our peril that we do not understand the threat before us. Thank you for providing this. I disagree with Mr. Haas wholeheartedly, but I appreciate his decision to write a professional letter that does not describe all Muslims as terrorists, backwards, or children of Satan, as some of the reader comments have done.)

This letter appeared in last Friday’s paper:

The wisdom of Jesus should guide us when he says, “Fear not! Do not be afraid.”

It is when we are afraid that we make irrational and tragic decisions such as the war in Iraq. The DVD recently distributed inside the Register, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” seeks to foment fear and cause us to make electoral decisions based on that fear.

The Clarion Fund, which financed the DVD, seems to be a reincarnation of the Swift Boat hate, fear and lies campaign.

Equating Islam with radicalism is no more rational than equating Christianity with torture because some of its adherents have engaged in those practices.

– Cora Bartemes, Urbandale

Bartemes’ letter has been up long enough to have attracted reader comments – almost 60 when I last checked. Some are thoughtful comments by people wrestling with their feelings about ‘others’ in the world, and some are, er, not.

I’ll spare you the truly bigoted anti-Islam and anti-Christianity barbs and just give you a sample of the goofier comments:

From a reader who obviously appreciated neither the DVD nor Bartemes’ invocation of Christ: Religion is a distraction to really enjoying life. Plus I didn’t waste my 75 cents on this crappy paper.

From another reader who would have liked a free copy, “crappy” or no: I guess the hate group who put it out is cheap. I didn’t get it in my paper, just 70 miles out of Des Moines.

And from one reader to another, in a charming display of mature conversation: I suggest you adjust your meds.

I laughed when I read that comment, but today I am also thinking of the people of Tripoli (as well as the people of Damascus), and hoping that they find comfort despite the brutality of this weekend’s bombs.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, explosion, Iowa, Lebanon, politics, Tripoli, words | 8 Comments »

shopping in Tripoli

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 24, 2008

I know: with a title like “shopping in Tripoli”, you were probably expecting lots of scenic souk photos. Well, we went to Tripoli on a Friday, and by the time we got to the souks, the shops that did open on Fridays had already closed. Not that I needed to buy anything – my bags were full to bursting, and my sharqiyyat collection is already fairly extensive.

What caught my eye as we were lunching in one of the only restaurants that we did find open was this:

ABC is the major department store in Lebanon. It started in the 1920s or 1930s as a fairly price-conscious five-and-dime-type shop in Hamra, and the branch there is definitely the homely older sister. When I’ve stopped in, the clothing selection has reminded me of a lower-cost, less-trendy version of Kohls, with outfits aimed at women with rural addresses and practical sensibilities. Lots of polyester blouses and wash-and-wear type clothing.

But the ABC’s marquee stores are dazzling: the colors, the clothing, the housewares – and the prices. (And if you are not suitably impressed, don’t think about hailing a salesperson. They are far, far too pleased with the store and their position there to be interested in helping you.)

When the ABC opened in Achrafieh in the early 2000s, it sparked a number of complimentary news articles, including this one from the trade publication Shopping Centers Today. It was seen as the signal of a new era, a new cosmopolitanism, a move toward the future, etc. etc. etc. – and when the company opened another super-store in Dbayyeh, that one was also lauded.

Meanwhile, the Hamra shop and apparently this Tripoli branch continue to plug along in the shadow of their glamorous younger sisters. They definitely don’t fit the chic ABC Beirut profile – and they aren’t even listed under the “Branches” tab of the company’s website. You have to click through to the “Contact Us” link at the bottom or the “Location Map” under the “About Us” tab. (And while you’re there, click on the “History” link and watch the company’s logo evolve – fascinating!)

I probably wouldn’t have bought anything from the ABC Tripoli even if it had been open – after all, the last thing I need is more clothing. But I did enjoy the surprise of seeing it!

Posted in advertising, Beirut, Lebanon, Tripoli | 5 Comments »

more housecleaning: at home and in Tripoli

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 23, 2008

Yesterday marked the two-month “anniversary” of my leaving Lebanon to come back to New York for a bit.

It doesn’t seem like its been that long, my friend T said over a drink on Thursday after work. T was being kind – but then again, she had just arrived from Beirut herself, so perhaps she was still in that between-world state that (for me, at least) characterizes halfway-around-the-world travel.

For me, these two months feel like a very substantial amount of time: enough time that my experience of Beirut living has become historical rather than contemporary. When my friends say that Lebanon is “impossibly” crowded this summer, I can only nod and smile. I barely remember what a Beirut packed with khaleejis and overseas Lebanese returning on holiday is like – and for me, those memories come from 2006, not from July or August 2008.

So I’m feeling a bit out of it these days when it comes to Lebanon.

I’m also taking stock, in a way – at least in the literal sense. I’ve been going through my photos, tidying up and trying to caption them correctly before my memories melt into a puddle of “hmmm … great image, but where – and when – was that?”

And I’m still thinking about Tripoli, where for me one of the most shocking things was the utter absence of Lebanon’s greatest heroes: the Sukleen cleaners.

Its not that Tripoli has no garbage collection or street cleaning service, but it has no Sukleen. Instead, cleaning services are provided by a company called Lavajet:

That’s “lava” as in “lavar” (for Spanish speakers), “laver” (for French speakers), or “lavere” (for Owlfish, Abu Owlfish, and any other Latin lovers out there). It refers to washing, not to volcanoes. And “jet” as in … I have no idea. Cleaning at jet speed? Cleaning with jets of water?

According to Zawya, the company is owned by a man named Badawi Azour, who owns several construction and waste management subsidiaries, with main offices near Dbayyeh and operations in Lebanon, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE.

The Emirates outfit may be a semi-separate entity: it apparently partners with a local firm called Batco, as most foreign companies operating in the Gulf are required to do. Here is its website, which is in the process of relaunching. The branding may be distinct for the Emirates, or it may simply be new: Lebanese-Canadian graphic artist Mustapha Sabra includes the new Lavajet branding in his online portfolio.

(Mustapha’s blog also has a very nice deconstruction of a Lavajet ad he designed for the Lebanese market – which he has commented on below. When I first wrote this post, I stated that this ad would be considered false advertising in the United States, since rather than use actual Lavajet trucks, he simply digitally added the branding to a generic North American garbage truck. But Mustapha has clarified that the rebranding accompanies the roll-out of a new fleet of trucks, and that the digital design was simply a cost-saving measure. Thanks for the explanation, Mustapha – and I hope that the new branding is a big success!)

Anyway. Why is she so into garbage companies? you might be wondering. Well, let me tell you.

My understanding was that Sukleen is a Hariri-owned company that functions as a concessionaire, providing cleaning services for Lebanon without much of a competitive bidding process. At some point during the building of the current downtown, it was decided that Lebanon needed cleaning services, and that Sukleen would be the provider.

Of course, I have no hard data on this, nor have I done any research on the subject – this is just my impression, based on what I was told. And I certainly don’t object to having professionals pick up all the bits of garbage the Lebanese toss out onto the streets and sidewalks, as if trash cans are an utterly foreign concept to them.

But I’ve never paid a bill for garbage collection, which has made me rather curious as to just how Sukleen gets its revenues.

Seeing Lavajet’s trash bins in Tripoli made me realize that the cleaning services concession might be one further indication of both the importance of Beirut and the limits of central power – not to mention Hariri power – in Lebanon.

According to Averda, Sukleen’s parent company (and yes, in case you are wondering: its headquarters are in Beirut’s downtown), Sukleen provides services to Beirut and most of Mount Lebanon, or to more than 2,000,000 people – about 55-60% of the country’s population.

Tripoli is supposed to be a Hariri (or at least Sunni) stronghold. But Beirut is, as I noted earlier this week, seen by many as the head, beating heart and all other essential limbs of the country. So if claiming the cleaning and waste concession for all Lebanon was not possible, claiming the Beirut concession was probably the most important.

I don’t remember seeing trash bins in south Lebanon, but I am sure (or at least I hope) that they exist. Does anyone know who has the cleaning concession for the Bekaa, for Saida, etc. etc.?

Posted in Arab world, Beirut, garbage, Lebanon, politics, travel, Tripoli | 3 Comments »

the road to Tripoli

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 19, 2008

Last week, Moose commented on my post about watching Tripoli with:

What amazes the Moose is that life goes on as usual in Beirut as if Tripoli was on the other side of the world.

Tantalus pointed out that Lebanon has a long history of compartmentalizing, noting that from Gemmayzeh to Batroun, the 2006 war did little to dampen the spirits of nightlife-lovers.

Tantalus is right, although he puts a stronger spin on the partying by calling it “denial”. But there’s also something to what Moose said – something I’ve been mulling over for a few months now.

If I said that Beirut is the driver for Lebanon, I imagine that many people would agree with me. Beirut is not only the governmental capital, but also the center of commerce, education, and finance – not to mention the ‘headquarters’ for several religious sects.

Beirut’s centrality has made it the engaging city (and major draw) that it is, but it has also had serious drawbacks for the rest of the country. Before the Civil War, government figures’ and corporate heads’ tendency to focus exclusively on the capital meant that the rest of the country received very little in the way of commercial, educational or even infrastructural build-up.

And disparities between Beirut and the rest of the country are visible today – in the number of hours per day of electricity cuts; in the quality of the roads (not that Beirut doesn’t have numerous potholes, but they don’t dominate the roads as in some parts of the country, north and south); and in the relentless concentration of finance, commerce and other corporate headquarters there and nowhere else.

For the past forty-odd years, scholars have followed Albert Hourani in diagnosing Lebanon as an almost city-state: a state run much on the model of the city-states of ancient Greece or medieval Italy. This sounds good on the surface – after all, Athens and Venice were each major success stories in their day.

But in both cases, territories and people outside Athens and Venice were expected to contribute to the well-being of the city. Resources and revenues were not allocated equitably, because in the city-state model, only the city really matters.

Hence when there were bombs in Beirut in May and June 2007, it was a national catastrophe. When there was shooting on the streets this May, it was seen as a mini-civil war, and a portent of the possibility of much larger disaster.

But when there are bombs in Tripoli, or even a mini-war, it is merely a matter of concern – a news item, but not an existential threat to either Lebanon in toto or people’s individual lives. The government continues to (dys) function; the finance, commercial and services sector all hum along; and the much-celebrated summer season continues.

Well, continues for now. I don’t think the city-state model helped Lebanon in the past, and I don’t think it aids it now. Tripoli to me seems to need much more attention than it is receiving, and much more consistent direction than actions like:

7:18pm VOL: The Lebanese army removed the barbed wire erected between Bab el-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen districts in Tripoli.

1:15pm The Lebanese army erected a barbed wire between Baal al-Darawish, which straddles Bab al-Tabbaneh, and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods to stop security breaches.

suggest (thank you, Naharnet, for those intriguing updates).

Below are a few photos I took on the road up to Tripoli – the new road.

Its exponentially less built up in terms of advertising and shops than any road entering Beirut:

And the first sign of impending urbanization is not billboards but massive industrial complexes on both sides of the highway. This one is on the right:

And this one is on the left, a bit further down:

And when it comes to regulation (labor, environment, restrictions on stripping of natural resources via mining, etc.), “Rome is far away”.

Or, as the city-state model might say:

out of sight, out of mind.

Posted in Beirut, citizenship, economics, Lebanon, politics, science, travel, Tripoli, words | 2 Comments »

watching Tripoli

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 13, 2008

When I get up in the mornings, the first site I see when I open my browser is the BBC’s news site: news.bbc.co.uk. And when I was in Beirut, I knew that it would be a good morning when Lebanon was not one of the news items bulleted at the top of the page – or, worse, the lead item.

This morning, of course, Lebanon was much in the news, thanks to the bus bombing in Tripoli and President Sleiman’s scheduled state visit to Syria. I had meant to continue my posting theme on the Rachid Karame complex, but instead I’m pasting in a photograph I took of a bread vendor in the heart of the city, who had ingeniously hooked up his television to the electricity supply of a street light:

I’m watching Tripoli today and wondering, as I have frequently over the past two months, about what exactly is going on up there – and what it might portend for the rest of the country.

Posted in Beirut, Lebanon, politics, television, Tripoli, words | 5 Comments »

stadium seating for no one

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 12, 2008

Tripoli has been on my mind frequently in the past seven weeks – the weeks since I left Lebanon. As I have mentioned before, I am good at living in foreign cities as a resident (I can locate a neighborhood dry cleaners, a local locksmith and a good grocery store in record time) but I am a terrible tourist. Consequently, my first visit to Tripoli was the day before I left the country.

H’s family is from Tripoli, although none of them live there now. So part of the draw (and his incentive in taking me there) was to get a sense of the mysterious forces that make him tick his roots.

The other reason I wanted to visit Tripoli was to see the Rashid Karame International Exhibition Center, a World’s Fair-like complex designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in the early 1960s. (Yes, Niemeyer was Jewish – he was a native-born Brazilian but his parents were immigrants from … Eastern Europe? Russia? I forget. Lebanon has a number of modernist structures designed by Jewish architects, including the Gefinor Center in Beirut. I’m not sure how receptive the population today would be to a Jewish architect, but I’d like to think that he or she would be welcome. Some people in Lebanon do seem to conflate “Israeli” and “Jewish”, but many are able to differentiate the two categories.)

Construction on the Rashid Karami complex was begun and the major physical structures were completed, but none was finished. I don’t think that work stopped precisely in 1975 – my understanding is that it had slowed before then and petered out over a longer period, but I’m not really sure of the precise time line.

What I am sure of is that the complex is an utterly fascinating place. We loved wandering around its several buildings and spent over an hour there, despite the 95+ degree weather.

Fascinating, but also a bit eerie. What struck us most were the theater seats set up for outdoor performances. Apparently there have been some performances here – including one as recent as 2005, I believe – but in general, the seats look a bit forlorn. As does Tripoli in general.

(You can read a bit more about the complex here, at the World Monuments Fund’s website, or by googling Niemeyer and Tripoli.)

Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, photography, time, tourism, travel, Tripoli, weather | 3 Comments »