Monday, December 29, 2003
Just got back from Beirut where I caught up with Iyad and his friend Catherine who are visiting from Sweden.
While at Burger King this evening, we saw, on the TV screens there, live coverage of the state reception (i.e. President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, Foreign Minister and other political and religious dignitaries) at the airport of the plane carrying the bodies of the victims of the tragic crash of a chartered plane shortly after take-off from Cotonou, Benin on Christmas Day in which over one hundred Lebanese expats on their way home for the holidays perished.
I found it bitterly ironic that the same Establishment that essentially drove these people to the airport and exile should now receive their bodies at that same airport.
This is indeed a national tragedy and not a time to be scoring political points (which this piece is by no means attempting to do) but Lebanese emigration is essentially a modern form of transportation carried out by the Lebanese Establishment.
Hundreds of thousands of the best and brightest (thus potentially troublesome) Lebanese have been forced to leave their country in search of the mere basics which they're denied at home.
There is an invisible Statue of Illiberality at Beirut International Airport.
The inverse of the New York landmark, it faces outwards (the direction it sends Lebanese in) telling the world to "take my tired, my poor, my huddled masses"
Most of them don't leave because they want to but because they have to – this is borne out by the fact that so many of them regularly come back for holidays, as the victims of the crash were doing, or permanently when they can.
My hope is that one day Lebanese are not forced to leave their country but will willingly travel and live abroad, driven by their spirit of worldly multiculturalism and a yearning for education, experience and knowledge, and that they will not have to do this as petitioners, penitents or refuges but as ambassadors spreading the word about this proud nation.
In fairness, I do think that it was very admirable of the State to pay so much attention to looking after their citizens involved in this tragedy – the reception at the airport, Foreign Minister Jean Obeid rushing to Cotonou (the first such mercy mission by a Lebanese Foreign Minster that I know of), sending a Lebanese Army rescue and recovery team, medical teams, etc, and airlifting casualties and bodies back to Lebanon.