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  • prequel

    "Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.” -Jane Perrone, The Guardian

    Saturday, April 30, 2005  
    The world's first debt museum, the Museum of Foreign Debt, has just opened in Buenos Aries Argentina to teach people the perils of borrowing abroad.
    We have our own "debt museum" here in Lebanon - Downtown.

    6:40 pm

    - 30th anniversary of fall of Saigon

    You wait half an hour for a tank to come and then three hundred of them appear at once.
    The commander of the North Vietnamese tank that famously crashed through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon thirty years ago today, told BBC World Service Radio that he, being unfamiliar with the South like most of his comrades, used bus maps to navigate his way there (did he stop to pickup passengers along the way so as not to blow his cover?).
    Yet there’s no mention of that anywhere in the communist’s triumphalist propaganda - “we stormed the citadel of the running dog capitalist imperialist puppets…just as soon as we found out where it was…using a map of the Number 9 bus route”
    No wonder it took them twenty years – they didn’t even know where it was!
    “Excuse me, would you be so kind as to direct as me to the running dog capitalist imperialist puppet citadel please?”
    “Anyone seen a running dog capitalist imperialist puppet citadel around here?”

    Speaking of buses, two young veiled women shot at a tourist bus in Cairo today, missed and then proceeded to shoot each other dead.
    Young people these days!
    Talk about overreacting!
    When I was their age and I missed a target on the Atari, I’d merely restart.

    There’s a jingle on Lebanese television for a brand of fruit juice that promises “no war, no struggle, no pain”.Just how this is to be achieved by purchasing that particular brand of orange juice (or any brand of orange juice for that matter) is not divulged.

    2:00 pm

    Friday, April 29, 2005  
    Orthodox Good Friday.We really must unify the Christian calendar – to lose one Messiah may be regarded as a misfortune but to lose two looks like carelessness (to paraphrase the Wilde one).

    12:00 am

    Thursday, April 28, 2005  

    - view from my balcony at the Paradise Buildings
    (photo:Antonio El Zeenny)

    7:19 pm


    - sign at Our Lady Of Lebanon, Harisa, Lebanon
    (photo:Antonio El Zeenny)

    5:12 pm


    - Our Lady Of Lebanon, Harisa, Lebanon
    (photo:Antonio El Zeenny)

    5:00 pm

    Monday, April 25, 2005  
    What kind of future is there for a people who can’t even agree on their history?
    I’m not a historian nor an anthropologist, but what I’m about to discourse on does not require such advanced knowledge; on the contrary, these are facts that every schoolchild in this country knows but facts that the adults in this country can’t agree on.
    What are those facts?
    First, lets define the parameters, the two bookends of the Lebanese continuum.
    Present: this is the Republic of Lebanon, an independent founding member of the United Nations.
    Past: the earliest know inhabitants of this land were the Phoenicians.
    Thus, we are Lebanese descendants of the Phoenicians.
    Just like people in France are French descendants of the Gauls.
    In the interim, this land has been a palimpsest of invaders – from the Greeks to the Romans to the Arabs etc but that does not make us Arabs, just as it doesn’t make us Greeks or Romans.
    Just like the French are neither English nor German or any of the other invaders they’ve encountered.
    Sounds straightforward enough so far – except for a small matter of cultural and historic genocide committed and still being committed by certain “Lebanese” who for religious and political reasons claim that we are Arab citizens of Arab descent and that our history and even our very existence began when the Arabs invaded (shades of the Khmer Rouge’s Year Zero).
    They would have us believe that prior to the Arab invasion there was only bacteria here, the primordial soup.
    The same arrogant assumption of “terra nullius” that the first white settlers to Australia operated under but have since renounced in these more civilized times.
    We didn’t just go from bacteria to bin Arab in one fell swoop – evolution just doesn’t work that way.
    It suits them to delude themselves in this way and if it were just an academic matter, I would have no issue with them believing this (or in the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny or any other fantasy they want to believe in for that matter), but its implications are not just academic.
    Its implications have been the past ruin of our country and could possibly be the ruin of our future.
    The tragedy is that just when the older vanguard of “secular” Arab nationalism are disabusing themselves of this Arab fantasy that has blighted the Arab world’s recent history, young people (who in this part of the world are these days often more backward and retrograde then their parents – a perverted inversion of human nature*) have picked it up for purely religious reasons – stripping it of the flimsy secular veneer their parents disguised it with.
    An Italian can proudly claim descent from the Romans, an indigenous Mexican can proudly claim descent from the Aztecs, etc but woe betide the poor Lebanese who dares claim descent from the Phoenicians.
    He will first be mocked and then, if that doesn’t work, he will be outright abused and attacked.
    The very thing that has happened to me on countless occasions – most recently in an instant message exchange with someone who ought to know better whose last words to me before I deleted her were “you’re a ****ing racist”.
    This person is meant to be an educated young Lebanese and is a cofounder of a Lebanese blogger forum.
    If educated writers are to behave like this then what hope is there for the rest of the citizenry?
    Just as one has to crawl before one can walk, I recommend that she do a little bit more reading before she starts writing.
    If she were to do that reading, she would learn that, anthropologically speaking, there is no such thing as an Arab race and that we Lebanese are actually a part of the Caucasian race (as are most “Arabs”).
    There is also no nation or continent called Arabia.
    She would also learn that the term “Arab” is a modern construct even amongst so-called “Arabs” and that historically an Arab was (logically enough) a person from Arabia or a Bedouin.
    Arab as an all-encompassing identity was created as flag of convenience during the anti-colonial struggle of the early Twentieth Century – chiefly to differentiate us from the Ottoman Turk occupiers.
    Anyway, Arabism was mainly the brainchild of Orthodox Christians who wanted to establish a secular common cause with their compatriots that wasn’t based on religion and independent of the majority religion, Islam, which treated them and other minorities as second class citizens (Jews were the main proponents of Communism in Europe for similar reasons).
    In the West, the term Arab is used as a practical shorthand term to identify the people of this region.
    Some of the cultural and historic genocidists are willing to concede that we are Phoenicians but only as a prelude to an ambush – they will then claim that the Phoenicians existed but came from Yemen.
    I.e. that we’re Arabs after all.
    Of course – the seafaring Phoenicians “sailed” across the desert - it was an ancient version of Australia’s Henley-on-Todd regatta (a novelty “boat” race run by carrying the hulls of boats across a dry desert river bed).
    The Out of Yemen “theory” has no factual basis but that doesn’t seem to discourage people who are desperately clutching at straws to “prove” that we’re anything (any Arabs will do!) other than Lebanese.
    I once asked a proponent of the Out of Yemen “theory” to actually prove that and his reply was “can you prove that we didn’t come from Yemen?
    Prove a negative.
    The onus isn’t on us to prove that we didn’t come from Yemen but, as they’re the one’s who have introduced this “theory”, on them to prove that we did.
    Yemen – yeah right!
    Although to them it’s all about religion, to us it’s not – we Maronites are no more Phoenician than our Muslim brothers but we have become more Phoenician in spirit because we at least recognize it.
    There’s no need for all this Maronites are From Phoenicia, Muslims Are From Arabia polarization – we’re Lebanese pure and simple!
    There’s an Arabic** quote that sums it all up – he that renounces his heritage has none.
    So, seeing that this is so contentious and controversial and that Arabism has played such a big part in our ruin and is so fraught with connotations, why can’t we just agree on the A and Z of our existence – A=Phoenician and Z= the Republic of Lebanon and not worry about all the letters in-between?
    Not calling ourselves Arabs is not hostility to the “Arabs”, nor “****ing racism” nor does it preclude our having the best relations with our neighbors and our region (just like not calling ourselves Finns, for example, does not mean hostility to Finns, nor “****ing racism” towards Finns, nor does it preclude our having the best relations with Finland).
    Regardless of what we call ourselves, we are peaceful country who has the best intentions towards all our neighbors but our relationship with them should be the diplomatic equivalent of “I like you a lot but let’s just be friends”.
    With such a stupidly divided population and such dangerous neighbors, Lebanon, of all countries, should be strictly neutral and nonaligned – anything else has been and will be our ruin.
    Here’s to such a future and to a future where a sizeable part of our population doesn’t consider Phoenician a ph-word.

    In reply to those who say that the Phoenicians weren’t just in what is now modern-day Lebanon (Syria, Palestine, etc), okay, they were Phoenician too – it’s just that we were the capital of Phoenicia and have chosen to recognize and honor our heritage.
    Does London stop being in the United Kingdom because Birmingham and Liverpool are also in the United Kingdom?
    What kind of logic is that?
    We’re not claiming Phoenician exclusivity; we’re just claiming Phoenician.

    My reply to the genocidist’s rhetorical question of (the Phoenicians were here but) “where did they go?” is quite simple – they didn’t go anywhere.
    Just because we don’t go around wearing pointy hats and inventing alphabets (been there done that), it doesn’t mean that we are not modern-day Phoenicians just as the fact that French people don’t go around wearing hats with horns and fighting Romans doesn’t mean that they are not modern-day Gauls.

    Another tactic of the genocidists is the non sequitur: “anyway, you Maronites are originally Syrian”.
    To say that Lebanese Maronites are Syrian because Saint Maroun originally came from Syria is like saying that a South Korean Protestant is German because Martin Luther came from Germany.Anyway, just because we’re followers of Saint Maroun, who fled with his followers to Lebanon from persecution in Syria, it doesn’t mean that we are literally his descendants – monks are celibate Einstein!

    Lebanon and Arabism are mutually exclusive – it’s one or the other.

    Is it any wonder that a reporter on BBC World Service Radio once referred to our population as “Christian Lebanese and Muslim Arabs” in a report on Lebanon?
    If a sizeable part of our population insists on calling themselves Arabs, it will stick but it will stick to them, not us.

    This is the only country that I know of where a majority of the population doesn’t even know where they are, let alone who they are.
    I’ll help them – you are here, this is the Republic of Lebanon and you are Lebanese.Capisce?

    And why shouldn’t we recognize and be proud of our heritage?
    People whose heritage consists solely of dancing around banging pots and pans are proud of their heritage yet we invented the alphabet (and thus by extension alphabet soup) and are being pressured into to renouncing ours.

    Nothing gets a Lebanese Muslim angrier than the word Phoenician.Use it at your own risk

    *A Christian lady I know marvels at this and observes that she can’t even get her kids to go to church.
    Unlike Christianity’s gerontocracy, Islam today is a youth driven religion as are all militant religions and ideologies by sheer necessity.
    In fact it would appear that young militants have hijacked this venerable religion and that there is even a schism between these Young Turks (so to speak) and the older more philosophical generation of Muslims.
    I’ve heard many of these young born again Muslims say that their parents didn’t know and didn’t practice the real Islam.
    Funny that – the real Islam compels you to respect your parents and elders and I can’t see how dismissing them as heathens is respectful.
    I say born again because most of them appear to have been born into one religion (the old more tolerant form of Islam) and have adopted this ‘’modern’’ more radical form of Islam often as a last alternative after spending all those intervening years in decadence.
    Stop sinning only when you can sin no more.
    The greater the saint the greater the sinner.
    Quite handy – sow your wild oats and then grow a beard and sow sedition and hypocritically turn around and condemn your erstwhile cohorts in so-called sin as decadent and lecture them against everything that were not too long ago revelling in with such relish.
    Find religion and lose tolerance.
    **Yes we speak Arabic but that doesn’t make us Arabs just like Indians whose official language is English are not Englishmen.

    7:30 pm

    Thursday, April 21, 2005  
    A friend of mine in Sydney used to frequent a center run by a “Persian” (sic) sheik where, from what I gathered, they would spend an inordinate amount of time on what they euphemistically called “comparative religion” – “studying”(denigrating really) other religions (mainly Christianity) thereby aggrandizing their own religion.
    When I used to stop him from carrying-on in this manner around me, he’d say that I should be “objective”.
    I’d tell him that I had no problem with true objectivity, but not his version of it – being “objective” at our expense.
    It’s easy to be “objective” at the expense of others and with the beliefs of others but true objectivity, like charity, begins at home.
    He reminds me of an old Soviet-era joke, where an American and a Soviet are both arguing that their respective systems are free, democratic etc.
    The American says “I can walk into the President of the United States’ office and tell him that he’s a so and so”.
    The Soviet replies, “I can do the exact same thing – I can walk into the Soviet Premier’s office and tell him that the President of the United States is a so and so and he’ll agree with me”.
    So to, my friend can go to his center and join the sheik in denigrating Christianity.
    Here’s just one example of his “objectivity” – unlike Islam, Christianity isn’t practical because it doesn’t allow pleasure marriages (of which he was a fan of).
    My poor friend was in the ironic position of not having any trouble finding Australian women to liaison with but having extreme difficulty convincing them to contract a weird pleasure marriage.Another logic defying (not to mention chronology defying) example is that the Koran mentions Christianity but the Bible doesn’t mention Islam.

    5:38 pm

    Saturday, April 16, 2005  
    - who let the dogs out?

    "Dangerous spy-dogs apprehended crossing Lebanon-Israel border
    SIDON: Lebanese authorities have captured two dogs that crossed the border from Israel, checking whether they were booby-trapped or carried electronic implants that could be used for spying, Lebanese security officials said Friday.
    The two dogs, Shylo-type, "infiltrated" Lebanon on Thursday through an opening in the barbed wire fence that separates the Kfar Kila village in Southern Lebanon from the northern Israeli town of Metulla.
    Immediate measures were taken by local security forces who chased the dogs fearing the dogs might contain bombs.
    The dogs wore plastic collars with Hebrew writing on them, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    They were being kept at a local police station while authorities decide what to do with them.
    Locals called for the dogs to be put down as a revenge against the Israeli violations of Lebanon's territory..."

    - today's Daily Star (Lebanon)

    You couldn't make it up if you tried.


    ‘’In separate UNIFIL-related news a bull which had infiltrated Lebanese territory from Israel has attacked Spanish peacekeepers and headbutted their vehicles before being shot dead, An-Nahar daily reported on Wednesday.
    The newspaper said the UNIFIL troops were erecting an electric barbed-wire fence to prevent Israeli cows from entering Lebanese territory at the Baathaeel pond when Israeli soldiers unleashed the wild bull on the peacekeepers. A Spanish soldier shot the bull dead after it ran toward the UN troops and began headbutting their vehicles, the newspaper said.
    The peacekeepers then buried the bull and continued their work to erect the wire, which according to An Nahar has stopped the infiltration of Israeli cows to the pond area.’'

    -Daily Star, Thursday 21st August 2008

    12:43 am

    Wednesday, April 06, 2005  
    Europe’s last absolute monarch, Prince Rainier III of Monaco, passes away – six days after Time Magazine (Pacific Edition) ran an untimely obituary of the then ailing eighty-one year old ruler.
    CNN also did their share of gun jumping, prematurely reporting Pope John Paul II's death on Friday evening, later retracted - the report that is, not the death that eventually occurred on Saturday evening leaving the world much the poorer.
    The graphic switched from “Health of the Pope” to “Death of the Pope” and back again within half an hour after erroneous Italian news reports.

    Would-be Papal assasin Mehmet Ali Agca, serving time in a Turkish prison (not, as it would appear, working at CNN) has had his request to attend the Pope's funeral on Friday turned down.

    That so many people around the world had actual encounters with Pope Jean Paul II is testimony to the outreach and effort of this remarkable man – e.g. I was lucky enough to of had two encounters on two continents and they both occurred practically outside my front door and almost by accident.
    The Pope’s visit to Lebanon in 1997 was centered on Harisa – he stayed at the Apostolic Nunciature some two kilometers up the road from where I live and celebrated a mass at the abutting Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite cathedral.
    I walked up to attend the mass – the mountain and other areas visited were closed to traffic during most of the visit.
    In the run up to the visit, standing on my balcony was like viewing a Soviet-era May Day parade from a reviewing stand as countless tanks and other military vehicles rumbled up the mountain – the country’s entire army and police force were deployed and nowhere more so than up here.
    En route to and from Harisa, his motorcade passed our buildings four times and we all stood outside to greet him and receive his blessing, alongside a huge billboard sized Vatican flag and a smaller Polish one made up entirely of flowers that we had commissioned – the centerpiece of days long preparations which also included draping the buildings in giant Lebanese and Vatican flags and putting up banners and posters welcoming the Pope (something that was replicated across the country).
    During these preparations there was a festive atmosphere around the building as neighbors gathered around socializing, smoking water pipes and telling the professionals what to do (a florist embroidered the flags with fresh flowers and soldiers commandeered by an army General who lives in the buildings put up the bunting, banners and posters).
    On a visit to Australia in 1986, His Holiness visited my old primary school, Saint Leo the Great, in Altona North in suburban Melbourne.
    My friend Noel and I, who were fifteen at the time, walked the couple of blocks to the school and waited outside the perimeter with thousands of other people (being ex-students we weren’t in the inner sanctum).
    We didn’t get much of a glimpse of him amongst the masses, so, a while after he’d entered the school; we gave up and decided to walk over to the shops a couple of blocks away in the other direction.
    About to cross an empty street to get to the shops (everyone else was at the school and the whole area had been shutoff to traffic at dawn), who should happen to cross our paths but Pope Jean Paul II, in the Popemobile (no entourage) en route back from the school to a nearby football field where he was to catch a helicopter back into the city.
    The very definition of serendipity.
    We waved and cheered and received in return a wave and a blessing all to ourselves.Beavis and Butthead on their way to the shops to get some nachos (having decided that standing around school sucks) had just had a chance serendipitous encounter with the Pope.

    4:09 pm

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