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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

    Monday, May 30, 2005  
    The most specious argument I’ve ever heard would have to be that one put forward by some Muslim apologists for the current sorry state of the Muslim world: Islam is only some fourteen hundred years old, whereas Christianity is two thousand years old and that when Christianity was the same “age” as Islam is now we were in the Dark Ages.
    As if we’re living on two separate planets and have to evolve separately and that their evolution has to take the exact same amount as ours did.
    It’s a good way of buying time – six hundred years.
    True, we had our Dark Ages but when we were in the dark, there was no other role model for us, there was nothing better on offer anywhere, whereas we have since evolved and most of the world has benefited and borrowed from this.
    We really thought that the earth was flat but can you honestly tell me that you really think that throwing a tablecloth over a woman is going to protect her and keep her virtuous?
    Humanity is now interlinked and interconnected, every religion or civilization that comes along can’t just start all over again and take a specified amount of time to evolve (“just give us two thousand years and everything will be okay”).
    Don’t just sit there and wait another six hundred years to evolve, just turn on satellite television or read a book or surf the Internet or talk to and interact with people from different cultures and religions.
    All these tools of civilization are luxuries that we didn’t have six hundred years ago.
    We had to go through the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French and American Revolutions, the age of empire and colonialism, two World Wars etc, you don’t – you can fast-track your evolution and benefit from ours just as we once benefited from your golden age.Evolve “horizontally” by looking across at the rest of the world rather than “vertically” waiting for the passage of years until you reach a certain magic number.
    We’re not two thousand years old and you’re not fourteen hundred years old, we’re both as old as humanity and should learn from the collective knowledge and experience of that humanity.
    We’re all as old as time and as new as tomorrow.
    Old in that we share the collective history of humanity and new in that we, as free men and women, are no longer bound and enslaved by it in this modern era as our forebears were.
    History may not quite be bunk as Henry Ford said it was, but in the modern era, history is, for the first time, just that – history.

    1:15 am

    Sunday, May 29, 2005  
    - first round of Lebanese parliamentary elections
    Voters in France are voting on whether to endorse the draft European Union constitution as voters in Beirut vote on whether to endorse the Hariri ticket (the only real contender – nine of their nineteen candidates have already won by default because there were no challengers) in the first round of Lebanese parliamentary elections.
    Voters in the south will vote on whether to endorse a similar fait accompli, the Hezbollah/Amal ticket, next Sunday.With no serious competition expected until the rest of the country votes in the third and fourth rounds, why don’t they just ask Beirutis and southerners to vote “yes” or “no” (a la presidential plebiscites in the Arab world) – which is effectively what they’re being asked to do?

    A barrage of fireworks at around 10.00pm interrupted the pub quiz as Hariri supporters celebrated news that they had won a clean sweep as expected.
    Fair enough but they could have done this yesterday (or any other previous day for that matter) as those results were almost certainly assured.It’s just like celebrating something as inevitable and as guaranteed as the sunrise.

    4:00 pm

    Tuesday, May 24, 2005  
    Saudi Arabia's consultative Shura Council has shelved a proposal by one of its members to lift the ban on women driving.
    Women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia.
    Women can’t drive anywhere.

    9:19 am

    Thursday, May 19, 2005  
    Seventeen protestors were killed as thousand of Afghans rioted earlier this week over Newsweek magazine reports (since retracted**) that interrogators at America’s Gauntanamo Bay prison had desecrated the Koran.
    When you’re not allowed to drink alcohol and thus can’t get drunk, fights aren’t just going to create themselves as they would if you were drunk (“is you looking at me pint!”) – you have to work on them, you have to nurture them and create them!(is you looking at me prophet!).
    Imagine what they’d be like if they did drink!
    I condemn any desecration of any religious text (or any text for that matter - educated people should hold all books "sacred") but how is being killed by your own security forces going to avenge something that happened 12974.0106 kilometers away (the distance between Jalalabad, the center of the riots, and Gauntanamo)?

    *A program of alcohol-free rock concerts and other such entertainment organized by the police in Australia for young people ("rage" in colloquial Australian means "a lively party" - OED).
    **Doesn't "Newsweak" have fact checkers?
    Don't Afghan rioters have fact checkers?

    French people should not be allowed to drink alcohol – they’re the only race I know of who don’t need alcohol to act like dickheads.
    Alcohol just makes it worse.
    Once at the pub there were only two groups left in the early hours of the morning: a bunch of French teachers from a technical institute at one table and the group of Brits that I was with at another table.
    One of the inebriated Frenchmen decided to moon us – “hey English pipull (people), kiss my ass English pipull” he crooned in a singsong tone.
    That the owner of the pub was also amongst our number did not deter him.
    Not being "English pipull”, I couldn’t take up his kind offer.
    Mark twain observed that “a German joke is no laughing matter’’.
    I agree but would expand that to any Continental European joke.
    I don’t get it.

    4:56 am

    Saturday, May 07, 2005  
    - “DeGaulle 1945, Aoun 2005”*

    Historic scenes in Beirut today as General Michel Aoun and members of his former military government arrived back in Beirut after fourteen years of exile in Paris.
    After touching down at 5.00pm, the General barnstormed through a quick reception and a short and clamorous press conference at the airport, a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to lay and wreath, a visit to Prime Minister Hariri’s grave to also lay a wreath and, finally, addressing some twenty thousand supporters at Martyr’s Square all within just over an hour.
    Here’s one old soldier who’s challenging the “old soldier’s never die; they just fade away” convention, but whether the General’s star will burn as brightly back on Earth as it did in exile (where he assumed near legendary status to many) remains to be seen now that he’s rejoined the fray of everyday Lebanese politics.

    *Posters put up by Aoun supporters likening Aoun’s return from exile to that of De Gaulle’s.

    I particularly liked the musical component of the celebration at Martyr’s Square – those cats were jumping!
    The highlights were a thunderous drum rendition of the General’s “taratata General” and an all too brief Hendrixesque electric guitar riff of the Lebanese National Anthem that should have been a number in itself and not just the filler that it was (I’ve been waiting months for this and expecting it too ever since it became cool amongst young people to be Lebanese).

    6:00 pm

    I couldn’t get to sleep so I hit the streets in “protest” – my customary silent march against insomnia.
    My sleepwalk terminated, as usual, at the Jounieh square.
    It looked like a bomb had gone off.
    By the dawn's early light, I saw it littered with broken glass and debris but I was going by the “lightning never strikes twice theory” – especially in a place crawling with soldiers and police.It seemed like the safest place in the country – now.

    4:30 am

    Friday, May 06, 2005  
    Coming home from Beirut early this evening, the highway was interspersed with scores of cars bedecked with flags and portraits of General Michel Aoun spilling over with jubilant screaming youths flashing victory signs and blaring anthems and beeping the trademark Aoun beep on their car horns (“taratata, General” – the only person I know of, other than the Road Runner, who has his own beep*) celebrating on the eve of Aoun’s return from fourteen years of exile in Paris.
    This, along with all the recent pro-Geagea/LF activity (it’s the first time that I see flags of the disbanded LF openly being sold by the side of the road – right alongside Aounist* *and Lebanese flags) led the friend I was with to observe that it was all eerily reminiscent of 1989 when Aounist/LF polarization led to a ruinous intra-Christian war.
    Lets just hope that all these, so far benign, manifestations of nostalgia are just that – manifestations of a nostalgia that has been kept alive over the years by the exile of one leader and the imprisonment of another and now revived in the run up to the return of one and the imminent release of the other.

    *It's quite a popular tune - I've even heard kids ringing it on their bicycle bells.
    **Actually, this is the first time I’ve ever seen an Aounist flag anywhere – this, coupled with the fact that Aounism is more about a person rather than an ideology or party (notionally called the Free Patriotic Movement) and that these flags are the revolutionary color a la mode (Ukrainian orange) would indicate that that they’re new flags of convenience (you’ve got to wave something).

    Just as it’s said that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is playing on some radio station somewhere at any given moment in time, it seems that General Aoun has been giving an interview to some media outlet or another or addressing some conference or other via telephone at any given moment in time over the past fourteen years.
    Yet he was uncharacteristically uncommunicative when I settled down to listen to a pre-recordered interview with him on BBC World Service Radio last night.
    The interview had barely begun when Aoun Quixote took offence at the host’s asking him how he would get along with old foes and hung up.
    Never mind, I went into the living room and had a smoke while watching him being interviewed live from Paris on LBC television, went for a walk to Jounieh – walking past walls plastered with pictures of him stuck right alongside those of Samir Geagea (or vice versa) - and heard the rest of that interview, simulcast live on Radio Liban Libre, in the service on the way back up.
    Just before I wrote this, I saw him being interviewed on the evening news.

    A bomb has just gone off in Jounieh.
    I was putting up the washing on the balcony, overlooking Jounieh, when I heard a loud bang and then saw the subsequent grey/black cloud.
    It appears to have occurred near the Jounieh central square.
    Sirens are blaring in the distance and a fire truck has just roared past us down the mountain so it’s obviously stretching all resources.

    I don’t get it.
    Is it just me or did not a bomb go off some fifty minutes ago?
    I heard it; I saw it yet there’s nothing on any of the local television channels.
    Doesn’t the LBC have a balcony?
    They’re atop the next mountain down from us – also overlooking Jounieh.
    Yet they’ve got some singing and dancing on, NBN’s got old news, Future’s airing a political interview program and New TV’s yammering away too.
    Actually, LBC’s finally covering it with live pictures – at 10.16.

    An LBC reporter, live at the scene, is confirming the target – the Voice of Love (Christian) radio station* and a neighboring church.
    Both have been completely destroyed.

    Future’s finally joined in – an anchorwoman in the studio is talking to a reporter at the scene via telephone.

    Future has suspended their coverage and gone back to yammering, promising to bring us any further developments – I suppose that this just doesn’t interest them.
    NBN and New TV are finally doing similar studio-to-telephone correspondent exchanges.

    P.S: The twenty-five kilogram bomb injured twenty-two people

    *Can’t say I listen to the station myself but the Hajji does – in her sleep.
    Sometimes when I go to check on the Hajji and find her asleep I change the station on her radio from the Islamic station it’s on to the Voice of Love.
    They both broadcast mainly religious music and the Hajji says that she’ll wake up on those occasions thinking that her coreligionists have become a lot more melodic until it slowly dawns on her that she’s listening to Christian chants.
    The poor Hajji must have thought she’d died and gone to heaven.
    Every bit helps and if people can learn German in their sleep then it stands to reason that they can learn another religion in their sleep too.
    Isn’t German just drunk and/or angry English anyway?
    Converting the Hajji to Christianity while she’s awake certainly hasn’t worked so maybe I can convert her while she’s asleep.

    10:34 pm

    Thursday, May 05, 2005  
    Dad went to a book launch today.
    The book’s subject? – Surprise, surprise – Islam.
    That seems to be the perennial subject amongst Muslim writers in this country.
    And the perennial subject for Christian writers in this country seems to be emigration.
    Are the two subjects interlinked perhaps?
    How many books are there out there about Lebanese emigration?
    They’re probably the easiest sort of books to write – just a compilation (list really) of names, locations, dates and historical documents.
    I know of an instance where the author of a book on Lebanese emigration to Australia was soliciting money from prominent Australian/Lebanese families to mention them favourably in his book.

    And Arab fiction writers seem to be fixated on the kitsch folkloric past – the equivalent on Australian writers still writing about bushrangers.The one caveat to my reviews is the minor matter of my not being able to read or write Arabic – having never read these books; at least I’m objective (to the extreme).I maintain that I don’t need to read and write Arabic, I understand Arabic (Arabs).Besides, half the Arab world doesn’t read or read Arabic (that is are illiterate) so why should I?This is more an oral language and culture.
    Also, some Islamists tell me that Arabic is the lingua franca in heaven, so I’ll save myself the hassle of learning it now and just wait until then.

    I maintain that the only thing wrong with Islam is Muslims, just as the only thing wrong with every other religion is also most of its adherents.
    The Koran is intrinsically sound.
    Sure there are some severe parts in it but there are also such bits in our Old Testament as well.
    The difference is that we have evolved to the stage where we don’t follow our Old Testament, or our New Testament for that matter, to the letter but to the spirit.
    All religions are intrinsically sound but, as always, it is the interpretation and practice that often deviates from their true essence and usurps, exploits and tarnishes them.
    I must say that I have a bias towards the traditional Abrahamic religions though, the big three – (in chronological order) Judaism, Christianity and Islam.I’m a monotheist and I think that any more than one God is a crowd.

    8:00 pm

    Further to those stories about Beirut dames dragging their Sri Lankan maids along to the recent opposition demonstrations to flag wave and chant for them – the manouchie man tells me that a friend of his witnessed one such team in action at yesterday’s rally in downtown Beirut calling for the release of Samir Geagea.
    And, sure enough, the maid was waving the flag, but her chant was slightly improvised – “madam want Samir out”.It must be the Sri Lankan/Lebanese equivalent of the Australian regulation that requires all political advertising to identify the name and address of the perpetrator - resulting in all such television and radio ads ending with a terse “written and authorized by…” voiceover.

    11:00 am

    Monday, May 02, 2005  
    Just got back from the pub quiz.
    There was a lovely Asian gentleman on the team that I was on.
    I say “Asian” because I couldn’t quite bring myself to ask him where exactly he was from.
    I’m not a racist but there are so many people that are that I felt that asking him where he was from would a) attract attention to his “Asianess” (maybe he’d forgotten) and b) would be a very obvious question as it was quite clear that he was from Asia and not from Sweden for example.
    Asian seems to be such a pejorative term these days that asking someone where in Asia they’re from seems akin to asking a disabled person “how exactly are you disabled?”
    As political correctness is about ignoring differences, it seemed politically correct to not ask him where he was from just as you wouldn’t perhaps ask a black man where he was from.He was very intellectual and spoke impeccable French so I’m just sticking with my assumption that he was Vietnamese.

    1:00 am

    Sunday, May 01, 2005  
    Orthodox Easter.I don’t know why they’re even bothering with it anymore at this late stage – it’s almost Christmas!

    6:45 pm

    Togo is in political turmoil as both candidates from last week's Presidential election claim victory amidst allegations of electoral fraud and disenfranchisement of black voters.

    1:30 am

    Happy Labor/Conservative Day (they’re one and the same these days)

    12:00 am

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