Archive for August, 2011

How NOT To Make Friends in The Middle East…

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Over the years, I’ve learned Facebook and mid-east politics are a deadly combo.  I simply cannot stand the one-sided idiocy I see posted all over Facebook that allegedly represents “debate”.

I spend a lot of time in The Middle East. I returned home yesterday from a trip that took me to Israel, Jordan and Lebanon and I’m still reeling from the things I’ve seen in the last two weeks: Israel attacked, Gaza attacked, Egyptian police officers killed, Gazan and Israeli civilians killed, soldiers killed, Gadhafi routed. (One could argue it was a slow news cycle by Middle East standards.) Unlike an alarming number of Facebook foghorns, no one, and I mean NO ONE in The Middle East with more than two operational brain cells would EVER make categorical statements about the political situation (which rules out the ruling parties and extremists.) Every discussion I had with locals were calm, reasoned, thoughtful, and filled with, “It’s just so complicated” and “It’s never as it appears on the surface.” “It’s one giant contradiction and paradox.”

Please indulge me as I attempt to expand our laughably lop-sided world view on the Middle East beyond that last Facebook post.  I, a Canadian, sat with Lebanese, Egyptians and Saudis in Beirut, talking with Arab Christians and Muslims about Israel, Libya, Hezbollah and Hamas. There was the young Arab Lebanese banker who said, “It doesn’t bug me one way or another if Israel exists. Hezbollah focuses on that issue because if it didn’t, it couldn’t exist. They are nothing but empty rhetoric.” Or the young Lebanese woman who told me Hezbollah scares the hell out of most people of her generation. Then there’s the Israeli soldier who shared “The army make you stupid. It’s a full time job trying to stay smart.” Or the Haifa-based Jewish cardiologist who lamented, ” The Right of Return law makes most Jews uncomfortable. Though its genesis is understandable and certainly complicated, it’s also flat out racist.”

In Israel, I stayed in a village in The Galilee that was bombed by Hezbollah in ’08 that resulted in many Israeli casualties (including Arabs in neighbouring villages.) Yet last year my host Hanna, (still living there) , went ballistic when it was proposed the village expand which would entail building on a neighbouring Arab burial ground. Her community not only didn’t build, together with their Arab neighbours, they built a memorial instead.

Blew me away. As did having to watch Hanna agonize as she prepared her 22-year old soldier son to return to the front because of the civilian bus attack in southern Israel. (He had a good friend killed in that attack.) The day before said son, parents and close friends (I was honoured to be included) enjoyed a feast that included delicious Ramadan sweets… baked by a Jewish grandmother.

I had high tea with a Lebanese bank president who had to move the bank location 3 times in 30 days because it kept getting bombed to the ground. I drove through a Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut and it took days for my brain to register what my eyes were seeing. My hotel was located at the epicentre of the fighting during the civil war in Beirut (the infamous Green Line). Today high end restaurants, Chanel, Cartier, and Fendi share real estate with bombed out shells of buildings. Can you spell C.O.N.T.R.A.D.I.C.T.I.O.N.?

Pretty much every young Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese and Jordanian I have ever met – Arab or Jew, mosque, synagogue or church-goer – spend considerably more time and psychic energy looking for a decent job, falling in love, feeding their kids and living a peaceful and fulfilled life than following any hardline political or religious doctrine. The zealousness of the last generation leaves most of them cold. And frankly? Pretty pissed off. As does the chest beating and empty rhetoric emanating from the cosy comfort of computers in the democratic west.

So rage on dear Facebookers. Most of our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters find this rampant, malevolent Facebook  poker game of,  ”Yeah? Well I’ll see your dead Palestinian pregnant woman and raise you two dead Israeli soldiers” quite appalling.  Just know that while you are having a whale of a time entertaining and alienating other western, white, middle class social media mouthpieces  with your strident, black and white, swinging-from-the-chandelier self righteous,  left-wing, right wing opinions, most folks in The Middle East are just rolling their eyes and getting on with it by going out and grabbing a beer.

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