How NOT To Make Friends in The Middle East…

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.

10 Responses to “How NOT To Make Friends in The Middle East…”

  1. Kim Smith Says:

    August 26th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Insightful as always and bang on the money. I would hope that the younger generation in the Middle East will affect more change than previous generations although I worry they may be stung with the same indifference as most of their generation in other parts of the world is. Curious to check out your Facebook page later!

  2. Chuck Gordon Says:

    August 26th, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I remember about 5 or 10 years ago reading that the young people in Israel no longer wanted to continue with the war mentality and the violence. Across all boundaries (race, religion, gender) they wanted to just put the guns down and stop. I’ve been disappointed that that point of view isn’t reported anymore. I don’t know if it still exists, but I suppose it takes nearly a generation for those young people to bubble up into positions of power where they can make those changes.

  3. Dave Howlett Says:

    August 26th, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Brilliant essay Joanne. Am sharing it with RHB Nation. I especially loved this paragraph:”Pretty much every young Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese and Jordanian I have ever met, whether Arab or Jewish, whether they worship in a mosque, synagogue or church, spend  FAR more time and psychic energy on finding a decent career or job, finding love, feeding their kids and living a peaceful and fulfilled life.” Here’s what bridges I am building (based on your premise above):

  4. Shaune Says:

    August 26th, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Wonderful, on target, observent, funny, slightly irreverent. You at your best. And BTW TRUE>

  5. Antonia Says:

    August 27th, 2011 at 12:24 am

    I have learned that it’s a waste of time and energy to debate the goings on in Israel-Palestine so, generally, I don’t.

    What I do object to however is being told that criticizing Israeli policy towards its Arab citizens, the besieged Gazans or the occupied people of the West Bank “delegitimizes and demonizes the Jewish state” and is anti-Semitic.

    I also object to how our government — in the name of all Canadians — condones everything Israel does, without question or qualification.

  6. David Airth Says:

    August 27th, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Interest blog!

    “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.?”

    This is what is so amazing about the West, the contradiction. And this a problem the Arab/Islamic world has had with the West, understanding why it is so contradictory in its politics and culture, like it openly talks out of the both sides of its mouth. Yet at the same time the Arab/Islamic world has embraced this contradiction, as you can see in Beirut. Somehow it is appealing because contradiction affords alternative life styles, instead of the otherwise rigidity of the Arab/Islamic world. Contradiction is the common ground on which all can come together.

    If you do away with contradiction you do away with reality. – Hericlitus. The West is preeminent because it has been exceptionally good at exploiting contradiction and benefitting from it.

    What is helping Beirut recover is that it is of a cosmopolitan mind. Cosmopolitism is in itself a contradiction of differing ways of life coming together and coexisting.

  7. Indira Sager Says:

    August 27th, 2011 at 7:39 pm

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  8. Lilly Mckowen Says:

    August 28th, 2011 at 12:52 am

    My friend told me about your site, so I thought I’d read it for myself. Very interesting material, will be back for more!

  9. Sharon Says:

    September 15th, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Have always suspected it was that way in the ‘real’ middle east anyway so it’s not surprise. People just trying to live their lives.. What always surprises me (and it shouldn’t by now) is the rhetoric spewed out by numerous folks whenever you post anything about the middle east on your FB page. I often just sit, reading, shaking my head and trying not to get really angry, or worse, discouraged.
    It’s a small world, after all.

  10. Maira Venditti Says:

    August 5th, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one today

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