01 March 2016


The Washington Spectator

In recent years, many a Western journalist has descended upon the Lebanese capital of Beirut to captivate audiences with tales of the magically multisectarian life in the city, with its seemingly irreconcilable elements: Hezbollah and nightclubs, hijabs and billboard lingerie ads.
In 2010, The New York Times travel section discovered that, “[i]n a city of many faiths—Christian, Sunni, Shiite, Druze—at least one religion is universally practiced: sun worship,” and that “hordes of heliophiles . . . cultivate their bronzed exteriors” at high-end beach resorts. Never mind that the majority of Lebanese face serious impediments, both financial and religious, to baring their exteriors at such locales.
A Lebanese public committed to superficial materialism is perhaps an easier sell than reality, and the Times offers a “final Beirut investment tip: suntan oil.”
Another self-appointed promoter and political-cultural observer of the territory is roving celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who declares Lebanon “fully functioning, more or less” despite its history of hostilities and its 18 different recognized sects. Beirut, he insists, is a wonderland “EVERYONE should visit.”
As official history tells it, the Lebanese civil war was a 15-year-long affair that was brought to a close in 1990. Characterized by ever-evolving battle lines, inter- and intra-sectarian showdowns, foreign meddling, massacres, assassinations, and a bloody invasion by Israel in 1982, the conflict resulted in an estimated 150,000 deaths. At least 17,000 more “disappeared”—and those unknown fates are but one reason the war is far from over and done with.The country does indeed appear to be functioning rather well these days, especially when compared to neighboring war-stricken Syria. But as impressed as the international Orientalist community may be by the juxtaposition of Islam and mini-skirts, the fact of the matter is that Lebanon itself remains in the throes of its own civil war.
I met recently in Beirut with a Lebanese humanitarian worker who has conducted extensive interviews with families of the missing. He described the families as inhabiting a world akin to a “time capsule that is mummified,” unable to grieve properly and condemned to a psychological limbo in the absence of any definitive information regarding their loved ones. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.