Finally on the way

August 29, 2011

Blogging Beirut


I don’t know for sure, but this is probably what it feels like to get married. This morning, the morning of my flight, I awoke with a surreal mix of both excitement and apprehension. Today marks the fruition of a year of planning, paperwork, and vaccinations. Getting to this point has been a sort of quest of its own.  Having not had any student study in Lebanon prior to this, Western would not have accepted transfer credits. Fortunately, I had a lucky break and managed to find a study abroad coordinator who happened to be Lebanese. Consideration of the trip owes itself wholly to this unlikely find. Long story short, I’ve canceled my memberships and packed by bags.

For me, it could not have been any country other than Lebanon. This is literally true due to the inspiring revolutions of the “Arab Spring,” which are destabilizing the region. Personally tho, no Middle Eastern country seemed as captivating or pertinent.

So why  go there?

Lebanon is frequently referred to as the Paris of the Middle East. It is the only country in the world with a “Confessional” constitution and the only country in the region where Christians play a significant role in government. After independence from the French, Lebanon was quick to capitalism and soon developed into an artistic and cultural hub. Despite its tiny size, the country is amazingly diverse. Armenians, Palestinians, Maronite Christians, Druez, Sunni, Shiia, Sufi, Alawites, and so on all coexisted peacefully side-by-side. Later in 1975,  tensions over boiled, leading to a 15 year civil war.  Each ethnic group armed and the country went into free fall. Lebanon became a haven for almost every major terrorist group in the world. Even the Japanese Red Army was there for a while. This period is also marked by the rise of the famous Hezbollah, shortly after Israeli invasion.

A little Background

 During the war, Hezbollah militarized through a campaign of kidnappings and refined the practice of martyrdom or suicide bombing. The group is commonly blamed for the 1983 bombing of a US barracks, which killed 241 marines, tho the official culprit has never been established . It was the largest non-nuclear explosion since World War II.  Interestingly, the group provides an incredible amount of service provision for the crippled state of Lebanon. Although the EU and Russia do not consider them a “terrorist” organization, Hezbollah is undoubtedly the most powerful and disciplined guerilla movement in the modern world. They operate on almost every continent, have become a virtual state within a state and maintain close ties with both Iran and Syria. Therefore many countries are engaged in large covert proxy wars through the pocket-sized state of Lebanon.

The United Nations recently indicted Hezbollah for the 2005 Bombing of former Prime Minister Rifik Hariri. Later that year, Hezbollah demonstrations brought over 500,000 demonstrators into the streets, a huge number in a country of only 4 million. In 2006, conflict between Israel and Hezbollah brought war back to Lebanon. Israel kept its promise to bomb the country back 20 years. Then in 2008 Lebanon’s tenuous peace almost faltered again with conflict between the Sunnis of the Future Movement and Hezbollah.

Lebanon Now

Is Lebanon calm now? Yes and no. As I was planning my stay there, the government collapsed, Hezbollah vowed to take revenge on Israel, 7 westerners were kidnapped by a new group, both a UN convoy and a judge went up in smoke, and the discovery of new oil reserves on disputed territory has given Israel and Lebanon even more to argue over. At the same time, a surge of Syrian refugees is flooding into the country, and deteriorating Israeli/Palestinian relations threatens to further dig Lebanon into its own hole. Therefore the state department recommends “varying times and routes of all required travel,” while in the country. Despite these considerations, many people continue to enjoy Lebanon both as a tourist destination and as a home.

Beirut Ma-Bit-Moot

As my blog title suggests, “Beirut is not dead.” Last year Beirut made Lonely Planet’s list of the top 10 greatest comeback cities.

“Rallying from devastation is typical of Beirut: a city set back by two major conflicts in the last 30 years. Still, incredibly, meze and macchiatos are served up from its relaxed restaurants and cafes in a downtown rebuilt to its former grandeur.”

– Lonely Planet

Despite its cursed history, Lebanon still has a lot to offer. Somehow the country still manages to maintain its nightlife and hold its title as a major artistic center. Finally, lets not forget about the girls, who, according to some Arab friends, are the most gorgeous in the Mid East. This rare blend of culture and current events gives Lebanon a one of a kind flavor that Anthony Bourdain describes as “Enchanted.”

Ok so this post has been a bit of a history lesson but this background info could come in handy in the future. If everything goes smoothly my next post will be from inside Beirut.

(The pic on the Left): In preparation for the trip I decided to label everyday items with their Arabic equivalents.

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