Thursday, June 24, 2004

As I have often stated: Bin Laden has no fans in those lands. Saudi Arabia and its youth maybe the only exception from what I hear. Once again, I looked carefully into the graffiti on the walls (where my past contributions from my high-school days can still be discerned in some neighborhoods) and found only one reference to Bin Laden. It simply says: "Bin Laden," in the Zqaq Al-Bilat neighborhood. I spoke to a formal group of Palestinian intellectuals on Tuesday. I was introduced by Anis Sayigh. He is the founder of the Palestinian Research Center in the early 1970s. You know what I Israel did in response to his founding of the Center? They mailed him a letter bomb in the 1970s that blew up in his face. He can barely see now. He was the first Arab intellectual to start a center for the scientific and methodical study of Israel and Zionism. After the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Israeli troops stole the entire contents of the center and copied them. Another person in the audience whom I admire a great deal is Shafiq Al-Hut. A former member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a former head of the PLO office in Lebanon. He also had a long journalist career. Al-Hut also survived Israeli assassination attempts on his life although he never was a fighter or a military man. He never even joined a Palestinian organization to maintain his independence. The person who moderated the Q & A session was another great human being. Very few of your would know who he is. Abu Maher Al-Yamani is a former labor leader in Haifa before the State of Israel was established over Palestine, and he hater became a leader and founder of both the Movement of Arab Nationalists and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He has been known for his honesty, integrity, modesty, and revolutionary purity. He has retired from politics and is now in his late 70s. He told me that he finished his memoirs in 7 volumes, but has requested that vols 5 and 6 not be published until after his death. Next week I shall speak at Tyre, which many people agree has the best beach in Lebanon. It was in Tyre where I learned how to swim as a child. I watched today part of the event honoring Shaykh Muhammad Bin Rashid (the heir of the ruler of UAE) and the Ruler of Dubai. The speeches in his honor left me experiencing both nothingness and nausea, to borrow the titles of two books by Sartre. In Lebanon, they (not all of course) act both subservient towards rich Gulf Arabs, and yet harbor racist attitudes toward all Gulf Arabs, not to mention racism toward poor Syrian workers in Lebanon. And why should poor Syrian workers in Lebanon be blamed for what people do not like about the Syrian government? I wish I can speak more about the status of maids in Lebanon, and their exploitation. I met a few Americans doing research in Lebanon, and all have reported the people are friendly toward them. Although one American colleague reported to me that people were hostile to her last time she visited Jordan. The tape that was aired yesterday by the new "Tawhid" group in Iraq and that was attributed to Zarqawi struck me as not sounding like the previous Zarqawi voice that we had heard in previous tapes. The tawhid name by the way is very common among Wahhabi groups. I can report utter revulsion here by people toward the gruesome beheading and butchering by the Wahhabi kooks, and utter opposition to US occupation as well. There is a sign just across my hotel calling for the boycott of US products in Lebanon. The leader of the effort is an American living in Lebanon who is finishing her dissertation in Anthropology at Princeton (hi Kirsten). A woman called during a break in my TV interview yesterday on LBC. She said that she urgently needs to talk to me, and wanted my phone number. I obviously refused to give her my phone number, and asked that she leaves hers. I called her back to find out that she wanted advise about career choices for her son. There is a Saudi man whom I met here at one cafe when he introduced himself to me, and who showered me with praise and said that he would always praise me even if that would get him in trouble with his government. The problem is that I now always run into him--every single day, and he is always very very very very drunk, and insists on inviting me to the Saudi traditional meal of Kabsah. I have to reiterate that I do not eat meat. My mother had bet me that I would find better tiramisu in Lebanon than in the US. Of course, I have not. Tiramissu of mono prix is not bad however. Tobacco and shishah smoke is all around you in Beirut, and my hair seems to absorb the entire smoke pollution of Beirut. Do you know that Lebanon (add this to Lebanon's claims to fake fame) has the highest consumption of Cuban cigars in the world? Oh, and upper class Lebanese men and women talk on the cellphone for the entire duration of their workout, I found out. It helps that they leisurely and very slowly walk on the treadmill. The best quality mangos are from the Ivory Coast. Sudanese mangos are second.