Friday, June 04, 2004

….off to Lebanon. I will be there until early July. Whenever I go to Lebanon I tell my mother to not allow any cleric in the vicinity of my dead body, if I die or get killed. The Lebanese state does not recognize you as a citizen if you are an atheist. (For friends and media: my Hotel (for those who know me, it is the same Hotel) number in Beirut is left on the answering machine of my home in California). Yes, we have email in the Middle East. I cannot believe that you would even ask. The internet connection in Damascus was slow, but reliable last year. They have T-1 lines in Beirut. Last year, when I went to the traditional Suq Al-Hamidiyyah in downtown Damascus, this boy approached me and said in Damascene English: “Welcome to Suq Al-Hamidiyyah.” I was upset. “What? You think I am some tourist” I said in Arabic. I did not want to be seen as a tourist. It is my hair, I thought. It is my hair, I hoped. It is weird: I do not mind being a tourist in Athens, but not in Damascus or Beirut. Am I a tourist when I derive a particular and extreme pleasure from swimming in the Mediterranean waters now, although I grew up around that sea? My trip to Lebanon feels deficient if I do not swim in that sea? At least I never carry cameras, and do not take pictures, and certainly do not romanticize that obnoxious country (in terms of culture, government, identity, and pretensions) Lebanon the way Lebanese ultra-Nationalists do. I get offended when cabdrivers in Beirut tell me that “you must be living abroad.” This while I make an effort to never ever slip a foreign word in conversations, and I speak on TV and in lectures in classical Arabic to not appear as an outsider. But I am. Only two weeks ago some American man in Modesto yelled at me, after a silly argument over traffic,: “Get out of MY country.” You do not want to feel that you are an outsider in more than one place. What if you are an outsider in everyplace. That was Edward Said’s idea in the title of his memoirs (Out of Place). But in a way you are; I know I am. I used to feel guilty for fitting in here better than in other places; now I do not. A friend of mine who has known me for years told me recently: “You have to accept it As`ad. You have become Americanized.” I agreed with her. Of course, I do not believe in borders or nationalities or passports, ideally. But borders are reinforced, fortified, and enlarged by prejudices, security fears—real and imagined, patriotism and patriots, flags, national anthems, national dishes, presidential campaigns, potatoes, balloons, hatred, and by “Bin Laden” and “Bush.” I will update the site from London, Beirut, and Damascus. There are people I want to meet to try to understand the situation in Iraq, namely Anis Naqqash, Hasan Nasrallah, and Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. The last two studied in Iraq, and Fadlallah was born in Najaf. (Meeting religious leaders reminds me of this: In the late 1980s, when Husayn Musawi (then leader of Islamic Amal and now Executive Assistant to the Secretary-general of the Party of God (Hizbullah) was a “big name” in Western media, linked by US to series of bombings, hijackings, and kidnappings, I went as a graduate student to interview him in Ba`albak in the Biqa` valley. During the interview, he asked me if I had eaten. I said: No. He asked his son Hisham to bring me some food. There came Hisham with a delicious tray of Arabic breakfast food that I love. I immediately began to eat. Musawi looked at me fiercely and intensely, and asked: “Have you not forgotten something?” I said: “What?” He said: “Don’t you know that food is more delicious when you precede it by saying In the Name of God, the merciful, the compassionate?” I paused but then continued to eat.) I would have met George Habash, but he is in Jordan, and I do not trust my person to the rule of King `Abdullah, whose intelligence hooligans burnt my picture in public in Amman at a silly demonstration they organized after one AlJazeera appearance by me in which I ridiculed the silly king. The billionaire Prime Minister of Lebanon, whom I despise, could not stand me. I went to interview him for an article, and he was so visibly offended that I showed up—the way I always show up—in jeans, Polo shirt, and New Balance running shoes . I felt he wanted to throw me out of the window. His media advisor is a friend of mine, and he looked at her angrily—“How could you bring in this jerk? ” I felt he was telling her. I would not go to Iraq; I never visited Iraq under Saddam, and I would not go now, despite the liberation by “Bush.” Even “Bush” would not visit his “liberated” Iraq for more than a few snuck hours. It will not be practical for me to offer poetry from there as I do not have access to my personal library. Have you read Benjamin’s essay on book collection? You should. The transfer in Iraq will occur when I am there. I will tell you if anybody notices. And please, as you remember D-Day’s anniversary, feel free to celebrate the WWII war, remember fondly the Vietnam War, and cheer the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but…without me.