Monday, July 18, 2005

The capital of ranking: Lebanon. One of the many things that I detest about Lebanon and its culture is the obsession with ranking. Everything is ranked in a country that officially does not have a caste system but practices one that is more rigid than in 18th century India. Even kids are ranked: parents rank their kids in terms of intelligence and beauty, and share the results with the kids. Yes, Lebanese are the "best" in instilling high self-esteem in their kids, as you can guess. People even ask visitors to rank their kids. Everything is defined and identified as "the Best" and the "most famous." If they get a degree, it is always from "the best university" in the world even if they have a fake degree. Even falafil stands and kiosks are ranked. A falafil and potato (not kidding) little place in Hamra is named King of Potato (Malik Al-Batata), implying that he was crowned that title by a delegation of world potatoes in some remote potato island. Even Rafiq Hariri was known to eat there once a year, to send a message about his close links with "regular people" not unlike Princess Diana (who is still mourned daily by CNN and Larry Kind) when she used to take her kids once a year to McDonald's, and less-than-naive people would marvel: "She is just like you and me." Speak for yourself, I would assert. In Lebanon, humans are ranked, and western white people are seen as the best, which explains the ugly racism of the culture, and the insane attempts by some Lebanese to claim that they are "Westerners" or "misplaced Westerners" as the New York Times once put its (otherwise lousy) coverage during the Potato Revolution. The Maronite Patriarch in an upcoming interview with Future TV (Wara Wujuh program) said that Lebanese are "better and more distinctive" than people of countries around it. Even barber shops carry bogus certificates given to them (by their mothers, I am sure) which "authenticate" their being the "very best barbers" in the world. When somebody reads a book, it is "the most important book in the West" even if it is the 9th volume of Larry King's memoirs. When politicians get sick and are hospitalized, the newspapers always report the arrival at Beirut airport of the "the best hemorrhoids' expert" in the world, as if there is only one. People are always looking for the "best" bakery, and the "best plastic surgeon" and the best "terrace" and the "best school" and the very "best hotel" etc. You get the picture. Such are the standards of the silly homeland. But I can assure the Lebanese of this: they indeed have a claim to the "best" at least in one regard. They certainly have produced the "very best" civil war in terms of savagery and cruelty, and their political and popular cultures contain the seeds of the very best lies ever told. Good night.