Saturday, June 17, 2006

Letter from Lebanonesia: The Mother of All Miracles. There are less pictures of Rafiq Hariri in Beirut than a year ago. Did somebody realize that it was overdone and that people were getting sick, literally? Mini-Hariri is living in an island, and people cant even pass on the streets around his house. Yes, even the street on which the prime minister Fu'ad Sanyurah, lives is open to traffic. And will somebody soon give Fu'ad Sanyurah the Enemy of Poor People Award? He really deserves it. The Lebanese government should be brought down, but Hizbullah--their typical foolish calculations again--is keeping the government afloat. There are severe sectarian tensions--worse even than a year ago: that is what people would tell you. I spoke to my two nephews (one in junior high and other other in high school) separately, and they both reported that same things: that Shi`ite students rally behind Hizbullah, Sunnis behind Hariri, Druzes behind Jumblat, and Maronites behind either Ja`ja` or `Awn. Last week, a Sunni insulted Nasrallah, and a Shi`ite insulted Hariri, and there was open warfare on the school campus. Even people who are not religious are resorting to sectarian impulses, and are responding to what they think are sectarian provocations. What about leftists, I keep asking. There may be one or two but mostly it is about displaying Che's images on t-shirts. If you don't belong to sects you can't survive in this place. Edmonde Rabbath (author of the fine La formation historique de Liban politique et constitutionnel, essai de synthèse) used to say that in Lebanon: you cant be born, get married, or die unless you are part of a sect, now it is even worse. You need the sectarian membership to walk and talk. In the "service" (those who travel here know what I am talking about) today, I noticed a picture of Lady of Bishwat church. It described the church as `aja'ibiyyah--miraculous. So I asked the driver about the church. He said that Lady of Bishwat is the Mother of All Miracles. I asked--with my well-earned innocence--"But what kind of miracles"? "All miracles," he said, and then proceeded to tell me about this boy, "Muhammad"--notice that her miracles are spread across sectarian lines--who was handicapped but when he saw the statue in the church calling on him, he walked. He never needed crutches again. In London, I saw a car with Iran fans in the street: the kids inside had a huge flag of Iran hoisted on the car, and the word "Iran" embolzened on the flag, just in case you missed to identify the flag. I told a friend in London: You would never see that in US. Never. Hell, you would not see a car with the Frenchflagg in US. But then again: I am writing this from the capital of Middle East jingoism. So there. People react to Iran in the World Cup along sectarian lines here. For or against. I have to go now: the statue in the Church of Bishwat is calling on me.