Ten Commandments For Writing About Beirut

Tuesday 4 October 201609:39 am
Brethren, rejoice. The predominantly white deities of international journalism have allotted your bunch with ten commandments that include instructions on how to write about the quintessential and ever-effervescent Levantine city, Beirut.

Thou shalt religiously document your conversations with cab drivers

“Cab drivers in Beirut are wizards of psycho-geography; surprisingly encyclopedic about regional conflicts. Their imagination is unfettered by the constraining laws of urban planning. They arbor the streets of the town they seemingly possess with a gratifying self-assurance. I'll never forget Hassan, owner of a light blue 1965 Mercedes-Benz 190c, who once transported me from the bustling Hamra area to the more quiescent neighborhoods of Badaro. In between two entrancing recitations of Qur'anic verses, he voiced a prophecy: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's transnational defensive shield will safeguard him from popular uprisings. We were in 2011. Hassan's premonition could have been formulated by an operative working for the much revered Maoist-Third Worldist guerrilla Hezbollah; but It wasn't. It was voiced by a cab driver instead.”

Thou shalt fetishize electric cables flying over the Beirut skyline

“In some ways, Beirut has analogous social and political distance between itself and the rest of the Arab world. I always tell fellow journalists that electric cables hovering over Beirut's skyline contribute to both this literal and figurative frontier. At once the veins through which the vibrant blood of Beiruti youths runs and the point of delimitation between the city and the rest of the world, these electric cables, indicative of the country's third world status, are veneered by locals and loathed by foreign aggressors. They are the material embodiment of Fortress Beirut, the canals that connect inhabitants of different sects to one another. I often find myself struck by the distressing beauty of Beirut's cabled skyline, and quite honestly, you should too.”

Thou shalt mention the Lebanese Civil War as if the ceasefire was agreed upon during your stay

“Although Arab pop star attire constitutes the bulk of beauty salon conversations, the most charged debates erupt around a second subject: militias. Given the war in the country, the question of what constitutes a legitimate cause is always bubbling in the background. The general squabbling takes on new urgency when two widows of fighters affiliated to rival factions confront one another while waiting for the hairdresser to arrange their chignon. They both maintain that their quest for change justifies any violence against oppressive systems, an assertion that they mutually reject in light of the civilian toll. As the rhetoric grows increasingly violent, the lush palm gardens facing the beauty parlor soon fade away from my sight; a black column of smoke spirals into the sky. The parlor's facade cracks open like a dollhouse. The civil war looms as hair dryers engage in competitive blowouts.”

Remember to talk ad nauseam about Christian-Muslim coexistence, to keep it sensationalist

“The ample, pasty-brown breasts of the mostly Christian beach-goers lounging topless poolside glowed almost translucent under the suffocating August sun, and the heavily bearded Sunni patriarchs in their abayas pretended not to look. Astaghfurallah! they whispered, as the sight of the unabashed, provocative nudity grew worryingly pornographic. Enter a fully veiled Shiite woman, an Almaza beer in one hand and a bag of bzourat in the other. She sat next to a bikini-clad woman with blonde highlights; they went from beers to cheers in a fraction of a minute, prompting the men, who were then accompanied by Christian hunks in white linen shirts, to slap their hands over their eyes, spreading their fingers and ogling in disgust. Coexistence only gains momentum when women are involved – only their harmonious presence has sufficient influence to counterbalance tribal-sectarian tensions.”

Honor thy emblematic Western authors of Orientalist literature

“I spent another warm afternoon in July in Beirut, in true Lamartinean spirit. I was talking to an enigmatic Druze militia leader at the iconic waterfront corniche over a lunch of kofteh, ground meat cooked around skewers. My attention suddenly shifted away from his mythical folk tales of martyrdom and reincarnation; I became too hypnotized by the sight of pubescent boys taking a dip in the sea, their bronze, athletic torsos dangerously alluring me. For an instant, I channeled my inner Burroughs in Tangier and chose to abide by my germinating pedophilic penchants. One has to accept that hyper-sexual episodes in Beiruti everyday instances come in the form of proudly exhibited homoeroticism among working class folk. I instantly transported myself to a Mesopotamian pink-and-white harem, caressing caramel skin, inhaling apple-scented shisha smoke, swallowing liters of rose watered c$&! Sexualised oriental bodies trump Cedar trees in terms of sheer majesty. Tear your djellaba all you want, the white aggressor will not repent!”

Thou shalt characterize club-goers the way you would a persecuted ethnic minority

“On Friday nights, Beirut's persecuted youths discreetly attend hidden night clubs located in the heart of Beirut's militia-controlled suburbs. The mukhabarat's ghostly disembodied hands have failed to reach these safe havens of debauchery. Enter B018, an underground place of nocturnal survival designed by mysterious Lebanese ubermensch Bernard Khoury. Once a zone of refuge for Palestinian and Somali jihadists, B018 is now an overtly extravagant shrine for disenfranchised club-goers, a space that relentlessly fights against the external contradictions that threaten its very existence. As Lebanese youths indulge in idle dancing, innocent flirting, and maniacal consumption of cocaine, you can't but worry for the moment they'll have to step outside and face the cruelty of the notorious state shabeeha, their RPGs ready to open fire. As I was waiting in line to access the facility's bathrooms, a Sunni girl approached me. Her lips were desperate to formulate an ultimately incoherent sentence, but her eyes were begging for help. A few years later, I had learned from a fixer who called me from the Bekaa Valley that the girl had been executed by her tribe for wearing True Religion shorts. I held her a candlelit vigil in my minuscule London apartment, after I allowed Hamed Sinno's harrowing vocals to guide my affect. Then, I wrote a Breitbart op-ed on decadent albeit heterosexual raver genocide in the Middle East.”

Thou shalt arbitrarily change witnesses' names for the sake of their “condition”

“On a black, rainy night in a squalid southern Beirut suburb, I tracked down the family of a senior Hezbollah official Mossad agents had killed in Yemen. After some initial hostility, his brother, whom I shall name Mohammad to preserve his anonymity, and a few beefy friends, whom I shall all call Mohammad to preserve their anonymity, agreed that I could interview them as their subservient, passive Shiite wives, whom I shall all call Fatima to preserve their fragile anonymity (to be fair, I couldn't differentiate them from one another because of their tchadors), served us authentic, freshly produced Lipton mint tea. Mohammad was clearly too afraid to talk, but Mohammad told me he'd be willing to go on record. Mohammad then silenced him by simply pointing him to a picture of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. Mohammad then told the goon squad not to worry and asked Mohammad to provide me with a USB key containing proof that slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was a Qatari agent.”

Thou shalt exhaust the phoenix analogy

“It's no wonder that Beirut had been demolished and rebuilt seven times; the city's packed with scars and grieving widows, bullet-ridden hotels and neglected Roman vestiges, dried blood and Crusader-styled mosques. It's also no wonder that Beirut had risen from its ashes like a mighty phoenix seven times; the city's filled with valiant Syrian street vendors and Christian entrepreneurs, Sunni clergymen and Druze traditionalists; Panarabist book publishers and Shiite backup generator owners, Saudi sex tourists and Iraqi families of ten, French-Lebanese shoe designers and Lebanese-Australian foodies, Armenian metalheads and Filipino domestic workers, all adamant about calling this flourishing wasteland their home.”

Thou shalt pretend you discovered the shawarma joint literally everyone goes to

“Euro-American invasions of the cultural variety are often welcomed by Arabs, especially in Beirut. In this city, you'll find dozens of small bistros that cater to the French-speaking elites and KFC branches packed with Shiite families. One time, I was spending an afternoon with a Syrian Social Nationalist Party bodyguard who was divulging information about the Assad family's favorite beach resorts in the Lebanese capital. As he was guiding me across the labyrinthic corners of the Spears area, I came across a tad gritty shawarma joint in the communist stronghold of Hamra. The splits onto which hunks of beef and chicken are disposed rotate to the sound of iconic Lebanese singer Fairuz and extricate heavenly odors of male Arab sweat and carnivorous delight. The mustachioed owner of Iraqi ancestry confessed to me that the joint, called Barbar if I recall well, was practically empty. Beirutis, he said, sold their souls to foreign franchises and cupcake concept stores. The art of shawarma, he added, had been heartlessly placed on a dusty shelf alongside other, now defunct artisanal traditions.”
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