Sunday, February 11, 2007

Beirut

Maybe it is the stress of trying to organize stuff lately, maybe it is the great countries I was just in, but I feel like ripping this country apart. It's not bad, actually everyone here travelling loves it, but it is not really my kind of place. Especially Beirut. It's too, something. I am finding the country a little disturbing, not because of anything specifically here but more what it stands for. It is too superficial and lacks originality. It is a sell out on the middle east, and a sad attempt at being Western. Oh sure, it does a great job of an attempt. The city looks very western, lots of nightlife and restaurants, the most beautiful (read:easiest) women in the middle east, flashy clothes, tons of new Mercedes, BMWs and SUVs. You constantly hear the squealing of tires at these people race around the streets around corners and pealing out just to show off their cars. Even the women do it. The people are nice enough but not to the same degree as Syria or Turkey. It's disturbing because of it's other qualities that don't mesh and while I don't claim that this is my view I think it doesn't take much imagination to use Beirut as a perfect example (some might try Sarajevo but I think it is a totally different case) of why westerners are afraid of immigration from this area. Think of it this way. It is totally western looking, a mix of Christian and Muslim. And yet, it is very polluted, the traffic is ridiculous and the politics is completely non-functional because of the sect alliances. Add to it the violence and it becomes scary. It is a place that destroys itself for no apparent reason. They could have it all, many of them do and yet they want to fight. Imagine that type of thing invading your hometown. You don't believe it could happen to a place so wealthy or "advanced"? Just look to Beirut and be afraid. I don't actually believe it, but it is possible to get onto that line of reasoning and for that reason Beirut disturbs me. I did do a day trip north to a town called Byblos. Kind of hard to tell when I got there because the coastal road is so developed leaving north and south of Beirut than I'm not sure that it ever ends and turns into anywhere new. Beirut is not actually the oldest town around here, the history of places like Byblos and Tyr go much much farther back. Byblos was cool in that it had ruins of different level all on top and beside each other. Imagine 4000 year old tombs beside 2000 year old Roman columns just outside a 1000 year old crusader castle. This weekend I was in Baalbeck. The most famous Roman ruins in Lebanon and it's biggest tourist site but not the purpose of my visit. I went to go and meet the family of my friend Hani. He's a Palestinian guy and way too smart but his family lives in Lebanon. They were extremely nice and I stayed with them for a night. We talked and talked and saw a few things around town. Palestinian politics is pretty messed up and I can't say I agree with the mentality of the people out here. I am always arguing politics and I think the biggest problem is that they don't see the big picture. They are too reactionary and think that they have to do everything on their own. So they lose the PR war and that ultimately is what wins these things. The Bekaa valley is beautiful. It is not very wide but very picturesque, especially now as the mountains on either side are topped with snow. It is a strong Hezbollah area (the original area I think) but again, unless you are Israeli they don't give anyone any problems. I certainly never felt any problems. I also got a tour of the local damage as the Israelis did a lot of bombing runs all the way up there. Got a lesson on landmines too. You wouldn't believe how sneaky those things are now. Tomorrow I fly to Kuwait to start my Gulf tour. I'll be going pretty fast so might not be able to check in for a bit.
Ammon

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