Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homeland Lebanon

Troublesome journalists were targets and I expected Michael Young, another loud anti-Syrian voice, to check under his car. "Get in the fucking car", he said impatiently. "We're three floors underground. You can't get a phone signal here."

Michael Karam on taking a car ride with journalist Michael Young in 2007

Michael Karam, twitter's @Lebanesewineman, has enough. After 20 years of living in Lebanon he moves out. For 20 years, the benefits of living in Beirut had outweighed the dangers. No longer. Karam made his move public and explained his reasons for leaving in an article for the Spectator magazine. He doesn't want to be part of any future destiny of Lebanon. And this was before Wissam al-Hassan was blown up in Beirut last Friday.

Lebanese are stressed people. The traffic jams are endless, in the Beirut area, the electricity is a mess, in the entire country, the internet is slow, at times. Hezbollah flies a drone over Israel, built in Iran, assembled in Lebanon, the drone. A great technical achievement, agreed, proving again the inimitable ability of the Lebanese to do the fun stuff first and to tackle the important issues later. If at all. Lebanese are stressed people, always guessing what is happening next: will Israel react to this provocation in green and yellow? Will Syria's conflict inflame all of Lebanon, or only parts of it? Will I be safe, at home, in the streets, in my car? Lebanese are a stressed people. Despite all of this you still have to look good. Botox is shipped and injected in tons, noses are fixed by the minute. Young women take anti-depressants and suffer from tachycardia. And this was before Wissam al-Hassan was blown up in Beirut last Friday.

shock and awe in Lebanon: Beirut, October 19, 2012

A month ago, Homeland won many Emmy awards, America's television equivalent of the Nobel Prize. It is a very successful series. It is a very well made series. Excellent actors, perfect camera. I watched it for five minutes and I knew. Stereotypes. All Arabs are potential terrorists. The axis of Washington's fear and loathing is present in full cast: Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Lebanon - a guy called Yassir. Brody, Homeland's main male character, was on mission in Iraq, but was captured by the enemy while being in Damascus. Shou Damascus? Is this an unknown Saddam - Assad link made plausible to the American TV audience or was Brody part of the US rendition flights program that used Syria as a torturing stopover on the way to Guantanamo? Never explaining, always sowing the seeds of fear. Homeland is based on the Israeli series Hatufim. There you go. Parts of Homeland's second season play in Beirut. Everybody wears a hijab or a beard, blondes are absent from the scene. Beirut was actually filmed in Haifa. Israel doesn't need military technology to made her points, to fight Lebanon. They have information warfare and the Emmys. Lebanon's tourism minister protested vehemently against portraying Beirut as the terrorism capital of the world. And this was before Wissam al-Hassan was blown up in Beirut last Friday.

I met my brother last Thursday for a beer and a chat. He has never been to the Middle East and follows the events there like any other average consumer. He told me that he noticed a lot of TV programs lately talking about Lebanon. I told him that's not good. You are in the news because you are a hot spot or a sweet spot. Lebanon is both, but for John Doe it's rather the former. And this was before Wissam al-Hassan was blown up in Beirut last Friday.

chasing the Arab stereotype: Claire Danes, Homeland

After Wissam al-Hassan was blown up in Beirut last Friday, frustration and desperation was dripping from my twitter timeline. Particularly women, the "life must go on - gender", seemed to have lost all hope for Lebanon, were struggling with their faith. @CarineLdk is a Beirut lady very preoccupied with finding a good work-life balance, living from blue Mondays to thank god it's Fridays, then enjoying a relaxing weekend at the beach or on the roof. But last Saturday she had lost her optimism. "Ce sentiment d'agonie m'envahit pour la première fois. J'étais toujours optimiste, mais cette fois ci non! ", she noted, tweeting in French. I felt stressed, distressed myself, and I'm not even in Lebanon at the moment! Who are these primitive, archaic people - men, I'm sure - who have declared war on the Lebanese society, who shadow and follow journalists, politicians and intelligence officials to determine the right place and time to smash them to smithereens? Who are their bosses, who pays them, who are their mothers? But then again: American drones killed five suspected militants in Pakistan last week, and seven in Yemen. The killers are paid by the United States Department of Defense, their boss is Barack Obama and their mothers watch Homeland on Showtime. It's a war out here and people like Carine and me are just meaningless bystanders. If we are lucky. And this was before Wissam al-Hassan was blown up in Beirut last Friday.

Michael Karam is leaving Lebanon. Or so he thinks. You can always leave, but you can never check out. Of Lebanon. Her culture, her people, her emotions. It's stronger than the man behind the man with the remote control. I will be back for Christmas. You think I'm mad? "Madness is rare in individuals" - says Nietzsche, the philosopher - "but in groups, parties, nations and ages it is the rule." Did Nietzsche fly MEA when visiting Lebanon? This MUST have been before Wissam al-Hassan was blown up in Beirut last Friday.


  1. To say something "positive"... let me assure you, that one can be miserable everywhere, even without that much of an attachment to Lebanon! ;)

  2. I left TV and movie land - without fanfare - when it got too dangerous, and so I'd never heard of "Homeland". Now I have one more reason to be glad I got out when I did.

  3. I've heard a lot about "Homeland". (I really like Damien Lewis.) But haven't seen it because Showtime is too expensive! Last week, I did see an article somewhere that Lebanon should sue the producers for not only that it's so stereotypical in it's portrayal of the Lebanese, but that it's such an insult that they film Beirut in Israel! I saw that and thought, "Porco Diavolo! I would hope they would sue!" And it killed any interest I have in seeing it.

  4. comments from twitter:
    @talktoceline: your article made me cry - for the first time since Friday's events, I cry with a feeling of helplessness...
    @chez_em: An insightful take on the Beauty & the Beast that is #TheLebanon
    @MariosKaratzias: The post is brilliant!


  5. US television. What else can you expect stereotypes of everyone else!

    The series came highly recommended to me..for everything other than the stereotypes..but I guess i have had enuf of such stuff!