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Lama Hajj 16 Nov 2017

A Friendly Note To Foreigners Writing About Beirut

Hi! Ahla w sahla.

I’m trying to lay on that notorious Lebanese hospitality you may have heard of and have undoubtedly referenced a dozen times in your multiple “exposés” about Beirut.

“Jamal offered me a piece of baklava. It was sweet. Much like most of the population, Jamal is more concerned with his baklava than he is with what’s going on 200 kilometers from Beirut.”

I made that up but it feels real for a reason.

Now before we go any further, I would urge you to avoid trying to insult me by suggesting that I’m not a real journalist because here’s the thing: I’m really, really not! You don’t have to suggest it, because it’s already true. I never went to journalism school (?) and have never been paid for something by the word. Hence (ah, maybe not so unjournalisty after all), I am the first to admit that I am not a journalist. If you really want to insult me, go after my nails.

Now that we have that settled, onto my poorly structured and definitely subjective idea of foreign journalism in Beirut.

There’s a handy equation for writing about Beirut, and it goes something like this:

(Folksy personal experience) + (Arabic word [yalla/habibi/3adi]) + (mention of obscure neighbor who somehow represents the entire country) + (half-assed political assessment of how Beirut will inevitably be destroyed) + (rise from the ashes) = stellar piece of writing that makes all the afternoons you spend chugging cheap whiskey at The Captains Cabin seem slightly less depressing.

Have you not distanced yourselves enough from your colonial ways that you can view non-local politics as anything other than charmingly flawed?

If you deplore the region so much, or view it as a way to get your kicks before you retire in Bumblefuck, Hackney with your doughy wife – please stay away.

Beirut does not need your folksy ass experience. Nobody cares that your neighbor in Jeitawi raises five cats or that you have timed your life around electricity cuts.

It is not charming or quirky that we still have infrastructure problems that result in electricity cuts and water shortages. It is not hilarious that most of the population lives life haphazardly, because they do not have the security to do anything otherwise.

Beirut suffers in darkness and you wrap it up in a ridiculous anecdote to peddle your bullshit.

”Somewhere in the distance fireworks light up the Beirut sky, as John Smith tweets something poignant like, “Was that a bomb or fireworks?” and Jamal, inevitably, takes his last bite of baklava.”

Suck it.