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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Leaving a restaurant - leaving a country

Today, I decided to grab some Lebanese food from a newly opened restaurant close to my house. Inadvertently, a discussion with the Lebanese store manager about the old TV show "Fame" somehow turned to discussing the movie Syriana and the assassination of the prince at the end of it. By some mysterious influence (Lahoud?) the manager started drawing comparisons between the assassination of that prince and the assassination of Hariri. He was clearly hinting that the Americans had either killed him or greenlighted it. After a few split seconds of me debating with myself whether to shut up or shut him up, I decided on the latter. Pretty soon, he started spewing off one conspiracy theory after the other, providing "alternative" versions of ancient history, modern history, and present day politics (One example of his ramblings is that the US and the UK supported Khomeini against the Shah whom they wanted to get rid of...). I struggled hard to understand what he was saying, to find the logic in his claims. Naturally I found none.
How do you debate or discuss with someone who will have a conspiracy theory to explain every event, every calamity that befalls us? I tried in vain to explain that we need to stop blaming others for our misery, to stop allocating responsibility to everyone but ourselves. I argued and argued and argued. I argued that we have to fault ourselves for failing to build the democratic state that we (I?) desire. I argued that no one internal group should have the right to dictate war. I argued that it was the responsibility of the elected representatives of the people to do so, only through state institutions and legal means. I argued that given the lack or weakness of such institutions and of such a truly democratic process, it is our duty to strengthen them and create them... I got nothing! More deluded versions of past and present, some abstract references to throwing ourselves in the arms of the west, more abstract references to dignity.
Finally, I asked him if the entire war was worth it. I asked him if the "price" we paid for an action most of us did not endorse was worth the "value" that we all received for it... I got the answer I should have expected. We maintained our dignity so it was worth it.
At that point I realized there was no point discussing this anymore. There is no way that I could convince him of my point of view because he simply did not want to listen. That is fine, he wasn't going to convince me either. On the other hand, he had no problem endorsing the imposition of a point of view and its consequences on me(via endorsing the actions of an organization operating outside the realm of the state).
I thanked him for the discussion and left his restaurant, just as I had left my country years before - disappointed.

PS: The man was in his forties or fifties and had lived in the US and Canada since he was in his twenties...


Lirun said...

i'm interested in your point of view..

Bad Vilbel said...

Unfortunately, R, I've experienced this disappointment all too often, both in Lebanon and outside.

People (and I don't mean just the Lebanese here) are so often living in denial. Everyone has their preconceived notions of reality, and will fight any attempt to disrupt said reality, even if it means making up fantastical tales and conspiracy theories they would rather believe over the truth.

R said...

I completely agree Bad Vilbel. I have actually had such disappointments when I somehow end up talking to (Lebanese) people about politics.

What I have found out, and failed to mention in the post, is that once you strip away all the layers from both my (our?) argument and theirs it all boils down to "a priori" values. What do you value more, a decent life and a prospect of a prosperous future or abstract notions of honor and dignity, among other things like what is inherently right or wrong.

If you are willing to accept that we have fundamentally different "values" (how I hate this word!), then naturally our life goals, and the means by which we fulfill those goals are different. Unfortunately, there is no way that I can think of by which they will change their mind except through us constantly engaging them hoping that we will erode their preconceived (and misconceived) priorities.

Its a long process and there needs to be enough of us with the will (and the energy) to keep facing this disappointment, with the hope that over time slow change will materialize into an unstoppable force for progress.

Rimstalker said...

It has been my experience, at least with Jewish/Israeli people living abroad - they tend to be more extreme in their views (whether left or right) and less willing to even consider any kind of compromise. And actually, the more a person seems to have a "guilty" conscience about leaving the ME for a more "comfortable" life in US/Europe - the more extreme he becomes....perhaps this rule holds for Lebanese abroad as well

Kevin said...

It has been my experience, that people who belive in conspiracies in general, don't want to face up to the reality that they too are responsible the way the world is. Regardless of where they are from (Middle East, Europe or America), consipiracy means that someone or something is at fault and they are just innocent bystanders.