Lebanon, March 14

The Swastika and the Water Ski

hitchensChristopher Hitchens has penned a riveting account of his drubbing in Hamra forVanity Fair. Previous articles sponsored by the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation were either rife with errors or somewhat off-message,  so Hitch’s piece comes right in the nick of time and proves that you really do get what you pay for. Here’s his opener:

“As Arab thoroughfares go, Hamra Street in the center of Beirut is probably the most chic of them all. International in flavor, cosmopolitan in character, it boasts the sort of smart little café where a Lebanese sophisticate can pause between water-skiing in the Mediterranean in the morning and snow-skiing in the mountains just above the city in the afternoon. “The Paris of the Middle East” used to be the cliché about Beirut: by that exacting standard, I suppose, Hamra Street would be the Boulevard Saint-Germain.”

A lesser journalist may have been able to work the old chestnuts about waterskiing and the “Paris of the Middle East” somewhere into the word count, but Hitch thrillingly pulls it off in the first paragraph! Can there be any doubt that we are witnessing a master at the height of his powers?

Here’s his description of the March 14th (2009) rally:

“Almost nobody displayed any religious emblem, and even the few who did were usually careful to put it next to the ubiquitous cedar-symbol flag of Lebanon itself. Women with head covering were few; women with face covering were nowhere to be seen. Designer jeans were the predominant fashion theme. Eclectic musical choices came over the loudspeakers. The average age was low. Nobody had been bused in, at least not by the state. Nobody had been told to leave work and demonstrate his or her loyalty. You get my drift.”

Indeed. It was Lebanonapalooza. My only critique of this paragraph is a stylistic one: I would have liked to see Hitchens make a stronger connection between his sartorial observations and the overall message of the demonstration. For example, he might have said: “Just as the luscious bosoms of Lebanon’s spritely maidens did spill out of their clingy tanktops — unconstrained by any cronish medieval garb — thus did the true spirit of Lebanon break free of its bonds and expose itself to me in all its naked glory, etc….” Something subtle like that.

By the way, has anyone else noticed that the name of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation does not translate so felicitously in Arabic? I can imagine that the choice of the word “Renaissance” was probably meant to channel the “rising-from-the-ashes” trope, “Phoenix/Phoenician”, etc. but at the end of the day, the Arabic translation would have to be Mu’assasat al-Ba`th al-Lubnani (i.e. the Lebanese Baath Foundation). Whoops.
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12 thoughts on “The Swastika and the Water Ski

  1. I am very reliably informed that Hitchens’ junket, along with other similar trips, were sponsored by NOW Lebanon, not LRF. For what it’s worth.

    Posted by Anon | March 31, 2009, 8:33 pm
  2. By “smart little cafe”, does he mean Costa? I like Hamra, and I’ve cheered every East-to-West migration (Tabkha, Le Rouge, etc.) but aside from the Vingtieme Siecle shop I’m not sure what there could be called chic …

    As for the LRF, too funny about the translation. I always assumed that it would be “Nahda” (rising from the oppressive Syrian ashes just as the 1800s-ers rose from the oppressive Ottoman ashes …?), but I can ask for you if you’d like.

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight | March 31, 2009, 8:39 pm
  3. riveting indeed.
    but i can’t help but think the guy deserved it.

    ps: i REALLY love ur blog btw

    Posted by babagannouj | March 31, 2009, 8:52 pm
  4. Anon,

    Thanks for the inside info. And stick around!


    Surely you’re right about “nahda”. And I had the same thought regarding Hamra. I mean, aside from the newspaper vendors hocking up lougies on the sidewalks and the service drivers sideswiping the moped delivery guys, what else could really be called “chic”?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 31, 2009, 10:32 pm
  5. This had me laughing from start to finish. Hitchens isn’t difficult to destroy but you did it with style!

    Posted by Sasa | April 1, 2009, 12:30 am
  6. You do realize that there are very few rungs at the bottom of the ladder of abjectivity beyond being an apologist for a regime like that of Syria’s, or don’t you?

    I mean it’s just a notch above Joseph Fritzl’s incest…

    Posted by sincereeta | April 1, 2009, 7:24 am
  7. It’s official. QN you now run my favorite blog. Great writing!

    Posted by Johnny | April 1, 2009, 9:52 am
  8. If you go abroad and scribble on a memorial of a national hero you deserve everything you get.

    If I went to the Alabama and desecrated a Confederate flag, even though I may be against what that flag stood for, I would not expect the “good ol’folks” to sit by and watch.

    Posted by mo | April 1, 2009, 11:23 am
  9. Teslam ya Johnny.

    Sincereeta, welcome. As much as I appreciate five-syllable words in the comment section, let’s keep it civil, shall we?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 1, 2009, 2:32 pm
  10. Well, remember Hitch’s target audience here. A disturbing fraction of Vanity Fair readers (and Americans in general) assume that all Arab countries have Saudi-style religious laws and restrictions on women. At least this article will educate those morons. Also, the less Saudiesque Lebanese people appear to Americans, the more qualms we will have about the Israelis bombing the crap out of the country.

    Not saying this was a good article or anything, just don’t hold this to anything above a pop-media standard.

    Posted by Abraham Rotsapsky | April 1, 2009, 4:20 pm


  1. Pingback: Christopher Hitchens | World News Review - April 1, 2009

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