how the world sees america

Lebanon



November 9, 2007 4:30 PM

Arriving in Lebanon

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Beirut skyline, usually prettier than this.

"What did you say? Have I been in exile?" I ask the heavily-made-up airline ticket agent behind the counter.

She repeats: "Have you been to IS-RA-EL?" slowing down and accentuating her vowels for this confused American.

"Oh, no not ye…No, I haven't."

Just a one-hour flight later, I touch down in Beirut and the customs control agent asks me a more pointed question: "You are a journalist. Is your reporting political?"

"It's about how America is perceived," I reply, and he summons over an army officer who stands at least 6'5".

"Come," the officer says. He leads me into a back room, where a pregnant woman wearing a huge fake Dolce & Gabbana belt looks at him, extremely displeased.

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November 13, 2007 4:25 PM

American Studies in Beirut: Learning to Love?

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BEIRUT - Professor Patrick McGreevy is talking about an ugly moment in American history, but his students at the American University of Beirut (AUB) keep trying to tie it to present-day politics.

McGreevy, head of the new Center for American Studies here, teaches an Introduction to American Studies course to twenty-five undergrads. Today’s class is on the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 through which America exerted paternalistic control over many of its Latin American neighbors.

McGreevy projects old American cartoons from the 1800s and early 1900s onto a white screen. Uncle Sam, tall and lean, sits at the head of a classroom schooling infantile pupils named “Cuba” and “Puerto Rico” in the ways of liberty and democracy.

“Americans didn’t like to think of themselves as colonizers,” McGreevy explains, so they called their expansionism a civilizing mission. 'Manifest Destiny' was the term -- the 'City on a Hill’s' divine mission to elevate the rest of the world to its level, justifying the subjugation of foreign publics aplenty, he says.

Maya pipes up: "It's just like Iraq today; with all [Bush's] talk of democracy!"

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November 15, 2007 12:55 PM

Lebanon's Politicians: Avoiding the Assassins

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Ahdab at home.

TRIPOLI - Guards with AK-47s patrol the perimeter of Mosbah Ahdab's flat in Tripoli. "I'm effectively a prisoner" he says, in a U.S.-v-Iran proxy war waged on Lebanese soil.

The forty-six-year-old Ahdab is an independent member of the Lebanese Parliament, known for his steadfast opposition to Iranian and Syrian influence here. He consistently opposed the current Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud, whose term expires next week.

Ahdab worries that Syrian-backed assassins are targeting him. The shutters of the flat are all closed. Cameras survey the streets all around. And he travels only in the middle of the night in a long convoy, which he enters through a specially designed tent so snipers or bombers can't tell which car he's in.

Ahdab is convinced he can outlast his assassins. But he worries that U.S. interest in Lebanese democracy might not wait with him. Ahdab wants America and the West to keep a sharp eye on Lebanon, oppose political murders, and support democracy. But he doesn't want the U.S. to engage Lebanon as a proxy battlefield, which is what Iran and Syria, he says, are goading it to do.

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November 16, 2007 12:23 PM

An American Sister & Israeli Bombs

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BEIRUT - The day Zeina's sister Dina returned to Lebanon from the U.S., bombs began raining down on Beirut.

By the time her sister fled Lebanon days later, Zeina found herself torn between loyalty to her Lebanese homeland, and her long-held vision of someday enjoying a peaceful, prosperous life in America.

Zeina, a twenty-three-year-old anthropology masters student at the American University of Beirut, remembers her mixed emotions during the July War of 2006, when Israel launched an aerial offensive in response to the seizing of two Israeli soldiers by the Islamist movement Hezbollah.

Zeina's sister Dina happened to arrive at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri airport on the first day of the war. Israeli planes bombed it the following morning. Dina, a dual U.S.-Lebanese citizen, is a forty-year-old gastroenterologist at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Ohio. She's lived in the U.S. for thirteen years, and has two American daughters, eight and eleven years old, who came with her on this trip.

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November 20, 2007 8:50 AM

Lebanon's Hip-Hop Struggle

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BEIRUT, Lebanon - "Lebanon's MC's spit the sickest flows," insists Lynn Fattouh, a.k.a. MC Lix, a.k.a. Malikah ("The Queen"). Long after the party has ended, she is sitting on the dance floor of club Black & White on Monot Street. Lynn is one of seven top Arab rappers, hand-picked by MTV Arabiya, a new cable channel that began broadcasting over the weekend.

Hip-hop first caught Lynn’s ear nine years ago. She was twelve, chilling with her big brother Mustapha, bouncing to Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Bone Thugs, Foxy Brown, Da Brat and Left Eye. She got hooked, and began spitting rhymes with friends. At sixteen Lynn hit Beirut’s epic nightlife scene, climbing on stage for the first time.

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November 24, 2007 2:33 PM

Hezbollah, Her Protector

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BEIRUT - Last weekend Amena N. took me through her home in Haret Hreik, a predominantly Shia part of town in the southern suburbs of Beirut. With days to go until the presidential elections, she complained that America would rather break Lebanon's fragile democracy in two than respect her political party -- Hezbollah.

"When America calls us terrorists," Amena says, "I lose hope for the U.S….I support Hezbollah, my family does too…but we do not want war."

There is no clear threshold between the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut and the rest of the city. As you drive south, the buildings just move closer together, the piles of rubble stack up, and the wires between apartments grow more densely intertwined.

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