As if the advice and probing questions of “Guest” weren’t enough, I’ve had to sift through hours of tape to bring you the best of “Biggie’s” take on the region. While that’s not a problem from an entertainment standpoint, it’s a little frustrating to listen to successive barbs directed towards you in what amounts to a verbal spanking. (In the Middle East, or at least in my family, arguing is a lot like Gladiator. It doesn’t matter who’s right; what matters is that you “win the crowd!”)
Biggie has that stereotypically clear view of politics you might find in engineers, particularly any of Middle Eastern descent who’ve spent considerable time in the West. Take it as a rule of thumb, these guys are the backbone of the hard-line parties and of the hard-line factions within all political movements in the region.
In Biggie’s world-view, “politicians are crooks, citizens are fools, and regional and international players are conniving self-interested pricks. They’re all bastards.” And that’s that. Not that he’s wrong, or anything, but Biggie’s Christmas outlook is something like: ”Nuance Don’t Live Here No Mo!” This year, he was firing on all cylinders. (Look, a vague engineering reference!) In a series of blistering, beautiful rants, Biggie reminded us all just what it means to be a Zahlewi.
Here’s a (relatively) clean version:
“The problem in Lebanon is that nobody went all the way. We keep repeating the same mistakes: we fight a little bit, but are too scared to take the big risk; we make amends a little bit, but are too scared to trust each other fully. Make war, not feuds. Otherwise, just stay at home and let us live in peace.”
(Instantly, Biggie galvanized a debate on the history of political violence in Lebanon. The consensus, forged by Biggie’s sheer determination, was that the Lebanese have a tendency to settle for half-measures, even during apparently catastrophic wars. It’s a good point, though it’s obviously difficult to argue that the answer is more violence. Think of it as the Levantine version of the Powell Doctrine.)
“Forget Syria. You know Steve Jobs was Syrian. Would he have turned out the same had he not been given up for adoption? [Listens.] OK, fine, his family was relatively successful. Answer this: How many others like Steve Jobs might there have been had the place not been some oppressive shit hole?”
(Quietly agreeing with the observation, at least in essence.)
“And where do you think most folks here [the Middle East] send there kids to school, if they can afford it or otherwise get the chance? IRAN? SYRIA? No. They’re all in France, Canada, Australia, and – yes, oh, yes – the U.S. of A. I’m not saying those countries are perfect, but if we’re all honest it’s not even a close call as to where they’d want to be. So forgive me if I don’t buy this rejectionist shit!”
(Biggie’s made this same point, which I also believe to be valid, for years. Each year, he gets more colorful and animated. I can’t wait for 2015.)
“Who gives a shit about Hizbullah? Really. They’re like a rash that won’t go away.”
(A few people do care, though that’s probably what set Biggie off to begin with!)
“Lebanon’s a joke. Everybody here’s happy to have some politician stroke them. They’ll never learn…. What? No, ya Tannous, I don’t know who George Carlin is.”
(I spend the next ten minutes extolling Carlin’s virtues.)
“I’m suuuure he’s funny, but how does that help us here? Anyways…”
(At this point, I’m dejected. You can hear the silence of defeat on tape.)
“The Arab Spring? Now that’s funny. Do you think Qaddafi, Mubarak, and Asad – the whole lot of ‘em – came from Mars or something? We’re going to get the same bunch of folks with a new coat of paint to cover up the shit we’ve been smelling for decades. And when the oil runs out, the West will probably nuke this piece of shit region.”
(Still dejected. Merry Christmas. Truly, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.)
“All I’m saying is that Israel will not stand by and let Iran get the bomb. Does that mean Israel can prevent the Iranians from getting it? I don’t know. But it won’t be for lack of trying… The Israelis can’t but view this as existential. How long do you expect them to wait? It’s time to finish the job.”
(I can’t make up my mind. Part of me believes that Western, particularly American, pressure on Israel will keep things in check for the foreseeable future. While it’s true that Iran probably can’t block oil shipments for more than a few days, if at all, there’s no telling how the markets will react. Although the capacity to supply oil hasn’t been a problem for some time, global supply is – or is perceived to be – precarious. Alongside the sustained dollar devaluation and growing Asian energy demands, security premiums due to Middle East instability have been responsible for the past decade’s high prices. On the other hand, part of me agrees with Biggie. Sometimes, it’s just about survival. What will the Israelis do?)
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more later this week.