Lebanon Described in 1982

I’m currently reading the book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman, in which he tells parts of his stay in Beirut between 1979 and 1984, as our civil war raged on.
While some parts so far are not entirely correct or too autobiographical to be generalized, the read is very interesting to say the least.

The excerpt I’m quoting is the most interesting part of the book so far. What rang true in 1982 still resonates today – and Friedman has to be commended for having the mind to see it, especially as an American Jewish outsider whose stay in Beirut was nothing more than an experiment.

“The real problem with the Lebanese today is that they have gotten too good at this adapting game—so good that their cure and their disease have become one and the same. The Lebanese individual traditionally derived his social identity and psychological support from his primordial affiliations—family, neighborhood, or religious community, but rarely from the nation as a whole. He was always a Druse, a Maronite, or a Sunni before he was a Lebanese; and he was always a member of the Arslan or Jumblat Druse clans before he was a Druse, or a member of the Gemayel or Franjieh Maronite clans before he was a Maronite. The civil war and the Israeli invasion only reinforced this trend, dividing Lebanese into tighter-knit micro-families, or village and religious communities, but pulling them farther apart as a nation”

This goes well with a previous description from over 140 years ago. Some things look like they’ll never change.


16 thoughts on “Lebanon Described in 1982

  1. I loved reading that book simply because it was interesting to see an outsider describe his view of Lebanon during that time. Any Lebanese who tells the story, will see it from his own affiliation and perspective.
    To have an outsider look at it from an objective lens, as objective as it can probably get, was interesting.

    It also opened my eyes to how feudal and tribal the Middle East in general is. He has a really good description of that somewhere in the Beirut part.

    The book also sheds light on the similarities between Lebanon and Israel.

    I read it almost 3 years ago so don;t remember much, would love to read more excerpts from your blog if you post any.

    • Yes exactly. I’m oddly very taken by it – I find the autobiographical descriptions to be very lived-in, not just observations, if that makes any sense. And his observations are sharp despite some generalizations he makes falling on the inaccurate side.

      And I might keep posting relevant excerpts.

  2. Hi Elie, I read this book as well, I bought it in the American Bookstore a long time ago. It’s one of the books which got me interested in more on the same subject. Among many other horrors for some reason I remember really well the part about the family/relatives of his cameraman/buddy.
    I didn’t really check many parts on accuracy, I still have it on my bookshelf.

        • I’m still early on in the book. But so far he has been mixing demographics, which isn’t really that important. He also called Lebanon an Arab country which it wasn’t according to our constitution before 1990.
          Also he drew similarities between the massacre in Hama and how this relates to Lebanon, which I found to be not very well founded.

  3. Good book! I read it just this last summer, wanting to learn more of the place and era after seeing the Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir”. It added to my respect and sympathy for the Lebanese people and what they’ve been through. It seems good starter for any non-native on understanding the wider Arab-world issues today too.

    • I haven’t watched that movie yet although I do have access to it (it was banned here obviously) but I’ve heard mixed things, depending on where the person watching it falls on the Lebanese political spectrum.

      Regarding the book, I think the problems of the Arabs are different than the problems of the Lebanese. I just read a chapter where he mixes up the two and I utterly disagree.

      • The movie deals with the frustration of a soldier after his deployment in Lebanon. The movie puts a lot of blame on the Israeli military establishment and (described as such) their Phalangist “friends”. If I remember correctly it largely fails to mention similar horrors comitted by other parties.

        For Israeli standards the movie is on the left-leaning side. Which is typical when a soldier admits his side did wrong. Anyway there’s so much focus on Sabra and Shatila in media outlets if you’re an outsider like myself you’d come to believe it was the only massacre and the Palestinians the only victims.

        The Israeli movie “Lebanon” kind of works the same way: it deals with the frustrations of a soldier who doesn’t really wants to fire. The only “Lebanese” character featured in the movie is a sadastic Phalangist who threatens a Syrian held by the Israelis with torture. The Syrian is portrayed as an innocent young man.

        I’m not really sure what the message is behind movies like this? A confession through a movie to come clean? It doesn’t do full justice to history.

        • Yes I know the premise of it and how the “Bashir” in it is our former president Bashir Gemayel.

          Back in September when the Sabra-Shatila memorial was in full swing and many were panicking over it, a friend posted a Facebook status which I found very poignant: to Sabra and Shatila, we say Damour – a massacre committed by the Palestinians against the Christians.
          That’s the entirety of the Lebanese civil war. Innocent people died, sure, and they shouldn’t have died. But no part was innocent, especially not the Palestinians.

          And I will look into that other movie. The Israelis are sure infatuated by us 😛

      • The movie, “Lebanon”, is on my list to see. And to Daniel, should films really need a message? I’d also recommend a Canadian film, “Incendies”, to everyone. More themed around conflict in general rather than Lebanon.

  4. by the way, guys, Thomas Friedman is a joke of a reporter nowadays. not that this matters much regarding the content of done of his earlier books. just an fyi


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