Foreign Journalists, Can You Stop The Cliche & Poorly Researched Articles About Lebanon?

Dear Foreign Journalists,

We, as Lebanese people, absolutely adore the pride booster injections that you give us whenever you write about Beirut or our country.

In other words, the country gets a massive hard-on whenever you take the time to write an article about Beirut, or about how much of an “exotic” destination for tourism Lebanon is. Many of us (not me, to be honest) rise above the cliche of the articles because we believe they serve the greater good: to show the country in a better light, to show Beirut as a cosmopolitan city, and what have you.

But – and to put this gently – there’s just so much that you can say about a city being a party capital and about a people being party-loving before it becomes not only redundant, but utterly nauseating to read à la “oh look, it’s another one of those articles.”

I know that writing those articles gets you a lot of clicks and attention – blame our clicking-loving-Lebanese-fingers for that, but what needs to be said is the following.

Over the past couple of days, an article by The Telegraph by Ruth Sherlock – a foreign correspondent based in Beirut – has been making the rounds, aptly titled: “War is a million miles away when the Lebanese begin to party.” 

The article started off with a picture of a woman drinking champagne, with the caption indicating that the woman was doing so at a recent election, noting that the most recent election we’ve had was in 2009. But that’s not the “best” part about the picture.

Lebanon Telegraph Article

The author naturally assumed that the woman in question was Christian, because sectarian and religious designations by Western Journalists are perfectly fine when talking about Lebanon.

How is that woman Christian? I guess it’s because she’s unveiled? Because as we all know, there isn’t a single Muslim woman in the country who isn’t veiled. I should get the memo out to my friends. Or is it because she’s drinking alcohol? Because, as we all know there isn’t a single Muslim who happens to be female who likes to drink alcohol in this country? I should also get the memo to my party-loving friends; but please don’t get any ideas about writing articles about alcohol-loving Lebanese-Muslim women, I beseech you.

The article then goes on and on about Lebanon’s love for plastic surgery, because this is not new. What is new, however, is that we – as Lebanese – like to throw extravagant parties worth over $200,000 and weddings worth over $300,000.

I don’t know about you but I, as a Lebanese, currently have $30 in my bank account. Not only does my entire worth not equate $200,000, but I’ve never seen such money in my life before. This is to say that when you talk to an event organizer serving the Lebanese 0.3% in order to get an assessment of the other 99.7%, you are bound to – and forgive my French – fuck up. For reference on Lebanon’s distribution of wealth and why the notion of $200,000 events being the norm is completely erroneous, check the following article.

And because the Lebanese cliché is never really fulfilled without mentioning religion a few dozen times in a 500 word article, The Telegraph article made the very astute observation that Lebanese put sect before country, also known as something my not-yet-born cousin would gladly tell you on any of her sonograms.

The religious cliché also needs a good dose of how communities are segregated into East and West, Christian versus Muslim and how they rarely interact, with the occasional sectarian and probably senile man still living in 1965 who thinks those who pray differently are inherently bad people, although I have to admit the notion is not particularly erroneous among many people of the Lebanese populace, but it’s all very “been-there-done-that” topic wise, especially when name-dropping neighborhoods for their sectarian affiliation, and doing so erroneously; as far as I know, Basta is very Sunni.

Do not, however, and I beseech you again, go into how the Sunni-Shiite conflict of the region is having repercussions on Lebanon because that’s another overdone topic or how precious and vital Lebanon’s Christians are for the region because they, out of all denominations in the country, don’t need their self-worth inflamed any more.

Then, because it’s never an article about Lebanon without mentioning power cuts and how we don’t agree on our history post 1943, The Telegraph article aptly drops those, as if they’re coloring by number. Pastel color green goes into box number 3.

When you want to write an article about Lebanon, please don’t interview a party planner for the 1%, a businessman who is among the 1% and an old man who was probably taken aback by the presence of a foreigner, and was more than willing to blurt out anything, pile up the bunch together and call it an “article.”

I understand that Lebanon is not your target audience in such pieces; but we will be reading them anyway. Similarly, I assume you’d also be appalled if I wrote an article about the United Kingdom and mixed up Scotland with England, or if I wrote an article about New York City and I assumed the entire city is nothing more than Manhattan’s Financial District.

The Telegraph isn’t the only publication to do this. The examples are endless, from the Guardian to the Washington Times. It’s always the same topic over, and over again.

As a rule of thumb, the following headlines are so overdone they’re dead: Lebanon and parties, Lebanon and war, Lebanon and religious diversity, Lebanon and electricity &/or internet, Lebanon and the proximity of the beach to the mountain, Lebanon and skiing plus swimming in the same day, Lebanon and the active presence of Christians.

If you absolutely feel the need to write about any of the aforementioned topics, however, please, please do read the other twenty million articles written in the same vein, and try to give a new perspective, one that local media fails to produce because of the toes they’re afraid of stepping on, and one which both your Lebanese and local readers alike will find refreshing.

PS: The picture of the Church next to the Mosque in Downtown Beirut is a big no-no.

beirut-church-mosque

Best,

A disgruntled reader.

 

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23 thoughts on “Foreign Journalists, Can You Stop The Cliche & Poorly Researched Articles About Lebanon?

  1. I am not Lebanese but I am very interested in Lebanon culture and sociopolitical issues and honestly I find your posts really interesting, intelligent and clarifying. I feel the need to tell you thanks man for all the work behind. 🙂

    Reply
  2. i agree that article was totally poorly done but then I do not agree with you that certain topics are dead. such as war and electricity. Beirut is safe but Lebanon not, I guess those brave soldiers on the borders know it the best. Electricity cut again Beirut is only 3 hours but what about the rest of the country and rotten corrupted Gov is not doing anything and will not do anything I guess if subject is dead.

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    • The war they discuss is the Civil War. Sure it’s not “done” yet but the discussion is not really at the level of the topic. The other war you’re talking about is the Syrian crisis and it’s an entirely different topic altogether.

      I know the electricity status in the rest of the country, I’m not from Beirut; however, I fail to see how any foreign journalist mentioning that in a sentence or two in an article about Lebanese parties is actually addressing the issue. Taking about the details of the electricity crisis should include investigative journalism, not a fluff piece that leads with Botox and $200K parties.

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  3. Alien,
    I dont think this article is saying that the reality of electricity problems and war etc is over. We all know it’s not. But when a reporter writes so poorly about these topics, making us feel she wrote her little paper the night before submission, one may want to ask her to please not dab into these subject as she will not go deep enough to uncover the truth or to describe the harsh realities in a way that would be devoid of the stereotypical christians vs muslims, etc. We all know it’s way more complicated than that so it’s better to leave such topics to a real reporter.

    As a half muslim (from my dad side) and a half christian (from my mother side) i must wonder until when are they going to talk about muslims vs christians and forget that some of them are married to each other and have had children together?
    As far as i know, my mother doesn’t run away from the living room when she hears my muslim dad opening the door… but whatever.

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  4. 90% of Lebanese woman are injected with silicon, go to the beach and gym with full makeup.
    90% of Christians say oww this is Muslim
    90% of Muslims say aww this is Christian
    the writer of the original article is 100% right and you are hiding behind your thumb

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    • Did I say she was wrong in saying plastic surgery is rampant or that there are sectarian divides in the country? No. I’ll be the first to say she’s right and I’ve said it repeatedly on this blog and many said I nag when I say so. I said her approach – and in general terms, the approach of most of these articles – is that of cliche.

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  5. This is called lazy journalism, on behalf of these “Correspondants”. I feel like I have read this article 100 times before in the past decade. They should instead, take a page fromTom Fletchers for ex. and become more constructive in their approach. Fine, they dont have to sugar coat the issues ,but maybe avoid getting stuck in the cliche narratives as you rightly state. They should look more into the socio-demographic aspect and the weakness of the middle class for example, instead of sticking with the “western living means christian” argument. Didnt they ever wonder why bars and clubs revenue drop by more then half during ramadan lol, see thats not a very hard insight to come by if they werent lazy! Anyhow, good read Elie.

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  6. Sorry but it seems like you didn’t read this article close enough! She clearly mention that she is talking about the a specific privileged community of people living in Beirut and then talk about more general stuff… And from my point of view she depicts a really true aspect of Lebanese society, I’ve been living in France my whole life, with Lebanese origins, I’ve come every year to Beirut only to witness everything this journalist wrote in this article! Once again as I read this article it was clear that she wasn’t talking about ALL Lebanese people and you cannot deny that there is a really privileged part of the population who really acts like that and if you don’t know it, I can tell you that I’ve witnessed every single “cliché” she describes! It is cliché but unfortunately those people are cliché! There is absolutely no false information in this article so I don’t really know why you feel offended, clearly you are not part of this category of people but they do exist, and she chose this angle for this article.

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    • I don’t deny there are privileged Lebanese. I’ve written about this countless times before. The point is this kind of articles have become utterly formulaic, full of cliches and completely ridiculous.

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  7. Also Lebanon and the 1915 famine-exacerbating swarm of locust otherwise known as:
    “و قدغطى الجراد سماء لبنان or و قد حجبت أسراب الجراد نور الشمس لعدة أيام

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  8. I live in Canada. Has anyone in Lebanon read a local news story about Canada that didn’t mention cold, wilderness and Mounties? The fact is no one in the UK (the audience the Telegraph and journalist is writing for) thinks or frankly cares that much about Lebanon (or Canada). It’s cliche to people living there, but information to the vast majority of people in this world that couldn’t find Beirut in a map.

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  9. Maybe there is nothing else to say about Lebanon? What has changed in the past fifty years? how did we evolve? Reading articles like the one Ruth wrote make me believe even more how shallow we are as people. What kind of stories would you like to tell? What is it there happening that no journalist has shed light on? There is nothing new. Same old same old. I agree all this talk about plastic surgery, partying, religion, political parties, etc… is cliché but this is the truth. Sadly. And to other countries, this is always news. Sadly. Note whenever you take an MEA flight, the Ministry of tourism displays a video focusing on all the clichés in Lebanon. Because there is nothing else.

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    • This is not the truth of the country. This is the truth of a very specific section of Lebanese society. Perhaps they should venture out of Beirut a little and they’ll see that $200K parties and the whole love of being seen are not as rampant.

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  10. And what he would like the foreign media to write about? Lebanon is one of the hard countries when it comes to anti media and to lack of freedom of speech, sometimes i believe North Korea is easier. Each humanitarian story or story that needs to be done including for example high price of food requires approval from every goverment agency or military authority or political party that control the block, So please dont blame the foreign press that has a real hard time working in that country for Lebanon being a closed nation that only like to show parties and parties to the world while garbage mountains are building up! By the way your lebanese arrogance is ridiculous, do you know the media all over the world is shifting and they are providing what people care about. Lebanon is a very small dot in the map of the world, you should be happy something is writing about us! Just another lebanese hipster thinking he is smart and cool!

    Reply
    • Um, have you ever worked in Syria? Egypt? Libya? Saudi Arabia? Iraq? Lebanon is not easy but heaven compared to those. Only the Iraqi Kurds are easier.

      Reply
  11. The original article is very interesting. The Lebanese people can’t handle the truth about their beloved city so they attack with their non sense and illogical bs.

    Reply

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