When the British Ambassador in Lebanon Addresses the Lebanese
Lebanon is not a usual country: a deformed version of a nation, if even that. It is a place where people don’t agree on the definition of statehood and nationhood, and a place where sectarian divisions have constituted a bonanza for foreign intervention. But Lebanon is also a place crying out for an identity. While some do see marks of history, geography, and culture and recognize Lebanon as it is – an Arab country, no less Arab than other countries – others think that they have been misplaced in the Middle East, that they belong to Europe.
Some ultra-Lebanese nationalists developed a variety of forms and motifs of nationalism that stress the (imagined) relationship between Lebanon and Europe – Europe out of all places. Some Lebanese think that donning Western clothes and faking an American or (in previous years) a French accent is sufficient to place them squarely among the White Man of Europe. Some really bought into that. Those Lebanese (represented by An-Nahar newspaper, among others) are more than eager to prostrate at the mere sight of a white man in their midst. Some even think that they themselves are white. It is for this reason that European and American diplomats in Lebanon act more arrogantly and more condescendingly than perhaps in other places.
It was in this context that the British ambassador in Lebanon addressed the Lebanese people on the anniversary of Lebanese independence. He lectured, preached, hectored, sermonized, and moralized to the Lebanese people. He even bragged about the role of the UK in Lebanon’s independence, thereby insulting the intelligence of the Lebanese people (and his own) by pretending that British policies (whether in Palestine – lest he thinks we forgot – or in Lebanon itself) were motivated by anything other than greed, colonial interest, care for Israeli occupation, and competition between the colonial powers themselves.
Of course, the ambassador prefaces his remarks by a perfunctory dosage of flattery – the substance of which he must have heard from the Lebanese themselves – or those upper- class Lebanese who attend embassy functions in Beirut. He even praises the hospitality of the Lebanese people, which is inferior to the hospitality that the UK accorded to the Zionist project. Talk about hospitality.
And while the ambassador – let us call him Tom lest he thinks I am one of the obsequious Lebanese who drool at the mere sight of a European ambassador – expresses admiration for the Lebanese, he also shares their frustration. He tells the Lebanese that he is frustrated with them. But what does Tom think that we feel toward his government? He thinks that the Balfour Declaration, the divisions of the spoils of the region in Sykes-Picot, and the subservience of his country to US war designs in the region are relics of the ancient past? It is not frustration that characterizes our feelings toward his government’s record in the region but deep anger and antipathy. If one should feel frustrated it is us.
What does he think we think about his government plot against Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956 or his government’s role in the civil war in Lebanon in 1958 on the side of Chamoun and the right-wing fascistic elements? Balfour requires much more than an apology to be forgiven – if ever: It requires a restoration of justice. The UK will not reach a historic reconciliation with all the Arabs before the extinction of the Balfour Declaration and all of its ramifications.
His first advice to the Lebanese is that we should ignore advice from outsiders, and he included himself among them. But that is pure flippancy: If Tom truly wishes that we ignore his advice, why did he bother to write this long letter? Furthermore, not all outsiders are alike: Some have truly assisted Lebanon in its struggle against occupation and for independence, and others (like his government) sponsored the occupation and brutalization of Lebanon.
The rest of Tom’s advice is akin to the psycho-babble of American talk show hosts and guests. Renewing marriage vows? What does that mean? And is Britain about to renew marriage vows with Scotland or is it heading for divorce? Does the UK seek advice from the Lebanese ambassador in London? And why do I get the feeling that if the Lebanese ambassador in London were to draft a letter similar to Tom’s, she would be deported at once.
Finally, if Tom and his government like the Lebanese so much, why do the visa requirements make it virtually impossible for any Lebanese to visit the UK unless they are among the rich and powerful of Lebanon? Maybe Tom’s letter is addressed to the political and economic elite of Lebanon, as it is doubtful that Tom ever wines and dines with average Lebanese, or with poor Lebanese (outside of those who work in the kitchen of his embassy).
Nevertheless, I will take the advice of Tom to heart: I will ignore his letter.
PS – I exchanged a few lines with Tom on Twitter, and he said in response to my critique that he was merely expressing his views. I answered by saying that he would never dare criticize, say, the government and society of Saudi Arabia. I dared him to have his colleague in Riyadh draft such a letter to the Saudi people. He answered by sending me the routine human rights evaluation of Saudi Arabia (which is part of an annual global assessment that the UK and US do but without any policy implication). He must have known that does not suffice, and that his government and all of its ambassadors are required to adhere to the highest norms of prostration and subservience in dealing with the House of Saud. Too bad, Tom, that Lebanon has not extracted its oil and gas yet. I bet you that you would have not drafted your letter in that case.
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