Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Wavin' World Cup Flags in Beirut and Palestinian Camps
Reprinted from OpEdNews
As I get older, I will be stronger,
They’ll call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag.
K’Naan, “Wavin’ Flag”
Traveling this summer in
Greece and , I have been on a news fast and have thus missed the day-to-day dogfights that substitute for significant events on cable TV. I have, however, been able to view a few of the perennial battles as they play out concretely in ordinary lives: the resistance to austerity in Greece, the plight of Palestinians in Lebanon , and, everywhere, football (soccer to us Yanks). Beirut
Beirut, as in Greece, the flags of Spain, France, Germany, Paraguay, , and―especially―Brazil fly in proud fanaticism. A conversation in Arabic converts to a universal Language of Sport. A joke about a Brazilian player named with the universally recognized word Kaká is obvious in the laughter. Netherlands
We broke our news fast and switched on the TV when my wife and I reached our rooms in
. “Wavin’ Flag,” K’Naan’s world cup anthem-slash-Coca Cola product placement video clip was playing on Beirut ’s Al Jaras channel. Wait a minute: This is not the same clip we’d seen playing on flat screens in taverns from Lebanon Athens to Mykonos. Here sharing the stage with the Somali-Canadian rapper and poet K’Naan was Lebanese hottie Nancy Ajram, singing in Arabic before a phalanx of Bollywood dancers. And wait a minute: Is that girl behind wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, or just a checked scarf vaguely suggestive, a la Rachel Ray in the Dunkin Donuts ad dog fight? With a little research, I discover there is also an official Spanish version with David Bisbal, targeting the Latin American Market. All versions of K’Naan’s original lyrics have been slightly altered for Coca Cola. Nancy
The music of
’s streets, however, is construction. The Saudis tear down historical housing for the middle and working classes on the promontory of Ras Beirut to build pricey hotels and apartments (and mosques) for the Middle Eastern elite, while Beirut Iran rebuilds homes destroyed by Israeli bombing in 2006 in southern ’s Dahieh District for the more proletarian Shi’ites. Beirut
I had hoped to see Dahieh to research a novel I am working on, but Lebanese friends of all stripes tell me that suspicion about Israeli spies by Hezbollah, which dominates the district, make going there unwise. Also, the trust between the Lebanese in general and Hezbollah as the anti-Israeli resistance has been damaged badly since the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the Cedar Revolution that drove out Hezbollah’s ally
in 2008. Syria
Still, we did get to see our friends in the Bourj al Barajneh Palestinian Refugee camp, where, as in the rest of the world, we saw in the narrow cinderblock alleys the wavin’ flags of many nations, plus those of Fateh and Hamas. When we arrived at the gate, a tiny doorway in an immense wall―a jigsaw puzzle of concrete, posters, and old paint―a truck was unloading Coca Cola.
Life has changed for our friends, this family of a woman who teaches at a kindergarten in Bourj al Barajneh. She also volunteers at Shatila, the camp where the Christian Falange, with Israeli assistance, massacred thousands in 1982. She has just received her bachelor’s diploma. Her mother told her she would never forgive her if she did not go to her graduation party, but she was broke and could not afford a dress. She got an advance from her employer to buy one, but then one of her teachers bought it for her, instead. Now her father says he would rather see her continue on to a masters degree than get married. She needs a laptop. She joined a massive march on June 27 to give Palestinians some citizenship rights in
, which forbids Palestinians from owning property or holding decent jobs. She is hopeful that the times are right for change, but Falange legislators oppose. Lebanon
Her sister just had a second baby. Every time we come back to
, she says, she has another child. An uncle has driven all the way from Lebanon to visit, his wife covered modestly in a peach ensemble, his daughter uncovered, chic, and blond. Denmark
Last time we were in the country, our friend’s brother had been in bed for two months, depressed with dismal hopes for employment, marriage, and a family of his own. Now, he has escaped. When Israeli bombs fell in 2006, he and his fiancée slipped into a crowd evacuating to
by boat. “Forgive me,” he asked his family, “if I cannot send money, for I will be an illegal.” And he is, in Cyprus , and married. He did not tell his mother, or she would have stopped him. Sweden
Grandmother still lives in the ground floor, as do all the members of the first generation of Palestinians who were expelled from
in 1948. Keys to Palestinian homes hang on the walls. The third floors for the third generation are as far as they can go, if they cannot return to Israel or otherwise escape. Palestine
Around a table laden with fatouche, hummos, baba ganouj, kibbe, and chicken mansaf, the discussion turned to football. Many in the camp support
because of their excellence. When they lost to the Brazil the night before, the Palestinians built a coffin and held a funeral procession through the camp, complete with breast beating and ululation. Many also support Netherlands Italy, because as 1982 World Cup champions Italy dedicated their victory to the Palestinians who were under Israeli siege that year in . Our friend the teacher says it is better to support Lebanon than to choose for political reasons. Brazil
Night before last, Germany destroyed Argentina, and parades of Lebanese fans careened throughout downtime Beirut on top of cars, cheering, blaring horns, setting off fireworks, and wavin’ German flags.
Yesterday, our Independence Day, Shi’ite spiritual leader and some say moderating influence on Hezbollah Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah died, and the attention of
is drawn from images of global celebration to reminders of an unstable national history. Too, Lebanon Israel is threatening war if presses claims for a share in the natural gas off their mutual coastline. Among all sports celebrations and hospitable offerings, everyone assumes that Israel will again attack. Lebanon
So as the corporate globalists play their anthems to the freedom to consume, and as Iraq, Afghanistan and even Palestine and Lebanon burn, let us remember a couple of K’Naan’s lyrics left out for Coke:
So many wars, settling scores,
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor.