So, there I was visiting in Beirut after being away for more years than I would ever have thought, walking around and re-familiarizing myself with all the landmarks of my memories, relishing every sight, smell and sound, when I found myself at the main gate of the American University of Beirut. Across the street from that gate-full of nostalgia once was Faisal’s Restaurant. Aside from its terrific managers and wait staff who knew every one of us by name; and aside from the numerous delicious meals that I had indulged in there, especially when I was pregnant; it was also the haunt of academicians, intellectuals and activists whose conversations still resonate from the walls that had since become a McDonald’s!!! It was a slap in my face! It was a scar on that street! It was a blister that festered and oozed, its poison marring that landscape forever!
And, yes, I am convinced that the placement of a McDonald’s right in that same spot where Arab nationalism, patriotism and anti-colonialism thrived and flourished was a deliberate choice; another attempt to quash any semblance of anti-Americanism in the Middle East; to begin the process of supplanting our nationalistic aspirations with “freedom and democracy” a la Americana. It wasn’t enough to plot and execute a sham Civil War that decimated the country; the prototype for urban warfare in the post-Vietnam era; the place from where all sorts of ammunitions were tested on us, an innocent population; in retrospect, it was, moreover, necessary to rub our noses in the scum that erupted! What a criminal blunder that was supported by corrupt Lebanese politicians who enriched themselves and their paid militias! Or, was it, surreptitiously, the start of redesigning the Middle East to fit in with the Neo-conservative and Israeli agendas? How despicable!
Hence, my otherwise absolutely delightful sojourn was marred that day by a gross “ethnic” American landmark planted furtively where it did not belong in any way!
Of course, McDonald’s and the entire gamut of the American enterprise system across the world has since spread itself grotesquely everywhere, allowing healthy diets to be supplanted by the lure of “ethnic” American razzmatazz kneaded with enough antibiotics, hormones, preservatives and calories to kill a horse!
When we first came to the US, about thirty-five years ago, the only “ethnic” (and it wasn’t even called ethnic then) was the shelf of Jewish stuff at my local grocery store: Matzos, Gefilte Fish, Borscht and such. Within a few years, and following our expanded wars, regime changes, coups and adventures across the globe, masses of immigrants began flocking to the US shores bringing with them their languages, cultures, religions, cuisines and all else. Soon enough, “ethnic” entered our lexicon and from there flowered all those caterers of sexy “ethnic” foods. However, it is not a fair exchange by any means! For, while all those brown and black immigrants bring their “ethnic” foods to the American Market (and most of those hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurant owners serve recipes that would make their mothers and grandmothers have a stroke!) and to an American public that grew up on McDonald’s and all the other corporate plastic food so that that their palates have been deadened, the US exports its artificial food together with a long – long! – list of NAFTAS, GAFTAS, TPP, World Bank, IMF, United Nations, contrived Arab Springs and all those other “exports,” surrogate political organizations and trade agreements to a world that is mostly run by corrupt political leaders who sign on the dotted line that the American economic hit-men point to (and if they don’t they could, in all probability, be blackmailed, or get killed by some sort of a convenient “accident”), pick up their blood-money-checks and, thereby, screw the citizenry.
During the past ten years especially, in these United States, I have heard “ethnic” (food, clothes, music, culture etc. etc.) so, so often that I have come to cringe when I read, or hear that overused word! We relish the “ethnic” that has been brought to the United States, but bomb and annihilate everything “ethnic” over there everywhere! How sad that the American people enjoy our “ethnic” foods, but not our “ethnic” aspirations for Freedom and Justice; for Human, Civil and Legal Rights. It is so wicked and evil!
No, I did not need the Chilcot report to tell me that the invasion of Iraq was a criminal act. Many of us said that as soon as we had heard those first unnerving drumbeats of war. I do not need the analysis of those hypocritical talking heads and pundits who, in retrospect, are now saying that the objective was to remake the Middle East in the image designed by neo-colonialism. And, I do not need anyone to tell me that we are not at the end of the plot yet; that it will continue to ravish the Middle East for decades to come. I know that! Moreover, I do not need any apologies from the culprits, or any hypocritical promises, nor any other bullshit of this sort.
If only the US would cease and desist from exporting “ethnic” McDonald’s, fried cardboard chicken and pizza drizzled with fake, inedible cheese to replace the truly “ethnic,” healthy, traditional, authentic hommos, falafel and tabooleh etc. etc. (And, no, not the stolen Israeli-claimed versions! What thieves, usurpers and occupiers! Not enough that they stole our lands, but they have the chutzpah to be stealing our foods and everything else in order to prove to the world that those colonist European Jews belong to our Arab land, which they really and historically do not!) Quite deplorable!
Nevertheless – and I absolutely hate to say this as the US is home for me now – the Middle East Wars that we have designed and imposed will have their dreadful, petrifying and horrible ramifications here in this country, as well as in Europe and elsewhere. It is already happening. It is bound to intensify.
You see, we cannot tell Black People in the US that they have been emancipated and that they have attained their Civil Rights, but continue to enslave them, incarcerate them, and kill them without expecting that one day they will retaliate and demand real Justice. At that point, no barricades, no Tasers, no bullets, no policemen and no National Guard can stop that demand.
It is the same for the Arab people. We cannot continue to unleash Israel’s brutality on the Palestinians; start wars in the region; torture and uproot without engendering feelings of resentment, vengefulness, terrorism and hatred even from the most pacifist of Arab pacifists. Arabs, with their very long memories, will extract Justice also. And, at that point, no walls, no torture, no incarceration, no bullets, no bombs, no tanks, no soldiers will stop them. It is bound to happen someday, sometime!
When the French people stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789 nothing stopped them. This is history – a history that, unfortunately, we have not learned due to our Arrogance and Ignorance, a Deadly Duo!
Is there any possibility of changing course? Righting the wrongs? Atoning? There is. There always is for the Wise and Responsible amongst us if Empire, Arrogance and Ignorance do not stand in the way.
It is solely and entirely our choice!
3 thoughts on “Ethnic Razzmatazz!”
I love your spirit of peace and hope. But how is it “our choice” when the lunatics in this country appear to be outnumbering the sane among us? My choice is to hide in a cave somewhere, preferably with people like you..xo
What an excellent piece and how timely. But unfortunately anytime in the last fifty years or so your well written piece would’ve been timely.
I too still cringe everything’s I see the McDonald’s through beautiful main gate of AUB and when I hear about the choices USAID and other thinly veiled representatives of empire.
I’m afraid that the real power that be in the States have a vested interest in pursuing the same criminal path leading most of us deeper into the black hole.
Again, thanks for the well written and thoughtful piece.
Thank you, Hala for this and all the time, effort, and thought youp put into your blogs!