Is Lebanon in recovery or in denial?
That’s the question we debated over dinner last night.
After just one visit, the Gemmayzeh Café has become one of my favourite eateries in the Middle East. With live Lebanese music, excellent mezze and backgammon and nargila on offer it’s the perfect place to sit and gawp at Beirut’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous women.
On a Friday evening, the restaurant was packed with twenty and thirty-somethings who were so aloof they were virtually levitating.
If you hadn’t seen a news bulletin for the last two months you’d have absolutely no idea that Lebanon had just emerged from its most turbulent period for two decades.
For me, it was a testament to the human spirit, a sign of our ability as a species to endure the most testing times and come out stronger. The joie de vivre of the patrons in the restaurant was in short supply just a few weeks ago – as I noted at the time.
But one of my colleagues had a different take.
“Where’s the soul-searching, the sense of loss, the time for reflection?” he asked.
“These people are in denial – they’re just brushing the last two months under the carpet and trying to pretend it never happened.
“Unless Lebanon comes to terms with the enormity of what’s just taken place, it’ll all happen again a few years from now,” he warned.
One of the main arguments made in Sandra Mackey’s recently re-printed book “Lebanon: A House Divided”
– which I’ve just finished – is that this country’s complex web of religious, social and linguistic loyalties could threaten its very survival. Allegiance to one’s faith, one’s family, one’s village are far more important than allegiance to Lebanon itself.
It’s a persuasive – and depressing – argument.
Perhaps Lebanon is fated to repeat the cycle of war, death and destruction every generation or two.
Or perhaps the patrons of the Gemmayzeh Café were just leaving the Big Questions to the politicians and intellectuals – preferring to enjoy a Friday night out with their friends instead.