Wednesday, May 24, 2006

IT'S GOOD TO TALK

There's been a lot of talk about bloggers behaving badly of late. Judging by some of the comments on the Cif pages you'd think we were living in a country on the verge of civil war. So I thought I'd have a look at a few blogs from a region in the world where things actually are a little unstable and see whether flaming, trolling and general nastiness were as prevalent.

Perhaps I was suffering from what Norm referred to as "Blogosphere fatigue." Either way, it's always worth taking a step back from the familiar once in a while and having a look around some new places.

My journey began with a trip to find out that Michael Totten's has just ended: he finished his series of dispatches from the Middle East with some fantastic shots of Beirut. That said, he claims to have a good thousand still to publish so this one could run for some time.

It's worth spending some time going through his archives - there's plenty of vintage articles, including this epic on his trip to Ramallah. As troll medication goes, twenty minutes on his site alone ought to lower the infection rate of the
10: print "YOU STOPPER!"
20: print "YOU 'MONGER!"
30: goto 10
virus making its way into comments boxes.

From there, I followed Michael's link to Lebanese blogger Perpetual Refugee's site, on the basis that this sounded like a fantastic road-trip:
PR: I can image the drive up to Beirut from Tel Aviv. You'd of course take the scenic route. The Mediterranean always on your left hand side. I would assume you'd leave in the morning, the sun already having risen in the east. It would be sunny. It usually is. As you drive north past Haifa, the terrain starts to roll. The hills become mountains. Acre. Nahariyya. Then the border.

The Lebanese customs officer smiles and being Lebanese, starts to chat you up. He'll impress you with a 'Bokaltov' followed by 'Bienvenue a Liban'. You enter without any problems. Your Israeli passport stamped. Your license plates remain as they are. And you drive. The signs are now in Arabic and French. You already feel the difference, and yet, you're comfortable. It still feels good, comfortable. You get excited as you pass the ancient city of Tyre. You feel the urge to stop and see what Alexander the Great found so fascinating about the city. But you don't. You'll be back.

Further north, you reach Saida (Sidon). It's stunning, a bit more Islamic in feel. Again, you want to stop but not today. Today you have a date with Beirut. And you'll fall in love.
We can all dream, I know. But his description of how he found himself (against the wishes of his own government) working in Tel Aviv is well worth a read, as is most of his output. And no snipers in sight. Well, not of the blogging variety anyway.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. For whilst in Tel Aviv, Perpetual Refugee met up with Israeli blogger Lisa Goldman and described the meeting thus:
We talked. But it was different. I've spoken with many Israelis over the past year. This night however we were communicating. It was so civilized. Lebanese & Israeli. Face to face. Communicating.

No stereotyping.
No blind hatred.
No official line.

Just real communication. An exchange of ideas. Of experiences. Waging a war against ignorance. Lebanese & Israeli. Proud. Patriotic. Hopeful.

Thank you Lisa for making this paranoid refugee feel at ease in a place he grew up fearing.

I hope that one day a Lebanese citizen will be able to reciprocate such a brave gesture while staring at this same body of water on the shores of another noble city. Beirut.
It can't of been one-way traffic either, for Lisa writes:
We met in Tel Aviv. And it felt sort of clandestine, not because of who he is and who I am, but because of what he is and what I am, and where we live. Which, when you think about it, is absurd.

We sat at a restaurant on the beach and talked about life and the Middle East, and life in the Middle East, and we solved all its problems in three hours, over a good bottle of wine. The fact that he is incredibly smart and cool helped a lot.

If only everyone would listen to us, the Middle East would be such a great place. :P
No, it's not a blogging's answer to Mills and Boon, but a refreshing anecdote highlighting how blogging needn't be purely confrontational. Indeed, as Lisa points out, blogs are becoming a unifying force in a region beset with many difficulties.

From her report on the We Media conference, it's apparent one of the problems they face is the media itself:
The panelists included Rami Khoury, the editor of the Lebanese Daily Star; Jihad Ali Ballout, Director of Al Arabiya's corporate communications; Saleh Ngem of BBC's Arabic service; and from Iraq by satellite Zuhair Al-Jezairy of Aswat Al Iraq.

None of them had heard of blogs. None of them was interested in the fact that Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Lebanese and Saudi bloggers are writing and talking to and about each other and, linking to one another. None of them was interested to learn that quite a few of us are discovering that the Middle Eastern media is doing a pretty crappy job of getting beyond the cliches, the slogans and the dogma, and that we made that discovery through blogs.
When certain governments don't recognise certain other countries' right to exist, clearly blogs can be incredibly useful tools in terms of dispelling regime- or media-driven stereotypes and breaking down cultural barriers between people who would otherwise be barred from meeting or exchanging ideas.

Lisa Goldman provides a handy round-up of her favourite Arabic blogs here, but that's a blog-trip for another time.

Sadly, work and sleep couldn't be fought off with blogging so my journey ended there, after a pitiful three sites. But it was truly refreshing to see the other side of blogging again - it's not all just larey gits throwing their toys out of the pram, Polly!


ASIDE
Of course, there's nothing wrong with an assault with a deadly cluebat when someone says something completely ridiculous. In terms of bish-bash-bosh blogging this thread is quite amusing, if only for the way Flanker ends up agreeing with Johan W's satirical take on the Kos Democrats strategy for taking the White House sometime next century. Priceless.

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