Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bourdain in Beirut

I saw something pretty remarkable last night: Anthony Bourdain's show on his experiences in Beirut, during the war of last July.

Brett and I have been on a bit of a Bourdain kick recently; we caught a couple of his shows, and then she had the chance to interview him for the Bohemian. She also started reading his book. Friends will also remember that it was his restaurant in New York that ended my several years of vegetarianism, and it was on his advice that I bought a Global knife. We went to his reading in Sonoma, and I must say I was impressed. He seems to be a very personal and "real" guy who just happened to get lucky and famous, and now he's living his dream. Also, he really knocked 'em dead at that event.

I had also heard, of course, that he was one of the American evacuees of the Beirut bombing.

Yes, it is extremely weird to view war through the lens of foodie culture. And yet in this case it was highly appropriate, I think. Beirut by all accounts had come a long, long way, and was just on the verge of becoming a real tourist destination for westerners. It was also, as Bourdain said during his reading, just what the neo-cons are supposed to want the middle east to become. It was a booming, pro-business, multi-ethnic, tolerant, and westernized place. Althought I had never really imagined travelling there before, seeing what it was like really made me wish that I could go. (Especially since I am extremely deprived of middle-eastern food in Napa; there's a persian restaurateur, but he basically serves California-type food.)

Bourdain started shooting the day of the Hezbollah raid which captured two Israeli soldiers; that act, which resulted in the death of seven other soldiers, initiated the bombing which basically destroyed the city; it easily killed hundreds.

Bourdain and his crew were whisked away by an american security consultant, and watched most of the war from a hotel above Beirut, to the north of the bombed area. From there, it seemed oddly clear: the unassailable machines of war scattering death throughout the city. I guess I'm an unrepentant pacifist, but I just don't get it -- the urge to escalate, to completely destroy the enemy, seems so obviously wrong. It seems so clear that it will end up causing more total pain and death, that I find it difficult to understand why rational people choose it.

Now, yes, there are more obvious examples: the enemy footsoldiers approaching your borders, murdering your families. I would take up arms. I understand the desire to stop terrorism; it's just that it's clear that conventional military force is pretty much useless against it. In fact, as in the case of Hezbollah after this war, it usually feeds the terrorists. The use of massive force cedes the moral high ground to the terrorists, at least in the eyes of those in the theatre -- who are the very people who will be recruited into the ranks of those terrorists.

We need to find a better way; we need to create a lasting peace in Israel. Yes, the tactics of Hezbollah are abhorrent; they celebrate violence in a way that is extremely damaging. And yet they are responsible for much less death and destruction than our side, the peaceful, tolerant westerners.

So that's all. It seems like a perfect metaphor, though -- one moment, we are eating kibbeh, enjoying the fruits of tolerance, going about our existence as though there were no problems in the world, and suddenly, the forces of violence and destruction wipe it all away. I feel as though, despite all of our attempts to deal with terrorism, we are still ignoring it in the ways that matter.
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