Stories from Afar & Up Close

It's a brain thing

Similar to many people I know here in Lebanon, I don’t follow the news. I don’t read newspapers (the few available sources in English, like Daily Star and Naharnet, being of abominable quality), I don’t watch the news or listen to the radio (I still don’t understand much of the classical Arabic in which the news is broadcast), and political discussions among friends tend to go from English to Arabic in 2 seconds, making it very easy for me to tune out. Generally, my attitude is one of: if something really bad happens, I am bound to notice (wars tend to be very noisy); otherwise there is no need to get scared by the fear-inducing way of reporting that is going on. For my friends it is less easy to completely disregard the political situation: they understand the discussions and because opinions are so polarized, so black and white, so completely one-way or the other, it is hard not to join them. And so, before you know it, you are vigorously defending a political standpoint that is only remotely connected to what you really believe in, just because the politician who defends your cause said this or that. What’s worse, this politician may very well change his mind entirely, retrace his steps and seek alliance with his former ‘enemies’. As one of my colleagues said: ‘Sometimes you lose a friend because you spend a whole night fighting about a political issue, only to hear the next day that your politicians have suddenly agreed on the issue.’

To preserve friendships, it would of course be possible not to discuss politics at all. For example, I never knew the political conviction of one of my friends here, I thought he was neutral – until his girlfriend let slip that the only fights they had were over politics, she being with the government, he with the opposition. I guess that when you get this close, there is no way to hide your convictions. Or, as Rayan said: ‘You know, even when you don’t talk about politics, it is hard to be friends, because if they are on the other side, politically, and you know that, you will always wonder if there is something wrong with their brain.’