Yesterday, the title of Foreign Policy's "Morning Brief" read "Big Day for International Diplomacy Around the World." The title misleadingly suggested that there were things actually going on in the world this week that we may care to read about.
This week alone saw the beginning of a four-day talk between China and Taiwan (for those of you who don't follow that part of the world, there's been a bit of "tension" going on between those two countries since 1949).
This week will also see some very rare "high level talks" between North and South Korea for the first time in seven years.
Yemen is going to become a six-region federation.
Israel hit Gaza a couple of times yesterday.
Turkey and Greece decided to sit together and talk about Cyprus. (It's been kind of a touchy subject for only the past like, 40 years.)
And of course, this week also brought ROUND 2 of the circus show known as Geneva II, where a Foreign Minister who has less charm than a bulldog (but looks like one) is representing the regime of a mass murderer and is expected to negotiate with an incredibly out of touch opposition.
BUT ALL THAT IS IRRELEVANT, because A LEBANESE GIRL decided to take her shirt off for a photo-shoot three years ago, and somebody found the pictures! (WOOOOOO!)
I am not interested in talking in depth about Jackie Chamoun's photo-shoot, or contextualizing it, or discussing whether or not the leaked photos were merely part of the preparations for the actual shoot. I am also not going to go into depth about how we managed to ignore the fact that this young woman is in the Olympics and chose to focus on her body. This is all besides the point. I am not interested in whether or not as an athlete she is "representing Lebanon and the Arab world" and therefore "should represent her country's values" (whatever that means) in her spare time.
I am interested, however, in the fact that she is an athlete. An Arab athlete; one out of only four Arabs in the entire Winter Olympics. A number so small that it says so much in itself. It says that competitors like this young woman and the three others are special, talented and should be valued for representing not only Lebanon, but the Arab world, which in its entirety was not able to produce more than four athletes to compete on a global level in winter sports. (And no, the comeback of "the weather" in the region is not an excuse; if we can build Ski slopes in a mall then I think we're fine.)
Forget the fact that the Hariri Tribunal is taking place during this period as well. Jackie Chamoun's name was all over the media today, and not one story had to do with her ability as an athlete. In fact, prior to the scandal, very few people inside and outside Lebanon had heard of her in the first place. She was always "representing Lebanon and the Arab world", and we seemed to be quite uninterested in her existence before these photos were found. Therefore, condemning her actions and calling her a "disgrace" because she is "representing an Arab country" seems quite counter intuitive. One would think that our representatives would get a little bit more attention if we were actually this proud and patriotic, or if we actually cared about who was representing us in the first place. It is therefore appropriate to use the Jordanian expression "Leish Saygeen-ha?" in such a context.
The photos went viral as the games in the Winter Olympics are taking place. If Jackie Chamoun had any shot at winning a single medal, our media has managed to do enough to put her off focus. This comes back to a trend in our region that seems to be at its prime: the trend of SELF SABOTAGE. If we were indeed this patriotic about our countries and identity, then we would also not be as easily manipulated to position ourselves against one another, particularly one of our own.
Let's look at this through a different angle. In the past few years, we have managed to single handedly drive ourselves backwards on a regional level in countless different ways. Iraq is in the midst of a sectarian war, where attacks and deaths last January were the highest since 2008. Call it what you will, a sectarian war or a post US invasion back lash, at the end of the day it is still Iraqis killing Iraqis, Muslims killing other Muslims.
Egypt has gone from being a leader of revolution and democracy to being an example of what NOT to become. A society that has always been much more homogeneous than its neighbors has managed to dig up divisions and create its own "Karbala" between Muslim Brotherhood supporters, army loyalists, and anyone with a brain.
Lebanon's sectarian divisions may have been conjured up by the West but they are practiced by the Lebanese themselves. Syria's own leaders (and other Arabs) managed to burn the country to the ground and create the largest humanitarian crisis in history. ISIS are a group of Muslims who hate other Muslims, Saudi Arabia is the "Muslim capital of the world" but is afraid of a "Shiite Influence", and the list goes on, and on, and painfully on.
We have trapped ourselves in a vicious cycle of self-sabotage, and have been escalating towards a path of self-destruction not only when it comes to our politics and growing sectarianism, but also when it comes to our culture. The Arab world has destroyed more of its own cultural heritage in the last few years than the "West" had ever done to us. In fact, the West would resort to stealing our artifacts and monuments only to make them their own; we on the other hand have resorted to blowing up the Umayyad mosque in Aleppo, the Islamic Museum in Cairo, and one of the oldest Shia mosques in Bahrain that happened to be more than 400 years of age. Saudi Arabia managed to "burn down" countless items that could have served as evidence to the fact that the Peninsula possessed some sort of culture, and the bombings in Yemen's cities have turned many of its magical buildings into rubble and dirt.
Western Imperialism, Western Interference, Orientalism, Occupation and Invasion are all relevant factors contributing to the disgraceful mess that is our region today. This is of course, an undisputed fact; but it is not the only one. We have driven ourselves further into the ground and have been digging our own graves. We kill those who look exactly like us, discriminate against one another based on the color of a passport despite the fact that we cannot really tell the difference between one another otherwise. We burn our own art, blow up our own mosques, set fire to our own museums, imprison our own journalists, and demoralize our own athletes before they have a shot at victory.
Psychologists characterize self-sabotage as a symptom of depression. It comes from feeling a lack of self worth. Perhaps that is what we lack, a feeling of self worth. For if that was achieved, then we would not be so careless with our own treasures. Until then, scrutinizing anything with potential will remain our favorite pass time, for it will be the only thing that temporarily affirms a self constructed nationalism and a shallow patriotism. After all, as Foreign Policy's Morning Brief suggested, there really is nothing else to pay attention to in the news lately.
Sara is a journalist and traveler who writes regularly at kalimaat.net, where this post first appeared.