Downtown Beirut. Public domain

A few days ago, when listening to Diana Haddad, an Arabic Lebanese pop singer, something echoed in my mind.

Before the war (started in 1974) Lebanon was called the Switzerland of the Middle-East. In the 50s Beirut was one of the financial capitals of the planet and the intellectual capital of the Arab world. It offered, among the rest, highest financial skills to the Saudi Arabians and a very convenient interface for Western firms towards the Arabs, rich in oil.

It also offered an Arabian Nights highly refined dolce vita attracting all kinds of VIPs, Hollywood and international actors, tycoons plus the most splendid ladies of the epoch. Beirut was a synonym of luxury, of all pleasures combined and of intelligent cosmopolitism. Three languages were (and are) there spoken: Arab, French and English.

Some dear Italian friends of mine studied in Beirut in their youth and are in fact fluent in these 3 languages. When we were children we heard all these magic tales from our parents and looked amazed at pictures in gossip magazines.

To the history-addicted all this flourishing is not surprising. Lebanon IS the land of the Phoenicians, highly refined merchants since Antiquity and ancestors of mighty Carthage.

Now that Beirut’s glamour is gone – the city has been partially rebuilt but its premier role seems to have moved to London, Dubai, Cyprus etc. – this place is still highly civilised though, since civilisations are not mortal I believe, and, just as an example, Lebanese pop music (and culture) is probably the most successful among today’s Arabic youth, being seen as ‘modern’ but of course a bit frowned upon by the traditionalists.

Here a song by the delighful Diana Haddad for you to listen.

Northern Mediterranean youth cannot but feel how similar these people are to us, and yet portions of this music and other details we feel are diverse. One can say that this diversity is provided by Islam. Yes but, I am asking myself, is Islam really so alien?

Well, yes and no. One moment we feel it is the Mediterranean (hence not so different from Southern Europe,) another moment it is Persia, Arabia, Baghdad, Pakistan, Northern India, Indonesia, West and East Asia in short, both very different from Europe.

This diversity is though exciting. Why should it scare us?

As we promised in an earlier post and its notes, this writing is the first of a series dedicated to Islam, seen as exotic and yet somewhat close to our Roman heart. We are not here to judge but to learn (and possibly communicate.)

Once more we’ll ask French historian Fernand Braudel for inspiration and guidance. See you at our next post then.

Italian version


For the same theme though in a wider picture:

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1
The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean

6 thoughts on “Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1

  1. An interesting question this:
    “But, I am asking myself, is Islam really so alien?”

    I have noticed that there are a number of striking parallels between Islam and Christianity (and Judism, for that matter), and checking this on the Internet confirms my own personal impressions. For example, Abraham and certain other familiar faces pop up in each of these religions.

    However I fear that those who adhere to one of these religions would be rather reluctant to admit that they most probably have the same origins. Additionally, I will probably be regarded as being a heretic for insinuating that Islam, Christianity and Judaism should really be one and the same religion, but, like it or not, there are plenty of arguments in favour of such an assertion.

    And the existence of a Mediterranean connection is not really that surprising – seeing as so many of the countries which follow/gave birth to these religions sit around the Mediterranean too. Not to mention invaders, immigrants are no new phenomena either – so some mixing and thus similarities between Med cultures is inevitable.

    Interesting post.

    Kind regards,



  2. @Alex
    Thanks Alex. I have little time to reply (plus some of your recent posts are very interesting I am sorry I didn’t comment yet … but I will)

    >I have noticed that there are a number of striking parallels between Islam and Christianity (and Judism..)

    I totally agree. In fact they all sprout from the latter and their God is the same, the God of Abraham.

    >I will probably be regarded as being a heretic for insinuating that Islam, Christianity and Judaism should really be one and the same religion

    I would like that very much (no wars, no terrosism etc.). But in my view it is very unlikely: even just Christianity, for example, is not united having many streams that would never unite … and Islam, rather much the same divisions.


  3. @Man of Roma

    The question I ask is do we really need to unite? Will respecting the others view is not more than enough.

    As Gandhi ji put it. If in a family of 5 can have five diffrent opinion is it possible to have a united religion ?


  4. @Falcon
    I do not know if I understood well, but in any case, yes, I agree, there is no possibility of unity (probably no need neither) and full respect should be enough. But unfortunately we do not often even have this respect, since people keep killing each other for religion.


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