Pain in the Heart

Near Sorrento

Among my international students (systems engineering courses) the most interesting to me are the Indians, the Chinese and the Muslims. I find they are profound, less globalized (the term here being used in the negative sense) and extremely intelligent. Ok, they are also more exotic to me, but this is not the only reason.

One evening, in a small sweet town of Southern Italy where life is relaxing and food so exquisite, I was having dinner under the pergola of a nice restaurant overlooking the sea together with a group of 4 Muslim students in their thirties (image above: source), all of them affectionate and long-term pupils of mine. One is from Lebanon, quick-glancing eyes, restless, a real Phoenician; one from Afghanistan, elegant and supple, coming from a rich family of land-owners; one from Bosnia, acute light-blue eyes & acute mind; one finally from the Ivory Coast, a sweet good-natured black giant I called my body guard and who spoke very good French.

At the end of this pleasant dinner after a lot of laughing and pleasant chatting (and where unfortunately no wine was tasted) I touched upon the subject of the victim complex many Muslims (in my view) have and of the necessity of rolling up one’s sleeves to really solve problems (this playing-the-victim and always-blaming-the-others type of behaviour, I told them, was also typical of many Italians from Southern Italy, who keep blaming Northern Italy for many of their woes).

They didn’t overreact, but I clearly felt they took it badly. Sympathy among us was not broken, no, but I felt some further explanation was necessary. Unfortunately being already very late we had to separate, and since it was the evening before the last day of course, we didn’t have the opportunity to approach the subject again.

It is a pain I keep in my heart.

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1

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

Ψ

For the same theme though in a wider picture:

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