Coffee With Hezbollah: A Review

by Tom Chartier

Lately, in the last few years… like since Richard Milhous Nixon assumed the coveted title of POTUS… I have had trouble falling asleep at night. Sound familiar? You betcha! The stresses and anxiety of the days have a tendency to beat us to death, and relaxation is tough to find.

How to switch off the horrors of tomorrow’s deadlines, tomorrow’s exams, and tomorrow’s humiliations at the TSA pat-down and peep show? Tough questions indeed.

To make matters worse, I also have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Not only do I live in complete terror of… well, terror… I also live in terror of saying the wrong thing. Look at all the trouble that dude Assange has caused with his little website, wikileaks.com! My God! State secrets, plots, skullduggery and shenanigans are being exposed! Is there no decency left in America?

God… or State… forbid the First Amendment and Free Speech should actually be upheld. We have our national paranoia to protect!

But… I have veered from the path of the straight and narrow and my purpose. Let me return to the subject of stress relief.

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Coffee With Hezbollah

Here’s a strange and sparkly, jumpy and tightly-packed little book by PULSE’s own Belen Fernandez, in which our heroines (Belen and the photographer Amelia Opalinska) hitch-hike through Lebanon and Syria a few weeks after the war of summer 2006, consuming far more caffeine than is good for them.

Beyond Gonzo, it doesn’t pretend to be journalism at all. Instead it recounts a fairly lunatic, fairly random sight-seeing tour towards ‘the dark force’ Hezbollah. The setting, of course, is an Israeli-devastated landscape, and the ‘dark force’ tag, like all the book’s other appropriations of mendacious political language, is ironic. “Coffee with Hebollah” is, as Norman Finkelstein writes in his recommendation, “simultaneously serious and silly.” It’s also quick witted and very well informed, sensitive to the discourses and stereotypes of Lebanon’s 18 sects, the country’s tortured history, as well as the fantastic representations of Lebanon that have emerged from Israeli and Western power centres. This makes the book a new kind of journalism as well as a parody of the mainstream version.

The satire is harsh, and nobody escapes the treatment, including the author. The absurdity of the material is pointed up further by the mock-formal language of negotiation and diplomatic report in which encounters are narrated, the supposedly transparent language of perfect sense. So, for instance, labelling somebody by sect is described as conducting  an “exhaustive religio-spatial analysis.” Such phrasing mirrors the pompous pretensions of the thinking it describes. There is also a great deal of translation comedy, natural territory for irony, which lies in gaps, in the distance between reality and representation.

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