"The battle in my country is between those that want to live in a Riviera and those that want to live in a Bunker." Nadim sips his wine. A Lebanese intellectual, he is talking specifically about the conflict between Hezbollah and the anti-Syrian Siniora government but listening to him I can’t help but wonder if his concept of the Riviera and the Bunker has resonance far beyond the Levant, including in our own country. Dick Cheney, our warmonger-in-chief famously likes to sleep in a different bunker every night, not unlike Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah. Perchance these two enemies are more similar than is commonly thought.
Perhaps the great division of our time is not, as the neocons tell us, the great civilizational war between the "Islamofascists" and the consumer capitalist democracies but rather the division within each culture between those of us committed to the Riviera values of tolerance and pleasure and those of us convinced that the dangers outside force us to live in a Bunker and thus in a constant state of war.
First some definitions. In Lebanon, the Riviera is composed of those yearning for the return of the Dolce Vita life before the Civil War, with nightclubs and parties and champagne, the beach in the summer, skiing in the winter, glamorous foreigners eating and drinking and cavorting with sophisticated Beirutis. Sounds like my kind of people. So in America, and indeed the rest of the world, we could say the Rivieraists are committed to cosmopolitan tolerance and the pleasure principle.
The people of the Bunker, on the other hand, are filled with fear of the other, are intolerant of differences. In Lebanon Hezbollah sees corruption where others just see ordinary human diversity, not unlike the Christian Coalition in our country who are terrified of, say, Gay marriage. The family values crowd cannot imagine two men lovingly raising their children, just as Nasrallah cannot imagine a pure heart dressed in a miniskirt.
The list below suggests the differences between the two worldviews.
Cosmopolitan OR Insular
Pleasure OR Duty
Tolerant OR Dogmatic
Commerce OR War
Shades of Grey OR Black and White
Confidence OR Fear
Wine, Women, and Song OR Respect for Authority
The Sufi Tradition in Islam OR Wahabism
John Locke OR Thomas Hobbes
Rafik Hariri OR Hassan Nasrallah
Barak Obama OR Dick Cheney
Ha’aretz OR The Jerusalem Post
Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv OR The West Bank Settlers
Hanan Ashrawi OR Sheik Yassin
Most Young Iranians OR President Ahmadinejad
The New York Observer OR The New York Sun
Amnesty International OR Project for the New American Century
Monaco OR North Korea
From a certain perspective, Osama bin Ladin and George W. Bush are each others’ greatest allies. Without Bush proclaiming war against terror, bin Ladin is just some rich guy living in a cave, pathetically raving against a world he cannot in any real way change. Without bin Ladin attacking the World Trade Center, Bush would have probably been a one term president, his economic depredations against ordinary Americans in the service of the rich and the corporations no longer masked by the myth that only he could keep us safe from swarthy foreigners.
It is not the Riviera way to battle, but if battle we must, I suggest our primary struggle should be against those in our own society who want to fill us with fear, who want us to discard our liberties in return for a bogus safety, who are convinced of their own purity and of the filth of those who disagree with them, who want us to live in a bunker in a perpetual war against Terror.
Our Bunker needs their Bunker and vice versa. If there actually is a worldwide struggle against "Islamofascists" then the best way to defeat them is not through war but through example. The Riviera is more fun than the Bunker, both here and in the Middle East. Let’s remember that. If we in the West give up our Riviera values, we are only helping the intolerant in the rest of the world. As a cosmopolitan, humane and tolerant President of the United States once said, "All we have to fear is fear itself."