This is a swastika. It is right outside my house in Ashrafieh. It is not the only one. Ten minutes’ walk away in Mar Mikhael there is a 10 foot memorial of a soldier throwing a Nazi salute. I would have taken a photo of that too, but it is right outside my ex-girlfriend’s house, and I promised the judge I would stop hanging around there with a camera.
If you were wandering around Beirut and happened to see one of these things you could be forgiven for thinking that you were about to wander into a very confused (Arab) white supremacist district. That is unless you had learned a few things about Beirut’s recent history. Gather round children, Beirut Beat is about to tell you a little story…
Once upon a time, in 1936, a young pharmacist by the name of Pierre Gemayel travelled Berlin to watch the Olympics as the captain the Lebanese football team. Gemayel, a man of grand political ambition, was truly impressed by the order and discipline of the blossoming authoritarian regime. In an interview with the superb Robert Fisk, Gemayel explained how he thought fascism was exactly what Lebanon needed.
‘I was the captain of the Lebanese football team and the president of the Lebanese Football federation. We went to the Olympic Games of 1936 in Berlin. And I saw then this discipline and order. And I said to myself: “Why can’t we do the same thing in Lebanon?” So when we came back to Lebanon, we created this youth movement. When I was in Berlin then, Nazism did not have the reputation which it has now. Nazism? In every system in the world, you can find something good. But Nazism was not Nazism at all. The word came afterwards. In their system, I saw discipline. And we in the Middle East, we need discipline more than anything else.’
Fisk, R. (1990). Pity the Nation, the abduction of Lebanon.
After returning from the games (the Gold medal for football being awarded to Italy in case you were wondering) Gemayel and four of his chums (namely Charles Helou, Shafic Nassif, Emile Yared and Georges Naccache) founded the Kataeb Party, sometimes known as the Phalangist Party, with the goal of bringing order and achieving an independent and sovereign Lebanon free of all foreign influence.
Whilst the party never had the same fascist intentions as the Nazi’s, they borrowed the brown uniforms, one arm salute and use of swastika as their unofficial symbol. The rest, as they say, is history but now is not the time to continue with that story.
Instead I will let you wonder what on Earth Hitler would have made of Beirut’s dubstep music scene…