Paradise Lost: A Eulogy for Lebanon
Lebanon, as the memoirs in this special section suggest, was in many ways unique. To those born there and to those who came to visit it was a special place. This is particularly true for the editors, writers, photographers and designers of Aramco World Magazine, which for many years was edited and printed in Beirut. We like to think that we were part of the ferment, growth and excitement that characterized those golden years — that now are none.
Like Baghdad in the early years of the Abbasid Caliphate, Beirut was a multinational, multiracial, multilinguistic society: Islam and Christianity lived fraternally; and though Arabic was the official language the streets were a babel of tongues — Armenian, Kurdish, Japanese, English, French, German, Greek. Beirut was a center of modern Arabic poetry, a center of education and a center of publishing. Beirut in its heyday was a center of banking, trade, agriculture and industry and from that success came the funds for everything else: the social life, the leisurely manners, the fascination with food, talk, fashion.
To miss what may seem to be superficial pleasures is not, however, to be unfeeling; we know, better than most, the bloody, brutal aspects of the Lebanese tragedy. And though outsiders, we were not unaware that there was also poverty injustice, cruelty and corruption too. We did know, we did care.
Most of us, though, were not in a position to help much. And most of us, admittedly under the spell of Lebanon, tended to think that somehow it would all work out. We saw it all with hope rather than with despair. After all, we said, food was cheap, the climate soft. Basically, we thought, men were generous and good. Despair hardly existed, except in the camps, and even there one felt that for the young, at least, there was hope too. Our golden age may have been an illusion, but it was, we like to think, an illusion that men could live by.