By Wassim Badr
Beirut – It’s interesting how opinions, preconceptions, misconceptions and prejudices are so influenced by the media today.
We take adamant stands based largely on reported news instead of spending the time to try to experience hands-on the world and how it works.
I am an exchange student from Lebanon, studying in Michigan. Contrary to what people think, my country is not war torn. It is not run by dictators. If you’re a woman, you don’t have to cover yourself up. We do have clean water, plenty of it, and we do have electricity. Oh, and we also have McDonald’s, Burger King, Chili’s, and God knows what else from America’s food chains.
My country is modern, and it is not what you usually see of it on TV news. But Lebanon also is a place of rich history, legacy and beauty. CNN and BBC don’t show you a Lebanese festival with beautiful costumes, enchanting music, mesmerizing choreography and the overall ambience of awe and wonder. They would rather show Lebanon only in times of conflict and war.
This projected image is false, but if it’s all you see, naturally it becomes the worldwide image of Lebanon, the indisputable truth.
With all due respect, Lebanon is not synonymous with Hizballah. Lebanon is not part of the Syrian-Iranian coalition. Lebanon is not a nation of terrorism and religious fanaticism.
I come from a country where the literacy rate is 90%, where people are generally fluent in three languages (Arabic, English and French), and where people are known for their hospitality and benevolent nature.
That is probably why I expected Americans to be less friendly than they have been, aware of media influence about Lebanon.
One difference between us is that in Lebanon, we actually watch CNN. We seriously consider what BBC broadcasts. We even consider ourselves part of the MTV generation! But I’m sure Americans cannot claim exposure to Lebanese broadcasts, even though satellite stations have been available for quite some time now.
That makes a huge difference: We know what’s going on in our country and we know how the world perceives it. Yet the people of America, France, England and many other nations are educated simply based on what they receive from their televisions and their occasional podcasts.
At one point, calling yourself an international expert meant you had done massive reading, foreign travel and had actual exposure to the diverse customs of a country. Now, however, that title is being conferred on people who watch excessive TV to claim deep international knowledge and worldly understanding. What they really have are biased notions of the world around them.
I wish that people would go back to the old ways of actually visiting countries, put Lebanon at the top of their list, and base their opinions on experience and interaction with the people. It pains me to see all the beauty with which God has graced my country go to waste simply because, nowadays, it boils down to bad representation and equally bad publicity.
Live in the world and truly partake in its magnificence; life is not about politics or the media. It is essentially about people.
*WASSIM BADR, 20, of Beirut, Lebanon, has spent the fall 2007 semester studying computer science and English literature as an exchange student at Madonna University in Livonia. He will return to Lebanon in February to complete his senior year at Notre Dame University. Sources: freep.com