Television has not been kind to Lebanon. Just like the rest of the Arab world, you may only see it as a war zone fit only for the worst of militants and snipers that seem to do the job for fun. Just years back there was a controversy surrounding the show Homeland. The people on the show thought it would be a good idea to show Hamra, a lively and arguably the most progressive street in Beirut, as the hub of violence. In reality, while Beirut may still have some buildings that exhibit signs of a gone war, the city is as lively as ever!
Another industry unkind to the Lebanese. Trusting news outlets about the Middle East in general is a recipe for miscommunication. Even during war, Lebanon did not look as rough as news outlets, local or international, chose to show. As per usual, the worst possible interviewee is chosen in the worst possible location. The cameraman is one hand twitch away from showing an entirely different scene just a bit to the right or left of the scene. People only see what they are given and that’s not a rounded view of the country. Looking at the state of media today one cannot blame you for thinking Lebanon is dangerous. However, the reality is extremely different.
There are endless documentaries about war and strife in Lebanon on Youtube and let’s face it we all click on the ones with the most views. These documentaries, while depicting some angle of the truth, still rely just on that: an angle. In documentaries about Tripoli for example, the directors choose to conveniently ignore a whole chunk of the city. They focus on the more challenged areas forgetting that there is life just a four minute car ride from their location. Never is anyone from other places interviewed and never do you see what Tripoli is really like for a lot of people. We understand, there’s a story to be told but a minute montage stating that there is a whole other lifestyle in the city doesn’t seem too much to ask.
There are two types of Lebanese abroad. Those who seem to miss the country, but only when they’re outside it, and those who have made it their life’s mission to criticize their homeland. They’ll talk about lack of rights, lack of progression, lack of anything really but forget to tell you that these factors won’t affect you as a tourist. Like many other countries Lebanon has its issues and realistically it’s still far from solving them. However, these problems will not be an integral part of a tourist or expatriate’s life. Some locals abroad may have been gone for a while and still live in the country’s past…
Which brings us to the country’s rocky history. We are not denying a history of war, corruption and strife: Lebanon is far from perfect and is a long way from becoming so. However, the locals today have chosen not be defined by their past. From a person that has been gone for long, you may hear about issues and problems that really no longer apply. Again, we don’t blame you, the history of sectarian violence is daunting but the country today is not an exact reflection of the war.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood areas in the Lebanon. Even other locals, who have never been, fear Tripoli and have an incomplete image of what it might be. Even local news has been unfair to this city and it is often portrayed as the home of Islamic extremists, slums and poverty. Not to say Tripoli doesn’t have its issues but the area certainly has another side. Just years ago the city was “wracked by war and violence”, in reality it was two streets fighting with each other. Only a portion of the city was affected by the dispute and for others life went on pretty much as normal. Of course the atmosphere of the city was tense but, at some points, even schools not close to the zones carried on unaffected. As Lebanon’s second largest city, it should logically be hard to believe that only two districts make up a whole city. Even today, Tripoli is experiencing a relative boom in culture and tourism, it’s really turning the past around but it seems many view it as an extremist city.
Many governments have either warned or banned citizens from coming to Lebanon citing danger and instability. They are not completely unjustified but these reports usually reflect a political stance more than they do reality. Many tourists are discouraged from coming to Lebanon because of that but the reality is Lebanon is a beautiful country and should be on your must-see list.
With the rise of the refugee population came a lot of issues for the Lebanese and refugees alike. However, the severity of the situation is not what it seems. The people co-exist together relatively smoothly and Lebanon has actually put a lot of effort into helping refugees. Of course tension may arise sometimes especially on the part of the more intolerant locals and refugees alike but in reality the situation is not one that would affect a tourist in any way.
Many locals in Lebanon are still stuck in an older often victimized mindset. You have not grown up in a Lebanese home if you haven’t heard about a world plot against you. That is in addition to traditional ideas about relationships, women and life in general. Society in Lebanon can feel a bit dated. However, this mindset is misunderstood as dangerous. Like any society Lebanon has a portion of the population who may fight for their traditional mindset but many accept change. It is rarely violent, most times it’s an annoying remark about ripped jeans from a grandfather, that you ignore. Change is coming but it’s slow; don’t confuse a certain mindset with constant instability.
With a government that doesn’t always support even its locals, it’s hard to imagine you as a tourist will be safe. On the other hand, the Lebanese have gotten over this and developed mechanisms like family support and peer help. You are unlikely to get lost somewhere and not find anyone to help you. Similarly, you are unlikely to make a Lebanese friend and find they’re not around when you need them. It’s in the mindset, the Lebanese are helpful and gracious often to the point of inconveniencing themselves to help. If that doesn’t encourage you to visit, then what will?
As a tourist coming to Lebanon, you generally only see the mainstream places like Beirut, Baalbek, Byblos and maybe Tripoli. However, there are expanses of unexplored beauty in the north and south that are stuck in a Catch-22 situation: There is not a great deal of accommodation available for tourists but without tourists the accommodation will not appear. Rent a car and see a whole other side of Lebanon you might have never thought to visit!
It is always better to be safe than sorry. All of this is not to say that the country is perfect, like any, Lebanon has its faults. You should never throw caution to the wind and a few safety measures can get you a long way. Opting for a car service at night instead of a taxi and having a Lebanese number are a couple of small things that are recommended to ensure your trip goes smoothly.