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Forget Russert
Tragedy: Uzbekistan 3, Lebanon 0

Not for Lebanon

The world, and more especially journalism, will survive the death of Tim Russert, who represented more of what ailed journalism than what honored it. But can the world survive Lebanon being eliminated from the World Cup? By Uzbekistan, of all world powers? (“Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan: you wondered why the Lord ever made so much wasteland in the world, with a gold dome or blue lake now and then as a sop to the thirsty soul,” went John Updike, trying to outdo Mark Twain’s scorn for lands he wanted to know little of.) It happened Saturday—a day that will live in infamy, or at least in miffed floppies—in Tashkent, a city older than Socrates that now boasts the only subway system east of the Urals and counts Seattle among its sister cities (Karachi, Istanbul and Berlin are the others: Tashentis are choosy).


It’s understood that no one besides me, four million Lebanese and maybe, maybe, my good old principled and now too-silent friend Ohdave, give a flying katyusha about Lebanon either on the pitch or anywhere else that mosaic of tribes happens to ruffle its cedars. Nevertheless there’s more to Lebanon’s fate than indifference. It’s in Lebanon, remember, that Jesus vacationed, got his pedicures and rebuffed the occasional Adonis advance, it’s in Lebanon that most prophets shopped for whores and window treatments to veil their wives’ jealousies and harem windows back home, in Lebanon that the Prophet Muhammad himself, not unlike his more perverted Wahhabi descendants but without their smallish minds, discovered the joys of Hollywood cinema and Hermès scarves (hence our endless damn veil controversies), and in Lebanon that the Virgin Mary finally lost the virginity she’d merely put on lay-away when Uncle Joe came a-knockin’ back in the West Bank or whatever it is they called that place back then. So Lebanon is no slouch in at least one kind of world rankings—the rankings of the imagination, that other pearl of the Orient born in the shade of a cedar, bien loin de chez Swan.

It’s also understood that no one in the United States, besides a small group of insurgents more persistently persecuted than early Christians, give a frump about football (no, I refuse, once in a while anyway, to call it soccer when six billion people, including the two billion who live on less than $2 a day and therefore know what matters most more than the rest of us, call it football). But we all have our responsibilities, and some of us have been tasked with spreading the only gospel that really matters anymore, the Original Four having lost their cachet ever since the Fab Four outdid them in grace, rhythm, blues and, yes, sex.

Therefore: After defeating India 4-1 and tying it 2-2 in the return match in the first round of qualifiers— Lebanon defeating India! Just think about that for a moment! A country of four million self-centered, money-grubbing, bigoted and swindling Lebanese defeating a country of one billion reasons the United States is outsourcing its crappy economy!)— Lebanon looked poised to take on the rest of Asia the way Maxi Amberville took Manhattan by way of Judith Krantz’s prolific nethers. True, Lebanon is ranked somewhere between nether and nonexistent on the world’s meaningless football rankings, but then so is every other country in Asia, a couple of exceptions excepted (not that one of those exceptions, Israel, plays with Asia: Asians’ lethal racism being what it is, the world soccer federation had the good sense to slot Israel among European nations in all competitions. It was, as a result, thanks to Israel that England didn’t make it into Euro 2008, a feat we are jubilant about: England, which gave us words like “entitlement” and “Balfour Declaration,” needed to be knocked down a few pegs).

In Asia, of course, every group is a group of death, for obvious reasons. Lebanon ended up with Saudi Arabia, where you’re killed for laughing at the wrong cartoon, Singapore, where you’re killed for chewing gum the wrong way, and Uzbekistan, where you’re killed by the Soviet Union’s environmental legacy, whose half-life is somewhere around ten thousand years. Lebanon had no chance. It opened its campaign on February 6 th against Uzbekistan in Beirut, lost that one 0-1, lost to Singapore 2-0 in Singapore in March, lost to Saudi Arabia 4-1, in Ryadh and again in Beirut 1-2, and finally, last Saturday, lost to Uzbekistan in Tashkent 3-0 even though Lebanon’s brilliant goalkeeper, the much-imitated Hassan Moghnieh, faced down a penalty kick: the Uzbek player sent it slamming against the goal post (OK, so Hassan had nothing to do with it, but maybe it was just his intimidating name: isn’t Hassan Moghnieh somehow related to Imad Moghnieh, the Hezbollah terrorist leader recently assassinated either by Israel or by his Syrian friends?)

So here we are, Lebanon eliminated and Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia battling for one of those precious four and a half spots in the World Cup in South Africa two years from now. The football federation being the post-colonial-minded institution that it is, it reserves some 13 or 14 spots for European teams but just half a spot for Oceania, four and a half spots for Asia’s 43 countries and five spots for Africa’s 53 countries. Excuse my Swahili, but what the bloody fuck? It’s not as if the Europeans play a more interesting sort of football. They don’t. They’re absolute bores (ask the Italians, ask the Irish), especially when not every European country can be the Netherlands (European football’s saving grace, but that’s only because half the Nether’s squad is African).

Anyway, for Lebanon, it’s the end of the world, as it is almost every other day. So it goes. Tim Russert never understood all this. Which is one of the many reasons why he was not the journalist his tributaries make him out to be, and why the biggest story on the planet last weekend was the elimination of the cradle of civilization's suburb from civilization's last-remaining gasp of civilizational exuberance.

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