Mar 16, 2010

Whispers of Arab Telephone

A friend interrupted me with a phone call weeks back while I sat reading the political section of my favorite newspaper peacefully in Balima café, downtown Beirut . He wanted me to suggest fun untraditional games to play during his wife's birthday. My mind raced and I suggested ‘Arab Phone’--الهاتف العربي, or ‘le téléphone cassé” in French, a hilarious game I played with my friends as kids in parties. It is originally called “Chinese whispers” and also known as “Broken Phone”, or Gossip among other names; a wicked game that leaves the players confused and laughing their heads off. Coincidentally, I had just been reading on the tragic case of the shooting that occurred weeks back in Maison Blanche, (White House, the former bling bling Crystal night club) in Beirut, Sodeco quarter, Ashrafieh. It has been reported that Antoun Sehnaoui had an altercation with a former business partner and things turned really nasty that night. I paused for a second as I explained Arab Phone to my friend where the first player whispers a sentence to the next player. Each player successively whispers what that player believes he or she heard to the next, and so on so forth; as that sentence must be revealed by the last person seated at the end of the chain. I paused again as my mind worked parallel trying to decode rumors I had just heard after the shooting in the club. Unfortunately, this was no game as I heard from one friend that Mazen el-Zein had provoked Antoun Sehnaoui upon seeing him entering the place by flickering him with the middle-finger in front of the public; add to it, Mazen also calling in a bunch of friends to confront Antoun Sehnaoui and his men; which in turn aroused a greater fury, made the latter over-protective, hence the shooting. Another person back in the sit-in, when I first heard the zealous storyteller, informed me that 100 bullets were shot and 7 partygoers were also injured, while a local paper confirmed yet another version, stating that 11 instead of 7 were injured. Amazingly, I felt, the Arab telephone is in play, and all the reported versions of the Maison Blanche shooting bear little or no resemblance to the contextual facts, because of the cumulative effect of the numerous variations and wrong versions along the line. Here is one more angle, where another friend insisted he holds the truth (the whole truth, nothing but the truth ;+] as a friend of a friend witnessed the unfolding of the scene before his eyes.
His version says, Antoun Sehnaoui, owners of the best clubs in town was refused a table at Maison Blanche, which provoked the western-like turnout of the night. Indeed, those who fed me what they believed to be the truth were actually whispering, "Antoun hopped on a flight to Dubai the same night right after the shooting then he flew to Italy with his Italian girlfriend having to bribe custom and police people so to facilitate his escape." I was not too convinced with that last piece of information because in the game i know some messages end up unrecognizable after only a few steps; but mostly because a close buddy of Antoun confirmed to me he is currently residing in France and preferred to go back till fury settles down, as things in Lebanon are known not only to fallacy echo but mostly to massively flesh out. "Allo, Allo," my friend's voice sprung through the phone. "Are you still there? I like the game, how does it end?" The last player announces the statement he thinks he heard to the entire group. Mischievous errors typically accumulate along the way the téléphone cassé game, so the statement announced by the last player usually differs significantly, and often it is really amusingly way off from the one uttered by the first. The more people playing the funnier it gets and if they are drinking alcohol it turns into chaos. Well, there was a lot of drinking going on that night and the last sentence whispered to me, weeks back by a friend of mine present at the club that night, was that Mazen asked the owner of the Maison Blanche night club to kick out Antoun and his entourage, who refused, replying, "My nightclub is like my home and I cannot expel my guests; he's an invitee, same as you." My friend liked the game and decided to use it. As for my metaphorical mind, I was also convinced that the shooting has become a public drama brewing Lebanon's political scars through the many false versions just like the Arab Phone. However, the difference between the game and the reality is that no one is whispering and the well orchestrated campaigns, on social networks such as Facebook and YouTube along with the various dynamic media and the exploitation of the incident by influential political figures, are screaming loud what they think they heard but no one has tapped the sheer truth yet. The worse of it all is that no one is laughing and the damages are far from being a joke.
Oh, yeah, one more thing; The game has no winner!! & the Chinese whispers are far more charming than the Lebanese shout outs. Peace Out for now!