"Not a Good Day to be Blonde in Beirut"

The New Republic today offers a fascinating dispatch (subs. required) from Andrew Lee Butters, a reporter who may inadvertently have provoked a mob at the Danish Embassy in Beirut. Butters heard there was a riot going on near his apartment and went to check it out, along with another reporter:
Neither of us knows where the Danish Embassy is actually located. But the rioters are just as clueless. Several thousands of them are moving up a tree-lined avenue into the heart of Achrafiyeh, a ritzy Christian neighborhood in East Beirut that is home to the offices of a few European countries too small to merit their own embassy compounds. The mob attacks anything that is vaguely Danish, which, since no one really knows much about Denmark, amounts to open season on luxury consumer-goods shops and the occasional church.
Soon, he and the other reporter, who he identifies only as Katherine, start reporting from the outskirts of the crowd:
I'm nervous enough that I don't even bother taking out my notebook. Katherine does the interviewing, and I keep watch. Suddenly, the crowd panics and there's a stampede. We climb the stairs of the nearest building, a brown stone office tower, but, in the process of getting out of the way, we've exposed ourselves--two blue-eyed Westerners of visibly northern European descent (I'm even a goddamn summer blond)--to full view of the mob, which begins pelting us with stones from across the traffic divider. A group of good Samaritans hustles us inside the building and out of harm's way. We take cover behind a bank of elevators in the empty, mildly ransacked lobby. Katherine points to the battered signs that list the building's tenants, and one is clearly visible: Royal Danish Embassy Office. "Butters, we're in the Danish Embassy," she says. I reply, in effect, "Dude, we need to get out of here."
I'm guessing "dude" may not have been the four letter word he actually uttered, but you get the idea. The pair eventually got free and retreated to a friend's home, only to discover that the building where they briefly took refuge is "getting the full fatwa treatment." Butters then starts to wonder if he was perhaps part of the reason. "The mob is throwing files out of broken windows, prying stones from the façade with crowbars, and setting the offices on fire. I can't help but think: Whoops! Did we tip off the mob? Is that our fault? Would they have ignored the building but for us?"

The piece is both humorous and revealing, and offers a sense of the disorder and randomness that can evolve into a national news story. I strongly urge you to check it out.

Comments