George Clooney’s reps have yet to make the official announcement, but all the tabloids and gossip sheets are reporting that the Hollywood heartthrob recently popped the question to his girlfriend of less than a year, Amal Alamuddin. The 36-year-old Beirut-born and London-based human rights lawyer (who speaks French, English, and Arabic) is said to be a good match for the screen star who celebrated his 53rd birthday last week, but that’s a given—Clooney’s past paramours have included cocktail waitresses, models, and a professional wrestler. The more interesting question is whether Clooney is good for the Druze, the small confessional sect of which his fiancée is a member.
The Druze are a heterodox offshoot of Shia Islam that dates back to the 11th century. Most of the world’s less than a million-and-a-half Druze live in the Levant. There are roughly 20,000 Druze in Jordan, 125,000 in Israel, 700,000 in Syria, and a quarter of a million in Lebanon, home to what is perhaps the most influential Druze community, led by Walid Jumblatt. An opponent of the Syrian regime and onetime pillar of Lebanon’s pro-democracy movement who now sees his sect caught in the middle of a Shiite-Sunni regional war, Jumblatt welcomes the Clooney-Alamuddin announcement as rare good news. He is eager, he wrote me in an email, to throw a party for the actor at his ancestral home in the Chouf Mountains. “Tell me when George Clooney will be coming to Lebanon so I can greet him in Moukhtara. I will bring a delegation of Druze sheikhs,” Jumblatt gushed. “As for Amal Alamuddin, well, she is lucky.”
“Sure it’s good for us,” says Makram Rabah, a doctoral candidate in history at Georgetown whose research is on the role of his own Druze community in the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990). “Any media support on his end making Druze look good is welcome,” says Rabah. “Instead of being on the front page of the news section when we’re killing and dying, we’re now featured in entertainment magazines.”
And it’s good for the future groom, too, says Rabah. “My advice to Clooney is to take advantage of his association with the Druze. Her village, Baakline, is a nice place to spend a vacation. And since he’s done advocacy on Sudan issues, he should know he is much safer going to Lebanon than Darfur.” Also, says Rabah, he should embrace the sect’s customs. “The essence of Druze tradition is tribal,” he explains. “So visiting with the Druze at weddings and funerals are duties. And then he should also drink arak,” the anise-flavored liqueur that is Lebanon’s national drink, and which the Druze, in spite of their Muslim identity, drink in abundance. “It would be good,” adds Rabah, “if Clooney learned how to dance the dabke.”
“Clooney better acquire a taste for yerba maté,” says Rola Abdul-Latif, a Lebanese-born Druze who lives in Washington, D.C. Maté is the tea-like beverage that Druze immigrants to Latin America brought back home with them. “But the really big thing is food,” says Abdul-Latif. “Being passionate about food is a way to get close to the hearts of the Druze.”
Abdul-Latif’s husband, the non-Druze journalist Hussain Abdul-Hussain, also has some advice for Clooney. “The upside” of marrying a Druze, jokes Abdul-Hussain, “is that if he is worried about having to learn a new religion, he won’t. Most of the Druze themselves know nothing about their faith, so he doesn’t have to fear awkward moments at holiday celebrations like Passover or Christmas, because there aren’t any holidays.”
The downside, says Abdul-Hussain, is that some Druze don’t like non-Druze men marrying Druze women. “He has to be careful which Druze he tells that he’s married to a Druze. He might run into people who won’t like it, even though he’s George Clooney.” That would seem to include members of the bride-to-be’s family. Interviewed by the local Lebanese press, Alamuddin’s grandmother Safa asked if Clooney was Druze. Told he wasn’t, she replied, “So what happened? There are no more young Druze men left?”
The Druze have been known to take their tribal solidarity to violent extremes. In an incident widely reported in the Lebanese press last July, a gang of Druze men beat and mutilated a Sunni man who’d eloped with a family member. Afterwards, Jumblatt excoriated his people. “It would be useful after the occurrence of the barbaric act,” he wrote, “for the Druze community to hold an internal dialogue over the future of the sect. . . . Where will the culture of rejecting the other that breeds intolerance and hate lead? Does that not create a threat to the future?”