This is based on emails as I’ve been sending them out to friends and family. As much as I complain about this place, there are times when I am grateful to be on the periphery and not in the Belly of the Beast. Of course, I greatly appreciate all the messages of concern. Here I’m just trying to put a little perspective on things.
First of all, I guess it is all about context, because as I said to [my siblings] the other day, would they be more or less worried about me if I were in, say, Newark? Or Paterson? [I’m listing them because I’d consider living there were I to return to the States, not as derogatory statements against them.] And Paris! Honestly, I felt much less safe in Paris, because I was stopped all the time by the police there for my gueule arabe, and I dealt with their racism endlessly, up-front and personally.
Second of all, what is weird is that Paris was like this when I lived there. At the time it was the height of the Lebanese Civil War (I was oblivious to this) and so there were bombings taking place, and the blame was focused on then bugaboo Hezbollah. Or Libya. Or whomever was in the crosshairs at a given instant. What I remember most, though, is that it quickly became apparent that the fascist National Front was in fact behind a lot of what was happening, such as tear gas bombs in the metro. I was always confused by this at the time, but now looking back, and comparing it to what happened the other day, all I can think is false flag.
It’s horrifying to think that a country would do this against its own people (working with a so-called ‘enemy’ of their own creation) but fascisms seem to work together before they start fighting each other (see: World Wars I and II), and so-called democracies absolutely need to have that “reason” to go officially to war, especially when it’s one they’ve been waging covertly diplomatically, economically, and politically for decades if not centuries (see: the USS Maine, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin, the USS Liberty, and everything on this page which still seems to come up short list-wise).
More upsetting now is the news which keeps stressing on the fact that the southern suburbs are a “Hezbollah stronghold”, as if to say then that it’s okay that so many people died there. It is a despairingly poor civilian neighborhood. You can see the electricity wires and cables dangling in the pictures. This isn’t from the bombing, this is their infrastructure. Me, I have to walk bent over in the camps they hang so low. And as if they might call the neighborhood where the American University is “an American bastion” or the Maronite Catholic neighborhood next to me “A French fiefdom”….such hypocrisy.
Ironically to most foreigners, the places I feel least safe are not the ones they would expect. I often joke that my views here reflect a personal ranking of whose checkpoints I’d least like to have to go through. At the top of the list are groups directly supported by the U.S., France, and Great Britain, and who control the government. The same government, let’s not forget—with tear gas supplied by France, petro-dollars from the Gulf, and riot gear donated by the U.S.— that is actively oppressing and murdering Lebanese citizens when they demand actual change in the political system.
We all remember what it was like during the 33 days of the Israeli war on Lebanon in July 2006 [link to war diary]. I’ve stopped pretending that yelling loudly enough is going to change the minds of those who’ve decided for racist, class-based, sectarian, nationalist, or xenophobic reasons that much of the planet is sub-human, and thus does not deserve to live. This is the Great Divide now, and I guarantee that the laying to waste of these populations has long been in the cards. As witnessed then by the bombing of hospitals, and of ambulances, and of the funerals burying the dead from the bombings of the day previous.
All the same, I’m concerned because our collective has worked with the Bourj Al-Barajneh refugee camp youth from time to time; 5 years ago I was going up every Tuesday to teach web design in the southern suburbs….I’ve lost touch with all of them and hope they are okay. I do know an adoptee who found his family in that camp. His mother was brought to an emergency room because of complications. Because they were Palestinian and unable to pay the bills, the family was told that he died; he was adopted in order to recoup the cost of his birth. That was just a formalized version of the bombing, if you ask me—the goal is the same. In any case, he’s in Europe now, and he said his family is all safe and sound, thank God.
On a lighter note, if there is such a thing, when my sister couldn’t get a hold of me because every single diaspora Lebanese on the planet needed to call 50 times to everyone they know in the country and the phone network choked, she started pricing flights to Beirut. When she told me this, I was like, “What are you, Sally Field in that kidnapped-to-Iran movie? What’ll we call it, Not Without My Brother???” She said, and I quote: “I was going to come get you. Or avenge you.” Then she said, “Don’t mess with Jersey!” God bless my ninja sister. I’ve always said that New Jersey and Lebanon are basically the exact same place with the same mentality, the water is just on a different side….
Seriously though, and I hate to say it, but….the number count from both these bombings is the number count my friends from Syria hear every day from their villages being destroyed from all sides. Iraq, even beyond that. Lebanon in 2006. Gaza, endlessly. And no one gives a rat’s ass. The spectacle of Westerners draping themselves in bleu, blanc, rouge bunting now is frankly obscene; the polis banding together as an economic class to defend its “interests” at the expense of those they’ve been exploiting politically and economically speaking since forever. And I find it sickening to see people choose that side.
Because to a majority of the planet—the forgotten, the dispossessed, the displaced, the zoë—especially those who have lived and continue to live under French or any other (neo-)colonial rule, nothing is more viscerally upsetting than the sight of that flag, or the hypocrisy of its “revolution”, or the mockery of its motto, or the lyrics to that national anthem, speaking as it does about filling up the furrows with the “impure” blood of foreigners. Who are the racists and xenophobes? Who are the fundamentalists? And when they complain about what is blowing back in their faces now, all I can say is they probably shouldn’t have spent so much energy destroying those actively proposing alternatives (see: the coup in Iran, the Lebanese Civil War, the counter-revolutions of the “Arab Spring”, etc.)
Finally, I take my cues from those I know in the southern suburbs and the camps, and my friends from Syria. They don’t have the luxury or privilege to be all long-faced and “Je Suis Charlie” and “va-t-en guerre” as we see coming from impotent armchair warmongers. As much as Beirut doesn’t weigh on their minds, Paris isn’t even a blip in ours. If someone takes offense at that statement, then they need question their own worldview. I refuse to apologize, or go on the defensive, or bow my head in fear. They are welcome to the world they’ve created.
For us, our day-to-day continues. I can hear the hajjeh pounding garlic in her kitchen upstairs, outside the noise of the construction destroying my neighborhood continues, the winter rains have finally come. Later I will go to the corner like I do every day, I will drink tea with the chabaab, we’ll discuss football and the weather and the quotidian of the neighborhood. The strange spectacle of the so-called civilized “West” prepping its blood-lusting cheerleaders for more war beams out over the muted television, ignored. And we wait, resigned, for their World War III to officially start.