Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Oh Boy

Once again things are happening in Lebanon that vaguely interest the outside world. I got no less than 6 calls from the BBC wanting the inside scoop on how everyman is coping with the latest assassination. Here's what I had to say:

People are scared. Really scared this time. Evidence?
  • I was teaching a class when the news came in and people wanted to go home. I took about half an hour from the time half a dozen students started getting phone calls and text messages in class that made them leave the room, and the time that the library clerk confirmed that the administration had OK'd closing the library and sending all the employees home. I of course dismissed the class too.
  • The streets were deserted. I have more than once driven home after 3 am. This time it was closer to 8 pm and the number of cars was lower. Especially cars parked on the sides of the street.
  • The army was out in force. We see army checkpoints a lot in Lebanon, and when know to turn on the inside light if its dark and lower the window. On this trip, I was checked by no less than three control points, and at each one a flashlight was used to make sure no suspicious cargo was in my minivan.
  • Many politicians felt the need to tell their followers to exercise control and avoid any violent actions. The need to make the statements as forcefully and as repeatedly and by as many people was more telling than the messages themselves.
Why are we scared? I thought about it on the drive home, and I broke it down to three reasons: When, whom and how.
  1. When: at a time when the country is polarized to an unprecedented extent. People follow political movements, and political movements make alliances with other political movements, and there is always a lot of room for change, for diversity, and for basic human decency to trump the factions' rhetoric. Not so much on the eve of November 21st 2006. The level of name calling across the divide, the level of solidarity within each camp, and the raw emotions felt by individuals in each camp, are just high.
  2. Whom: the victim this time belongs to a faction that was an active participant in the civil war. he has followers, mourners, supporters, family and organizational connections to people who have in the past killed innocent Lebanese en masse for political or monetary gain. Not so for the oligarchs like Hariri, Murr or Hamadeh, nor for those poor journalists, sad to say. They may have belonged to political movements, but none of the active civil war factions could be said to belong to them.
  3. How: with machine guns in broad daylight. This is how it was done in the civil war, so the killers may be construed to be also advertizing their confidence that their crime will be forgotten in the ensuing bloodbath.
What exactly are we afraid of? I remember telling one of the BBC newsmen that the last war in July had one silver lining in the solidarity we all felt against a foreign aggressor. We may have agreed or disagreed within Lebanon, but charity was offered and gratitude expressed all over the country. Those who left left until things blew over. In my case I did not want to consume precious fuel while the hospital generators were running low on stocks. By contrast, the civil war when it last happened lasted 20 years. All it took was extreme polarization and a strong enough trigger. Once it got going, the factional alliances continued to shift and the individuals continued to get disgusted by one faction and inspired by another, but the killing never stopped.

I'm sorry, I do not have time to grieve for the dead man, or to curse his killers or to defend this and that against accusations that may or may not be hasty. I want this coming war not to happen, and that is all I care about right now.


  • At 22/11/06 8:45 PM, Blogger Nobody said…

    interesting ...

    i remember you once taking part in a conversation i had on the blissstreetjournal blog with the caveman and you said this:

    Oh well, I guess I'm a bit more optimisitc than you are. Just not enough to actually go back to Lebanon myself.

    and the caveman said:

    No, just more Lebanese than I am

    And yet you came back. I think you are the first Lebanese I know that actually immigrated in the opposite direction..


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