On Stitching Beirut Back Together or Another 13th of April Story
This week end was the commemoration of the start of the Lebanese civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. I’d refer you to a history book to get all the details of how it started, what happened, how alliances were made and broken, except that us Lebanese may have cooked the biggest Hummus ever, we’re still not able to agree on the same version as to why and how the war happened. So officially, there is no lebanese history taught in schools from 1975 on.
I could go on and on about the massacres that were perpetrated, about the history of blood, and loss, and hate and pain that characterized that era, for there were quite an impressive amount of them, all more horrifying than the other, except that I wouldn’t quite know where to begin.
One of my first memory of Lebanon is how the city center was utterly, completely and irremediably destroyed. I remember the first time I saw it, as well as the first time I passed by Galerie Semaan, I remember thinking: what utter horror. I was six, I think it must have scared me like a horror house or something. I couldn’t quite fathom it.
Have you been to the city center lately? Could you ever tell that shiny, happy, Khaleeji-friendly place was, not so long ago, the horror of its inhabitants own making? No one could ever guess it by looking at this Potemkin village. Some call it resilience, I call it amnesia. Capitalist Beirut did not try to give its city center back to its inhabitant, a place they could reoccupy and reinvent, with new activity and new contacts with one another, it tried to gloss over the horror with mock pre-war architecture, pretending it was the new and improved Beirut when in fact it is nothing more than a place for others, a place for tourists where Lebanese do not communicate or build ties. Post war, it was a no man’s land, post post war, it’s still a no man’s land, and no amount of sparkly shops can ever change that. My friend and writer Sara Abu Ghazal says it really well in her last article “Politics of Closeness and Alienation” ,
Beirut is a city that represents short memory, with an outstanding privatized downtown that screams in your face: nothing happened here.
Except that things, terrible things, did happen here, and that we’re still stuck with the system that allowed them to happen. We’re still stuck in a sectarian paradigm that has brought us nothing but chaos: yet we’re still quite happily carrying on with it.
Among the many things that shock me when talking about the civil war is how all those warlords, all those corrupt, disgusting murderers got together in Saudi Arabia, gave each other a pat on the back, declared amnesty to one another, then came back, told the people, yalla, 3a byoutkon, go home, the war is over, leaving only a skeleton of a country licking its wounds, a devastated population while they had made more money out of death and destruction than decency would allow me to mention.
150 000 people dead. 17 000 disappeared. A handful of power hungry corrupt warlords still ruling the country, not really giving a shit about the people that actually paid the high price for their lies.
This is what we have to show for the war.
So today, the coalition for Social Justice, Equality and Secularism had invited different groups to march throughout symbolic parts of Beirut, where the infamous demarcation line used to be drawn during the war, a line that is still very much drawn in the Lebanese’ collective subconscient.
And on we marched, from Chiah, through Ain el Remmaneh, to Adlieh screaming that we should never forget what happened in our country, chanting that those people, the 150 000 people who died, were not rocks or pebbles on the streets, they were people, human beings, that deserve to be remembered, and respected, that the 17 000 disappeared were not insignificant, that we could allow ourselves to forget them and move on, that they too, need to be remembered, their fate, elucidated.
And on we marched, singing that we will never, ever let a civil war happen again. People’s faces were grave, they were watching us as we blamed the parliament and the current ruling political elite, some, mostly older women, threw rice on us, as a blessing, as a way of wishing us well, others openly told us, bravo, bravo, some looked at us with weariness, some kept silent, others said Allay y2awwikon. They looked at us, as we were forcing them, by our presence, to reflect on our shared history.
We were not many, in fact we were disappointed we were not more, but as I was marching, I was deeply listening to the chants around me, especially one: They created the demarcation line, us the people, we are erasing it.
And as I was marching, I had the image of the line as an open wound, and that each of our step were the stitches that were going to close the wound together.
Yes, we were not many, but if several of us carry on the stitching, then maybe one day the wound will only become a scar, something we would look at and say about: see that scar? I got it doing something really stupid.
I’ll never do it again.