It happened that I looked into my journal, a place I visit randomly, (just like this blog, eh?), and I found this entry from October 19, 2012, the day that Wisam el-Hassan, a top security officer in Lebanon, was targeted in a massive bomb in Achrafieh, in Beirut, a place that is anywhere. He was killed with several other innocent passersby and residents; many others were maimed or displaced:
I think of the sleepless, who held a broken, limp body today. Their bloodied clothes, the burnt cars come skeletal. I just had become happy and content. Finally another car blew up – I had been awaiting it, to shoot me across. Today I understood how some people are injured from car bombs – besides losing limbs – glass flies into your skin, your eyelids; ceilings fall on your head; balconies slip from their place and crash to the pavement. People, in other neighborhoods feel lucky, and far, but charged, with anger, hate, sensation.
This car bomb hit people hard. Every car bomb does. But this one targeted and killed a guy who was incognito each time he entered Rafik Hariri airport. He slept in his office, which was located not far from where he was killed, so as to minimize the risk of being assassinated. He uncovered plots that could have taken the lives of hundreds of people. He was one of the few good guys. His assassination, and the enormous “collateral damage” – a whole other discussion – came after a period of “peace.” Peace meaning that no one south of Lebanon has come and bombed it inside-out; no entities inside of Lebanon have raised arms against each other in the name of this religion or that new policy (well, kind of); or no one has decided to invade and occupy (yet; for now). Peace looks like beaches and Hamra and mountain air. It means that people can get on with their dreams, their jobs, their progress. It’s not taken for granted. But this guy, he was protecting us, and he knew better than anyone how to stay safe — and then he was killed. And so were so many others. My friends all texted or e-mailed. It made world news. It was forgotten less than a week later, here and there.
I don’t want to dwell on drawing analogies that have already been drawn like here; or dwell on obvious stereotyping and racism like here; or go on too much about the endless violence that is taking over our world (read any newspaper, not difficult). But I do want to talk about what happened in Boston and how Boston matters to all of us.
I will be straight: There wasn’t the sympathy around here that you would expect from a place that understands what flying limbs are and bloodied streets and… In fact, in Beirut, it was almost shameful to dwell too much on the Boston marathon explosions. Because Lebanon currently hosts almost one million refugees from our neighbor Syria, a place where flying limbs and death has become everyday reality, where 70,000 (consider the number higher), 70,000, people have died since the war began 2 years and 4 months ago, leaving orphans, who walk our streets at just 3 feet tall, with muddied shirts and stained faces, selling flowers, polishing shoes, begging, begging, begging. How many kilometers have they walked? We are also not far from Iraq’s demolished streets, another few hundred dead. The everyday death in the Middle East has become the norm. The day that there is no death by bomb in the Middle East will be the day that marks a new future. I’m no historian, but I’m sure some people out there could put the history of bombs in the Middle East into a perspective that highlights how today’s living generations of Arabs have no memory of life without them – or, at the very least, fear of them.
People in the hallways of AUB and the streets of Beirut feel for the 8-year-old boy who lost his life and the mother who was critically injured. The empathy is there. But the sympathy for America, the lack of sympathy comes out in words like “But look how many die here every day!”
What has got people upset is the realization that some lives are more valuable than others. My students, at 18 and 19 years old, realize this. This semester, my class at AUB is corresponding with an American classroom. They have discussed matters of the environment, terrorism, and reflected on culture and the Other. They have found that their American counterparts are very similar to them in ethics and values, and even thought. They were tuned into the Boston Marathon bombings, they knew details, they watched much of the coverage. But they were conflicted – should they feel sympathy? But look how many die here every day…
I imagine running a marathon where at the finish line my legs blow off. It is the last thing that would come to a runner’s mind. When you run a marathon, you can’t help but be thankful for your health, your legs, your strength. It was one of the most satisfying and rewarding feats I’ve ever accomplished. You feel your power. You find potential. You are pushing, pushing yourself because you are a believer in something. You become emotional over the fact that you could do this, because it’s hard work. And I, like others here, feel appropriate sympathy for the people of Boston who suffered such a horrific act of the same cowardice that rules our contemporary politics. But, I am reminded of the human strain that is growing in the world – as war and trendy terrorism and an imbalance of human value from continent to continent uproot our most basic humanness. This feels like resistance.
When someone says around here, “Did you see what happened in Boston?” and the other just raises her eyebrows and has an uncomfortable smile on her face, you realize that the violence on one’s land has cut too deep, past flesh, muscle, guts. There’s an uncomfortable truth, one that has been cultivated by the desensitization of human life lost in war: that if she weren’t exposed to so much inhumanity herself, she may have felt a little more sympathy.
It’s been a while since I started this blog post. And since then, more sick pranks on humanity have taken place. More drone attacks, more cities in Syria plummaged, a factory in Bangladesh crumbled on its poor workers, more people dead; and more fear of dying in flames. Recently, the beheading of a British soldier in the middle of the street by someone who spoke in the name of Islam was all the talk in England and Wales, a place where 551 homicides occurred in 2012 alone. Though now the follow-up of that story has been pushed to the middle of The Guardian’s front page, with Chinese hackers, NHS surgery risks “high on the weekend,” and Israeli threats to Russia: “Don’t Arm Syria” pushed to the top, that story is far from being over. When do we call it “terrorism”? When do we feel sympathy? When do we believe in humanity first?