I initially wrote part of this post for an ex-employer who dismissed it altogether as ‘sounding like someone that experienced a tragic event.’ That was me, the someone who experienced a tragic event and was tasked to write about it that same month. I post it here, slightly edited, because I believe the content remains relevant 9 months later. Even though the glass has been cleaned and buildings repaired, myself, and so many around me in the city, still freeze with each loud sound.
[written on 21 August 2020] An average 22 year-old Lebanese today has family members able to recollect memories ranging from a long lasting civil war (1975–1990) that tore the country apart, the Israeli occupation (1982), the invasion by Syria (1989), the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in a suicide bomb blast in Beirut (2005), the infamous July War with Israel (2006), the bloody spillovers of unrest and militant groups from the Syrian civil war to Lebanon (between 2011 and 2017), to this summers’ 2,750 ton liquid nitrate explosion in the Port of Beirut (2020).
The latest disaster took place in the midst of a severe economic crisis, electricity shortages, food insecurity, spiking COVID-19 cases, and overall growing public anger towards the corrupt Lebanese politicians and the sectarian system; a system that allowed three decades of numerous crises to unfold in the total absence of accountability from the government towards its citizens.
The blast shook the entire city, but hit the areas closest to the port were hit the hardest. For many young people in Beirut, some of the severely damaged areas were considered as the creative and cultural places to be, with many art studios, local shops and cafes, communal spaces and restored historic buildings. They were areas with small businesses, sustainable initiatives and a gathering place for young people to enjoy the city. The destruction of these gathering and creative spaces — several of them already closed due to the economic crisis and COVID-19 measures — takes away what many referred to as “the last joy we had in this city.”
Essentially, the source of frustration is the continuous proof of inaction of the government in startling circumstances resulting in the loss of lives, properties and hope for a better Lebanon. The latest tragedy reaffirms that, as a Lebanese citizen, one cannot rely on the government that is supposed to protect its people and instead refuses to take any responsibility for its failures. This means that, for the young Lebanese generation, a perpetuated dilemma between staying and investing in their country or migration in the pursuit of living a ‘normal’ life away from trauma and chaos is increasingly shifting to the latter of the two aspirations.