No such luxury
Last night in a bar in Gemmayzeh I was reading John Kerry's speech as it was being live-blogged by a local news source. I'm not a political junkie by any measure, but if bombs are about to be dropped on my head I'd like to be informed. My fellow foreigners, who had earlier asked me what I thought of the situation and what is going to happen (to which my answers were 'shit' and 'we can't know, can we') pleaded with me to have an evening without politics, to 'just forget about all of it for one night'. But you can't come to Lebanon, pretend to be living here, and then not know or not want to know. If you want safety and ignorance, there are many places in the world where you can go, but the Middle East is not one of them.
Of course I am aware that I am a foreigner too. That I have a passport that allows me to leave when things get really rough and dangerous. That this is only my adopted home, the place where I spent a good part of the past 8 years and was hoping to spent many more, but not a place that I grew up in or that I am condemned be attached to by birth or nationality. But I also know that it hurts to hear my Syrian friend say "I'm dancing now, but tomorrow my country might be bombed." That I feel the direct threat behind Kerry saying "it matters here if nothing is done. It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens. America should feel confident and gratified that we are not alone in our condemnation and we are not alone in our will to do something about it and to act", because this is not about planes flying somewhere dropping something – this is about planes flying over my head and dropping bombs on people I know, people I care about, and the inevitable retaliation destroying even more of what I know and love around me.
Many people have said many things about the political decision of the US to get involved in Syria militarily. I won't add my opinion to that, because my opinion doesn't matter. Nor does the opinion of all the people around me. I learned this during the war in 2006, and today's discussion is a not so gentle reminder of that lesson: it doesn't matter what the people on the ground think, feel or want. It matters what those in power decide, which leader needs to be punished for 'misbehaving' and going against the will and orders of whoever are running the world at the time. The well-being of those directly affected is only a word used when there are no other reasons left to justify their decision.
People here are scared. Scared of what military intervention in Syria, no matter how 'limited' or 'targeted' it may be, will mean for both Syria and the rest of the region. Will Hezbollah react? If so, where? And if that happens, will Israel react? If so, how? (We don't need to ask where.) What will ll this mean internally, with all the tensions between the different sects? Even as seasoned veterans of a long-lasting civil war, Lebanese people are starting to see that what's about to happen (or is already happening) is no longer in the hands of the sectarian leaders they love to hate – and those politicians themselves are coming to the realization that this is out of their control too. That a new war will not be one neighborhood against another, one town for this sect and another town for the other. It will mean Iraq-style bombings that cause death and destruction without a clear goal.
I know what I think of it all doesn't matter. But I still hope that those who do take the decisions that may lead to all of this will at some point remember that while they are playing their geopolitical game for power, I'm driving my Syrian friend's mother across town so she can arrange her will and her daughter's access to her bank account. Not because she's terminally ill, but because 'you never know when the bomb will drop.' All of this to say: these are real people and real lives. Don't forget that.