Stories from Afar & Up Close

And so it’s over, but it isn’t

Imagine you are colleagues. You see each other almost every day, you spend more hours together than you do with you family. You have different political opinions, but it doesn’t matter – as long as you don’t talk about it, except for a small joke every now and then – you get along very well. You even become friends, in the way that colleagues do, because over time you learn so much about each other’s lives. Then, one day, you can’t go to work. The roads are blocked, gunmen are outside your house, cars are set on fire. You hide inside with your family – your mother, your father, your brother and your son – while rockets are being fired from your building into the one across the street. Everybody is scared, trying to hide in ‘safe places’ (the rooms with no windows), angrily watching the news as the events unfold. It’s one political side against the other.

Your colleague is in another neighborhood, also forced to stay inside. You send each other an sms each day, for the basic information: Are you still alive?

The day arrives that everything calms down enough to return to work. But what are you going to say? The bullets that landed on your balcony were fired by gunmen of the party your colleague supports, the rocket that burned out your neighbor’s apartment came out of their RPGs. You know your colleague survived, but you heard her uncle died. His car was riddled with bullets by fighters from your side of politics. How can you talk about all this? You know that any mention of the events will be met with a staunch defense of their party’s role and reasons, and you know you will feel compelled to do the same if they tell their stories.

So you both remain silent. You give each other a smile and carry on where the work had been left off. The anger, the hurt, the fear that you experienced – you can’t find a way to share all of it with these people so close to you. Similarly, you do not hear about their anger, their hurt, their fear of the past few days. But what is left without these emotions? How can you sympathize when you don’t know the other person’s pain and worries? Will it still be possible to see them as friends, or even humans, if what remains for you to see and know is merely the physical expression of a political party you despise?

Or will you turn to ‘co-existence’, an innocent-sounding phrase that another blogger describes as “a Trojan horse filled with many bloodlusting soldiers ready to come out and murder the Lebanese people in their sleep”? And this is why it’s over, but it isn’t. Because as that same blogger says: “This phrase is saying: ‘We acknowledge that we have sectarian and religious differences, but we must ignore them and live together in peace.’ [But] a country is not built on mutual ignoring of differences. A country cannot be built on the fact that its denizens look at each other with scrutiny and hate. A country cannot be built until its citizens accept each other for who they are.”

[more than 200 000 martyrs / more than 3700 bombed cars / more than 1 000 000 emigrants / and still we haven’t learned / it’s enough] [clip "from all Lebanese for all Lebanese"]