Stories from Afar & Up Close

Filtering by Category: Middle East

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.

I wonder if the store management is aware of the political implications of the combination of this color and slogan... 

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.

naharnet.com clearly has trouble taking the UN seriously... 

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.

Wise Words of an Old Man

The late ayatollah Fadlallah was not only a feminist, he was a revolutionary as well:

What makes it especially interesting to me is that he links adult behavior (submitting to the strong) to the way people are raised - father is right and the rest has to shut up. As a teacher that's my perpetual conundrum: how to educate students to be critical without my classroom turning into a perpetual revolution...

It's not over (yet)

The past few days have had me watch with awe, horror and hope the revolution in Egypt. A country I have never visited, and of whom I only know very few citizens personally, yet what's happening now evokes stronger feelings than whatever else is going on at the moment. I've been in awe at the strength of the demonstrators gathered in Tahrir square. I have been horrified by the international (political) reactions, which seem as ready as always to sacrifice the Egyptian people in the name of 'stability'. And time and again, watching the people come back to that square, giving me hope that something else is possible.

It's not time to look back yet, because it's not over. May the Egyptian people be strong enough to get their country back. TaHya Masr [long live Egypt]!

For a closer look, I recommend visiting Sarah Carr's blog Inanities.

What a honeymoon!

We’re back from Iran, and the question ‘how was it?’ is very hard to answer. It was big. It was beautiful. It was historical and ornamented and elegantly decorated. It was sandy, and rocky. It was crowded and polluted. It was tacky and vegetarian-unfriendly and sweet. Hospitable. Hot. Organized. Amazingly friendly.

It was everything I expected it to be. And also oddly familiar.

Pictures will be at qussa.wordpress.com, stories will follow in the days to come…

For now: 39 Seconds of Tehran (taken from our hotelroom):