Boredom in Sectariandom

Suddenly the traffic slowed down. From the adjacent car, a woman asked me if the highway is blocked, if I can see a fire. Her husband, the driver, looked a bit nervous. In the back of the car, two kids are playing catch-the-invisible-thing-in-the-roof-of-the-car-while-extending-your-tongue. I could not see anything, except of couple tree branches falling from the Naameh over-bridge to the highway below. It did not took long, before I was facing twenty or so angry teenagers lining tires on the highway and struggling to set them on fire. I turned off the engine, lit a cigarette and relaxed in my seat. Some drivers tried to force their way through the barrage. The teen-thugs replied by throwing rocks and clubbing the disobedient vehicles with wooden sticks. On the left side, a 4×4 managed to pass; in the middle a red Korean car had its windshield destroyed, and on the right, a woman get out of her car and started shouting at the kids-with-sticks, whose only words were “no one move, no one pass”. A thirty year old man appeared and started directing the traffic towards the village of Naameh.

Hundreds of people were gathered in the village square underneath black flags, couple of Lebanese soldiers watching them. The mood was not tense; while some adopted a serious attitude, many other were chilling and laughing, and kids were playing in the streets. When I asked a soldier if he knew what’s happening on the highway, he replied: “yes, yes, we’ll take care of it”. When I asked villagers what’s happening, they pretended not to know. Finally, while leaving the square I met two “talkative” elderly; they acknowledged that it is a response to the incidents in the North, and that “young people wanted to do something.” After leaving Naameh, I made a u-turn, and back to the burning tires spot. The military were there, and apparently they had reached a certain solution: a typical compromise deal sponsored by the Lebanese Army. The burning tires were kept in the middle of the highway, but cars were allowed to cross between them.

*        *        *

Couple of days ago, Lebanese security forces arrested a salafist in Tripoli. Salafists rage spilled over the city. And when the situation appeared to cool down, an islamist cleric was killed at a Lebanese Army checkpoint.

Salafists taking over the streets generated opposing reactions among social-media-activists, especially those advocating the downfall of the sectarian Lebanese system. Some considered the salafists jailed – since years without trial – in Lebanese prisons as prisoners of conscience. It is needless to say that they are not, they are not incarcerated for expressing their opinions but rather for infringements to criminal codes (it is not our purpose to argue if they are guilty or not), nevertheless, they are victims, like most prisoners, of a deplorable judicial system. Others raised the slogan: “a good salafist is a dead salafist,” echoing the infamous 1869 saying of General Philip Sheridan: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” … mmm …It is very comforting to know that some of the prominent advocates of an alternative and better Lebanon, have in mind the extermination of extremists religious groups!

But what was revealed in these debates, that most of these activists are not yet detached from the political polarity in place: March14 vs. March 8. Pro M-14 were defending salafists and attacking the government and the army, and vice versa for pro M-8.

Back to yesterday’s event, the killing of the sheikh prompted several reactions, and street actions, mainly in “Sunni areas.” The Lebanese Army apologized for the killing. It is worth to note that every year, a dozen or so of people are killed at Lebanese Army checkpoints, with barely any reaction regarding their murders, either from the army, politicians or other groups. So apparently if you’re not a religious figure – or a prominent figure in general – it is permissible to kill you … and without any regret. And while teen-thugs were blocking roads and setting tires and trash bins on fire, a political party thought it is the propitious time to get rid of one of its local competitors in Tariq el-Jdideh. So, the Future (Saad el-Hariri) Movement launched its gunmen against al-Tayyar al-Arabi, headed by Shaker el Berjawi, a local thug in Tariq el Jdideh and a leader of his own militia since the 1980s.

Anyway, after I returned home from Naameh, activists on Facebook and Twitter were freaking out, screaming against sectarian violence, shouting No To The War. News of fighting and road blocked in several locations in Beirut and its suburbs. In this turbulent situation what can be done? So I drove to the hills above Beirut, Araya and Baabda, maybe I can glimpse some of these rocket propelled grenade exploding in the sky, or at least some scenery of fires … to my disappointment, there were nothing to be seen. On the way back, I passed by some neighbourhoods were roads are blocked, like Bshara el-Khoury and Mazraa … also nothing. Apparently the angry teens grew tired and went back home. Only next to the Cité Sportive, in Tariq el-Jdideh, fighting was raging.

Back home, back to the internet realm, activists are still screaming against sectarian violence, shouting No To The War. But wait a moment, what sectarian violence? In sectarian terms, two, once allied, now antagonist, Sunni groups were fighting each other. It is not a secret that many Lebanese, some in fear and some with joy, are awaiting for the next civil-sectarian-war to erupt, but isn’t it a bit naïve to consider what happened as a sectarian strife? Well yes, yesterday’s fighting is not a normal, nor an acceptable, night scenery, but nevertheless a certain rational is needed, not an amplification of the reality nor a tragic predictions of doomsday. And what is the activists’ response to this escalating danger? A sit-in in Martyrs Square. A sit-in to “Say No to War… We Want Peace in Lebanon”. A sit-in devoided from any perspective, from any political meaning in a ghost-town like neighbourhood. Even better, and due the architectural design of Martyrs Square, demonstrators will be hidden from the outside world by the walls surrounding the monument. Passers by will only see the police force encircling the square. So the question: is this action is just to do something, to be part of something, regardless of the outcome?

*        *        *

Lately, several articles, in the local and foreign press, stressed on the economic factors in relation with the incidents in Tripoli, as opposing to mainstream media who insert those events in a wider regional frame. I can’t help but link these articles to the chat I had with a shopkeeper in Araya yesterday night. He told me: “There’s no jobs, we accept that. Fuel prices are rising, we accept that. There’s no electricity, we accept that. But people shooting each others!!!” Here is one of the cores of the issue. The political elite of Lebanon is impoverishing its population, first to enrich itself, and second to enshrine its grip on the society. This impoverishment leads to a surge in extremist movements, as well as to a more fertile violence-inclined environment. This violence is used to tame any economic or social demands. And this is a vicious cycle that we need to break.

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