ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON

Beirut, Oct 2012

Clashes erupted outside government offices in the Lebanese capital Beirut in October last year. Thousands attended the funeral of security chief Wissam al-Hassan who was killed by a car bomb. Hassan is a pivotal figure in Lebanon. He was heavily involved in the investigation of former information minister Michel Samaha, who is an al-Assad supporter. Hassan earlier led an investigation into the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. Opposition figures blamed neighbouring Syria and Hezbollah for the attack. The unrest began after the funeral, the mourners had protested against Syria and its Lebanese allies amid fears the Syrian conflict could spill over. But the confrontation outside the prime minister’s office just lasted for a few minutes, the army shoot in the air to disperse the crowd and most of the protesters went home.

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All tomorrows are the same

SYRIAN REFUGEES IN LEBANON AND TURKEY

Syrians have fled to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt to escape the violence and the shelling in their hometowns. There are now more than 562,950 as of 27 December registered refugees, according to the latest UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report on Syria.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees “estimates that if fighting in Syria continues the refugee figure could reach 1.1 million by June 2013,” the report added.

Aid groups say hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the 21-month old conflict without registering with UN agencies.

For more coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis, click here: “Lack of funds hits refugee health care in Lebanon” (IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis)

Syrian refugees in Wadi Khaled & Bekaa (Lebanon)

Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, Dec 2012Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, Dec 2012Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, June 2012Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, June 1012Wadi Khaled, June 2012Arsaal, Lebanon, Dec 2012Arsaal, Lebanon, Dec 2012Arsaal, Lebanon, Dec 2012Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, Dec 2012In Wadi Khaled (Lebanon) refugees are staying in abandoned schools, where classrooms have been converted into one-room shelters now housing entire families.

Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, Dec 2012Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, Dec 2012 Households are renting out sheds, some families are staying in unfinished buildings without doors and windows as Syrian refugees face housing shortage in Wadi Khaled (Lebanon).

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Concerning the Label Emigrant

By Bertold Brecht

I always found the name false which they gave us: Emigrants.

That means those who leave their country. But we

Did not leave, of our own free will

Choosing another land. Nor did we enter

Into a land, to stay there, if possible for ever.

Merely, we fled. We are driven out, banned.

Not a home, but an exile, shall the land be that took us in.

Restlessly we wait thus, as near as we can to the frontier

Awaiting the day of return, every smallest alteration

Observing beyond the boundary, zealously asking

Every arrival, forgetting nothing and giving up nothing

And also not forgiving anything which happened, forgiving nothing

Ah, the silence of the Sound does not deceive us! We hear the shrieks

From their camp even here. Yes, we ourselves

Are almost like rumours of crimes, which escaped

Over the frontier. Every one of us

Who with torn shoes walks through the crowd

Bears witness to the shame which now defiles our land.

But none of us

Will stay here. The final word

Is yet unspoken.

Berhold Brecht was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director. In 1933 the Nazis came to power, his books were burned and his citizenship was withdrawn. He left Germany with his family one day after the Reichstag fire and a difficult period of exile began. During the years 1933-1941 he wandered in Austria, Switzerland, France and the Scandinavian countries, staying longest in Denmark. After this he went to the USA and remained there until 1947. He returned to East Germany in 1949.

 

Syrian refugees in Turkey’s southern Hatay province

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Memory for Forgetfulness

“I’ve forgotten the alphabet. All I remember are these six letters: B-E-I-R-U-T.”

(Mahmoud Darwish)

Photo Diary, Lebanon 2012

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Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart: Ashura in Nabatiyye, south Lebanon

Ashura in Nabatiyye

by Estella Carpi

The so-called “Islamic Sphere” – al Hala al Islamiyya constituting the predominantly Shiite areas of Lebanon – undoubtedly emerges in its uniqueness on the Aashura’s day.

We were a group of six people heading to Nabatiyye (South Lebanon) yesterday 24th November 2012, on the occasion of the celebration of Aashura’, the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, when the Muslim Shiites commemorate the death of the Imam Hussein, son of ‘Ali, cousin of the Prophet Mohammed.

In Nabatiyye’s procession it is quite easy to follow the historical stages of Kerbala’s battle in 680 D.C, when Hussein died while fighting against Yazid I, who Caliph Muaawiya appointed as successor.

The mourning of his death seems to have tattooed victimhood and suffering in the everyday Shiite social ethics.

What remains unfathomable to the occasional foreign visitor is the normalized sense of human grief that holistically constitutes “Shiiteness”. That is to say their chronic sense of victimhood characterizing the ethical bedrock of this confessional group, as well as the publicly shared value of existential martyrdom, which have paradoxically guided Lebanese Shiites to the road of historical self-empowerment within a neglectful society and a weak state.

Our arbitrarily universalized “human rights approach” leads us, willy-nilly, to poorly grasp – if not misconceive – the genuine sense behind the ethically unacceptable blood-shed and self-flagellation. Such practices, already outlawed in Iran as well as in Lebanon on initiative of the Party of God, are still carried out by few individuals that appear to the visitor’s eye – witnessing Aashura’ in ambitious bid to catch its essence in a few hours – as fanatic extremists.

The boasting aspects of a ceremony in which bleeding and parading play a big role, unavoidably hamper people’s co-empathization and hence de-lyricize the purely psycho-emotional essence of such a commemoration.

In fact it is quite hard, even to the foreign mindful visitor, to identify with the importance of Hussein’s tragic death, to which Shiite identity is inescapably bound. The memory of suffering (Dhikra al Asa), the exhibited wailing and weeping (Nuwah wa Buka’), and oppression (Zhulm) are concepts rarely represented with cognitive faithfulness by the outsider interpreters. Yet it is on them that Shiites relied in the effort of turning themselves from oppressed victims into agents and active citizens, while deploying their religiousness in a cultural way that we can just partially represent.

Into the shoes of foreign tourists of the Aashura’s event and of curious beings greedy for “native authenticity”, if, on the one hand, we cannot totally identify through their martyrdom-oriented religiousness, on the other, we should at least consciously suspend our ethical judgment, in the attempt to reduce the merely stigmatized gap between who They are and who We are, and to consequently avoid any cultural classification and de-legitimization of human suffering.