Yesterday, as I was driving with my friends to an exhibition, we noticed some black smoke emerging nearby on top of the tall buildings which paint the Beirut urban landscape. “Oh look something’s burning.” That is what first came to mind. What we didn’t know at that moment was that a bomb had exploded in Sassine Square, around 1.3 kilometers away from us.
Upon parking the car, we were told about the bomb. Our first reaction was to call our families to make sure they are all safe. But, as in all other similar situations, the mobile networks were all down. This kept us on our nerves for a while until we were able to check up on them.
The media was giving out initial numbers “3 killed and 37 wounded” as a Libancall text message read. And despite this, life went on normally. We still made our way to the exhibition, since we made a commitment to help out in it. Moments later, another message read “8 killed and 72 wounded (until the moment).” That was still the only piece of information we heard all over the news as we went on about our day.
Then, around 6:50pm (Beirut time), we received the news that Head of Internal Security Forces branch Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan was killed in the Achrafieh explosion. This marked a change in our day. Beirut witnessed a change in atmosphere. The streets were soon deserted as everyone made their way back home. As the sunset dimmed the day and the sky turned grey, Beirut was suffocating in tension. The announcement of the Brigadier’s death shook us all, and got us wondering about the future political repercussions of the assassination.
Yes, assassinations aren’t to be taken lightly. A public figure was criminally targeted. The killing was so tragic and devastating that the media’s coverage was all surrounding his death and all the analysis that came with it. But, what about the other 7 civilians who died just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time? What about all those dozens of injured? What about the affected families?
This is the sad reality of Lebanon. Ever since the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, car bombs have become a norm in the list of happenings which account for the instability in our country. However, the underlying assumption is that each bombing is targeting a public figure, which is almost always the case. And, it is this which has led the media to focus on the public figure’s targeting while dehumanizing the death of those who also paid the price of being around the bombings.
Looking at the pictures from the Hariri assassination in 2005 and the pictures from al-Hassan’s, 7 years later, we can’t but notice the similarities between the scenes. And, we are now waiting to see what comes next because in 2005, Hariri’s bomb set the start of a series of car bombs. Hoping this isn’t the case of yesterday’s explosion, the Lebanese people are on alert. As per usual, roads are blocked and this is what adds to the general fear. Staying home and watching the news isn’t really fun and comforting. But, yet again, today we are re-living the same routine we lived on February 15th, 2005, the day after Hariri’s car bomb.
Below are pictures from the Hariri assassination and Al-Hassan assassination, respectively.
Both scenes are decorated with burnt cars and scattered people looking for remnant signs of life in the increasingly grey surroundings. The second picture resonated in the Lebanese minds as a deja vu from 2005. History is repeating itself. It’s been 7 years since an explosion of this dimension took place. And, it’s been 7 years of Lebanese healing. Each bomb in the past years left a scar in Lebanese, knowing that each bomb triggered and added tension to the overall environment.
The Lebanese people are used to instability, though, especially since 2005. The following site includes the several key events which shook Lebanon’s stability over the past years: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/dec/12/syria.lebanon1
Given the historical context, the Lebanese resilience shines on. Despite all the instability, dating back to the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, the Lebanese people know how to enjoy life. As I was making my way back home at night, after hearing about al-Hassan’s death and being asked to come back home, we couldn’t but notice how the cafes in Downtown Beirut were packed. And, yet again, this isn’t a new sight. In 2006, in the middle of the war, Verdun street’s cafes were also packed with people.
I don’t know whether to be proud of this or not, but the Lebanese people know how to live through tragedies. However, what worries me is how we’re so used to death that it no longer affects us like it used to. Have we lost our humanity as a Lebanese population? Have these 7 years of bombings and assassinations made us stronger?