A Car Bomb Takes Lebanon 7 Years Back in Time


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.

Image

Image

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?

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36 thoughts on “A Car Bomb Takes Lebanon 7 Years Back in Time

  1. It’s sad how we are using such assassinations for previously placed goals like forcing the government to resign… For those who don’t know, ever since the current government (pro-8 March) was placed into duty, the other camp, or 14 March, did not accept the fact. Going back to its members speeches, all what they could say is that the government needs to resign, since day one.
    Now they have the chance to claim that “privilege” since the odds are on their side, regardless of the dwelled facts behind the scenes.
    Sadly enough, every catastrophe that happens in Lebanon, whether it was like yesterday, in the 2006 israeli aggression over Lebanon, or in 2005; the menace is on one side of the people and not all of them.
    God save us from the perpetrators.

    1. Yes, you are right. And, this goes back to my point about the normalization of death in Lebanon. The tragedy of the actual assassination and deaths is now being used for political purposes. This disrespects the dead by exploiting them. Yet, as you said, this is nothing new.

  2. Before they knew that the head of the police’s office was the target of yesterday’s attack, a deputy called Muaeen Mourabi said to MTV “We assure to Lebanese people that today’s attack did not target any political figure.” Seriously? Its sad how politicians do not care about all the innocent people who lost their lives yesterday! And its even sadder how i tried to convince two of my friends to stay home instead of going to work today but they said “who cares, we got used to this”.

    1. Ghada, you cannot blame them though. After 7 years of living in such an environment, we are all “used to this.” Yesterday, we were out when the bomb happened and stayed out until night. In a normal scenario, we’d go back home after the bomb. However, we continued our days normally.
      I think this is a psychological phenomenon. We repress the fear and anxiety that we would usually feel in such incidents, and try our best to live past it.. immediately. The Lebanese are used to disturbances of peace and harmony, such as bombs. So, instead of living decades of fear, we are used to looking past these happenings and we try to continue our lives as normally as we could. Call us disturbed, and I will agree with you.

  3. Reading these accounts of the bombing and its affect on Lebanese life, I was at first speechless, not knowing how to react. It’s heartbreaking. Of course the bomb itself was a terrible thing, but to me it is far more appalling that there was no compassion for the lives lost and the people injured from the politicians. I cannot help but to think of our own politicians. Normally, when there is a mass tragedy in the U.S. (usually mass shootings), we pull together as a country. The media tries to cover the events from every angle, people send money and volunteer to alleviate some of the damage done and help the families of the injured and the dead. Life does go on much the way it has been described to go on in Lebanon, but no body popular has to die to warrant grief. The only time life came to a halt was after the September 11 attacks, but most of us had never experienced a tragedy of that magnitude before, not on our own soil.

    Going back to the politicians though, in most cases our politicians act compassionately. It could be damaging to their careers to act otherwise. When it is an issue of national security;however, it does not take long for the blaming and finger-pointing to take place. This is especially true during times of campaigning I have noticed. For example, when our ambassador was killed in Libya, the Republicans quickly began to blame President Obama’s administration for not doing everything it could have to prevent his death. This behavior is distasteful and disrespectful to the dead and the injured.

    Another problem that is reminescant of the after math of the car bombings in Lebanon, is the fact that even though people are sad for the, we usually learn nothing about the dead. We do not ever even know their names unless they are famous. In my country people going missing or are murdered pretty often but the media is very selective about which kidnapping and murders they care about. One remark that is often made it that in order for the media to care about your life, you have to be wealthy, white, and usually female. While this may not be true, there is evidence to support it.

    I know this comment is really long, but I just wanted to finish with my point. When tragedies occur, it should not matter if they are politicians, famous or wealthy, or if they are just normal people. When people die or are injured, there should be enough respect for human life to observe what happened and show some compassion.

    1. One of your strongest points is: “We do not ever even know their names unless they are famous.”
      Not only do they have to be famous, but they have to have some sort of impact; either a natural impact or a created one. Given this, we need to question the media’s selectivity because this same selectivity hinders its humanity.

  4. Good piece, Fatima! To answer the last questions, as much as it hurts me to say it, we have become accustomed to all the tragedies and violence, but I don’t think we have been dehumanised. Not yet. What I saw yesterday was compassion and fear, and those are human emotions – even if the latter isn’t one we fathom. However, you are right when it comes to the media. It has failed the humanity test by ignoring the other victims – who also have names and faces – and by jumping to useless political analysis that only led to more tension and fear.
    And I don’t know if the past couple of years have made us stronger. Perhaps the fact that we didn’t panic that much counts as us being stronger? I don’t know. I do know fear is everywhere, and is more widespread than hope. That could be dangerous. How much longer can we live like this?

    1. Personally, I do not think the past years have made us stronger. I think we have just gotten used to how to deal with such scenarios. I think the fact that the bombs target a public figure relieves some of the fear associated with the bombs; the fear we will get hurt personally. Knowing that these bombs have specific targets leave us with just the fear that we, or our loved ones, could be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Other than that, we also fear for the stability of our country. But, we just try our best to not let it affect our daily lives which help distract us from all the tension.
      How much longer can we live like this? That is an essential answer which questions the ability of the Lebanese to just keep adapting to these incidents. I agree with you, yesterday it was clear that there was more fear than hope. But, look at us! We are getting by, as always. Fear or no fear, the Lebanon lives on through all.

  5. The most important thing to care about now is : 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?

    1. True. But at the same time, one cannot undermine the significance of Wissam al-Hassan’s assassination.
      All I am saying is that the media should not overshadow the death of the other innocent civilians by just covering the death of the criminally targeted public figure. These civilians have families and loved ones who were affected by their losses, and that should not be overlooked. Just like Wissam al-Hassan, the other civilians lost their lives.

  6. Well, unfortunately and sadly lebanese people are used to “death” or actually death became part of us, all of us as lebanese citizens. I say 7 years ago till now nothing changed at all, and i feel sorry for living the “bombs” again, im sorry for innocent people who died. I agree with you on what you said, but i feel sorry for ourselves who we turned death to be only part of our daily hours. True we know how to live through tragedies, its complicated to say if its the right thing to do or its just wrong, but all what i can tell that the urge to live a normal life and the urge to stay alive is stronger for us “i dont agree on seeing people in coffee shops after the death of lebanese citizens” but this is Lebanon, before we take a step to change it we should change ourselves, and this is what lebanon is asking for “change your self before you ask others to change”. Im sorry we are born and came along tragedies and im sorry its part of us, but this is Lebanon 7 years ago, 30 years ago or even now.

    1. I agree with you, Ibrahim. It’s the sad reality of our country and people. We got accustomed to death, that as you said, it became a part of our daily lives. A bomb does not stop us from going out and having fun. Is that resilience or repression? That’s what I’m wondering.
      Seven years ago, a similar scenario took place. Back then, I was not as aware as I am now. That is why I am talking about it now.
      I disagree with you when you say nothing changed during these past 7 years. Something did change. We are now even more used to bombs and deaths. After passing through all these tough years, it seems the Lebanese have adopted the attitude of “we2fet 3a hayde?” (rough translation: “this won’t make a difference).

  7. Very powerfully written piece. It gives a sense of immediacy, personal impact, emotional meaning and societal effect that the media just cannot transmit. This terrible event has been widely covered by the media in the United States, but none of the stories I read (New York Times) or heard (National Public Radio) or saw (Public Broadcasting System) presented as clear a picture in my mind or helped me understand the meaning of this event as much as Fatima’s blog post. I fervently hope that this blast will have no further repercussions and that the people of Lebanon will be able to live in peace.

    1. Thank you for your feedback. I think this is the type of situation personal accounts are necessary to understand the humane aspect of an event which is covered as yet another source of instability in the Middle East by the media.

  8. Exactly the dose of logic I needed today, Fatima! To add to what you’ve proved marvelously, the Lebanese people have been living on the brink of an eruption since 1975, 1982, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1996, 2000, 2006… and the right Lebanese slang for it is “Dabakit.” And lets hope that (quoting you here) “people will realize the implications of what lies beyond grammatically-correct sentences and artistically-composed frames you share with us”

    Much Love from Beirut!

    1. Asma, I think the problem with the Lebanese is that they don’t like talking about it. Struggle and strife reminds us all of the taboo civil war days, which none of us wish to ever witness. And, it’s this repression which intensifies the tension, and leads to the simply weird state of mind we’re all living through. Each time a bomb shakes us, we are reminded of the possibility of reliving 1975. So, we decide to just look it over. Don’t you agree?

  9. Touchy article very true and exactlyy what about the other 7 civilians who died and the injured people and even those who lost their houses :S This is media … Simply :s

    1. There’s some hope. Lebanese media outlets started talking about the other victims who paid the price alongside Wissam al-Hassan. Here’s a famous picture which circulated on Facebook, raising awareness about a woman, a mother of 3, who died in the Achrafieh bombing (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151202107856170&set=a.120403226169.100990.115895006169&type=1). Her name was mentioned, Georgette Sarkissian, in an attempt to restore the humanity of the event after the politicians exploited it.

  10. I dont know if they made us stronger Fatima but they sure made us disgusted we deserve to live in a peaceful country not having to worry about explosions, car bombs assassinations. I have been living this for the last 39 years of my life and at the end it gets exhausting and makes you think that maybe leaving the country all together is the best thing to do for yourself andy for your family. I don’t want my son to live this for another forty years, he deserves a normal life, begin abel to go to the parck go hiking…

    1. I agree with you. We all strive to see Lebanon get better, for us and our loved ones to live safely in. The problem is that Lebanon is a strategic platform for international politics, that is why it’s never been as peaceful as we’d want it to be.
      I agree, leaving Lebanon seems the best fit option. But, if we leave, how would Lebanon get better?

  11. I posted this elsewhere, but I have the same question and comment:

    It would seem that the whole issue of what it means “to be Lebanese” is called into question?

    On a different (?) note, it may be that the US Presidential election will be determined (at least to some extent) on how the “candidates” explain their perspectives in the recent assination of the US Ambassador to Libya.

    1. This type of incident which is manipulated by politicians leads me to ask my country’s citizens, “to what extent are you Lebanese?”
      To be Lebanese means to want the best for your country. It means to love your country and its people. That means, to want peace for all. However, when a bomb hurts fellow Lebanese citizens and, instead of thinking of that, you start pointing fingers based on what your political party is telling you to think… that’s when one’s loyalty is questioned.

  12. Lebanese people got used to how to deal with such calamities. everybody is fed up from the situation, people are expressing anger for what happened and if they are not, they are just watching those political fights silently with a lot of disgust
    I can’t believe it how some people are happy today by everything that is happening, on the other hand, I feel so ashamed by what have happened today in the funeral.
    They couldn’t break us when we are all one so they are breaking us into pieces to weaken us. we are just tools.. I hope one day people will know the power of their number when they stand side by side the only time Lebanon will change.

    1. Aya, I think the main thing which is separating us and breaking us down is political fanaticism. One’s loyalty and pride should be to the nation first, and then to his/her political party. In Lebanon, it is the opposite. And, that is why we cannot seem to stand side by side, all of us, for Lebanon.

  13. Habibi Fatima!
    Firstly, I would like to say what an amazing piece Fatima you truly have a way with words. You are capable of conveying your emotions without degrading the message. You and I are one the in the same “flowery writers” 🙂
    However, as we spoke about it yesterday and now from what I am reading about rioting it makes me think of the strength your nation has to pull together to make a difference. Not that I agree with the method of going about ousting government leaders but I admire your country’s overall stability despite all that is going on.
    I was watching the BBC today and one of the reporters said, regarding the riots “it is not very large for middle eastern standards”. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? How can you lump together nations entirely separate from one another and what does that say about the company you are reporting for that you would compare riot sizes? These are actual human beings, who may be misguided in their efforts by turning to violence but regardless, they have families and children and a future.
    It disappoints me that people have become used to bombings. As you and I have discussed NO ONE should be used to living in such instability and insecurity. It saddens me but at the same time I admire your people’s tenacity to go about living their daily lives. I remember returning to school the day after 9/11 and telling my dad that I was scared, his response was “we cannot live in fear we must go about our day to prove to these monsters that we will not kneel to their power, we as Americans will fight and live our lives to the fullest”.
    I am torn with emotions; anger that people resort to such violence to make a point, sadness for the forgotten lives of those that were affected by the bombing, apprehension for the future of your country and those other warning nations surrounding Lebanon, pensiveness and grief for what the future of our world holds for the coming generations.
    I know that I cannot sit in fear and worry for my dear friends living in Lebanon but it is my human nature (compassion, what everyone should feel, but seems to be lacking nowadays) to worry about my loved ones. I wish nothing but peace for you and your families and will be thinking of you everyday until this chaos passes.
    LOVE, Natalie

    1. Natalie, thank you for your feedback. I guess “flowery” writing best fits my intention of getting across the human aspect of such an event; a perspective not covered by a news headline stating the typical What, Where, When, Who, Why, How?
      On another note, please do note that the attempt to use the death of Wissam al-Hassan as a catalyst to start a movement to overthrow current government is a prime example of political manipulation.
      As for the Lebanese tenacity, I can tell you that it is innate in every human being with Lebanese blood. It is acquired either by real-life, first-hand experiences or just by hearing our relatives stories about the civil war. We know that no matter what happens in Lebanon, life goes on. We know that one day there might be clashes and bloodshed and the next day life would return to normality. This fact keeps us at ease.
      Natalie, do not worry much about us. We are accustomed to living in such fluctuating scenarios. This past weekend, we (my friends and I) complained to our parents about how boring and frustrating it was to stay home because of the clashes and closed roads. We complained about the gun shots we heard all through the night. We complained about the stupidity of our people to clash over political differences. We complained about the disgusting nature of Lebanese politics. We complained, and complained. However, to them (the older generations), we sounded like newborn babies not aware of the reality of our habitat. This is Lebanon. It’s been like this since 1975. It doesn’t mean it’ll always be like this. But, for the time being, it is.
      I’ve lived in Lebanon since 2002, and I can testify living through all types of unstable situations and phases in this country. And, look at us, we’ve moved on. Yes, we are affected as a whole. The scars remain within us; they disturb us. But, we keep going. We keep going with hope for the future generations. The further we move along the years, the more we strive to not re-enact the 1975 civil war.
      I do see a rise in awareness, especially among the Lebanese youth. Those who didn’t live through the civil war yet heard stories and watched documentaries and live the aftermath of it are aware that we cannot afford another one.

  14. It may seem like there is little widespread compassion for these victims, possibly due in part to the cold image that media always seems to portray tradgedy in but I also think that simply by you writing this post, Fatima, there is proof that there is compassion left. I cannot imagine living with such instability in my country and no one should have to. It must be hard to see the positives in this when there is so much sadness but I honestly believe that you are not alone in feeling this way and I think that is a positive. Positive in the sense that you all want peace for your country and you are all frustrated by this violence. Unfortunately though, violence always seems to draw more attention than peace does. In response to your questions, no, you have not lost your humanity. You alone are proof of that Fatima and I’m sure there are others just like you. And I think that these bombings make you stronger in the sense of what you believe and what you want for you country. My question for you is do you think the Lebanese people have grown apathetic to such events/tradgedies because they feel like they have no power to change how things are?

    1. I don’t disagree with you. Compassion and hope are still floating somewhere above Beirut, and Lebanon in general.
      My answer to your question would be: yes. I think we’ve lost hope, as a whole, in change. These bombs and breaches of safety make us feel vulnerable. Knowing that anytime a bomb may explode around you leaves you in a state of shock; in a state of worry. And, knowing that you (or your loved ones) may get hurt or possible killed for being at the wrong place at the wrong time is even more frustrating. During our daily lives, we forget this fear, we repress it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to carry out with our routines. Fear would control us.
      So, when the Friday bomb took place, our safety bubble was pierced. We, once again, felt vulnerable. However, there was also a part of us which kept urging us to go on because “what will happen, will happen.”
      I’m not sure if it’s genuine apathy, but it might be some sort of indifference. I call it a self-defense mechanism, a mask we all put on to just keep us going. And, with all that, we were still forced to stay home in fear of getting hurt in this weekend’s clashes.

  15. Fatima, I by no means think that you have lost your humanity as a Lebanese population. In my opinions I see your reactions to these deaths as a form of adaptation. It’s not that you are hardened by the killing of innocent civilians, but are more so accepting this as a way of life and trying to build. Lebanon has had to deal with many tragedies over the past couple of years and I am sure it is hard to digest, but based on your blog post it seems like these bombings have brought the Lebanese people together. If anything it should strike a desire to strengthen your pride in Lebanon. If you were to simply go home that night after the car bombing and cry in your mothers arms, what would that have solved? I think it is amazing that you are able to remain strong during this time in Lebanon and I hope these bombing do not harden you but only make you stronger. This is a monumental time in the history of Lebanon and the fact that you are able to experience it first hand is very interesting. I feel honored to be able to receive information directly from Lebanon and hope that your country can find the power to unite and combat it’s problems as a whole.

    1. These bombs have sadly not brought us together. If you watch the coverage of yesterday’s funeral of Wissam al-Hassan, you will see how they dehumanize deaths for political purposes. This is not the first time. And, I am terribly sorry for the families of all the dead whose tragedies were exploited for political agendas.
      Each Lebanese tragedy has been manipulated. Its humanity has been vacuumed by politics. Bombs and deaths are no longer treated as threats to national security or human loss, instead, they are used as pawns to advance in the political scene. This is the reality of the matter.
      It is the aftermath of such bombs and assassinations which shake the stability of Lebanon. It is the way they are used to provoke political sides to incite violence.

  16. It is so difficult for Americans to completely comprehend incidences like these. Our media (and use) have become insensitive when reading about car bombings in the new. Reading your blog post mad the issue personal. It reconnected it too a face, a person I know. This story is told through your eyes, and experiences, not the new, which is very refreshing. Glad you are safe!!

    1. Katie, that is one of the major drawbacks of the media. In Lebanon, at least, bombs and deaths are covered in a way in which if there is no public figure face involved, it passes as just deaths. However, personal accounts try to make up for the lack of humanity of the media because at the end of the day, families were affected by the incident whether or not a famous figure was involved or not.

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