Friday, January 21, 2011

You know what they say about men who drive fancy sports cars

A taxi sat parked on the side of a normally busy street in Beirut, one of the common beaten up old Mercedes that have somehow survived as everything in Lebanon has somehow survived. The driver, whose face was as worn out as his car, slumped behind the wheel as he filled the vehicle with cigarette smoke. In the backseat were two women passengers whose worried expressions told more tales than an entire library could ever teach you. The three of them were listening to the Prime Minister's speech on the radio. Further down in desolation, another driver sat with his car door open on a darkened corner, listening intently with a hard face, a facade, for you could sense the truth of what he felt emanating from deep within him. Shopkeepers had televisions or radios tuned in, and you knew the blue lights glowing from the windows of houses had Hariri's oddly bearded face on TV screens.

The tone of the speech was uncharacteristically defiant as the normally weak leader challenged the militia that now threatens the (relative) stability his country. The pulse of the city itself was uncharacteristically slow. This was not the Beirut that has been featured in the travel sections of Western newspapers so many times over the last two years. No, this was the Beirut of history books.

You really have to be here to understand how it feels - the air, the atmosphere, I don't know how to describe it - but it is like there are supernatural forces at work. The feeling is something deep, like the whole universe, all of existence, all of time and space and history is inside you, and you can look inside the souls of people and see their fear in all its nakedness.

During daylight hours, one doesn't notice there is something dangerously wrong here, for the fruit vendors push their carts and the taxi drivers stand on the corners and the shwarma cooks sell their questionably safe meat. The coffee shops are filled with studying students and elderly elders and housewives both covered and not, and people buy shoes and clothes and belts and other things they don't really need just as they always would. Car horns honk, generators generate, and construction workers shout from great heights to the ground below as usual.

But with dusk come the demons and the ghouls who have haunted this land for many millennia. The streets have been emptier, never more noticeably than last night as Hariri spoke to put Hezbollah in a position where they'd have to take responsibility for any violence that may occur. And they are responsible. No one else is threatening violence. Everyone else is sick of it, sick, sick, sick. Everyone else wants to live normal lives. Everyone else wants a job, electricity, decent internet, and good schools for their kids. It isn't fair. It isn't fair to the innocent Lebanese who have suffered time and time again for the stupidity of a few.

Hezbollah may have been good for Lebanon once (pushing out Israel), but now it's acting like the playground bully. Be a man, Sayyid Nasrallah. Stand up and say no to violence. It's not the size of your gun that matters, but the courage to lay down that gun that truly makes a difference.

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