It's a gorgeous afternoon in Beirut, the sky is a clear Kodak blue, the sun warm, a soft breeze blows cold. A quiet day it is, quiet days they have been preceding the holidays. The usual frenzy is palpably (understandably) dimmed. Everything seems smaller, shrunk to a barely functional size, Christmas decorations, the commerce of gift-giving, celebrations. The mobilization in downtown Beirut, where more often than not one can hear Christmas carols blaring in English on one square and thundering calls for overthrow of government on the square right adjacent to it, is also a little dimmed. Much to my surprise (but that's the result of my own failing), Beirut has managed to cope with the political upheavals with the two factions effectively looking away from one another. Even when cars jam in traffic along the periphery of the protest area, you look around and see drivers chatting away casually with their passengers, taxi drivers are able to have conversations worlds removed even when the outpour of either Christmas caroling or revolutionary fervor are deafening. The country is stuck in an impasse, we have been granted a lull for the holidays (Christmas, New Year's, Adha and Armenian Christmas... who knows). On the one hand the protestors promise to up the ante and stage violent disruptions (civil disobedience) after the holidays, and on the other hand the other side is bracing for more assassinations. They are all living martyrs, potentially. There is no resolution for the present conflict in sight. Blood will be spilled. It will have to. Since the assassination of Hariri, this country seems to be living a big noir moment, at moments I suspected the script to be pretty bad, closer to dinner theater than fiction from the 1930s and 1940s, but I have been systematically surprised with the turn of events. Except for Bogie and Bacall, all the motifs of noir novels are here, added to them, hordes of ghosts from unsettled deaths, unavenged assassinations. I have grown in the habit of writing that Beirut is now the realm where Stephen King would be king and Guy Debord never dreamed such a spectacle, and if the two should have ever met, it would have been here.
The present crisis is so complicated to disentangle it's not even funny to explain anymore. Thus I will spare you the excruciating minutia. The conflict has a local Lebanese articulation, it is also bound to the conflict with Syria, the conflict with Israel, the conflict between Syria and Israel, the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the conflict between the US and Iran and US designs for a New Middle East. Ultimately it's like puff pastry, thin layers stacked atop one another, not necessarily harmoniously, with sparse sprinkles for sugar coating, all ready to crumble under any form of pressure into meaningless crumbs and smithereens.
It's not as tragic here, the civil conflict in Iraq and in Palestine are, respectively and for lack of a better word, humbling. In fact, just following the news has driven me to new depths of despair. This, indeed, is a sad Christmas in this part of the world, all round. And why shouldn't be? We might avert being driven straight to hell with our eyes and ears open if this US administration does not pursue it's doomsday plan of an attack on Iran. But we are presently, just short of that, between dreams of mad men (and women) in the White House and how their local proxies franchise, free-ride, or implement those dreams, there seem to be few reasons for anyone to send conveyances of merriment and joy from this part of the world.
It is not all lost, however. Our lot has been sinister, and it might be for a while longer, but I cannot get myself to write that we are altogether broken. Yes, conversations in geopolitics easily lead to despair, but there are countless anecdotes, incidents, actions, that take place everyday from one end of the Arab world to the next, that fill one's heart with love, hope and strength. This region is populated with gorgeous spirits, valiant women and men, fearless, brilliant, creative, generous, luminous who work against the odds, against the tide of history. They are the territories that will never be occupied, the memory that will never be erased, the justice that will never be thwarted. I know it's very corny to conclude in this manner, but I am not writing to impress. There is no other way of explaining how amazing small things happen everyday, countless of times, in this region, from one end to the other.
Drawing on their light and energy, I wish you all merry holidays and a New Year filled with felicity and merriment.
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