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  • What If You Had Been Born There?
    Mon, 23 January 2012
    Ghassan Charbel

    Your British colleague is upset. He follows the numbers and figures and he is increasingly worried. He said that the financial crisis is no fleeting problem. It will take years to resolve, even if the solution is serious. He scans the newspaper and he is struck by news of bankruptcies, soaring unemployment, further belt-tightening by the government and spending cuts. He said that the hordes of unemployed people will swell, and this will have many dire economic, social and political costs. He said that spending on healthcare will come under more scrutiny, and the same can be said of the magnanimous spending on educational development and scientific research. The Britons, he said, will have to go on fewer holidays abroad. And he said that the confidence the people grant a certain party forces it to find creative solutions for the people’s problems.

    I listened to his lengthy explanation carefully. The problems he spoke about are about daily life and livelihood, and they touch on both the present and the future. But in spite of this, I felt that his suffering is trifling in comparison. I started thinking what a man like him would go through if he lived in Sana’a. The Yemenis may be rejoicing for the transfer of presidential powers to the Vice President, and the ongoing efforts to complete the transitional phase, but their right to be frightened and concerned is certainly stronger than the British’s. Indeed, their main concern is to remain alive, as their country lives without guarantees or institutions.

    Imagine, dear Briton, that you had been born there: Revolutionaries in the public squares chanting against impunity for the president, while the architects of the settlement know that without it, pains will be protracted, and the president and his supporters will be pushed to bet the house and confront the tidal wave head on. This means civil war in a country of empty treasuries. This means that al-Qaeda would find more strongholds and havens. This means that the Huthis will be encouraged to expand or push for quasi-autonomy. And this means that the people of the South would be more tempted to seek divorce, and return to sleep in the confines of their own state. Then all this means rivers of blood.

    Imagine, dear Briton, if you had been born in Baghdad, and your bad luck had you living in a neighborhood where the majority of the dwellers do not belong to your sect. Imagine that you do not have the ability to move to a more suitable neighborhood, as you follow on television screens these mobile bloody banquets between the cities and neighborhoods: Suicide bombings, sticky bombs, and pistols with silencers. And arrests, torture and swimming in a sea of corruption, and blatantly sectarian political battles.

    Imagine, dear Briton, if you had been born in Syria. What would you have done, or said, in such days as these? Suppose you are neutral and that you, after the curtains are drawn, follow Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiyah, and the reports on snipers, regime thugs, armed gangs and bloodshed in the street, and then the scenes of funerals, chants and the precursors of civil war in this city or that.

    Imagine, dear Briton, that you had been born in Lebanon, a country in suspended animation. The state there is a pseudo-state, the government a pseudo-government, and the parliament a pseudo-parliament. The same is true of the judiciary and security institutions in the country. It is a waiting station that comprises a mixture of sects, creeds, television channels, declared programs and secret agendas. It is a waiting station that produces tension and imports tension, and where the strongest leaders are fear and loathing for the coming days. It is a beautiful and odd waiting station at once, where people play near the Syrian earthquake, and deal with it as if they were awaiting the results of a boxing match. They are divided between the players and go too far in their enthusiasm and wagers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the results of this match will have overwhelming implications for the waiting station that was shaped by Syria itself, though in recent years there was a distinctive Iranian tinge to it as well. The Lebanese could have responded to the neighboring earthquake by fortifying the waiting station and the state, and backtracking from schemes and wagers that are more than Lebanon can bear. For if the fire spreads to the station soon, fires will break out in their homes and clothes.

    I almost told the British colleague that his suffering was velvety, and that he should rejoice because David Cameron cannot send him to the grave with a simple gesture of his hand. He should rejoice because his son will not disappear in mysterious circumstances and because the intelligence officer cannot summon him and retain some of his teeth and nails.

    If only our problems were about reducing our holidays abroad. But they are about reducing our homelands and dismantling the bridges among their constituents. They are about reducing our life spans and seeing our kids pushed to the prisons of fanaticism, poverty, slaughter and suicide. It is enough, dear Briton, that you sleep under the rule of law, the state and its institutions.

    We love our countries, this is true. But they are more of a grave than they are a place to live for us. We love them yet they betray us. Their stability is marred by injustice, fear and humiliation. Any attempt to open the windows opens the door to a massacre instead, as though our countries take pleasure in bathing in our blood.

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