They are attacking our way of life, our youth, with their culture of death, the French said after the mass murders in Paris two weeks ago. We too have a culture of life, Fourate Chahal writes in Liberation. And as for you, how are your answering bombs not part of a culture of death?
You know, in Beirut too, we go out at night.
The Islamic State kills in Lebanon’s capital too. It’s not your “culture of life” against a “culture of death” that comes in from elsewhere. The culture of death is not at home anywhere.
The Paris streets are mine; I strolled them when playing hooky from school, when I went out for a drink with my first boyfriend. I sat on the sidewalk after a demonstration at Place de la Republique, and often went dancing at the Bataclan. Paris represents twenty years of my life; without it, I am all of eight years old. I say I hate Paris, but it’s not true, our relationship is “complicated,” when I’m in a forgiving mood, it’s a source of memories. That night, the first selfish response, I phoned my family, then my friends and even old acquaintances. Everyone is “all right,” so I turned on the TV and logged on to Facebook. As the hours passed, the horror reached its full impact.
I’ve been living in Beirut for four years now. It too, is my city, with it I construct new memories- through people always, because they are my ties and memories. And it is they who are being killed, people who never deserved it, whether they were ugly or handsome, ambitious or lazy, intelligent or happy idiots.
You know, here too, in the heart of the capitals of the “Arab Muslim world” we go out at night. We go for a drink in the cafes, we go dancing, we attend concerts. We have pals, guys and girls, and we like to get out into the streets on weekends, celebrating our youth. Some of us go out less, but we love our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters, our friends, our fiances, our secret lovers, and coffee spiced with cardamom. And sometimes, too, we hate them. Neither freedom nor entertainment nor “the good life” are exclusively French. Nazem al-Ghazal, an Iraqi singer (you know that country, Iraq) sings to a beautiful unknown woman, “I had nothing to do in the market, I went there just to catch a glimpse of you” No one has a monopoly on beauty or culture or love or chance encounters or the thrill of love.
In Beirut, the Islamic State, Daesh or the Nusra Front have already carried out five lethal attacks in three years. None of these attacks targeted Beirut’s debauched lifestyle. And yet in that domain, as your expatriates know well, we are not slouches.
We live in a world where injustices have piled up to the point where they split open the lives of those who are making a painful attempt to get clear. We live in a world for which we are not responsible. And we die, soldiers who have deserted the imaginary front in wars we refuse to fight.
You can say in your media that the Beirut explosions targeted Hezbollah but bombs have never asked the men and women they killed for a profession of political faith before spilling their guts through their teeth. It’s not your “culture of life” against a “culture of death” born elsewhere. No people cultivates a culture of death. And in the same way, the culture of life is no one’s exclusive property. There are sometimes sick people, sick societies. A world that can’t take it any more.
I know you have not given your individual approval, one by one, to the bombs that for quite some time now have terrorized entire peoples who send you, like so many postcards, apolitical images of their martyred-looking children standing next to tents or the ruins of houses. I know you don’t feel obliged to welcome the poor Syrian, Iraqi, Malian refugees, and yet, they are refugees from your wars too. You have been made to believe your bombs are bombs for the sake of peace. There is no such thing. The misery you can’t see is real, and if you think your wars are clean, it’s because you launch your bombs from too far away to understand the news reports.
It’s not fair. None of you, none of us, is responsible. My friends in Paris, are not responsible and neither are those in Beirut. I won’t try to tell you that Muslims are not responsible, a false, dangerous debate that simply doesn’t interest me.
In 2004 attacks shook Madrid. In a train there were 190 dead, innocents “civilians” who were not responsible for anything. The next day, kneeling on the ground, the Spanish cried with one voice, “Hijo de puta.” Bastards. Then they asked their government to withdraw from the Iraq war.
In grief and anger, they forced their government to withdraw from the coalition that was hitting Iraq, to cease dropping bombs on one people in the name of another. That too is a way of loving life, respecting it, and living in a democracy. The Spanish did not retreat, they did not bargain away their culture, they did not surrender to terror, their love of life was stronger and took them farther.
Today, more than ever, France, my personal France, like it says in the song, is a France that takes no pleasure in speeches calling for war and vengeance, it’s a France that says no to war and that draws from sorrow the strength to love life, really and truly, beyond its own borders.
Fourate Chahal El-Rekaby Translated from French by Suzanne Ruta for International Boulevard.
25 Nov 2015