On forgetting

I just finished teaching Ziad Doueiri’s brilliant film West Beirut this week as well as Rabih Alameddine’s fantastic novel Koolaids in my Sexual Identity in the U.S. and Middle East class. The focus was on themes of war and sexuality, disease and death, and I ended the class by reading one of my favorite passages from Alameddine’s novel, which given what has happened in Beirut today I feel this bears typing out for others to read:

They forget about us. Israel attacks Lebanon, it is front page news. They kill children in an ambulance, it is stillnews. They bomb a UN shelter killing 105 civilians, it gets reported. The fighting goes on for a week, it gets moved back to page three. It goes on for two weeks, more people die, and it is no longer news.

It’s a short attention span.

When did the last AIDS story make a newspaper’s front page? My friends die. They keep dying, but people forget. Life goes on.

People forget. They forget who Assad is. Americans forget Assad killed twenty thousand of his own people by having his air force bomb Hamma, their own city. They forget all the terrorist groups he helped foster. In the new world order, he is a major player.

The Christians forget they begged the Syrians to get involved in Lebanon. They were losing the war. When the Syrians invaded, the Druze fought them in the mountains. A while later, it was the Christians who fought them valiently. The Druze became allies of the Syrians, even though they killed their spiritual and political leader. They too forget.

We all forget. We become pawns in a game we don’t understand. Drug companies sell us drugs which won’t heal us, but we need them. Money comes and goes, but we don’t see anything resembling a cure. We forget Israel used nail bombs in Lebanon, bombs which sent nails flying all over the place. We forget Syria massacred one thousand Lebanese soldiers in Baabda. The war stops, and starts again, and we forget about it.

The Israelis forget. They forget Pierre Gemayel started the Phalange party, naming it after Franco’s fascist party. They forget Pierre’s idols were Hitler and Mussolini. Pierre and the Israelis became best friends.

Assad cannot afford a peace settlement. He prods Peres into a war he can’t win. They both sit on the sidelines, shrugging shoulders. People die, and it is no longer newsworthy.

Assad kidnaps and tortures thousands of Lebanese. Warren Christopher wants to negotiate with him. Peres kidnaps and tortures thousands of Lebanese. Christopher kisses his ass.

The Lebanese forget. Syrian rule is better than Christian rule, and Israeli rule is better than Muslim rule. Drug companies ring their cash registers. Reagan sleeps well at night. he has forgotten everything.

Welcome to my world, motherf*&^%$#.

This passage resonates with Robert Fisk’s lecture at AUB last night, which was in some ways directed at journalists or at least apologizing on behalf of journalists who don’t necessarily forget history, his argument is that they ignore it. He wove together historical narratives of British adventures in Iraq and Palestine and read from historical documents that sound as if these statements could be made today by Bush or Blair. He said, “journalists are the equivalent of the Sykes-Picot agreement, we give you sectarian maps.” That is, journalists print maps that divide areas based on religion, ethnicity, and other categories in ways that journalists would never do in Washington DC or London. He reminded his audience, that journalists’ role should be, in the words of Ha’aretz journalist Amira Hass, “to monitor the centers of power” as opposed to the “parasitic” relationship journalists seem to cultivate with the centers of power. Of course the talk was highly entertaining and I think my students enjoyed it quite a bit.

Afterwards we went out to dinner at an old Beirut restaurant on the Corniche overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Only a few short moments we noticed that a slew of Lebanese army Jeeps parked along side the Sea and blocked traffic from traveling down the road (see photo above). The heightened military presence was in response to news reports:

Lebanese police have found the bodies of a pro-government supporter and a 12-year-old boy whose abduction earlier this week was believed to be in retaliation for the killing, earlier this year, of a Shia opposition activist.

The bodies of Ziad Qabalan, 25, and Ziad Ghandour, 12, were found on Thursday, 40km south of Beirut, police said.

Police said they found the bodies in a field north of the port city of Sidon after a local television station received an anonymous phone tip.

We were sitting next to a window overlooking the Sea and the restaurant staff asked us to move away just in case anything happened so we moved to a table in a different part of the restaurant. We received word about things happening from Fisk and called friends who were at home with access to radios and tvs to hear what was being said. We received word that all schools in Beirut are canceled tomorrow. Neither CNN nor BBC have carried the story yet and it’s been quite a few hours.

This after an intense week, which began after a really relaxing vacation in Damascus last weekend, though that vacation began with a 5 hour wait at the border because I didn’t have a visa this time. It was freezing and although I didn’t mind waiting (I had plenty to read), I did mind the cold. I met another fellow traveler who was from South Africa and apparently South Africans are not allowed into Syria either. But he got in much sooner than I did. I lucked out because I sent my friend on ahead with the car because she has never been and I did not want her to miss out on an evening stroll around the city, but when my visa finally came through at 9PM a group of Serbian diplomats offered to drive me to Damascus, which meant things went smoothly and quickly through the rest of the border. Damascus was amazing as usual, beautiful, calm, breathtaking. I love walking around the old city and I took different roads this time so I did get to see new parts of it.

When I came home it was a whirlwind of work, teaching, seeing a friend visiting her family here, and screening the first film in the Lebanese Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid’s film series. We screened Black Gold: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. It is an amazingly powerful film that focuses, primarily, on how Starbucks, Phillip Morris, Nestle, and Sara Lee are starving Ethiopians out of fair wages for coffee and the ways in which it is affecting their health and education as a result. We had a great discussion and I’m hoping we have a good turnout for our second film in a couple of weeks.


One thought on “On forgetting

  1. I’m excited to see you teaching Koolaids! I’ve been trying to get people to read it for awhile now because I find it incredibly brilliant, evocative and difficult to ignore. One thing that strikes me about your blog and it seems a continual sticking point regardless of whichever violation or issue you try to engage is how to convince people to care…particularly how to convince people to care about others who they may not ever know, meet or whose lives may mean absolutely nothing to them…and moreover, how to motivate action rather than just passive/passing concern.

    At any rate, I’m excited that you’re teaching that book in particular. I will truly miss not being in your classes anymore. 🙂

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