Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Usual

36.The Usual (30 June 2020)
Uneven stones and a gutter in the middle of the road were
replaced by a sensible street surface, courtesy of some
international funding. (13 June 2020 – Nor Marash –
Bourj Hammoud)
Imagine you, and all the people like you, got used to centuries of living your life in fear. But now your circumstances have changed. You get a chance to live in freedom. Before, you had to speak like those around you spoke, and follow the rules of the majority, the rules of the land, and not show any sign of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Now you are in a place where you are able to speak freely, build homes and businesses without worrying if they will be burned down, or whether your lives and your children’s lives will be in danger. Yes, there are some like you in other lands who still live in those conditions, but there are many more who now enjoy the freedom to flourish and grow. There have been hardships and setbacks over the years, but things are moving forward, and you feel yourself a full-fledged citizen. Still, in order to function as a minority you have to act and talk like the majority, especially if you have an opportunity to move outside your enclave.
            But recently the rhetoric in the land has changed. Some people are emboldened to speak out against you, to say that you are not full-fledged citizens, that you should limit yourself to your traditional neighborhoods. They add that those who oppressed you in the past had a right to do so, and that perhaps oppression and even attacks should be reinstituted, in order to “purify” the land, to make it more suitable for the majority. Mass gatherings are being held, and the flag of your oppressor is boldly waved as people shout praises to the names of the past, names that should only be associated with ethnic cleansing and second-class citizenship for anyone outside the ruling majority.
The revolution is on hold? Maybe, but the window washers
are not. (17 Jun 2020 – Beirut)
            Your own community cautiously raises its voice against this hate speech, and some of the majority join you in solidarity. But the winds have already fanned the flames of hate and oppression to the point of igniting open conflict, intended to draw you in to a losing scenario. Will cooler heads prevail? Or will the frustration of this “second-class” community erupt into violence?
            This is not an imaginary scenario. It is not an historical flashback to 1930s Germany, or 1950s (or perhaps present-day) America. It is not merely a sketch of the Ottoman/Turkish Empire from the late 19th century until now; it is a description of what is happening today in Lebanon. Yet it is the same ones behind the inflammatory events, hate-filled rhetoric and Turkish flag-waving; and it is the same Western powers continuing to cast indifferent gazes, or even give an occasional wink in abdication of the defense of human rights for the pursuit of strategic interests. Additionally, it makes me wonder whether that rig being built offshore, which strangely never seems to make the local news, has anything to do with all of this.
How silly of me to forget to leave my gun at home! Thanks
for the reminder. (17 June 2020 – American University
Hospital- Beirut)
            Following recent reports, locally as well as abroad from places like the U.S., has made me realize the necessity of understanding and confronting one’s own history. It is sobering to see so many people in conflict with each other, unable to read together, as equal citizens, the sad and forgotten and pain-filled pages of their own past, and then eventually reconcile to it and to one another. Meanwhile, iconoclasm proceeds apace, and not only are the statues of those deemed offensive toppled, but nearly any statue within view. It appears that in some quarters the just struggle for equal rights is being overtaken by the struggle for self-righteousness. When an offense is uncovered (and who among the human race – save for one – does not have a “past” to repent of?), the person ceases being a human and turns into a target. Soon there will be no one left to topple. Soon I fear that “history” will cease to exist or evolve as a product of dialogue, and will be relegated to “your history” and “my history”, much as we now end discussions with reference to “your truth” and “my truth” and other similar ways we avoid reflection, self-examination and growth.
Spring came and went, and we almot missed the
flowering trees! (26 June 2020 – Hamra - Beirut)
            We’re getting out and about a lot more than before. I visited what used to be called “West Beirut” for the first time in months last week, and noticed so many businesses dusty and shuttered. Strangely (or not), the curfews and what-not have not gotten in the way of construction (and destruction of heritage sites). A cursory glance around tells you that we’ve moved away from “lockdown mode” towards to the usual. I don’t say “the normal”, because so much in Lebanon needs improvement in order to qualify as “normal”. The other day as I was crossing the bridge from Beirut to Bourj Hammoud, I looked down at the Beirut River and instead of the clear stream I had been enjoying for several months, I saw once again the previously ubiquitous floating debris and waste headed to the Mediterranean. Like the rivers, roadways were also smooth-sailing these past months, but now they are back to being the usual – overcrowded – roadways. Such conflicting thoughts swirl around my mind – glad that workplaces (the surviving ones, anyway) are reopened; sad that people are back to “the usual” – polluting the natural environment.
            Despite it all, once the airport reopens (planned for tomorrow – we think) there will be an anticipated small or great crush of people wanting to come back to Lebanon for a visit. We’re all waiting to see whether the summer will bring a slight economic uptick, or will merely crown the country with a viral uptick. Meanwhile, round and round the local currency goes, where it stops (and who keeps spinning it), nobody knows. More than a few shopkeepers prefer to keep their stores shuttered rather than have to buy or sell in currency worth 1/3 of its previous value. Or was that 1/8 of its former value?
            Another thing that we anticipate when the airport is open for business again will be the departure of many Lebanese. When browsing a bookshelf full of old books being given away for free at a local Armenian bookstore, the clerk told me that more and more people are donating their libraries for giveaways. Others can now enjoy so many valuable books without charge. Sounds altruistic in this terrible economy, right? Until you ask the question, “Why?”
LebCat 36: Feline secret of social distancing: sit where
no one can sit near you. (15 Feb. 2019 – Khalil Badawi - Beirut)
            The other day I read an insightful article about the importance of the Armenian Church’s See of Cilicia in the whole dynamic of the Armenian diaspora. The author called this patriarchal center, relocated here to Lebanon after the Genocide, a resource and an anchor, something to be strategically valued by all Armenians no matter their “affiliations”. Yet one of the reactions to the article seemed to write off the Armenian community in the Middle East as if it were a “business loss”. The commenter talked about “conserving resources”, since nobody’s grandchildren would be speaking Armenian anyway. This type of thinking (sometimes overtly expressed) arises from a lack of vision, and demonstrates capitulation to the pressures of living as a minority, gasping for air because of the dominant culture’s witting or unwitting pressure on your breathing. Our desire to survive and thrive must be based on a vision of a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29.11), trusting in the One who can raise the dead.
            Tomorrow is the 174th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Church’s founding, and I’m once again preparing a YouTube broadcast for the church Union here. Hope and a future is what we strive for as Maria and I continue helping our church play an important part in the vitality of one small people group called Armenians. Though only a few realize the importance of even the smallest creature in nature's ecosystem, it does not diminish that creature’s need to continue for the sake of all. Just so our small nation, and our small church within that nation, and this world.   [LNB]

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