It was such a normal day. Hot, but not unbearable. Beirut was plastered and yet void. Plastered with cars and bad drivers, plastered with hot air from air conditioning units and hotter air from empty political promises. Plastered with inflation, escalating inequality, and economic depression. The city and the country were plastered with work for the lucky and void of work for too many. Plastered with corruption but void of civil and political sanity. Void of certainty, void of equality, void of water and electricity. No mind. After regular working hours there was food shopping to be done. It was such a normal day.
Until right after 6:00 p.m. when the signs of the catastrophe announced themselves in an alleyway halfway up the hill of Achrafieh with a roaring noise that this writer’s heuristic had never known and thus misidentified as the noise of jets breaking the sound barrier. Something that he had witnessed a couple of times in his life.
Memories that shape collective memes of human groups and entire societies, informing and altering their behaviors, are tied to dates. In this young century alone, there are the dates of natural disasters such as the Indonesian tsunami on December 26, 2004, the Haitian earthquake on January 12, 2010, and the Japanese Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Those disasters, killing tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands and destroying countless further livelihoods, became memes of human impotence in the face of forces beyond their control. Irrespective of the question to what extent the human species was involved in whatever caused those “natural” disasters, these respective dates make us remember our limits.
Then there are the dates of disasters wrought upon us by our fellow beings with full intention, culprits whom their victims are tempted to call human animals. These dates of terrorism, murder, invasion, and mass destruction turn into memes of a different sort, of calls for justice, sometimes revenge, but also of forgiveness and new beginnings. 9-11 marked the most paradigmatic and global of those memories in our 21st century experience thus far, but Lebanon experienced its own such date on February 14, 2005 as the day when the murder of Rafik Hariri became the inflection point that altered the country’s post-civil-war trajectory. Most probably nothing that politically did happen, and more often did not, in Lebanon since that day (like reforms), can be comprehended without recognition of this horrible meme day.
And then came August 4, 2020, the fateful day when a humongous disaster, the largest non-nuclear explosion in an urban setting, brought about destruction of lives and livelihoods that, despite the city’s many fairly recent experiences – that is experiences of living memory – with invasions, terrorism, armed conflict and internal war, had previously been unimaginable to the people of Beirut. Irrespective of the supposed non-intendedness of the Beirut Port explosion, this disaster was anything but natural. It marked a previously unscaled height of criminal negligence.
In a fellowship of suffering
On this day, one year on, together with the people of Lebanon and all the world, Executive gratefully remembers the martyrs of the first hour, the saviors of the wounded, and the countless selfless helpers who made lives of average August 4 survivors more bearable in the days and weeks that followed. Executive in the full sympathy of a fellow sufferer commemorates the hundreds of dead, the thousands of maimed and displaced, and honors all the living victims of the Beirut Blast on this day, recognizing the sad, absurd reality that one year after the catastrophe it is still far too early to reach any emotional closure and approach forgiveness. There especially cannot be institutional forgiveness today because there has been no justice and no, personal and institutional, accountability on the highest levels of responsibility for the horrors that struck the people of Beirut in both the most affected neighborhoods and the luckier areas (most of the city) that saw less severe or no damages.
Even if the ever optimistic and altruistic human mind today were inclined, or eager, to seek closure and talk forgiveness, the social and political catastrophe that Lebanon has become, is not over. There is no evil wind of physical destruction blowing today but the disaster is still in its worst, and fullest, swings of tumbling from one empty political promise into the next economic hole. All that can build in this desolate wasteland, is rage.
(One can discern and discover that there have been and are constructive efforts, inspiring economic initiatives, and heroines and heroes of social entrepreneurship at any point in the past 12 months. But whenever the mind turns to the macro environment and issues of positive and accountable leadership, all that can be mustered is righteous rage over the hundreds of procrastinations, the costs of missed reform opportunities, and other unforced failures of leaders who remunerated themselves with spoils in the true fashion of war and feudal lords while performing like the most pathetic clowns, entrenched in denial even as world media outlets call them out on their responsibilities.)
If there is no counter-party willing to engage with the sacrificial and resilient citizen, resilience can be an obstacle to change. Rage tends to solve this problem.
Rage is the driver of human action that is fundamentally associated with mad and violent behavior outcomes. Both are destructive impulses. But rage has other aspects that have to be considered today. One aspect is that rage is accumulative. It builds into a reservoir of tremendous mental energy. The other aspect that could aid the Lebanese at this time is that rage is an antidote to longsuffering resilience. The resilience of bending and not breaking has been an asset to the country’s entrepreneurs and stakeholders on every level but it cannot fulfill any purpose on its own.
The rage that is manifest on and around the first anniversary of the Beirut Blast is just one, albeit very clear, popular response to the callous injustices that have been inflicted upon the Lebanese people in the recent past.
This aggregate rage will not cease just the next day even if there were to be those improbable government reforms and electoral resets that are on constructive minds.
A well-known myth about the power of rage is the narrative of the berserker, the bearskin-clad warrior who enters a state of bloodthirsty, feverish madness. But people who “go berserk” can, according to the same myth, accomplish impossible feats. A rage of masculine blood-lust will not guide Lebanon out of its homemade abyss. This polity instead deserves a controlled, righteous and inclusive rage for justice and accountability, a righteous rage for recovery of Lebanese dignity. It needs actions that direct the tremendous energy of aggregate rage to raze the instituted bastions of dysfunctionality and self-interests. It deserves rage like an irresistible flower.