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Maps And Fires

Maps And Fires

Monday, 12 October, 2020 - 10:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

During a stroll in the forest, a mother told her son who wanted to climb a tree: “We have to respect the guidelines. This tree is part of our national wealth. It is the property of future generations as well. Nobody has the right to harm it. Killing trees is a crime punishable by law. The state spends huge sums of money to protect forests and parks and preserve the ecological balance.”


The lady told her son that the rope encircling the huge cedar tree was meant to remind visitors not to reach it. She read him a phrase written on a white board: “I am very old and tired. Please do not climb my branches or sit under them.”


I examined the trunk of the old cedar and found a huge branch, cruelly broken. It is clear that the storm attacked the tree and destroyed one of its branches. For the safety of the tree and that of the visitors, those in charge wrote this elegant message.


I was struck by the performance of those responsible for this expansive public park. At a time when the coronavirus is attacking citizens and budgets, the local authority did not hesitate to do its utmost to save an old tree and its visitors.


As I come from the terrible Middle East, it was natural to make the comparisons.


The truth is that I did not ask for a tree in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, or anywhere else to be treated similar to that of the British tree. If I did, the people would ridicule me, saying that staying in London spoiled me and detached me from my roots.


To be fair, I demand or dream that the citizen in our thorny countries gets treated with a degree of respect that resembles dealing with the British tree. But as far as I know, citizens are not treated in this way, neither in the prisons scattered within the maps, nor in the maps that have turned into huge prisons.


The incident reminded me of the shock of someone like me coming from the Middle East when he discovers that he is not allowed to uproot a tree in his garden just because he does not like it.


Removing a tree requires a permission from the local authority, based on valid excuses, for example when its presence constitutes a kind of danger or damage.


I am writing this because a few days ago, a loyal reader disapproved the posting of a photo of fires consuming the forests of Syria on Asharq Al-Awsat front page.


He explained that the bush fires were triggered by hot temperatures, winds or an intention to cause harm; but the fires that slaughter the citizens have been raging for days and years.


The reader said that he never underestimates the importance of conserving forests, but he believes the entire map is being set ablaze by more dangerous chronic fires.


He said that seeing Lebanese citizens waiting for the night to fall to search into the piles of garbage for something that would ease their hunger became a normal scene.


“I am not saying that saving the trees is not important but I am referring to fires that are much more deadly. Among those is the announcement that more than 55 percent of the Lebanese live below the poverty line, and that other Lebanese will join them in the next stage,” our reader explained.


Other fires, he said, include the depletion of the Central Bank’s reserves due to the ongoing illegal smuggling of subsidized goods under the support of well-known leaders.


National currency has turned into dust, so did the state institutions. National dignity was killed by politicians’ schemes. The residents inside the map are hostages surrounded by burning trees, stiff souls, a decaying state, and pirates with a history of plundering and burning ships.


The dangerous fires also include keeping the country starving for a government, pending the results of the US elections, Iranian instructions and international medications.


The reader said that fires are erupting in many countries of the world. Ever the US, Canada and Australia find it sometimes very difficult to contain them.


Fires remind us of our failure to build a country and institutions. We scramble over the firefighting and civil defense agencies and waste money on convoys and personal luxuries, without making any consideration for human life or the perseveration of trees.


Without a state worthy to be named as such, it is impossible to save people, trees and stone. We are running in the opposite direction. We spread old words on death. We cover the wounds with rotten honey, which worsens the infection.


We resort to outdated rhetoric that disrupts dialogue, sound reasoning and debate, unaware that the old dictionaries have long expired.


The reader admitted that the fires in Syria are huge and worrying, but he noticed that the actual fire was that Syria, which resisted change and then faced the terrorists, has not yet begun the journey towards a normal country that would benefit from the devastating experiences and stark lessons. Hundreds of thousands of dead and an army of prisoners and missing. A terrible deterioration in the national currency and deep wounds to the national unity… Millions of citizens live below the poverty line and others scattered in neighboring countries... Poverty, tutelage and ancient mechanisms in a noisy and changing region.


The reader said that hiding the wounds with outdated words was the best recipe for the renewal of fires.


It is very painful to hear what the Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and Libyans say. Forest fires are painful, but we live within maps that are constantly burning with their inhabitants, forests and the future of their children. When will we have governments that respect the citizens, the trees, the minds and the numbers? When will we stop relying on fortune tellers, astrologers, word merchants, and illusion sellers? When will we start respecting progress, education, research, transparency, integrity, and the generation of our children and grandchildren?


We are tired of forest fires and the destruction of lives. We are tired of painful burdens that small maps can no longer endure… We are tired of those who use force to impose uniforms on multiple societies. We are tired of falsifying priorities, justifying hunger and economic decline, and resorting to coffins to conquer dreams of change.


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