Hazem Saghieh

Lebanon: Why Have a Single Homeland to Begin With?

One of the "ingenious innovations" of the Russian Civil War that broke out following the 1917 October Revolution, was the establishment of "blocking units," communist forces positioned behind the soldiers fighting on the front lines. As for their task, it was to shoot the soldiers fleeing battle. These units were set up because army personnel, whose morale had collapsed during World War I, which was accompanied by sharp economic decline, did not demonstrate the enthusiasm needed for subsequent wars. They were thus presented with a stark choice: either kill or be killed.

Today, the Lebanese who do not want to fight either as a country or as individuals, a large majority, face the threat of being at the receiving end of character assassination, defamation, and accusations of treason at the hands of "blocking units" with an insatiable demand for warriors, willing or not.

Indeed, we ought to be a society of warriors; otherwise, we are cowards with no honor or dignity at best, and traitors and spies at worst. Just days ago, events unfolded that once again reflected this unshakable drive: when parliamentary deputies representing the capital criticized an armed parade held during the funeral of a militant who had died fighting in the south with "Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya", which Hezbollah has co-opted, some clerics affiliated with the former and friendly media outlets responded with the sort hounding we are familiar with, going beyond politics and to denounce the deputies in wildly retrograde in moralistic terms. Instead of noting that it was the residents of Beirut (who have suffered greatly from arms and militants in past decades) whom these deputies spoke for, the "Al-Akhbar" newspaper reported the news under the conspiratorial headline "A US-Gulf ordered campaign against the Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya," which is "bringing resistance back to Beirut."

The fact is that what "Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya" is bringing back to Beirut, if the newspaper's predictions prove correct, is nothing less than re-subjecting the capital to militia-rule, or reinforcing the existing wholesale militia dominance through retail dominance, thereby rounding off militia control over national decisions of war and peace by allowing every armed alley in the country to decide on war and peace with the other alley.

With this decision tinged with glory and heroism, analysis becomes twisted, lying in wait behind every development. Accordingly, after a Houthi delegation comes to visit from Yemen "to coordinate resistance operations," we are shelled with the notion that the historian and university professor Makram Rabah is the one who is the real threat, for using a metaphorical image that depicts just how wretched our situation really is. Rabah was summoned for questioning for having "breached the national consensus" around the resistance, which is limited to those among whom the consensus is around the aesthetics of armed parades.

With that, however, this behavior is not to be underestimated, as it is accompanied by a persistent insistence, generation after generation, on replacing life above ground with life below it, where bullets hiss and children sleep beneath their beds in horror, while models like those of nineteen-seventies Bulgaria and Albania or today's Houthis are emulated- models we are light-years ahead of. It is nonetheless notable and interesting that the only attribute they find befitting of Beirut is that of a resistant capital, with all the blood, torn-off limbs, and despair that such a resistance entails. If it is true, as some say, that the Beirut of Hariri was not an ideal city and the antithesis to a resistant Beirut, then it is also true that cities and urban life become untenable amid this bulldozing, entrenched, hegemonic, and nihilistic irrationality.

From one generation to the next, ideas change and become increasingly pedantic. Judith Butler might replace Vladimir Lenin, who in turn replaced Gamal Abdel Nasser, who himself had replaced Antarah ibn Shaddad. Yet, the image of happiness that is sought remains unchanged: carrying the popular idea with us into tunnels and shelters as buildings collapse into rubble above us. There, we chant about our "victory" and weep over the injustice of the world and how the West deprived us of cities.

We Arabs have a rich tradition of elegizing cities, the most emblematic and prominent of which could be Ibn al-Rumi’s elegy to Basra after it was burnt to the ground. We can always draw from this tradition and find solace in it, after the perpetrator is made anonymous, as we did after the Beirut port explosion four years ago. However, by deliberately ignoring the perpetrator so insistently, we celebrate the act and consider it a victory since it struck the backbone of the capital.

In the end, no amount of goodwill can dispel apprehensions about this approach and those who are pushing it, as standing in solidarity with a legitimate cause, be it in Algeria, Suez, or Gaza, become pretexts for breaking a country and destroying its capital. It is as though the whole thing were purely a matter of hatred for a model that demanded more than we had to offer, and all we have to offer is armed parades; either that or it could be a chronic aversion to the notion of statehood that emerged over the rubble of an empire that fell just over a hundred years ago that is looked back on nostalgically. If that is the case, then why have a single homeland to begin with?