Hospitality or the Abyss
Patrick McGreevy writes from Beirut:
Hospitality or the Abyss
West Beirut seems like a different place today. Shi’ite men and black-clad women have flooded into Hamra—the neighborhood near American University of Beirut that was once known as the most secular place in the Middle East. They are sleeping in crowded and sweltering school buildings with inadequate bathroom facilities. AUB held a meeting today to coordinate volunteer support efforts for local refugees. The university will create a fund to provide food, water, cleaning supplies and medical assistance (if you are willing to contribute contact John Bernson at firstname.lastname@example.org).
When a catastrophe like this comes to any land, it can inspire crazy rumors and speculations. In a place that has recently experienced fifteen years of hellish chaos, the various ways of descending into the abyss immediately come to the surface. Is this post-traumatic stress or healthy fear? The worst fear is that the deep Arab commitment to hospitality—to any and all without a single question—will invert, that Lebanese groups will turn on each other and on the foreigners who choose to live among them. Do Israeli leaders hope for this? There is absolutely no trace of it yet, but how does one dissever 2006 from 1984?
The problem with fear is not only that it obscures the present situation, but that it paralyzes constructive action. Lebanon will be whatever its people make of it: there is no inevitable slide into an abyss. The immediate problem, like almost everywhere else in the region, is the economic plight of the most disenfranchised citizens. Recognizing this, Hezbollah has attended to the needs of these ones and created a remarkable faith-based system of support. The best way now to avoid the abyss is for the citizens of Beirut—whether Muslim, Christian or secular (and the wider world to which it is connected)–to be very attentive to the human suffering of these refugees. Hospitality must transcend all difference.
And what of those who are raining bombs on Lebanon? Today a water-drilling truck in the Christian Achrafieh neighborhood, another truck transporting medicine, civilians dying everywhere. The targeting strategy errs on the side of overkill—the tactic of terror. But what does it yield? What does the Warsaw Ghetto tell us? Both Hezbollah and the Israeli leaders, despite the asymmetry of their power, assume this is a macho game about dignity, about facing down one’s enemy. Look in the mirror habibi. Look into the abyss.