March 24, 2014

On Medieval Society and Accountability

I woke up Sunday morning to some distant explosions. Turns out they were fighting in Tarik Jdiedeh; a neighborhood in West-Beirut known (these days) for frequent confrontations between sunni and shia muslims, and lately it has the added flavor of anti-and pro-Syria supporters.

Spring has started, and so has picnic season, which we (the Dutch) inaugurated this Sunday
This time it was the Salafiya (an evil group of angry bearded men who believe the Taliban are the good guys) embroiled with the supporters of Shaker al-Berjawi (an equally evil man who believes Bashaar el Assad is a good guy). It started over a personal dispute between two men, and soon erupted into a full scale battle, with only one dead. Personally, I’m a little disappointed at that number. I’d rather have them eradicate each other, and one dead over a full-scale neighborhood battle that lasted several hours and involved mortar grenades, is not going to do the job.
It is an alien concept to me that people would pick up a gun and shoot other people because they are on the opposing end of the political spectrum. But then again, if you see their supporters (both groups), the word ‘alien’ does come to mind.
The simple pleasures of life; reading a book on the beach
These people come from a world so far removed from yours and mine that I sometimes wonder where they were all this time? For the past 23 years, I have traveled all over Lebanon, hung around in all kinds of neighborhoods, have talked to people of all parts of the country, of all religions and political convictions, of all economic backgrounds and all walks of life, but I cannot remember meeting men that told me they were going to shoot other people for their convictions and that they were willing to drag this country into a civil war and make everyone’s life utterly miserable because they thought their cause was more important than everyone else's.
And so here we are, our lives being made miserable by barbarians, who are trying their hardest to drag us back into the Dark Ages. There has to be a way we can stop this! I am not the only one thinking this: a Facebook friend writes “Random question: do citizens nowadays have the capability of preventing war from happening in their city, somehow? (thank you, Miss L.)
That's how we roll
As it happens, I am currently reading this book on Eleanor of Aquitaine (I love medieval European history), and it explains the situation in Europe at that time (we’re talking 12th century here): ‘In the 12th century, there was no concept of nationhood or patriotism, and subjects owed loyalty to their ruler rather than the state. Europe was split into principalities called feudatories, each under the rule of a king, duke or count, and personal allegiance, or fealty, was what counted.’
You can exchange Europe for Lebanon, and it would read like a 2014 account. They say ‘history repeats itself’. Welcome Dark Ages, here we are.
Another book I am reading (Medieval Europe by H.W.C. Davis), on medieval culture, states ‘This nascent feudalism was often brutal, always summary and short-sighted in its methods of government. The feudal group was engaged in a perpetual struggle for existence with neighboring groups. Feudal policy was aggressive; for every war-lord had his war-band, whom he could only hold together by providing them with adventure and rich plunder. Furthermore, as though disintegration of society had not gone far enough, every great ‘fief’ was in constant danger of civil war and partition.’
This book was written in 1923. It could have been written today. Because that’s what we got Sunday morning, two war bands in Taril el Jdiede, looking for adventure and plunder. And  there is nothing we can do about this?
This abandoned factory does not look like it has ever been used, nor will it ever been used, and it's standing on beach front property. What were these people thinking?
The prime minister is blaming it on the spread of arms. I blame it on the idiots willing to carry and use them.
But wait, there’s more misery on the horizon.
A friend of a friend wrote in an e-mail (BR, I hope you don’t mind me stealing your lines! But they are so spot on)  I think the numbness and sense of powerlessness of the Lebanese is truly scary.  It leads to a self and family-centered "living for the moment" - people don't think change is possible so there are few activists for community-building within a corrupt and ineffectual governmental/political system.  Such a sad place!  Even though there are still attractions, I found the underlying apathy and materialism to be oppressive.’
Corniche traffic (not that busy actually, usually it's bumper to bumper around this time; 6:00 PM)
Wow! That hurts.
Now read what this guy wrote (under the header “Barbarian Kingdoms’) about medieval society:  When the natural leaders (read: our youth) of society avow that they despair of the future, fatalism spreads like a contagious blight among the rank and file, until even discontentment is numbed into silence’.
With the incredible brain drain we’ve been dealing with over the past years, I’d dare say that shows despair among our future leaders. What we’re left with are the sons of sons of war-lords, who have no other intention that to maintain this feudal system.  And so the question remains: Are we going to be numbed into silence or do citizens nowadays have the capability of preventing war from happening in their city, somehow?’
I think we do have. Definitely as internet literate people, and bloggers.
Driving into Beirut at dusk after a day out in the country; the homing pigeons are still out
I have always found it mind-boggling that all these crimes committed during the civil war (should I say 'the previous'?) went unpunished. But who can figure out who did what when and where to whom? Who were the criminals that manned the check-points or the barricades during the civil war? (Other than the ones that are still running our country. Just check who might be running for the presidential elections. If that won't make you cry, what will?). Very little picture material was made, kept, or shared. We cannot even figure out who blows up people these days.
But what if we can do something? I think it is time for some accountability.
The Corniche at sun set
I, for instance, believe that anyone picking up a gun and using it against another Lebanese, is a criminal.
And in this digital day and age, everyone with a camera and 3G connection, should be able to snap pictures of those men carrying guns, and post them on the Internet.  This way, we should somehow be able to gather an immense photo archive of criminals.  And then when this second civil war is over and done with – which hopefully won’t last as long as the previous one - we can identify and prosecute all those absolute morons that have decided on their own personal level that this civilization isn’t worth fighting for, but that they'd rather fight for their feudal lord. Because if we can’t catch the big guys, at least we can nail the small ones. And if the small guys don’t work for the big ones anymore, then it is done and over with the big guys. Accountability is key.

And so the sun sets in the Mediterranean, and upon us as well, it seems.

Well, that makes for an optimistic reading, no?
Anyone any other (more feasible, maybe) ideas on how the web can instill some accountability in this place?


Anonymous said...

Well said!

I always think of Lebanon watching downton abbey...

jbech said...

If anyone is wondering how to define Lebanon , it's simply a microcosm of the world.All the major religions are represented; all the political ideologies are present . If you can solve tiny Lebanon's problems, then you can solve the rest of the world's. It ain't going to happen.
Besides, what's life without a bit of drama. :)
Nice blog by the way.

Gray Fox said...

Excellent piece!!!
You may want to read this Reuters article about young Lebanese leaving their country for a brighter future elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Lebanon is not the only country that has many religions and many political ideologies. only in Lebanon they shoot each other ,other places they live in peace .
It is time for the Lebanese to stop blaming the world and fix this big mess
of a country .
It is very sad because if fixed Lebanon would be a very nice place.
We need more Dutch in the country .