While America and its allies seem set to go to war against Syria, Beirut-based Tim Davis Frank explains how these decisions affect the people of the Middle-East.
AS THE United States and its allies rush off to the UN, the separation between the actors and the actions seems insane. America bombs Syria; Syria bombs Israel; Israel bombs Lebanon; Lebanese Shia bomb Lebanese Sunnis.
Where I live, in Beirut, the tension in the community is extreme.
A week ago, a Syrian man I work with couldn't move due to his distress at hearing 625 people had been gassed to death.
A young Lebanese woman explained to me yesterday:
“In two months Lebanon will be flattened.”
Assad, the rebels, America, Hezbollah, Russia, gas lines, refugees, Palestinians, chemical weapons and their inspectors, Israel… Who are the people making these decisions? What benefits will await those deciding if they choose "correctly"?
News reports suggest a strike by American, Turkish and allied forces against Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria is imminent. After a chemical weapons attack on a civilian neighbourhood in Damascus last week, which killed over 600 people, the support for such an intervention seems natural. However, sitting here in Beirut, I am confused by the opposition of people around me, and my own feelings of fear for the future stability of Lebanon.
From afar, these decisions always seemed so clear: attack and rescue those in need; attack and cause harm; resist involvement and have blood on your hands; or resist involvement and help de-escalate a scenario. From up close, I am aware of the striking ignorance within all of these notions. The only clarity is the lack of involvement of the people who are the victims of the crimes that warrant intervention or the sufferings that occur during and following. What the cost will be of every $1,450,000.00 tomahawk missile to strike or not to strike Syria is not their problem to consider. Where they hide from the fallout is all they have to choose.
Putting my clothes into my wardrobe, I realised the inherent benefits of choosing to hang my shirts out to dry on coathangers. The ease with which I could transfer the washing, already seemingly ironed, contrasts disturbingly with the possible outcomes of the current push towards international intervention in Syria. While the stress of making shirts look ironed is something that I could have avoided by making a smart decision last night when I returned home, the stress of long-term chaos and the spread of violence as a result of American bombs landing once again on the middle east is something I have no way of influencing. While military intervention in the middle east is a passionate debate to have anywhere in the world, sitting in Beirut and waiting for the explosions and repercussions you are struck by the impotence of people here to protect their fragile security.
After decades of trauma; 15 years of civil war, 25 years of Syrian military and Israeli occupation, a death toll of between 120,000 and 150,000 people, a 33 day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 that killed another 1000-1500; the recent return of large car bombs targeting civilians and the threat of a dramatic escalation of the conflict in the coming days seems unfair to those who have managed to survive.
As a person who has never before had to consider the possibility that bombs may soon fall upon streets I use to get to my classroom, it seems absurd to continue drinking a coffee while cars explode. I forget that it is not my decision what happens here. My friend, Noura, calls it "becoming desensitised". For some here it is a choice they make in order to live their lives. For others, this estrangement is the reason nothing changes. Noura explained to me that it was like my lack of fear dying in a plane crash. I had told her I wasn't scared of something I couldn't plan for or control.
"It isn't my fault whether I do something or not, so why worry?"
For me, though, this feels different.
It feels like this is my fault because I am choosing to be here. I wanted to be where the action was. I wanted to live with the fear of hatred that makes some people choose to love and protect one another for survival. I wanted to be human, rather than Australian. I wanted to teach people who haven't had a chance to go to school for years because there are no teachers or textbooks where they have come from or where they have arrived. I wanted to choose a life based on the beliefs that everyone was born with equal, inalienable rights.
The fact that I could do what I wanted, shows how naive my beliefs have been. As a white, educated, native English speaker I can enter the net. It is because of fundamental inequality that I could do what I wanted.
The failure to grasp such a basic notion was made obvious when my flatmates returned home and saw my worried, disheveled face, grimacing over this little screen.
"What do you think?" they asked.
I stupidly said I was scared but determined to stay.
After a long discussion, they told me:
"We have lived through this before. We know what this is like. We have seen people die. You can't teach people during a war, 'Just be good. Learn to spell your own name.'"
I listened and I wanted to cry. I asked them what they thought:
"If this keeps happening we will go somewhere else, another country, another place, not Beirut."
"If we are here, we will be in the middle of everything and then we will have to do something. You can't just sit here when things are like that, you have to do something and I don't want to do this again... There are dreams."
He laughed, trailing off. I sat stone cold.
They were choosing to be sensitive. Whatever happens in Syria, the Lebanese people who I work with, who I drink with, who I live with, who I love, will need the world to choose to be sensitive to them too.
I have chosen to be here, but they are not choosing this. They don't want this or deserve it. This is the place where the action is not decided.
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