This is a late but still relevant reflection on the concept of identity in light of last month’s bombing in Achrafieh.
In Madagascar, we used names and titles with an ease that can only suggest certainty. We were certain of who we were. We were the Malagasies and the Lebanese and the Norwegian and the Chinese and the American and the Kenyan and the British and the German. That’s who we were.
Some weeks later, we were the Vazaha and them the locals.
In Peru and Switzerland and Dubai and France and Serbia, I was always the Lebanese, whether I desired it or not. Identity seemed simple. I was where I came from.
Some weeks later, we were the Extranjeros and Etrangers and Ajanib and Stranac and them the locals.
Back home, identity took a turn to the more complicated side. We were the Shias and the Sunnis and the Maronites and the Druze and the Orthodox. Even us Atheists were apparently either Christian Atheists – which would technically give me the ridiculous title of Christian Greek Catholic Atheist – or Muslim Atheists. National identity was no longer enough.
October the 19th, 2012. A bomb detonated in a heavily populated area in Achrafieh. Dead, injured, nothing too new for us Lebanese. The panic was expected, the sectarian clash anticipated and within the next few days, things went back to normal.
Before the bomb, we were Lebanese, more or less. During the bomb and its aftermath, we became Shias and Sunnis and Christians and Druze again. A few days later, Lebanese once more – again, more or less.
The bomb reignited a wave of helplessness already so prevalent in Lebanese society. Our greatest fear wasn’t the bombing itself, but rather what would come after the bombing. We’re the smallest country in continental Asia and yet fear so many of Lebanon’s darkest corners. Some Pro-American or Anti-Iranian or Pro-Syrian or Anti-Israel man somewhere might be planning another horror. And then what? Someone somewhere will reply, for honor, for revenge, for nothing. And then, Chaos.
We are truly the arena for men from the West and men from the East, to borrow Khalil Gibran’s observation. We fear chaos. We wish so desperately to just have none of this even existing in the first place. Some of us even contemplate dictatorships, tyrannies and theocracies – horrible, but less chaotic. Identity, we proved, can be lethal. Even more today, and more and more every day, it seems to be a question of life and death.
My encounter with the Child had already destroyed that certainty I used to feel about identity and living in Ambohibola discarded it permanently. I ended up being nothing. I wasn’t a Lebanese, just someone living in Lebanon. I wasn’t an Atheist, just someone who didn’t believe in a god or gods. I wasn’t a heterosexual, just someone who was attracted to women. I wasn’t a Socialist, just someone who believed that all humans should be born equal and have equal opportunities at Life. At that point, I lost the need to even identify with a nation, or a culture, or a belief system.
Simply living and experiencing and discovering and loving and smiling seemed more than enough.
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3 thoughts on “Reflection on the Bomb and Identity”
Identity is such a difficult concept to pin down. Just when we think we understand what it means, we find ourselves objecting to what it has to say about us. No matter how thorough a definition of identity we come up with, it somehow fails to do justice to who we are. No definition of Irishness, for instance, successfully captures the complexity and elusiveness of an Irishman. Taken individually, the Irish are unclassifiable. I’m sure the same can be said about the Lebanese.
The Irish can point to a shared history, a shared culture and a shared land, and insofar as the people of Ireland share these things they can be said to be one people. There is, however, one situation in which the question of identity seems very straightforward: when you, your countrymen and your land are under attack. When bombs are raining down on the city in which you live, you are in no doubt about who you are – you are the person ‘they’ are trying to kill. And you are in no doubt about who ‘they’ are, either – they are the people who are trying to kill you, you and the people you love. But while those forms of identity, defined under duress, help you to respond to and (hopefully) survive an enemy onslaught, they are not very accommodating once peace is restored and people begin to live again. Then, the identity that allowed you to survive as a people prevents you from actually living as a people. After peace has been restored and the guns have been put away, a different kind of battle begins – the battle to live as individuals.
Your reflection on the bomb and identity is a very important one – one I’d like to return to again at a later date.