Annahar doesn’t know Hamra, at all.

A picture I took of Hamra a couple of years ago, with my friend May in the middle (it was 4 am, hence the emptiness)
A picture I took of Hamra a couple of years ago, with my friend May in the middle (it was 4 am, hence the emptiness)

I just finished reading Al Nahar’s pathetic piece (Arabic), entitled “Hamra isn’t Lebanese anymore. The Syrian expansion is not part of its identity.” (bad translation) Putting aside the inherent racism – ironically, when I tried to research the author of the piece’s name on Facebook, I found a Syrian from Aleppo – and the lack of basic ‘anything’ that Mr. Hussein Hazzoury seems to profess so proudly, I admit being a bit confused.

The author must have not visited Hamra in a while. He asks us if we remember listening to Fairuz while having our morning coffee. Well yes, I literally had that a few days ago, in T-Marbouta, Hamra. I don’t know if he expected to get his Fairuz-flavored morning coffee while shopping at Virgin Megastore or H&M which, naturally, aren’t a threat to our dear Lebanese identity because they’re Western brands, not Syrian. I’m in Cafe Youness at the moment and there’s Western music playing. I think that’s Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” playing at the moment actually. He’s a Westerner isn’t he? Plus, he’s black! Call the Infantry!

Also, what does “Hamra is Lebanese” mean? And what the hell is “Hamra (which means Red in Arabic) became black” mean, other than pure racism? (I didn’t know that the Lebanese were white. Awesome! I can travel now.) Did the SSNP (Syrian Social National Party) move in a couple of years ago? Isn’t Hamra the area of Beirut traditionally associated with Communist and Pan-Arab activity? Am I missing something? I could have perhaps understood if the author was talking about Achrafieh (though not accept), but Hamra?

And hold your donkeys for a moment, but is the author seriously blaming “Syrian expansion” (I still don’t know what that means) for Hamra’s current woes? Is he seriously blaming them for the fact that we have sewage flooding our streets? Do you like listening to Fairuz when the air around you smells of sewage? What about our pathetic non-existent government structure, or the fact that most buildings would probably crumble if an earthquake hit, or the fact that we have neither 24/7 electricity nor running water? I’m sorry for repeating this in virtually every post on the topic, but these are actual problems. Actual, Real, problems. Using vague racist symbolism that mean absolutely nothing also achieves absolutely nothing – and means even less given that the Lebanese and Syrians are of the same ‘race’, which is a man-made concept with no scientific evidence whatsoever.

Whether the author wishes to accept it or not, Hamra was always Syrian. The American University of Beirut’s original name is the Syrian Protestant College. It was also always Lebanese and always Western and always Arab. It’s even Filipino and Sudanese and Sri Lankan and Ethiopian, especially on Sundays (I know we like to pretend that these people don’t really exist). Such was the beauty of Hamra and, despite the numerous issues, still is. What “ruined” it? The Civil War, the mass exodus of the middle class, the closure of virtually every theater and cinema that once defined its character. That’s not the fault of that Syrian dude eating chicken with other Syrian dudes. This, Mr. Hazzoury, is our fault. Us. The Lebanese. We who are so brilliantly talented in blaming everyone else but ourselves. We are the ones building towers instead of re-opening the theaters that are still here.

I love Hamra. It’s my second home, along with Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael. And because it’s my second home, I also hate it, just as I hate and love my own home in Ain Saadeh. This is what a Home does to you, it becomes who you are. You’re a part of it. Hamra isn’t a neutral space that simply endures what Men and Women do to it. It’s an active space that relies on its inhabitants and passers-by to breathe. Hamra does not exist without everyone in it, and there was never a time in history when Hamra remained unchanged for more than a few days. There is no such thing as an unchanging city, just as there is no such thing as a finished city. Cities are alive. And don’t get me wrong, Mr. Hazzoury, but I’m much more comfortable surrounded by people of all nationalities co-existing than I am around people obsessed with ‘purity’ of any kind. I don’t want purity, I prefer diversity.

I don’t want to blame Mr. Hazzoury alone here because, besides the cheap pointless accusations, he’s not the only one thinking like that, as the inhabitants he interviewed clearly reflect. The “Golden-Age Thinking” Fallacy that’s so brilliantly expressed in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” is very, very common in pretty much every country. “Those were the days”, as an Old American might say. But those weren’t the days, they were just days. Just as our days today are just days. And I’m pretty sure most Americans would prefer today’s days over the days of Jim Crowe and McCarthyism (or rather, I hope). Myself, I’m happy not having to run from one place to another, hoping that some sniper belonging to the Kataeb or Amal doesn’t take me down. It’d have been cool to see Beirut in the 50s and 60s when it was the so-called “Switzerland of the Middle East”, and even 20s and 30s, and even before that. But since that’s literally impossible, I prefer not to dwell on it and focus on the Hamra of today. And what, for goodness’ sake, does “Hamra’s Demographics changed” imply? When did they not change? Did it start changing in 2008? Was it the same Hamra in 1967 as in 1970? Same as 1975? 1980? 1985? 1990? 1995? 2000? 2005? 2010?

I do not want to give the impression that the increasing presence of Syrians in Hamra poses no problem at all. Sure it does. Many things do as well. But are they responsible for the increasing traffic? Or is that caused by the fact that we still don’t have basic decent public transportation in 2015? Unless Syrians are super obese, they would most likely fit a dozen or so public buses passing by Beirut, don’t you think? And let’s say that there are problems exclusively caused by the increasing presence of Syrians in Hamra. I reject it, but let’s assume so. What’s the solution? Kicking them out? Planting Cedar Trees in the middle of the road? Speaking French more often?

The author of the piece ended with a quote by 25 year old Syrian named Nour who said that “all Syrians want is peace. We’re just waiting for peace back home to return to Syria and leave Lebanon to its inhabitants. Lebanon has endured enough.” Isn’t that nice? A 25 year-old Syrian practically apologizing for being here, and a Lebanese author asking us to treat that 25 year-old as a problem.

I’ll stick with my Syrian brothers and sisters any time, thanks.

Update: Annahar apologized http://blogbaladi.com/annahar-apologizes-for-the-hamra-isnt-lebanese-anymore-article/

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    • I would say about 20% of Lebanese Christians and 5% of Lebanese Muslims have a visible degree of European ancestry. So maybe 15% of Lebanese would be considered White.

    • no! sorry to disappoint you but we are considered “non white”. and by the way have you ever seen the documentary about Marcel Ghanem, who had his DNA tested, came out he has African blood…of Ethiopian stock.
      grow up we are all humans…by the way the white man will never ever consider you white….stop bowing and be proud of who you are!!!

  1. Well spoken… But we need to take actions and more drastic measures to stop the non sense bullcrap some are spreading…. I salute the author

  2. On beirut having tons of Syrians, Dubai is hosting millions of people as residents and tourist from all over the world by the help of the amazing transportation, residential and education systems only because its people loved building their city in a unique way, they made a main goal they seek to achieve which is Their home, Lebanese haven’t set one real thing yet !
    Syrian refugees aren’t tourists, they are humanitarian disaster refugees ran from a war to a safer place with no terms or even simple life equipments, there is no single reason to treat them like expats or tourists.
    I feel happy and proud of reading such an article showing respect and acceptance of human race diversity

  3. I am still not very proficient in parseltongue and still far from perfecting my elvish, so English will have to do 😛 Hamra is just out of this world, it truly depicts the diversity Lebanese people always pride themselves with on TV. It’s a city, with all the best western-themed stores/restaurants/pubs but yet still has that Lebanese aura around it. When I walk in Hamra i feel like I’ve gone back the 50s, yet i have not. Hamra is a place where you can be whoever you wanna be without judgement, yet I feel sad to see the city that has become my second home to be neglected. It has its problems, a lot of them actually, but it still has that magic spell on it that makes us driven to it. Great Article 🙂

  4. Dear author there is no need to start shouting about racial descrimination every time someone expresses his oppininion , its so happens that we live in the middle east where minorities are being ethnicly cleansed from vast areas
    And if it happens that you live in ain saade and being disturbed by purity and wish to make every place mixed so that you became happy , many dont share your feeling and you in place to attack their opinnion , as we respect what you believe in , try to accept the fact that we think different and we cant feel well about our country turn into civil war due to ethnic and religious tensions just that you can enjoy your ideas as if we are in california and not middle east where each one entering lebanon carries his own ideology

  5. Beautiful well thought-out article. Do you know by any chance why is Hamra street called as such? Excuse my incompetence in Elvish 😀

    • I tried to find out but never got a straight answer. Some people seem to think that it’s because it was often associated with Beirut’s most liberal/secular intellectual scene and had a Red Light District. But I honestly don’t know.

        • Hi Dalia and Joey, one explanation I’ve read before in different sources is that the area used to be covered by a layer of red sand/soil, thus was referred to as al-Hamra. Hope this helps!

      • Sorry, forgot. Most, if not all, Beirut cinemas were in the Bourje area, until a new cinema by the name of Al Hamra opened elsewhere, i.e. in the residential area that was to carry that name later on. That’s my take.

      • I found this on the internet
        “Hamra was named after a Lebanese family who lived there decades ago. There was an old woman named Mme Hamra who lived in a villa on the street when it was still rather desert, and that’s how it became known as Hamra Street.”

  6. Thank you for taking up the matter with such vigour, and also for providing the link to that improbable article.
    I came to Lebanon from Syria to join a boarding school quite a number of years ago, and I can still remember passing by Ain Saadeh, your village. There were more ‘Syrians’ than ‘Lebanese’ at the school, and, I remember that, as a child, my only observation about the ‘locals’ was that they were of a darker colour! But then I was only a child, and not a journalist writing for a top newspaper!
    My generation remembers using the same currency in Damascus and Beirut, and travelling across what was then a mere notional border, without having to produce any document, though, occasionally, a curious sentry might ask one’s name. The idea of a border – for the first time since humans dwelt in these lands – continues to appear unnatural. Of course, none of this is of any concern to the author. Bluntly speaking, he is from a Shiite village in the South, and he believes that he is serving the political ends of the movement which controls thought, and all else, in that part of Lebanon. He is a proud ‘Southerner’, no doubt, but I wish he would ask himself what his grandfathers called themselves – not ‘Southerners’! South of what ?
    We now have an identity which is the creation of a French general and latter day Iranian religiosity. The travesty is that local bonds don’t count anymore.

  7. it was called Hamra after a family name called Hamra .. like kouraytem , barbir or sassine …etc and some say it use to have red sand .. but the first choice is more logical … by the way great article ..

  8. انا اقول رجعوا لبنان الى امها الحنونة سورية وخلصونا من المهازل البنانية

  9. […] Yesterday my Facebook news feed was full with posts concerning blonds and brunettes, I didn’t get it until I fell on a piece from An-nahar about the Syrian presence in Hamra… This is the Article in Arabic. By the time I was reading and thinking how to exactly feel about it another article emerged strongly criticizing the first one, This article was posted on Hummus for Thought, and you can read it right here. […]

  10. Congratulations to Tony Ayoub for his reflective and thoughtful repudiation of a mindless article which unfortunately resonates with selectively xenophobic Lebanese who eschew their neighbor but never tire of seeking patronage from the western shrines they worship. Some of this is an irrational attempt to deny being part of the neighborhood in which we live-that we are different…dare I say, better than them.

    If we can peel the thin layer of cosmopolitan chauvinism and veil of modernity we hide under, we might be more willing to challenge our own dysfunctions and demand accountable, qualified leadership in place of tribal inclinations which reveres the scions of old warlords so many follow.

  11. “There is no such thing as an unchanging city, just as there is no such thing as a finished city. Cities are alive. And don’t get me wrong, Mr. Hazzoury, but I’m much more comfortable surrounded by people of all nationalities co-existing than I am around people obsessed with ‘purity’ of any kind. I don’t want purity, I prefer diversity.” Genius. If only Arabs would learn to co-exit with each other.

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