An open apology to Beirut

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Cartoon: Katie Usher

November 12, 2015. My mother called me for our usual evening chat.

“There was a bomb in Lebanon today.”

Without missing a beat, I said, “What else is new?” I immediately cringed—how could my reaction have been so heartless? I’d become accustomed to hearing about small bombs back home through my parents. I didn’t think anything of it. There was no mention of it on my Facebook newsfeed, and I made no real effort to check on the situation. My group chats with friends from home didn’t skip a beat from their usual banter. Nobody mentioned the situation as they continued to casually complain about their workloads and make plans for where they were going to party the following day.

Not one person spoke to me about what had happened. Nobody asked if my friends and family were affected and if they were safe. And why would they? The Lebanese community in Lancaster is tragically underrepresented. We have no presence on campus. When I proudly tell people where I’m from, the typical response is “Where’s that?”

“It’s that small country between Syria and Israel. I’m assuming you know where those are.” A country so small, why would anyone care? That had been my reasoning anyway. The story had gone by almost unnoticed. I was never bothered or surprised by the lack of a reaction. It barely even crossed my mind.

The following night, tragedy struck Paris. Horrible, disgusting, unbelievable tragedy. Suddenly, the Facebook notifications and posts started to flow through. Paris, the beautiful city that had stolen my heart on so many occasions, couldn’t be going through this. As my close friends and family marked themselves safe, I began to feel emotional. For the first time in a long time, I was terrified. I read article after article recounting the events, and my heart crumbled.

And then I stopped. Why is it that I hadn’t felt this overwhelming emotion towards the disaster that had struck my home just 24 hours before this?

Beirut, I am so sorry. I’m sorry that I have become numb and expectant of disasters like these to happen in my country. I’m sorry that I’ve allowed the media’s lack of appreciation for your unique beauty and the value of our lives to influence me. I’m sorry that somehow we’ve all come to think that this is okay. For all of this and more, I apologize. My heart breaks for you and with you.

The outrage that ensued following the world’s clear bias towards the Paris Attacks was evident and somehow comforting. It felt nice to be acknowledged. It felt nice to see my friends ask questions. Why shouldn’t all of our lives be treated the same? Why didn’t Lebanon get a minute of silence in Alexandra Square? Why hasn’t the world proudly displayed my country’s colors and mourned with us so deeply? Why does Facebook not give me the opportunity to mark myself safe or change my profile picture to the Lebanese flag? I appreciate your apology, Mark Zuckerberg. But it still hurts.

Beirut: the Paris of the Middle East. I remember how happy I was to hear Don Draper describe it as such in an episode of Mad Men. Our French influence is no secret. It’s evident in our vibrant culture, our love of food, and our deep appreciation for the finer things in life. The Lebanese live to explore, love, laugh, and indulge. We do so shamelessly and unapologetically. To my people: you are beautiful, strong, and your love of life remains unmatched in my eyes.

But we are not perfect. We have a long way to go. The garbage continues to pile up in our streets. We haven’t had a proper president in 19 months. We remain divided within our nation by our own egos. But we power on. And no amount of terror is going to break us.

Paris, thank you for showing us what it means to live and live well. We will make it through these tragedies together. My heart goes out to the families and friends of everyone affected. But this is our fight, and we will fight it side-by-side. And as far as I’m concerned, we’ve already won.