Letter from Beirut: ‘It is never just a bomb’

A resident of the Lebanese capital reflects on the international reaction to the attacks in Beirut and Paris.

Don''t use - Letters from Beirut
Twin explosions in a southern suburb of Beirut killed 43 people on November 12 [Bilal Hussein/AP]

On Thursday, November 12, twin explosions in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, killed 43 people and wounded more than 200 others. 

One resident of the city, Elie Faras, reflects on the events of that day – and the global reactions to what would happen just a day later in Paris:

People believe that it must have become second nature for us Lebanese to hear of attacks. They assume that living in a country teetering on the edge of chaos means being ready for whatever such chaos throws our way. But it’s never the case.

I was walking aimlessly up a Beirut street on November 12. It had been a long day at work, a day in which the medical students I’m overseeing joked that my birthday falling on Friday the 13th must be an omen. I went along with the joke, not knowing it would end up as a fulfilled prophesy less than a few hours later.

I did not hear the explosions. I did not hear the sound of lives breaking, families shattering or normality fading less than 10 minutes away from where I stood. Instead, I found out when a friend asked me: “Do you know what happened in Borj el-Barajneh?”

I looked at her questioningly. 

A suicide bombing, she said. 

As I was checking the news, a second bomb went off. 

My country had been broken – again.

“It’s just a bomb,” I heard some people around me say.

It will always be ‘just a bomb’ for many Lebanese. Us dying on the streets of our cities, away from our homes, doing things that no person should ever die doing, although rare, has become frequent enough for us to develop a reflex reaction whereby we immediately brush it off.

But it wasn’t ‘just a bomb’ this time, just as it is never ‘just a bomb’.

The death toll kept rising, and the pictures in the media kept flowing: the burned bodies; the crying widows; the weeping infants; the hospitalised children; the destroyed buildings; the streets turned to rubble.

It was horror all around; a type of horror that is all too familiar and yet somehow distant.

But on that night, there was a shift in my country’s response that humbled me: the night of November 12 was not about petty politics and the how, why and who of that deadly act. It was us, standing together and telling each other: I don’t care where you come from, this is my hand reaching out, let me help.

People flocked to hospitals to donate blood, to help in any way they could.

Amid the devastation of it all, the story of Adel Termos emerged: a man in his 30s who had tackled the second suicide bomber, preventing him from accessing the mosque he was targeting, and saving hundreds of lives in the process.

We were looking at that horrible footage, hugging our children, mothers and fathers, and hoping that this would be the last time they’d have to see, hear and feel such things. It was really too much of a burden to have to know that Alaa Awada, a third-year law student, had passed away, or that Rawan Awada, a schoolteacher, would not be teaching her pupils the following day, or that Shawki Droubi and Khodre Alaeddine would not see their colleagues at the hospital in just a few hours.

The names, the faces, the stories: they’re the same every time, and yet so different. The common denominator is always this: a country that is forced to its knees, forced to mourn, forced to face chaos head on and to come out triumphant at every turn. But for how much longer?

Three days after November 12, Borj el-Barajneh is picking up the pieces of what once was. The country is slowly but surely rebounding. The sense of unity this time around is palpable. I do not hear the kind of talk that used to be so commonplace: dissecting the politics of each attack. No, this time the talk is about the people, the victims, the sense of despair we all feel at having to go through this, again and again. This was not ‘just a bomb’.


Shortly after these horrors struck my people, they also struck Paris. 

The news came as a shock to me. Paris is a city I love. When I last visited, I stayed on the very street where the Bataclan concert venue is located. I know those avenues and those boulevards. It broke my heart to see the maps pinpointing the locations where the same harm was being inflicted upon Parisians as had been unleashed on my people just a few hours earlier. 

Soon, the international condemnations poured in. People from all over the world started praying. Global landmarks were illuminated in the colours of the French flag. Everyone mourned.

So I sat at my workplace, on the morning of November 14, wondering why my people did not matter as much, why my death would never be as important, why I will always be politically irrelevant.

My people didn’t get international condemnations. Their deaths did not wake up US President Barack Obama, compelling him to issue a statement about how they were a blow for humanity. After all what is humanity but a subjective term delineating the worth of the human being it refers to?

My people didn’t get anything more than a brief mention in the news cycles, something akin to a weather report. My people didn’t see landmarks lit up in the colours of their flag. My people didn’t unite the world in declarations of sympathy. They didn’t even get a Facebook button to tell their families they were safe.

And you know what, I’m fine with it all. I’ve come to accept that I will never truly matter. I will never matter as long as there are Lebanese and other Arabs who are more devastated by what took place in Paris than by what takes place almost daily in their own home cities. They say it’s because such attacks have become normal for us. They say it’s habituation. But it’s not.

We can ask for the world to think that Beirut is as important as Paris, or for Facebook to add a ‘safety check’ button for us to use daily, or for people to care about us. But the truth of the matter is that we are a people who have grown so used to being broken that we long ago stopped trying to heal. 

May all the victims of the atrocities – in Beirut and Paris and elsewhere – rest in peace.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.  

Source: Al Jazeera