The Ghetto of Beirut: Eulogy for the Dahyeh
The question was, Why do you love Beirut? And the love came pouring. And with the love, like every true love, came the tears. But why are we crying Beirut? And what Beirut are we crying?
Beirut heard the bombs, and saw them, perhaps lost an airport and a couple of bridges at the edges, bridges leading to Elsewhere. To those places that are, on some papers, a part of "Greater Beirut", but couldn't be farther from it. Those places where the buildings fell on their inhabitants, on the people running from death elsewhere, from the South. Hezboland, el-Dahyeh, the Southern Suburbs, call it whatever tickles your fancy, but is this the Beirut you're crying? The ghetto of Beirut? The place where Fairouz wouldn't be caught dead in? My brother was giving tours of "the Damage" to people from the "Real Beirut" who have never set foot in those suburbs before. And why should they? But now, it's the set of our tragedy.
And the ghetto is regressing. My mother tells me, day after day, it looks farther and farther from the place where we were born and raised. It looks farther and farther from Beirut, the other Beirut, the one going on downtown in all its swank. The divide has grown bigger. Even the people are getting worse, whatever that means. It is, in so many regards, the new ghetto of Beirut.
Navigating the rubble, and the traffic, and the men in undershirts sweating the ungodly heat from every pore of their being; is this the Beirut we cry? This war has been, by its intent, one of the most classist, discriminatory wars ever. That was the whole point: hit the poor Shiite following of Hezbollah, and split the country in half. And the country is still waiting to be split, right down the middle, or maybe off to the side. As much as I appreciate the sentiments of nostalgia and patriotism, and as effective as they were so far in "keeping the unity", something about them strikes me as deeply ingenuine.
This wound did not happen on the old scar; I hope it never will. But why are we applying the same second-hand balsams to it? There is a gash rotting at the edges of Beirut that looks nothing like home, and is so easy to ignore. Just don't ignore it, for it is--depending on the weather--a part of Beirut. And next time we wax rhapsodic about the city, let's keep in mind that beside the jasmine there is garbage, or worse: people who once were. Just don't polish them so much that they looking nothing like their former selves; remember, the ugly die too.