Sunday, November 6, 2011

Getting on With Life (Lebanon)

Some of Sabine’s filmmaker friends are using the apartment to shoot a comedy pilot, so I’ve been hiding out in whichever room isn’t being filmed in, alongside all of the excess equipment, snacks, and techies on cigarette breaks.

At about 7pm, two of the boys come in with tequila shots to celebrate getting through most of the day. I bust out the peanut puffs. We’re in proper chillax mode.

I’ve been between books and my computer, trying to understand the roots of Tuesday’s clash between LAU students that left 8 people injured—4 badly enough to be taken to hospital. Here’s a potentially more “neutral” site’s version of the same story (I think of all my pre-blog musings that never got published, and feel for these poor “NOW Lebanon” guys with their self-imposed brevity).

These 20-year-olds are just two years on from the 18-year-olds we’re writing a play for. These are the small sparks of the otherwise “cold” war that Assaad keeps referring to. Our other collaborator has canceled his appointments this week to go to LAU personally to be involved with follow-up. All of a sudden Traboulsi’s history book doesn’t seem so dry; apparently I just needed some immediacy to engage.

Syria is key. The so-called Cedar Revolution in the wake of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination in 2005 ultimately led to the end of Syria’s official military presence in Lebanon (although arguably they still have considerable unofficial influence via Hezbollah). The withdrawal and its aftermath effectively bisected the Lebanese political landscape into what has been coined the “March 8” and “March 14” coalitions. To speak quite broadly (for more nuance you’ll have to hit Wikipedia), The March 14 Parties are pro-Hariri and anti- the current Syrian regime, while Hezbollah-led March 8 is largely in support of it.

The kids who clashed were Amal (March 8) and Future Movement (March 14). My question in all of this is: “If Syria’s regime topples, or if the situation disintegrates into full-blown civil war (which, depending on your definition, it might already have done), what are the potential repercussions in Lebanon?”

It’s a strange question to be asking from my desk at Sabine’s high-rise flat, sipping my beer as the one-man cast of the comedy serial flits by me in heavy makeup and drag. The Guardian says that 3 anti-Syrian activists have been abducted outside of Beirut, allegedly by Syrian Embassy officials based in Lebanon. But I had to go hunting to find that information, and this is the first I’ve heard of it.

Wissam, the production company general manager, comes back with the bowl of peanut munchies and tells me I have to help finish them because he’s the only one snacking. I ask him if what’s happening in Syria is going to affect Lebanon. “Affect? Of course. But there’s no way of knowing how.” He explains that clashes like these are not uncommon at Universities, notably in the context of campus elections. While talk of political parties is technically banned from the parlance of campus elections, students still run—and vote—along national party lines. This surprises me; I try to imagine equivalent campaigns at my own University in the States: “Vote Wendy Smith - Wellesley College Republican Candidate.” No, it’s just too bizarre.

But, again: immediacy. Politics have immediate and possibly dangerous effects here, which might make strongly self-identifying along party lines something that happens younger and more often. At our last writing rehearsal I learned that a lot of families (“most”) still own guns, as there were no official disarmament procedures put in place after the war: “Some parties still have their artillery.”

On the other hand, there’s also a mind-tricking distance. I’ve been glued to my computer while in the other room the director calls “Speed” and “Action,” and the show, quite literally, goes on. Is Wissam worried about Syria? He smiles. “You know in 2006 when the war was happening in Beirut, people were going out clubbing in the mountains. There are problems everywhere, all the time. For a year and half we lived without a government. Any other country, can you imagine if they had no government? But we just kept living. We’re used to getting on with life.”

I laugh and shake my head. He holds the bowl out to me. “Peanut puff?’