By Martin Accad
I arrive to a road block on my way to work in the Greater Beirut area. Young men are manning it, feeding the black smoke emerging from burning tires. Other iron and wood materials are strewn around randomly across the road. Cars and scooters dot the site in disordered fashion. I am riding behind my colleague on his scooter – because a scooter stands greater chances of passage than a car – but we are brought to a halt. A young man, masked with a bandana, informs us that we would not be allowed to reach our workplace that morning. My blood is boiling. My heart rate and pressure levels are shooting high above the black smoke that is fading into the clouds. When this young man informs me that he is leading a revolution for change so that I “can live a better life,” I retort that he is playing with more than just the fire emitted by his roadblock materials, and that I have been fighting for his rights and freedoms since before his mother was even aware that she would one day conceive him!
You see, when my generation – born in early 1970s Lebanon – comes upon a roadblock, we see self-entitled teenagers with machine guns, getting ready to gun us down based on the religion listed on our identity card; we imagine ourselves being kidnapped, not ever to be heard of again; we guess the presence of a sniper on a rooftop nearby, who will not give a second thought to taking our lives, depending on whether we are wearing a cross or a calligraphy of Allah around our neck, or a headscarf on our head if we’re women. The reason for this trauma? Those self-entitled teenagers of the 70s and 80s are the zuamaa (militia bosses) of the Lebanese Civil War, sitting even now on their political thrones in Meerab, Moukhtara, Ain el-Teeneh, the Baabda Palace, or somewhere in an unknown hiding place underground. Others – mercifully – are already six-feet-under!
When my generation is invited to yet another uprising, we are cynical and have all-but-given up on the possibility of change. Can we be blamed? We plastered the la lil harb, naam lil hayat (“no to war, yes to life”) stickers all over our walls in the late 70s, demonstrated and chanted our support as we walked toward Baabda in the late 80s, stood strong and united through the Cedar Revolution in 2005, marched against corruption in the You Stink movement earlier this decade, and many of us are still shouting killon yaani killon (“all of them means all of them”) in the face of our useless and hopelessly corrupt political class!
So, when a young man or woman with frazzled eyes and with cheeks and hands smeared with black sludge pretends to prevent us from reaching our work on a fine Monday morning of October 2019, we want to snap them back to reality and infect them with our disease of convinced despair and hopelessness…
But by what right do we do this? What claims do we hold on the hope and hunger for life that has been feeding the fierce yet peaceful thrust of this 17 October revolution? We have done what we can when it was our turn to fight for life and our responsibility to do so. If we want to hold on to our own ghosts, that is our prerogative. But we have no right to project our own hauntedness onto this generation. Fighting for a better life is their prerogative.
Let the struggle for “a better life” pursue its course. Let us be warners of dangers past, based on life’s experience, without quenching the spring that will ever long for a better future. Let us smile at the unstoppable hope for a new beginning. Let us laugh in delight with the young in celebration of small but steady achievements. Let us move out of the way when we feel hopeless, but join in the fierce pursuit of change when the tired energies of our bodies get that second wind for change. At the end of this year of 2019 and the dawn of a new year, we are entitled to scream #killon_yaani_killon! One of the great symbols of the resurrected Christ in the Christian tradition is the phoenix rising from the ashes. Perhaps not by complete coincidence, when angry thugs of the dying political class stormed the downtown of Beirut and destroyed the tents of the revolution, the creative artists of this new generation built a large phoenix out of the wrecks of twisted metal. With God, there is always hope for a new beginning, hope for new life out of the rotten flesh of death and ashes of corruption!