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Accepting my Cowardice as a Lebanese Born During the Civil War

Roubina Arslanian By Roubina Arslanian Published on April 17, 2018

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*This article was originally posted on Gate 37 and was written by Nadia Hassan.*


He’s in his flat on the frontline of what was then the great divide of the Lebanese Civil War; it’s a roof apartment with the windows open. He can see the glint of metal as mortars start raining down, hears their telltale whizzing, feels the building shake as they find targets around him. He’s in the lotus position, trying to meditate, mildly annoyed at the distraction.


How did that man beget such a neurotic daughter? It’s not my mom either, mind. She’s also as cool as a cucumber. She once stopped a convoy of about 20 Israeli tanks as they made their way across a mountain route adjacent to our village. Well, they stopped for her in any case. They had driven over a car, passengers and all, not a few meters before. Next thing you know, the tanks roll to a halt, and a soldier appears out of a hatch barking at her in broken Arabic to move aside. Maybe it was the sight of a pregnant woman. Naturally, in that situation I was in the fetal position.


Born the year of the Israeli invasion, I would have much preferred the British Invasion.

“All you need is love!” …Ah, but a lesser suited child for the times could not have been conceived. I was lucky enough to have grown up abroad, but since moving back, I’m well caught up. It’s part of our shared heritage, to experience the absurdity of our tiny country’s geopolitical fate. You can find it among the butts of jokes and stamped out cigarettes. It’s practically legendary. Virile, sun kissed David with a blazing phoenix tattoo, battling an army of bumbling Goliaths. Of course, most of the time, David is just “Dave”, the puny kid on welfare who gets kicked around by the neighborhood bullies.


Your standard Lebanese reaction to this comes in two models. Cool blue ‘Whatever’ and fiery red “Let me at ‘em! Let me at ‘em!” The red variety comes with a little toy that runs in place; the former with a little green herb. I invariably find myself off to one side biting my nails and bemoaning lost potential. I am not desensitized to violence, I refuse to normalize or galvanize. More than that, it terrifies me. I am not ashamed of this. The day we start to take this all in stride is the day our Lebanon, the country we believe is possible, loses all its fights. Don’t resist it, we should all be scared. My rallying cry is rattling teeth.


“You’re a coward!” some might say. Well, as Woody Allen fittingly retorts in Love and Death, “Yes, but I’m a militant coward.”


This article was originally posted in January 2015.

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