Violence in your backyard

After yesterday’s horrific bombing in Beirut, just a kilometer or two from where I lived this summer and just two blocks from where I spent several afternoons and evenings, Maya Mikdashi wonders, “What is a Car Bomb?

It is surreal to wake up to news of a car bomb back home, now thousands of miles away. Immediately, the war shaped body is both numb and preoccupied with images of death and destruction. The mind wanders and sutures the past, present and future seamlessly. Phone calls, emails, and texts begin. The space between a call and its response seems immense, and the time it takes to hear from blood and choice family-particularly when they live or work or frequent the targeted neighborhood-is bloated with the macabre.

But what is a neighborhood? In times of violence, and in places shaped by seemingly unending violence, neighborhoods are always contracting. To put a distance between you and an explosion is to imagine a logic to violence, and a logic to safety. It happened in Lebanon. No, it happened in Beirut. No, it happened in Achrafieh. No, it happened in Sassine. No, it happened on one particular side of Sassine. Finally, it happened on one particular street and near these particular shops. “We are fine,” I hear from my sister. “It was two blocks away so don’t worry.” These are statements we grew up with, when car bombs and regular bombs and snipers and checkpoints mapped our lives. Now we use these same words, passed on from one generation to the next…

A car bomb is not a car bomb. It is a spectacle. It is a statement. It is shock and awe. In Lebanon, it is an incitement to memory-both short and long term. A warning that life is cheaper than TNT, that blood runs faster than fire-extinguishing water, and that car bombs and snipers and checkpoints and bombs are always already here, waiting to break the surface of the present.

As an outsider working in Beirut, I felt as if the city were perpetually on edge, teetering on the precipice of succumbing to the mass violence that has raged on for a seeming eternity, now just 60 miles to the east in Damascus. I hoped then, as I do now, that I was wrong.

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