Photo by Zoe Hu/The Gazelle

On Beirut: A Local Perspective

Sophomore Rasha Shraim was out with friends on July 9 when the explosions went off in Dahye, a suburb to the south of Beirut. Shraim was approximately ...

Mar 10, 2014

Photo by Zoe Hu/The Gazelle
Sophomore Rasha Shraim was out with friends on July 9 when the explosions went off in Dahye, a suburb to the south of Beirut. Shraim was approximately a half-hour drive away from the explosion, and she could see smoke rising from the site. Her next obstacle was finding a way home, as many cab drivers were reluctant to drive back into Dahye.
“The way home was just a mess, traffic barely moving, and every now and then, someone would walk by and they would be terrified and bleeding,” Shraim said.
Shraim would later find out that the explosion was a rigged car bomb that left 53 wounded, according to Naharnet, a multilingual news portal in Lebanon. As people ran away from the site and rushed to nearby hospitals, the roads in and out of Dahye were jammed. Shraim and her friends, not surprised by the bombing, returned panicked phone calls from family members.
“Sadly, because in Lebanon, we have gotten so used to such unfortunate events, we were laughing it off,” Shraim said.
Other Lebanese students were left similarly unfazed by the bombing, as they have become uaccustomed to instability in the region. Lebanon has been violently affected by the Syrian crisis as early as May 2012, when fighting broke out between anti and pro-Assad groups. Sectarian violence in Lebanon has continued, with a series of bombings in Tripoli on Aug. 23 that killed at least 42 people.
Although sophomore Jad Mahmoud was worried when bombings broke out in Dahye and Tripoli, as he had friends in both areas, he expressed almost the same sentiment as Shraim.
“To be honest I wasn’t shocked,” Mahmoud said. “We’re used to having bombings, we’re always expecting those news, unfortunately.”
Senior Sam Nehme had friends of friends who were wounded and even killed by the recent bombings. Nehme can clearly remember every time that a bombing broke out. As soon as the phone lines cleared, Nehme and his friends would call each other — a process that is almost routine to him.
Nehme believes that the constant violence and instability has made Lebanese people very adaptable. Nehme referred not only to the recent bombings but generalized that Lebanon has been unstable for the past 100 years. The Lebanese would quickly respond to and rebuild from such attacks.
“The Lebanese were rebuilding bridges as they were being bombed,” Nehme said.
Shraim, Nehme and Mahmoud were all careful about discussing politics in Lebanon, which they described as a very charged topic in light of the ongoing Shi’a and Sunni clashes. Nehme said that politics is infused into all aspects of life, as politics is in turn infused with religion.
“There is a joke in Lebanon that we have more political parties than people,” Nehme said.
Upset by recent attacks, people have a tendency to recklessly point blame, Mahmoud said. He preferred not to speak about politics in Lebanon, because he did not consider himself to be well informed enough. As political discussion is almost inescapable in Lebanon, Mahmoud noticed that those without much knowledge of politics or news would carelessly throw out opinions. Careless political opinions would lead to unfounded accusations and public outrage.
Although unfazed by the bombings, Shraim, Nehme and Mahmoud all advised NYU Abu Dhabi students against travelling to Lebanon in the upcoming Eid break. Shraim, who lived closest to the site of a bombing, described the increasing sense of insecurity in Beirut. Those who live in endangered areas such as hers would feel insecure each time they left the house, not knowing that they could return safely. Shraim advised students to wait a couple months.
“You’ll have a chance to see our beautiful country like it really is, but your safety is definitely worth the wait,” Shraim said.
Carol Brandt, associate vice chancellor for global education and outreach, advised that students check the U.S. State Department travel advisories — or similar warnings issued by the governments of their home countries — before making travel plans. The U.S. State Department recommends that its citizens avoid, or consider the risks of, travelling to Lebanon.
“Traveling without appropriate research about the destination or without adequate preparation, especially to places that have been identified as having safety concerns, is irresponsible, unnecessarily places students in harm’s way, and causes NYUAD grave concern,” Brandt said.
For Mahmoud, the insecurity in Lebanon can be seen in small ways. His sister, who works as a medical representative and drives about Beirut frequently, had been warned by government-issued documents not to call phone numbers that are left on her car shield. When another car was parked in her way, it was common for the other driver to leave a note on her car shield so that she could call to have the car moved. However, due to recent car bombings, police suspect that such numbers are rigged to trigger bombs.
Mahmoud advised that students who go to Lebanon should have a local to accompany them, who might know how to avoid dangerous areas. However, those measures are not a guarantee of safety.
Nehme was disappointed that he could not recommend Lebanon as a travel destination for his classmates. Identifying himself as a patriot, Nehme said that he always dismissed students’ apprehensions about travelling to Lebanon in the past, blaming the perceived insecurity on misleading media reports. However, he agreed that students should stay away from Lebanon this Eid break.
“For the first time in four years, I would discourage students from visiting,” said Nehme.
Originally published on September 8, 2013.
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