Just when I’d finally decided I needed to say something about what you may hear on the news, the Internet keeps going down and all the IT folks have fled the campus to be with their families. I guess our families and friends, along with any English news I get on Twitter, will have to wait. We still have cable TV with CNN, BBC, and a whole host of Arabic channels that my colleagues are watching and translating for me.
I heard about the fighting on Saturday night when my former students, students who live close to Tripoli, started asking each other whether they were hearing the gunfire and bombs. I discounted it then because gunfire (not bombs) is very common here—bird hunting, neighbourly quarrels, weddings, a wide spectrum of casual and serious need for gunfire. However, the incidents increased into Sunday and were, at first, based on the arrest of someone who seems to have been supplying arms to the rebels in Syria, against the law here, of course. What that means is that silly protests, erupting into gunfire and death, can light the fires that have remained smouldering embers in the sectarian fireplaces around this country. It sometimes seems as though hotheads are watching for any excuse to reignite hostilities between Sunni/Salafis and Alawites. Now, of course, there is even more reason since the Alawites are the party and roots of Asaad, Syrian president. They aren’t happy to know that people here are helping the rebels since they are loyalists to the Syrian regime.
What is distressing is that CNN & NPR are reporting: “Syrian violence has spread to Lebanon.” That is much too dramatic and really incorrect as well. As I said, these allegiances have been long-held and are barely under the surface in the best of times. These are not the best of times!
Still, what you need to know is that I’m very safe. Sometimes our isolation here is a good thing. To even get up this mountain someone would have to get through a checkpoint. I cannot hear the gunfire or anything else. There is a humorous side to all this. The Ministry of Education cancelled classes in all schools and universities in the north but Balamand, a private university, never observes those announcements. Students do, of course, as do their parents, with the result that they cancel classes, not the president. By staying home or having their parents keep them home, they effectively cancel classes and, the students living in the dorms don’t show up either (as a show of solidarity!...or just so they don’t waste time coming). What we, who live on campus, have discovered is that everyone else has left the campus except for the few IT folks attempting to restore the Internet.
This is all the more annoying because a colleague was going to take me to her favourite optician in Tripoli to replace the sunglasses that I’d lost a few weeks ago.
The other thing you should know is that I am not afraid or concerned in the least. My only concern is for you—knowing that unless you’re here, you cannot really understand from news reports what the reality is. We are fine. Or, if this continues awhile, bored!
In my uneducated opinion, the Arab countries moved from a tribal directly into a sectarian culture or a mixture of the two with the same kind of loyalty to the sect rather than a civil society, government, and country. When you think of the Islamic calendar date (1433) and where Western culture was at that time, perhaps this is not too surprising. I realize I have simplified the analysis, giving the impression that I am incredibly naive. I am not but sometimes, the larger view helps me get some perspective.