Commentary, Human Rights, Lebanon

The Normalization of Violence

A version of this article originally appeared on Now Lebanon on 16 January, 2014.

Another morning, another bomb rips through Lebanon. Metal, flesh, and personal belongings are strewn across the street, a chaotic, and now, familiar scene. Nothing is quite as ugly as the mayhem of rubble. Shards of human life intermingle with pieces of the buildings they once occupied, covered in a fine layer of dust that follows explosions.

The greatest tragedy of this shameless violence is, without question, the innocent lives lost, people unwillingly caught in the crosshairs of a conflict so convoluted that no side truly fights for anyone. Between the political jockeying and media speculation, it becomes strangely easy to forget those whose lives came to a sudden end in their homes, on their way to work, or between two cups of coffee.

The second tragedy is not one that hits with the scorching and sudden heat of a bomb, but rather, slowly seeps into the psyche. Every blast that tears through Lebanon destroys not only lives and buildings, but slowly normalizes violence for all those who experience it, whether first or second hand. Reading news of the Hermel blast will sadden most, anger some, but surprise no one. This warped mindset is both toxic and conducive to further strife.

The bomb in Hermel is the third in as many weeks, and comes the same day as the opening session of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon regarding the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The recent death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon served a stark reminder of the brutalities that have been committed on Lebanese soil, both by and against Lebanese. Indeed, in a country where the average citizen has lived through not one, but two major wars, post-traumatic stress is a collective state of mind and perhaps the most unifying aspect of society. This creates an environment where further violence is trivialized, expected, and eventually, carried out. Lebanese “resilience” in the face of violence is praised and often equated with courage. Perhaps because of the instinct to survive, there is no state humans adapt to faster than a state of war. But images of lives torn apart should not be met with cold indifference, or a façade of bravado. Every bomb is personal; because in the era of collateral damage, we are all targets.

Pundits will speculate as to how many blasts, assassinations, and innocent lives lost are required before the label of war can be applied. What they fail to see is that war does not begin because a quota of dead has been reached, but in a shifted perception of events. The moment the question shifts from the despair of “why” to the casual anticipation of “where next,” it has already begun.

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