Annahar doesn’t know Hamra, at all.

A picture I took of Hamra a couple of years ago, with my friend May in the middle (it was 4 am, hence the emptiness)
A picture I took of Hamra a couple of years ago, with my friend May in the middle (it was 4 am, hence the emptiness)

I just finished reading Al Nahar’s pathetic piece (Arabic), entitled “Hamra isn’t Lebanese anymore. The Syrian expansion is not part of its identity.” (bad translation) Putting aside the inherent racism – ironically, when I tried to research the author of the piece’s name on Facebook, I found a Syrian from Aleppo – and the lack of basic ‘anything’ that Mr. Hussein Hazzoury seems to profess so proudly, I admit being a bit confused.

The author must have not visited Hamra in a while. He asks us if we remember listening to Fairuz while having our morning coffee. Well yes, I literally had that a few days ago, in T-Marbouta, Hamra. I don’t know if he expected to get his Fairuz-flavored morning coffee while shopping at Virgin Megastore or H&M which, naturally, aren’t a threat to our dear Lebanese identity because they’re Western brands, not Syrian. I’m in Cafe Youness at the moment and there’s Western music playing. I think that’s Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” playing at the moment actually. He’s a Westerner isn’t he? Plus, he’s black! Call the Infantry!

Also, what does “Hamra is Lebanese” mean? And what the hell is “Hamra (which means Red in Arabic) became black” mean, other than pure racism? (I didn’t know that the Lebanese were white. Awesome! I can travel now.) Did the SSNP (Syrian Social National Party) move in a couple of years ago? Isn’t Hamra the area of Beirut traditionally associated with Communist and Pan-Arab activity? Am I missing something? I could have perhaps understood if the author was talking about Achrafieh (though not accept), but Hamra?

And hold your donkeys for a moment, but is the author seriously blaming “Syrian expansion” (I still don’t know what that means) for Hamra’s current woes? Is he seriously blaming them for the fact that we have sewage flooding our streets? Do you like listening to Fairuz when the air around you smells of sewage? What about our pathetic non-existent government structure, or the fact that most buildings would probably crumble if an earthquake hit, or the fact that we have neither 24/7 electricity nor running water? I’m sorry for repeating this in virtually every post on the topic, but these are actual problems. Actual, Real, problems. Using vague racist symbolism that mean absolutely nothing also achieves absolutely nothing – and means even less given that the Lebanese and Syrians are of the same ‘race’, which is a man-made concept with no scientific evidence whatsoever.

Whether the author wishes to accept it or not, Hamra was always Syrian. The American University of Beirut’s original name is the Syrian Protestant College. It was also always Lebanese and always Western and always Arab. It’s even Filipino and Sudanese and Sri Lankan and Ethiopian, especially on Sundays (I know we like to pretend that these people don’t really exist). Such was the beauty of Hamra and, despite the numerous issues, still is. What “ruined” it? The Civil War, the mass exodus of the middle class, the closure of virtually every theater and cinema that once defined its character. That’s not the fault of that Syrian dude eating chicken with other Syrian dudes. This, Mr. Hazzoury, is our fault. Us. The Lebanese. We who are so brilliantly talented in blaming everyone else but ourselves. We are the ones building towers instead of re-opening the theaters that are still here.

I love Hamra. It’s my second home, along with Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael. And because it’s my second home, I also hate it, just as I hate and love my own home in Ain Saadeh. This is what a Home does to you, it becomes who you are. You’re a part of it. Hamra isn’t a neutral space that simply endures what Men and Women do to it. It’s an active space that relies on its inhabitants and passers-by to breathe. Hamra does not exist without everyone in it, and there was never a time in history when Hamra remained unchanged for more than a few days. There is no such thing as an unchanging city, just as there is no such thing as a finished city. Cities are alive. And don’t get me wrong, Mr. Hazzoury, but I’m much more comfortable surrounded by people of all nationalities co-existing than I am around people obsessed with ‘purity’ of any kind. I don’t want purity, I prefer diversity.

I don’t want to blame Mr. Hazzoury alone here because, besides the cheap pointless accusations, he’s not the only one thinking like that, as the inhabitants he interviewed clearly reflect. The “Golden-Age Thinking” Fallacy that’s so brilliantly expressed in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” is very, very common in pretty much every country. “Those were the days”, as an Old American might say. But those weren’t the days, they were just days. Just as our days today are just days. And I’m pretty sure most Americans would prefer today’s days over the days of Jim Crowe and McCarthyism (or rather, I hope). Myself, I’m happy not having to run from one place to another, hoping that some sniper belonging to the Kataeb or Amal doesn’t take me down. It’d have been cool to see Beirut in the 50s and 60s when it was the so-called “Switzerland of the Middle East”, and even 20s and 30s, and even before that. But since that’s literally impossible, I prefer not to dwell on it and focus on the Hamra of today. And what, for goodness’ sake, does “Hamra’s Demographics changed” imply? When did they not change? Did it start changing in 2008? Was it the same Hamra in 1967 as in 1970? Same as 1975? 1980? 1985? 1990? 1995? 2000? 2005? 2010?

I do not want to give the impression that the increasing presence of Syrians in Hamra poses no problem at all. Sure it does. Many things do as well. But are they responsible for the increasing traffic? Or is that caused by the fact that we still don’t have basic decent public transportation in 2015? Unless Syrians are super obese, they would most likely fit a dozen or so public buses passing by Beirut, don’t you think? And let’s say that there are problems exclusively caused by the increasing presence of Syrians in Hamra. I reject it, but let’s assume so. What’s the solution? Kicking them out? Planting Cedar Trees in the middle of the road? Speaking French more often?

The author of the piece ended with a quote by 25 year old Syrian named Nour who said that “all Syrians want is peace. We’re just waiting for peace back home to return to Syria and leave Lebanon to its inhabitants. Lebanon has endured enough.” Isn’t that nice? A 25 year-old Syrian practically apologizing for being here, and a Lebanese author asking us to treat that 25 year-old as a problem.

I’ll stick with my Syrian brothers and sisters any time, thanks.

Update: Annahar apologized