Monday, May 9, 2022

Elections 2022: No one is talking about the war in their ads, therefore everyone is.

Toy Soldiers - artwork by Tarek Chemaly
These elections, everyone is not talking about war in their ads, therefore everyone is.
What? No, no, am serious.
In 2018 I voted the Kataeb ad "your ballot is a legal weapon" as the worst ad for a political party. I still think it is. But this post is about something else. Note this was not their first toe-dipping in the weapon-winking ad (please see here). 
But make no mistake, everyone is not talking about war. Directly. So everyone is.
It all happens in hints, in xenophobic terms, in making people distrust one another, in making people remember their previous schisms, in simply dog whistling familiar themes about "the other" (interestingly, due to the haphazard alignment of political parties - meaning they might be allies in region A but against each other in region B - the dog-whistling is therefore territorially based).
But still, you can feel that when a candidate (in this case Farid Boustani, but could have been anyone else) saying "I am an extremist for inter-faith living in the jabal" (here), and whereas the message is actually positive, it is a reminder about the war that happened between the PSP (Progressive Socialist Party) - or the Druze - and the Lebanese Forces - or the Maronites.
Nothing too overt, nothing too obvious, but it is there.
Look at this Beirut second district "Beyrouth touwajeh" ad (here). No direct naming, not in-your-face aggression, but the hatred is all there. And yes, May 7 was a day of war of some sort. A more recent war, but a war nonetheless. 
Once more, the whole media landscape related to elections is littered with nostalgic (and most likely not true) references to days gone by (which again - may not have existed). Take Fares Souaid and his - OK, "classic" - tweet addressed to Cheikh Naim Qassem (second in command at the Hizbollah) about our beaches being filled with "top less" [sic] (women). Really? Let me be honest, the amount of women who go/went topless (or top less as he called them) on Lebanese beaches (and that includes the pre-war St. Georges and Phoenicia - which to the lament of Souaid fell in what was "West Beirut" during the war) is/was infinitely minimal. If I am to extrapolate and include Portemilio or Rimal or Aquamarina (on the "East Beirut" part), which were all family-oriented, the number barely increases.
"Top Less" is somewhere between hallucination and fallacy. 
All these examples, as I said, contain nothing directly related to the "war" as such, but they allude to a past that never was. Interestingly, the Lebanese population never really dealt with the trauma of war, so it is easy to awaken such trauma.
Below is an article I wrote in October 2013. About the "fight or flight" reaction related to the war.
Sadly it is still valid today.
The election ads are a proof.

Published October 1rst, 2013:
War is not over. It's a fact. It will never be. Today, in a slip of a tongue my mother said "in case I have to flee" - an awkward small sentence that could have gone unnoticed. But she said it, did not pay attention to it, and went on. But for me there was a sudden freeze frame. The exact word she said was "ehrob" - a word which could be interpreted as "run away", "flee", "save myself".
There she was, a woman secure financially, surrounded by her family in more ways than one, whose tasks have been brought down to a minimum which keeps her mentally and physically active without anything that might overburden her old age. And - subconsciously - she is still stuck in a loop. A loop that should have been finished since 1990 when the "Lebanese civil war" ended.
My first reflex was one of upset - where was she going to run flee? why would she?... And frankly, there was this cynic dismissal, whereas I did not articulate it, I surely thought it. But as I composed myself, I sat there thinking about it. In many ways, she is just a specimen of a generation. They're the ones who explored the Automatique cafe (Idriss) in downtown Beirut, the heyday of the supposed "Paris of the Orient" (what a fallacy!) and they are the ones who have had the dream of normalcy shattered - even if the war had been brewing for a long time under the champagne bubbles of the Phoenicia Hotel before it eventually exploded in 1975.
What struck me the most, was how similar she and I are. What I first dismissed as an outmoded reflex, soon dawned on me how ingrained it is in all of us. I was born on the onset of the war, and so this Capharnaum was all I knew. It was fun in a macabre way, but it was also the only paradigm and frame of reference. Not only this, in 2006, I got stuck in the US during the war which had erupted in my absence. A trip that was supposed to last two weeks ended up being two months long. 
And it was those war reflexes that saved me. Whereas everyone around me was panicking as to these swift transitions, I was already doing mental checklists - something you have to do in times of war - organizing things so very efficiently and taking all emotional components out the equation. Naturally, it's when the anomaly of such situations subsides that you feel the full blow and when the psychological aftermath starts. But when you are still in your adrenalin rush, it all feels so peaceful, so normal dare I say.
And now I realize why my travel carry on luggage is almost set to go despite the fact that it has been a while since I traveled. In that luggage I keep - for reasons obscure to myself until now - a minimum survival kit: Anything from a good pair of jeans, to a change of shirts and socks, some cash and even a travel nail kit.
After all... What if I have to "ehrob" myself?