A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

psssssst: managing fear with rumors and jokes

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 24, 2007

One of the things I remember most clearly from last summer is the degree to which knowledge and information became ways of managing fear. The same has been true this past week.

The number of email forwards and msn chats announcing various warnings must be significantly increasing Lebanon’s internet traffic this week. I’ve received several – and I imagine that most Lebanese I know have received many more.

This one, happily most untrue, came yesterday:

فتح الاسلام تعلن عن وجود 300 متفجرة في شوارع بيروت و عن نيتها بتفجيرها خلال ساعتين اذا لم ينسحب الجيش من حدود مخيم نهر البارد

فتح الاسلام ترمي مناشير تطلب فيها من سكان بيروت بمغادرة المدينة و تتوعّد الّلبنانيّين بمزيد من التفجيرات

 (I mentioned it in drinking milk in Egyptian but didn’t translate it for fear of alarming family readers. Its topicality having diminished by the passage of time, I now feel fewer reservations.

It says that Fatah al-Islam has announced that there are 300 bombs on the streets of Beirut that will be exploded in two hours if the army does not leave the border of Nahr al-Barid, and that it is distributing flyers demanding that the residents of Beirut leave the city, and threatening the Lebanese with more explosions.)

This next one came to me twice yesterday, both times from Lebanese friends. Today, three acquaintances mentioned reading it – one from a relative in France, one from a friend in Qatar, and one from a friend in Liberia. I would love to trace the trail of this anonymous, seemingly authoritative email – around Lebaon and the Lebanese diaspora, and back around Lebanon again:

Dear all,I’m clogging up your email –with a cause.I’d like to share the below info as a staff member of GRID and as the international deputy warden for Zone 7 (Ain Mreisseh), which was forwarded to me by the National Security Officer at the International Medical Corp. in Beirut just now:“Here are some possible targets in Beirut. Please restrict your movement & avoid being in Gemmayzeh & Monot.
ABC Mall Achrafieh
ABC Mall Dbayeh
Giant Casino Mall Dora
Monot Street
Gemmayzeh Street
Casino du Liban Jounieh
Local transportations (buses)
Big schools & universities
Any other business centers & shopping streets.

All the best,

This is how the email ended – anonymously. At the bottom were two confidentiality footers – one from Societe Generale, and one from Cadbury Schweppes. When I next received it, the email came with an AUB header and a UN ESCWA footer – increasing both its apparent authority and the confusion. The International Medical Corps is indeed active in Lebanon – but is this writer for real? And how did one NGO worker’s opinion become a mass communique?

What is GRID, those of us who have received it keep asking. And why, I wonder, did this person exclude Hamra from the list of areas to avoid?

Certainly the civil defense appears unwilling to put its trust in this email – Hamra has been a no-parking zone for the past two days, and I see from this evening’s news bulletins that cars are not allowed to park along the sides of the main streets and commercial areas.
Meanwhile, the jokes and black humor began circulating today, starting (for me at least) with this one:

اتصل على 1214 او أرسل رسالة قصيرة متوقعاً فيها أين سيكون الإنفجار اليوم و هناك جوائز قيّمة بانتظارك و من يحزر سيكون الفائز بمشاهدة الإنفجار مباشرةً و من يحزر ليومين متتاليين سينزل هو و يضغط على الزرّ

To ‘appreciate’ this one it helps to know how many sms’es people receive here telling them to ‘send a message to xxxx’ with their vote for a poll, donation to a cause, entrance into a contest, etc. It says: 

Call or send a short message to 1214 with a prediction of where today’s explosion will be and there will be prizes whose value is worth the wait [my rather colloquial translation]. The one with the winning guess will get to watch the explosion live, and whoever guesses [correctly] for two days straight will be forced to press the button [for the following one, I think].

Well. Dark humor for dark times.

The other jokes I’ve seen range from the sexual (some suggesting that the group is homosexual, and others that they need a few Russian prostitutes) to the bloody (one has fatah al-islam buying all the Always pads to absorb the blood from their losses), to the … just plain laugh-out-loud funny, like this one:

فتح الإسلام تهدد بتدمير جميع المواقع اللبنانية على فايس بوك في حال استمرار قصف مخيم نهر البارد
To appreciate this one – and it is a hoot – it helps to know that the Lebanese community on Facebook is one of the largest – a fact of which many Lebanese are not only cognizant but very proud. It says: Fatah al-Islam threatens to destroy all the Lebanese pages on Facebook if the attacks on Nahr al-Bared continue.

And one made me laugh out loud at the utter cheekiness with which it reduced the fighting to a middle-schooler’s taunt: Fatah al-Islam announces that it was all a joke – and says that the Lebanese Army can’t take a joke and has a bad sense of humor.

I have a very strong sense of how to read the ‘warning’ emails and messages – but I don’t quite know what to do with these jokes.

One of the people reading these jokes mentioned feeling torn between laughing and feeling that laughter was an inappropriate response to what is for the soldiers and their families a life-and-death situation.

Others have said, with pride: look at the Lebanese! Even in the worst situations we are able to laugh.

I think there is space for both responses. After all, we teach children to deal with bogeymen and other fears by putting them into perspective with daylight and laughter – and I think that now it is equally important not to be bowled under by fear of militancy, in whatever form it may come.

On the other hand, we don’t laugh at the graves of those who have died serving their countries, their families, or other ideals. As long as the laughter is life-affirming, rather than situation-denying, I think it can be a very healthy thing.


2 Responses to “psssssst: managing fear with rumors and jokes”

  1. […] the jokes Diamond mentions some of the jokes that are spreading and also attempts analyzing the phenomenon of humor […]

  2. […] the jokes Diamond mentions some of the jokes that are spreading and also attempts analyzing the phenomenon of humor […]

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