I learned a new expression yesterday: ضبط النفس, self-control. For a while I mis-read it (I watch television on my computer, and sometimes the streaming pixillates televised text) as ضغط
, which means “pressure”. I wondered how it was that “pressuring the self” translated to “self-control”. But no – ضبط means overcoming, mastering, or restraining, and was very appropriate for the day.
Yesterday afternoon, Nasrallah and Berri issued announcements saying “friends [an9sar] of the opposition and constancy [al-muwala, a word with Islamic connotations of contracts and the obligations of friendship], steer clear of/get away from discord [al-fitna] and leave the streets immediately“. Saad al-Hariri, who had been conspicuously absent from the news these past few weeks, somewhat tardily asked his followers to “exercise self-control“. I appreciated both requests, as well as the language lesson.
In the end, the army-enforced curfew made it possible for all concerned to honor both requests with no loss of face.
I passed the remains of their night-time installations on my way to the gym: road blocks on my street and on Edde/Lyon Street; trucks filled soldiers and MPs; and more, unsmiling, clustered on the street corners, guns in hand.
Today is beautiful: sunny and warm, with a hint of balmy spring in the air. I wish it were raining; I can’t see the Lebanese mixing things up in bad weather. The sunshine and the warmth make me uneasy.
On the other hand, the sunshine and sunny clime is precisely what makes Beirut and its sister cities up and down the Levantine coast such storied entrepots. As I rounded the corner to the sea, I saw a container ship making its massive way to the port. It seemed the latest incarnation of the ships celebrated in one of the poems I loved most in high school – John Masefield’s Cargoes:
Quinquireme of Nineveh, from distant Ophir
sailing home to haven in sunny Palestine.
With a cargo of ivory
and apes and peacocks
sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
On my way home from the gym, I made a small detour (actually, my daily trip is filled with small detours – I like seeing the different streets, and I prefer not to have a totally fixed morning routine). The little street I walked down houses a hotel where my friend M and I stayed during a delightful overnight trip here two years ago.
We had come for a party: my friend A was turning 33, which, as I so helpfully pointed out, was the same as as Christ when he was put to death.
Before the party, though, we had our own adventures. Sandwiched in between lunch at the Virgin Megastore Cafe and what would prove to be a quite fruitful shopping jaunt in Verdun, we ran into a Hizb al-Tahrir demonstration.
M. is Canadian, but was working for an organization with strong ties to the United States government. “So, what do you think the American Embassy would say about our being here for this demonstration?” M. asked me, while snapping photo after photo of the peaceful and rather friendly-looking demonstrators.
Ha ha, I laughed uneasily, less sanguine and a bit irked with myself for having left my camera in Damascus.
The demonstration was a family affair: men, women, and children of all ages. They insulted no one; and no one we saw or heard insulted them.
I miss demonstrations like this, and Lebanon does, too. Without the leavening presence of fathers, mothers, sisters, wives, and children, groups of young men are a danger to themselves and those around them.
And as for the leaders who so willingly transform this next generation into fodder for their own glory, shame on them. Universities are the locus of a country’s hopes for its future – not for its destruction.