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Tala Shihab: August 4, a day to not forgive nor forget

(Photo by Tala Shihab) Downtown Beirut near the site of the Aug. 4, 2020, explosion. Images of the identified victims with their names stretch across the whole street.

August 4 marks a day Lebanon will never forgive nor forget. A year ago, at 6:08 pm, one of the world’s most disastrous explosions took place in the heart of Beirut. More than 207 dead, 6,500 injured and almost a third of a million were left homeless. This misfortune led to painful scarring, but the aftermath of the explosion is still taking effect.

This year, as usual, I spent my summer in Beirut visiting my family. My annual visits to Lebanon have been a significant portion of my identity as I lacked a Lebanese community growing up in Utah. However, this year has made the greatest impact on my perception of the city. Since my last trip, a revolution emerged, an economic crisis unraveled, a challenging pandemic surged and, of course, an explosion shook my city to the ground. While buildings crumbled and glass shattered, I suddenly felt like I lost touch with my Lebanese heritage. I felt helpless while watching the people I love suffer and powerless unable to clean what still remained.

For a country as small as Lebanon, I was surprised to see global recognition within minutes after the explosion. A part of me was relieved to see the attention. However, I also feared that Lebanon will now be known as the country that endured a catastrophe instead of remembered for its rich culture, generous people, and significant history.

As a few weeks passed, it became apparent that the beauty of Lebanon was masked by the fact that tragedies like these are normalized in the Middle East. As the situation of Lebanon continues to deteriorate, there is no doubt that media coverage decreased with the normalizations.

(Photo by Tala Shihab) The Port of Beirut, the site of the Aug. 4, 2020, explosion. “My government did this” is written on the wall surrounded by Lebanese flags drawn by angered civilians.

Through the lens of Western media, the Middle East is pictured as barbaric land with ongoing warzones and misfortunes. By portraying the Middle East as a lost cause, people are becoming too numb to react to lost homes, dying loved ones, and destroyed futures of innocent people. For example, the war in Syria is not normal, and neither is the occupation in Palestine nor the famine in Yemen. Failing to realize the detrimental consequences, we are failing to recognize the existence of an entire region.

This year in Lebanon, the explosion was one of many tragedies. Currently, the country is experiencing one of the worst economic crises as the value of the Lebanese currency is rapidly plummeting. According to Marwan Iskandar, a Lebanese economist, the rate of inflation of the Lebanese Lira is about 120%, while food prices have increased to about 400%. Necessities such as medicine, electricity and gas are becoming impossible to find. In this country, political corruption persists as authorities actively strip away life before death. It aches to see people like me shouting at the top of their lungs but are silenced for simply demanding rights.

As controversial as this may sound, if Lebanon’s situation were to happen in a more developed country, media coverage would be global. Rummaging through garbage to find food or finding little kids homeless on the streets is far from a normal situation. Yet, because the worst is expected in the Middle East, the world has given up on this increasingly vulnerable country.

Even when it felt like the world had lost hope in my country, I noticed that the Lebanese people are more resilient than ever. With almost nothing left, the generosity and hospitality persisted. Being greeted with welcoming arms, I felt like no stranger in a country I barely recognized.

A year after the horrific explosion, Lebanon is still standing despite being cheated by its own government. Although this may seem like a matter that only concerns Lebanese people, I urge you to educate yourselves on these matters. The Middle East isn’t a piece of land to be forgotten; it is a region that is bound to flourish with its existing beauty.

Tala Shihab

Tala Shihab is a 19-year-old Lebanese-American born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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