Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Women were among first to respond to Beirut bombing - By Evita Mouawad

Friday’s tragic bomb incident in Beirut is a sad reminder of Lebanon’s increasing vulnerability to the ongoing crisis in neighboring Syria. The murder of Wissam al-Hassan, head of the intelligence branch of the Internal Security Forces and outspoken critic of the Syrian regime, triggered a wave of fear throughout the country that had been relatively stable since 2008.

Soon after the explosion, the two main political coalitions, the anti-Syrian March 14 and pro-Syrian March 8, immediately began accusing one another, inciting sectarian tension in a country that is already hanging on a thread.

It must be said that behind this agitated and irresponsible political discourse, the real victims of Friday’s incident were quickly forgotten by our politicians: residents of Achrafieh (the neighborhood that was targeted) whose homes were completely destroyed and loved ones injured by the blast, employees of the banks and shops located on the street where the bomb was triggered, university students who were walking by looking forward to yet another weekend with friends and family… they were the immediate victims, and yet their injuries and losses were immediately sold out for yet another day of rage and political accusations.

It was not surprising that the first to respond to the victims’ needs was the active network of Lebanese NGOs, including blood donation NGOs, crisis response groups and women’s rights organizations. Hotels in the area immediately opened their doors to the victims of the blast, Facebook and Twitter were also flooded by messages from young men and women declaring their houses open for those who did not have a place to stay for the night. It was not long before Nasawiya, a collective of feminists working on gender justice in Lebanon, also began to collect water, food and clothes for the families who had lost everything. 

These young men and women are solid proof that this vicious plot designed to pit us against one another was not successful among a great number of people. Many of us young Lebanese are tired of the same political and religious discourse based on sectarian hate and mistrust, and are ready to build a new national identity rooted in tolerance, peace and stability.

Last but not least, this quick and selfless response to the bombing is also a reminder that women are not only capable of preventing conflict and restoring peace, they are also often the first ones to react in times of crisis, by setting politics and religion aside, and providing relief to all victims of violence on a much-needed ‘human’ footing. 

- Evita Mouawad

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