Castration in the Name of Precaution

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As of last week, my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, changed forever.

Although it’s normal that things change all the time, there are benchmarks by which one can define somewhere or something. One day last week was one of those times worthy of cementing an inflection point, a benchmark in defining “home.” Before that, the house I grew up in was safe from everything. It was safe from politics, when politics went very wrong. It was safe from religion, when the latter became unquestionable. It was safe from the conceptual and physical turmoil resulting from the ups and downs of the world outside, and contained within an unburstable bubble of sanity we actively upkeep as a family.

As of last week, our home has a new steel door, one that will either cage us in or just keep the outside out. Time will tell. It’s aggressive to install a steel door to your home. It’s a declaration of the evaporation of the last droplets of trust you have with your larger home, your city and the world outside. It’s aggressive, yet it’s a normal procedure following a break-in. Last week, a yet unidentified person broke into our home from the garden of our ground floor flat. Inside, and after trying to open the locked door to my parents’ bedroom, he smashed it open. Nothing was stolen, and everything besides the two doors was intact.

“Do you think that evil rat is back?” asked my mom, quite angrily, inquisitively as she followed the trail of morsels and sawdust from the salon to her bedroom after returning home that day. Gladly, the rat was still gone. Interestingly, as she discovered the broken door, so was her feeling of being secure at her own home. My parents must have caught the intruder off-guard, letting him flee empty-handed. It’s either that or he might have not liked our taste in things. Whether it was time being on our side or our taste in home deco that saved the day, that sense of relief that nothing was stolen was quite temporary.

The next day, the breached outside doors were measured. The day after that, their openings bore another layer of doors: strong, steel doors protecting us from the unknown. Was it a singular event or will it happen again? It’s an interesting type of fear. It’s an abstract fear, one fueled with the anxiety of anticipation of something that could never happen again, or any time soon at least. But we are not wired to think that way, and that’s normal as the survival instinct one develops in a state that cannot ensure their safety becomes quite ruthless.

Reflecting on the state of the country, in Lebanon, this breeding of fear of the unknown and its resulting violence is in everything we do. We are constantly in defense mode to both visible and invisible, present and potential aggression. From irresponsible landlords that want to charge higher rents for no reason to getting shot in the head by someone “who knows someone,” all that can be done is to rest in peace. And even if you rest politely, most hospitals will not take you in if you can’t afford the commodity of health. And let’s assume you can just hide at home, and you succeed in coming back home safely after dodging cars driving predatorily like they’re maneuvering within wild forests of black asphalt and collateral damage, it’s not really guaranteed that you’re exactly safe.

However tightly knit your bubble is, somehow something will come and get you, benchmarking the end of your relatively restful existence. Something will make you realize that you’re never equipped enough. We are actually wired to feel that we are never equipped enough. We’re somehow convinced that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and that we need to be the dogs less bitten, so we passively fight back. We become ‘precautious.’ However, coyly hiding from the outside world, we are faced with the inevitable paranoia. We exponentially commune in sharing this fear of the abstract.

I say this with complete awareness of the fact that it’s perfectly reasonable to protect oneself from future attacks. I also don’t have an alternative scenario or solution, but this cyclic trajectory of precaution is an aggression of its own. Violence begets violence, but someone needs to break the loop. Our new steel door will protect us from future acts of violence that may or may not happen. On the scale of a singular household, this may not make much sense, but on the scale of the city, similar actions of precaution are quite deadly.

The main reason I find our new steel door intriguing is how much it’s similar to Beirut today. We’re always pushed to feel inferior, in danger and in positions of suspicion. Security cameras are planted on every corner of this city, and are treated with more value than other urban objects that may actually be helpful in organizing the way we live. While most traffic lights in Beirut impotently blink their yellow lights instead of actually functioning, no security camera will be left dysfunctional for more than a couple of hours.

We need to be safe. No one knows what could or could not happen, so instead of investing in evolving our sad city into a content one, let’s just irritate this one until it explodes. And in the meantime, the police and the army are not enough to keep us safe, so let’s create private security companies and divide Beirut into sectors under their authorities. Today, in Beirut, a private company’s employee could ask you to move away from a public space essentially owned by you.

We need to be safe, because apparently being safe is all there is to be. Concrete barricades block the Lebanese people from Lebanese grounds that fear them. Official buildings and homes of ministers and members of parliament are now surrounded by meters-high elements resembling miniatures of the apartheid wall dividing Palestine all in the name of precaution. As Lebanese, we are always afraid. Besides how or where we need to go from here, if the only place to go is home, how can we make sure that at least that is safe from yet another cage?

Raafat Majzoub is an architect, author and artist living in Beirut

Comments

Not only this, whenever I sit in bed, the first idea that comes to my mind is this: What will a bomb explode now under my roof?? what would I do to save my children?? What if those daish burst into the city and invade it?? what if and what if??? hundreds of these... we live in constant fear from everything in this country...we lost the sense of security which is a basic need to human being...

You have been violated & it could have been worse, lucky no one was hurt.
I was attacked by a prowler at my very front door one evening - inside the house were my 5 small sleeping children, he was not going to get passed me, I fought him off, he ran away saying "I will get you, you %#$& bitch" & indeed he came back several times. He & his partner in crime, were doing break & enter & maybe even rape, in our area. Several neighbors called the police - it was pointless.
We moved.
A steel door is a relief.
Ask an artist to paint a bouquet of flowers on it for your mother.

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