Murmurs in Dahiyeh: Yes, We are Afraid

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After a string of suicide bombings, life in Dahiyeh is not the same as before (Photo: Haitham Moussawi).

By: Mohamed Nazzal

Published Wednesday, February 5, 2014

After a string of suicide bombings, life in Dahiyeh is not the same as before. Some people have built barricades in front of their stores, afraid of the “monster” that comes out of nowhere. People are experiencing an unfamiliar mixture of emotions. They are scared, worried and in pain, but there is one sentence that everyone repeats, “We will not give up.” Their fear is proof that they are still living and their human instincts are alert.

You live in Dahiyeh, Beirut’s southern suburb; you have repeatedly experienced suicide bombers and other kinds of attacks. You have heard their blast or have watched them later on, you have seen the carnage first hand or seen pictures of it. You live your days amidst this hellish nightmare... Now you know what it is like to be scared and anxious. Do not pretend. Do not shy away from this fear. It is proof of your humanity. You have not turned into a beast yet. As a matter of fact, you should be proud. Do not be ashamed of your fear, proclaim it on high! If you must be afraid, then let it be of losing your fear. Psychology is on your side and so is sociology. But beyond any science there is you, with your instinct, intuition or whatever you want to call it. First comes your will to survive and then everything else follows.

In his book on fear and anxiety, Dr. Ali al-Qaimi, a sociologist, writes, “Contrary to what some might think, fear is not always a bad thing. Some people in a given society might claim that they are not afraid of anything but that claim does not make sense.” The author explains in a section on the benefits and importance of fear, we might come across people who are not afraid, but “they are either crazy, suffer from a psychological disorder, have an intellectual disability, or sensory impairment.”

Mohammed Fakih is one of the residents of Dahiyeh who is not ashamed of his fear. Nevertheless, every time the word “fear” comes up, he promptly adds, “But surely that doesn’t mean surrender. No way. We get scared and worried because we are human beings and we know the value and meaning of life.”

He was the first person in Dahiyeh to put in front of his cell phone store a barricade made of sandbags. After that, the phenomenon spread and the number of barricaded stores increased, as if these shop owners were waiting for someone to take the initiative so they could follow suit. The young man’s store in Haret Hreik is very close to the location of the last two suicide bombings. He tries to find a word to aptly describe the sound of each explosion, but he can not. It is “a sound, kind of a strange sound... I don’t know.” He sees no shame in admitting that after each explosion, “I would wake up at night startled, for several nights.”

Of course, if he lived in Sweden for example and went through these experiences, he would probably be receiving psychiatric help by the state. But he is in Lebanon, and in Dahiyeh specifically. Mohammed adds, “Here we are used to this situation or we are getting used to it. What happened during the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 was not easy. But I am sorry to say that Israel was a more respectable enemy compared to these takfiri bombers. Israeli planes would drop leaflets and we generally knew we were at war. What is happening today is incomprehensible. You feel that they are double-crossing you, any minute a bomb explodes without prior warning.”

Mohammed is happy to know that fear in these situations is scientifically deemed a natural and healthy reaction. According to philosophy professor Jesse Prinze, from the City University of New York, “A psychopath inhibits the instinctive emotions that a healthy person can not inhibit. He does not know fear at all and he can also inhibit all socially - based feelings such as guilt or love.”

Fakih changed his lifestyle, at work first, by putting sandbags in front of his shop because he “does not want to sit at home, life has to go on,” he said. He also changed his daily behavior, as did other shop owners, “We spontaneously started to create a new atmosphere filled with fun and entertainment, we play on the playstation inside the store to challenge defeatism and despair, a state that we haven’t reached. We will not give them that pleasure.” Fakih’s statement applies to what Prinz says in his study, “Emotions are designed to express specific states, fear is designed to face threats and is accompanied by physical changes and behavioral patterns.”

Hussein Amr, the young owner of AMRO Cafe on al-Arid Street, who escaped two bombings in one month, states clearly, “Yes, we are going through a state of fear and anxiety. Whoever tells you otherwise is either lying to himself or has no feelings.” After the second bombing Amr thought about closing down his cafe for good but it is, after all, his source of livelihood.

“Some friends convinced me to change my mind,” he said, “some people might think this kind of talk means surrendering. That’s definitely not the case. The movement of people declined in the area in a noticeable way, but with time, everything will go back to the way it was. We were steadfast during the 2006 Israeli war and we will be steadfast alongside the Resistance now. Anyway, we were born and raised in this atmosphere. The difference this time is that we are not in a direct war, what is happening now in terms of treacherous bombings is harder than the war with Israel. When you face individuals for whom honor has no meaning, who do not even give you a chance to defend yourself, it’s natural to feel anxiety and and a sense of anticipation. I saw death with my own two eyes twice, I saw the carnage and the fire and smoke, I lived through the shock, nevertheless, I will stay in Dahiyeh and we will coexist with this new situation.”

Hussein insists that we report the following statement, “I tell the takfiris, despite the fear and anxiety here and regardless of what you do, you will not make us stand against Hezbollah. Ask about us properly.”

On social networking sites, one can see varying opinions from Dahiyeh residents on the fear and anxiety that people are experiencing. One woman writes, “We are afraid of any car, from gas stations, from the market from the slam of a door or any strong sound... I thought that the Israeli war and occupation were the worst experience we went through.”

Another person who seems religious and with partisan inclinations prompted people to “stay away from materialism and focus on spirituality.” He tried to calm people down with traditional, religious rhetoric, but he could be experiencing severe anxiety himself.

Rhetoric like this, which amounts to hiding behind one’s finger or escaping, has become ubiquitous lately, as though its proponents want to rob people of their right to experience a normal sense of fear.

Certainly Dahiyeh residents have become experts at patience.They no longer need to be taught or instructed on how to handle high stress situations. They have become, now more than ever, and after all they have suffered and endured, experts at being patient and adapting to fear at the same time. It is not a pathological or a defeatist fear, but the kind of fear that throbs with life.

Fear between Acceptance and Denial

Rasha does not live in Dahiyeh but she has relatives there that she used to visit weekly. After the string of bombings she now “thinks a million times before stepping foot in Dahiyeh,” she says. Rasha wrote online a few days ago, “I am scared, I fear death, I am human. Fearing death is not disgraceful. I am not one of those people who claim with honor and pride, we are not afraid of dying. I am afraid to lose a loved one, I am afraid for my relatives and the people I love. Whoever does not fear death is of little faith.”

These words summarize the psychological state of many of Dahiyeh’s residents and of people who frequented the Beirut suburb, even though everyone emphasizes words like perseverance and not giving up. In general, people have dealt with their fear in two ways. Some people proclaim it publicly because they feel that it is natural. Others refuse to admit their fear and anxiety out of pride or as a means to escape.

Let’s hope that the residents of Dahiyeh will continue to fear the moving train of death, let’s hope they do not lose their human nature.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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