‘It’s their fault’

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

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I rarely drive in Beirut, but when I do, I have to deal with parking, and when I do, parking meters come in, as well as parking tickets and the subsequent hell that is paying the penalty fee at postal offices with insanely bored employees who have developed endearing relationships with their smart phones that customers don’t necessarily need to come first anymore. It is distressing so I try my best not to say insane things like, “It’s only going to be a minute,” or “it’s almost four in the afternoon, and no one’s going to check the parking meters now,” because it’s not worth the subsequent drama.

I was staring at an out-of-order parking meter right next to my parked car in Achrafieh knowing that I was going to get penalized even if it wasn’t my fault when a man older than I am comes over to pay his parking fee. I told him it wasn’t working, and he looked at me with joyous wisdom that older men sometimes showcase on their usually pale faces, and said, “It’s their fault!” and I believed him. It was indeed their fault. If they were going to bind us with formal procedures regarding parking our cars by sidewalks, then they must be up for it. The machine didn’t work. It was not our problem. It was theirs.

Of course, that was the furthest thing from the truth. If they had noticed our un-ticketed parked cars, we would have had to pay. Me and the random man’s little bonding party is something we tend to do all the time with different people. The ‘other’ seems to be a good enough reason to turn off our logic and maneuver our way along with a temporary tribe. This other is present everywhere. In a lot of scenarios it’s funny, but ‘they’ is a common catalyst for our national complacency. It’s like we sincerely believe there is nothing we can do about anything. It’s always their fault.

‘They’ constitutes a group of people that may or may not fit the criteria we decide they represent. It may or may not be their fault, but regardless, it, at least in our heads, makes it not ours. It’s not nice for it to be our fault. Then we would need to do something about it. Then again, what could I have done to that malfunctioning parking meter? Probably nothing.

‘They’ constitutes an illusion that there is something permanently and essentially different between us. It raises some people to power and others to subordination. It is an act of prejudice we create to victimize ourselves against something that is not that worth it. The current Lebanese political system, for example, is our fault, not theirs, whoever ‘they’ means this time. It is a tremendously sick delegation of responsibility regarding our misfortune. One thing’s for sure: if there’s something we don’t like, it’s our fault we’re not changing it… not theirs.

As all this seems like a case of severe exaggeration of a colloquial expression, this production of the imagined other that is responsible for our disasters is becoming somehow harmful. People are becoming edgier by the day. There is a lot of ‘they’s and ‘theirs,’ too many to handle. It’s their fault that the electricity is still cutting off. It’s their fault there are no jobs for us. They all get employed via a ‘wasta’ (clout) from dirty politicians they follow. Our politicians are all dirty. They stole the country. They are the reason our lives are miserable. You know what they say about fish and yoghurt? You know what they say about girls that cut their hair short and about men that grow their hair long. God help us against them. And the “Muslims are very close now. They’re savages.” They will “kill us all.”

We’re afraid that “they will kill us all” while all that needs to be killed is this engraved constant blame we have toward the world around us. Ever since childhood, parents pass subjective information to their children in the form of passive conversations. Urban legends are a main ingredient in the formworks molding us all. We are trained to believe nonsense after a childhood certification on hearsay. To ask beyond what is clearly attainable is not that exciting for any form of authority throughout our lives, so it’s normal ‘they’ always takes the punch.

‘They’ can die much easier than we think. We just need to be curious enough to ask who ‘they’ are. To fight a demon, one must at least be able to point it out. It later gets simpler. Real simple. By ditching the malfunctioning parking meter, I proved to myself that I am not part of this country’s infrastructure. I proved that I exist under the system, not within it, and that was stupid. I should have called ‘Park Meter Lebanon’ and told them their meter on Achrafieh’s Charles Malek Avenue opposite to plot 450 Charles Malek was down. They would have fixed it, and everyone, including you, them, and us could have been happy. Next time.

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


Love your depth in writing and your metaphors.
"They", painfully validates our apathy :)

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