What’s next for Tripoli?

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I do not know what is going on in Tripoli. I do not read the news, listen to, or watch it. I have somewhat taught myself not to. The fact that ‘news’ is never real ‘news’ is something that everyone is quite familiar with right now. Deep inside the bowels of this age of propaganda, words, images and their combinations don’t necessarily mean anything. Like many others, I am quietly invited to pick from an array of opinions I can align myself with and call them my news. As my newsfeeds dive into the past immediately, with the present moving faster than I can grasp, I stare at video after video of mobile phone footage pretending it’s less ‘manufactured,’ hence more credible, but I still don’t know what is happening in Tripoli.

These videos and pictures show that the city’s old souks are a mess. Historical sites, in this sad place, have become battlefields. Imagine burning Noah’s arc for firewood, using stone from the Great Wall of China as marine debris for land reclamation landfills or turning a city’s river into its official sewage duct. Wait. Didn’t that last scenario happen to Tripoli’s Abu Ali River? Yes it did. We’re idiots. We deserve this.

I’m an idiot that deserves this even when I don’t live in Tripoli anymore. Sometimes I feel less entitled to lament its quick, exponential erasure, but I think I could even deserve this more than those who are still there. It’s a childish guilt trip I reason the entirety of the majorly displaced Lebanese population feels. It’s either, “Maybe I shouldn’t have left. My home needs me,” or “It’s their fault. I’m glad I left.” Either way, we seem to have little trouble leaving our villages, cities and the country for other people to infiltrate, inhabit and eventually change.

It’s normal for Tripoli to be drugged out of its senses if its people don’t care for it anymore. Caring for a city is hard work. It’s beyond the romance. You can’t just insert its “incomparable, superior, breathtaking patisserie” in a table conversation elsewhere and mention that its full name “Trablus al-Fayhaa” signifies a bygone era when its earth was riveted with blossoming, aromatic lemon trees. There is a reason that era is long-gone. We have been very disrespectful for a very long time. It’s really hard work to care for a city. For one, we can’t disrespect its streets. Our cigarette buds and nonchalance killed this city as we march back and forth from nothing to nowhere, burying this entire place with our physical and mental trash.

And extremists love trash. It’s no surprise they’re here. We have become super-producers of repetitive trash as our extremist politicians and extremist militias share the same love for it. They push us further into it. More! They stick our faces in our shit before we all send it to our beloved river. Only the river knows the true smell of this city. More! And somehow, we still comply. On one hand, these scenes, consequences and aggressions happening in Tripoli are not that unexpected as the grounds are set for mayhem, and at the same time, I find it surreal to try to understand what is yet to happen to this city.

I don’t mean this literally. I am aware of the fact that a careful study of regional politics could get us closer to a supposed truth, but as someone that was born and raised in Tripoli, I cannot but go ballistic at the programmed complacency this city’s refusing to exit. Is it really impossible to snap out of extremist hypnosis? Is it very hard to understand that if our politicians are filthy rich businessmen, that this place will only be a fleeting commodity? Seriously, how come the people that are running this town are money people?

It’s the same cycle of death everywhere. Pay to destroy. Get paid to rebuild. Repeat like a good businessman would. More turnover, more profit, more money, more power to continue paying and getting paid to destroy and rebuild. It’s not a new form of extremist politics, but for some reason it still works. It makes me wonder over and over about what exactly is happening in Tripoli? Is everyone aware of them being sold and bought? The clashes suddenly stopped Monday morning as the bell of this geopolitical stock market rang, and we’re supposed to believe there actually was some kind of resolution. Now sporadic gunshots will be heard every now and then to keep you on edge. Then what?

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


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