SINCE 1759

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Lebanese Nostalgia
A Bombing in Ein Alaq

The familiarity of it all

Ein Alaq, if my memory as a ten-year-old in Lebanon is more reliable than Ronald Reagan’s as an eighty-year-old in Santa Barbara, was not quite a town so much as a cluster of escarpments on the side of a hill that clung to the illusion of being a suburb of Bikfaya, the real town a mile up the road. Bikfaya was, and remains, tribal HQ to the Gemeyel clan, the Lebanese Kennedys whose founding father Pierre was as much of a padrino as Joseph Kennedy and whose sons and grandson as fated to the Kennedy boys’ assassinations. But all those details weren’t part of my ten-year-old pouch of knowledge, or cares. Bikfaya was simply the town where we went for ice cream and the post office, where I bought my paperback Jules Vernes, where my mother briefly had a toy store. Traveling to the mountains every summer, back when we lived in Lebanon, and having to pass through Bikfaya to get to our own cluster of escarpments several miles further on, we’d have to drive through Ain Alaq first. The burg’s only feature, as my brother described it to me over the phone on Wednesday, was some sort of resort with gigantic balconies, paint jobs and a hint of art deco that gave the place a touch of Miami Beach. Had we ever gone into the resort, if that’s what it was, I’m sure we’d have discovered where Lebanon’s gay and lesbian community hung out. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why we never went in there: we were good bourgeois Catholics back then, cozy and unsuspecting in, and of, our bigotries. I’m probably imagining things, the good bourgeois part included, but these memories returned on Wednesday on the news that two bombs had exploded in Ein Alaq, aboard two buses separated by five minutes and a traffic jam. At least three people were killed, two dozen wounded, a few million disgusted, by habit if not by obligation.

A witness told the English-language daily in Lebanon that he’d seen a man board one of the buses with a large garbage bag and leave without it. True or not, it’s irrelevant: bombs were detonated, and as the Daily Star put it, “perhaps the most shocking aspect of Tuesday's attack was that it was the first bombing since the Hariri assassination that targeted average citizens instead of high-profile political figures. Many Lebanese were reminded of a shooting attack on a bus in 1975 that propelled the country into its 15-year Civil War.” Today, Thursday, marks the second anniversary of the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the Sunni prime minister whose death rallied the Lebanese, often across sectarian lines, as they’d never been rallied since before the outbreak of the civil war in 1975. The demonstrations that followed led up to the expulsion of the Syrian army after its 29-year occupation and a renewal of hope for Lebanese independence.

It was not to be. Last summer’s Israeli invasion, following Hezbollah’s idiotic capture of two Israeli soldiers (whatever happened to those men, anyway?) laid waste to more than infrastructure and lives. Hezbollah has been resurgent since, as have the corruptions and petty fooleries of the government’s Sunni-Christian alliance that was supposed to make good on its promise of a better Lebanon. The bombs in Ein Alaq may have been a crude attempt to send a signal to those who had in mind to commemorate the Hariri assassination with demonstrations in Beirut. It seems far-fetched. The bombs could just as well be the latest, crudest attempt to derail Lebanon’s shaky peace for good: bombing and shooting at buses has that particular symbolic power the Daily Star article referred to, the shooting at a bus having started it all in 1975.

How pitiful it all seems. How disarming of any hope for good will. How shattering of those petty old memories—the resort on the hill, the imaginary occupants and their colors within—that had managed all these years to live on unscathed. I don’t believe in the whole psychology of repressed memories. I do believe in the vengefulness of memories, once they decide, as they so often do, to seize on a contemporary event’s violence and absurdity, and recast one’s personal history accordingly.

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