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What are you willing to do to prevent the next round of conflict?
As chaos erupted, I found myself disconnected to what was unfolding in the streets just below my apartment. Silence was only intermittent, broken by the sound of gunfire and explosions, confirming that Beirut had once again slipped back into civil war. This usually bustling city was brought to a standstill and tormented by masked men and young juveniles who, bereft of the memory of the previous civil war, were trigger happy and looking for a fight. Questions raced through my head. Could Lebanon really exist as a single entity or would be better for us to admit defeat and retreat back into separate enclaves? Can the silent majority really forge a country free of proxy battles and unaccountable political elites that incite communal fear? In this moment of uncertainty, as the fate of the country was tested, my faith in its future, too, was put into question.
I spent much of the first night listening to the piercing crackle of gunfire and woke up in the morning to a live battle taking place a block away. I watched intently, missing only popcorn and candy, not wholly able to believe that I this was not just a movie. Captured by the sound of gunfire, my relatives decided it was time to make our way up to my home village of Aley, located east of Beirut in the Chouf mountains. Here I thought I would be much safer because it is strategically located, assuming the mountains would be unfettered by the conflicts of Beirut. I arrived to Aley to find my calculations to be incorrect. Within hours, fights broke out in town and I was forced to spend the night in the kitchen as gun shots and heavy weaponry had been fired less than 50 yards away from my home, as the deafening reports reverberated through the house.
A few hours of quiet, a couple skipped heart beats, and a night of clutched hands between family members. It was official – the movie was over and I had survived my first war experience.
One day passed with relative calm, but the following day, a Sunday, did not prove to be as peaceful. The fighting was resumed on the mountain, this time on multiple fronts that ranged from Choueifat up to Aley, to Bayssour and Kayfoun and also later that night in Al-Barouk, encompassing both borders of the Chouf mountains. It became clear that there was a real threat and I unwillingly found myself stuck between two ideals. One that is informed by my educational background and upbringing which taught me to use logic and reason over violence, and the other which recognized that my home, my family and my people were under attack and it was my duty to defend my land.
It was a disturbing transformation. I came to Lebanon as a reformist and threatened to leave it a militiaman. I had reached a crossroads. I was told I may have to kill the very opponents I had advocated to entrust greater participation. I was scared. That night the situation appeared irreversible. I was a fighter in a civil war, militia vs. militia, and I didn’t have a choice.