No Community in Beirut

Beirut is a city of indulgence and exclusive delicacies, where the state and religious institutions have failed in creating a sense of community.

Forget about the clichés about the East and the West or the burqa and the miniskirt. The real gap in Beirut is that between public decay and private extravagance.

Five-star hotels that cost $400 a night on beaches that lead to an armada of plastic bottles and islands of garbage on the Mediterranean. Women with designer purses walking on piss-stained sidewalks. Men in Porsches driving in streets with no stop signs or traffic lights. Homeless children under six begging for change outside of restaurants that charge $10 for a cup of coffee.

Those contrasts are apparent all over the city. Individuals, wealthy and poor, do not seem to be concerned with the rest of society. It is a fuck-people-over-to-get-ahead kind of place.

Even Martyrs’ Square, a national symbol that predates the modern Lebanese state, is a parking lot—convenient parking outweighs the value of a shared public space in Beirut.

Beirut’s Martyrs’ square is a parking lot (Taher Salam)

Whereas religion is often credited for bringing people together in congregations that turn into communities, in Lebanon, churches and mosques have become nothing but amplifiers for sectarian rhetoric that deepens divisions.

Instead of urging people to invest in their neighborhoods and refrain from littering, religious institutions have plunged into the cyclical national political discourse. They have given up their local function.

Post-war Lebanon operates as a confederation of regions and sects, where the government is a cash cow for political leaders. It is unable to enforce social order. The sad reality of the state’s uselessness puts the onus on social institutions to educate people and facilitate cooperation between individuals for the greater good.

Religions often tout the idea of a community. In Islam, for example, the notion of a nation (umma) is more important than the individual. Hence, we hear misconceptions about the evils of individualism in the secular West, where people allegedly do not visit their parents or have familial ties.

In reality, the deteriorating social structure in Beirut shakes the perception that religion is essential for people to care for one another and their surroundings.

The city is home to countless churches and mosques and devout inhabitants, but it is also a tableau for the despicable impact of selfish individualism and absence of communal consciousness.

Despite its tasty food, kind people and rich history, Beirut is a city where the relationship between the individual and the collective is doomed.

Bottom line, the corruption and incompetence of the state and the people’s indifference to societal well-being generate one another. Religious institutions have failed to solve the problem. In fact, they have contributed to it.

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