For Whom the Bell Tolls?
In his piece “Meditations,” John Donne wrote never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Its meaning is fairly straightforward. We should feel a sense of belonging to the whole human race, and should feel a sense of loss at every death, because every loss of life has taken something away from mankind. In other words, any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…
It is not difficult to trace a direct line from Donne’s work to that of Kahlil Gibran, one of Lebanon’s greatest gifts to the world. They were both concerned with metaphysics, the world as it is and as it ought to be, and devotion to their values. Nothing better captures the dilemma all too familiar to Lebanese abroad than this expression as it reminds us that, as Lebanon suffers – eaten up by its own venality and corruption, its growing poverty and wealth disparity, and the lack of social and cultural cohesion, we all suffer.
As I prepare for my return visit to Lebanon next month, I imagine how I will react to the sadness and despair of the poor and marginalized as clubs and restaurants continue to serve those who are able to spend their untouchable dollars by going out and facing life as it is. I am concerned with my reactions to the obvious lack of shame from the government leadership that can’t feed the families of the ISF and LAF, fund elections, pay the salaries of local staff at embassies abroad, can’t fund adequate public and private health services, and can’t prioritize Lebanon’s sovereignty above the agendas of groups who unashamedly take orders from their overseas overlords. One reaction is anger.
Another reaction is sadness, and two recent pieces of news stand out. A UN Security Council report that followed on the World Bank’s release of a paper recounting the many misdeeds of the elite that brought the country to this point of dissipation. Add to that the pattern of migration from Lebanon that does not tell the usual story of “I’m going to emigrate for opportunities and a future,” but rather conveys a resigned feeling of “I’m tired, desperate, full of anger and sadness, and I have to go.”
The time for avoiding responsibility has long passed according to the Security Council. The time for meeting the obligations that will enable the country to realize its future without continued disruption is dwindling. Among the issues addressed by the Council’s members are the need to agree on a budget as a condition to the IMF negotiations; to adopt “tangible” reforms; facilitate a swift, independent, impartial, thorough, and transparent investigation into the Beirut Port blast; and carry-out free, fair, and on-time elections that encourages the fullest participation of women. Several times the statement pointedly referred to the reality that the Security Council is once again stating these positions in like of the ongoing lack of progress.
In its press statement, “the members of the Security Council reaffirmed their strong support for the stability, security, territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon.” And importantly, “called upon all Lebanese parties to implement a tangible policy of disassociation from any external conflicts, as an important priority, as spelled out in previous declarations, in particular the 2012 Baabda Declaration.” The clarity of the statement is yet another indication that while the international community stands ready to support Lebanon, it falls upon the Lebanese government to take concrete actions in order to mobilize that assistance.
Regarding the elections, the Security Council sounded the alarm that the Lebanese government has still not appointed the required members of the Supervisory Commission for Elections nor has it funded its operations with only three months to go before the polling date. Could these vacant appointments be another sign to the international community that real pressure, such as sanctions or other penalties should be applied to move the government into action?
Some Lebanese are not waiting for the outcomes of the elections to base their decision of whether to stay or leave. According to the latest study from Information International on emigration trends, there was a 346% increase in people leaving from 2020 (17,721) to 2021 (70,134). In the last five years, more than 215,000 Lebanese have emigrated, mostly those who have the means and skills to do so, finding jobs elsewhere. This has meant that the middle class in Lebanon is disappearing both because the economic collapse has increased poverty among the population and because those who have lost hope of realizing their futures in Lebanon are now looking elsewhere
Can we continue to beat the drums from outside Lebanon, with the intention of unifying people to take hold of their futures? Will the Lebanese continue to tolerate intimidation and despair watching their Lebanon slip away from them? These are just a few of the questions that arise when we ask “For whom the bell tolls?”
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.