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Archive for the ‘War & Civilian Life’ Category

In “On Borders, Globalization, and Terror: A Picture from Beirut,” Malini Johar Schueller recounts her recent experiences in Lebanon. Visiting the American University, she was jarred not only by sound of small arms fire and explosions but also the air of normalcy amidst it:

But as I walked with my hosts on the campus of the American University on May 8, I witnessed the material and psychic effects of living with harsh and painful borders. Lebanon’s diverse religious groups have historically lived in harmony but have also witnessed internecine strife and the country has been beset by the interests of powerful outside forces. Government allied leader, Jumblatt had issued a direct challenge to Hezbollah’s army and weaponry; in turn, Hezbollah leader Nasarullah had stated in a press conference, his group’s intentions of defending their weapons and had declared provocatively, “We are the state; they are the gang.” As we made our way through the campus, each secretly wondering what would transpire while we debated the innocuous question of a restaurant for dinner, gunshots started to ring out from different parts of the city. The campus had already been emptied of most students but the stragglers who sat at the entrance continued their light banter and laughter. A group of young men joked around while their friends strummed on a guitar, undeterred by the noise of firearms outside. For me, the shots ringing from different directions, seemed perilously close, threatening and disorienting although the tranquil and neatly trimmed New England style campus felt strangely reassuring. Betsy, the soft-spoken though fearless wife of my host, continued discussing restaurant plans, interspersing them with tranquil comments about the sounds we were hearing: “that’s an R.P.G.; that’s a Kalashnikov; that’s a mortar” in a tone more suited to one commenting on a flower garden. Betsy and her husband Patrick, American expats who had refused to leave Beirut in 2006, had lived through the Israeli bombardment and were battle hardy. The relentless sounds of gunfire which seemed to me perilously close, were to Betsy at a reassuring distance, magnified sounds ricochetting off the buildings of the university. From our campus apartment we saw tanks racing across the Corniche while gunshots and mortar explosions continued all night long, broken intermittently with thunder and lightning.

Schueller also has an interesting take on perceptions of borders in the post-9/11 word:

As I left Beirut the next morning in a convoy of four taxis filled with fleeing Americans, stopping at my luxury hotel where the obsequious staff continued to serve tea and pastries, undeterred by the fighting outside, the city had turned into a battle zone. Only young men armed with Kalashnikovs roamed the streets on motorcycles while others stood guard at entrances to their neighborhoods. Zigzagging through roadblocks past prime minister Sinoria’s house, I cursed myself for going to retrieve my belongings at the hotel and sent up a thankful prayer once we reached the safety of campus. As we drove to Tripoli, having decided to cross the Syrian border from the north rather than take the far shorter route through Hezbollah territory, I couldn’t help but marvel at the uncomplicated politics the American media offered its citizens. It was a talk-show version of multicultural democracy where every topic had two equally valid sides which kept the citizenry smug. No messiness, no violence. Only smooth capitalist democracy in action.

The “messy” border is one of the most visible consequences of globalization–and these borders are a flashpoint for very messy violence.  For another interesting take on borders as a conflict zone, please read Allen Feldmen’s incredible study of violence in Belfast, Formations of Violence.

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