For a country whose people have a reputation for being smart, Lebanon has sunk into mediocrity. It’s been a gradual decline over the years, but much has happened in recent weeks – racial abuse, needless deaths, negligence and a quite bizarre case of air rage – that has highlighted our descent into the pits of shame and incompetence. Quite simply, our moral and societal fabric is unraveling, and there appears to be little anyone can do to stop it.
To begin with, it seems that what passes for the department of health and safety in our proud country is still a work in progress, and all the while people are dying. On Saturday, a wall collapsed at a school in Tripoli, killing three students. Another accident-waiting-to-happen happened, and three families are left to grieve needless deaths. The headmaster has been detained, and the president has promised that the incident will be investigated, but by whom? There is no credible framework to investigate anything with transparency and integrity. Charges will no doubt be brought, but it is unlikely that the deeper underlying issues of institutional negligence, a lack of accountability and a culture of corruption will be addressed.
January’s tragic building collapse in the Fassouh area of Achrafieh should have opened our eyes to the woeful state of disrepair in which thousands of buildings across Lebanon exist. Instead, a scandal is brewing under our very noses. In the days after that accident, there were promises of thorough surveys of those buildings suspected of being unsafe, but so far we have seen nothing, and the buildings continue to come down. On Sunday engineers were sent to the school to see if the surrounding buildings are safe. We have heard it all before. Maybe if they had acted earlier, the boys who died on Saturday would still be alive.
Staying with health and safety, we learned that there is bad meat on the market. A nation is shocked, and yet it shouldn’t be. Economy Minister Nicolas Nahhas has blamed the media for scaremongering and reminded us that “[This problem] is present all around the world,” but to say this is to miss the point that the vast majority of Lebanese have lost faith in a state where payments to overlook details such as sell-by dates have become part of the way business is done. Again, promises have been made to tighten standards, and the issue is due for discussion at the cabinet level. But again, where is the accountability? Where are the resignations? Why is it only when the media does its job, do Lebanese public servants pretend to do theirs?
So where are the voices needed to speak out against an equally rotten society? It is all very well to take to the streets and clash with the security forces over the content of history books, but we won’t mobilize (blocking roads with burning tires on the orders of a political party doesn’t count) to demand electricity, water, welfare and justice. Lebanon’s women will, quite rightly, gather to demand an end to marital rape and the right to pass their nationality onto their children, but where is the voice we need to speak out against the daily rape endured by Lebanon and the Lebanese, a rape that targets everything from our natural resources to our dignity, because at this rate we will have nothing to pass onto our children, whatever nationality they are.
Finally, spare a moment for the passenger who went berserk on an MEA flight from Paris last week. Maybe today’s Lebanon really can wind someone so tight they have no control over where or when they will lose it. Maybe it has pushed us to raise our voices when we shouldn’t and to keep quiet when we should shout from the rooftops our feeling of disgust at the way in which our lives are run.