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Haifa Cortbawi Ungapen 05 Apr 2017

Thoughts of a Lebanese Expat After Last Month’s Terror Attack

On the 22nd of March, a middle-aged man ran his car into Londoners and tourists on Westminster Bridge. The man then dashed towards Parliament, at the doors of which he stabbed and killed a guard, before being shot down by a protection officer attached to the UK’s Defence Secretary. Four people, plus the assailant, died as a result of the attack. For born-and-bred Londoners, the thoughts and feelings were many: from justified horror to unjustified Islamophobia. For an adopted Britisher and a born-and-bred Lebanese such as I, things are however always a little different, as I’ve found myself grappling with the same thoughts I grapple with every time there’s an attack on European soil.

Image via Panama Today

1. Shit! People died!

This, I am sure, is the first thought of everyone – wherever they might come from. Very sadly however, I find that I am much more de-sensitised to the feeling of horror than my fellow Europeans. Yes, every life matters. Yet, it’s hard to relate when you come from a country living in chaos and amongst chaos. A country where attacks like this happen without the world taking notice. A country neighbouring another where children are dying every day without the world taking real measures to stop the massacre.

2. Why am I learning of this within a stoic office email?

I’m in a meeting, discussing opportunities of collaboration with a partner NGO on child marriage. My inbox beeps. There’s a lull in the conversation. I open the email. It reads: “Dear London users employees… Please note there has been a security incident on Westminster Bridge”. This is followed by a short description of the “event”. Email finishes with “We advise all staff stay away from this location and be prepared for the travel delays that will occur while the event is dealt with”. You know it would not have gone down like this in Lebanon! The office would’ve been atwitter with sad excitement. Phones would’ve started buzzing. Meeting rooms would’ve been stormed and meetings would’ve stopped dead in their tracks. #Can-you-ever-show-SOME-emotion?

3. I wonder how long it’ll take for media to make assumptions and slide into Islamophobia?

About 10-15 minutes. Before ANYONE had information on the attacker, his name or his origins, the media coin-flip had already fallen on the “Islamophobia is totally warranted” side. This continued into the next morning, with idiotic statements such as “Since 2013, around 300 people have been murdered in the name of Islam”. How do I begin explaining the erroneous and offensive thinking behind this? How do I explain these attacks happen in the name of warped extremist ideologies, whatever their roots might be, and NOT in the name of Islam? How do I explain that 300 only considers Paris, Brussels and London and makes all others lives dispensable? I guess I should just feel lucky to now be British, so that my life counts if I die at the hands of an attacker.

4. I need to be very careful about humming my Arabic tunes on the commute in the next few weeks

Sad, but true. Sad that your mind will very quickly turn from lives lost to the implication of such brutal deaths on your day-to-day life. Sad that you know the implications will be rooted in stereotypes and illogical phobias. Sad that even as you analyse islamophobia in the media, you find yourself trying to look like less of the Arab that you are. Sad that peace-proning Feyrouz has to, very ironically, take a back seat to violence-and-sexism-proning gangster rap – I’ll plead guilty to K-Maro on my playlist.

5. Will people in Lebanon please stop getting in touch to ask if I am all right?

Hilariously, on the day of the attack and for about 2 days later, family and friends back home become worried about me. They are there asking if I am okay. I felt chuffed that they care, but was actually thinking: “Are YOU okay?” I also find myself replying back in the same tone everyone back home uses when I inquire about their safety after any attack. “B3eedeh, b3eedeh ya mama”… When I fully know it’s 10 minutes down the road.