Sunday, July 23, 2017

A seven-year-old drew this at school, and it’s scary

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A seven-year-old drew this at school. According to his teacher, it only took him a few minutes. He drew these weapons as easily as another child would have drawn his favorite cartoon characters.

This seven-year-old doesn’t come from a gun-crazed family or from an armed militia environment. He’s your average Lebanese kid with a predisposition for the arts. When his teacher saw the drawing, she asked him why he chose to draw weapons and if he knew what they were. He shrugged and, in no time, wrote the name of each weapon, except two that look like relics.

Perhaps his unsettling knowledge of modern weaponry comes from the video games he plays, the cartoons he watches or maybe the internet. Unless it has a much more worrying reason: war is rooted in the Lebanese psyche and violence is an integral part of our lives, the mind of a child picks it up and registers it as the norm.

I was about his age when the "civil" war started. A year or so later, I could draw and name every weapon involved in the conflict. I knew the difference between M16 and Kalashnikov bullets. I could recognize a tracing or explosive bullet from a normal one. Two years down the line, I was able to guess the size of a shell, only by the sound it made when it exploded. I could even tell the difference between a firing mortar and an exploding shell. We used to call them départ and arrivée.

I didn’t know all that because I was fascinated by weapons or by war. I knew because it was common knowledge. Every child my age, every adult, young or old, knew these things. They were an integral part of our daily life. But the seven-year-old that made the drawing doesn’t live in a war-torn country – and I hope he never does.

Still, war is everywhere around us. Not only the many different ones filling the news, but a more insidious, domestic war.

Wherever we go, people are angry and aggressive towards each other. On social media, the aggressiveness is tenfold. At every occasion, happy or sad, there’s celebratory gunfire. When there’s no gunfire, there are fireworks that sound very much like war. When there are no fireworks, there are drilling and hammering coming from every corner of Beirut. Day in and day out, the Lebanese live with a constant sound aggression.

Sadly, it doesn’t stop there. We are at war with the environment. At war with the mountains, eaten by quarries, and at war with the sea, we dump our trash in and poison. We are even at war with the air we breathe. Breathing in Beirut has become a health hazard, a recent study said.

Socially, to honor a visitor or celebrate the return of a loved one, a sheep is slaughtered upon his arrival and blood is splattered all over the pavement. Politically, parties and factions are in constant conflict. So is the government with the people it keeps impoverishing and ultimately humiliating. And when there's a face-off between the two, protesters often end up in hospitals and public property vandalized.

Violence is everywhere. No wonder a child translates it by drawing guns and grenades. If society doesn’t appease itself – any society for that matter, not just in Lebanon – I’m afraid tomorrow’s adults will draw weapons at each other as easily as the seven-year-old drew them on paper. Pun intended.

© Claude El khal, 2017