A good chunk of my developmental years were spent in the Middle East, mostly in Jordan and a little bit in Egypt. At one point my family had the opportunity to take a trip to Beirut, which was at that time several years removed from their fifteen-year civil war. During my time in the Arab world, I got the chance to visit Amman, Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi, Damascus, and Cairo. But my favorite of those cities was probably Beirut. It wasn’t so much the city itself, though it managed to display a good deal of Mediterranean beauty if you could look past the bombed-out husks of buildings that still littered the city. It was more the Lebanese people, who like almost every Arab I met were warm and generous. Fifteen years of bloodshed had left hideous scars all over the country, but they were still there, still proud of their country. There was so much healing yet to happen, as there still is. But to me they seemed more then up to the task.
With the exception of the American Civil War and its aftermath, the United States has known very little in the way of internal unrest. We tend to look at the chaos in places like Egypt and Syria, and our brains simply shut down. Our understanding of war and conflict is mostly binary, where two sides duke it out for supremacy, and when one side is defeated the war is over. We have very little frame of reference for the kinds of conflict that has engulfed the Middle East, whether it’s in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, or Egypt. It’s never just two factions. It’s half a dozen of them, allying and fighting and rising and falling. When one falls, another rises up and starts something new. No two groups ever want the same thing, and it renders the situations incomprehensible to all but those who are in the thick of it. Even those I’ve met who live in the midst of such hideous events have only a vague understanding on what precisely is going on, and those who understand it well find it hard to explain.
I don’t pretend to have any insight into anything that has transpired in these countries, since I have only my own experience and perspective. I was much younger when I lived there, and the situation has changed drastically since then, especially with the whole Arab Spring movement. But I do remember the people I knew, the Jordanians, the Palestinians, the Israelis who have been personally affected by several generations of bloodshed. I have friends who served in the Israeli army. I know people whose families fled into Jordan during the 1948 war with Israel. I’ve known people who were held at gunpoint in Lebanon. And I know that Syria and Egypt are filled with people like them, and it breaks my heart. Most people there aren’t looking for a fight. They just learn to exist in the chaos and ride it out if they can. A lot of them won’t.
And yet, they don’t need my pity. One of the strange things that Americans cannot understand is that people in such situations do not mope around and worry so much as they simply internalize the threats and live with them. Of course there is fear and there is grief, but they still find a way to live. The one thing that gives me hope for Egypt and Syria is the people I’ve met there. They are good people, and my hope is that healing for these places will not come from leaders bombing each other to dust, but from people who care enough to be healers where they are. If God wills it.