Blogging for Lebanon

Trite as it may seem to evoke the image of the tortured artist, its relevance in times of tragedy is only further averred by a crumbling Beirut. Already perforated by bullet holes and bomb blasts, Beirutis and pseudo-Beirutis alike have become accustomed to the juxtaposition of striking relics of a 15-year civil war with gleaming skyscrapers, hotels and restaurant fronts. Indeed, the ironic coexistence of these structures is integral to Beirut's mysterious allure, and a source of pride for those who believe in its resilience. Pain and suffering beget beauty.

In fact, the realization of Beirut's rehabilitation after the civil war had instilled a kind of hardiness in the Lebanese people, who have used their past as a source of strength in dealing with the current crisis. Many have been using the Internet as a way of disseminating information, artwork, photography and writing. Unable to go about their daily business in a city shut down due to exorbitant fuel prices and disappearing patrons, many "stranded" Beirutis have thrown their energies into vociferous appeals to the greater international public to pay attention to the destruction of their revived city and Lebanon as a whole.

This has led to the galvanization of a global movement in support of the Lebanese, an activist network including Lebanese diaspora, non-Lebanese nationals evacuated during the early stages of the war, and other supporters worldwide looking for information outlets other than those of the mainstream media as well as different ways of using digital art and information for advocacy, awareness-building and fundraising efforts for humanitarian relief operations. These have taken on a different salience now, in light of the admittedly fragile and precarious ceasefire under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, having moved from the sensational to the mundane: it is often the aftermath of war that begs more attention beyond mere disclosures of the number of dead and injured. Now is when war sinks in its teeth.

beauty beyond your tv
Illustration: beauty beyond your tv by Elyse Tabet

The people found their outlet online: the success and publicity gained by some of these blogs is impressive, and entirely understandable. As someone evacuated with a group of non-Lebanese (we waved goodbye to the Lebanese through the dust as our Syrian bus swept us away), I felt a kind of desperation to do something for Lebanon, not uncommon among the others in our group: many of us took to starting blogs of our own, circulating petitions and photographs, and writing articles to satisfy this need, anxiously glued to the Internet for news outside of what appeared on the television or in newspapers. I am also realizing that we must confront the greater need for solidarity and organizing in the face of a waning interest and diverted attention. Even those who were in Lebanon in July must pay heed as everyday life comes knocking, and Lebanon's memory fades.

This is not insurmountable, however. For many, much of the energy around this mobilization derives from a deep love for Lebanon and the many contradictory but no less endearing sides of Beirut. This is evidenced by fundraising campaigns with logos such as "Save Beirut" and "Beirut: A city that will not surrender" sold at Cafe Press and the "I ♥ Beirut" sticker featured on the The Lebanon Chronicle, also home to many odes to the city answering the question: Why do you love Beirut?

The artsy side of this mobilization spills into video and graphic art, with SAMIDOUN's video letter from Beirut accessible at beirutletters.com, and blogs such as Mazen Kerbaj's and Raed Yassin's Nabil Fawzi that aim to cover the war with audio-visual work. Strikingly simple but powerful pieces scanned into the computer in a live journal authored by littlepaperboat titled "Beirut—heard from the tv," along with the writings give insight into the psychological impact of the war on a population tired of conflict and desperate to return to normalcy. The continuous rain of bombs, the failure of diplomacy and the points of escalation of the conflict have chipped away at any hope of Lebanon's quick recovery. Resilience notwithstanding, the multitude of blog entries has suggested that the Lebanese found their thoughts approaching despair more frequently as the days went on while attempting to gain strength from the global support network they have helped build, appealing to the same as the conflict moves into the humanitarian relief phase. The Lebanese Blogger Forum is good evidence of this, with posts on demonstrations and developments in the peace process and an impressive list of blogs dedicated to Lebanon, though not all updated to the current events.

Lovers of the film medium may consult a repository for the amateur video products of the war on YouTube, a site to which members may upload videos, add music to them and rate them. Added value comes from the forum feature of the site, in which members can comment and converse with one another (and the filmmaker) about any particular video—the comments are sometimes polemical and incendiary, reflective of the divided world in which we live. If you enter "Lebanon" or "Beirut" into the search field, you come up with thousands of videos uploaded to the site, ranging from 30-second cell phone affairs and short digital camera clips to fully edited videos complete with background music and subtitles. The sheer number of these speaks to people's frustration with the selective and limited images broadcasted by mainstream media. In the end, you see that quality of the film is not what necessarily earns a high rating; four to five star ratings often adorn those videos that managed to master the art of appealing to pathos, not to mention the journalistic value of those videos aimed at dispelling myths about Lebanon and filling in the glaring gaps left by news media.

Finally, for the more newsy blogs aimed at documenting the daily experience of the war, oft-visited sites include lebanonupdates.blogspot.com, which features a daily chronology of events as compiled by Tayyar. These have stopped since the Israeli withdrawal and the imposition of the ceasefire, but the site remains a good reference for a historical account of the events. Maps of the bombings can be found at lebanonmaps.org, although a good number of other sites have included these maps in their posts.

Of course, I've limited my mention of sites to those that have emerged as a result of the war, but this is not to discount the many blogs and news sites that have written extensively on the crisis in the Middle East or undermine other notable sites too numerous to include in my short resume. Many of the sites mentioned here have links to other well-frequented blogs, which I encourage you to peruse to observe the more human side of war reporting.

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