All around Beirut, pock-marking stunning French facades and cutting through the bodies of statues alike, are bullet holes.
Bullet holes. Nothing else; just bullet holes. Scars of the 15 year civil war which raged across the city and the country. People interested in the region describe the conflict as Christian against Muslim, rich against poor, established against growing.
These scars aren’t unhealed for reasons of poverty or disregard. Ok, some are. But some of these carcasses of buildings have been carefully left up, starkly lit from inside their wrecked bellies, and placed on permanent and constant display.
Our friends who guided us around Downtown said the government left them up on purpose, to remind everyone why they stopped fighting. These reminders are painfully obvious: they’re not hidden in war gardens or memorials. They are literally book-ending the fancy shopping district; hovering over cafes on bright street corners; drilling sunlight through formerly majestic statues.
The statue in particular struck me. The bullets are like graffiti, altering the intended message of the art to the random expressions of those around it. We visited it just before magic hour, when the sun was low and slow over the hilly horizon. The sun burst through the holes, making absolutely clear what they were.
One man was missing an arm; most sported several fatal bullet wounds.
The war from 1975 – 1991 killed an estimated 150,000 of Lebanese people, Christian and Muslim, rich and poor, established and growing. It frittered away Beirut’s former dominance as a financial sector, allowing those businesses to relocate to the Gulf. It marked this former “little Paris” as a dangerous and religious-conflict-benighted place to a generation. It killed their people; Lebanese people killed Lebanese people, withs sniper rifles and hand guns and car bombs. Killers and victims now live in the shadow of those facts. There is no way their families would heal their loss.
It seems right their city wouldn’t heal either.
“Just beyond the river Jordan
Just across its chiling tide
There’s a land of life eternal
Thro its vales sweet waters glide
By the christa river flowing
Grows the tree of life so fair
Many loved ones wait our coming
In the Upper Garden there”
—In the Upper Garden