SUN 5 - 2 - 2023
Sep 25, 2020
The Daily Star
The boat of death and the ‘Hunger Games’
Dima El Hassan
People in Lebanon are enduring a dreadful crisis: Many people have lost their jobs with unemployment surpassing 35 percent, while others have faced a salary cut with little or no health care support. In addition, the health sector is being overwhelmed by the pandemic, the government is being incompetent, economic pressures and inflation exponentially rising, the daily essentials prices are skyrocketing, all of which result in discrimination and inequality at all levels. On top of that, the catastrophic Beirut blast on Aug. 4 impacted the Lebanese who have lost their beloved ones, their homes and their businesses.
Overwhelmed by all these pressures, many Lebanese, especially the low income ones and the unemployed, are found with no other option but to either kill themselves or leave. While financially capable people have emigrated by legal means, poor and impoverished ones are forced to take irregular routes including the services of smugglers and the traps of traffickers, risking their lives on an illegal trip across international waters. They have put all what they have left to flee on fishing boats, joining other Syrians who have been exploited for almost a decade escaping from war, in attempts to reach European borders.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) traced 21 boats leaving Lebanon coasts, just between July and September alone.
“I did that out of poverty, it makes us blind,” said Mohammad Sufian -- one of the survivors of the boat that was recently rescued -- in a report by Associated Press on Sept. 18.
Are they guilty for looking after some decency in life? Are they guilty for choosing life over death? Who can convince them not to try to do it again and again? Who can find them an alternative to dying or even killing to survive?
Legal immigrants, refugees or illegal migrants, people in Lebanon are not fleeing out of war or conflict but rather out of poverty. They feel ashamed of not being able to provide food and shelter to their families. They are ashamed of not being able to defeat the corrupt system that makes the abuser healthier and the victim poorer and weaker.
What the Lebanese are undergoing is a real “Hunger games.” For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the Hunger Games is a series of novels written by Suzanne Collins, later developed into films. The story takes place in Panem, a fictitious nation consisting of the wealthy Capitol and 12 “poor” districts. As a punishment for a revolt against the Capitol, each year, children from the 12 districts are selected via lottery to participate in a forced televised battle to death called the Hunger Games in a vast open field manipulated by the Capitol, until one survivor is left.
The story raises many issues that I find highly relate to the situation in Lebanon: mistrust of authority, social inequity, unaccountable governance, fighting to survive, people sacrifice, wealthy leaders at the expense of hardworking poor people, abuse of power, revolution against oligarchy. Another related theme is the “fight versus flight” in the battle, raised by Dr. Mark Van Vugt in his article “The Social Psychology Behind the Hunger Games” published in Psychology Today in 2012. The novel reveals different strategies for survival: either to engage in physical fights against the weaker opponents, to flee and hide, or form friendships and coalitions which in the end lead to triumph.
This is a virtual reality of what the Lebanese are experiencing, unfortunately. They no longer dare to dream or have any ambition but to survive. They live day the day, in constant worry that something might happen to them or their beloved ones, and they are faced almost every day by some catastrophe.
The Lebanese are facing dreadful challenges triggered by a sectarian system deeply rooted in the country and run by corrupt political leaders. Lebanon’s existence is at risk now. The only way to survive, just like the novels, is for the people to choose the wise strategy to unite against the incompetency and negligence of their government, against the arrogance of their criminal warlords leaders who are watching them progressively die, fly or hide.
The Aug. 4 blast marks a black day in Lebanon’s history, but is also a turning point. The unity of the people in overthrowing the leaders that long divided them is needed more than ever. The uprooting of the system along with all its beneficiaries must now be their upmost priority. This is the only way to not let the boat of death write their destiny.
Dima El Hassan is director of programs in the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Development.
The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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