Guest Post: A Country of Heroes
By now, anyone on twitter/ living in Hamra has heard of the graffiti scandal involving activists Khodr Salameh and Ali Fakhri. If you haven’t, read about the background story here.
The general consensus among people has been one of understandable anger at the charges held against the pair, namely the damaging of public property and the disruption of diplomatic relations with neighboring countries.
Anyone with vague knowledge of the current situation in Syria and Lebanon’s position towards it understands the political tint around these charges and their causes. We all know them, we all understand them, and it is superfluous to reiterate the issues of political censorship in the Middle East and in Lebanon.
Besides the political element of the story, there is also the legal aspect. On the one hand, graffiti is effectively illegal in Lebanon and therefore, due repercussion should be, theoretically, the correct action to take.
On the other hand, it is imperious to look at the overall state of the Lebanese legal system, as well as the laws and policies supporting it. Besides the obvious incoherence in the implementation and application of the law in Lebanon, we must of course question the very existence of such laws and discuss the specific issue of whether or not graffiti should be legal. That, however, is a separate and independent issue and it should remain so, if we are to arrive at a consensus about the other aspects of this whole scandal.
If, as activists and Lebanese citizens, we actually think that the issue of the legalization of graffiti is substantial enough to be discussed, debated and addressed, then we should have began to do so before the triggering event, and should have done so within the frame of the legal aspect, and not entangled it in political issues; a fact that effectively delegitimizes the whole entire issue.
Retroactive activism is a problem in the “west” and has substantially undermined the legitimacy of many issues due to this very nature. When an african american child gets shot arbitrarily by the police in the United States, and everyone is suddenly in an uproar and police violence suddenly starts “trending”, the people that are the main target of such activism are less likely to take it seriously. Repeat this incident over and over again, cycling between periods of loud activism triggered by arbitrary events and periods of silent indifference, and you severely damage the legitimacy of your issue, as well as your voice.
This is the problem we are currently facing in Lebanon, and this dangerous trap will only drown our issues further down under masses of well-meaning yet disoriented and unfocused activists. The last incident only highlighted this and in my opinion, exacerbated this issue.
So what are we to do?
For one, it is imperative that we clearly define and prioritize our issues, strip them from rhetorical fluff and address the essential values, beliefs and subsequent policies and laws that govern us. It seems easy on paper of course, and the practicality of such an endeavor has long proven to be much more complex than can be addressed in this article. Regardless, if we are to preserve the legitimacy of the activist’s voice, we must at least begin in the correct theoretical path, and guide our actions with them.
For this to happen, unity is a must. Uniting in our current situation is not only about uniting laterally in our ideas but also, and perhaps even more importantly, vertically, within the hierarchies being created within the activist community. Beginning to view the graffiti issue as part of a larger whole, a movement united under principles such as freedom and justice means that the individuals that are driving this movement are also united. It means that they are leaders, not heroes. Movements can handle many leaders; people who are brave, inspiring, relentless in their perseverance and able to move those around them. Leaders put their causes before them and are driven by their deeply held beliefs in their principles. Leaders are faceless, nameless, but with a limitless voice. On the other hand, movements cannot handle too many heroes. Heroes are to be respected of course and in the right time, place and number, they have the capacity of transcending a movement to the level of a revolution. But not everyone can be a hero, and not everyone should be. Heros are faces, names and voices, and they often become symbols of movements. Too many symbols and the movement loses focus, leaders lose inspiration, and people lose faith. Too many heroes and movements themselves become mere symbols.
Not only should we resist the temptation to become heroes but also, we should resist the temptation of immediately making heroes out of others. We should choose carefully those who are to be made heroes, and decrease the incentive for others to act recklessly, to follow hero-dom at the expense of the movement. When any activist realizes that it only takes an offensive tweet, a vulgar blog post, a loud insult to make heroes out of themselves, the incentive to do so becomes irresistibly high. This is regardless of the character of the person. This is simply human nature and most anyone, given the right context, is likely to do what is in their best interest. It takes a true hero to transcend this urge, and a true leader to have the patience, wisdom and humility to fight for their cause namelessly, facelessly, and with a rational powerful voice.
I’m not the one to decide whether Ali and Khodr are the right persons for this position and this is besides the point. The point is that incidents like these are highlighting the deficiencies of the activist community in the proactive, consistent and focused action required to create a coherent, sustainable and legitimate movement. We become proactive by addressing issues not only when an event triggers them, we become consistent by maintaining action after the peak of the issue and we become focused, by meticulously defining the appropriate principles, issues and heroes of the movement.
Written by: Guest, who wishes to remain anonymous.