A Home, Not A Prison
Urban planning

Inspired by a few words on my move to my new (old) apartment in East Beirut

“That’s internal displacement,” he said, his eyes wide in dystopic foreshadowing.

“…Yeah,” I said off-handedly, shelving my friend’s comment for delayed reflection.

I spoke about my new flat: the low ceilings in the kitchen, the rare Beirut-y loft, and the new neighbors that could listen to me through my paper-thin walls.

“That’s not good,” my friend said curtly, outwardly confused by the persistence of my smile. He was responding to a face of weightless excitement, about my move from West Beirut to East Beirut.

He had a peculiar French-Arab accent and spoke to me in deliberate English, as if to make sure that I understood.

Was my friend’s label, ‘internal displacement’ relevant to me? If so, how had this word become relevant to me? In my case, I had not previously been inclined to think of my move in terms beyond the following: an area was dangerous and I moved, because I could.

Although my previous living space had not yet been a successful target of suicide bombers or a car bomb, amateur political analysts thought it likely that it would become one.

Still, I had not narrated my living situation in the dialog of war or, similarly significant, as part of a public ‘issue’. Nor did arguments related to economic disenfranchisement directly apply. I had individualized this particular situation and/or not yet contextualized it enough.

I could not so innocently speak in the same tongue about my life, in the way that others do about people in Lebanon’s second largest city, Tripoli, or about its neighboring countries (Palestine and Syria). Those wars had not landed in Beirut (for me) this time around – not in the habitual way a war lands, when fear and pain manage you most of the time.

I am not currently facing the torture or the loss of skin, limbs and life that people call injuries or collateral damage, and then list so callously as I just did, in their descriptions of war ‘events’. As if one might ever be able to capture in photographs, or words, even a single bomb? The fires it ignites; the people it kills, the limbs it burns; the extracted shrapnel and pain from distances, painted into a story; the grief, anger, and stories told taking on lives of their own.

To use the same words that others, in such horrible states (in both senses of the word), use feels exaggerated and a little melodramatic.

Once you are considered internally displaced, you become a person of (different) concern for international organizations, whether they actually choose to assist you or just count you differently in their statistical reports.The majority of articles written on the subject of internal displacement limit their discussions to what they perhaps deem ‘out of the ordinary’ circumstances, like ‘fleeing’ as a result of armed conflict. The UN definition, however, also lists ‘situations of generalized violence’ or ‘violations of human rights’ as causes.

How often do people move if they can, from precarious areas to less threatening ones? Every zip code has different threats. If you’re living in an area with high(er) crime rates, you think about moving to a safer space. Isn’t that a form of generalized violence? As a woman, when you live alone in an area with dark empty streets, you look for spaces where you don’t have to manage as much fear. I’m sure we can list hundreds of smaller or larger incentivizing factors in the same vein, all related to larger workings in our societies.

Outside of “war,” how many of us, as young professionals, move from apartment to apartment, slowly reaching towards lives with homes that don’t pose the same threats to us, as we wait for the system to reward us for our education and labor? Or, otherwise stay put when we don’t have the option to move? How many families spend their lives in ghettoized complexes, accepting violence, out of lack of choice or because of elite-pocketed agency? Or are forced out through gentrification, where they can suddenly no longer afford the present or emerging safety of where they live?

On top of that, displacement, the term, implies ‘being moved’ from one place to another. In twisted opposition, we move our own bodies, our own furniture, and throw out extra weight and attachments, during the transfer to the ‘most comfortable’ spaces we can practically afford – financially or otherwise. This all happens, while people with – not just the greatest, but greater purchasing power (or other forms of power?), press the weight of their shared and powerful machinery against spaces and transform them into gated-against communities, or throw us into the scenarios violent video games mimic.

The above description is (very) oversimplified but it is to make a point.

I am not claiming that there are not more life-threatening and urgent situations than less threatening ones. I am instead pointing to the fact that internal displacement seems to be the norm; security is what the bourgeoisie, those who do not want to be named, want us to think is the norm. This way, when we don’t have it under ‘normal circumstances’, we are more prone to individualize the problem, instead of seeing the shared plight that comes from widespread injustices.

Hopelessness aside, recent history alone shows that people have stood up against injustices, and there are many that have been standing or speaking. There really are too many interests involved for me to make any lasting judgments about our modern day robin hoods, our drugged up and sober ammunition holders, or the men in their flagged, paved thrones, clinging to everybody else’s power and sending their more or less-voluntary subordinates to bludgeon the senses of any who can see beyond their daily struggles. I can judge these men in their “modern” thrones.

Feature image by Peter French

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About The Author

Mirna Wakf

Mirna Wakf

Mirna Wakf has spent most of her life in the Arab World but has always thought in English.

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