Thursday, August 13, 2020

Beirut Port Blast: What lies ahead for Lebanon?

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The smoke of the Beirut explosion spread over the sky of Lebanon | Source: via Wikimedia

The year 2020 will be remembered as the year of disasters in the history of humankind. A devastating tragedy struck Beirut, the capital of Lebanon on August 4, 2020, in the form of a massive explosion which occurred in the port area and ripped a large part of the town .

As per initial estimate the death toll stands at 157 with more than 5000 people severely bruised and thousands displaced from their homes. The incredible force of the blast could be felt as far as Cyprus, which is at a distance of 250 kms from the explosion site.

A giant red cloud of smoke erupted in the clear skies followed by a deafening ‘bang’ and smashing of windows. "First we heard one sound. Seconds later there was a big explosion. All hell broke loose and I saw people thrown five or six metres" said Ibrahim Zoobi, who worked near the port. Satellite images show that warehouses and buildings within a radius of 2km from the site of the blast were completely destroyed, ending up in debris.

The intensity of the blast was equivalent to almost ‘2.2 kilotons of TNT’, according to an analyst and weapons expert. The aftermath included scenes of jam-packed hospitals, running without proper electricity connection, increased demand of blood donations and generators and agonized cries of people searching for their loved ones amongst the rubble filled roads.

Michel Aoun, the President of Lebanon | Source: Wikimedia

American President Donald Trump was quick to tweet about calling the blast a ‘terrible attack’. However, according to Michel Aoun, the President of Lebanon, the actual culprit of the blast was the 2,750 tonnes of fertilizer, ammonium nitrate, stored in one of the warehouses in the port area which caught fire. This explosive material was reportedly confiscated from a Russian cargo ship, back in 2014, when it made an uninformed stop at the Lebanese port.

Ammonium nitrate is a white substance used as a fertilizer as well as an explosive. It cannot explode on coming in contact with air but can detonate immediately as it encounters a flammable substance like oil or fire. Being an oxidiser, it will accelerate the severity of the explosion and also lead to release of toxic gases like nitrogen dioxide.

Boaz Hayoun, one of the top bomb experts of Israel, states “Before the big explosion, in the center of the fire, you can see sparks, you can hear sounds like popcorn and you can hear whistles”, which is a strong indication of fireworks. This might point towards seemingly inadequate warehouse management issues in Beirut, as such substances might have come across the explosive nitrates and instigated the blast. The safety protocols were simply not followed, despite being aware about the presence of a ‘ticking time bomb’ in the warehouse.

As Beirut is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and a financial crisis, it was definitely not ready for another blow. Beirut’s grain storage tower, the largest in Lebanon, was also engulfed in the flames, hampering the entire country’s food security. "It's an economic crisis, a financial crisis, a political crisis, a health crisis, and now this horrible explosion” says Tamara Alrifai, spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

France, the US, Italy, Turkey, Iran, EU, and OIC came up with the offer of help and show support for the people of Beirut.  Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, was the first foreign leader to visit the crisis-hit Beirut. While he consoled the citizens, their grief turned into anger as they chanted the word ‘Revolution’.

There is great anger among the citizens against the government, whom they accuse of being corrupt, sectarian, unaccountable, and out of touch with the common people. The intense protest by the people on the street forced the Prime Minister Hassan Diab to resign along with his cabinet on August 10, 2020.

The economic cost of the Beirut blast, where over 300,000 people have become homeless after their homes get destroyed, is estimated to be $15 Billion. Lebanon, which was already on the verge of economic collapse before this disaster struck, may find it impossible to withstand such a blow to the economy. It will need the support from the world over to rebuild Beirut.

A donor conference for rebuilding Beirut received a total pledge of about $300 million. Though it is a minuscule figure as compared to the destruction in Beirut, it will help to tide over the immediate humanitarian crisis. Apart from this Turkey has offered to help rebuild the port of Beirut and many countries are sending relief supplies.

The days ahead for the citizens of Beirut are going to be challenging as the country navigates the sectarian divide during the formation of a new government. It will be keenly watched by the citizens as well as the international community, whether Lebanon will discard its entrenched ruling elite and reject the toxic sectarian divide to elect an inclusive government or continue to perpetuate the misery on the common citizens.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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