Apparently, my skirt was too short for “West Beirut” according to my relative, who lives in “East Beirut.” She was certain I would get harassed. She did not delve deeply into the issue, but simply reiterated that the “type of people” who lived in “West Beirut” were not open-minded enough for short skirts and did not bother to provide proof of so.
The fact that she was saying East and West Beirut shocked me. Isn’t this terminology rife with negative connotations about the religious beliefs of the residents of those areas? Yes, of course it is, but this is exactly why many people still use the terms today. It is a lot easier for a prejudiced “East Beirut” inhabitant to tell me to avoid “West Beirut” rather than to say what he or she really means: Muslims.
Twenty years after the Civil War ended, the Green Line is still separating us all. We still feel the Muslim-Christian divide and are still perpetuating the belief that bad things are, supposedly, only more likely to happen on the other side of that line. While some of us may scoff at those who are more extreme in their fear of the other side, this mentality is more prevalent than we’d like to admit. I personally know of at least one “West Beirut”-based Muslim told to use a Christian name while in “East Beirut” to avoid being abducted, while some “East Beirutis” are warned to stay in their own areas at night to avoid impromptu rendezvous with “Muslim” gangs.
Some Lebanese youth are moving towards decreasing sectarianism, but a lot of the Civil War mentality of our parents still resonates in our society. In the all-Christian high school I attended in a suburb of “East Beirut,” it was rare for me to hear the word “Muslim” without it being preceded by “dirty.” Christian girls were told not to marry Muslim men because there would, allegedly, be nothing to stop “such men” from marrying other women. Of course, prejudice and stereotypes went both ways. While we were told Muslims were dirty, I know of several Muslims, in all-Muslim schools, who were told that Christians were promiscuous. My university years were not much different. Though the student population was diverse, we had our own mini Green Lines with each sect tending to throng towards specific areas on campus.
It seems only natural that prejudices and stereotypes will be continually propagated when Civil War issues clearly have not yet been properly dealt with. If many parents are still stuck in the Civil War mindset, is it really reasonable to expect that their children will turn out differently? Some anti-sectarian movements in Lebanon are gaining momentum and could bring about positive changes. Until then, it seems that only the World Cup was able to temporarily unite us all — even if the unity was simply overzealous excitement over a few football matches. Such moments of absolute unity are rare. I relished it while it lasted, but now the divisions are back yet again.
Anonymous is a master’s student in psychology.