What we should be talking about

Mohammed Zaatari/AP 

You’ve probably seen this on Facbook dozens of times today. And thank God for AP photojournalist Mohammed Zaatari for taking it. But what does it mean?

Why does the army helplessly watch these men destroy a neighborhood? Couldn’t they easily corner them with the tank they are sitting on?

And who are these men exactly? Do they have names, do they have commanders? Or will we just refer to them generally as “they” “the Sunnis” “the Salafists” clashing with “them”– “the Shia”?

Is this really a “religious war” as The Washington Post tell us in its headline: “Sunnis, Shia clash in Lebanese town”?

Or is this battle also about money, power, territory and guns? Who is signing the checks for these men to buy ammunition and who is selling it to them?

Most importantly, why has the army deployed in such small numbers? I’ve seen a half dozen tanks in Tripoli as well. But the Lebanese army has over 100,000 troops. Couldn’t they send 10,000 to Tripoli and 10,000 to Saida?

These are all excellent questions raised by the photo. I turned on my TV to see if anyone was talking about it.

I found a “live interview” with the spokesman of Lebanon’s political parties. But he wasn’t talking about the photo at all.

He was talking about “Christian rights” an inherently xenophobic election-districting discourse, which tells us nothing about the ongoing battles in this country’s biggest cities.

This spokesman is on TV almost everyday–along with the heads of every political party in Lebanon. They use the opportunity to promote themselves, doing a lot of pointing at the vaguely defined problem: “them”

Isn’t it time Lebanese TV channels stopped relying on the same old faces from the same old parties that  destroyed this country to explain what’s going on?
How can we possibly expect parties that built themselves on street battles to get us out of the mess of street battles?
Instead of vaguely defining our problems as “they” and “their fault” which only feeds the demagoguery that fuels waring parties– why don’t Lebanese channels spend their resources on investigating the who, what, when and where of this story?
I hope tonight’s newscasts surprise me. Every station should be talking about the picture from Saida–not with guests whose parties are experienced at starting battles, but with those who have nothing to gain from them.