Between Sukleen and takfir: a warm welcome home

Hamra last Saturday

When I got in a cab after landing in Beirut this weekend, my first question to the driver was about Sukleen, Lebanon’s biggest and most controversial garbage company. Trash had been building up for days when I left Lebanon to attend a week-long Arab bloggers conference in Jordan (more on that soon.)

Apparently the crisis had been resolved when I was in the air, as a Sukleen truck was making the rounds on the way home from the airport. The driver said the politically-connected firm, which charges one of the world’s most expensive garbage collection rates, was inherently corrupt and had negotiated a deal to continue dumping at a hazardous site. This despite health concerns from local residents who had blocked the roads, causing the waste pile-up.

But according to The Daily Star, the protest was violently broken up by a police raid, and at least one activist was detained. According to Al Akhbar, the landfill site, just south of the capital at Naameh, was designed to receive 2 million tons of waste over 10 years, but has instead received over 15 million tons over 15 years.  Neither publication explained why this has happened or named any officials responsible for the failure. I asked the driver if Sukleen had anything to say for themselves, but he said the garbage company had not been questioned or even appeared in a single newspaper or television report he had seen.

I then asked the driver about other news I missed while away: a third car bomb in South Beirut, claimed by Al Nusra Front; it was preceded by a bomb claimed by the Islamist State of Syria and Iraq and a blast before that claimed by Abdullah Azzam Brigades. So how could a neighborhood patrolled by Lebanon’s most powerful organization–Hezbollah–get struck by three car bombs, by three different groups all in the space of a few weeks?

“The car bombs are all made in the Bourj Al Barajneh,” he said, in a reference to a Palestinian camp near south Beirut. Because of its close proximity to the neighborhood, Hezbollah was simply not able to monitor every car or road coming out of the camp into the adjoining neighborhood, the driver said.

He then asked if I wanted to know these Islamist terrorists or “takfireen” in Syria were up to. While driving on the highway, he worriedly scrolled through videos on his phone and then handed it to me. “It’s funny,” he said, as I watched a group of six or seven masked men surround a young man on his knees, accusing him of drinking and supporting the regime. Without warning the man’s head is sliced off from the back with a machete. There is no date on the video and it’s impossible to know if it was recent or even shot in Syria.

“You see these animals,” the driver said, half smiling. “You see what they do?” Noticing the appalled look on my face he added: “That’s nothing, that’s a nice one. There are much worse videos, like where people are eaten. My friends send me one every week on WhatsApp,” he explained nonchalantly, referencing a chat application.

It is such gruesome videos that have been used to justify Hezbollah’s war in Syria to its supporters. How could Hezbollah stand by as such groups threaten to take over the country? The fear is set to intensify with a new announcement from Al Nusra that all Shia populated neighborhoods are targets as well as an Al Qaeda call for more militant recruits in Lebanon and army defections. But lost in this narrative is the fact that these groups also pose a threat to Syrians fighting the regime, which Hezbollah continues to support, despite it’s similar levels of inhuman violence and brutality.

I got out of the cab realizing the monumental work ahead for myself or any journalist or activist in this country. From Sukleen to Syria, information is scarce and worried citizens are increasingly vulnerable to fear-mongering, unverified stories and real, recurring violence.