The August 4 explosion in Beirut shocked the world but reactions in its aftermath reveal a divided world with a wide range of emotional responses.
Rabat – On August 8, In the aftermath of the colossal explosion that wreaked havoc on an already crisis-stricken Beirut, the world has expressed its sympathies and aid has been pledged while Lebanese aid workers continue to clear rubble.
Grief and support
The Lebanese government has been inundated with diplomatic expressions of sympathy. Planes full of medical supplies have arrived in Beirut carrying aid from across the globe. Volunteers have come from far and wide to assist with participating in the monumental task of cleaning up the disastrous aftermath in Beirut, aiding those who are mourning their loved ones and helping to house others left homeless.
Social media saw a similar outpouring of compassion and solidarity, with platforms such as Reddit flooded by people offering their homes for those stranded after the blast. Tributes were paid to the victims of the tragedy as monuments around the world were lit in the colors of the Lebanese flag.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed like no other crisis, struggle brings out the best and the worst in humanity. While many around the world felt connected to the Lebanese like never before, for others political convictions left little room for such primary human emotions.
Blaming political foes
For many, the instinctive reaction in the aftermath of the August 4 disaster in Beirut was to blame those they see as the “enemy” in our increasingly black-and-white perception of world events.
The dust had not yet settled in Beirut when Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch responded to news of the blast by inferring Hezbollah was involved. “Is this Hezbollah’s way of saying don’t mess with us for allegedly killing former Lebanese PM Hariri?” he tweeted, urging the International Criminal Court in The Hague not to postpone their August 7 verdict on the matter.
As more facts came in, Roth quickly deleted his tweet. However, his instinctive reaction to tragedy reveals much of the preconceived worldview on which many who claim neutrality operate.
Mainstream US broadcaster MSNBC similarly felt confident enough to immediately link the unfortunate event to terrorism, merely for the location of the tragedy. In contrast, when a similar explosion occurred in West Texas in 2013, also caused by negligence in storage, no such accusations were made.
Outrageous and offensive
Shockingly, there were also those who outright cheered on the calamitous destruction witnessed in Beirut. Moshe Feiglin, a former member of Israel’s parliament called the explosion a “gift from god.”
“Today is Tu B’Av, a day of joy, and a true and huge thank you to G-d and all the geniuses and heroes really (!) who organized for us this wonderful celebration in honor of the day of love,” Feiglin wrote on twitter.
Yair Netanyahu, son of the Israeli prime minister, tweeted “Waving an enemy state’s flag is a criminal offense!” after the mayor of Tel Aviv decided to light its city hall in Lebanese colors. Former Likud MP Oren Hazan called the light show “treason” and demanded the mayor to be indicted.
Within minutes of the tragic explosion, footage of the event started flooding social media. As footage spread, so did widespread speculation on the origins of the blast. Many mistook the mushroom cloud that followed the explosion as being the result of a nuclear weapon, even though mushroom clouds can form from large explosions according to experts interviewed by the BBC.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue reported that right-wing conspiracies quickly spread on social media platforms Facebook, 4chan, Reddit, and messaging apps like Telegram. Some claimed the attack was the result of an Israeli strike on a Hezbollah weapons’ depot, with posts titled “Israel nukes Beirut” spread widely.
Even popular US conspiracy theory Qanon published theories in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion. Qanon followers believe the world is run by elite pedophiles who are only opposed by US President Donald Trump who is actively combating them behind the scenes of world politics. Qanon followers claimed the Beirut tragedy was the result of a “war between the government and the central banking system.”
Shortly after French president Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut, a petition emerged online calling for Lebanon to be “recolonized” by France for a decade-long period. The now-closed petition garnered 61,277 signatures before being closed.
The petition emerged online after Macron toured the city, making promises more suitable for a colonial governor than for a visiting foreign dignitary. His comments amid the aftermath of the shocking event played on the frustration of the people of Beirut but remained short on practical details. While many locals saw Macron as an example of better governance, his political platform at home resembles the unpopular demands of gutting social services and financial liberalization that the IMF and World Bank have proposed to Lebanon’s government in recent months.
Many Lebanese were outraged by the petition, remembering that France originally started the confessional system of Lebanese politics that has sustained political tribalism and that France is one of the EU creditors that are demanding Lebanese repayment in full. Many of Lebanon’s debts exist due to a lack of international support in rebuilding Lebanon following its brutal civil war, and French-made teargas is today being used to break-up protests in Lebanon.
The variety of perspectives that dominate how people see Lebanon in the aftermath of the Beirut tragedy originates in the country’s role in the Middle East. The country was once a hub for trade and finance, but the multitude of foreign actors influencing its politics has proven to be a severe weakness for the country.
Neighboring countries like Israel and Syria continue to exercise influence in the country, while Lebanon has also become a battlefield in the Middle Eastern cold war between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. Even the US is involved, which has implemented the Caesar Act, a package of sanctions on Syria that also aims to harm Syrian-Lebanese trade in order to dislodge Hezbollah from Beirut.
With foreign actors meddling in Lebanese affairs for decades, its politics has become a haven for clientelism, corruption, and foreign priorities. With little left to lose, the Lebanese people have been protesting their government for years, with the August 4 tragedy providing a new moment to galvanize unity among Lebanon’s fractured communities and present a united front against its fractured political leadership.
Protesters performed a mock execution of their top Christian, Shia, and Sunni leaders on August 8, as protest raged outside of parliament. With Beirut covered in rubble, the Lebanese amid its aftermath call for new elections and a reformed political system as they attempt to become the dominant source of influence on Lebanon’s fractured government.