Lessons from Lebanon

In Lebanon, protesters re-created the Dancing Funeral Coffin Meme to draw attention to the collapsing currency and the threat of starvation.

The video certainly caught my attention and motivated me to read more about the current situation in Lebanon. Just today, a writer in Beirut published this piece, “In Lebanon, a Pandemic of Hunger.” 

Lina Mounzer notes that there was initial cooperation with lockdown measures and that the Lebanese were diligent in guarding against the virus. But then, the virus became a secondary concern compared to more the imminent and sweeping economic factors. 

“After the lockdown, the lira went into free fall. Many lost their income to the lockdown, others to the devaluation. Prices increased almost by the day. The government promised 400,000 lira of aid to needy families but it squabbled about distributing the aid for so long that by the time there was an agreement, it had been devalued to less than $100. And the aid is yet to be distributed.”

In the west, we often hear of “lives” and “the economy” as if this were a dichotomy. But as Fr. Robert Sirico puts it, “One of the first things I think we need to do is resist this dichotomizing, this radical separation of the economy from human beings because after all the economy is for human beings. The human person is the center of the economy. The economy emerges out of human action, out of human decision-making. So it’s as crazy to say we should just not worry about the capacity of this virus to spread its contagion and just go about our lives without concern as it is to say the economy is unimportant. Both of these things have to go together. […] A healthy economy breeds public health in general.”

Many people who are not themselves suffering very much cannot grasp the acute desperation experienced by others. But I think Mounzer explains this reality very starkly when she writes: To worry about being struck by illness, you must have some sense of a future it might rob you of. And the future in Lebanon seems incredibly bleak.”

Further, she muses about what good it is for restaurants and bars to reopen if no one can afford to go to them. 

Lebanon is a fascinating, beautiful country – one of the countries I most long to visit. Sadly, as Bishop Elias Zaidan said on a call the other day, the world is washing its hands of Lebanon

On the same call, Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project explained that he thinks Lebanon should be a top concern for U.S. foreign policy because a free, democratic, and sovereign Lebanon will be good for the Lebanese people, for religious freedom, for minorities and refugees, for the stability of the region, for mitigating Iranian hegemony, and for ensuring Israel’s security. 

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