Seven years ago I thought about suicide as a solution: an ultimate escape. This was my mind’s way of responding to the injustice that I was feeling all around me in Beirut. I had a bike accident and my right arm became permanently paralysed as a result of medical malpractice and the monstrosity of Beirut’s hospitals. But this post is not about me, this here is about Hassan Rabeh.
Hassan, a dancer, twirled his last dance last night and let his body go off the seventh floor parting this world forever. Hassan did not kill himself, Beirut killed him.
I woke up this morning in my bedroom in London sat on the side of bed, as I’ve done every morning, and tried to imagine how life was beating in Beirut at this hour. This morning the film of memory that was played to recall a Beirut moment was a scene from last summer. My Beirut memory this morning was an incident from last summer’s protests when I was running away, fleeing the streets of downtown with Mazen and his friend. At our heels was a herd of pigs covered in riot gear, batons swinging, sweeping and ploughing through the bodies of protesters. At some point we looked behind and thought that we, and the hundreds of protesters around us, had escaped the pigs as we reached the end of downtown; only to be ambushed at that moment by another herd of pigs coming from a side street on our right. This ambush disoriented us, our running got faster, more frantic, my eyes hysterically scanning to make sure I didn’t lose Mazen and his friend. In a matter of seconds, a rush of panic started taking over at the realisation that we would soon be trapped when a number 4 mini-van skidded and stopped next to us, a back door sliding-open and a driver shouting “get in, get in fast”. I don’t remember how so many of us managed to fit in through the one-meter-wide door but the next thing I remember we were all safe escaping in a getaway mini-van (also known as the cheapest form of public transportation). I looked around to check on Mazen and found him sitting next to Hassan; the three of us grinning though still panic stricken. Hassan was fidgety and kept turning in his seat to check if everyone was fine. In a comradely spirit, hyped on adrenalin, everyone in the van, locked in a strong sense of solidarity, showered the van driver with gratitude and praise for his heroic move. In turn the driver kept replying “we are all together against them pimps.” At Ras Lnabe’a Hassan, Mazen and I asked the driver to drop us as this was far enough from the protest in downtown and a good spot to grab a taxi back to Hamra at midnight.
This is how I met Hassan. I had noticed him before that night during protests or around Rappers or when state repression got tough. He used to help injured protesters or take to the frontline spitting fire “down with the military regime”. Hassan was always around some of Beirut’s rap artistes like many he was influenced by their music and part of their crew. He sang along whenever a rap circle broke out in the middle of protests or at times I found him by himself repeating those lyrics while he sat on the sidewalk smoking. That night we escaped police brutality a bond was created; maybe you could call it affinity that made us feel like allies or as if we had known each other for a long time. I didn’t know much about Hassan. I knew he fled Damascus a few years back and I could tell that Beirut was chewing through his sanity. Each time we spoke he struck me as always upset, uttering things that made no sense to me, but did to him. I felt that he was always trying to convey what he felt in words that couldn’t quite translate the immensity of his sadness and the injustice he felt: that’s what I mean when I say it made sense only to him.
The last time I saw Hassan was last October when we left the protest and went straight to Metro for a rap concert. That night was the weirdest of rap gigs I’ve been to in Beirut. The Metro theatre hall was packed to the rim with young sweaty faces and bodies still carried a whiff of teargas from the protest. In the middle of this sea of people, the shaved heads of Mukhabarat agents conspicuously popped up, I remember making a mental note that there were far too many undercovers for this gig. Facing this sea seven MCs crowded the stage and Hassan. Hassan took to the stage and danced an angry dance while tripping over cables and bashing against MCs. Hassan’s dance turned a weird rap concert into an awkward scene and he sensed this omnipresent awkwardness which seemed to invigorate his twirling body to dance harder. It’s as if he was continuing the protest we had hastily left at 10pm.
Today I woke up and Hassan’s spirit pressure was present through the memory of our escape. Then I looked at twitter and read the news of his death. Like Hassan there are thousands of Syrians and Palestinians who are brutalized and dehumanized daily by the Lebanese police state. Like Hassan we all want to topple this cruel regime, but alas… We?
I don’t know how Hassan felt last night when he let himself go off the seventh floor. Maybe he felt the eternal relief of death but I’d like to think that he felt strong and victorious for ending things on his terms. I know that Hassan couldn’t bear the injustice he was dealt; he couldn’t stand living the humiliation of Beirut. Like Hassan, many of us want to escape the ruthlessness of our times and are confronted by our inability to break the system of injustice murdering a thousand Hassan each day. Hassan’s words that he wrote few days before he departed sums up his (and our) bruised soul.
“I was taken in for a Hashish case. I spent time in prison with the best people then I went out, I bribed my interrogator he was good and brave trying to help. I was reckless as soon as I was out I went on drinking smoking abusing. My mind and soul played me started playing my people my friends and family then I stopped talking to them and stopped talking to anyone. I started calling myself Al-Hassan and Mohamad and Jesus and all creeds then I started lying. And I am only a servant of my Lord my name is Hassan and peace may be upon you forgive me my friends my people my beloved. And down with all regimes starting by the killer fascist and failed Syrian regime and it’s devil Bashar and his father. And down with the capitalist settler Israeli regime and Daesh the other face of the coin of the same system and to Nohad al-Mashnouk in the same circle. Down with the wanton promiscuous global intelligence. I’m only a servant of my Lord I die till I live. I’m not part of any sect or any party that claims authority among its entourage. a servant to my lord and the truth is from him and the love from him. Down with Israeli and down with its spies, for the truth is from the one god and to Palestine is the return.”