By Joseph El-Khoury
Four personal stories managed to sneak into the headlines recently, breaking through the deafening cacophony that characterises Lebanese News. On 4/06/08 a Lebanese Army soldier shot himself in the head after killing his girlfriend in a rage of jealousy. This incident occurred in the Zarif neighbourhood of Beirut. On 12/08/08 in the suburb of Jal-El-Dib Janet Hajal (62) slit her wrists after fatally stabbing her son Roy Al-Ashkar (37). Hers was an act of desperation motivated by the fear of seeing her son, who suffers from the severe mental illness Schizophrenia, left to fend for himself in the event of her death. In her emotional turmoil a violent death for her son seemed preferable to a miserable life in a Lebanon where the mentally ill are neglected and stigmatised. On 20/08/08 in the northern village of Batroumin, Psychiatrist Dr Jack Hreiki (42) shot himself after killing his love interest Chantal Ghanem (26) her sister and their father. Dr Hreiki, who had years of international experience in the field of mental health, had clearly failed to act on the ‘demons’ that tormented his own soul. On the 10/10/08 Ali Marai (20) shot his fiancée Micheline Kahloun (18) before turning the gun against himself. His act was a public one, committed on the steps of a busy shopping Mall in Ashrafieh, Beirut.
5 months, 4 episodes and 10 casualties: An insignificant statistic when two hot days in May can result in 63 ‘political deaths’. This form of suicide is not a Lebanese exception, and neither is it a recent development in our society. Nonetheless, a few concerns should be raised over the availability of firearms in the hands of civilians and their visibility. A taboo was broken last spring and since weapons have made a reappearance as a symbol of status and a legitimate tool in settling personal disputes. Over the past few months their use has extended beyond the political sphere and the traditionally armed clans of the periphery. This phenomenon coupled with the political and economical context of desperation created by the perpetual state of conflict since 2005 is a lethal cocktail. There is no doubt that it is starting to impact on the mental state of the Lebanese. Individuals do not operate in a void and at least partially derive their sense of self from their interactions with others, society in general, institutions and government as an agent of social regulation. When these fail to protect, reassure, motivate and guide, psychological instability is to be expected in the more vulnerable elements, those in less supportive environments or under additional emotional stress for a variety of reasons. The political elite are either unaware or uninterested in the ramifications of the climate of uncertainty imposed on this nation and the aggressive discourse displayed on a daily basis. The suicide pact is well in gear between the opposing factions...or should we call it homicide pact, as I suspect that at the first sign of collapse they will find refuge in a European Capital, washing their hands from our descent into anarchy...just like in the good old days.