Original Arabic article by Nour Ezzeddin | 11/04/2017
Translated by Nariman Youssef
The sound of explosions came and went. My sister Nadine clung to me and hid her head under the covers. My mother came and lay between us on the small bed to try to help us get some sleep on that difficult night. In her tender, cushioning voice, she sang the lullaby Rima, substituting my sister’s name then mine. The raid came close again, and this time the explosion made the house shake for a moment, almost breaking the windows. Nadine tightened her grip on my hand. My mother carried on singing.
Go doves, don’t you worry
I’m just getting Nana to sleep
In the morning, the doves had gone and the raids had stopped. But someone seemed to have replaced the missiles with drums. The noise we woke up to came from loudspeakers that had been hoisted onto a parked car at the entrance to the Shiyah neighborhood where we lived, on the outskirts of Beirut’s southern suburbs. I went out onto the balcony to see what was going on.
The Lebanese civil war had left its mark on the old apartment building opposite ours. Its façade was full of holes. I looked over towards the one flat that was still inhabited. The family that lived there had replaced half a wall, which had been swallowed by a missile years ago, with a thick blanket. Someone pulled the blanket aside, and two men and a woman came out to wave to the car in greeting. The anthem, by the band Al-Wilaya, seemed to serve as an affirmation that they had held out and were doing fine.
I went on checking the surrounding buildings, the sound growing louder and louder in my ears. I wanted it to stop at once and to be replaced by my mother’s voice. Twenty years later, hearing that particular anthem still triggers fear in me. In my memory it must have become associated with the sound of war.
As I got older I discovered that at home we were supposed to like the cars that roamed the neighborhood playing jihadi anthems. My extended family was very religious. They believed in the Lebanese Islamic resistance and considered themselves an active part of the suburb’s Shiite community. The band Al-Wilaya occupies a significant place in my memory, especially in connection to the events that followed Hezbollah’s military operations in Southern Lebanon. Everyone would remain glued to the television to follow news of the operations, and the anthems playing non-stop on the channel Al-Manar would fill the room. Al-Wilaya was the first band to sing the party anthem in an official capacity, along with songs full of messages about martyrdom and justice.
I somewhat reconciled myself to the sound of the anthems in May of 2000. At that time, Al-Manar had taken to broadcasting them all day as a way of telling us that the South had been liberated and the Israelis expelled (take for example the video below). To me that meant only one thing: that the raids would stop and we would sleep in peace. I remember, a week later, touring the liberated areas in my uncle’s car, accompanied by the resistance songs of the band Al-Israa. Despite my young age — I was ten at the time — I understood what it meant to have been freed from the Israelis. So on that day I welcomed the songs.
Al-Israa was one of the bands that followed the Islamic resistance on its journey and tried, alongside Al-Wilaya, to document the history of its victories. Their entire repertoire was dedicated to the glorification of the resistance and its men.
Before we reached the liberated village of Marjayoun, the car stopped by the side of the road. My uncle got out and pointed towards the liberated villages and the sites that had been occupied by the Israelis. He told heroic stories of resistance. In the background, the anthem “Zionism Was Defeated” played on the car stereo. Encouraged by the martial tone of the words and music, my fear dissipated and my joy was complete. Now, every time I hear that anthem, I return, for a few moments, to that feeling of euphoria that had cradled our hearts as the car carried us to lands that had always been a stone’s throw away but, until recently, out of bounds.
Jihadi songs accompanied me throughout my childhood and into my adolescence: at school, on family trips, during girl scout activities, on television, and at neighborhood celebrations. I learned them by heart and repeated them alongside my peers. My extended family regarded those anthems as a verbal pledge of support to the Islamic resistance and, naturally, as a consolidation of Shiite beliefs. The bands did not hesitate to include religious messages in their texts.
My father and grandfather chose to distance themselves from all that. They disapproved of the prevailing religious fervor. My father was a long-time communist who had put down his arms in the late 1980s. When he got bored of the Voice of the People on the radio, he would spend what remained of his spare time in front of an old record player that he kept in the living room, listening to his collection of Beatles records.
As for my grandfather, he had finally followed the doctor’s orders and quit drinking, but he could never let go of the songs of Um Kulthum. Whenever I visited him, even before I knocked on the door, I would hear the tarab literally meaning state of ecstasy, the classical vocal genre in Arabic music. music punctuated by the angry voice of my grandmother, who considered it sinful. Um Kulthum, Asmahan, Nur al-Huda, the Beatles, Ziad Rahbani — against the wishes of the rest of the family, my father and grandfather managed to slip a lot into my musical consciousness, and I’m happy they did.
In my teenage years, following the July 2006 war and the anthem about the “victory that shook the world,” which shook my ears throughout the war, I stopped listening to these anthems for good. I was sixteen now, and I had my own cassette player and a decent number of tapes; my musical independence was complete. I fell in love with a boy two years older than me. We used meet at the entrance to the building where our friend lived and escape sometimes in his father’s car, accompanied by the songs of George Wassouf. We exchanged songs of love and longing when we felt good about each other, and songs of hate and revenge when we quarreled. It was all pretty normal.
Then one day I went to the entrance to the building where we usually met and didn’t find him there. Our friend was sitting alone on a narrow wall next to the building, playing an extremely sad song on his phone.
He told me that the boy I loved had left for a remote place to take part in military training activities with the resistance forces. It could last for over a month, he said, before adding: “People are sometimes martyred there.” I leaned on the wall next to him. The anthem he was playing, “Akhi Sawfa Tabki Alayka Al-Uyun” (“Brother, We Will Cry For You,” video below), was extremely depressing. I listened to the lyrics, despite the poor sound quality and the horror of the situation, and felt like my head was about to explode. I didn’t know what to do next. When the anthem came to an end, I felt a strong need to throw up and cry at the same time. Today when I search for the same anthem, I do not dare to press play. I discovered a cover by the group Al-Raya Al-Islamiyya, where they add flute and keyboard in what is perhaps an attempt to lighten the sorrow of the voice of the original vocalist Mahmoud Shahin.
I remember all too well the sound of that depressing voice and the cruel lyrics glorifying martyrdom at a moment when all I wished for was to be told that our friend was joking, and that the boy I loved would be back any minute. To this day, he hasn’t been back. Then again, neither have I.