THE ORGANISERS OF the ‘Not a Martyr’ selfie protest know their campaign will not solve all of Lebanon’s complicated problems but they are confident that starting a conversation can be the first step in accomplishing peace.
The entire movement of young people started with this selfie.
Image: Dana Tamim/Twitter
Pictured in the red hoody is Mohammad al-Chaar, a 16-teen-year Beirut resident, on 27 December hanging out with his friends.
Moments after one of the lads snapped this group selfie, a car bomb exploded in the city’s downtown area. Another picture was taken.
Less than 24 hours later, al-Chaar had died from injuries sustained in the blast. The other three boys in the photo were hospitalised but have all recovered well.
Their peers, seeing themselves in the images, became angry. Already disillusioned with the senseless violence that has plagued their entire lives, young men and women used the teenager’s selfie to begin their online revolution.
Organisers created Twitter and Facebook accounts, asking users to submit pictures of themselves holding up a message of peace using the hashtage, #notamartyr.
Almost 8,000 people have ‘liked’ the Facebook page with hundreds submitting photo messages of what they want to see happen in their home country.
“We can no longer normalise the persistent violence. We can no longer desensitise ourselves to the constant horror of life in Lebanon,” the organisers of the protest said on Facebook.
“We are victims, not martyrs,” they added, separating innocent bystanders from the label given to those who chose to die for a political or religious cause.
But we are not hopeless, and we have dreams for our country… Tell us what you want for your country. Tell us what you want to live for.
Their call was answered.
Among the first to post a picture was 25-year-old Beirut resident Dyala Badran.
“I posted probably one of the more dramatic ones,” she told AFP in an interview. (Her photo message highlights her wish to “bring the murderers to justice”).
“I was very angry that he was being labelled a martyr, because in my eyes, he wasn’t, he was a victim of murder,” she said. “It could have been any of us.”
Her message was also intended to challenge what she calls a culture of “normalisation” in Lebanon, where a population that weathered a 15-year civil war and numerous car bombs and attacks has learned to go about life after each new incident.
In the latest update, organisers are pragmatic about the reach of the campaign.
“The #notamaryr campaign was launched on 30 December 2013 and has prompted thousands of people to imagine and express different versions of their ideal futures in Lebanon. In each and every one of the selfies, there was hope,” they said.
People have imagined better, greener, and safer roads. They dreamt of less racism, less flags, more opportunities, and more schools. People have demanded the rights of women, migrant workers, LGBTQ, and animals. Many expatriates have desired a Lebanon they can return to. Most demanded peace, security, and the most basic of needs: a life away from the constant threat of martyrdom.
The next step is to turn the ‘selfie’ into a conversation, they added.
The page will now be used to tackle a different topic of interest each week with an invitation to experts to join in, challenge and supplement the vision and ideas being discussed.
While the campaign has attracted support and attention, it comes at a time when Lebanon is deeply divided.
The bomb that killed Chaar was the latest in a string of attacks, many thought to be linked to the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Many Lebanese feel trapped by their country’s political violence but others are directly involved in the long-running fighting in the northern city of Tripoli, or even heading across the border to battle for or against the Syrian regime.
“I want to stop looking for a new place to call ‘home,’” her message reads.
“It’s that feeling of leaving because something might happen in Lebanon… it’s unstable,” she told AFP from the Gulf emirate, where she works in advertising.
“You’d love to go back, but you have to think about your life and what you hope to achieve.”
Aoun also objected to those terming Chaar a “martyr,” and said his death hit home for many young Lebanese who imagined themselves in his place.
“The youth in Lebanon feel with him because it could have been any of us.”
Additional reporting by AFP