This month BookMarks celebrates two firsts: our first guest reviewer—may there be many more—and our first review of a movie (may there be more of those as well). Our sincere thanks to Mari Alexander.
The Insult, is a movie directed by Zaid Doueiri that came out in 2017 about a personal conflict that occurs in the context of prejudice among Christian Lebanese against Palestinian refugees. The movie takes place in Beirut where Tony, (Adel Karam) a Lebanese auto mechanic and Yassar (Kamel E Basha) a Palestinian refugee and construction foreman get into an altercation that goes awry. Yassar is sent to fix Tony’s leaky, illegal drain pipe on his balcony. Tony hears Yassar’s accent and becomes vengeful, impulsively destroying the newly repaired pipe which provokes Yassar to call him a “f…ing pr—k”. Tony, in turn, even though he provoked the altercation, demands an apology from Yassar.
These men have similarities, both are decent, hard-working, and dedicated men who protect their family, their community and their honor at all costs. They value dignity more than common sense and see humiliation as the greatest threat to it. They also have differences in their right to belong in Lebanon; Yassar as a refugee living in a camp feels his security is uncertain and Tony as a business owner doesn’t question it. While they both lived through Lebanon’s civil war, experiencing trauma and loss, they were on opposite sides that continue to simmer politically, today.
They hate each other before they ever meet because of the stereotypes they each hold of the other. Tony, a member of the Lebanese Christian party attended political rallies revering Bachir Gemayel, the Christian militia leader. The ideology he listens to lays blame on Palestinians for the demise of Beirut.
Later when Yasser went to apologize to Tony he was taken aback by the anti-Palestinian rhetoric blaring from the garage. Tony saw him hesitate and then spewed out his wish that all Palestinians had been wiped out in the war. This humiliation incensed Yassar, his honor was threatened just as Tony’s had been and he punched Tony, breaking two ribs, and walked away without apologizing. Their cultural values threatened by their uninformed biases took charge of them both.
Tony took Yassar to court requesting an apology but the judge determined that both men were at fault and neither owed anything to the other. Tony couldn’t let go. and then, after his wife bore their first child prematurely, he sued Yassar again. This time for his family’s pain and suffering from the insult and premature birth that Tony blamed on Yassar.
They each had representation in the higher court. To add to the story the lawyers turn out to be father and daughter opposing each other in a world where female lawyers are deemed less capable. The media gets involved and shortly riots erupted outside the courthouse depicting the two opposing factions: Lebanese and Palestinians. The resentment between the Palestinians and the Lebanese residue from the war that ended in 1990. Though the fighting had ceased the pain from the suffering had not gone away. In the courtroom the lawyers brought up witnesses, stories and footage of how each of these two men experienced the war as children. Both sides offered justifications for denigrating the other group to the point that at times the Lebanese complaints about Palestinians remind us of the irrational blame placed on Jews by Germans in Nazi times.
Neither of the two men truly intended for their struggle to escalate as it did but neither knew how to shift it without relinquishing their honor and the honor of their communities. While we revisit the atrocities of the Lebanese civil war, we are also reminded that the biases founded in those times are no longer accurate or relevant to what is happening now. What is palpable is the deep-seated resentment and hatred that lives in the clutch of stereotypes and biases not grown from personal experience in present day.
Both men held implicit memories of trauma and hardship in their bodies but neither understood how these created biases that guide their lives. Both men defined the other by a single stereotype – their ethnicity – creating stories about them without knowledge of them. They didn’t know who each other at all.
Both men were provoked by bias that was embedded from trauma…the bias was further given power through our brain that is always scanning for danger. When our brains get a signal, often from our guts, that there is eminent danger we go into protection mode, our perceptual field is narrowed and we have less to draw from to ascertain what is real. The more we can become aware of our own personal histories and our biases the more we can allow room, a pause, to decipher if indeed there is reason to protect in any given moment.
Bias and culture make a strong mix to guide us but it skips the step of relationship and discernment. While, in the end, this movie suggests that we can choose to reject bias in the effort to achieve peace it also illustrates the power and impact of stereotypes and how if we create relationship instead of holding to a single label we could enjoy a world of connection and understanding.
I won’t reveal the ending of the film as I hope you will see it for yourself. A gesture of “good-will” and a final nod of understanding. See for yourself.
Mari Alexander, LMFT
Intercultural Trainer and Coach