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Beirut in my heart

Alexandre Najjar who was born in Beirut in 1967 is a writer, literary critic and lawyer who shares his time between Beirut and Paris. He has written some thirty books, including historical novels. He is also the editor in chief of the magazine L’Orient littéraire.

His book L’école de la guerre has been published in Swedish (Krigets skola) and tells the story of his upbringing in Beirut during the civil war. Najjar has also written several books, including a biography, on the Lebanese-American writer Gibran Khalil Gibran, one of the most important writers of the literary Mahjar-movement (the diaspora writers of the late 1800s and early 1900s).

Here Najjar takes us back to the apocalypse of the Beirut explosion. He is immediately thrown back to the violence and destruction of the civil war. The impunity in a city once known as the Mother of Laws will not go unchallenged. The city that has been laid in ruins many times over, always rises. Najjar pledges, as if casting a spell, that the city will rise again. To honor the dead, with a promise of justice to come.

By Maya Abdullah, Swedish writer, journalist, lawyer and board member of Swedish PEN

Credits Text: Alexandre Najjar Introduction: Maya Abdullah Illustration: Kajsa Nilsson June 18 2021

Beirut, August 4, 2020.

I feel like an earthquake, then an explosion of incredible violence that blows the windows, destroys the facades and carries everything in its path, like a hurricane. I go back 30 years to the time of the war, when cars and shells exploded in the midst of the population, killing dozens of innocent people...

I inspect the damage. Apocalypse scenes. Beirut, my hometown, burned to the ground by a gang of murderers who stockpiled a ticking time bomb at the port, a few meters from the residential areas. I mourn the victims and the memories confiscated from me. The culprits will have to be punished because Beirut, which in Roman times housed the Beryte Law School, was baptized "the mother of laws" and as such will never accept that those responsible get away with it. To the victims we must promise this justice. Our dead will be honoured. And our wounded avenged. For there is no room for oblivion in this tragedy. But first, we must heal our wounds, straighten out, rebuild, regain faith in this Lebanon that has so often betrayed our trust and turned our hopes into despair... There are male and female cities. Beirut is a woman, obviously, like the one who carries the torch of Freedom, like the one who, in the famous Delacroix painting, guides the revolution. It is said that this city has been destroyed and rebuilt seven times. This is therefore the eighth time she has been disfigured.

Down on her knees, she will rise up, brave and proud, despite her wounds and scars... Let those who believe that Beirut is dead undeceive themselves. Beirut is out of space and time. She is from those places that no one can annihilate. Like Paradise.

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