Many people are panicking that Gaby Layon, our minister of culture, has approved the demolition of Amin Maalouf’s house in Beirut’s Badaro neighborhood, which started yesterday. You can check out pictures of what’s left of the house here.
My problem with the issue can be formulated in the following question: should we be against this demolition because it’s Amin Maalouf’s house, which is why most people are outraged, or because it’s is a one-of-a-kind Lebanese mansion that has been around for over a century?
While Amin Maalouf is definitely a Lebanese to make us proud and whatnot, I do not believe him living in the house holds any cultural value for the Amin-Maalouf-Lived-Here protesters. He did not create most of his literature in it. I don’t think the house he couldn’t wait to get out of helped shape him as a writer in any way. If Amin Maalouf wanted the house saved, I’m sure Amin Maalouf could have gotten it saved.
However, the house is more than a century old. It is an old fashioned Lebanese house, present in a capital that is fast losing any form of architecture that makes it distinctive – and this is where the wealth of this residence lies. Long-gone are those mansions that our forefathers helped build and told us about when we were younger. Long gone are those houses that make Beirut Beirut. They are but a distant memory stranded among a concrete jungle of high-rises, slums and Zaitunay Bays. The house shouldn’t be demolished not because Amin Maalouf lived in it but because it would, if renovated, fit in and give grandeur and character to its neighborhood – one that the coming high rise wouldn’t even dream of doing.
Not all old Lebanese buildings are nice and should be preserved though. But their demolition is a reflection of two serious problems: we have a lack of urban design that is only getting worse with each tower ruining Beirut’s skyline. The idea that high-rises shouldn’t be stranded all around the city but located in one main district is non-existent. For example, my neighborhood in Achrafieh has a very high building that hasn’t been completed yet and it’s been ten years at least. It sits there, out of place, out of character and absolutely disgusting-looking. These old buildings are being demolished at an increasingly rapid pace as well – out with the old, in with the ugly new. And this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the horrors of Beirut’s current designs.
The second problem is that those who should care about preserving our culture don’t. And those who have the power to point that out are in a deep state of apathy.
While the issue of electricity and Lebanon’s ancient ruins are different, they are both of the same importance. However, how many TV stations do you see grilling Gebran Bassil day in, day out? All of them except OTV and Al-Manar. How many stations do you see grilling Gaby Layoun for demolishing more landmarks during his time than any other minister of culture? None.
Gaby Layoun isn’t Michel Aoun’s son-in-law. He doesn’t have a protective clout around him. He can be very easily disposed, another Charbel Nahhas if you want.
Gaby Layoun doesn’t have the faintest idea what culture is. He is the minister behind the current demolition of Beirut’s Hippodrome in Wadi Bou Jmil and the demolition of the Phoenician Port in Downtown Beirut as well. For all matters and purposes, this is a man who doesn’t know anything that extends beyond the growing depth of his coffers. And yet he’s still adorning our government with his presence. He was even quoted “apologizing” for Maalouf’s home, not knowing its architectural worth. Please.
Let them destroy Amin Maalouf’s house. What remains of our ancestor’s Beirut doesn’t rest on it. Odds are there’s another house somewhere in Beirut right now being demolished as well. But no one cares. Lebanon’s cultural identity crisis isn’t contingent upon a house standing, in a country whose national heritage is a matter of disagreement, where those landmarks being destroyed are considered by some as unnecessary – “the tourists don’t want to see that.”
Let them demolish Amin Maalouf’s house. It is not his home. It is but a tiny speck in a dying country, a cancerous and corrupt ministry, an idle media and a wretched people all getting ready for Lebanon’s upcoming 2013 elections. I’m pretty sure if the ministry wanted to demolish Gebran Khalil Gebran’s home, few would have cared as well.
Let them demolish Amin Maalouf’s house because, if anything, leaving his old home actually allowed him to be great. 3a2belna.