Celebratory Heritage Custom of Pure Savagery
"I felt something come into my back, as if there is a stone from above. I felt like my spine cut into two pieces."
"In those few seconds, I was wondering, what is happening to me? Is there anyone who hates me that much to shoot me?"
"I wasn't and am still not, angry from what happened. This guy who shot me, I don't know him. I don't care who this guy is and I don't blame him. I blame the people who raised him in this bad way. I blame the people who are responsible, the minister or the political people who raised their supporters in this negative way."
Bayan Bibi, Lebanese woman
"It's to show support for our leaders. And to show them, we have your back [shooting automatic gunfire into the air when a political leader in Lebanon makes a speech] when you need us."
"When you are doing that it's like an adrenalin rush, you don't think of anything. I'm not gonna lie, the feeling is good, it's euphoric. Maybe after you think 'oh, maybe I might have hurt someone'."
Muhammad, 23, supporter of Amal's Nabih Berri, Lebanese parliamentarian
"[A 7.62 millimetre round of the sort used in Kalashnikov rifles is] quite capable of killing somebody 1,700 metres [one mile] away."
"The range is less if fired in the air but if it comes back down it gathers energy and that does the killing."
Brigadier Ben Barry of the International Institute for Strategic Studies
“He who spits up in the air, will get it back on his beard." Arab proverb.
|Whether it's joy, political passion or grief, for many Lebanese, there's only one way to show it: by lifting a gun and firing off rounds into the air (photo by Anwar Amro/AFP/File)|
Yet in the Arab Middle East doing just that is a heritage tradition; reason to celebrate when a sporting event takes place and the victor expresses his pleasure means firearms will be shot into the air. In 2013 when Iraq celebrated its win at the under-20s' football World Cup, four people died and over 20 were injured in the aftermath of bullets falling out of the sky.
The publication of high-school exam results are occasion across the Arab world to shoot a hail of bullets skyward ... and what goes up will certainly come down, causing injuries.
Bridegrooms have fallen dead after rounds of bullets fired at their own weddings. The natural consequence of a death is a speedy funeral, and at the funeral, just as at the wedding, guns will be fired in sorrow leading often to other tragedies.
In the Arab world dozens of deaths and hundreds of people injured by falling lead take place as a result of celebratory shooting sprees. This kind of dangerously kinetic celebratory action takes place outside the Arab world, as well, but not to the same traditional extent.
There is no lack of occasions meriting gunfire shot into the air in celebration, whether it is a successful attack in the Middle East against Israel accompanied by handing out sweets, or funerals, graduations, birthdays, weddings, the speech of a political leader on television, men are accustomed to firing guns into the air to celebrate.
|Reuters -- Firing a burst from his Kalashnikov, Mohammed al-Ghazaleh boasted: "(Israeli Prime Minister) Netanyahu will mourn tonight, while the people of Gaza are steadfast in their resistance and have triumphed." 2012|
It is a practice that is deemed illegal wherever it occurs -- or mostly, but that doesn't stop people from continuing to respond to the urge to 'celebrate' by firing off weapons. In Lebanon there is a steep penalty for disobeying the law against shooting weapons into the air, but the practise remains widespread. Media reported seven incidents of people injured or killed by celebratory gunfire in 2016.
In the Beirut neighbourhood of Burj Abi Haidar, a firefighter was killed by a stray bullet in May, which caused public outage. Yet two other deaths occurred from the same source in the same month. An 8-year-old child was hit and killed by a stray bullet in March. This is not a religious practse, but a cultural one; Christians, Sunni, Shiite or whatever, celebratory skyward shooting is customary.
Muhammad, quoted above, climbs to the roof of his apartment building in the Beirut suburb of Dahiya to fire his AK-47 at the sky when he feels the urge to 'celebrate'; most often when he hears the leader of the Amal movement make a public television speech. He can fire as many as 180 bullets at a sitting. Creating a hail of bullets to fall back out of the sky without a soul to call out "look out below!"
|Gazan boy firing, 2012, Reuters|