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My Kuffiyeh Says I Care

It's New Years Eve in Beirut, and everyone is wondering what to do. If this were a war, the answer would be easy. In times of war, going about one's usual business can be a form of protest. In times of solidarity, the code of conduct is vague.

Five days and at least 400 lives after the bombing campaign started, the repeated calls for "solidarity" with Palestine fall with an embarrassing thud against the silent backdrop of collective uncertainty about what, exactly, that means.

How does one show solidarity with Gaza? Kuffiyehs? Facebook? Protesting empty buildings? Canceling New Years?

If you're a member of the urban bourgeoisie, the answer is "yes" to all of the above. If you're not a member of this special group, you most likely have bigger problems than resistance etiquette.

And so with no way of channeling money or aid to Gaza and no hope of Arab military intervention, the frustrated activists of Lebanon appear to have taken refuge in symbolism.

"Everyone is wearing the black and white Kuffiyeh," a friend snarked during a recent concert that featured a number of Save Gaza tribute songs. "They've given up the colored ones. That's 'pro-Palestinian'."

It was a cold night in a West Beirut shopping center, and the mood, if not the music, was subdued. Over a hundred people had been killed in one day and everything felt inappropriate, especially a concert. But what can we do? Is not art also an essential form of resistance? The debates raged on.

The past week has been one long, sad commentary on the state of Arab unity. The Hizbullah-sponsored rally in Dahiyeh -- by far the largest -- was segregated by sex, alienating leftist and secular sympathizers who planned a separate demonstration outside the Arab League office but then canceled due to inclement weather. It was later rescheduled for New Years Eve, along with a candlelight vigil at midnight since celebrations are now considered vulgar. The various factions of the Lebanese government, meanwhile, finally found something they could agree on and Officially Declared a National Day of Mourning.

"They must be laughing at us," a despondent colleague told me. I don't know whether "they" were the Israelis or the entire international community.

There are, undoubtedly, genuine feelings of grief and anger behind the banner waving. But there is also a certain amount of self-indulgence that inevitably turns any expression of public outrage into a pageant for aspiring revolutionaries.

In a widely-circulated editorial by Azmi Bisharra on Aljazeera's website, the exiled former Knesset member warns against "emotional Arab solidarity turning into Arab catharsis." Catharsis will probably prove the dominant theme tonight, by one means or another. Those who choose to carry on the celebrations will do their best to rid themselves of the past week's horrors through excess, and those who gather in candlelight will feel valuable to the cause. Neither has much to do with solidarity.