Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, The University of Tokyo

There are moments when we recognize we have become old. I have lived long enough to witness Beirut to rise from ashes, enjoy the bling-bling of prosperity and then be blown away by an explosion at the port in the evening of August 4, 2020.

It was in the mid-1990s when I first set my foot on the street of Beirut. I arrived at this city, once called “Paris in the Middle East,” filled with hope and expectation.

When I arrived at Beirut International Airport, it was late at night and the terminal building was quiet and deserted. It looked like a warehouse, no decorations or attractions. Strangely enough and if my memory is correct, I was welcomed by the portrait of the president of the neighboring country, not that of the president of the Republic of Lebanon itself.

The airport was not called “Rafiq Hariri Airport” at that time, of course.

I have booked a room at a newly opened and reasonably priced hotel called Holiday Inn Verdun at Verdun area. 

When I told the taxi driver at the airport, in my very elementary Arabic, “I want to go to the Holiday Inn Hotel,” the driver asked many times “Are you sure? Do you want to going to Holiday Inn Hotel?”

I thought my pronunciation was wrong and repeated to him to let me go to Holi-day-Inn.

The driver reluctantly obeyed and dropped me at a dark corner and left.

I found myself left alone, at the doorstep of the ruined Old Holiday Inn Hotel at the Omar Daouq Street in the Minet el Hosn neighborhood, not the Holiday Inn Hotel newly opened at that time at the Verdun district. 

My first impression of Beirut was the moonlit carcass of the Holiday Inn Hotel building, pierced and gouged by shelling, rising high among the ruins of civil war.

That traumatic image remained to me and kept coming back even after Beirut has undergone a remarkable refurbishment and regained its reputation as a city with glamor.

Now, looking at the scene of the devastated central district of Beirut, I feel as if history has gone around and it is back to square one.

Also, I feel old enough to expect that it might take another round of history to uncover the truth behind this incident. Who has kept such an amount of explosive materials at the civilian port and who ignited it? Truth has gone with an explosion.