The Insult and What it Says About the Fragility of Lebanese Society
The 2017 Lebanese film The Insult, directed by Lebanese cinematographer Ziad Doueiri, is a study in the cultural and societal fractions within Lebanon, a country which in many ways still reels from the fifteen-year Lebanese Civil War. The film explores a conflict in Beirut between a Lebanese Christian man and a Palestinian refugee who works as a construction foreman. After the Palestinian man attempts to fix a drainage pipe running off of the Lebanese man’s apartment without his permission, a conflict is sparked when the Palestinian man assaults the Lebanese man after he makes a derogatory comment about Palestinians and their struggle with the Israeli state. In the aftermath of the assault, the Lebanese man sues the Palestinian refugee in court over the assault and for emotional distress which allegedly caused the Lebanese man’s pregnant wife to go into premature labor. The film largely centers around the resulting court case, with the Lebanese man being represented by a famous lawyer and the Palestinian man being represented by the famous lawyer’s daughter, which soon becomes a national issue that further divides the delicate political balance in Lebanon
The film is interesting in that it takes a situation which in any other setting would most likely not lead to civil unrest and the attention of a nation. On its face, the conflict between the Lebanese man named Tony and the Palestinian man named Yasser is almost absurd. At its root, the whole conflict starts over a broken gutter, which Yasser fixes, and leads to broader questions of how the Palestinian conflict with Israel affects surrounding nations and the divides between the different cultural groupings in Lebanon. The insult of the film, a comment made by Tony to Yasser suggesting that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should have wiped out the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank during the intifada of the early 2000s, is really the central issue of this work.
There is a deep reflection on the Palestinian cause and how that has boiled over into other conflicts in the Middle East, most visible when Tony’s attorney, who is known for representing high power leaders in Lebanon’s Christina Kataeb Party, brings up a massacre of Lebanese Christians that took place in the Lebanese city of Damour in the early days of the Lebanese Civil War allegedly by a Palestinian militia group. The implication is that Tony was driven by a natural disgust of Palestinians to escalate his conflict with Yasser because of the things he had allegedly witnessed Palestinians doing in the war which he grew up during. Pointed out also are the feelings of rejection and contempt that Yasser and other Palestinian refugees feel in their host countries, which is implied as to the reason he assaulted Tony in the first place. Before the assault happened, Yasser heard Tony listening to inflammatory statements about Palestinians made by Kataeb Party leader and former president Bachir Gemayel who was assassinated during the Lebanese Civil War. This insult is at the center of the film’s conflict, not a broken rain gutter or even the actual assault, because of the harmful political undertones that Tony’s statement carried with it.
The film, which ultimately ends with a court decision that leads many dissatisfied on one side of the issue and vastly unresolved social unrest in Lebanon sparked by this conflict, addresses a key point about Arab culture and society: it is not one homogenous thing nor is it united in its differences. The Insult is an in-depth look at how different Arab nations and different Arab peoples are not always willing to engage with one another in a civil and welcoming manner. From the Western view, it is easy to place all Arab countries and peoples into one category, but the film lends a perspective that this is not even the case in small countries like Lebanon. One cannot put all Lebanese citizens into one category because of the social divides which this film centers around and the historical backdrop of unrest and conflict between different factions in Lebanon that still touches almost all political and many social issues in the country to this day. The film is an important cultural work because of the honest approach it takes to discussing controversial issues in the Middle East like the impacts of Palestinian migration as a result of the Israel-Palestine conflict and how even though it may appear from an outsiders perspective that the Palestinian cause is willing to be fought for by all Arabs, there are many who seem resentful at the extenuating conflict that it has the potential to bring to their lives. It also touches on religious divisions in Lebanon that are continually a driver of conflict. Political parties are based less on ideology and more on religious affiliation in Lebanon, and even though the film does not delve into theological differences that
Tony and Yasser may have, it provides a commentary on how religious and political affiliation are fundamental drivers of unrest in Lebanon between the many groups who call Lebanon home. The Insult is a well-crafted film with a seemingly simple storyline, but its underlying commentaries on social issues that are deeply seated in an extremely heterogeneous and polarized Lebanon are what make this film attention-grabbing from start to finish. The film is less about the outcome of the court case between Tony and Yasser and more about the fragility of society in Arab countries like Lebanon that can easily be further fractured by relatively simple events. If the assault on Tony had been committed by a man who was not a Palestinian refugee, the events of the film would surely have passed without as much drama as they did. A final question can be drawn out from this film: in any society that has been fractured be historical turmoil as a result of ethnic, religious, or political differences, can a negative act that transpires between individuals of opposing groups occur without there being innate political undertones and connotations attached to it?
Pictured Above: A theatrical release poster of the 2017 film The Insult