The deadly 'happy gunfire' in the Arab world
It is odd that Arab social media users criticise trigger-happy gun cultures and the high frequency of firearm incidents in the USA, thousands of miles away from home, but remain somewhat reticent about a no less deadly gun culture in their midst.
In fact, there is nothing short of a gun epidemic in the Arab world, even if we discount the conflict zones, with anything from handguns to military-grade machine guns easily accessible to civilians and less innocent folk.
One symptom of this epidemic is the so-called celebratory – and sometimes funerary – gunfire.
It is not clear how and when this practice came to the Arab world, but "happy gunfire" is possibly linked to the European gun-salute tradition, as well as to its less harmful cousin—fireworks.
In fact, celebratory gunfire is not an Arab invention, and is still a problem even in the United States and Europe, as well as in developing nations.
|It is possible many have no idea the laws of physics mean these bullets have to land somewhere.
Yet it seems the habit is particularly bad in the region stretching from Algeria to Lebanon, and from Jordan to Yemen.
Fatalities and serious injuries caused by celebratory gunfire are now almost routine news, spiking in certain seasons as we get closer to high-school exam results at the start of summer, and on religious holidays, weddings, births, funerals, political speeches—and pilgrims' return from the Hajj to Mecca.
In late May, eight-year old Rama al-Khadra died in Amman, Jordan, after being hit by a falling bullet fired at a wedding nearby. She was in the backyard of her home with her father.
YouTube is riddled with videos from Arab weddings and other occasions – including Christian holidays – showing people firing into the air, blissfully or willfully ignorant of the harm they could cause or the lives they could take.
It is possible many have no idea that the laws of physics mean these bullets have to land somewhere, and that despite losing some of their energy and velocity, they might still carry enough of both to kill or seriously injure.
In effect, falling bullets can be even more lethal than regular high-velocity rounds. They are more likely to hit the heads of unsuspecting victims going about their everyday business, far from the source of the gunfire.
Officially, celebratory gunfire is illegal in many Arab countries. But so is the unlicensed possession of firearms, and yet this has done little to deter people from carrying weapons or firing them.
The problem has reached such an extent that religious authorities in countries like Iraq and Lebanon have had to issue fatwas prohibiting the practice and detailing its harms.
Celebratory gunfire, or in this case funerary gunfire, can also be a source of political and social tension, as happened recently in Lebanon.
When Hizballah militants attending the funeral of a fighter who fell in Syria fired in the air, one bullet landed kilometers away and hit Munir Hazina, a 5-year-old Palestinian Syrian refugee child. He died several days later of his wounds.
The incident, like similar incidents in Lebanon, caused widespread condemnation in the country among those who know better. But even Hizballah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, despite repeated pleading with his supporters and even threats of punishment, has been unable to convince them to stop.
Naturally, celebratory gunfire in Lebanon is in no way limited to Hizballah supporters.
In Jordan, repeated deaths from celebratory gunfire prompted people to organise and launch campaigns seeking to put an end to what they see as senseless and stupid killing.
Even foreign embassies have weighed in on matter, issuing warnings to their citizens in certain Arab countries and instructing them on how to act in proximity of celebratory gunfire.
With the Tawjihi season upon us – the announcing of the results of official baccalaureate exams – across the Arab world, parents and relatives happy – and perhaps incredulous – that their kids have passed are expected to once again engage in this explosive tradition.
So until enough awareness is raised and governments are persuaded to take this more seriously, it might not be a bad idea to remain indoors at the first sign of gunfire.
Maybe even bulletproof helmets and jackets would be in order.