“It’s pronounced ‘Drah-voe,’ not ‘Dray-voe,’” said one uppity upperclassman to me once upon a time after my failed attempt to name the first-year dorm.
“What’s the big deal?” I quipped as I snickered. “It’s just a dorm name.”
“That’s how it’s always been said,” he rebuked. “That’s how it’ll always be said.”
With this and countless other encounters, it quickly became clear to me how deeply ingrained certain traditions were to Lehigh culture— from the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry to morning cocktails and beyond.
High among these is the age-old tabletop cups n’ balls drinking game commonly referred to — passionately by some — as “Beirut,” or “ruit” for short.
Beirut is truly an institution at Lehigh, as customary to any off-campus party as salmon-colored shorts or nauseating amounts of Natty Light.
The name of the game is a particular point of pride for many, serving as a distinct Lehigh-specific colloquialism that distinguishes it from the more nationally known “beer pong.”
What some – but notably not all — may not fully grasp are the brutal roots of the game’s naming.
In 1983, during the Lebanese Civil War, suicide bombers drove a pair of trucks laden with explosives into a military housing compound in the city of Beirut, killing 299 American and French servicemen. The attack was one of several that occurred in the region at the time, as foreign intervention was fiercely challenged by specific sects within Lebanon.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, East Coast college students faced the relatively trivial task of naming a new drinking game they had recently devised — one we would come to know in the present day as “Beirut.”
The exact origin of the game itself is hotly contested, with countless colleges and fraternities implicated in a mythic claiming dispute. The Beirut moniker, though, has somewhat more identifiable roots, with schools like Lehigh and Bucknell commonly associated in its coining. (This should come as no surprise given the persistence of the game and its name on campus through the decades.)
Not blind to the events unfolding in the Middle East in the 1980s, a segment of college students nationwide saw the attacks in Lebanon as a justification for military action. Others, meanwhile, debated increasing, decreasing or eliminating altogether the peacekeeping and interventionist efforts in the country.
The retaliatory bombing sentiment is said by alumni to have had a significant presence among Lehigh’s student body, which, at the time, was predominantly male and conservative.
And so — whether at Lehigh or another school — those students that had sought a name for their rapidly growing new game found their inspiration in the Beirut pro-bombing sentiment. And thus, “ruit” was conceived.
It is said that the launching of balls at plastic cups is meant to mirror the bombing of buildings in Beirut, Lebanon. As one writer remarked of the merger of military action and alcohol consumption, “If you played, you got bombed.”
While the name was picking up in popularity, the movement that inspired it achieved some level of success. The United States and France launched a joint retaliatory airstrike against the base where the 1983 attack was supposedly planned. The small extremist group behind them was not neutralized, but invariably diminished.
The game makers had their way, and so the name was forever entrenched into college annals nationwide, Lehigh chief among them — or at least to this point.
“So what’s the big deal?” you might quip.
The game many fondly refer to as “ruit” was not named after the murderous group that carried out the 1983 military bombings, but rather the city in which they took place — a city that now houses over 300,000 civilians who had absolutely no involvement in those attacks.
The game is thus named after the simulated bombing and killing of a city of innocent people — a name many Lehigh students either passionately defend or never even thought to question.
This seemingly insignificant yet gross overgeneralization — from a group of suicide bombers to an entire metropolitan area — is exemplary of a bias that permeates our culture and attitudes toward the Middle East, as well as Muslims worldwide.
It has reared itself time and time again as any and all adherents of Islam have repeatedly and unjustly been associated with terrorist networks and their heinous actions.
It stems from the notion of a clash of civilizations between the West and the rest, particularly predominantly Muslim countries. This poisonous thinking blurs our worldview into one of friend and foe that is largely divided along ethnic, racial and religious lines. It then serves to propel the systemic oppression, persecution and killing of countless Lebanese, Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners and others worldwide.
A drinking game name may seem inconsequential to you, but if so, that is your privilege, because millions of others cannot escape the reality from which it spawned, one where their lives are constantly diminished and endangered.
Killing is not a sport, and bombing is not a game — and certainly not one we should drink to. If all lives matter, then why should we dehumanize so many just to uphold a tradition?
We shouldn’t. We mustn’t. Some traditions simply must perish to make way for a more just future. As I was once told, “That’s how it’ll always be.”
You can keep your Dravo pronunciations, but it’s time we reclaim the name and show that #AllLivesMatter— that #MuslimLivesMatter.
It’s called “beer pong,” not “Beirut.”