‘Mind the Gap’ column: It’s called ‘beer pong,’ not ‘Beirut’

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Cristiano Lima, B&W Staff

Cristiano Lima, B&W Staff

“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.”

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9 Comments

  1. This is probably one of the highest indicators or lack journalistic integrity to come out of the brown and white. You are not only misinformed about the origin of a silly game but you are also misinformed about the Middle East. Lebanon.. Haha what do you know?? I am Lebanese. The majority of those killed were Christians in the evnt you are citing. Additionally those Lebanese Muslims you speak of… Have killed the majority of Christians, Druze, Jews and yes other Muslims. Why are supporting a country which propels the growth of Hezbollah and uses al Qaeda as shield.

  2. Such a non-sequitur argument. No example of how “It stems from the notion of a clash of civilizations between the West and the rest, particularly predominantly Muslim countries.” which distorts the reality that in fact the game is probably named in honor of the servicemen who died in the attack. I suggest interviewing alumni who were around to gain a complete understanding of the situation at the time, instead of relying on questionable sources. Personally, I find it really hard to believe that anyone today would use the name of Beirut to stigmatize or ostracize a racial or religious group. In fact, there are far worse things that are, in fact, said on campus to diverse students and this is completely benign.

    • Long post alert.

      “…the game is probably named in honor of the servicemen who died in the attack. I suggest interviewing alumni who were around to gain a complete understanding of the situation at the time, instead of relying on questionable sources.”

      Did you read the linked article? The author of the linked Thrillist piece references an article (http://archive.today/aDGU#selection-415.0-415.246) with a deeper history on the game. Duane Kotsen, Lehigh ’86, is quoted in this article: “Thinking back, I believe that the game got its name based on an analogy between the Ping-Pong balls flying across the table and landing on the opponent’s side and an idea that the US should bomb Beirut as a result of the casualties in the area.” While the article goes on to say “Kotsen also added that the name of the game ‘reflects respect for the Marine and US losses in the region at that point in history,'” that sounds more like an afterthought to me (and, honestly, a bit of ass-covering).

      Also, what was questionable about the Thrillist article? It wasn’t the most scholarly piece I’ve ever read, but I can’t tell why you think it should be discredited.

      “I find it really hard to believe that anyone today would use the name of Beirut to stigmatize or ostracize a racial or religious group.”

      So do I, but lack of malicious intent is not the point. Gays and lesbians who get mad at people using the word “faggot” jokingly probably react this way because homophobic jerks driving past them on the street, eager to take a shot at someone holding hands with their same-sex partner also call them “faggot.” Someone who’s straight doesn’t have to deal with this.

      Same with “ruit” – we don’t have to intend any harm to cause harm. As people who (I assume) haven’t had to experience the bombing of our homes, we don’t know what kinds of terrible memories the “bombing” association with the game could evoke – an association unambiguously tied to use of the word “ruit,” to which the above quote attests.

      But let’s take harm out of the question for a second, because at parties with drinking games, we may not always be in the presence of someone whose home has been razed. By calling it “ruit” in this situation, we’re using a word borne of trivializing the incomprehensible suffering of a targeted sect of people. Taken out of its “original” context, the word seems benign – and so does “faggot,” the n-word, and any other word borne of trivializing the incomprehensible suffering of a targeted sect of people.

      Do you want to be the sort of person who’s okay with using these words only if none of the word’s original targets are around?

      “ In fact, there are far worse things that are, in fact, said on campus to diverse students”

      Sure, but just because Bob stole a car doesn’t mean that Jack shouldn’t be prosecuted for stealing a video game.

      In fact, addressing this issue may be one of the most accessible ways for students to work towards making our campus climate more open and welcoming. Yes, there are indeed problems with worse things being said on campus to various minorities – but what can the average student do to solve such an intractable problem, especially when most of these things happen outside of their direct observation?

      By contrast, avoiding the use of the word “ruit,” and calling out people around you using the word, makes visible the dislike of indifference in our campus culture, and the desire for this indifference to be removed. Even if it doesn’t end use of the word (I fully acknowledge that the chances of that happening are slim to none), it makes it clear that someone is willing to speak up if they feel something is wrong. That’s a vital component of a welcoming campus climate, and one that needs improvement at Lehigh.

      • I completely agree with you. The fact that people use the name Beruit to alienate an entire race is disgusting. I have been feeling the same way about the word “Car” which as we all know harkens back to the days when horses were brutally and grossly mistreated to pull along carriages. The word car is absolutely insensitive to all horses and anyone who owns or has seen a horse. To belittle an entire species just because we shortened the word carriage is reprehensible. From now on cars should only be referred to as automobiles for the sake of all species sensitive needs. #ACarIsNotACarriage

  3. Beer Pong is a game played on a regulation ping pong table with paddles, a net and 4 beer steins. Beer pong is neither than 10 enormous solo cup garbage played by inferior schools across the country nor is it the classic lehigh drinking tradition played correctly with 21 9oz cups. I would find it surprising that Lehigh students are unaware of the origin of the name. I was explained what it meant before freshman orientation was over.

    I won’t argue with you over the name or defend it, I’m not educated on the specifics nor do I have time to research right now. All I will say is that the game will never be beer pong. Come up with a new name I guess, but it’s not pong in any definition of the term.

  4. Michael Airo on

    The writer accuses the people who named the well-loved game “Beirut” of falling victim to the fallacy of composition because they allegedly believed that all of the people of Beirut are associated with suicide bombers.

    “The game is thus named after the simulated bombing and killing of a city of innocent people…”

    I find this claim dubious at best. It is more honest to say that the game “Beirut” was named because it has a physical appearances reminiscent of a prominent international incident contemporary to its creation.

    Had the game been designed to invoke images of airstrikes then I could see how it could be called a simulation. However, this is not so.

    “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.”

    I, again, find this claim dubious. The game is not called “Crusades”. It is not called “Bomb the Middle East”.

    Supposedly the game is named “Beirut” because the namers thought the US should bomb Beirut. I say supposedly because this claim is supported by one single article on a less than spectacular news outlet.

    Even if that was definitely true the fact remains that those people thought Beirut, not Muslims specifically, should be the target of military action and therefore the game was named after that city.

    I find it ironic that the writer himself has fallen victim to the fallacy of compassion. He assumes that because roughly half of the population Beirut is Muslim Beirut its self is a Muslim entity. This leads him to the false conclusion that any feeling or opinion about Beirut is somehow applied to all Muslims.

  5. Missy Katner on

    I would like to say first, I respect people for writing about ugly issues, like racism and apathy in our generation, and having the courage to share it online–with their name attached. It is his choice, but it’s also your choice not to be an asshole.

    To me, the game Beirut symbolizes a major part of our history and culture: American elitism. Let’s face it. Most of us couldn’t point to Beirut on a map but still think ours is the greatest nation that ever was. It’s. just. not. true. Not anymore.

    So then there’s this game. Hardly anyone knows the story behind the drinking game Beirut. It’s kind of like that tree falling in the woods scenario–does it really matter if no one knows? I would say it does. Are people really making the case that a bunch of privileged college kids were too ignorant to know any better? That’ll look good for our global image. I don’t want to be associated with that. Hell no.

    I rest easy knowing that every time the readers of this article play the game, they will think of the story behind it. So mission accomplished.

    Speaking of mission accomplished…. Calling the Middle East and the people who live there evil is just too easy. It’s lazy. It’s like turning in a term paper that you originally did in high school. Come on people. We’re supposed to be past that. We’re supposed to be smarter and better than that.

    P.S. In other parts of the world that aren’t Lehigh, beer pong is just beer pong with no paddles and no Beirut.

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