Racism, Bigotry and Anarchy: How My Hometown Is Breeding ISIS

Welcome to Ebrine

The sign says: welcome to Ebrine. Huddled on a bunch of hills east of Batroun, my hometown is considered as one of the area’s largest. It is Maronite by excellence. The sign could have also said welcome to Maronistan and you’d still be within realms of accuracy.

Growing up, I never truly fit there but I liked it nonetheless. It was peaceful, serene, had amazing scenery and, at the time, I thought it provided everything that I needed. Little did I know that a whole spectrum existed beyond the realms of those 7 hills, 2000 voters and dozen Churches.

My hometown has also lately become a hub where Syrian refugees and workers have aggregated in substantial numbers, or at least as substantial a number can be to tick off the brains of townsfolk that I had thought were kind. I was wrong.

The argument went: “if those Syrians got slingshots, they’d be able to overtake us.” Yes, 500 Syrians with slingshots overtaking a town of about 4000 people. Because that made a whole lot of sense. So some people in my hometown, without a municipality due to political bickering, decided to devise an ingenious idea: set up guard duty, whereby men whose ages range from prepubescent to senile made sure those Syrians were kept in line, whatever it took.

Those guards were self appointed, related to whoever felt it was his moral duty to protect the holy Christians of Ebrine from the fictive threat of Daesh looming among those dark Arab faces coming in from that desert to the East. Their duties were also entirely dependent on whatever they felt like doing. They circulated fliers, forcing shops to put them on their storefronts, to make sure that order is kept: you have to make sure the Syrians renting at your places are registered. You are not to hire Syrians to do work around the town. You are not to let those Syrians do anything that any normal human being is supposed to be able to do, because they are not worthy.

Day X of guarding. A Syrian woman goes into labor in my hometown. It takes her husband an hour between calling this or that to be able to get his wife out of their apartment, into a car and in to the nearest hospital so she can deliver her child. One more Syrian to protect those God-fearing Christians from. What a tragedy.

Day Y of guarding. A male Syrian worker is kept up by his employer at work beyond the 8PM curfew time for Syrians that the guards of my hometown set up for them. He complains about it because of how worried he was at the impeding hell he’d have to go through at the hands of those guards, manifesting primarily by a lovely town policeman who has been around as far as I can remember, bolstered by a support from the Frangieh household, that has seen him pull through a bunch of corruption scandals and still maintain his position. When that worker reached his home, he had the phone number of his employer at the ready, as the latter had told him to do, to ask the guards to call him. Our town’s policeman looked at that Syrian for a minute and told him: say this to your employer, slapping him across the face so hard he was left with a bruise over his left eye for the following week.

Day Z of guarding. Another male Syrian arrived from Syria to join his family at the very welcoming town of Ebrine. That young Syrian, aged in the early 20s, didn’t know of the rules that some random self-appointed people at that town had set up. So at 9PM, on the second day of him being in Lebanon, he decided to leave his house and visit a shop at the town renowned for opening late in order to purchase groceries. He was spotted by our town’s policeman. Why are you here was not even asked. Are you not aware of the rules was not even thrown out in the air. The next thing you know, that policeman was hitting that young Syrian like his entire existence depended on it. A few minutes later, he was joined by 5 or 6 other young men from Ebrine, with all their built up testosterone, and they let that young man have it. It wasn’t until his father showed up, and saw his son being tossed around from one macho asshole to the next that they stopped. My son isn’t aware of your rules, he told them. He’s only been here for two days, he pleaded. What a shame.

I presume a bunch of thank yous are in order:

THANK YOU to those guards who found it’s their Jesus-given right to protect the townspeople against the nonexistent dangers of Daesh at the heart of Maronistan. I’ve never felt safer, or at ease at Ebrine as I do now. 1984 is alive and well. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the Qa’em Makam of Batroun for turning a blind eye to the practices of those guards and the arbitrary rules they’re setting up for everyone and the sheer immaturity with which they are governing a town that has no actual governing body. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to my hometown’s policeman, roaming around with that SUV on which “Baladiyyat Ebrine” is plastered across. I am eternally grateful to those muscles you used to beat up unknowing Syrians whose only fault was them being Syrians renting at the premises of someone you didn’t like. I am eternally grateful to you being the asshole that you are because if it hadn’t been for that, none of us would be safe and sound. None. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the Frangieh household which has stuck with that policeman through thick and thin. Pistachio goes a long way round this town. Corruption? Who cares. Madness? Nobody gives a shit. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the people of Ebrine who haven’t spoken up against the guards roaming their streets, who believe their presence is absolutely normal, who think those duties are actually protecting them and who have forgotten how it is to live under duress, under an all-seeing eye monitoring your every move. What goes around comes around, indeed. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the Lebanese government, in all its facets, for turning a blind eye to the rising self-governance taking place across the Lebanese republic. Extending the mandate of parliament is definitely more important. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

Some people, like those guards and that policeman, deserve Daesh. So, in frank Lebanese let me tell them: tfeh.

What Lebanese Christians Need Above All Right Now

Spotted in Achrafieh

Spotted in Achrafieh

“We came to slaughter you, Cross worshipers,” is the sentence that made headline news in Lebanon a couple of days ago, as the people of the Northern city Al-Mina woke up to find it branded on one of their Churches. It came a day after Crosses were burned in Ain el Helwe and “the Islamic State is coming” was drawn up on other Churches in the country.

As a natural consequence to such exciting development, the news cycle will now go as follows:

1) Insert priest from Church in question spewing hate,
2) Insert local Christian lamenting about being threatened and being afraid,
3) Insert Muslim figure saying they do not support the graffiti,
4) Insert some high ranking figure saying they’re opening an investigation,
5) Insert pictures of personnel wiping the graffiti away, followed by political analysts salivating over the golden goose: the start of Christian persecution in Lebanon is finally here. Get ready for a Lebanese Maaloula soon. Or take up arms.

The saddest facet to the lives of Lebanese Christians today is that many are indeed taking up arms or considering it. Even Christian politicians are no longer hiding it. The ISIS threat is tangible and a decent enough excuse to uncover practices that have undoubtedly been taking place for a long time now. Lebanon is, perhaps still unofficially, in a race of arms, again.

I’ve heard people all around the place discussing taking up arms, being ready to fight and die. I’ve seen people who not only want to hold up arms but are thirsty for it, reminiscing over days and years that most would rather be forgotten. Those people are not middle aged men who were active during the war; they are university students, educated youth who don’t know what war is and whose expertise in weaponry extends to the occasional summer season bird hunting.

The talk about taking up arms has become near omniscient among Christians today. If you tell the people that such a race for arms is futile, the retort is typically always: they’re doing worse, and yes perhaps they are, but is that an enough excuse to further push the country and its already fragile communities off the cliff it’s decidedly running towards? Is the reply that “we must be ready” enough for such an undertaking given that there’s probably nothing for us to be ready for?

I, for one, am not afraid of ISIS, even as they knock on Arsal’s doors and find insurgents in select cities across the country, I still don’t feel remotely threatened by such an entity and I believe neither should other Lebanese Christians, regardless of their degree of religiosity for one simple reason: Their situation in Lebanon is grossly different from the situation of Christians in Syria or Iraq. The community here is far stronger, much more represented, has a bigger national footprint than their Syrian or Iraqi counterparts, who have been systematically decimated, be it in numbers or in political power, for several years now.

What makes me afraid, however, is that the households of people that I know are now being turned into barracks, that their closets are being filled with riffles instead of clothes, that the people I know and once thought were docile creatures are increasingly ready to pounce, when there’s no reason to.

What makes me afraid is that people that had for the past few years been the main buffer in the country against war are turning that buffer into a catalyst. How can Christians stay in a country they’re actively working on destroying, even if that’s not really their aim?

What makes me afraid is not a threat that needs a near miracle to find a footprint in Lebanon, but of the fact that even with such a threat looming at our doors, our politicians still can’t agree on electing a president, arguably the highest Christian position in the country, to lead. They can’t even agree on the best way to handle ISIS. Even in such extreme and drastic circumstances, Lebanon’s Christian communities are as fragmented as they’ve ever been.

With every graffiti proclaiming the rise of an Islamic state on your churches, with every news of injustice befalling Christians in the Near East and with every rise in the fear you’re having, you are faced with two options.

You can take up arms and get ready to fight again in a war that will probably not befall upon us. You can do as everyone else is doing and learn how to kill, dub it defending yourself, and make sure it’s in your own hands, not in the hands of a feeble government and its army.

Or you can ask yourself the question branded on those bracelets you wear: what would Jesus do? Odds are He would painted over the graffiti, restored the churches, remained the buffer this country desperately needs between its two clashing sides and sought normality.

Look at them burning our Crosses. Look at them drawing those things on our Churches. Look at their sheikhs and their Friday sermons. Yes, those things are happening true, but how hypocritical is it to be appalled by such things when Lebanese Christians have done similar things as well? And in the grand scheme of things how irrelevant is a graffiti and how useless is burning a piece of wood, regardless of its meaning, at a time when there are so many more important things taking place, at a time when it’s perhaps more important to ignore and turn that other cheek?

I returned home yesterday evening to find a brand new graffiti on one of the buildings next to my apartment in Achrafieh. “The Crusaders are staying in Lebanon,” it said. I chuckled as I took a picture of it. What was the point of such a graffiti in the middle to Achrafieh, an area that won’t have anything ISIS related unless it’s the burning of their flag? What was the point of such an “empowering” slogan in an area whose people don’t remotely need so? Isn’t it preaching to the choir? But then again, when have Lebanese Christians not been hung up on the superficialities of them being Christians in Lebanon? Some things will never change. What would Jesus do? Probably not this.

Da’esh Is Coming: Lebanon To Ban Porn

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Move away Game of Thrones, Lebanon is in full swing to make sure the ground is fertile – no pun – for our very own dark aged winter.

After minster of Justice Achraf Rifi decided there’s nothing more important than to go after those who burned the ISIS flag in Achrafieh, our ministry of telecommunication, spear-headed by Abdul Menhem Youssef, is aiming to stop Lebanese citizens from watching porn, by banning ISPs and Internet providers from letting citizens access a select number of sites, which are:

1) teenport.com,
2) metart-gallery.com,
3) smallteenpussy.com,
4) xnxx.com,
5) xivdeos.com,
6) teensnow.com.

Didn’t you hear, people? Our government is all about making sure the collective morals of the Lebanese community remain intact. After all, is there anything other than porn in Lebanon today that could be leading to the massive and tangible decline in manners?

Oh wait.

In the grand scheme of Lebanese things, we have other liberties being violated than the freedom to have a wider array of porn websites. As it stands, other porn websites will still remain available for whoever likes to feast their senses and bodily fluids, but what precedence are we setting with such measures, especially at a time like this when there are much, much graver things that warrant bans?

At the top of my head, before banning porn, the ministry of telecommunication should ban access to every single video on the internet showing anyone, especially Lebanese army personnel, being killed by Da’esh.

The ministry of telecommunication should also consider banning websites or platforms whose sole purpose is to perpetuate the message of ISIS, effectively making sure gullible minds don’t fall prey to it.

Between the arrest of 27 men recently for engaging in homosexual acts at a local Beiruti Hammam, and the current war against porn websites, one cannot but wonder what is this ongoing onslaught by the Lebanese establishment against sex lately?

If I were the Lebanese minister of telecommunication, I wouldn’t ban any porn websites. I would propagate them, aggressively so, hoping that some youth out there would get the release it needs to ease the horned up tension among the Lebanese populace. It’s not a coincidence that the more liberated a society is, sexually, the more peaceful it is.

But forget about all that, today Lebanese telecom ministry is telling Da’esh and its likes, with perhaps small but significant steps: Let them cum.

Ashraf Rifi’s Priorities: Trying To Make Burning The ISIS Flag Illegal in Lebanon

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There are many things that Ashraf Rifi should care about, as the minister of justice in Lebanon today.

For instance, as a man from Tripoli he should care about the fact his own city is in deep hell right now, sinking further and further as days go by. He should care about his own people back there who are afraid of speaking up against the militants that could pop up at anytime, threaten their security. He should care about those same people who are too afraid to exist in their homes right now.

Ashraf Rifi should care about the fact that our policemen can arrest anyone they please without cause, keep them in jails and drag them through messy bureaucratic processes until they get bored, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

Ashraf Rifi should care about the fact that our entire Lebanese legal system is aimed at a way to decimate our women’s potential, robbing them of the ability to pass on their citizenship to their children, of having equal inheritance sometimes, of having equal pay with their XY counterpart and, among other examples, of being able to open a miserable bank account for their children without the consent of those children’s father.

Ashraf Rifi should care about how ISIS is threatening the very fragile fabrics of Lebanese society, of how they are beheading our own army members. He should care about the grave injustice that befell Ali El Sayyed, that army member whose family had to see him die in pictures, incidentally a Sunni – the people Rifi likes to kiss up to for popularity.

Guess again.

Today, the only thing Ashraf Rifi cares about is making sure you burning the ISIS flag in Lebanon is illegal, instead of going after the people supporting ISIS in Lebanon or stopping people from flying it on their cars and balconies. Why so? Because it has the emblem of the prophet Muhammad and has the slogan: There is no god but God on it, effectively making it a Muslim holy entity.

Today, Ashraf Rifi is not being a minister of justice for the entirety of Lebanon but for his very narrow Sunni sect, to the extremists there who are actually appalled at some people in Achrafieh burning a flag that has the name of their prophet on it.

Today, Ashraf Rifi doesn’t really care about being a politician for an entire country with a holistic approach towards every single person in that country. He wants to be a politician for a specific group, working to make sure he pleases that specific group at all times, at a time when such rhetoric, ideals and attitudes are extremely, extremely dangerous.

There are many things we can do to fight ISIS in Lebanon that are not military. We can be aware people who have some context and understanding towards each other, first and foremost, in order to have the minimum amount of required dialogue to establish some form of agreement on where we want Lebanon today to head.

We can transcend our petty, narrow-minded and limited sects and not fall back to what is familiar, as Rifi is doing, like most of Lebanon’s sunni politicians today: going back to what they believe boosts their popularity, gives them sectarian cred, makes them stronger and gives them more clout.

Today, Ashraf Rifi has it all wrong. Instead of doing what he should have done as a minister of justice, he is inciting sectarianism at a time when this is the last thing anyone should do, especially a politician like him, in a government aimed at ruling the entire country, not just the Sunni sect.

The ISIS flag has holy Muslims symbols, but burning it is not insulting Islam, it’s a protest to what ISIS is doing to the people of Iraq, the people of Syria, the people of Lebanon and to our Lebanese army. It’s a protest against the beheading of James Foley, Ali Al Sayyed, the many, many more Sunni muslims who were killed by ISIS and whose deaths are ignored by many. The real insult to Islam here is the existence of ISIS.

What Ashraf Rifi is asking for today is an insult to those people first and foremost and not an insult to Islam. It’s an insult to the intellect of any Lebanese person who wants their freedom of expression to remain intact in this country. It’s an insult to every single Sunni who’s having their entire reputation tarnished as a sect that doesn’t accept others, is still hung up on shallow appearances and is going more and more in its own bubble.

Sunnis in Lebanon today have many, many problems. Their politicians are one of those problems. In Lebanon today, it’s fine to burn a flag with the star of David. It’s fine to burn a flag with a Cross. But when it comes to burning the flag of a terrorist organization, all bets are off?

We need bold statements like Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s against ISIS. We need to burn their flag. We need to rise beyond their terrorism. We need to get over the limited view of religion at a time when the people of ISIS are using religion to kill people.

If the prophet Muhammad were alive today, he’d be the first person burning that flag down. Ashraf Rifi should have known better.

If I Were a Lebanese Sunni

For a country that prides itself with its religious diversity, branding it as a tourism slogan and all the cliche that comes with it, we sure are extremely ignorant when it comes to those who don’t belong to the sect we were born in.

I’ve been wondering lately about how it must be to a Lebanese Sunni in Lebanon today, to be a person who has to constantly wonder whether the person facing you is secretly wondering whether you are an ISIS member in disguise or whether your mother is sympathetic with the terrorists in Arsal or whether your entire existence is directed at implanting the Islamic State in our land.

I’ve been realizing, upon pondering over the issue, that if I were a Lebanese Sunni today, I’d be angry.

Army Hate:

Somehow it is assumed that being a Sunni automatically means army hate and support of the murder or kidnapping of its members. Even the army’s blood is a matter of hypocrisy, or how could you explain how the murder of Samer Hanna was easily dismissed as an honest mistake for failure to inform?

January 2008:

When Lebanese army officers acted out against protesters in Mar Mkhayel, in Beirut’s southern suburb, those army personnel were reprimanded and put on trial. MP Hashem even went out to say that the incidents are a “massacre.” No one cared at the time. Few remember that now. Stances against the army are also a matter of hypocrisy and in the eye of the beholder.

Terrorists, Terrorists Everywhere:

When Charles Ayoub decided to bring some attention to himself and his “newspaper” by fabricating a story about the banning of Crosses in a Sunni Lebanese city, people were not quick to investigate but to judge. Those Sunnis are all terrorists. They want to eradicate us from our land à la نحن هنا وهنا سنبقى .

Tak-Beer:

All hell broke loose, rightfully so, when the mayor of Tripoli banned beer ads in the city. But when this and this happened in Tyre a couple of years ago, before ISIS and all those Sunni terrorists, no one blinked an eye, because alcohol is haram, but when Tripoli did it, it was all about the Sunnis wanting to enforce the Sharia in Lebanon.

Ahrar Sunna Baalbek:

Lebanese Tweeps were also not only quick but exceedingly enthusiastic about a Twitter account proclaiming itself to represent the free Sunnis of Baalbek. No one had known who was operating the account at the time but everyone assumed the content must be real. Sunnis are all terrorists. When the operator of the account turned out to be a Hezbollah supporter, everyone who had quoted it feverishly to point fingers was quick to dismiss him as just “another lost youth.”

 One Year Later:

One year ago today, Tripoli was blasted in two of its mosques. It was fated that both explosions wouldn’t work according to plan, which was to maximize casualties. The result, however, was almost 50 people dead, including many children, and a city that saw its biggest acts of terrorism since the Civil War. By all standards, the Tripoli explosions – the first aimed at such a massive agglomeration of civilians in the country – should have shocked Lebanon into a different state of being. Nobody, however, cared. The perpetrators were even identified. They were not Sunni extremists. They were, in fact, Syrian regime sympathizers, and still nobody cared. Few expressed anger, indignation, was appalled, offended, disgusted, scared and worried about themselves.  I guess terrorism is only scary when it affects non-Sunnis and is perpetrated by Sunnis.

Hezbollah Hearts Syria:

Hezbollah decided to go to Syria to help its BFFs combat a rising mostly-Sunni opposition. The fights were hidden at first, denied, but widely known among anyone with a critical mind. Soon enough, Hezbollah was admitting to a growing list of casualties of young Lebanese men, at the prime of their lives, coming in from Syrian fights. Today, the list of Hezbollah militants who died in Syria is around 500. Today as well, if you dare speak out against what Hezbollah is doing in Syria, you are painted as an ISIS sympathizer who wants to bring them into the country – because somehow, a Shiite militant group fighting Sunnis does not put fuel on a centuries old fire between Shiites and Sunnis.

May 7th:

It all goes back to that day. The glorious day of May 7th as some would put it, when militants stormed Sunni areas of Beirut in retaliation of governmental decisions that affected their reach and power. The cover-up? Our government is working undercover for the Israelis in dismantling the opposition. The result? A complete disintegration of the fragile relations between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite sects, reflected first and foremost in the political status quo that has been perpetuated since that day as Lebanon’s Shiites finally assumed the banner of the country’s strongest and most powerful sect. Tripoli, arguably Lebanon’s biggest Sunni agglomeration, started its spiral decline during that period as well. The rise of Lebanese Sunni extremism and the rise of Assir were a consequence of that day too.

Assir:

Assir went to ski. Assir went to the beach. Assir took his four wives shopping. Assir took his three hundred children biking. Assir went to the bathroom. Assir made a speech. Assir belched. Assir did this or that. And it was all documented, like a bonafide Lebanese version of the Truman Show. Assir turned out to be irrelevant. His lasting effect on the perception of the Sunni sect and on the fabrics of Sunni society as well, with his fiery messages of hate, were not as irrelevant. The perception of the Lebanese Sunni sect, with the rise of Assir, became mostly seen through that lens.

Hariri & Co:

In a country where sects are bulked and extrapolated to the single political figure that represents them, Lebanon’s Sunnis have been stranded since 2011 when Hezbollah orchestrated the governmental coup that overtook Hariri and literally kicked him out of the country for a three year sabbatical between Paris, a broken leg in the Alps and occasional pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia. The effect of the Future Movement, Lebanon’s moderate Sunni political group, started dwindling to the pleasure of little Orangey Christian folks. Its ranks, with the absence of their unified leadership, began to crack both financially and politically. Dissidents began to show as its MPs started to stray from the moderate message that FM employed for its Lebanese politics, and the people followed.

 STL:

The international tribunal for Lebanon, appointed by the United Nations to investigate the assassination of Rafic Hariri and a growing list of figures after him had come to the conclusion that Hezbollah was responsible for the assassination. Trusting the STL, however, meant you are a member of the imperialistic American controversy aimed at dismantling Lebanese society. Your only option in Lebanon today is to consider the STL a clear attempt at weakening Hezbollah in the face of Israel. There are no other variables allowed to you.

Sectarian Lebanon:

In a decent country, the above list wouldn’t matter. In fact, the above issues would be a matter of national debate – as they should – as to the best way to approach the divided fabrics in our society and assure social justice to all in a civil society, which we don’t have and probably never will. We cannot, however, keep ignoring that there is a grave injustice in the media, in our minds and in our daily lives towards each other, especially the Lebanese Sunni sect, portrayed today as the prime fighter for the rights of the Islamic State in Lebanon. Once upon a time, I overhead a Lebanese say that he believes all the people of Arsal should be killed, women, children, elderly and men – just because they harbored Syrian refugees. He then added that it’s what Lebanese Sunnis have always done. This is not normal nor is it acceptable.

In the sectarian Lebanon of today, if a Sunni had written this post that you’re reading now, you’d have dismissed him as another one of those extremist sympathizers who hate the army, want Israel to eradicate Hezbollah and are against the current of what is perceived to be the Lebanese way of life. There’s more to the Lebanese sectarian reality today than the last few years have brought to us with their actions, reactions and actions again. The culmination of those past few years, however, is a Lebanese society today that is in a silent war.

The majority of Lebanese Sunnis are moderates, as is the case with Lebanon’s other sects, which is what has allowed this country to exist for as long as it has despite the many troubles along the way. The magnifying glass of the media, the people and everything in between is on the minority, regardless of how substantial it is, that does not believe in moderation.

If I were a Lebanese Sunni, I’d find what’s happening to be unfair. I’d be horrified at the way Lebanese media is portraying me, at how other Lebanese people of other sects that aren’t much better – even today – think of me. I’d be appalled that most Lebanese Christians fear me when most of them are closeted extremists who’d pick up the nearest riffle and go to war if they had the chance. I’d be appalled that Lebanese Sunnis have the country’s poorest and most illiterate populations, out of which emanate the extremism attributed to the entire sect today, and still the brush paints the entire wall black.

If I were an uneducated Sunni with nothing in sight but religion and being too easily susceptible for brainwashing, it would be a sure slippery slope for me until I become a militia man who hates the army, becomes active against it and raises the لا اله الا الله flag on my balcony.

The Lebanese situation is almost textbook-like, but we are too blinded, too prejudiced and too politically non-neutral to have a sane discussion about what must be done. Extremist Lebanese Sunnis must be eradicated, it is said. The problem is that their eradication, as is presumed forcibly, will lead to other groups that are more extreme and that can do worse things. Know why we have extremists before lashing out at their existence. What we need today is to understand why radicalization is happening in our country, why we suddenly hear of Lebanese suicide bombers, of Lebanese who go to fight for greater causes, whatever it might be. Are we ready as a country for that? I guess the correct response to that is: are you fucking kidding me?

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Finally Makes It To Lebanon

A couple years ago, we were being taught almost everything there is to know about neurology as part of our medical education. There are countless diseases to be feared and to hope the patients who wander our clinics don’t have, we were told. There’s one, however, that was so severe and yet had so little information known about it that it was simply brushed upon: you will rarely see this, they were told.

I saw it the following month.

I come from a family where ALS is present. I’ve had two family members die in the past few years because of it, the last of whom passed away two years ago. I saw him waste away in front of his family and children, eventually becoming unable to move. Death came upon him before he couldn’t breathe without assistance. At his funeral, his sister told me his fate was kind. Others were not as lucky. He left behind a boy at the brink of graduation and a girl at the bring of school age.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been inundated – literally and figuratively – with videos of people dumping ice water on their heads. The cataclysmic shift from complete obscurity when it comes to ALS to having the disease front and center in the spotlight has caused donations for research purposes to jump several folds. Latest estimates have donations at $4 million in July, up from $1.2 million in the same period last year.

I’ve also seen people complain about how that water can be used in Africa, going about those typical monologues that we hear so often. I’ve seen people complain about how some are doing the ice bucket challenge more for fun than for donations, but does it even matter? The more people dump ice water on themselves, the more people become aware of a disease that has been so rarely spoken about and has had so little research done about it compared to other neurological diseases. You’ve all heard of MS, which stands for multiple sclerosis. MS has J.K. Rowling in the forefront of those donating its research since her mother had it. The most famous person with something similar to ALS is Stephen Hawking.

With videos from a whole lot of celebrities, the ice bucket challenge fever is beginning to come into Lebanon. Tripoli’s Hallab were the first to undergo the challenge, in a YouTube video that they just published for everyone to see. They subsequently challenged Roadster Diner, Zaatar w Zeit, and Crepaway to undergo the same thing.

Almaza has also done their own ice bucket challenge, in a different from than what’s being thrown around:

Ice bucket challenge - Almaza

I give it a couple of days before people start complaining about those dumping ice water on their heads with the water shortage Lebanon is going through this summer, but that didn’t stop a group of Lebanese from already making fun of the lack of water this summer:

Either way, I hope this also serves as a way for Lebanese society to become more acquainted with ALS, and to become engaged – even if in a little way – in the global move to make it known and actively fought.

I hope both Hallab and Almaza donated money as well to the research process. In case you want to donate, click here.

The best ice bucket challenge you will watch, however, isn’t that of Carrie Underwood, Oprah, Tim Cook or whatever other celebrity you’ve seen around. It’s the following one. Watch it until the very end.

Tripoli’s Massive PR Crisis: Beer Ads Banned In The City

Tripoli Beer ads

It must be tough being from Tripoli lately, or at least tougher than average for the people of a city long forgotten by successive governments, left to its own accord to make do with the little it has.

It wasn’t enough for people from Tripoli to have to deal with the fact that the other Lebanese, quick as they are to judge and believe their views are scripture, believe them all to be undercover members of ISIS or ISIS members to be.

It wasn’t enough as well for those unfazed by the ISIS threat (yet) to deal with the fact that their city has become synonymous with mayhem, sporadic fights, mini wars and hating the Lebanese army. No amount of tweets, Facebook posts or mini gatherings on the street and billboards in support of the army or in condoning the behavior of some of the city’s men would change that perception

It also wasn’t enough for those living in lala land, adorable as they are, to have to deal with the fact that being from Tripoli has also become synonymous with them having people like Kabbara, Khaled el Daher and Mer’ebi as their representatives. Granted, the latter two are not from Tripoli per so but who’s really looking at specific representation districts these days?

Keep in mind that all of this is to the background of destitute living conditions, severe social inequality, horribly poor development, high illiteracy rates and Lebanon’s highest poverty rates, just to name a few.

No, today the people of Tripoli have to deal with yet another facet to the growing saga of their city: their very own mayor being hellbent on turning the city into what it proclaims to be: Lebanon’s prime Muslim city.

When Ramadan rolled around, that mayor decided that breakfasts in the city should not be allowed. People tried to defy that order for a while but it only took him igniting the fire for the dormant Islamists, few as they are, to act on poor elderly having breakfast at one of Tebbane’s cafes, probably out of necessity to take medications. Soon enough, if you happened to be in Tripoli before iftar during Ramadan, you’d see most cafes closed to customers, afraid to make what little money they make with the circumstances reigning over their city currently.

No, banning breakfast was not enough.

Today, Mr. Ghazal is back with a vengeance. It wasn’t enough for most of Tripoli’s restaurants not to serve alcohol for customers, understandable as it is given the city’s demographics. However, the new rule of law in Tripoli is to forbid alcohol ads as well to be spread around the city, starting with beer. اجتنبوه has been modified by Mr. Ghazal’s fatwa-prone mind to include media items as well. Who knew one’s morality can be ruined by a picture of Almaza’s new low-end lager tier?

Apart from the fact that it’s probably illegal to ban such ads in his city when there are no regulations pertaining to it on a national level, Tripoli remains, even today, a city that is not actually demographically unicolor, where one of Lebanon’s biggest Christian orthodox communities resides and where the majority of the Sunni population is actually moderate, not ISIS-prone as they are portrayed by everyone.

What Mr. Ghazal seems to be entirely unaware of is the fact that his regulations are putting his city on an even faster track of regression to stone-aged times that make it incompatible with the vision most of its inhabitants want for it: a modern city with a sustainable economy, not a fertile terrain for the Islamic State. He also seems to have forgotten that his city has existed for a very long time with beer ads spread around its billboards without any sort of problems whatsoever. What gives in August 2014? Is the rise of the angry Sunni getting to his head as well?

Some people of the city decided to take their anger on social media, setting up a “Tripoli Loves Beer” Facebook page, posting pictures of them holding or drinking different kinds of beer to counteract Ghazal’s decision. However, is it enough?

The problem with Lebanon’s Tripoli goes beyond the repercussions of it being poor, left alone by governments as is the case with the entire North, ruled by factions that belong to borderline illiterate politicians, as is the case elsewhere in the region too. There’s a tangible PR problem with how the city is presenting itself, at times like these, to the rest of a country that is beginning to freak out from calls to ban alcohol, stop breakfasts and rising army hate, over-exaggerated as it is.

Tripoli’s downtown, for instance, is centered around a roundabout with the word “Allah.” Underneath Allah is a slogan proclaiming the city to be the citadel of Muslims. All around the roundabout are black لا اله الا الله flags. Welcome to Tripoli indeed.

The entirety of the coverage over Tripoli, when it actually happens, is centered around the “Allah” roundabout aspect, the ISIS flags on some sporadic balconies in destitute neighborhoods, serving as a magnifying glass on the illiterate brain-washed militants ruining their city’s reputation with each passing day. The details of how that reality came to be are irrelevant at this point. What Tripoli needs today is a gigantic shift: will it remain the city that surrenders to extremism again and again despite most of its inhabitants being against it? Or will it be the city to make sure that “the citadel of Muslims Tripoli” rhetoric exists no more?

With people like Ghazal as its mayor, with people like Kabbara as its parliament representatives, I don’t see the former happening anytime soon – even with its people fighting as hard as they can to try and change perspectives and with people on Tripoli’s side who advocate again and again to give the city a chance. We are all aware that this isn’t how the city truly is, that a couple minutes away from the “Nour” roundabout are numerous bars in Al-Mina that would readily serve you alcohol, that parties flourish and that women can dress scantily too. We are aware as well that the majority of the people in Tripoli are more terrified by what’s happening to their city and the possible repercussions than everyone else.

But all of that is put on hold with those looming ISIS flags beginning to prop around the city with politicians who are probably happy about that, and I have to wonder: till what ends can I tell people there’s nothing to worry about in Tripoli when I’m the one finding the current scene to be foreign in a place I’ve known since I was a child?

Until then, Tripoli likes beer, and the people who like Tripoli do too.

Tripoli beer

Cheers.