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.

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?

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.

#LB4Gaza: What Was The Point?

Behold the greatness of Lebanese media. All eight of our TV stations decided to unite yesterday for Gaza in one news broadcast that has people talking about it today still, beating the typical Lebanese news cycle lifespan of a few seconds. Talk about influence.

About 24 hours later, I am here wondering if the dust has settled enough for us to look objectively at what was accomplished yesterday or if it’s too early for us to question the actual point of yesterday’s broadcast, at the cost of being branded unpatriotic Lebanese who don’t care about Gaza, although many of the kind do exist.

It goes to say that the only oddity about yesterday’s united news broadcast was seeing MTV’s news anchor with Al Manar’s logo above her head, or Al Manar’s news anchor on MTV. It was a chuckle worthy moment as they went on and on about Gaza, expressing their utmost sadness at the situation there with heartbreaking pictures of people that are dying too soon in a culture that is, maybe just maybe, beginning to value the importance of a life – but I could be foolishly optimistic here.

The news broadcast, cute and fluffy as it may have been, was akin to yet another Arab League meeting: full of promises, and as hollow as an empty barrel. It was us preaching to the choir, in one perfect news circle jerk, to people who are already troubled by the Gaza conflict, to people who already care about Gaza, telling them that we should care more somehow.

It is an act of solidarity, sure, for Lebanese media to stand the way it did with Palestine. What it is not, however, is groundbreaking: our news stations already have enough common ground amongst each other regarding the Palestinian matter to be able to agree to such a broadcast. The result was an empty broadcast that was full of sensationalism but low on depth, as is the typical Arab handling of the Palestinian matter. It is 2014 and they still have not learned that just saying Israel is a big bad monster doesn’t cut it anymore. We all know Israel is bad, now what will you do about it?

24 hours after the LB4Gaza news telecast is done, what was accomplished apart from a sporadic increase in discourse about the issue among a Lebanese populace that is already knee-deep in its own problems as it is and a quirky Exotica ad just to jump on the bandwagon? Wouldn’t it have been better for Gaza if, instead of failing to have a high-level discourse about the issue, all 8 stations organized a telethon that helped raise money and resources to actually help the people of Gaza beyond empty words?

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It is hypocritical for Lebanese TV stations to look at Gaza in solidarity when Palestinians in our own country live without rights, without safety and in living conditions that are detrimental to their well-being, with their voices squashed beyond measure. It’s also easy to assume greatness in such a broadcast, but it is also telling that such a broadcast can only happen towards Gaza and Palestine. Could it be because having a differing opinion on the matter is illegal?

It’s been three years since the Syrian war, whose effects have been much more catastrophic to Lebanon, and we didn’t just not have a unified news broadcast, the entire country doesn’t even have a unified foreign affairs stance regarding the Syrian war. While our news anchors wept their fake tears over their Arab brethren, Bashar el Assad and the Islamic extremists were still killing innocent people who probably warranted such a broadcast to talk about their strife.
It’s been also several days since the Christians in Iraq were evicted from their homes, had their property taken from them, had their homes branded with a derogatory ‘N’ for ‘Nasrani’ to denote their blasphemous religion in a country where they’ve become, in 2014, people of Dhumma again. Isn’t the destruction of millennial communities and eradicating them from their own country also worth a discussion?

What’s even more heartbreaking is that after all this time, the only hashtag – gasp – that wasn’t used is #LB4LB. Out of all the countries at hand, the only country that can actually benefit from a unified news cast is our very own Lebanon, with the level of discourse in media and among our officials sinking to new lows every other day, akin to the times when the country was in an actual full blown war, at times of theoretical peace, in a country at the brink of disintegration.

Such a broadcast, however, will never be used. Explosions are in the eye of the beholder. Assassinations are up for interpretation. The worth of our lives is not uniform but is a variable affair that fluctuates in quantity across regions, sects and differing TV stations. Hezbollah is the antichrist on MTV. Sunnis are the big bad evil coming to eradicate those who are different on Al Manar. This is the rhetoric that will be resumed a few hours from now on those same TV stations that, a few hours ago, had been so unified in a cause that is, whether we like it or not, alien to them and of a lesser importance than what’s taking place in their own backyards. #LB4LB will never be used because it’s always [insert your favorite party/sect/whatever]4LB. And that’s how it will always be.

Either way, what our media did is commendable in its own rights. If only evil and crimes against humanity had not been, to them, only clear when they involve Israel only.

Bringing Up Your Kids in Lebanon: How To Successfully Assault “Lesser” Foreigners 101

“Faith in humanity abolished” is what everyone’s been speaking about today as they circulate a video of a Lebanese child beating another Syrian child at the request of the Lebanese’s parents. The video is the following:

Certainly, the above is an abomination, a disgrace and whatever word can be inserted to describe the horror of the event at hand. But I have to wonder: why is anyone remotely shocked or even surprised?

We are a country to be pitied. Our houses are filled with maids, all of whom are Sri Lankans despite the fact that most are not, who clean after us in miserable working conditions and for minimal pay. If they ask for a raise, we ridicule them for wanting too much, but who of us would work more than 12 hour days, every day, for $100 a month?

Our injustice does not stop there. We beat those women whenever they try and speak up. We ridicule them in media if they dare to stray from the well-defined line that we’ve set up for them, and our kids observe as we bully them into mental oblivion, every single day until their contract is over and they’re free to go back to their families, mere shells of their former selves.

We are a country of hypocrisy. We’ve been ridiculing Syrian refugees for the past year, calling for them to be sent back home or to have their already miserable living conditions over here demoted even further. Multiple arguments are used and regardless of whether those arguments are correct or not, one thing is clear: when it comes to the Syrian refugees, humane we are not.

We teach our children to stay away from the Syrians around us. We tell them they are filthy. We tell them they are disgusting. We tell them they are to be feared. We tell them they are thieves. And somehow, we pretend not to be doing anything wrong about those people… until there’s a video, of course.

Many of those Syrian refugees do not get the “privilege” that the boy in that video got: to have their struggles recorded. Most of them do not get to be seen getting beaten by Lebanese who use the only superiority they get in their own country: to overpower powerless people who just want to survive.

Only yesterday, Ziad Fares – a twitter user who goes by the handle @ZiadFares1 – witnessed a similar act in a much more public location. At Sassine’s Starbucks shop, he saw a male teenage employee kick a young Syrian girl just because she was selling chocolate in the vicinity. The girl wasn’t bothering people nor was she insiting they buy her unica bars when they decline. The girls stood there, asking the employee why he hit her with him only barking at her to leave. Of course, no one caught it on video for it to become the next “it” viral sensation that Lebanese will use to absolve their conscience regarding their many shortcomings towards all those “lessers.”

Before you begin to be outraged just because it’s what everyone else is doing, take a moment and think: when was the last time you were the bully to a Syrian, to an Ethiopian or any other nationality we’ve come to associate with our unfounded arrogance as of a “lesser” breed? When was the last time you failed to stand up to an injustice to those people taking place around you, forbidding them from having your voice speak up to them when it was the only voice they could have possibly had?

We teach our children to be hateful, to despise those who are different, to feel superior to those we tell them are less important, to beat those who are weak, to take what is “rightfully” theirs by their own hand because no one’s there to fight for their “rights.” We teach our children that it’s okay for their fathers to beat their mothers when they misbehave, fully knowing that they’ll get away with it every single time, and somehow we’re shocked that those children end up becoming parents who teach their own children to beat up unsuspecting children, who can take pleasure in filming such acts on video and who laugh as those children weep in front of them? What a load of bullshit.

That Syrian kid will get justice thanks to that video. I hope for that typical Lebanese man to be thrown in the deepest pits of any given Lebanese jail for his actions, and by the looks of it he might. But I also wish the same for countless other Lebanese who have done even worse to other foreigners here and who have gotten away unscathed.

Your faith in the Lebanese humanity should have been abolished a long time ago.

Update: the father of the child named Abbas in the above video has been reportedly apprehended by the police.

Where To Have Breakfast In Tripoli This Ramadan

With Tripoli’s Mayor hell-bent on turning his city into the Lebanese version of Qandahar, which years of constant fights didn’t do, with his recent request to effectively stop publicizing breakfasts within the city’s municipal bounds, I figured I’d compile a list of my favorite places to have an awesome breakfast in Tripoli.

Ahwak Cafe

This place is an absolute delight. It is the liberal hub of the city. I’d go on and on about that bathroom but you can get lost in the debates on its walls for hours. No wonder this place gets hammered, in one way or another, whenever push comes to shove in Tripoli. That same bathroom has atheists express their lack of belief in God on those walls. Those same atheists converse with believers who keep an open mind on its rustic tables while they enjoy the delicacies offered.

Ahwak makes awesome cakes. I love their Oreo cheesecake (Roadster could take notes of the recipe if they ever venture beyond Jounieh) and their Carrot Cake is still by far the best I’ve ever had. Their coffee is also entirely based on the “Tafesh” brand, which is known to be excellent.

By having breakfast at Ahwak, you’d also be supporting this place against the constant religious and political persecution affecting it, from Islamists who want to ruin Tripoli with an image that it isn’t befit for, and politicians who believe its youth’s open mind is on its way to ruin their city, necessitating such memos in the first place.

Ahwak is located in the hip “Dam W Farez” area of Tripoli, full of newly built cafes and restaurants that have managed to withstand the economic stagnation that befell their city due to the security situation and economic neglect over the past few years.

Hallab

It goes without saying that Hallab is always a must visit place in Tripoli and it’s not because I’m friends with Zaher Hallab. The place has character which is something you won’t find at other Hallab locations now that they’re expanding across Lebanon. Sit in “Le Palais” section and look at the great building facade, observe Tripoli’s “Ebrine Road” (I had to put in my hometown’s name) and its bustling life. There are many options for you. You can go sweet with “knefe” or other delicacies or you can go with Hallab’s “lahm b’aajine.” Either way, the only regret you’ll be having is about your delusion of a diet. They also offer cakes and beverages. And it’s all very affordable. Bye, bye Beiruti expensiveness.

Akra

If you’re in the mood for a traditional Tripoli breakfast, this is the place for you. It takes quite a bit to get to it and a local is advised to guide the way. In order to get there, make your way to the Tel area and ask around. The place is extremely known to the people there and should be known nationally if you ask me. They make so many different varieties of humus, each of which is great. They also offer awesome “fatte.” Order as much as you want. I assure you that you won’t be disappointed. And I can also assure you that you won’t end up paying more than 10,000LL per person. Yes, Akra is that cheap but more importantly Akra is so good that it has turned me into a person who craves hummus for breakfast. You can thank me for the recommendation later.

Coffee Pot:

Near Al Salam Mosque, which was destroyed last August in one of Lebanon’s now 22 explosions, lies a nice breakfast spot called Coffee Pot. They offer a set of omelette with toast, American coffee and pancakes for less than $10. You can also have separate options if you don’t feel like going all out. It’s quiet. They offer indoor seating as well as a terrace overlooking the busy street, though I would assume that wouldn’t be too favorable with this heat. Service is very friendly too.

Fasting Ramadan

It is an insult first and foremost to the Muslims fasting to have a mayor, sheikh or whatever other entity believe that them fasting Ramadan should be met with a whole lot of “kindly forced” consideration from everyone else.

I’ve seen a lot of people lump all of Lebanon’s Muslims into the basket of people who agree with what Tripoli’s mayor did. The truth is that the mayor’s ideological representation is so limited that it only spans very few people whose voice is only being augmented because that voice is what’s “in” right now. It was Muslims who were the first to make fun of the “no breakfast” memos. It was Tripoli’s Muslims who told me about their municipality’s decree, who asked me to try and express their anger at this shameful attempt to repress not only the freedom of others but their very own in the city they call home, but you don’t hear those voices as often as your hear that mayor.

The courtesy that those fasting Ramadan should receive is not something that can be bestowed upon them by a municipal decree, emanating from an Islamist Council. Such a courtesy is a mere manifestation of being considerate and being aware of how difficult it is to remain without food and water in this heat for such long hours and to be aware of how much dedication such an endeavor entails. Illegally and unconstitutionally enforcing a twisted version of “tolerance” defeats the entire purpose of Ramadan. Those sheikhs and mayor should have known better than to tarnish such a month in their city like that.

Ramadan is a beautiful time. I’ve only been massively exposed to it recently when I became friends with Muslims who – gasp – happen to be from Tripoli. Those people were kind, hospitable and so kind-hearted that they’ve shown me – a stranger and an outsider – the ins and outs of their holy month. I attended more iftars than I could remember. I went to s’hours, heard the tarawih, walked the city as it bustled with people leaving prayer. And it was all beautiful.

To that family in Tripoli and almost every single Muslim I know, be it from Tripoli or elsewhere, fasting Ramadan is an act to bring them closer to the God they believe in. It is not something they proclaim to the world. I haven’t heard any of my friends nag that they’re fasting. I haven’t heard them nag that people around them are eating. They know that while fasting that month is a religious duty to them, it remains a duty that is exclusive to them and should not be generalized upon everyone else. They don’t need anyone telling them it’s not their right to force it upon anyone. It’s innate knowledge to them. On the contrary, they find it honorable when they share their iftars with people who hadn’t been fasting and who had breakfast and even lunch.

Tripoli is a city that has been literally screwed for the past several years by downright negligence. We’ve all seen the capacities of our security forces with the recent explosions overdrive taking the country. Those same capacities were never applied to that city as the country left it to be burned alone, an island in a sea we quickly judged as full of Islamists that should perish with it. Tripoli’s mayor and some people who have his mentality are hell-bent on turning their city into the different-phobe version they believe is the best for its Muslims population, but Tripoli’s people – Muslims and not – know better and they’ve stood up to him.

They are the people who won’t let their city get turned into what’s been planned for it, who won’t let their own reputation be tarnished and turned into that of people who hate those who are different, even when it comes to meals, forcing restaurants to cut down their businesses according to someone with authority’s version of what God said, and who know that fasting Ramadan does not mean you are entitled for preferential treatment by any municipality or government. It is a personal act that remains as such. The Quran has told them, after all, “لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ.”

That mayor’s actions are a mere ploy for increasing popularity at a time when he assumed such a memo would resonate with the people in his city, bringing him accolades and newfound fame. The only accolade and fame he found were those of mockery from the same people he governs. He believed current times necessitate such a decree. He was wrong. There won’t be a time when Lebanon needs wishes upon restaurants to refrain from publicizing or even serving breakfast. Contrary to popular belief, such memos will never find their ways to fruition in Lebanon, be it in Tripoli or elsewhere, not now and not in the future. Why so? Because regardless of how downright despicable religious practices can get in this country, there are people who are aware enough to stand against them, people who managed to turn down that memo in mere hours after it was published. Those people are not Lebanese Christian-born activists who were appalled at a time when their breakfast options could be limited; they were Tripoli people born and bred and mostly Muslim.

Tripoli will not be Qandahar, not now and not in a future that many believe is upon us. Not when it has Muslims like the ones I know, friends and almost-family, who make sure you don’t leave their house on a Ramadan morning without them serving you breakfast.

Ramadan karim to everyone concerned.