Shame On LBCI and Lebanese Authorities For Cleaning Fadel Shaker’s Image

I don't usually use the acronym "LOL" but I feel it's entirely appropriate to the use of the word "قضية."

I don’t usually use the acronym “LOL” but I feel it’s entirely appropriate to the use of the word “قضية.”

Fadel Shaker is the Islamist who cried wolf.

It’s difficult to imagine Shaker as anything other than the bearded Islamist who did a 180 degrees flip from a blasphemous man living in the sin of his songs to one who suddenly saw the light and only wanted to sing to Allah, the one imprinted in our collective memory as Lebanon, who’s been present for only 3 years.

History goes back to 2012 when Shaker popped up in Downtown Beirut at a rally for Assir’s Islamists, harmless and fluffy as they were at the time. I remember how outraged people were at the time: what had he done? Why was he doing that to himself? I even did a meme (link).

Kiss Ahmad el Assir on the forehead he did, bringing Assir into the forefront of the Lebanese news cycle in the process. The rest is history. Flashforward 3 years later and Fadel Shaker is reborn. Do you think his middle name is now Jesus (Or Issa as he’d rather be known I’m sure)?

The beard is gone. The clothes have been replaced with a suit. The shabby looking man of 2012-2014 has suddenly reverted back to his state of pre-2012. How do we know all of this? Because Lebanon’s prime TV station, LBCI, secured a super exclusive interview with Fadel Shaker in which he tried to do the following:

  1. Claim his innocence,
  2. Claim his involvement with Al Assir was simple “sympathy,”
  3. Claim that his relationship with Assir was strained,
  4. Claim that it wasn’t him who killed Lebanese army soldiers,
  5. Essentially kiss Bahia Hariri’s behind, calling her their “big sister” and commanding her efforts into preventing further decompensation of the situation.

Rumors about him trying to secure a deal to get out of the Palestinian camp of Ain el Helwe have been swirling for months through negotiations via intermediaries with the Lebanese authorities to secure his safe passage in return of him leaving his Islamist present behind.

In July 2014, he gave an interview to Lebanon24 (link) in which he essentially said almost verbatim what he told the LBC reporter who strung a report that turned Fadel Shaker from the Islamist to a pop star ready to take the microphone and sing next to Yara (if that’s not haram, I wouldn’t know).

The details of Fadel Shaker’s deal, according to Al Akhbar (link), are as follows:

  • He’s been trying to sort his situation ever since he ended up in Ain El Helwe in 2013,
  • His situation became increasingly difficult as he ran out of cash and his wife controlled his assets,
  • His “difficult situation” forced him into compromises,
  • Through a concert contractor called Imad Qanso, Fadel Shaker got into contact with Walid Ben Talal as well as Layal Al Solh who became his intermediaries with the government,
  • Layla Al Solh managed to get Shaker a deal with the Lebanese army that requires him to 1) return to his basic form and stop the fiery speeches against the army, 2) hire a lawyer to help him in his upcoming “trial” and 3) publicly cut all ties with Al Assir,
  • He got a lawyer called May Alkhansa, close to Hezbollah, after promising her “he hadn’t spilled one drop of blood,”
  • LBC was agreed upon to be the TV station to handle his rebirth, through a pre-prepared interview.

And despite all of this, I don’t blame Fadel Shaker for saying what he did. I don’t even blame Layla Al Solh and Walid Ben Talal for trying to get him off the hook. The latter is Saudi, so what did you expect? And his aunt is nothing more than his voice box, sadly.

The entities to blame here are 1) LBCI who, in typical Lebanese fashion, put the exclusivity of a news scoop ahead of what that scoop means, although in LBCI’s defense no Lebanese TV station would have said no, and 2) Lebanese authorities who are actually going through with such a deal.

By doing that report, LBCI – with all its influence – became nothing more than a mailbox to months long negotiations taking place behind closed doors between Shaker and Lebanese authorities in order to seal the deal and make sure Fadel Shaker turns out unscathed.

That report, being a rehash of a 2014 interview and with Fadel Shaker being prepped for the questions for weeks now, shows that there’s no substance to the content and no attempt at confronting Shaker regarding the terrible things that he did. LBCI shouldn’t have let him use their station to pass his agenda unchallenged, and contemplate the potential of him filling stadiums with fans again.

On the other hand, Fadel Shaker possibly facing trial means nothing. How long did Bilal Deqmaq stay in prison? How long did any of the Islamists caught up with Al Assir stay in prison? Will a few days in prison be enough? No.

By going into these negotiations with a terrorist just because “he saw the light,” our army and whichever authorities involved are saying that the blood of our army members is useless, that calling them pigs is okay and that all can be forgiven if you’re important enough to get away with it. Typical Lebanon.

Shame on Lebanese authorities who are ready to ignore everything just to come about to some deal.

How dim-witted do they think we are not to remember what he has done?

This is him calling the Lebanese army pigs and bragging that his gang killed two and wounded four:

This is him declaring jihad in Syria:

This is what he said of Ahmad el Assir:

“But then there was the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, with four Hezbollah militants accused by the international prosecutors. In May 2008 Hezbollah militias attacked Sunni Muslims in Beirut. To crown it all, they support [Syria’s president] Bashar al-Assad. Sunnis feel frustrated and they have no one to protect them. The sheikh [Assir] speaks the truth.” (link).

This is what he said of Lebanon (and the world’s) Shiites:

“In Syria they kill our Sunni brothers and destroy our mosques. They are prepared to kill all the Sunnis, all the way to the Gulf. They’re infidels, not Muslims. It’s not true the Qur’an is their book. They’re liars, they say one thing and do another.” (link).

This is what he said of his 2012-2015 path:

“That wasn’t my true calling. Thanks to the almighty, I now lead a religious life. I’m at peace. But I have no regrets about the past. It’s my duty to combat oppression and defend people who share my faith.” (link).

This is him in various loving positions with Ahmad el Assir and other terrorists:

Fadel Shaker is a 46 year old man without any disabilities who took decisions of which he was whole-heartedly convinced. If this had been a non-famous person, he would’ve been convicted and thrown in jail. He may have not killed (no one can know) but that doesn’t make him any less of a criminal.

The king of romance is planning a comeback. It’s no longer his “duty to combat oppression and defend people who share his faith,” everyone else be damned. And Lebanon’s very own LBCI is spear-heading that comeback. Perhaps they are dying for another Elissa duet?

The fact of the matter is the only romance he should be singing is to his cell mates in Roumieh, bending over, calling them allah. But that’s not what LBCI or the Lebanese authorities want. In Lebanon, justice is served only to those who are weak enough not to challenge it.

#JeSuisAhmed: The World That Fears Muslims

Ahmed Merabet Charlie Hebdo Terrorism Kouachi brothers

A couple of days ago, I decided that my reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attack would be to share the covers that had those journalists killed. I didn’t say whether I agreed with their content because that wasn’t the point at the time, and freedom of speech, to me, was absolute, with satire at its heart, as it aims to reconcile reason with power. Enforcing limitations puts us on a slippery slope until Paris on January 7th becomes conceivable. The world isn’t where it is today because visionaries cowered from challenging their dogmas.

In today’s world, however, freedom of speech is a reflection of the hypocritical scope with which we view things. In this relative specter, even satire becomes cruel when it’s aimed at the weak who aren’t allowed to answer back. Two days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, this is our chance to sit down and talk.

Everyone’s up in flames over how Muslims aren’t condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks enough. Over how they haven’t condemned ISIS enough. Over how they aren’t condemning themselves enough. Well, they have over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.

Where have you been throughout all of this? Thinking Muslim was a member of a small village of 1.57 billion where everyone’s alike: a terrorist, a pest, an apostate to modern values in need of serious reconsideration of his religious views. But never a person who could be a victim and who is, in fact, innocent  – at least until proven guilty.

And then you call them off when they actually do what you’re asking of them.

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The victims of every attack carried out by extremists are not just those who died and whose memory perseveres in us, the media and then, when the calamity subsides, every bigot who uses their name to propagate their own version of extremism that is as toxic, but less deadly, perched on top of podiums, preaching about liberties while advocating for many to be denied of them.

The victims of the Paris attacks are that Muslim, whose kebab shop and Mosque were burned, who had absolutely nothing to do with the attack except in some amalgamation of Ahmad and terrorist.

They’re that Muslim who was afraid of going to the vigils to honor the dead of a publication that offended again and again, who was petrified at how people would view her hijab or his beard now, terrified at what it would mean to be on January 8th, 2015.

They’re that Muslim who watched in horror as the news of Paris unfolded, who gasped at the video showing the Muslim cop Ahmed Merabet being shot to death, told his children to go into their room to prevent them from seeing what he was seeing on TV and is worried daily at the poison they’re getting exposed to.

They’re the Muslim who has nothing to do with France but is told he is responsible for the actions of some French Muslims. They’re your Muslim friend at whom you looked with different sight today.

They’re that Muslim that is slowly being driven over the edge and who will come to endorse – nay, want to participate – one day in actions like those that took place in Paris yesterday.

They’re that foreign student who is now worried about what this means to his future. They’re that person trying to seek a better life for his family, whose chances are now completely in tatters.

What we demand of every single one of those Muslims is to condemn, apologize, and shout from every minaret how they are against what some of their lot are doing today, because if they don’t, then they are terrorists too.

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Defending free speech by telling someone exactly what to say. Isn’t that ironic given that whole shenanigan involving sin and first stone to be cast?

In today’s world, I – born Christian, now who cares – am never lumped with the Christians who have caused two world wars, a holocaust, several other wars, the endless support for the state of Israel and the massacre of Palestinians, the endless encroachment over the riches of Africa, the rise of Neo-Nazi parties across Europe and the many attacks they have been committed in my name.

I am never asked to condemn en masse those protests in Germany where it was called for the expulsion of impure breeds, whose religion is not original to Europe – ironic as that is – and whose skin color is not as fair.

I am also never faced with existential questions about Christianity when those Neo-Nazis kill for their brand of extremism, as has happened in Norway in 2011, an assault which ended the life of 77 people.

I am never asked to apologize for Aurora, Sandy Hook Elementary, to assess Christianity’s potential for the modern world after the 1 million in Iraq that died, because of a war that is there to defend my freedom, my rights, my security, my Jesus-given right for oil.

I am never considered as violent for contributing to the instability of Pakistan and leading to the loss of 140+ of its children in Peshawar. Those are just Muslims killing other Muslims.

Jews are never faced with retribution for their continuous slaughter of Palestinians, the last of which was in Gaza this past summer, where 600 Palestinian children died. They are never asked to apologize for their constant rape of Palestinian land, for never-ending settlements, for their constant erosion of the rights of the people with whom they are forcibly sharing the land.

In today’s world, that same Muslim we are more than willing to burn at the stake is never allowed to be offended or else he’s deemed an extremist as the world-given badge of modernity gets taken away.

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Meanwhile, holocaust portrayals can cause uproars; Charlie Hebdo in 2009 fired and had that same artist sued for hate speech for drawing a Jewish caricature of Sarkozy, and even Christians are allowed to be offended by portrayals of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

We think so little of the world’s Muslims that their deaths are a natural event, never worth a discussion. We think so low of them that we believe it’s unfathomable for them to comprehend our cherished values of freedom, democracy, and autonomy, despite those concepts – in the same context of worldwide hypocrisy – being relative: only given to those who can afford them, to those powerful enough to claim them.

How can we explain, for instance, to the Muslim Palestinian in Gaza what human rights are or what freedom is, while that same Palestinian is genuinly expected to wholly understand how it is to be a French free man in France?

How can we explain to the Muslim women of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf that they can do whatever they want with their bodies when their own governments that keep on oppressing them are maintained by the same countries where women are, in theory, liberated, open, sexual, and can drive?

How can we explain to that Saudi blogger who is now facing 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes for speaking up what freedom of speech actually means?

How can we explain what freedom is to Muslims living in dictatorships, under systems that are kept there by the same countries demanding of those same Muslims to be free and worldly and Western?

We are so blinded by prejudice and hate that we can’t see who actually benefits from the attacks in Paris on January 7th.

Those are people like Marine Le Pen, who doesn’t see how the construct of modern French society has a lot to do with why January 7th happened, whose message of hate will now resonate clearer in the minds of the French and who will spear-head a regression of the theoretical values of the French state. She has already started sharpening her harpoon.

They’re people like the far-right in every corner of the world whose flags might as well be those of ISIS with inverted colors. They’re people like Netenyahu whose own brand of terrorism is never labeled as such and who will use the attacks in Paris to further advocate for the need of escalation in his terror.

They’re heads of nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia who proclaim moderation for the world to be fooled, and spread hatred wherever they go, as they buy their way to a majority share in the European continent.

Imagine for a moment that this had been a parallel world, where we are an impoverished minority, whose countries are taken up for their natural resources, whose heads are so blinded by wealth and power they can’t see themselves being manipulated, whose poor are among the poorest of the world, whose children die of famine and war, whose lives are not judged in absolute value, whose lands are a matter of debate, whose opinions are not free, would we be asked to condemn too?

I do not understand Islam nor do I pretend to do so. I don’t know what true Islam is, the same way I don’t know what true Christianity or true Judaism are, and I don’t believe anyone truly knows – all three remain ideological constructs that are open to interpretation within frames that are entirely individualistic. Hence,  I cannot defend religions as a dogma nor am I doing so.

We say that we can root out Muslim extremism by force: by forcing them to be apologetic, by forcing ourselves over their homes, by launching missiles, armies, and rockets. That is not the case. The only way to weed out the Islamists, extremists and terrorists is to empower those Muslims who are being killed by those same extremists when they speak up, whose voices are being silenced by the mainstream voices around the world that refuse to listen, and who are not allowed to fill the vacuum in their reputation as it’s slowly eaten away by the mole in their midst. We empower them by listening, by not taking away the stability in their countries, by not making sure their countries, communities and societies never amount to anything, and by not believing the cause of their hardship is the religion they worship.

There are three ways this can deconstruct. We can either maintain things as they are, ignore any lesson Paris is trying to teach us, and carry on. We can make things worse, lump 1.57 billion Muslim with ISIS, Al Qaeda, or Taliban and assume that they’re all out there to assassinate freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Or you can ignore the hate speech, tell that terrified Muslim that there’s someone who gets it, doesn’t require him to condemn, doesn’t attribute 1.57 billions to the actions of one and understands that the actions of that one are more related to societal constructs than to religion, who knows that he too has autonomy, and needs freedom, and seeks a better life for his children, and that praying while looking at Mecca and kneeling down is essentially the same as looking at an altar and standing up, and that this world is very cruel to anyone who is different from the norms, and that it is okay to be angry and not to be okay with how things are, that you should be Charlie, and Ahmed and all shades in between, and that it is okay to be a human who just happens to be Muslim.

The Charlie Hebdo Covers The Terrorists Don’t Want You To See

This is to those who think honor is killing someone who offends you.

This is to those who think killing someone who expresses his basic freedom of speech can be rationalized, those people who are the worst kinds of the kinds, the people who are even more dangerous than the terrorists who actually kill.

This is to those whose skin is so paper-thin a joke proves to be too much for them to handle.

This is to those who think their religion tells them they should kill, who think they have the right to take a human life.

Because no one should die for drawing a picture,

Because no one should die for writing a page,

Because no one should die for freedom of expression.

We may be used to death and horror where we live, but that’s no excuse not to feel disgusted and horrified at what happened in Paris today.

Because the best thing we can do now is to express ourselves unlimitedly, and because publications in my country may prove to be too cowardly to publish these, I present the many covers that got narrow-minded bigoted cunts to kill 12 innocent souls in France today.

From Beirut, this is Charlie Hebdo.

1 – Mahomet Débordé (2006):

Mahomet Deborde - 2006In 2006, following the uproar over the Danish caricature of the Prophet Mohammad, Charlie Hebdo republished the pictures in an issue, to the outcry of many, and to the lawsuits of others.

2 – Oui A La Burqa (2010):

Oui A La Burqa - 2010

Following the ban of the Burqa in France in 2010, Charlie Hebdo came out in support of the decision. In case people thought their title of this issue was open to interpretation, they illustrated it very clearly.

3 – Charia Hebdo (2011):

Charia Hebdo - 2011

In November 2011, to “celebrate” the victory of the Islamists in Tunisian elections, Charlie Hebdo renamed their issue to “Charia Hebdo”, a play on the French world for “Sharia,” and featured the Prophet Mohammad as a guest editor. A molotov cocktail was subsequently thrown into their offices, destroying everything, and their website was hacked to only show the phrase: “There is no God but Allah.”

4 – Intouchables 2 (2012)

charlie-hebdo-anti islam Muhammad cover

 

In 2012, following the release of “The Innocence of Muslims,” Charlie Hebdo released this spin over the then-widely popular French movie “Intouchables.” The issue also had several caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in various compromising positions. Needless to say, threats against them and against many French embassies rose to stratospheric heights. As a result, French embassies and cultural centers in many countries were forced to close.

5 – Le Coran C’est De La Merde (2013):

Le Coran C'est de la Merde - 2013

 

In 2013, to comment on the crackdown on Islamists in Egypt, Charlie Hebdo wrote an issue in which they made fun of those Islamists for finding the Quran not to be as “bullet-proof” as they once thought.

6 – Si Mahomet Revenait (2014):

Si Mahomet Revenait - 2014In October 2014, to comment on the rise of ISIS and their video-taped public executions of many foreigners and locals alike, Charlie Hebdo published a cover depicting what most people around the world know about the terrorists: that they have nothing to do with Islam. Of course, everyone knows this but the terrorists themselves.

7 – En 2022, Je Fais Ramadan (2015):

En 2022, Je Fais Ramadan - 2015

 

To comment on the rise of Islam in France, Charlie Hebdo’s first issue of 2015 was a satire on how come year 2022, France will start observing Ramadan as a regularity. I suppose this didn’t such very well with some of the masses.

To those who think the publication is also only anti-Muslim, here are two covers that are anti-Christian:

May all the artists and visionaries at Charlie Hebdo who lost their lives today rest in peace. The world will remember them forevermore as the brave people who drew their pen to those who drew a weapon at them. And there’s no better memory to leave to an unjust world like ours today.

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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.

#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.

Those Worthless Lives Of The Middle East

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Those worthless people of Gaza. How many have died since Tuesday? It doesn’t even matter but I’ll list the number anyway: 154, and those 154 people don’t matter. Some will chant praises to their martyrdom and others will lament how their lives were lost, but they are but a number in a conflict that won’t end, a number to be buried deep in the Arab subconscious between seasons of Arab Idol, Ahla Sot and Elissa’s albums. Gaza was still an open air prison a few years ago and it will remain an open air prison a few years from now. It’s just only remembered at specific instants when their going gets slightly tougher. We get infuriated at the hypocrisy that Israel killing Arabs includes when its entire existence can be taken back, in one way or another, to Western guilt over the Jewish holocaust. But when you come to think of it, are Arabs even entitled to be sad for the people of Gaza who are dying, whose homes are being demolished just so muscles can be flexed and whose deaths are being ridiculed on certain TV channels just because they don’t fit with the rhetoric of the axis currently ruling the world? How are the people of Gaza dying exactly? Is it Israeli planes? Or is it the Arab oil fueling those planes? Or is it the Arab silent towards Israeli plans? Or is it those Arabs making sure their borders with Gaza stay closed, securing that open air prison until who knows when? Or is it the Arab slumber that only finds mild wakefulness sporadically, in Twitter or Facebook hashtags, never trying to speak out against their own regimes, in bed with those killing the people of Gaza, because they are providing them with the biggest mall on Earth and a great shopping experience to boot?

Those worthless people of Syria. How many Syrians have died in the past 3 or so years? How many digits has that number reached by now? As is the case with Gaza, this too doesn’t even matter, but I’ll list it anyway: 170,000. That six digit figure comprises entire families, men, women, children who will never have the future that a few years back was rightfully theirs. The biggest injustice, however, towards those Syrians isn’t just that their death, in the grand scheme of things, might not actually matter, but the fact that their deaths are also not an absolute truth among the Arabs infuriated by Israel’s actions. How many of those crying over Gaza now actually cared as the toll in Syria rose from one digit to the next? How many of those crying wolf over ABC, BBC, CNN or MTV Lebanon actually watch TV stations that do the exact same thing to those people of Syria? Those six digit lives are nothing more than a bargaining chip in a conflict that is greater than they’ll ever be individually. Those lives don’t fit with their grand political scheme of choice and are a mere tool in the attempt to stop the big bad Sunni monster.

Those worthless people of Lebanon. There’s no estimate of those that died between 1975 and 2014. Our parents had hoped way back when they decided to stay in this country that things would get better for us, with all the lives lost to fight for causes that they believed in. But things are still the same. Young men and women fought for causes and died only to have the people they fought for forget them the moment a glimpse of power flashed in front of their eyes. And things are still the same today. From one explosion to the next, from burned flesh on Beirut’s asphalt to spoiled breakfasts in Tripoli, to acts defending the country against armies now killing innocents in Gaza, the lives of our countrymen being lost are also simple digits that will keep on adding up until who knows when because we never learn.

The causes are not similar, and the conflicts are not the same. But the people involved are dying with one thing in common: their deaths only serve to escalate numbers without changing anything. How many had to die in Gaza before the collective Arab consciousness decided to budge, before the Arab league figured it should convene or before Egypt figured it should come up with a ceasefire plan with their BFFs? How many more have to die until it is realized that the current status quo regarding the region’s countries and regarding the attitude towards Israel does not simply work? When will Arabs learn that building the world’s tallest structure, biggest artificial island and hosting the World Cup aren’t what really matter when their own people are being slaughtered like sheep right on their doorstep as they sit around and eat their fancy iftars on this bloody Ramadan?

I am a 24 year old Lebanese who lives in a country of violence in a sea of even more violence, and I do not know how to be violent. I do not believe violence is the key to any solution for this region, but I am one of very few voices in a culture that sings weapons in song, brands them on flags and salutes the world with them as they chant takbirs for everyone to hear, a culture that, for instance, doesn’t really want to see Palestine free as much as go to heaven as martyrs for that purpose.

There are a lot of things that we are not allowed to do towards those countries. We can’t do like that Norwegian doctor and visit Gaza to help in whatever way we can. Protesting the regimes of the countries filling this region has also become a dangerous matter even though those tyrant regimes do much worse to their own people than possibly even Israel, regardless of whether such a notion is even entertained by people of the region or not. The only thing we are left with is our voices and platforms to express those voices and try to change perspectives, but does the region even have a clear plan towards using modern day media in order to fight the Israeli rampage? Is there a way for us to get a clear message across when we can’t even agree on what that message should be? Are we not also losing the war of information and misinformation that, in this day and age, has become as tactically important as rockets and blasts and tanks especially with the looming threat of treason over our heads when the message we need to get across is to those whose existence we are not allowed to acknowledge? Is there a way for us to make the lives lost in the countries of the region slightly less worthless than they are as we remain completely and irrevocably lost, unable to do anything about it but be angry about biased media reporting, portrayals of the people dying as terrorists and the blindness of a world that never really had sight to begin with?

May all those people’s pieces rest in peace.

A Proud Lebanese

When I get asked how it is to live in a country on the precipice of collapse, I often answer that I wouldn’t know. I guess I have to reconsider as the places I once called home are making me increasingly claustrophobic. I don’t fit. I don’t even know if I belong. And with each passing day, I fit and belong even less.

People in Tripoli couldn’t sleep last night due to the fights taking place there. I thought I was being made fun of as names such as “Allouki” and “Abou l Jamejem” were mentioned in front of me, but those were real people with real power and they were keeping an entire city on edge. Why? Who knows. We share the country with Alloukis and we can’t do anything but sit and watch as they do what they please in defense of their twisted ideology.

What was happening in Tripoli yesterday had been taking place for more than a year now for those keeping track. Schools have been closed, their students stranded. Businesses are closing. People are narrowly escaping sniper fire. This morning, for whatever reason, fights in Beirut broke out too. Let’s not even forget about the fire coming in from the Syrian side, one that we don’t condemn, one that we deem friendly. Where exactly is the line that delineates a country at war actually drawn?

We call ourselves a country of diversity, of 18 different sects that blend together to form a mesh of beauty – or whatever formulation we are spoon-fed. Never mind that it’s religion that’s the basis of the mess we’re in to begin with, but what’s there to be proud of when it comes to having 18 different sects of which we have next to no idea about? We pretend it’s nice to have them. We are born in regions that are so uniform that us getting exposed to those who are different is entirely contingent upon us branching out. Many prefer not to. Diversity isn’t only a headline, it’s a practice. And it’s non-existent.

I’ve seen people who hate others just because they were belong to a certain sect, wishing them death. Those people, as far as I know, were not as numerous and vocal a few years ago. I never thought I’d have to worry that someone would hate me just because they don’t agree with practices I didn’t even choose. How despicable is it for people to wish you death just because you happened to be born in a random area to a random family who sporadically happened to pray either at a church or at a mosque, believes in resurrection and is either waiting for the Mahdi or not?

Governance isn’t better. We’re in a country that took 10 months to form a governmentwhich then almost collapsed because it couldn’t agree on semantics that have no bearing to begin with. People, resistance, army. Who cares?

How could we hope for any form of governance when we can’t even agree on what we want to govern? Walk around Achrafieh and you’ll find graffitis encouraging Christians to wake up and smell the Federalism coffee. Go to the South and you’ll see countless posters of dead people who sacrificed their life for this cause or that. Christians don’t view those causes as worthy. The Southerners view Federalism as an imperialistic attempt to dismantle the country, while the Sunnis scramble to find a leader that would keep them in check and as such, Tripoli has become Rifiville. Behold our identity crisis. Our demarcation lines are apparently political but inherently sectual. Don’t be fooled. So long for our state of apparent fictive unity.

Our MPs care less about legislating than about proving religious points in parliament. That building is where our MPs compete to show God (and their followers) who loves him (and wants popularity) more. Meanwhile, the rest of MPs who aren’t busy yawning their day away are playing Candy Crush, reading a book on their iPad, complaining about fasting, a religious choice that they willingly took, taking pictures inside parliament to share on their instagram account.

We also have presidential elections coming up soon, as people scurry to secure as much support as possible to their theoretical bid. I’ve received text messages to go and vote in online polls for whom I want as my next president. It’s not desperation, per se, that pushes parties to such acts. It’s them flexing their muscles, doing what they’ve been doing for a long time: getting stuck at the superficialities of Lebanese politics, never getting knee-deep in the swarm that desperately needs cleansing.

Our job prospects are not good either. I keep hearing from people how, in a couple of years, I’ll start ripping them off with consults, in typical Lebanese-doctor stereotypes. What those people don’t know, however, is that when I graduate with an MD degree next year, I’ll start with a $700 salary. And while my example is probably skewed and well below the average, I have to wonder: what is the actual average of Lebanese salaries? And how does it compare to the rising prices all across the country that many people can’t even afford anymore? What hope of a decent lifestyle can we aspire to without resorting to our parents whenever the need arises?

Even our liberties are being compromised. This blogpost might get me in jail because who knows who will end up reading into it and getting offended. A publication wonders where a sizable amount of public funds went and they get sued by the minister who’s responsible for the funds. A blogger criticizes a minister’s henchmen and he is summoned by our bureau of cybercrime for investigation. A teenager kisses a statue of the Virgin Mary four years ago and some news service digs out his Facebook profile, diffuses the picture and gets him in jail. A twitter user uses the most vile of languages to address the Lebanese president and the next thing you know, he’s facing a possible jail sentence. Ladies and gentlemen, our country’s entire security and well-being rests upon the transgressions of those people.

I watched “Waltz With Bashir” recently and found it to be utterly fascinating. I also found it depressing, not only because the history it portrayed was sad and that we, as a nation, will not recognize anything of that era anytime soon. It was sad because we, as Lebanese, will never be permitted to tackle such issues in the way that they do. It’s not only a manifestation of artistic license and whatnot. It’s a manifestation of opinion within the legal framework of our country – the line runs very thin around treason. Who would dare?

I’ve been wondering if living in lala land is what we all require at this point. But that’s not the type of life I can lead, nor is it the type of life I think we should lead. It’s not okay to be disassociated from everything taking place and pretend all’s okay when nothing is. It’s not okay to be blindly proud of the homeland just because it’s our homeland. This is the homeland that is, today, pulling you back just because you exist in it. Should I be proud? Should I be thankful? Should I be content? Should I be passive and take it?

I feel powerless and useless and that is not something I’m used to feel. I’m lost for words when friends reach out, exasperated at how things turn out. I’m lost for words when foreigners ask me what’s happening in the place I call home. I’m also not used to being lost for words. I don’t even defend my country the way I used to do when someone would dare confront me about it. What’s there to defend anymore?

I’m tired of the superiority we exhibit towards other countries and nationalities who probably have it better than we do. Where does this whole “I’m better than you” attitude even stem from? What do we even have to show for ourselves? Gebran Khalil Gebran does not count.

Today, I look at around all the familiarity that once comforted me and all I see is desolation that diverges from everything I believe in. I’m one of those people who are trying to remember why they were proud to be Lebanese once upon a time. My friends are leaving. Those who are here are preparing to leave. Those who are not preparing to leave are not people with whom I can establish rapport. We go about our daily lives like zombies whose only purpose is to exist. We live on the ruins of glory days that have long gone, days that have been buried and whose graves have been ransacked time and time again. I try to find reasons to belong and, apart from family, I can find none.

Lately, when someone tells me how proud they are of being Lebanese and how beautiful this country is, I just shrug as my mind goes: get real. This is not a reality to let anyone be proud.