Geagea and Aoun’s New Love Fest: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun

In a widely predicted move, LF leader Samir Geagea and FPM leader Michel Aoun came out with a political understanding yesterday that saw the former supporting the latter for Lebanon’s presidency, after about 33 failed attempts at electing a president and 30 years of the same practiced politics.

Lebanon’s Christian field was predominantly supportive. After all, the whole burying the hatchet fest that we saw on TV was done because Christianity, and Christians sure love seeing #TeamJesus in all its glory on Lebanese TV.

The Good:

We can now say that on January 18th, 2016, after around 30 years of feud, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun finally saw eye to eye in something. A more zealous response would be: LET THEM KNOW NOW THAT CHRISTIANS WILL NEVER BE PUT ASIDE AGAIN, etc. But that’s not really the case.

It’s good to see a semblance of unity occur regardless of what that unity might mean. It’s good to see Geagea and Aoun talk things out.

But.

The Bad:

Many think that this move was visionary. The fact of the matter is it’s nothing other than reactionary to Saad Hariri nominating Sleiman Frangieh for president a few weeks ago. The only disturbance in the presidential race, protracted and dull as it was, was Saad Hariri’s deal back in November-December. That disturbance became the catalyst behind both the FPM and the LF’s deal today in order to “reclaim” their constitution-given Christian right.

How good can a move made in reaction and spite be, rather than it being foreseeing and contemplative, especially in the grand picture of Lebanese politics that not only requires foresight to navigate its murky waters? Why don’t you refer to Jumblat for that?

What this move does is not elevate the level of politics that Geagea and Aoun are practicing. It’s not a good thing that Lebanon’s Christian community is now practicing the same kind of tribal politics that the country’s other factions do. By “uniting,” Geagea and Aoun moved from their failed politics on a national level to failed politics on a sectarian level.

Yes, they were Christian leaders first and foremost, many of their policies had inter-sectarian tendencies. How will they move from here? Not in that way, clearly.

The move also comes to the backdrop of a 10 point agreement that the two forged over the past 6 months. It reads as follows:

Geagea Aoun Agreement

The agreement’s key points then are the following:

  • No use of weapons in case of conflict,
  • Supporting the Lebanese army in governing the entirety of Lebanon’s territories alone,
  • A Switzerland-esque foreign policy to get the country to avoid struggles,
  • Supporting UN resolutions,
  • A new electoral law.

Sure, those headlines are all wonderful, and looking at them with no critical thought warrants giving their alliance a second thought. But you can’t not be critical of Lebanese political talk, and the question therefore becomes: how will they do them?

The difference in ideology between Geagea and Aoun is not only related to their Civil War days: the two were supremely divergent even in times of “peace.” They have not agreed on an electoral law other than the Orthodox Law, and even that agreement was more about whose balls are bigger rather than it being done with political wisdom. They have not agreed on which kind of foreign policy they see best for the country. They have not agreed on which way is best to actually get the army to be the only rightful security force in the country, and how to implement all kinds of UN resolutions (hinting at ridding Hezbollah of its weapons).

Alliances need to have a minimum of common ideology. Establishing them just for the sake of common interests in the short run will prove, in the long run, to be detrimental, especially when it affects an entire community (in this case Lebanon’s Christians).

Is this how Christian rights are restored? By making Lebanon’s Christians more exclusive rather than inclusive? By making them more sequestered? By thirding the country instead of keeping it halved? By turning Christians from the entity that governed Lebanon’s dichotomy to another destabilizing agent in an unstable country?

Ignoring the differences that these two presented to Lebanon’s Christian community is the first step towards removing any semblance of democracy from that community. Difference is not to be feared in political contexts. Disregarding it is what’s scary.

The Ugly:

Geagea and Aoun made peace. But I have to wonder: what kind of peace?

They’re making the kind of peace that requires us to bury our heads in the sand, like the perpetual ostriches that our Lebanese existence has made us into; the kind of peace that does not deal with the past requiring such a peace to be made in the first place, effectively making it a recipe for impeding disaster.

The argument goes: other factions have done these peace making deals before, and as such Christians doing it should be celebrated. Making peace is good. But is it?

Is the peace made by Lebanon’s other war factions actual peace? The idea of making peace invokes stability. Is the country stable? Is making peace in spite of history not through it, as all those other factions have done, putting the country on the right path towards healing post our civil war?

I look around and see people from different sects still hating each other, still worried about the intentions of one another. I look around and see a political discourse that still gets those who have supposedly made up after our civil war to fear each other.

What kind of peace are they talking about then?

There are things that are a little too late, and this is one of them. Where was the common interest of Lebanon’s Christian community 30 years ago when these two were actively working on canceling each other out, when their wars tore apart Christian communities and left thousands of victims in their wake?

Yes, this is not the time to bring up war-time memories, but healing only starts with remembering.  Would there have been a need for such a “deal” to be made in 2016 had those two actually cared about the community they’re panicking about today back in the 1980s?

Peace cannot be made by those who only know war.

The Uglier:

I’m afraid to inform you my fellow Lebanese that this “alliance” does not, in any way, affect your life as a Lebanese in the ways that actually matter.

It will not bring you electricity.

It will not fix your garbage crisis.

It will not make your internet faster so you can stream Netflix.

It will not increase your minimum wage.

It will not make your passport worthwhile.

It will not stop the “SSSS” checks on your boarding passes and “random” checkups in airports.

It will not stop ISIS.

It will not extract the oil from our fields.

And, ironically, it does not even guarantee that a president be elected.

Our Lebanese reality cannot be changed when the same people who have been practicing their failed politics over us for 30 years start practicing their politics together.

The Funny:

To end this on a happier note, I can’t but share a few of the lighter tones with which some Lebanese handled the news, in the joke that this actually is:

When a Lebanese MP Thinks His Political Leader Is God

The above title is not made up by The Onion and is not, as it sounds, satire.

I had just got back home from hospital to find that the news all over is about another Aounist protest.

Ironically, the first thing I saw was a doctor shouting into the microphone: “this is the people *points at himself and other protesters* who are being impoverished!” (Imagine this in high voice for bravado). He was wearing a Ralph Laurent polo and flashing a Rolex to the camera.

Poor doctor. *giggles.*

The camera then flashed tointerview a girl who, unlike her friends, was not fully-clad orange. Hey, she’s still better than Gebran Bassil’s orange Ray-Bans. I guess millions don’t buy good taste. That girl, when asked why she was protesting today said the following: “I’m not Aounist but I’m protesting for my country today!”

She’s not Aounist. *giggles.*

So where was the little demoiselle last Saturday when there was an actual protest to reclaim her country’s rights, a protest beyond the confines of familial politics, narrow-mindendess and sectarian bigotry?

*crickets.*

I figured listening to such rubbish at the end of a long day was not how I intended to end the day so I turned off my TV and reverted to my best friend, also known as my laptop, for company. I wrote a little post about some hilarious new Instagram account taking the Lebanese internet by storm (link) and then I browsed Facebook.

It was funny at first. Have you seen Gebran Bassil, our minister of foreign affairs, making his big fashion statement?

Bassil FPM protest

I kept on going hoping for better material. Big mistake.

Nabil Nicolas, currently a member of Lebanon’s parliament with the Change and Reform bloc, decided to contribute as well to the megalomania taking over the country, so he shared a picture and hence our title.

Behold a screenshot of his post:

Nabil Nicolas Michel Aoun

This confuses me on so many levels that I have to ask: is Michel Aoun Jesus? Is his actual father God and the universe doesn’t want us to know? What is he doing inside Mary?

It’s sad that any person sinks to this level of ridiculousness. What’s even sadder is that the person in question is a Lebanese MP, in charge of running the country, and who’s apparently more pre-occupied with how best to kiss up to his political leader.

Nabil Nicolas is an example of those we’ve entrusted to run the country and who’ve failed miserably. And in case you need more examples, in times like these, as to how bad they’re failing, worry not for they will deliver, and here he is.

I’m not religious. I’m not offended by this picture and I don’t care about its content. But I love how such a “Christianity-offending” picture is coming from the personal Facebook account of an MP of the Lebanese party that, today, claims to be spear-heading the fight for Christian rights by fighting to elect a president with only one viable option and to get a commander of the army with one viable option, both of which happen to be either that party’s leader or his son in law.

This is not about Christian rights for those are besides the point at this point. This is about absurd politicians who think their leader is God, about their followers who think their politicians are the disciples of God and who believe in every word that they say without critical thought.

Such people are those with whom we are sharing the country. Such people are governing us and making sure we remain in the ditch hole we’ve been living in for years, and who will remain here for years to come.

Then, because Facebook pissed me off, I reverted to Twitter where I saw the following:

Lebanon FPM protest ISIS FM

Isn’t this hilariously sad? Doesn’t it put Nabil Nicolas’ Facebook post into perspective?

These are times when people think a politician fighting tooth and nail to get his son in law to power is a politician fighting for their rights as they drown in garbage.

These are times when politicians upload pictures proclaiming their leaders to be God and 172 blindly click “like” because monkey see, monkey do.

These are times when people in the country think a moderate Sunni is ISIS just because they were told to think as such.

These are times when people think their rights are aptly defended by someone who wants nothing other than power and swallow it like sugar pills.

In such a context, Nabil Nicolas is not an abnormality but is the norm. And the brain-washing machine goes woosh.

Update: they also believe in creationism.  

 

Extremism in Lebanon: Why Are You Shocked The Red Cross Was Banned From A Mosque?

Breaking news out of Lebanon today, because those are very few and scarce, but a Red Cross volunteer had his colleagues banned from entering the mosque where his family was receiving condolences for the passing of his grandmother, just because they were wearing their logo, which happens to be – well – a Cross, albeit having nothing to do with religion.

First with the story was the Facebook page “Stop Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon,” and at thousands of Facebook shares and likes, as well as having the story picked up by various news outlets now, it has definitely gone around, as well as have people in shock and anger.

I’m here to ask the very simple question: why?

To those who are shocked, I wonder if you’ve been so disconnected from life in this country lately that you haven’t noticed the fervent rise of extremism all around you. This isn’t exclusive to a single sect or religion. Of course, some get blamed more than others because it’s more popular to do so, but it is a tangible reality everywhere and in the hearts of many people around you, including people you know.

The time for you to be shocked was years ago. It was when hearing about things such as ISIS was not common place in your news. It was when people didn’t come up with excuses here and excuses there for their religious folks of choice to come off unscathed. It was when people weren’t made to believe that their entire existence in this country depended on the existence of their religious sect. It was when the discussion of an electoral law was not only about a law that allowed people of one sect to vote for that sect’s MPs. It was when I didn’t wake up every morning to the following graffiti outside my building:

Spotted in Achrafieh

Spotted in Achrafieh

The time to be shocked, disappointed, mortified, appalled or whatever you are feeling right now is long behind us. What you can and should do now is hope this is an incident that won’t set precedence, which I think is the case. This was probably the case of a few goons with near subzero IQs and near illiterate education levels deciding to flex their Allah-given muscles, as has become quite customary around this country.

Those people won’t care about explanations that the Cross on the Red Cross’ vest is not actually Christian. They won’t care that women wearing the Hijab can enter Churches whenever they want, albeit to increasing groans, and that people wearing Crosses can enter Mosques whenever they want. No, those are the people whose existence we have loved to dismiss for so long now, toning it down until we made them irrelevant in our minds.

The truth of the matter is that as everything in this country, this too will pass. You will forget about in a couple of days as something more media-grabbing happens. You may be reminded of it by some politician down the road who wants to cash in some political coins, of course.

What I hope this transpires into is more support for the Red Cross, this truly noble organization in the country that has transcended sects and political lines and religions to help people just for the sake of humanity. You want to be mad at those who didn’t let those Red Cross volunteers in at a wake? Go donate.

Ironically, at a time when some Lebanese retards were upset the Red Cross could have entered a Mosque, the Pope was praying at the Blue Mosque in Turkey. Contrast Lebanon with the following picture. As they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words. I’ve probably written something close to that by now, so you get the picture.
Pope Francis is shown the Sultan Ahmet mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque, by Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, during his visit to Istanbul

Bershka Lebanon Insulting The Virgin Mary

A friend of mine just sent my way the following shirt being sold by Bershka Lebanon for 49,000:

Bershka Shirt Lebanon Christianity - 1 Bershka Shirt Lebanon Christianity - 2

The shirt called Lady of Skulls features a Virgin Mary-esque image that cannot, even with the most out-of-the-box approaches, not be considered as a distortion of many Christians icons of Mary

I am not the most sensitive person when it comes to religious jabs. In fact, I think we need some of them more often so people can light off a little. Caricatures or comedic approaches to some religious symbols might be acceptable – they are to me – but demonizing religious holy figures for the sake of having fun such as in this case is, quite frankly, unacceptable. I find it revolting and offensive.

 

It’s not about freedom of expression or freedom to wear whatever you want. This isn’t a book I’m saying you should not be reading or a movie you shouldn’t be watching or a website you shouldn’t be exposed to. It’s about respecting other people’s beliefs to the point where you don’t shove a picture that is clearly offensive up their faces just because someone out there thought it was fashionable enough to be worn.

Perhaps this is acceptable in countries where views towards religion is more liberal but the only thing this will lead to here is tension because of a silly and quite frankly hideous shirt.

This isn’t how you advance communities towards religious liberalism and breed tolerance, love, peace for all and a bunch of other cliches. Good job Bershka Lebanon.

It seems a Santa Muerte shrine is opening in Lebanon soon. (Link)
Virgin Mary standing on crescent moon

My Salafist Friend

I was one of those people who, less than a year ago, equated Salafism with extremism. They were all bearded freaks who wanted nothing else but to establish the Islamist Republic of Lebanon and either kick me out of my home in the process or tax me for just being here.

It’s definitely a misconception. But can you really blame me? After all, the only thing I see of Salafists are those extremists who burn tires and talk endlessly about the struggle of Sunnis in Lebanon.

All of that changed when I got to know M. some more. I won’t say his full name and that’s not even his initial, just in case. He’s my colleague in medical school and I knew he was a devout Muslim but never knew he was a Salafist until he told me.

There he was: no beard, no robe, no constant angry rants about how Lebanon’s Sunnis should reign supreme even though he senses inequality in this country regarding his people, which is definitely not a work of fiction.

And I was taken off guard. This man was challenging every misconception I had about those people I had grown to be disgusted by and he was doing so not by trying to convince me about them not being as bad as they appear to be but simply by existing in the front row of our classroom.

M. later on gave me my pet cat. He didn’t ask for money for it – he simply had two Persian cats who like to reproduce and decided I should have one. Here’s how Katniss looks like today (link).

M. even read the many posts I had written about the reaction to The Innocence of Muslims and was even supportive of the content that criticized the very people that are associated with his branch of Sunni Islam.

M. is always the first Muslim of my friends who texts me on our religious holidays. Whether he’s traveling to Kuwait or in his home in Beirut, I can always expect a heart-warming greeting message. And the texts are not just addressed to me. He sends a personalized one to every Christian he knows. The more “moderate” Muslims I know and with whom I may be an even closer friend don’t do that. The Christians I know rarely text greetings as well.

Back in July, during a month we had as a clerkship at St. George’ Hospital in Achrafieh, we decided to have a group lunch at one of the nearby restaurants. It was there that we discussed his religious views. He explained that Salafism is one of many branches in Sunni Islam, sort of like those sects we have under the umbrella in Christianity. He explained that they differ with others in that they have a stricter view of the Quran. He told me about the struggles he has on daily basis while trying to reconcile his faith with the way of life. His worry at the time was that he cannot shake the hands of women at the hospital and is worried they would be offended.
To many, his struggle borderlines on the absurd. But who was I to judge?

M. doesn’t shove his religious views down everyone’s throat like other people in class do. In fact, he is often ridiculed by other students and even some doctors for asking about the benefits of abstinence in preventing some types of cancers and other diseases.

M. doesn’t believe that Christians should be second-class citizens in Lebanon. He believes they should not only be first-class citizens but if there’s only one A-class, they should be it. Why? Because he says they are the reason Lebanon isn’t more screwed up than it currently is and is different from our neighboring countries.

M. doesn’t believe the Islamic Sharia should be applied in Lebanon even though he doesn’t oppose it. And even though ideally he would like to live in a place where the Sharia is enforced, he says he will be the first Muslim to oppose such a thing happening in Lebanon because “we don’t live here alone.”

M. is actually with optional civil marriage in Lebanon. He was against it at first but after discussing the issue, he decided it wasn’t his place to enforce his views on everyone even though he doesn’t like the idea of civil marriage to begin with.

M. understands why the Orthodox Law came to exist. He comprehends the reasons that sparked such a law from becoming in the forefront of discussions. And he said he doesn’t mind if the law passes, although ideally he would prefer something less divisive.

After my daily encounters with M., I became a person who separates between Salafism and extremism. Salafism is a religious current that even Christianity has a counterpart for (Evangelicals in case you were wondering). Extremism is something that transcends religions and sects: we have it, they have it, everyone has it. Those Christians who hate Mohammads because they think they are the root of all the woes in the country are extremists. The Sunnis who turned Salafism into a taboo are extremists. The governmental policy which almost turned Salafism into a crime is an extremist.

My friend M. the Salafist, however, extremist he is not.

The Problem With Banning Pork and Alcohol At Some Lebanese Restaurants

Gino Raidy’s encounter at ZWZ’s Hamra Branch went viral across Lebanon’s internet community very fast. His shock that a restaurant like ZWZ, infamous for his Halloumi bacon sandwiches, would actually have a branch that wouldn’t serve anything non-conformant with Islamic sharia sparked some huge debate as is evident by the extensive response to his post which you can read here.

It is beyond perfectly understandable that such an issue would be considered by many as infringing on their basic freedom of eating whatever they want to eat. It is also beyond ironic that ZWZ Hamra might as well be the go-to restaurant for Lebanese pub-goers who drink themselves away a few meters away in Hamra’s infamous alleyway and other pubs.

So why would Islamic sharia be up and running in one place and completely shattered in another place? ZWZ’s diplomatic reply to the matter alluded to their leasing conditions: the person from whom they got their lease doesn’t allow pork and alcohol on the premises of his building and ZWZ had to conform.

The question, therefore, asks itself: couldn’t have ZWZ opened elsewhere?

The answer is: most probably not.

It’s easy to preach regarding the matter but the fact of the matter remains that landlords have the upper hand in cosmopolitan places like Hamra (despite what Homeland’s producers want you to believe) because of the extremely high demand for property and the low supply. Whatever a landlord wants, a landlord gets. And most companies have to deal with is as such despite their better judgement.

The fix for this is, obviously, stricter governmental regulations. But in a country where such an issue comes at possibly the lowest of importance in woes, such regulations will not be enforced anytime soon.

The issue, though, is not in disassociation with the general mood of the country.

This vigilante sharia applying is unacceptable. I’m not entirely sure if it’s legal as well. Is it allowed for someone to enforce something on their own property that is not legal across Lebanon? My gut tells me no. But Lebanese law has these sporadic eccentricities that make it baffling. And regardless of whether it’s legal or not, what is actually legal in Lebanon and is actually applied?

The only urban planning law that I know of pertaining to this matter is banning alcohol sales within a certain radius of any prayer house, including Churches. Christian areas do not conform with it while places like Tripoli apply it to the letter. You would be lucky to find a place in Tripoli with a carton of booze under the counter which they dispense to their most loyal customers only.

What is sure, however, is that this vigilante sharia is creating an even bigger divide in a country that doesn’t need more divisions to begin with, even among Muslims themselves because it’s not really about religion but about ideology. Banning alcohol and pork, which slowly turns places in a country that falls more on the liberal side in this deeply conservative region, slowly disassociates regions from each other: turning some more extreme while others become more liberal, the cultural and sectarian divide growing even bigger. The conservatives, subsequently, become more conservative. The less conservative folk become less so and the merry goes round. The clash between these ideologies would grow stronger.

Perhaps it is ZWZ’s right not to serve alcohol and pork on some of its premises. But when there’s no regulation to dictate this, the question asks itself: what’s the limit for this sort of “freedom” for restaurants? When does imposing restrictions on others, even those who share your religious views, crosses the line of freedom? And is it truly permissible to say that, due to the presence of alternatives, discussing the presence of Sharia-abiding restaurants should not be allowed?

 

Could Patriarch Raï Become The Next Pope?

The conclave of Cardinals in charge of electing the new pope to replace Benedict XVI is currently underway at the Sistine chapel in the Vatican. You’re out of luck if you are a Roman tourist at this time of year – you can blame Benedict’s old age for that.

As it is with papal elections, there is no clear frontrunner as of this point. The myth goes that the cardinals leave their choice to the holy spirit through copious amounts of prayers and holiness. That is if you believe the holy spirit is a combination of politics, geographic, demographics and whatnot.

Eventually, any Pope nowadays is chosen based on one premise only: strengthening the position of the Catholic Church around the world. The late pope John Paul II led one of the biggest developments the Catholic Church had seen when it comes to the Youth, especially in popularity. Benedict’s undeclared job was to contain this surge that John Paul caused in a more Christian, usable, framework.

Today, the Catholic church is stuck at the edge of a steep cliff with the following predicaments:

  1. Decreasing worshippers across the world,
  2. Rise in Christian persecution in certain parts of the world,
  3. Sex-related scandals that plague Catholic priests more often than none,
  4. Corruption scandals that always seem to find a foothold,
  5. The issues of abortion, same-sex marriage and other thorny issues.

Seeing as the Catholic church is firm in its position regarding abortion, same-sex marriages (despite some recent breakthroughs in that regard), stem cell research and the like, I believe point #5 is not even an option in the voters’ mindset. Corruption and sex-related scandals are issues that Cardinals feel should be best kept in-house, not influencing the decision of choosing a Pope who will lead a Church not only based on those two criteria. The stances of the Catholic church regarding the many sex abuse cases that were revealed is a testament to that – if anything, it reminds me of typical elderly Lebanese women whose job in life is to cover up any wrongdoing in their family and showcase it to the world in positive light. Cardinals are similar to those elderly women in that regard.

The most important framework for Cardinals voting today is the following: help Christians around the world stay Christians and lessen the numbers of Christians who are deciding not to be so anymore. There’s little that a Pope can do when it comes to decreasing worshippers – after all, how do you convince people who lack faith that they should have it? It’s impossible. But what the papal conclave of Cardinals can affect is the persecution of Christian minorities across the world, notably in the Middle East.

Pope Benedict’s XVI’s visit to Lebanon back in September – his last major visit to any country before his resignation – was not out of the blue. Him demanding Patriarch Raï to go to Syria and hold mass there, which sparked an insane reaction, was also not out of the blue. Small steps they may be, sure, but for the faithful who still cling to their belief despite the hardships, a patriarch or a Pope acknowledging their strife is some very important business.

The question, therefore, asks itself: Could Patriarch Raï be the dark horse to be elected as the upcoming Pope?

Many Lebanese have already set Facebook pages to that effect, out of enthusiasm mostly, as if a liking a Facebook page to demand our patriarch be instated as Pope is actually beneficial or worth it. But that’s how things are with us – we always take things to Facebook.

However, I have thought about it lately and come to conclude that Mr. Raï could have a decent, albeit slight chance, at becoming the world’s next Pope for the following reasons:

  1. If the main focus is to target the persecution of Christians in the world, what better option than the head of the Christian majority in the location where Christians are targeted the most? The Middle East.
  2. Former pope Benedict’s XVI’s visit to Lebanon was, in part, to sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (text) in which the Vatican goes on and on about the crucial importance of the Church in the Middle East.
  3. A Pope from the Middle East would set the wheels for true Muslim-Christian dialogue, which is what this deeply religious and troubled region needs and the Vatican knows this.
  4. Patriarch Raï is age appropriate to be pope. He is only 73. He also speaks several languages fluently, as is required of Lebanese bishops.
  5. Patriarch Raï does not come from a country where priest sex scandals are aplenty and being relatively unknown to the vote has a rather “cleaner” slate than his counterparts. He was also elected as an assistant to the interim Pope over the past week.

The reasons may not be supremely compelling to have someone become Pope, sure. But they’re still viable enough to put Mr. Raï on the papal map. I’m not even sure if Mr. Raï can be a good pope but he might become one.  And frankly, him getting elected sort of scares me.