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.

The Miserable Maronites of Lebanon

Today is the day when Maronites across Lebanon get a surge of pride on the memory of St. Maroun, the sect’s founder.

Throughout the day, if you were “lucky” enough to come from Lebanon’s bible belt and have a lot of deeply religious friends, you’ll be swamped with Facebook statuses and pictures to glorify the day. Many celebratory dinners will be held across the country as well. It is one of those occasions.

This is the day for Maronites across Lebanon to feel empowered and self-sufficient and whatever floats their boat when it comes to self glorification.

The truth, however, is that today – February 9th, 2013 – as Lebanon’s Maronites rise to a fake glory on the day of their founder, they couldn’t be more wretched.

I’ll start with yours truly.

I was born in a Maronite family whose dose of religiousness grew as I grew. I dabbled with religion. Sometimes I grew into it, more often than not I grew out of it. My lack of ignorance when it comes to what the sect box on my ID contains led many to label me as a Christian extremist. I didn’t mind it.

But today, the only thing Maronite about me is probably what’s written next to my name on the voters list. It’s not about lack of faith. It’s not about atheism. It’s about a state of utter disgust with the social aspect that “my” sect has become and what it has made me, by default, in the process.

Today, Maronites in the country are forced to live in fear. I don’t think our fears are in any way justified. Do you know what’s the only reason that justifies us living in fear? It’s because Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea said we should be afraid.

The former told us we should panic from the impeding rise of Islamists in Syria and behold, Maronites across the land started gearing up for the apocalypse.

The latter has shoved the threat of Hezbollah’s weapons down our throats, making it a constant fixture in our daily lives, that the only thing we see as we go about our lives normally now is weapons. Illegal weapons everywhere.

Whenever our major “Maronite” politicians tell us to do something, we do it. Not because we want to – but because there’s an inherent conviction among the majority of Maronites that those leaders know best. Our critical thinking capacities are not just dismal, they are becoming non-existent.

Case in point? The electoral law. How many Maronites support the Orthodox Gathering Law? I suppose they are a lot. Are those Maronites truly convinced by the law? I doubt but they don’t know they’re not really convinced.

All they know is that their political reference came out in support of the law and gave them a set of arguments for them to wrap their heads around. Fast forward a few days later and the whole idea is now sitting comfortably in their brains, equipped with a full arsenal of conviction as if it was there for months. And then try to tell them otherwise. Try to ask any Maronite today about which law they see best and their answer will be what their politician of choice told you. Go on, try it.

We are a people that has become so weak that we can’t even stand up to the horrendous and absolute lack of qualification that flow from every single “Maronite” politician today.

Today, the road leading up to the main villages of my district has fallen into a serious state of disrepair. I wrote about it before (link) and observed an interesting reaction regarding the issue. The LF’ers blamed Gebran Bassil for the road. The Aounists blamed the district’s two MPs. Both LF’ers and Aounists are joined by the fact that their cars are getting screwed whenever they want to drive on that road – but they can’t even get together to get it fixed because God forbid their holy politician of choice be the one to blame.

What’s worse is that we are more than utterly convinced that those politicians are sacred.

Try to tell a Aounist that Gebran Bassil or Michel Aoun are not the people that Jesus meant when He said “whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Try to tell a Lebanese Forces supporter that the “hakim” is not the saint they want him to be or that the Lebanese Forces are slacking off with how they’re handling things, letting themselves be dragged into quarrels revolving around those epic never-ending Christian rights.

Maronites have now been convinced that those “Christian rights” that our heads have been drilled with are truly what our politicians are after. The idea that “Christian rights” is simply a pre-electoral ploy to get our Maronite blood boiling before we go vote didn’t cross anyone’s mind. If our politicians are truly concerned for our rights, then why haven’t they done something about it already? If our politicians are truly convinced about the army, then why do all their statements drip with unprecedented hypocrisy? If our politicians truly care about our well-being in this country then why haven’t they actually done anything to improve it?

The answer is quite simple: because we have the memory span of a fish. If they don’t do it a few months before the elections, we won’t remember come the time to vote.

We get carried away with useless rhetoric of people who couldn’t care less about our interests and eventually transform that rhetoric, in our heads, to scripture. Try to tell a Maronite in Lebanon today that their rights are of having hospitals and schools, not about commanding the country again, and you might as well have committed some form of higher treason. Try to tell a Maronite in Lebanon that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t feel threatened at every waking moment of your life and you might as well have been committed to an asylum. Try to tell a Maronite in Lebanon today that those big bad Muslims are not really out there to get us at every kink in the road and you will get inundated with a slew of swear words against their “prophet.”

And while a lot of Lebanon is trying to go past the civil war mentality, many Maronites still live in it. Many are even proud of it. If you, as a Maronite, were born after the end of the civil war then your opinion is irrelevant. Their “struggle” during the civil war makes them experts and it turns you into a non-sensical nobody. They fail to see how living in 1975 when it’s 2013 is not only pathological, it’s also sickening. They fail to see that using the civil war to attempt to score points when it’s been over for 23 years is not only not healthy but downright despicable. They live in the past and revel in the fact that they do so.

So between living in constant fear, pretending as if we actually have political free will and getting swept away with dreams of a Maronite utopia, we have become a people that are beyond miserable at life in Lebanon. How many of us as Maronites will have the guts to actually stick it to all our politicians who are actively terrorizing us come election day? Not many. How many actually see those politicians as such? Well, considering I’ve been exposed to people who are voting for certain politicians because they “asked about them” during one of their electoral visits, I daresay I wouldn’t be going on a limb if I said not many. How many of us won’t be happy when, one day after the election’s results are out, our politician of choice proclaims to represent the Christians – especially Maronites – of Lebanon?

The reality is that with how we are being forced and forcing ourselves to live, our standards have gone down dramatically. Our religious extremism is rising exponentially and we can even fathom justifying it. We cling to the glories of days that are past in order to feel relevant in the present. We gloat about the president having to be Maronite by law because it gives us some form of security. We hyperventilate in joy whenever someone tells us they believe Maronites are the reason Lebanon exists. We pretend as if nothing is absolutely wrong in our communities, in our mentalities. We pretend as if all the blame is to be put on everyone else because they are the root of all problems in this country.

This is your yearly dose of a reality check.

My angry rant is also easily applicable to other sects in Lebanon. Because everyone is miserable. However, the moment someone from outside any sect criticizes it, people get offended. Even those who claim not to be sectarian. My prerogative, as a Maronite, is that I get to criticize how my sect has become, at least socially, all I want. And if this angers you, then I’m more than glad I hit a nerve.

Happy St. Maroun day.

Let’s Talk About The Rights of Lebanese Christians

Lebanese Christians are worried nowadays about their constitutional also known as God-given rights of having a firm grasp on political power again. They want to vote for their half of parliament, they want to restore the powers of the president, they want to be the tipping balance between the ongoing Shia-Sunni feud.

They want their right to their “former” glory.

This “need” to feel more relevant politically stems from a conviction that’s rising among Christians lately that their presence in Lebanon is threatened.
I have no idea where they get these ideas from to be quite honest. Even if Islamists end up ruling Syria, even if the devil himself ends up ruling Syria, their presence in the country is not threatened one bit by those bad Muslims, especially not the Muslims of Lebanon who, whether we want to admit it or not, share our same woes.

While admittedly the past 23 years have been quite harsh on this section of the Lebanese population and some things need to be fixed when it comes to their status in Lebanon especially when it comes to political representation, is political isolation really the solution for the Lebanese Christian predicament? Is our politicians counting the number of Christian voters across the country really in our interest?

Are our rights as Christians really only summed up in us wanting to vote for 50% of an arguably stillborn parliament with members who don’t care about said rights to begin with outside of electoral-sectarian-fuel purposes? What is better for us as Christians, to vote for 64 useless parliament members without any qualifications just because of their “services,” their “name,” or their “political affiliation” just because it’s our “right” or to vote for less than 64 but actually qualified parliament members?

I find it ironic that Lebanese Christians want everyone to accept that the country’s president is one of them to rule over everyone else. But they can’t fathom how everyone else (Muslims) can get to choose a few of their MPs.

But I digress.

Is it my “right” as a Maronite from the North to choose the Maronite MP of Jezzine, an area I’ve never ever visited? Is it the right of a Maronite from Jezzine to choose my MP in the North just because he’s Maronite?
What does an MP’s sect have to do with guaranteeing rights? Why does an MP’s sect automatically means that person represents me? Does that restore our rights? Or does it violate them even more? Is an MP’s sect an automatic indication of their will to work, of their qualifications?

Is this how we get proper representation? Is this how we get “our rights?” Are “our rights” only summed up by having an MP from our corresponding religion represent us?

But yes, we, as Christians, do have rights that need to be accepted and acknowledged. We have the right to:

- Better roads: this (click here) is the current state of the main road in Batroun. It is my right as a Lebanese citizen first and foremost and as inhabitant of the region to have a decent road for my car. My Christian Maronite representatives are not providing me with this.

- Healthcare: how many decent hospitals do we have across the country? I can name three or four. And they are all in Beirut. Fact of the matter is most “Christian” areas have shortages in the healthcare system while it is our “right” to have a decent system to take care of us. I’ll take this even further: how many Christians in Lebanon cannot afford hospitalization due to rising costs? Isn’t it our “right” for a universal healthcare system to take care of us? I don’t see any “Christian” MP advocating this.

- Electricity: here comes the broken record again. Isn’t it our right in the 21st century to have more than 12 hours of electricity per day? Isn’t it our right not to have to pay two electricity bills per month just because our “Christian” ministries can’t even do a good job?

- Water: Beirut and Lebanon’s roads were flooded last week with water from the biggest storm to hit the country in years. A few days later, we were out of water. Is that acceptable? Isn’t it my “right” not to have water shortages in a country that’s arguably beyond rich in the substance?

- Internet: Don’t we, as Christians, have the right for decent Internet access in the 21st century? Shouldn’t we have access to speeds that don’t die whenever it rains, whenever it heats, whenever anything odd happens? Shouldn’t we have the right for a better infrastructure that’s installed and provided to us without corruption, without political propaganda and surely without us having to overpay for it?

- Security & Military Wings: Who among our “Christian” MPs is really working to boost security in this country? Who among our already-voted representatives can truly ensure our right for safety, our right not to become collateral damage due to some explosion somewhere? Who among our politicians is ensuring that some families don’t have military wings to threaten other people with?

- Wasta: isn’t it also my right to have the same chances for employment, for university admissions, for a proper life as the sons and daughters of our “Christian” MPs and ministers? Isn’t my right not to have to worry about being excluded from something I’m more than qualified to get into just because some other candidate knows someone who pulled some strings for him or her?

- Women: shouldn’t our Christian women be given the right to pass on the nationality to their children? Don’t they have the right to a state that protects them from abuse? Don’t they have the right for civil regulations that protect their rights?

- State of Law: isn’t it my right as a Christian to expect the non-smoking ban to be applied everywhere, not to have our tourism police in a deal with restaurants to violate the ban? Isn’t it my right as a Christian not to worry about people violating every single form of driving laws, of every single law known to man in this country? Don’t I have the right to live in a lawful state?

You know what’s the interesting thing about our “Christian” rights? They’re also the rights of those “Muslims” that we love to hate. They have the same rights in this country as we do. And they need their rights as much as we need ours.

We blame Lebanon’s Muslims of being blinded and of voting in sectarian ways to the same parties without any convincing reason. But it seems we have forgotten that we aren’t voting for reforms and qualifications as well, but to people who give us the same sense of belonging, the same sense of safety – to the same people who offer us a service a couple of days before elections and then forget about us for four years before they give us the allusion of fighting for “our rights” when the going gets tough.

Is it our Christian “right” to have a bigger say in our representatives? Perhaps so. After all, this is how Lebanon is made up. But it is our duty to have our say in these representatives count – in making sure that these representatives advocate for our rights as much as the rights of others who are not “of us.”

It is our right not to live in fear all the time. It is our duty not to blindly allow our politicians to make us afraid of everything else all the time.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians today isn’t the growing extremism around them, it’s the absolute neglect that they get from those representatives that we already voted for which leads us to leave the country and lose hope in it.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians are national policies which lead to the impoverishment of most of Lebanon while the focus is on making only select places more cosmopolitan. The latter areas become more liberal. The former areas fall into extremism and poverty and we panic about those “big bad Muslims” of Akkar and Bab el Tebbane being after us.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians today isn’t that we don’t vote for a full list of 64 Christian MPs. It is our mentality towards our own country: we have changed from people who founded the Greater State of Lebanon to people who just want their share of this country and the hell with everyone else.
And that, my fellow Christians, isn’t how we get our rights back.

The Most Sectarian Ad On Lebanese Television

OTV is currently running this Election Law promo ad in support of the “Orthodox Gathering Law” championed by the political party running OTV, the Free Patriotic Movement.

Here’s the ad:

I know firsthand that many people think this way – but to turn shameful political gossip that goes on behind closed doors into an ad that’s supposed to convince others of the same rhetoric is taking it way too far. This ad disgusts me.

But let me do what the ad does and say the following:

My name is Elie. I’m a Maronite from Batroun. At least that’s what my ID says *flashes new ID to the camera.* No matter what I do, I’ll be voting for Maronites. I don’t want to vote for Maronites only because I don’t believe they represent me.

You didn’t expect that now, did you?

There’s a fine line between proving a political point which I’m sure Aoun’s many MPs and politicians (à la son-in-law prodigy Gebran Bassil) are more than capable of doing and what the ad is all about. After all, part of the reason why I changed my opinion regarding the Orthodox Law (click here) was seeing an FPM MP named Simon Abi Ramia go on and on for ten minutes about how the Sunni vote is “killing off” Christians by drowning them out and choosing MPs that do not represent them. Such sectarian messages from MPs and TV promos such as the one in this post should not and will not be tolerated on any form of television.

Here’s a word for the politicians who believe that MPs selected by Sunnis do not represent me:

I, a Maronite Christian as we’ve already (and nauseatingly – because that’s a point that resonates apparently) established feel more represented by Nabil De Freige, Atef Majdalani, Samer Saadeh etc.. than by Assad Hardan or Emile Rahmeh.

You know what’s ironic? The FPM is supposed to be a “secular” party. At least that’s what my FPM-supporting friends kept shoving down my throat when I expressed discomfort with their party. “Oh you’re just being a Christian extremist” they said. “We embrace everyone,” they said.

The way I see it, the only thing the FPM is embracing lately with these disturbingly bad ads, with their horribly divisive rhetoric is a rising bout of Christian extremism. And Christian extremists today do not represent me.

Enjoy the ad by the only people in the country who care for your rights as Christians. Because, you know, Lebanon is made for you and no one else.

“Aux-armes, Chrétiens! Formez vos bataillons! Marchons, marchons! Qu’un sang impur (those darned Muslims) n’abreuve pas nos votes!” (this is a play on the French national anthem and translates to: to your arms, Christians. Form your battalions. Walk on, walk on so that impure blood doesn’t water down our votes.”) – this is the new slogan for the 2013 Elections.

Be ready for a lot of “we tried to restore your rights but THEY *points finger* didn’t let us” speeches over the next few months.

The Westboro Baptist Church – America’s Main Hate Group: A Dark Mark on Christianity

Westboro Baptist Church

You’d think that in 2012, a group that champions itself to be a church would also champion acceptance and forgiveness. That might be true to most denominations of Christianity today – except the Westboro Baptist Church.

Do you know why, according to WBC, the children in Connecticut got murdered by Adam Lanza? Do you know what’s their theory behind Victoria Soto protecting her entire first grade class as she lost her life execution-style?

It’s because of Carrie Underwood supporting same-sex marriage.

Yes, you read that right. Underwood who declared her support for marriage equality earlier in 2012 has brought the wrath of God upon this small town in Connecticut. “She pimped fag marriage. Blood of dead school kids on her hands!” WBC spokesperson tweeted to Underwood who at her concert of the night of the shooting held a moment of silence to commemorate the victims. You could’ve heard a pin drop in a crowd of 10,000 people. She also gave all proceedings of that night’s concert to charity.

It doesn’t stop there. The Westboro Baptist Church likes to crash funerals of American soldiers who died for their country, which is unacceptable regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum regarding the military practices of the United States. They are also preparing for protests at the funeral of the children who were shot in Sandy Hook Elementary. They’re set to ruin the last memory of these children by linking their untimely death to some crazy reason of their choice. If there was ever a time for guns, it would be that. If I were a parent at that funeral, I’d have my gun ready. Just in case.

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American students forming a human barricade against the WBC at a soldier's funeral.

American students forming a human barricade against the WBC at a soldier’s funeral.

The Westboro Baptist Church which spreads its venomous message to whoever would listen are media whores. They jump on anything that receives national media attention in order to spread out their message. Their protests have also been deemed legal by the US Supreme Court.

With them gaining traction, some sane Americans decided they won’t have it anymore. A petition was started online to officially recognize this church as a hate group which would remove their tax-exempt status and hopefully slowly lead them to their extinction. The petition gained over 50,000 signatures in only a few hours. You can sign it here. As a person who will be doing his medical residency program in the United States in a couple of years, I wouldn’t want to come across these people in any way whatsoever. I have, therefore, signed it.

What the Westboro *so called Baptist* Church seems to entirely miss is the fact that everything they do contradicts the teachings of their supposed savior Jesus Christ whose message about love and acceptance, even if you don’t believe in religion, is one that people should follow in their every day lives. This “Church’s” actions are nothing short of hate and bigotry. What they do is so nauseatingly bad that they’ve become a massive dark mark on Christianity in the United States and the world.

There’s a way to be against same-sex marriage. There’s a way to be against abortion. There’s a way to be against the mainstream media. And that way isn’t Westboro’s way.

I know firsthand that being a Christian person doesn’t mean being like them. But if being Christian means I’d be associated with those people in any way whatsoever, I’m tempted I’ll have to reconsider. Oh men of weak faith. But I’d rather they leave my religion because they’re the ones tarnishing it with every word they speak, with every “God hates the soldiers” poster they hold at one of those soldiers’ funerals and with every moment they exist.

If the Westboro Baptist Church had been a group in the Middle East, rest assured the United States would have bombed the hell out of the country in which they resided. It’s high time the American government take a stance against those so obviously practicing mental and cultural terrorism on its land.

Talking about them might give them exposure – but I think we need to talk about them now in order to stop them once and for all. Jesus to Westboro Baptist Church: I do not approve of you. Sign the petition.

The Rise of the Middle East’s Atheists

September 2012, Middle East:

A low-budget movie titled “The Innocence of Muslims” makes its way to the media of the region. The movie insults the prophet Mohammad and doesn’t pretend to do so innocently. The mayhem it caused became infamous, notably for the American embassy storming in Libya which made its way to the US presidential elections. Protests across the region turned bloody. Innocent people lost their lives because of cheap ten minute footage. And the image that some Muslims have been giving to Islam over the years was reinforced once again.

October 2012, Pakistan:

Malala Yousafzai, a fourteen year old girl, was shot in the head by Taliban individuals who feared her message. Malala’s message was not that of an uprising against the men who worked endlessly to make her life and the life of countless other girls like her a living hell. She was calling upon girls her age to seek an education, which most of us take for granted: the kind where we sit behind a desk and listen all day to teachers telling us things we believe we’ll never need. Her message did not sit well with the Taliban whose mission had been, in part, to eradicate education in the parts of the world where they are of influence. They had destroyed countless schools and forbade women from attending schools in their attempt to restore the days of 600AD.

October 2012, Facebook:

A Syrian woman named Dana Bakdounes posted a picture of herself on Facebook without the veil as part of a movement for the rights of women in the Middle East. (Check the picture here). The message Dana wrote, as part of her picture, said “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I was not allowed to feel the wind on my body… and on my hair.” The message rubbed some people the wrong way and a bunch of extremists took it upon them to silence Bakdounes, even on Facebook. So they mass reported her picture as offensive, prompting Facebook to remove it.

October 2012, Egypt:

In a post revolution Egypt where Islamists have been gaining power, two Copt boys, aged nine and ten, were arrested for defiling the Quran. Another Copt teacher was arrested after some students accused her of speaking badly of prophet Muhammad in class while another Copt is facing charges for material deemed offensive which he posted on his Facebook account. A veiled Muslim teacher also cut the hair of two girls in class who refused to wear the veil. She later explained that she had been “challenged.”

The Rise of Atheism:

The rise in religious extremism in the Middle East is touching all of its religions. Be it Christians who are worried about their fate and revert to their Bible in belief that it will somehow be their salvation. Or Jews whose reputation has become intermingled with zionism and borderline inseparable in the mind of many. However, I decided to only discuss Islam because the broader picture of the Middle East, in which there’s a tangible rise in Islamist Influence, is a canvas of Islam – as it is the region’s first and foremost leading religion, demographically.

The rise in extremism is attributed to many geopolitical reasons. It is also associated with a serious lack of understanding of religion from all involved, most notably the men of the robe who are doing more harm to their religions with their backward mentality than anyone else.

The Middle East has probably one of the world’s highest rates of religious people. And it’s simply because we were born this way. We are not allowed to choose what we want to be religiously. I was born into a Christian Maronite family. Therefore, I am a Christian Maronite. If fate had it differently and my parents were from another part of Lebanon, I may have been a follower of a different religion. And this applies to everyone. As we grow up, we are taught our religion and nothing else. Come Sunday morning, it was better for me to attend Mass. For others, they had better pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan and never eat pork or drink alcohol. During my early days at AUB, I was surprised to find that some Muslim people – obviously a minority – had absolutely no idea when Christmas was celebrated. On the other hand, I thought Achoura was a happy celebration. We rarely challenge our religious beliefs because we don’t feel the need to. Those beliefs enable us to blend in our societies and not get ostracized – at least in that regards. They enable us to connect to other people with whom we are able to identify not due to their mentality or thoughts but because of their religious beliefs. At a certain level, deep down, it’s always easier for a “Christian” to make “Christian” friends than to become friends with a “Muslim.” The reverse is also true.

Our narrow religious upbringing also limits us to the other religions present around us, especially in the region’s few relatively mixed countries. Egypt’s Muslims know very little about the Copts who were founders of their country. Lebanon’s Muslims know very little about its Christians. The opposite is also true. This lack of understanding, combined with an increased rooting in unchallenged belief, places the seed of conflict, which has been manifesting way too many times across the region.

However, religion is but one side of the coin. For with the rise of the Islamists on one side, I believe that the region’s atheist numbers are increasing dramatically, albeit most of them are probably closeted, and they are fueled by the exact same events that are getting people to become more religious, coupled with an increase of education across the board. What people turning increasingly religious see as a threat to their belief, others do not see it as such. What some increasingly religious people do to defend their beliefs, others see as a violation of freedom. What some increasingly religious people feel related to, others want to detach from it. The religious behavior that makes some religious people proud causes others to be the opposite. The picture that some extremists deem offensive, others see as a manifestation of free thought. The children seen as defiling Islam by some, others see as children being children. The girl infecting the minds of other girls with poison, which some (obviously very, very few) believe, others see as a complete violation of every single human sanctity.

One part decides to cling further to what they know because of such events. Others decide to look at alternative, which might fit better with how they see the world, away from a notion of faith that has become alien to them. After all, all they’re seeing of faith is repeated incidences of things they do not remotely agree with, despite that being as remote from what religions call for.

Religious people will call it a lack of understanding and narrow-mindedness for someone to turn atheist. They will never be convinced how someone who was born and raised on certain teachings can ditch them entirely and move towards thoughts that they find revolting. What they don’t get is that the same rhetoric they use applies in similar fashion to atheists who are moving away from teachings that they find revolting and forced upon them throughout their years.

Of course, this does not apply to all religious people as some practice their religion in silence, without letting everyone know when they’re praying and when they’re offended. But this silent majority is not the one that gives an impression. Out of a crowd of millions, the person who changes perceptions is that whose voice is heard the most. And in a time of religious insecurity, in a region of political insecurity, the voices heard the most are those of people that rub a whole lot of other people the wrong way.

Regardless of where you stand regarding the two sides of the religion-atheism coin, the image being painted is the following: religion is the bread of the poor. Atheism is the butter of the “educated.” However, the only one thing that I believe is of absolute necessity is that the Middle East needs more atheists.

Muslim Prayers At USJ

Everyone should be able to express their conviction in the right place at the right time. This is a conviction of mine. The right place and the right time may vary depending on where you stand regarding an issue but sometimes things are very clear cut and a stance needs to be taken.

A few months ago, the Antonine university had a tough situation with Muslims students who were adamant about praying at their university, which happened to be a Maronite Monastery, so they took the convent’s courtyard to do so. This sparked a debate in the country: should these students be allowed to pray or not at universities with obvious religious affiliations?

The point of view that I expressed back then and which I still stand by is the following: If a Muslim student (or a Christian student for that matter) believes it’s of utmost importance for him/her to pray, then that should go into their university selection criteria. If that student deems prayer not important enough and believes that getting the best education that can be provided, regardless of the university’s religious affiliation, is the way you to go, then that student doesn’t have the right to complain later on.

Université St. Joseph (USJ) had a similar incidence yesterday where more than twenty Muslim students decided to gather around and take a room without permission in order to pray. The incident was reported to the dean who rounded up the students only to have the situation swell by attracting more students to the place where the prayers were taking place. Some took the job of acting as guard to let the prayers continue.

The situation escalated to the maximum point without a confrontation happening and the incident has sparked some Christians at USJ to express outrage at what was happening. They believe that including a prayer room in the faculty of medicine was good enough – forcing every single faculty to adopt such policies is a step too far. The faculty in question was ESIB. For the Muslims who want to pray at USJ, it is their “right” to pray five times and they believe the university should provide them with a prayer room to do so.

It seems that such endless debates are our bread as Lebanese. But here’s what it breaks down into quite simply.

  1. USJ is a university that is obviously Christian. It is run by the Jesuites. It doesn’t hide its Christian affiliation and as such, those applying to study in it are well aware of that.
  2. Given that the nature of USJ is a general fact, weren’t those Muslim fully aware that attending USJ will bring them the best education possible and not spiritual fulfillment?
  3. When a prayer turns into proving a “principle” and rubbing it into other people’s faces, the question asks itself: what’s the point of praying in the first place?
  4. When a prayer becomes a point of conflict, the question also asks itself: are those students really seeking religious salvation or are they simply seeking trouble? I believe it’s obviously the latter.
  5. What forces universities with obvious religious affiliations to provide praying facilities for all its students? Is it something that they’re obliged to do? Absolutely not. If a university had been secular, the problem wouldn’t present itself. The American University of Beirut converted its chapel into an assembly hall and has denied requests for prayers rooms. AUB is secular. USJ is not.
  6. Universities abroad, which provide prayer rooms for students, are not religious in nature. And if the prayer rooms are provided, they are not for one religion and not the other – they are for all religions. Religious ones, on the other hand, are not forced to do so: Case in point: the Catholic Medicine faculty in Lille, France, does not provide prayer rooms for its Muslim students.
  7. Would a Lebanese Muslim university open a chapel for Christians to pray in it? The answer is obviously not. The argument that Christians don’t need to pray doesn’t hold. What if they want to?

Lebanese students in general, both Christian and Muslim, need to know that universities are not churches. They are not mosques. They are not synagogues. Universities are places where they pay in order to learn and build a future for themselves and their families. The fact that all of my Muslim friends at medical school, some of whom are extremely religious (they are Salafists and awesome), have no problem going through our long days without praying is testament enough that those “Muslims” wanting to “pray” at USJ are only seeking to create trouble and tension at a university that’s known of accepting people from all parts of Lebanese society, regardless of religion. But there are lines you cannot cross.