A Lebanese Tragedy: The Devaluation of a Life

Who gives a fuck? was the first thing I heard today when we were made aware of another Beirut explosion. It was just a bomb all over again. And people were dead, as usual, all over again. Typical and warranted was what I had heard.

On the other side of the room, a frantic woman was calling her parents to see if they were okay. If their house was intact. If she still had a roof to return to. Then she drew a sigh of relief. And I was relieved for her. But I was also disgusted.

There I was in a room of supposedly intellectuals with two drastically different reactions to an event that should have, at least, gotten everyone to feel sorry and disgusted and horrified. Pity the nation that was more upset at a cat being microwaved or a concert being canceled than at its own children, men and women getting blown to pieces because of retarded and narrow political calculation.

This is a reply to Qalmoun versus the reply will be in Qalmoun. Are you serious? Lebanese were using this tragedy to give some credibility to their demented politics, as mothers grieved their sons while sifting through the remains that our media were more than happy to show on their screens. Look! I’m holding an arm! Pretty cool eih? 

I guess it’s too redundant to talk about media professionalism, about not jumping to conclusions when news first start trickling in.

There’s a time and a place to die. But 2013 Lebanon on a random Beiruti street, due to a cowardly act of terrorism isn’t it. 2013 Lebanon where your death is meaningless, another figure in a growing number of casualties who will soon be forgotten is not it.

Do you know what the saddest part in all of this is? There are those who believe such deaths are “fida” whoever it is they follow. Perhaps I don’t get it. Perhaps I don’t understand how it is to be part of such a sociological following. But I’d hate for my life to be wasted for someone who couldn’t care less, sitting in a bunker twenty feet under or in a fortress in some mountain throwing accusations here and there before proceeding with la dolce vita once the poison stops dropping.

I’d hate for my life to end and be called  a martyr by entities who cannot not be politically correct in order for my mother to feel better about it while I’m just a victim of this country where everyone does as they please without any ounce of calculations of possible ramifications on all those people, like you and I, who don’t get a say in how things in their country should run, in their safety (or lack thereof) and in the way they should die: not in bits and pieces on a desolate Beiruti street.

Our lives are more important than to pretend it’s okay for us to die as a “sacrifice” for someone, whoever that someone is. My life is not “fida” anyone. Your life should not be “fida” anyone. Thinking that it’s okay for a life to be dispensable for someone is not okay. Thinking that it’s okay for your life to be dispensable means such tragedies will keep on happening as long as there are people who are willing to be collateral damage in a war that isn’t theirs, that doesn’t involve them and that doesn’t infringe upon them except in death.

There is no ulterior purpose being served. There’s no cause being championed. There’s no heavenly place awaiting the victors. There’s grief-struck parents being left behind. There’s a deeply split nation whose divide is growing wider. There are nauseatingly political individuals who have begun milking this for whatever purpose floats their boats. And there are those who are awaiting the next opportunity for their lives to be “fida” someone.

Our turn is next week, a friend of mine from Tripoli said. I couldn’t tell her she was mistaken.  

Meanwhile, life around where I was went on normally. People had no worries on their mind as they shuffled through their daily motions, seemingly indifferent that the other part of their capital was going to cry itself to sleep tonight.

Rest in peace to all those wasted and forcefully devalued Lebanese lives we have lost and we will lose to bombs, explosions, suicide bombers and ruthless politics, those lives that are more important than to be wasted “fida” anyone.

Farewell Wadih el Safi

We only appreciate our artists after they die.

Wadih el Safi, one of the three remaining giants of Lebanese music, bid this world farewell today at the age of 92. Perhaps it’s easier to mourn the loss of this man, the national symbol that he is. I choose instead to reflect on the life that he has lived, not on the last days of weakness that we tend to remember those who leave us by.

Wadih el Safi, in a career that has spanned almost seven decades, has put a mark on Lebanese music and culture that is tangible and unshakeable even to those, like me, who were not exposed to him growing up. My memories with Wadih el Safi are not those of a typical Lebanese who associates him with rousing patriotism. Whenever I think of him, I think of the songs about family that he would sing, about being a father talking to his son, a father having a discussion with his daughter… I remember how the people around me feel whenever they listen to those songs and how vulnerable he makes them, in the space of a few minutes, with his melody and voice.

They called Mr. el Safi the voice of Lebanon as he sung about this piece of heaven that he called home. It’s a shame that the voice of Lebanon is leaving this country while his piece of heaven is probably anything but. You may be wondering why someone like me, who’s the last person you’d imagine would write about such a thing, is actually doing so. But with Wadih el Safi’s demise, Lebanon has lost a key pillar in the little that remains in the culture that is truly honorable and decent of this country we call home.

Wadih el Safi’s death isn’t just that of a singer that the Lebanese population likes because they feel they must, out of respect. His death takes us one step closer to the full realization of the cultural demise that we are heading to, especially when it comes to music and arts.

Farewell Wadih el Safi, the man who has lived and has done so abundantly.

Lebanon, Screw This

It’s been one week since our news broadcasts last cut out regular useless programming to let us know that a part of our country was burning to the ground following an explosion, that people were dying, that terrorism had struck yet again.

It’s been one week since innocent people lost their lives just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Last week, those people were shopping. This week, those same people were praying. How many more wrong places and wrong times are we supposed to accept as a justification to the absolute hell we are living through?

What is the current situation in Lebanon? I don’t really know. There’s no diagnostic criteria to follow to really ascertain how deep this goes. There’s simply a sense of “if no one I knew died then it’s sad but forgettable” that’s roaming around. Till when are we supposed to be happy that someone we know didn’t die just because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time?

Till when will our media worry first and foremost about the explosion being in the proximity of a politician’s house, one that he barely uses, then after making sure that politician was okay turn around to examine the possibility of other irrelevant casualties like you and me and then parade their burnt corpses for sheer shock value left and right – except those pictures don’t even shock us anymore?

What is this country in which you are forced to worry about doing the most mundane of things just because you might die doing them? What is this cause that needs to target people who are praying? What is this cause that needs to target people who were shopping?

Why are these causes and wars entering our country through open wide doors? Why is my country always getting screwed, always in a state of violence?

What is this need for people to start throwing blame on those who satisfy their rhetoric of choice just moments after an explosion, while the wounded are still bleeding and the victims have still to be found?

What is this life in which our mothers waste all their tears away, worrying for our sakes, while the only thing that we might have done is drive past a street that ended up becoming ground zero a few minutes later? Till when will our fathers regret not leaving and establishing our families in countries where they don’t have to worry about their sons and daughters meeting their demise on the blown up tarmac, resting on blown up concrete?

How further can our cities handle being ripped apart this way? How much more can the people of Tripoli take in a city that has not only been destroyed by gun violence but now has an affinity for explosions as well?

What is this life in which a strange car on your home street can cause you insomnia? What is this life when your own home doesn’t feel safe anymore?

How is this any different from the times they want us to believe are long gone, “tenzeker w ma ten3ad?” How further down the abyss will every single one of our politicians take us now that they have yet another opportunity to get their rhetoric to sink further, to let their anger seep to surface even more, to let people hate each other more than they already do?

All the words resonate emptily. All of our mothers’ tears fall down on useless surfaces. All of our worry won’t change a thing. All our anger won’t make a dent. All of the victims will soon be forgotten. All of the explosions are to be replaced by the next explosion which takes center stage. All of the people are to mourn in days that are becoming way too many. Nineteen have died in Tripoli today as a first estimate. Nineteen men and women and children died just because they felt like being closer to the entity they worship on a day of worshipping. If there’s really a God, He must have left this land a long, long time ago.

It’s just a bomb, again? Should we be “resilient” again? Lebanon, screw this.

It’s Just A Bomb

I was watching a movie today.

What a mundane and worthless sentence to start anything with. But I was watching a movie today.

It was a quiet afternoon. I had seen a dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. We spoke about our lives. We didn’t talk about politics. I drank minted lemonade. She drank coffee. The time passed.

But yes, I was watching a movie today. And it was a theatre full of people who were watching the movie with me. And less than five minutes from where the movie was taking place, part of my country was getting blown up to pieces, people were getting blown up to bits.

And there I was, watching a movie.

The theatre doors closed behind us as we made our way out of the complex. Look, an explosion happened nearby, my friend told me. Make sure you make your way out calmly. I looked around and people had no other care in the world. Those who were shopping were still going about their chores meticulously. The people hoarding the escalators were still doing so extravagantly.

And there I was, pissed beyond fury, trying to see if my other friend was home and if anything had happened to her.

She is 23. In statistical terms, her life is well ahead of her. In real terms, she is terrified by a window slamming, fireworks going off or anything that reminds her of the bombs she has endured for years. I was relieved to know she hadn’t gone home today. I was glad she was okay. What a fucked up country, I told her. Yes, she replied. Is there anything more redundant to say?

I checked the news on my way to my car. Many were dead. Many more were injured. No officials were targeted. It was an attack simply against people like me who decided to spend their afternoon off, courtesy of the Virgin Mary’s ascension, to shop with their kids, with their mothers, with their families or friends, just like me.

The drive home was uneventful. People were still going around their afternoon business like it was nobody’s business. Life was sluggishly going on. It was bound to pick up its pace tomorrow. I was sure all would be forgotten by next week. This is our span. I guess that’s how it rolls.

As I neared residential areas of my country’s torn capital, I could hear the news blasting off balconies as people huddled next to their TV sets. Tripoli was joining the game as well because that city doesn’t like to be left out of the big celebrations. Politicians were salivating over their upcoming TV opportunities to express their condemnation while secretly insinuating that this party’s interference here and there led to this or that other party’s condemnation of some party’s actions has led to this, while people’s flesh still burns on the asphalt and cement. But don’t you be mistaken, sympathy supersedes policy.

The people were expressing sympathy. There was a tinge of unity as so happens in the face of true national tragedies. I figure it would only be a matter of time before someone parades this. Those who wanted to express sympathy figured stating their sect at the start of their sentence would give it some credibility. Others were more worried about the potential day off tomorrow. It was, after all, a day of national mourning. Aren’t those getting way too many and springing up way too often? But what would a day do to the mother who will mourn all her life?

It’s just a bomb. We tell it to ourselves like it’s nothing. A bomb. An explosion. Destruction, rubble, death. We’re getting way too used to it. We’re getting too comfortable with the way we live around it. We’re getting too subdued in the way we just take it, brush it off and long for the day when we forget. It’s just a bomb.

When AUB Students Mourn Their Homeless Ali Abdallah

Ali - AUB

R.I.P. Ali, 7aram Ali, di3anak ya Ali, I gave him a banana once – these are all things that I saw AUB students say now that their seemingly favorite homeless person passed away.

Ali Abdallah was supposedly an AUB Math professor. He’s also a diagnosed schizophrenic. All of the notions about Ali Abdallah’s life are irrelevant right now. What is sure, however, is that most AUB students mourning right now not only ignored Ali when they passed by him on Bliss Street, they were also disgusted by the fact that he was there: a mad man, always unshaven, always unclean, always there.

How death changes things, right? He’s no longer the figure they can’t wait to look down on as they pass Dunkin Donuts or Abu Naji. He’s “their Ali of Bliss Street” – their homeless mascot whose presence they had gotten accustomed to. Until their mascot was gone.

I will not mourn Ali Abdallah because I, like the absolute majority of AUB students in a state of depression now, never spoke to him, never bothered to know him and never considered him “our Ali of Bliss Street.” I feel sorry for the way he died – out there, alone in the cold, leaning against a cold Beiruti wall.

Some are citing natural causes for Ali’s death. Well, those natural causes are freezing to death in the midst of the worst storm of Lebanon’s recent history. How many of those mourning Ali ever thought about giving him a coat or money for a place to stay or ever tried to help him out? I highly doubt they are many.

For those of you who are touched by his death, there’s another homeless woman on Bliss Street that you’ve been ignoring for many years now. Perhaps it’s time to give her a second glance so you don’t feel sad when the homeless woman you ignored day in, day out ends up dead as well due to the freezing cold.

My thoughts go to all the people of my country who don’t have a roof over their heads in these though times, no one to care for them and no government to provide them with shelter.

Amour [2012] – Review

Amour 2012 Movie Poster

In an old Parisian apartment, with its yellowing books, rusty sinks and creaky tables, Georges and his wife Anne, two eighty year old former music teachers live. They go about their lives normally, attending concerts of former students, going through family albums that remind them of their younger days and caring for each other after all the time they’ve spent together. “C’est belle, la vie,” Anne says.

One day, as they’re having breakfast, Anne stops responding to Georges’ talk. He looks into his wife’s eyes and sees nothing there – she remains transfixed, unresponsive, a shell of the woman she was a few minutes earlier. He damps up a towel with water and tries to wipe her face but to no avail. As Georges gathers his things to call an ambulance, his wife comes back – but Anne has had a stroke. A carotid-stent operation going wrong later, Anne needs Georges to take care of her all the time, which he’s more than willing to do. A second stroke leaves her with right side hemiparesis, her right hand curled up in a fist. But Georges keeps taking care of his wife. He brings her a nurse three days a week, tries to sing with her “Sur Le Pont D’Avignon” when she can’t speak anymore, tries to get her to drink water when, in the rare lucid moments she gets later on, the only thing she makes him know she wants is to die.

Boasting beyond brilliant performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as Georges and Anne respectively, Amour is a heartbreaking, stunning and chilling portrayal of life in old age. Georges, the husband giving his all to care his dying wife, reaches a point where he knows what he’s doing is not enough but he keeps going anyway. The husband’s resiliency facing his wife’s forced surrender is a contrast that transcends the confines of the previously described Parisian apartment they both live in, which is the movie’s only setting though never feeling claustrophobic. The clash between the wife who wants to die and the husband who wants nothing but for her to live boasts an intense aspect of humanity that many movies fail to grasp even if they tried to. The nuances in the actors’ performances are striking. The way they look at each other through their wire-rimmed glasses, the adoration that radiates off Anne’s cheeks towards her husband… those are things you come across very rarely and you can’t but appreciate them when you do.

One of the main reasons Amour is this brilliant is Michael Haneke, the Austrian director, who has also written this great screenplay of life, love and death. The visual style he gives the movie is masterful. The pace he sets is poignant, never faltering. The movie he made draws you in, grasps and doesn’t let go. His style is shocking at time such as in Georges’ last act of love towards his wife, a stunning scene that will leave you haunted.

At a certain point in Amour, Georges tries to give Anne water, and she lets it roll angrily down her chin with a look of violent denial of life. Georges unwillingly slaps her, then apologizes like the exasperated caregiver he had become. Later on, he tells her stories of a time when he went to camp he didn’t like. He had agreed with his mother to write her daily. If he had liked his day, he’d draw flowers. If not, he’d draw stars. Amour shows us that life is a mix of flowers and stars. The love this old couple has to each other is the true embodiment of in sickness and in health. Amour is so intimate that watching it feels like you’re prying on these people’s private lives. It is so heartfelt that you can’t but feel touched by what you see. Amour shows you love. And it shows it spectacularly.

10/10

2012’s Most Powerful Pictures

Buzz Feed has recently published a set of 45 pictures that they’ve called 2012’s Most Powerful Pictures. And the least that can be said about these pictures is that they’re chilling. Some of them are haunting, others will bring tears to your eyes. And they are all supremely striking.

Woman suicide Greece

A Greek woman’s suicide attempt as she’s told she would be laid off work

Bangladesh Riot Beating woman with baton

A woman from Bangladesh defies the police

Palestinian girl punching Israeli soldier

A little Palestinian girl tries to punch an Israeli soldier

Syrian Father saving daughter hospital Aleppo

A Syrian father trying to save his daughter’s life after his city, Aleppo, was shelled by regime forces.

Father begging Bangladesh soldier Myanmar

A father from Myanmar begs a border control officer from Bangladesh not to deport his family back to Myanmar

An American woman mourns her son on Memorial Day

An American woman mourns her son on Memorial Day

Check out the rest of the brilliant pictures here.

The Lebanese Hypocrisy Towards Those Terrorist Children

A friend posted a picture of a dead child yesterday on his preferred social networking website, along with a slur of swear words at the Zionist regime that he figured had taken the life in question. Soon enough, that friend found out that the child in the picture was not an inhabitant of our neighbor to the South but our neighbor to the East. He then deleted the picture. I’m sure he had a good night’s sleep too.

That child, regardless of his nationality, was still dead.

Read the rest of my second NowLebanon post here.

Innocent lives are innocent lives, regardless of nationality. And this applies to those Israeli children too.

Two Black Cadillacs (Single Review) – Carrie Underwood

 

Carrie Underwood’s new single, off her platinum selling album Blown Away and as a follow up to one of 2012’s biggest country hits Blown Away, is Two Black Cadillacs, a song which sets an ominous tone the moment the first note strikes.

Two black Cadillacs driving in a slow parade. Headlights shining bright in the middle of the day. One’s for his wife, the other for the woman who loved him at night, Underwood sings as a dramatic melody plays in the background. She immediately throws us into the setting of a funeral where a preacher man is saying the man being buried was a good man and his brother says he was a good friend.

But the two women in the black veils have a secret to hide. The story could very well serve to make a movie drama and Underwood delivers it effortlessly in a few minutes.

Two months ago his wife found the number on his phone, turns out he’d been lying to both of them for far too long. They decided then he’d never get away with doing this to them, Underwood lets the plot thicken. The women, taking turns in lying a rose down on the coffin and throwing dirt into the deep ground, also have a secret to hide. So they share a crimson smile and leave their secret with the man they killed, at the grave, to die with them.

Two Black Cadillacs is a hauntingly dark song by Underwood that serves as a one-two punch by the country star as she delivers her album’s most critically acclaimed tracks as back to back singles. The darkness with which her tone delivers this song would make you think she’s lived these events herself but it’s only telling of the caliber that Underwood has turned into as a performer. As she sings “bye bye” to signal the women biding farewell to the man who betrayed them both, you can feel her voice pierce through.

Two Black Cadillacs is a song where the musicians playing couldn’t stop after it was done so they kept playing and playing. Part of them jamming is found on the album track and will probably be cut with the radio edit. The song goes fifty shades deep and is Underwood’s darkest and most thought-provoking single release to date. From the haunting thumping melody that is reminiscent of a funeral march to the rich and multi-layered storytelling lyrics, Carrie Underwood delivers. Releasing a “softer” song may have been a safer bet. But Underwood is here to let her detractors know that Blown Away was just a storm warning. Bye bye, bye bye. 

A.

A Collection of Timeless Pictures

Following my post about some of the best pictures ever taken, a reader started sending me her collection of pictures that she’s amassed over the years.

Some of them were part of the previous post in question while others were totally new. All of them are still striking, amazing and haunting.

So without further ado, I commence.

1957 – The first day of Dorothy Counts at the Harry Harding High School in the United States. Counts was one of the first black students admitted in the school, and she was no longer able to stand the harassments after only 4 days.

1963 – Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist priest in Southern Vietnam, burns himself to death protesting the government’s torture policy against priests. Thich Quang Duc never made a sound or moved while he was burning.

1965 – A mom and her children try to cross the river in South Vietnam in an attempt to run away from the American bombs.

1966 – U.S. troops in South Vietnam are dragging a dead Vietcong soldier.

1975 – A woman and a girl falling down after the fire escape collapses.

February 1, 1968 – South Vietnam police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan shoots a young man, whom he suspects to be a Viet Cong soldier.

1980 – A kid in Uganda about to die of hunger, and a missionary.

1987 – A mother in South Korea apologizes and asks for forgiveness for her son who was arrested after attending a protest against the alleged manipulations in the general elections.

1992 – A mother in Somalia holds the body of her child who died of hunger.

1994 – A Rwandan man who was tortured by the soldiers after being suspected to have spoken with the Tutsi rebels.

1996 –  Kids who have been affected by the civil war in Angola.

2001 – An Afghani refugee kid’s body is being prepared for the funeral in Pakistan.

2003 – An Iraqi prisoner of war tries to calm down his child.

Congo: A father stares at the hands of his five year-old daughter, which were severed as a punishment for having harvested too little caoutchouc/rubber.

1902 – location in the United States not specified.

July 7, 1865 – Washington, Lincoln assassination conspirators Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold and George Atzerodt shortly after their execution at Fort McNair.

July 1913 – Gettysburg reunion, Veterans of the G.A.R. and of the Confederacy, at the Encampment.

March 1941 – Planting corn on a plantation near Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

May 18, 1914, Washington, D.C. – Washington Post records the passing of one John A. Eaglen, 3 years.