Demonstrate For Peace, Live from Beirut, Online

Demonstrate for Peace Beirut

The next age of protests is upon us. A new initiative has made its way online today, called Demonstrate for Peace, which calls on an online gathering on September 21st in order to protest for peace. It will be the first of its kind. It is orchestrated by the United Nations.

You can join the movement by following this link. This demonstration, despite the website listing Martyr’s Square, will not take place in any physical locations in Lebanon but is simply Lebanon playing its part in International Peace Day.

I have to ask: what effect could such a rally truly have? Is an online protest as efficient as a real life one that requires people to go down to Martyr’s Square and ask for peace using their voices, not their keyboards? Or does the UN know that such protests may not be as effective or as enticing to people?

I’m not really sure what a protest such as Demonstrate For Peace could do, especially that real life protests – complete with bloody faces – in this country have failed to do much as a general rule of thumb. But I guess there’s no harm in logging in with any social account and expressing the simple and extremely important need to live in peace, especially in a country like ours. I assume we’ve all come to appreciate the beauty in the quietness of these past few days, which have been oddly calmer than their predecessors.

Demonstrate for Peace Beirut 2

 

Let’s hope that those who actually dictate peace log in as well?

USJ, NDU, LAU, AUB Crushes: When Lebanese Students Have Free Time

You know all those memes and jokes about your crush not knowing you exist? Well, some Lebanese students decided to put an end to it all by creating a sort of gossip hub where they gather people’s infatuations and broadcast them anonymously for their entire campus to see.

This “gossip hub” has taken the form of several Facebook pages for most of Lebanon’s major universities: USJ, NDU, LAU and AUB. Despite launching only yesterday, the USJ page has so far near 1000 likes. The other universities haven’t caught on the crushes fever yet.

I find the idea to be smart: it gives those who have a crush on other people the courage that comes with anonymity to declare their feelings. It serves as an interesting addition to campus life that Lebanese universities have yet to see and, most importantly I guess, it just sounds like so much fun: the interaction that I saw on the corresponding Facebook pages because of it is proof enough for that.

The process is simple. You submit info about your crush anonymously to the page: they don’t know who you are and you can even make any info about your crush as ambiguous as possible. In turn, the page admins post the info on the Facebook page. People are guessing almost immediately who the person is and tagging them. The tricky part is for that person to know who got that post to be published on Facebook in the first place.

USJ Crushes Facebook

Some students have a crush on their professors:

AUB Crushes Facebook

Very smooth Elie, very smooth.

I commend the students behind these pages for the very clever idea. Don’t be surprised if you get contacted by several high profile entities regarding your pages quite soon. It’ll only be a matter of time.

Some more examples from the USJ page, which is by far the most interesting:

USJ Crushes Facebook 2 USJ Crushes Facebook 3

As for everyone else, if you feel like you absolutely must tell your crush that you are crushing on them – anonymously of course – here are the necessary links for you:

Hopefully students finding each other will lead to some form of much needed release in this country. I’m tired of recommending tranquilizing pills to the huge amount of people always on edge I’m encountering lately.

Update: Was just informed that, as I suspected, the idea is taken from universities abroad where the Facebook page in question has the format: Spotted: [X] University

Update 2: University of Balamand (UOB) and USEK have their own pages now:

Replying to Samy Gemayel

I never thought I’d reach a day where Samy Gemayel gets on my nerves. I thought he represented a future of young MPs who could possibly get our voice across. He had stood up to his family establishment and established his own movement. He had his own voice. Now, the only thing I hear is some very nasal rhetoric that presents absolutely nothing new, is completely unfounded and that people obviously eat up.

He was the MP who advocated the most apparently to increase Lebanon’s MP total to 134 (click here). And he took it to Facebook (click here) to explain his point of view.

Here it is:

Good evening dear friends,
I just wanted to explain my point of view regarding the creation of a seat in the parliament for Lebanese syriacs.
1-This community has 26700 voters and are not represented in the parliament while others like Alaouites (26100) have 2 seats and protestants (11000) have one seat… So as long as the sectarian system is still in place, this Lebanese community deserves to have a seat in the parliament. That is why I proposed to add a seat for them to be represented. I hope one day we will be able to get rid of this sectarian quota in the parliament which can only be achieved through a reform of the Lebanese system. Decentralization, creation of a Senate, neutrality and some reforms of the constitution are our only way out of this corrupt sectarian system. Till then we need to have the best representation of all the Lebanese groups so everyone will feel represented as he should and we will be able to move forward in reforming our political system.
2- The problem is not that we have too much MPs but that most of these MPs are doing nothing for the people. It is normal for a country like ours to have 128 or 134 MPs. What is not normal is that most of them are inactive! They are inactive because they were elected just because some “Za3im” sectarian leader took them on their list and not because people wanted them in the parliament to achieve something. That’s why few months ago I officially proposed a draft law proposing to take off 250.000 LP from an MP salary for every committee meeting he doesn’t attend. So if they don’t want to work people shouldn’t pay them any salary. This way, taxpayers will pay for MPs who are really working.
3- We will keep working for an electoral law that can provide the best representation for all the Lebanese groups and individuals. There are a lot of good solutions. I’m sure it will be a happy ending for all :)
Good night
SG

I felt at I, as a Lebanese citizen who is irrelevant compared to Mr. Gemayel, should reply to this utter none sense. I am lucky to have a relatively read platform to voice my opinion and I hope this speaks to those who share the same frustration.

1) Dear Mr. Gemayel, one moment you proclaim that it is detrimental to Christians in the country to go around using the numbers game because we have officially stopped counting with the whole “equal division” affair. One moment you’re using those numbers to show support for “minorities.” Should the sects that got new representatives be represented? Perhaps so. But definitely not through new MPs. Let’s talk a few numbers. The country currently has 700,000 Maronite voters who are represented by 32 MPs. The country has around 900,000 for each of the Shia and Sunni sects. Each one is represented by 27MPs. Maybe those new Christian MPs should have been given out from the Maronite share to bring it closer to what it should be given the over inflation it currently poses? But of course not because that wouldn’t work at all with those many MP voters. For instance, Tripoli currently counts 4000 Maronite voters. Those 4000 voters have an MP to represent them. Isn’t that overdoing it? Why not give that seat to Syriac Orthodox? I’m sure you can find two other seats all over the Lebanese map which you can re-allocate as well.

2) Are you serious, Mr. Gemayel? We are a country of less than 4 million. We have now 134 MPs that represent us in parliament. That’s a ratio of 30,000 people per MP. Let’s consider the United States. Their population is, according to the latest census, 316 million. Their congress and senate combined have over 535 members. That brings their ratio to almost 600000 person per MP. And since the United States may not be a sufficient example, let’s look at other countries. Switzerland has 200 MP for 8 million people. That’s 40,000 people per MP. And Switzerland has arguably similar “diversity” to us. France, a country of 65 million, has a combined congress and senate of 925 members which translates to 70,000 voters per representative. I can go on and on with examples. But I guess this suffices to make the point quite clear: yes, part of the problem is that we have too many MPs. Another part of the problem is that none of the MPs, including you Mr. Gemayel, are doing their job at legislation. And your proposal to remove less than $200 from a salary of several thousand dollars for MPs who don’t attend the many many numerous meetings that our parliament has is not only laughable, it’s you insulting our intelligence. Those extra MPs will cost taxpayers much more money than any of your sanctions would bring back. But that’s not a very appealing idea for voters now, is it?

3) It would have been more honorable, Mr. Gemayel, if you and your MP friends had actually agreed on an electoral law to elect those extra MPs and the original 128 before you actually increased the number. You keep talking, Mr. Gemayel, about elements to be applied of the Taef agreement while that agreement specifically called for much less MPs than we currently have. Wasn’t the number 108? Let’s not hide behind our fingers and say that everything will have a happy ending for us, the people, because it won’t. The only thing you and your MP friends are attempting to do is come up with a formula to bring you back to power, to enable you to turn your speeches into an auction to attract people by making them believe you are fighting for their rights and to make us pay for more people who have nothing better to do than fight with each other, racing the country in a Maserati down a dead end street.

Good morning.
EF

I find it sad that an MP as educated and young as Mr. Gemayel cannot come up with better arguments as to the increase of the MP number. What a hopeless future we have ahead of us.

Look At All Those Lebanese “Kuffar”

I’m sure you all know by now but according to the Mufti of the Lebanese Republic, Muslim politicians who voice support for civil marriage will be considered as apostates and deserters of the Muslim faith. (Link). As of this morning, his speech has become an official binding and registered fatwa. Some Lebanese decided that such obvious cultural terrorism wasn’t going to be the way to silence them. So they did what they could and they spoke up – peacefully.

Sophia Maamari and Hassan Choubassi. They got married in Cyprus

Sophia Maamari and Hassan Choubassi. They got married in Cyprus

This is Nadine Lager and her husband. They got married in Austria

This is Nadine Lager and her husband. They got married in Austria

Jamal Kara and his wife who got married way back in 1977. They are now grandparents.

Jamal Kara and his wife who got married way back in 1977. They are now grandparents.

Rita and her husband. They got married in France.

Rita and her husband. They got married in France.

William and Nadine - they got married in Cyprus

William and Nadine – they got married in Cyprus

Dyala Mitri and her husband Stephan Davidshofer. They got married in Geneva.

Dyala Mitri and her husband Stephan Davidshofer. They got married in Geneva.

Salim el lawze and his wife. They got married in Cyprus

Salim el lawze and his wife. They got married in Cyprus

George & Monica El Khabbaz. They got married in Ayia Napa.

George & Monica El Khabbaz. They got married in Ayia Napa.

Rana Khoury and Rayan Ismail. They got married in London.

Rana Khoury and Rayan Ismail. They got married in London.

Rawad el Zir and Ali Mourad - they got married in France.

Rawad el Zir and Ali Mourad – they got married in France.

Hassan Kassem and Joulia Bou Karroum. They got married in Cyprus.

Hassan Kassem and Joulia Bou Karroum. They got married in Cyprus.

Amani Dibo and Jean Salim. They got married in Cyprus

Amani Dibo and Jean Salim. They got married in Cyprus

Layal Mroue and Elie Geahchan. They got married in Cyprus

Layal Mroue and Elie Geahchan. They got married in Cyprus

Randa Kabrit and her husband. They got married in - wait for it - Istanbul.

Randa Kabrit and her husband. They got married in – wait for it – Istanbul.

Tamara and Bassam Choueiri. They got married in Cyprus.

Tamara and Bassam Choueiri. They got married in Cyprus.

Yara Francis and Thomas Green. They got married in the United States.

Yara Francis and Thomas Green. They got married in the United States.

Lara Salman and Jad Tamer. They got married in Cyprus.

Lara Salman and Jad Tamer. They got married in Cyprus.

According to some twisted religious rationale, all of the above people and more are engaging in blasphemy. Why? because some men of the cloth and their very avid followers cannot wrap their heads around the idea that some people out there don’t want their religion to dictate every single aspect of their lives. Do you know why Mufti Kabbani is against civil marriage that much? I don’t think it has anything to do with religion. If he was so worried about the rights of Muslims in securing a spot in heaven, he’d be the first person helping out Muslim people in need around the country seeing as they are – by all accounts – the poorest people of Lebanon. It’s because civil marriage limits his influence and the influence of people like him immensely most notably when it comes to their bottom line at the end of the month, one dollar at a time. In the words of the late sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a renowned Muslim scholar known for his modernized thoughts, “civil marriage is not a problem because it documents a marital contract between two parties in a very clear way with them committing to a marital relationship.” It is here that I believe we should commend Patriarch Raï for a stance not only with optional civil marriage but with making it compulsory. (Link). Do you know why blinded religious people come up with paragraphs upon paragraphs of why civil marriage is a sin? Because they can’t wrap their heads around the simple notion of freedom of choice. What’s in it for you if some people want to live in your version of sin? What’s in it for you if I am a “kefer?” Also why should your notion of “kefer” apply to those who don’t even share your religious views to begin with? I’ve got news for some of those people: Lebanon is not sharia land. And it will never be. The biggest obstacle to civil marriage and subsequently state in Lebanon isn’t just religious folk who can’t fathom living in a place where their religion doesn’t go all the time, it’s also cowardly politicians who cannot conceive standing against their religious reference in such matters and who also don’t realize that living in a state with a sectarian system doesn’t mean living in a religious state à la Saudi Arabia. I am pro civil marriage because I simply support that basic civil freedom. To some, that is beyond complicated to fathom. The above pictures were obtained from this Facebook group (link) which I recommend you join hoping that this sudden surge in national awareness of the issue, coupled with support from the Lebanese president, doesn’t become another “women quota in parliament” and “voting age lowering” issue by it actually translating to some tactical wins. Blasphemy is great sometimes.

What’s The Legal Limit of Cyber Lebanese-Israeli Contact?

In the age of the internet, we, as a Lebanese, are bound to stumble on Israelis who are just like us – browsing around – and many of them actually reading the blogs we write, the pages we share, possibly even following us on twitter and others befriending us on Facebook.

For example, in the past few months, I’ve gotten over 3000 users from Israel to read this blog. And I cannot not allow it. And frankly, I don’t mind them reading.

I don’t have Israeli Facebook friends – I felt like this had to be put out there to prevent any sensitive folk from starting to hurl treason charges from the get-go.

My question is simple: when does our internet interaction with Israelis become illegal? Is replying to a comment by an Israeli on this blog considered illegal? What if I didn’t know he was Israeli? Am I supposed to track every user’s IP to know their country of origin? Can I not reply to emails by readers who happen to be Israeli and who are telling me that they enjoy what they have to say?

I’m not advocating normalization. In the case of war, I – Elie Fares – would be the first to support whoever wants to defend my country because they are, at the end of the day, my people. But don’t you think that worrying about an email or blog reply to another person who might as well be just like us is taking it too far?

This reminds me of a day when I was searching for an article to read about Lebanon’s oil reserves. One of those articles was on Haaretz, which required you to register in order to be able to read the article. And I couldn’t register because I didn’t know if that would be considered illegal as well. Is that normal? Is that how things are supposed to be?

I recently received an email from an Israeli whose name I won’t mention – and the email was touching. People advised me not to reply. So I didn’t. But I really, really wanted to. Not because I “approve” of the state of Israel. Not because I want to leak out information which I don’t have. Not because I want to feel a rebel in doing so. But because the following email really does warrant a reply as decent as the email itself:

LebanoN israel emailSo here it goes.

Dear SD,

Thank you for your email. I’m sorry I couldn’t reply earlier and I believe this isn’t quite the reply you were expecting. But it’ll have to do for now. I was told not to reply via email. Others told me of a workaround that couldn’t be tracked but that would have been way too fishy. So I figured I’d do it here, out in the open, because I really have nothing to hide. This is, after all, a simple reply to an email.

I sent this Hala’s way. She didn’t have too many kind things to say which is understandable if you ask me because she’s the one who was hurt due to repeated wars not me. So I will never fully understand what she has gone through. But she has said this with which I agree: “We know that human beings do not enjoy killing each others unless they’re sick people, your soldiers follow orders, they fear orders, they are taught to be obedient for their “cause.”

I am not as young as you think I am – voting age in Lebanon is 21 and I’m already beyond that point. And thank you for always reading – even if it’s about the road state in my country.

I’m afraid your wish will never happen in our lifetimes. It’s the way things are. But I know many Lebanese would love to visit our enemy to the South.

Best,

Elie

So what is our legal limit as Lebanese when it comes to internet contact which is becoming frequent lately with Israelis? Where is that line that we don’t really want to cross?

 

Let’s Talk SMS, Facebook Passwords, Freedom, Security and Lebanese Twitter Political Play

Back in April of 2012, the ISF requested some data from the ministry of telecommunication. Their request was refused. People freaked out. Bloggers blogged. Tweeps tweeted. The following day, all was well.

Flash forward a few months and it’s early December 2012. The ISF requested the same data from the ministry of telecommunication. The request was refused. People freaked out. Bloggers blogged – and I took part this time. Tweeps tweeted. The following day, all was well.

The Lebanese fight for “privacy” is seemingly a one-day affair that needs to be instigated by some politician on twitter with obvious aspirations. Rally the masses. Get them to be afraid. And you’ve hit the jackpot. So when the big prize ends up being cashed, the fueling stops and people relax because things turn out all well as if nothing happened. I’ve made my stance from this whole debaccle clear. I refuse to be carried away by political rhetoric and I refuse to be bullied into believing that this matter is a notion of freedom versus security. It’s not. Your freedom and security do not negate each other. Criminals are not free to have an umbrella of safety over their heads just because of some person’s melodramatic understanding of freedom. So as some theatrical Lebanese threaten to leave the country to better ones such as the US, the land of the free and the brave, they forget about such things such as the Patriot Act and the mere fact that many of them will be wire-tapped and monitored just because they’re Lebanese. But ignorance is bliss. So let’s for a moment pretend as if our data is actually private and examine what this data is all about.

Facebook and Twitter passwords:

Our Twitter and Facebook passwords were supposedly not part of this “data request” as the minister said. But them being part of the request is besides the main point. The main question here is does the ministry of telecommunication have our passwords and log-in data? Do they have our emails and log-in information? And if so, how did they get them? I’m pretty sure Twitter and Facebook, both companies being above governments, won’t crack down and hand them over. I’m also sure that gmail and hotmail and yahoo or whichever mail client you use employs the highest standard of encrypting. Cracking https connections is not impossible but it’s also a very tedious operation, from what I gathered. I am not an expert but apparently the government getting the passwords of all Lebanese citizens to all their different accounts is a very difficult operation. So which is it? Is the Lebanese ministry of telecommunication using illegal equipment to crack our data, the likes of which were used transiently last year by the Iranian government, which was eventually forced to stop when its actions were uncovered? And if the ministry has these devices, shouldn’t we panic about them tapping into our privacy first before we panic about them handing it over? In other words, shouldn’t #ProtectPrivacy be more like #StopSpyingOnUs?

SMS, BBM, iMessage, etc…:

SMS is trackable and getting access to them should be, as I’ve said, only based upon judicial subpoenas. Those who believe their SMS messages are off-limits regardless of circumstance are delusional and simply ignorant. Moreover, last time I checked, BBM and iMessage were very well-encrypted. I also highly doubt that companies like Apple (which can basically buy Lebanon at this point) and RIM need to schmooze up to the Lebanese government by giving them access to your iMessages or BBM messages. Should you worry about outsiders reading the content of your text messages? You have every right to. But you also need to know that even if the ISF got their hands on your data, they won’t have neither the manpower nor the time to go through all your gossiping because, at the end of the day, we as the mass collective of the Lebanese population are irrelevant. However, in case you still believe that this request with its tentative obvious breach of privacy is very Lebanese-like and doesn’t happen in more developed countries, which some of you cannot but wait to go to, this article (link) is for your reading pleasure. And that’s the land of the freeeee and the home of the brave. I guess enticing rhetoric about freedom and security is only appealing until a certain point where you realize that other “better” countries have these types of requests as well. The only difference is their requests don’t get milked politically as is the case here, which brings me to point #3.

Twitter Political Play:

The mess on Twitter yesterday was nothing more than a pure political game by a politician who played you like pawns. He made you all believe that the ISF wanted unlimited access to your data when in fact they were only requesting access to data for the two months leading up to Wissam Al Hassan’s assassination. Forgive my French but politicians wouldn’t give a shit about your privacy if it meant it could help them reach political gains. If your “protected privacy” was of benefit to the politician who’s supposedly protecting it, rest assured he would have been the first one demanding it be released. There are no principles here. There are just interests. And people were gullible enough to actually believe a Lebanese politician – no matter who he is – would actually stand up for their privacy. Politicians wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about your privacy if blocking it meant they can get their peace of mind by not allowing others access to something they already have. You’re worried about your private information falling into the hands of the ISF? Well, I’ve got news for you. Your information is already in the hands of people who are worse than the ISF. I guess you’re smart enough to know who. So now said politician can flaunt around what took place on Twitter yesterday for some political gains in a game of chess that’s only leading to elections next year where this politician hopes to get a parliamentary seat. And if that’s not clear enough, perhaps the leaking of “top secret” information from within the government – the first time this happens in recent memory – pertaining to the ISF request is proof enough.

It’s sad when we, as Lebanese, can’t trust our security forces to protect us. They can’t even protect themselves and somehow we hold that against them. The situation in the country is akin to a blind man driving a wretched car on a slippery road in a snowstorm and we’re sitting around freaking out about our “privacy” which is already being accessed hourly by people who should never have access to it. But ignorance is bliss. Keep believing that some politician has kept your privacy intact. Keep believing that you have privacy. And you worry about it for one day because that’s definitely more than enough.

#ProtectPrivacy – The Lebanese ISF Should Get Controlled Access To Your Information

The ISF have issued a request for minister of telecommunication Nicolas Sehnaoui to hand out the much coveted and talked about data that has been sought for months and months now. He has refused their request.

The data in question contains the text messages you’ve sent, some of your email correspondences as well as BBM chats (didn’t know that was accessible) and social media information that’s available to them. As a result, the entire Twitter community is in an uproar over this as they tweet against ISF measures using the hashtag #ProtectPrivacy, after a request from minister Sehnaoui.

I don’t know how the ministry of telecommunication actually has my Facebook or Twitter passwords. I don’t know how they have access to my emails or how they can actually read my iMessages. Last time I checked, those happened over an encrypted connection that makes access to them very difficult. But I digress.

When it comes to all of this, my stance is that of the devil’s advocate. Why not let them have access?

Of course this access has to be controlled. I’m against open access for them to everything because that’s just absurd. If I’m not a person of interest, then my data should be off limit until a time when I become a person of interest and that’s proven via evidence that shows my possible connection with a crime. For the record, I am innocent! (Although that’s what a criminal would also say). But to say that data should be off limit in absolute terms and for everyone doesn’t really make me feel safe in a country where safety has become a fleeting sentiment that you get occasionally… when someone’s not getting blown up on a busy intersection at rush hour.

My privacy is important to me and I surely wouldn’t want everything I do be broadcast in some dark room somewhere in Lebanon’s Intelligence HQ. However, that’s the same thing criminals who are assassinating politicians and blowing up people would also say and are absolutely loving at the moment.

Eventually, the ISF doesn’t really care who you slept with or if you sexted someone other than your girlfriend/boyfriend. They don’t care where you went out for dinner yesterday or who you’re meeting up for lunch tomorrow. What they should care about is catching criminals and contributing to the safety of citizens in this country. An ulterior motive may exist. Perhaps all those Turkish soap operas are not enough. So that’s why we should have functioning courts that determine whether an ISF request for a person’s private data information is valid or not.

As a Lebanese citizen, I don’t care about someone getting controlled access to my privacy if it meant I don’t have to die for finishing work at 3 p.m on a Friday. #ProtectPrivacy? Honestly, I’d rather #ProtectSafety first and foremost.

Lebanese Saints Are Now On Facebook

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed but the amount of prayers on Facebook has increased dramatically over the past few months. There isn’t a day that passes without my timeline getting flooded with “like for Jesus, keep scrolling for satan” pictures, or people sharing their prayers for everyone or others sharing YouTube videos of Islamic prayers.

But someone has been listening up there so Lebanese Saints now have their own Facebook accounts to communicate with all the faithful seeking salvation through Facebook statuses and Facebook places check ins. The first one? Mar Ne3mtallah.

 

Convents are no longer the place to go to “communicate” with those saints. In the age of digital media, it seems even holy figures are jumping on the 21st century bandwagon. One does not simply stay behind the times. And because staying in convents is too mainstream.

Who’s going to be the second saint you’ll be able to befriend? My bet is on St. Rafca.

In all seriousness, start reporting these profiles. Some people have way too much time on their hands – and way too little brain matter up there.

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.

Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion – Overview and Observations

Apple is set to release its next update to the Mac operating system OS X tomorrow. However, I’ve been working with Mountain Lion for the past two weeks and here’s an overview of 10.8 as well as some observations.

The update is quite welcome. My Mac’s performance improved drastically over Lion which had caused my mid 09 Macbook Pro to experience some serious lagging. The most welcome update that I found myself is enjoying is actually Safari. I no longer need any other browser to get by and I haven’t bothered downloading any other the browsers I used to use on OS X Lion. And I’m especially fond of them integrating the google search function into the address bar (better late than never).

Another interesting feature in Safari, which is also present across the Mountain Lion, is some serious iCloud integration. Notice the cloud icon next to the address bar? Clicking on that will show you any tabs you left open on your iPhone or iPad so you can pick up your reading or work on your Mac.

Moreover, you can immediately add any page you want to your reading list and it will actually take some time to save the page for offline viewing. The page will then sync to your reading list on your iPhone or iPad as well.

The install process was quite smooth. I opted for a clean install so I simply turned a flash drive into a bootable drive and used it to erase my hard drive and install Mac OS X anew.

When the update is released via the Mac App Store tomorrow, you can simply opt to update without deleting any of your data. Having Time Machine backups is preferable though, although odds are nothing serious will happen. It’s a very streamlined process which only requires clicking a few buttons and waiting about 30 minutes and you’re set.

With the introduction of Notification Center and Notification Banners, you can opt out of having the dock showing all the time. Whenever you receive an email, a twitter notification or an iMessage, you will get a banner on the top right similar to the one below. It’s very neat.

 

 

Swiping left or simply clicking on the dashed button next to the search icon on the top right will show the notification center which aggregates all your notifications and they stay there until you clear them.

Of the new additions to OS X Mountain Lion, there’s Notes and Reminders, both of which also sync to your iDevices so your notes and reminders can be synchronized everywhere.

They have also added Game Center, which I think is useless.

 

One of the other cool features that were added, under the hood, is power nap whereby your mac goes to sleep but it stays up to date with your emails and notifications. They have also added dictation which you can activate by clicking the “fn” button twice. Yes, you will finally use that button.

 

 

iCloud integration:

As I mentioned previously, Apple is pushing you to use iCloud with everything they can in OS X Mountain Lion (and iOS 6 for your iDevices). In fact, the default saving option for your documents, modified pictures, etc… is, yes you guessed it, to iCloud.

I think the whole feature is seamless and streamlined. Anything you do on your mac gets synced to the cloud which sends it to your iPhone or iPad. It’s that simple and intuitive. It’s also nice to find something you had been typing out on the mac already on the iPad.

Twitter integration:

Facebook integration is coming later. But Twitter integration is already here. And the sharing button is everywhere. Mountain Lion even asks you if you want to allow other applications to use your twitter account the first time you set it up or even authorize an application to use your account online.

Sharing to twitter is also very simple and very similar to iOS 5.

 

Sharing:

In fact, it doesn’t stop at Twitter. Apple wants you to share things with Mountain Lion, be it to friends via airdrop or sharing your videos to Facebook or via email.

In fact Airdrop is now integrated, for example, into Quicktime itself to immediately share that file to your friends who are on the same network.

The show is The Walking Dead by the way.

And that’s a quick roundup of some of the main features that I, as a basic user, worked with on OS X Mountain Lion. Should you upgrade? I say definitely. It’s more than worth it and for a little more than $20, it’s very affordable.

An interesting tidbit though, the new wallpapers for OS X Mountain Lion don’t even have a picture of a Mountain Lion.