How Jackie Chamoun’s Breasts “Ruined” Lebanon’s Flawless Reputation

We are a country with a body image. Literally.

The Lebanese candidate to the skiing segment of the Olympics, Jackie Chamoun, is making the rounds lately due to a nude photo shoot that she underwent last year. The reason her pictures are making the round this year is simply due to her becoming known subsequently to her moderate national exposure post Olympics fever.

Naturally, in pure Lebanese fashion, what Jackie Chamoun did is being turned into a national scandal, of her disgracing our country by baring her breasts to the ice cold of Faraya and the lens of a foreign photographer.

This is the video in question:

Are breasts only scandalous when they’re Lebanese?

Jackie Chamoun isn’t the first nor will she be the last Lebanese woman to take off her clothes for a camera lens. A few months ago, a reputable website in the country turned pictures of a woman named Rasha Kahil, taken back in 2008, into a matter of national importance. How dare she reveal her private parts to the entire world? Does she have no shame? Doesn’t she have in the perfect reputation of her country in mind while doing such heinous acts?

When it comes to sex, we have a long way to go. Perhaps things are slowly changing. But there’s more to Lebanon than Beirut and its surroundings.

Why is it that Lebanese T&A is highly susceptible of immediately becoming a scandal, of being extrapolated to a figurative matter of national identity, of becoming a national crisis? Aren’t they just breasts?

Is it because there’s a fear that such behavior would somehow diffuse off of a computer screen? Is it because of a fear that what those women do will somehow ruin the minds of those who don’t do similarly? Or is it because what those women do does not fit with some people’s moral code of choice?

Why is this country so in love with gossip that things are very rarely seen as they are? Why do we over-sensationalize meaningless things when we have so many other things that have inborn sensationalism?

I can think of so many things that warrant are true scandals about this country, that warrant a discussion much, much more than Jackie Chamou’s breasts. At the top of my head, I can think of the several explosions that have taken place within the past couple of months alone and the fact that they’ve become second nature to life in this place. I can think of a TV station that figured instagramming the body parts of a suicide bomber was a good idea. I can think of the fact that we haven’t had a decently functioning government for the past year and nor will we have one for the next year, it seems. I can think of the fact that presidential elections are literally in 3 months but we’re still waiting for the savior president’s name to be “inspired” by neighboring countries. I can think of the fact that going to a mall requires you to go through more checkpoint than an airport’s border control. I can even think of the graffiti artist that was arrested only two days ago by some unknown party’s henchmen because of him being at the “wrong” place. I can even think of the many pictures of the living conditions of some Lebanese in the North that should be scandalous.

I just need to take a look around and open my eyes to the realization that I am living in a disintegrating country to ask myself the following question: what spotless reputation is Jackie Chamoun “ruining” and why is there outrage that the Lebanese Olympic committee should have known of her past behavior?

I’m not saying that what Jackie or Racha or any other unknown Lebanese woman whose pictures have yet to surface did is something that all women should do. I’m not saying that women whose choice of attire or of lifestyle is more conservative are backward thinking and detrimental to the cause of their gender. It’s far from the case. This isn’t about the cliche debate that naturally finds its way to pop up in such settings: veils versus nudity. How about neither?

What this is actually about is the importance and privacy of personal beliefs and how this country views your private beliefs as entirely up for grabs. It’s about how those personal beliefs, whether they fit with yours or not, are not a matter of national importance nor are they something that should be sensationalized into a scandal when there are so many other things for us to get angry about. What this is about is, perhaps, about the importance of not being insecure in your choices – whatever those choices may be, assuming they’re within a legal context obviously – and not be ashamed of them in any way whatsoever.

Jackie Chamoun is a beautiful and sexy woman who did absolutely nothing wrong. It’s sad that she will end up being named and shamed for something as silly as what she did. It’s sad that a few simple and sexy photographs will overshadow her professional skiing skills. It’s sad that some people’s well-rooted insecurities will overshadow and overcomplicate her choice.

What’s even sadder is that a country in as deep a shithole as Lebanon gets up in a fit about all the wrong things when there are so many things to get up in a fit about while no one simply does. But I guess living in a lala land where we have the prerogative of turning some pictures into a scandal is better than waking up to this reality. It’s much easier to believe, it seems, that Jackie Chamoun’s breasts are singlehandedly ruining Lebanon’s spotless and flawless reputation.

Lebanese Propaganda 101: Sa7eb Mabda2

Lebanese highways change a lot in the space of a week. Not the roads, obviously, but all those billboards overflowing on their sides sure do.

While going back home North yesterday, one particular billboard caught my attention: sa7eb mabda2, with Samir Geagea looking pensively at his shoe.

You’ll notice the first of those in Dbayyeh with others sprinkled from there onwards to Batroun, each bigger than the one before it. I haven’t gone past Batroun but I’m assuming they should, theoretically, round up the Lebanese geographical bible belt.

Here’s the billboard in question:

Sa7eb Mabda2

The businessman in question, Ibrahim El Saker, is obviously vying for some political power through his politician of choice. Forming our new government is in progress, as I last heard, and many cabinets are up for grabs. Why not him?

In case you don’t recall, he’s the same businessman who also flooded the highways pre-theoretical parliamentary elections last year with billboards declaring that same politician as the savior of Lebanese Christian. I always thought that guy was Jesus.

Of course, with everything that’s happening in Lebanon lately (can you imagine they’re banning alcohol-mixed energy drinks?), such posters are very low on the importance scale. But it’s the concept behind them that’s sad: the fact that some people have a need to show their undying devotion to their politician by spending a ton of money on flashy billboards; the fact that such billboards are actually allowed to grace our highways; the fact that the entirety of the situation we’re in hasn’t deterred people from actually viewing our politicians as men of principles.

It’s silly, I guess, to assume that we could have regulations to counter such propaganda, especially given that such regulations would be put in forth by those who are served by this propaganda. It’s even sillier to assume that those with money and decent enough means won’t do such things to try and get positions of power. It’s their country, we just live in it. They don’t even care about the unnecessary provocation that such campaigns entail at a time when such provocation is the last thing we need. Of course, the people behind such billboards and messages probably couldn’t care less since they are immune to whatever might happen subsequently to their schmoozing.

In another world, I’d have liked to believe our politicians are beyond such petty, silly and immature tactics. But our experience with them over the past few years has proven that they are not beyond such childish games. It’ll only be a matter of time before the next one comes up with flashier and bigger slogans while we observe and watch as they play their little “mine is more popular than yours” game as the country burns.

This isn’t about Samir Geagea and his poster. It’s not about him being a man of principle or not. Any Lebanese politician could have such propaganda take place any time, any day. I’m not venturing out around Beirut and the country much but I would assume each specific region’s politician of choice has his own set of billboards proclaiming him as the next coming of the Messiah, proclaiming their turf and making you feel like an outsider in the process.

Of course, our politicians and their posters are getting increasingly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Their supposed “principles” – whether in action or on billboards – aren’t translating to our political and social realities in any way whatsoever, leaving the country in limbo, on the precipice of collapse and the people in it on guard all the time, at the ready to latch at each other’s throats when the green light is given. What principles are we talking about here? I guess the first one that comes to mind is “all flashiness and no substance.” Now how about you print that on a billboard with all their smiling faces?

 

Instagramming A Suicide Bomber

#Instabomb.

I’ve been wondering if our media salivates like Pavlov’s dog when they get wind of yet another explosion takes place in this country. Their coverage sure always sounds like a kid who was given a new shiny toy on Christmas morning: relentless, excited, carefree, all over the place and – more importantly – chaotic.

I, for one, live in lala land. As a consequence, I’m becoming more or less ignorant as to what’s taking place around me politically. I’d like to think of it as a blessing in disguise. It feels good not to know sometimes. What’s constant throughout my enforced ignorance, however, is people always telling me about the horrors they’ve been seeing on television as if the explosions we all have to withstand were not enough: we are also being forced to get desensitized to the charred remains of human beings.

Social media has done wonders to Lebanese media. It has given them more ways to communicate, made them more approachable and has gotten them to become slowly but surely in competition with lesser known forms of media that could be faster at getting news out there. But when is taking social media while reporting news way too far?

Say you want to Instagram a suicide bomber’s remains, what filter would you use?

Yes, that question may be completely absurd but a Lebanese TV station basically did just that a couple of days ago when they posted on their Instagram account the remains of the suicide bomber who detonated himself in Choueifat. I’m not an Instagram expert but is that filter “valencia?”

You can check out a screenshot of the image here.

I thought I’ve seen all that the media in this country could do. I was wrong. Explosions are horrible but diffusing such material is barbaric in its own right as well. What’s even sadder is that as a culture and country, we are becoming increasingly habituated to seeing such things that a well known TV station figured it was a good idea to snap an Instagram picture and broadcast it for people to “like” and comment in.

What is there to “like” about some terrorist’s unknown body part? What is there to comment on? What form of discussion are we trying to have by constantly exposing whoever has eyes to see to such things?

Like Pavlov’s dog, let them salivate over the next body part they want to Instagram. It’s only a matter of time now till the next “it” thing becomes a selfie with a suicide bomber’s body part. I think the “Hudson” filter would work excellently with that.

Rebuilding & Restocking Tripoli’s “Al Sa’eh” Library: The Full Story

Al Sa'eh Library Tripoli

It takes a lot to get the whole country to gather behind a national tragedy lately. They tend to be more in the political eye of the beholder as we feel compassion with the people we can relate with more. It’s sad that we’ve become a nation where we can somehow, in some twisted logic, fathom the death of people as political collateral damage in a game that’s ripping our country apart.

The books that resided in that forgotten library, nestled in Tripoli’s Al Nouri area, ran by Father Ibrahim Sarrouj, managed to shake the country and some aspects of the international community. Terrorism wasn’t just targeted at innocent people. It was also targeted at books whose only fault was to exist on shelves, gathering dust in an age where less and less people liked to read, burned by people who didn’t know how to do so.

The burning of “Al Sa’eh” library was heavily discussed. Some people ran with the theory of it being the work of Islamists. Others ran with the theory of it being the work of the contractors who wanted to evict Father Sarrouj and his books from the historic building in which they resided in order to dismantle it and ruin the city with another high rise. Information that I have gathered, however, from sources close to the priest and the group that is renovating the library indicated that certain mosques, known for their extremist sermons in Tripoli, preached against Father Sarrouj that Friday. Many of the perpetrators have also been identified and they fit with the former theory, not the latter. Although there’s probably nothing that money cannot bring together in Lebanon.

The initiative aimed to better “Al Sa’eh” started before the library’s burning on Friday, when Father Sarrouj started receiving threats, but it caught up like wildfire immediately afterwards. The activists who were working for the library’s sake wanted to organize a protest in support of Father Sarrouj when he started receiving the threats in question but Tripoli’s officials reassured them that the situation had settled.

They were mistaken.

At around 10 pm that night, those in charge received a phone call to notify them that the place they had been working diligently to protect was up in flames. It was a work of terrorism. The situation had not settled as they were promised and their knee jerk reaction was to get to work.

Their first plan was to set up a large protest for the library and Father Sarrouj. While working out the details of the protest, the organizers decided to become even more proactive and take it upon themselves to see what they can do with “Al Sa’eh.” So they started working in order to save the books that hadn’t been burnt yet, move them to a safe location where they’d be catalogued and preserved, while working to save what could be saved from the partially burned books.

They stayed there till 4AM that day working against the flames, working with local officials and sheikhs to secure the area in question for them to get safe access. The following morning, after forensics had taken the evidence they needed, work started.

In total, the library contained north of 85,000 books. Two thirds of those books were saved by the people of Tripoli. The remaining third contained many rare books, many of which had been first edition pieces. That third, unfortunately, was not as lucky.

The protest they organized was among the biggest in Tripoli. More than 500 people showed up. None of those people came in with political motives. Politician who had showed up were asked to leave. Those people continued cleaning after the protest, saving the books that were intact or partially burned. Those people were from different ages and sects. Some were veiled, others weren’t. Some were bearded, others were clean shaven. It was a mini representation of the community of Tripoli under the vaults of that ancient library, working to save a relic that had become synonymous with the city they held dear.

The organizers have met up with people from USEK and USJ regarding the books in question. Those experts are being enlisted to help the library save the books. The books that can be restored will be restored. The books that should be digitized will be digitized and the books that are available and could be ordered will be ordered. Moreover, the entire library’s location will be renovated, as well as clean and paint the small street at which the library could be found.

The funds for such an endeavor were via donations from sympathizers who wanted to save the library and its books. The organizers have also contacted well-known crowd-funding website Zoomal. Any help from politicians was refused and will be refused.

The plan for now is to move all the books to a safer location where they can be preserved and catalogued while the library gets renovated and its burns washed away. This is where we come in to help. If you can donate money or books, contact the people running the following Facebook event (link). Other concerned people are also running book drives to gather as much donations for the city as possible (link). Others are organizing their own book donation campaigns for the library’s sake.

BdXrOr0IAAAZgwn.jpg-large

Al Saeh Book Drive

So if you’ve got any books to donate or any means with which you can help, drop those people a line either on Facebook or with any other contact methods they have provided. We can all help rebuild and reshelf “Al Sa’eh.”

Update: Zoomal has set up a crowd funding to rebuild “Al Sa’eh.” (Link)

The following are images taken by Natheer Halawani (his blog) and other people of them saving the library and its books:

Cheers to those people living in a forcibly forgotten city, in a place where their dreams are forcibly killed and who can still find the will to fight for what they believe in and work to save their community. I salute you all, however simple and useless of me that might be.

A Tale of Two Cities: Lebanon Edition

I went to watch a movie in Beirut yesterday. It was done by 1AM so I simply went back home. As I walked up the sidewalk leading to my apartment, I could hear the parties bustling around me. Gemmayzé was gearing up to lose its cars. Cars were still circling the roads fervently in search for their next destination.

Even the movie that I watched was marred by the beats being dropped at a nearby nightclub. It was one of those old cinemas that didn’t bother invest in soundproof systems. Or was the club too loud? I guess nightlife in Beirut is alive and well. All was well.

As I walked back home, there was probably someone my age also making his way back to his place in the Northern city of Tripoli. Unlike me, however, he did not walk carelessly to his apartment, carefully examining his surroundings. That man was probably too wary of the bloodshed taking place in his city as he walked, of all the people that died, of his life that hung with the balance of every footstep he took on that cold bloody and empty Tarmac.

My day prior to the movie had been meaningless. I have a ton of exams to prepare to and anyone who has dabbled with medical school exams knows the material I’m supposed to cover by next week is basically uncoverable. But I persevered anyway. My friends asked me if I wanted to go out to their favorite burger joint. I declined. They went anyway, had ice cream afterwards. Nothing like some calories to burn off the stress.

And as I worried over my exams, there was a 16 year old boy not far from where I was trying to escape the school he attended, whose area had been overtaken by bullets and missiles. As he ran for cover, his every instinct pulling him for safety, the 16 year old boy existed no more. I don’t even know his name. He is but a number in a growing list. He is but one of many similar schoolchildren who escaped their schools by jumping over the fences, running through sniper-filled streets for their lives. Typical.

I do know, however, the name Paul Walker. As I woke up today to a house that feels cozier by the Christmas Tree I decorated a day prior, my social media timeline was lit with people who were upset that an American actor had died. I didn’t appreciate how they were more upset at a guy’s demise while trying to be fast and furious while the death of one of their own, that 16 year old whose name we don’t know, didn’t even resonate.

A few hundred meters away from me, Gemmayzé’s car free day, part of the Achrafieh2020 plan, was in full swing. The street was packed with people who had taken their children out on a sunny Sunday, benefiting from a neighborhood that had become synonymous with traffic, a day or so before it starts raining, finally.

The street was filled with children who had no other worry on their mind apart from the schoolwork they were returning to in a few hours. Those children were having fun, lots of it. They were safe. They were sheltered. They were protected. They were being brought up exactly as children should be.

And then I started thinking of the children I knew in Tripoli, how they were not being brought up exactly like children ought to be. I thought of two adorable twin girls and it broke my heart that at the tender age of three, they’ve been exposed to more gunfire and missile sounds than almost everyone else that I know. It saddened me that those two little precious girls couldn’t enjoy the same joys in life that the children roaming around Gemmayzé had, only because it was not safe for them to leave their house.

I also thought of all the children in that city who, with each passing day of violence, are forced to take sides, to become radicalized even if only in thought, and to possibly take arms later on.

These are two cities that are about 80 kilometers and a few decades apart. This is to the children of that city no one likes talking about. May they have better days someday. I wish they were sheltered, carefree and unaware sometimes. The sad part is that nobody really cares.

Zaatar W Zeit’s Act of Kindness

I was walking around Beirut the other day, in neighborhoods I hadn’t been to in a long time, only to find streets that have drastically changed. The most poignant moment of my walk was when I saw an old woman, sitting by the corner of the road crying. She had her mattress next to her. She had nowhere to go. The walk up to that woman was full of people like her. Things are getting tougher and there’s nothing to make them easier.

As a rule of thumb, it can be said that Lebanese restaurants are very disassociated with the general security of the country. As things get tougher, their prices get higher. I’ve rarely, if ever, heard of stories like the one below. But it is one of those rare instances that take you a few minutes to believe. 

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.46.06 PM

Of course, Zaatar w Zeit didn’t advertise this. It was simply an act of kindness on behalf of their branch in question. We all barraged Zaatar w Zeit for not serving alcohol at one of their branches this past year. It only felt fitting to highlight an act of kindness on their behalf towards those who are less fortunate in the midst of this non-festive holiday season.

Great job Zaatar w Zeit. Hopefully other restaurants follow suit in trying to make things easier for those who are overwhelmed by the harsh conditions of life in Lebanon.

 

The Jamerek That Cried Wolf

The last time Lebanese security personnel openly beat up civilians with absolutely no regards to the potential repercussions to their actions was when the Syrian security apparatus was ruling our country. Back then, I had to cross checkpoints set up by that army in order to go to school. We were not allowed to voice opposition… or else. We were bombarded with images of the young men and women who tried to defy that apparatus: how they were beaten up then taken in those army vehicles to some jail cell in who knows where.

Things have been miserable in Lebanon, yes. But amid all of the tensions and the violence and the country not knowing where it’s heading, I didn’t think I’d see people getting beaten up by armed forces whose job is to supposedly maintain order.

NewTV’s journalistic crew was researching the corruption that infests Lebanese Customs at our one and only airport. We all know such corruption exists. I know of stories about the hints they drop regarding the money you should pay in order to get certain equipments into the country. Of course, no tangible proof exists and even if such proof were to be found, what would change?

NewTV’s crew didn’t think the country that championed freedom of speech and of the press would do such a thing to them. So they took their megaphones and braced those Beiruti roads and called for the head of customs to grant them an interview. They got beaten up and arrested. People were outraged. Customs officials were scrambling to come up with excuses: they were bad-mouthing our chairperson, they said in a statement they hoped would explain where they were coming from, as if that’s an acceptable excuse. Can you imagine, for instance, what would have happened if American military personnel beat up a civilian for bad-mouthing Obama?

NewTV’s crew was released late last night. They had bruises over their face. They looked victorious and proud of what they had accomplished, as they should be. They had – even if only for a minute – gotten the country to look at our customs that have been using laws that, similarly to the entirety of Lebanon’s laws, have not been updated in a long, long time and which enable them to blatantly do whatever they please without any consequences.

I have to wonder though, what would happen to the people like you and I who don’t have the platform of a TV station to support and protect in case of such transgressions to their basic rights? Make no mistake, this isn’t a case of freedom of speech. This is a violation to those journalists’ human rights. And it happened in broad daylight. And there will be no repercussions for it, because that’s how Lebanon rolls.

But the story doesn’t end there because our jamerek figured it would be such a great idea to go on a strike to protest what had befallen them a day earlier. Their rights had been violated, I’m sure they thought, which include the right to guzzle endless amounts of money here and there to build their villas and buy their fancy cars and rise above the system that is geared towards decimating the finances of those like you and I, all while such “rights” are overlooked due to the countless of reasons that make up Lebanon’s political landscape what it is today.

I give it one more day until this becomes old news and we are forced to reckon with other more “important” things. Lebanon is always exciting that way.