Maskhara At USJ: A Sum-Up of What’s Wrong With Lebanon

They say our country’s future resides on our generation. You know, the generation that supposedly doesn’t have illiterates, that has people going to our country’s universities to get the education that the people before us did not get to have. We were supposed to be brighter, more aware, more critical and less extreme.

We are anything but.

One of Lebanon’s universities, USJ, will close its doors tomorrow because its students decided to express civility today. It was not enough, for instance, for Hezbollah supporters that the entire country has to deal with their party’s reckless practices and their consequences and not get a say in the matter or that their hypocrisy has redefined the definition of terrorism in Lebanon. No, let’s not talk about any of that. Let’s talk about how some of their supporters decided it was a brilliant idea to remove the pictures of an infamous politician in the area where Huvelin exists and to plaster the thug that assassinated him around the place while chanting his name.

Because the country needed such a thing happening in it now. Because there’s absolutely nothing else pertinent taking place currently, the least of which is dealing with the ramification of an explosion that happened in Hezbollah HQ less than a week ago. Because someone figured: Jeez, we lost the elections a few days ago there so wouldn’t it be fun to do such a thing? I’ll get away with it anyway because, you know, I’m a Hezbollah supporter and I never, ever get into trouble. Never. This is my country and all of you just have to deal with it.

The counter reactions were not at a better level.

USJ is a Christian university. Because employing sectarian rhetoric is precisely what is needed in such conflicts, precisely what the country needs right now and precisely what is required to diffuse the tension. Let’s just bring it right into the fold and make it part of the debacle. Let’s not make it a battle of politics anymore. Let’s give our constituents exactly what they crave and what they itch for. Let’s give them what resonates with them at this very moment of a Lebanon that has fundamentalism on the rise. Let’s make this a battle of us versus them, of them trying to control us and to take over our campus.

What campus, you ask? The campus of Bashir, referring to Bashir Gemayel, the former Lebanese president around whom the current debacle took place. The campus of those who believe in his ideology and who follow in his footsteps. So is everyone else not welcome? Perhaps such an argument is tough to swallow but just because someone attended a university, however important that person is, does not turn that university into his property or into something that should always pay homage to him, regardless of who that person is.

Hezbollah’s aggressions are unacceptable and are bordering thug-like behavior. But the replies to those aggressions, even if only verbal, do not a point make. They do not even advance the situation or try to resolve it. Instead, we are left with kids playing, unaware that their actions in the Lebanon of today can have ramifications that none of them, I suppose, would want to see. But let them play. And let the politicians who support them and are defending them in the closed circles meetings taking place as we speak play. Or perhaps I was just being optimistic that my generation would be more mature than this. I guess not.

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:

Muslim Prayers At USJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rue Huvelin – New Lebanese Movie

And the series of interesting-looking Lebanese movies continues. After blogging about Nadine Labaki’s upcoming movie, Where Do We Go Now, it’s time to put the spotlight on Rue Huvelin.

For anyone who doesn’t know Beirut well, specifically Achrafieh, Rue Huvelin is considered a landmark. It is where the prestigious French system based university “Université St. Joseph” is located.

Slated for a November 17th release date, Rue Huvelin is a movie about the Lebanese student movement at the time of the Syrian (direct) occupation of the country, between 1990 and 2005.

The movie’s official summary is as follows:

In 1990, the Lebanon War ends with the Syrian army’s takeover of the Presidential Palace, signaling an ensuing fifteen years occupation. One of the consequences of this period was a general sense of collective retreat and apathy among the population. On Huvelin Street, where the Middle East’s leading Francophone university (Saint-Joseph) settles, a group of students opposed to the status-quo decide to break the silence and rally a pacifying resistance movement in the heart of Beirut at the close of the 1990s. Their resistance was a struggle between two opposing worldviews: between a liberal and freedom-loving lifestyle of a group of friends and compatriots, and between the oppression of authorities and the indifference of society.

Are you interested? Cause I sure am.