I’ve been writing about Tripoli so frequently on this blog, not only because I loved that city, but because the preconceptions that many Lebanese had of it – mostly out of biased media whose job was to alienate fellow Lebanese from the Northern capital.
Those preconceptions varied from “tripoli is where ISIS is” to “there’s nothing to do there anyway.” Many Lebanese that I know have started their third decade of life without having visited the city.
As Lebanon ends its third consecutive day of massive protests, the like of which the country has never seen, one thing is abundantly clear, regardless of what amounts from the revolution: Tripoli has finally gotten its chance to show its true color to everyone, and it did so out of the sheer will of its own people.
From its world famous Fayha Choir singing a cappella, to Marcel Khalifeh going to this city to sing at a protest, to them turning the infamous “se7et l nour” to not one, but TWO full blown raves, to thousands of them singing the national anthem at the top of their lungs, to their world famous sweets maker Hallab giving away 10,000 knefes, to its people baking manakeesh for the protesters for free. Tripoli was the highlight of Lebanon’s protests as it tore down stereotype after stereotype that was thrown at it for years.
Each of those moments was so fantastic to behold there isn’t a person I know who wasn’t taken aback by them. But I was not surprised, nor were the people who knew what this city was capable of.
Think about how gigantic a step it is for a DJ to be blasting techno music from a rooftop into a square that has been associated with Islamists for years, as thousands of people bopped their heads and threw their hands up for life.
Think about how enormous of a step it is for this city who has been taken for granted by the countless politicians that have claimed it to tell every single one of them to fuck off.
This northern city is representative of the Lebanese spirit like nothing else. It’s been brought down so many times. It hasn’t even been a decade since it had a war that few outside of the North cared about. It suffered through years and years of harmful propaganda – sometime by the same media of current ruling parties… and still it rises.
From the middle of New York, to all those in Tripoli who showed the city in the best light possible, you’re all amazing. Thank you.
My heart broke two days ago when I saw my home country burn, quite literally, in front of our eyes. As firefighters and regular people alike risked their lives to save our forests and homes from turning to ashes, it seemed fitting that a country whose course was scorching earth culminated that way.
The fire was literal and figurative. The trees burned, but so did people’s savings. The shrubs erupted, but so did people’s patience. Homes burned, and so did the fragile foundation on which the semblance of the Lebanese state remained.
As the government botched yet another aspect of its job towards its citizens, as people died trying to save each other from the fire while our politicians watched, it felt like we were turning into the ashes from which the Phoenix that this country has been likened to can finally be reborn.
They raised taxes. We took it in.
They didn’t collect garbage. We took it in.
They didn’t provide security and didn’t protect our currency. We took it in.
They didn’t provide for our children and elderly. They broke our social fabric. We took it in.
They cultivated divide and hatred. We swallowed it in.
They turned us into expats. They killed us. We took it in.
And then we rise.
You can call it the WhatsApp revolution. You can call it what you want to. But whatever the name may be, what is happening across Lebanon today is exactly why a part of me will love that country.
It’s that moment where enough became enough. When the raised taxes, the higher fuel prices, the lack of electricity and water and decent internet, the lack of security, the depreciation of citizenry all culminated in what may be lebanon – finally – rising.
It’s that split second in which thousands of my people can gather on the streets to cry for their rights.
It’s that kick that that feisty Lebanese woman can deliver to an armed officer threatening her.
It’s that middle finger that a protester gives to a politician who has taken his support for granted.
It’s that anger at years during which those very politicians have turned living in Lebanon into an actual hell.
It’s the years in which they failed to provide what constitutes the essentials of basic human decency.
It’s that Sunni in tripoli who is finally tired of Hariri.
It’s that Shia in Nabatieh who tore down the picture of Nabih Berri. It’s that Christian in Mount Lebanon who finally told Gebran Bassil to shove it.
Those chants in the streets, the party flags torn up, the politician pictures burned down could all point to a new dawn for a country who has been needing daylight for so long.
Yes I am wary. I had hope when I still lived in Lebanon and we protested the garbage crisis. I had hope even before then when I was a teenager and part of the millions who took it to martyr’s square on March 14th. But my Lebanese experience has trained me not to get my hopes up sometimes. Yet this time seems different.
There’s another air to how the protests are. This is the first time we’ve seen this level of anger and angst, perpetuating across the political and sectarian spectrum, uniting people I’d never thought could be united.
This is the first time their attempts at attacking the validity of the protests has completely failed, and conversely fueled their legitimacy.
Today, I have hope for my country. I’ve never had this much hope since I was 15 years old, on March 14th. I have hope that finally Lebanon may rise, and become the country we deserve to have.
To all of those in the streets fighting for everyone’s rights, you are heroes. Thank you for the good fight, we are humbled by your bravery.
There you have it folks, the Byblos Festival has succumbed to the pressure from Christian extremist bigots and canceled the concert of Lebanon’s top band Mashrou3 Leila, in a statement issued today.
I have no words for how terrible this is for Lebanese freedoms, for Lebanese youth, music and our well being as a nation. As the lines of sensibilities of these different groups keep getting drawn around what makes them comfortable, we are all forced into a tighter and tighter space that is slowly becoming suffocating.
Shame on the Maronite Church for not being confident enough in its teaching to withstand a song.
Shame on those who call themselves Christian, who never turn the left cheek and who think that Jesus would want them to go full Crusader mode in 2019.
Shame on the faith of those who call themselves Christian that is so shaken by a lyric, by a band, by music.
Shame on those who are more mad about a lyric than about living in a country that is crumbling apart around them, with dying economies, absence of the rule of law, weapons and thugs roaming freely.
Shame on our judicial system that did not stand up for its own values, that still applies Ottoman era censorship laws, and that cares more about the emotions of a bunch of religious airheads than about civil liberties.
Shame on artists and media personalities in this country who proved, once and once again, that they are as backward minded as we always thought they are. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised, but there you go. From Fares Karam, to Zein El Omr (a very proud Christian who changed his name from Tony so the Arabs would like him), to Carla Haddad. Shame on all of you.
Every single Lebanese with an ounce of nationalism should be angry at this today. We should all be mad at how they keep walking all over our liberties in the name of their religions, their gods, their politics, and we have no other way but to blog about it, tweet about it or just be vocally mad.
With each passing day, we are shown that this country is not for us. It’s for those who really love living in the dark ages, at a time where every single freedom they’ve earned can be taken away from them, maybe they can be happy then.
With every passing day, Lebanon is no longer a beacon of freedom for the Middle East, but just another one of those countries we once thought were not as good as us. We are now a beacon of ignorance, repression and oppression.
With each passing day, news transpiring out of Lebanon get more and more disheartening as the latest seems to be a wannabe “comedian” deciding it’s time for him to start a “conversion therapy group” for gay people in the country.
The comedian in question is Charbel Khalil. I forget when the last time this man dabbled with relevance, but he wants to be in the spotlight again as he launches hocus pocus, unethical and unscientific torture methods under the guise of his namesake saint.
In a series of tweets, Khalil announced his intention to quick start the “St. Charbel Project” to “help” gay men and women to get rid of their gayness. As he got criticized, he then amplified his homophobia by blocking anyone who opposed his message, calling them pejorative words and doubling down on his message. You can find his tweets here:
Charbel Khalil’s feeble attempt at relevance is something that has been deemed by scientists as inhumane, barbaric and obviously useless. The mere fact that, in 2019, something like this could be allowed or even started when any respectable scientific body has stopped recognizing homosexuality as a disease for around a lifetime, is horrifying.
It’s another step in that downward spiral of a country that is fast circling the drain in all the ways that matter.
You see, what Charbel Khalil is proposing is a violation of basic human rights. People will applaud him, because at a time when a lyric can upset millions, basic decency does not even register.
What Charbel Khalil wants to do is an affront to anything that is scientific and logical. But that’s not the kind of thinking people like him and those who like him dabble in. They’re probably the same kind of people who think global warming is a myth as their face melts off in the July heat.
And let’s not even forget that what Charbel Khalil wants to do is an insult to the saint whose name he’s plastering on his crime.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a laughing matter. I pity the LGBT people who will fall victim to this man’s actions because they live in a country that has permeated the notion that their sexuality and their being cannot coexist. Live and let live does not run in Lebanon circa 2019, looking more like 1472. How could they when they want to police how you pray, what you watch and listen to, and now how they think they can control your body’s urge to love?
I pity the children of these many figures who may one day end up gay, only to face the insurmountable rejection that is their own family denying them a safe space, in a Country that is anything but.
Today, what those tweets constitute is another nail in the coffin of the hopes of a modern Lebanese state. From attempts to ban Mashrou Leila, to now kick-starting a practice being banned everywhere in the modern world, how low do we want to sink?
From a failed economy, to a failed state, to failed freedoms and now to failed basic human decency, I wonder where Lebanon’s rock bottom will be?
Picture this, a song released over 3 years ago is suddenly noticed by the collective praying masses, and crucifixes are drawn. Picture this, a meme posted on a Facebook page lands you in court. It’s not a meme you even did.
This is what is happening with Mashrou3 Leila, the top Lebanese band that has been the prime representation of Lebanese indie music all around the world. They’ve been on world tours, selling out arenas across the world. Their latest highlight was a show at the prestigious Olympia in Paris, where people like Fairuz have performed before.
Except now, ahead of their August 9th concert, Mashrou3 Leila are not welcome in their own home country, on the very same stage of the Byblos Festival that helped propel their career forward around a decade ago.
I know I haven’t blogged in a while. But this is something that I felt is important enough for me to resurrect this space in order to shout, to whoever would listen or read, that this persecution of Mashrou3 Leila, in the overall bigger picture of our freedoms in this country being killed off on the daily, is a precedence we should not stay silent to.
The song in question, Djin, from their last-released LP, Ibn El Leil, references a baptism with gin in the name of the father and the son. That’s it. The meme in question was posted on Hamed Sinno’s personal facebook page was that of an icon in which the face of the Virgin Mary was replaced with singer Madonna. Hamed Sinno did not make that meme. He is not the first human on the face of this planet to make memes out of religious iconography, but for the Maronite archdioceses as well as Christian political parties, he might as well have been the first ever visionary.
It is to the background of a song and that meme that calls for bans of the band started up, and like an avalanche they kept rolling, with support from certain media figures and politicians. Even the Maronite Archdiocese of Jbeil had to weigh in with a statement of condemnation.
I believe the Christians’ problem with Mashrou3 Leila is not just about a song or a meme, which they want you to believe. It is inherently about the values that that band and its members represent. Hamed Sinno is the first openly gay artist of the entire Middle East. The band has been a forefront in LBGTQ representation in the region, and a view into the lives of Arab queer artists to the world. Their songs have been a representation of a Lebanese current that is not beholden to Christian or Muslim establishments. They represent a youth that is atheist, loud, proud, and trying to change a status quo that religious authorities are not comfortable with.
There, herein, lies the main problem. It is the threat that a band like Mashrou3 Leila poses to religious hegemony in the country that is so frightening to them, so they call to ban it. It’s in the same vein of a show being banned because a Muslim clerk decided it mis-represented the prophet. It’s in the same vein of the calls for bans that rise up every now and then for political reasons in the country. Haven’t you ever wondered why they keep happening often, and why we are hearing about these bans more and more these days?
I wonder, if Lebanese Christians are SO offended by a song or a meme, what would they do, for instance, if they are exposed collectively to a show like The Handmaid’s Tale, a post-apocalyptic Christian theocracy, where those same beliefs they hold so dear are challenged in the form of gross misinterpretation that turns anyone who is not male and white into a third class subordinate, where women are raped in the name of God and procreation, and where their fingers are cut off if they even read?
The even more baffling entity among all this is the sheer silliness and hypocrisy. I remember during the 2009 elections, one of the FPM’s main politicians posted a picture to Facebook with an icon of the Virgin Mary and in her heart, instead of Jesus, was Michel Aoun. Both iconographied-memes are in the same vein. Except one of the two will never face repercussions for his actions.
The amount of silliness does not stop here. The following is an actual post, by a priest, who decides that Leila in Mashrou3 Leila, in reference for night, is a satanic reference. He even uses a book he wrote as a reference. Of course, homosexuality is also ridiculed in the priest’s post, further reinforcing the point that the band’s queerness is under prosecution here too:
Even Carla Haddad, your favorite weather girl, decided to weigh in:
And – because this is the go-to insult for everyone these days – the band was even accused of being a Zionist propaganda machine, even though their latest song and video are clear condemnation of Israeli occupation of Palestine:
All of this is happening to the background of actual physical threats facing the band, and those who decide to attend the concert.
I think the culmination of it all was when Mashrou3 Leila were dragged to court because of a lawsuit filed against them for “offending religions.” While the judge dismissed the suit, she did not do so because it is Mashrou3 Leila’s right to sing whatever they want, or because the lawsuit itself was so silly. She did it under the condition of the band members meeting with priests, sheikhs, political officials from the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, for them to issue an apology and to stop performing their “offensive” songs.
Today, the song Djin is no longer on Mashrou3 Leila’s official YouTube station. Of course, you can still find it online if you need to. After all, it is still 2019 even if some Lebanese mindsets are stuck in 1345.
But it is the precedence of this judge deciding that a band better be trialed in the court of public opinion that is harrowing. Our laws are not even made to protect us, our freedoms, and our voices. Instead, the judge allowed four young men whose talents have shone across continents, to be scrutinized by religious bearded men of the cloak whose boundaries have not extended beyond the 09 region, and by political figures whose names are not even relevant. Why? For the sake of sensibilities that are all too sensitive.
You see, at the end of the day, it’s all quite simple. If your religion and belief cannot withstand something as trivial as a song, a meme, or a pop culture moment, then that says more about your beliefs and faith than about what you’re offended of.
I salute those very few priests who know that, once upon a time, Jesus said to turn the left cheek to that who hits your right. I salute those religious people who know that their Christianity is not offended by a lyric or a meme. I salute those who know that the true act of freedom is to voice a counter opinion, not to silence those you disagree with.
Irreverence is a sign of modernity. With every ban, every example of the Lebanese state failing us, every call for censorship just because someone is upset, I am convinced day in and day out that the country I left years ago is in full blown reverse gear and heading backwards, as far from modernity, as possible. Our country is being killed every single day by these religious men who are offended at everything. How long will it be before our breathing space is further extinguished, I wonder?
It is 2019. راح غطس كبدي بالجن بأسـم الاب والابن has caused a national crisis in Lebanon. Oh how far we have come.