Byblos Festival Cancels Mashrou3 Leila’s Concert

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.

Mabrouk. Jesus must be very proud.

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Lebanon Slipping To The Dark Ages: Charbel Khalil Wants To Start a Gay Conversion Therapy Group In The Name of St. Charbel

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?

From Mashrou3 Leila To Our Freedoms: Religious Censorship in Lebanon Is Killing The Country

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.

In the 3ahd of Business Deals: Money Can Get You A Lebanese Citizenship, But A Lebanese Mother Can’t

Can you hear that? The sound of every supporter to the current ruling Party in the country scrambling to find every excuse under the sun to justify the latest naturalization law that was passed by their president? It reeks of principles, I’d say.

A couple of days ago, news of a naturalization decree signed by the president surfaced. The decree gave 350+ people the Lebanese nationality. Many of those people happen to be Arab businessmen. A few of those who were given the Lebanese nationality belong to the Maronite Diaspora attempt at reclaiming it for those of Lebanese origins.

The backlash has been swift. As have been the abhorrent defense of the decree by blind supporters of the political parties that brokered it. It even got to the point of an OTV reporter saying that the Lebanese nationality isn’t “that important” so we shouldn’t care.

In a way, she’s right. We have one of the world’s worst passports, worst economies, highest corruption rates, and horrid policies. I would know, I’ve been an emigrant from that country for nearly a year now and I can feel – day by day – how lacking my country is in every facet that I appreciate in being away. But that’s not the point.

The point is that our nationality should not be a mere business deal, given to whoever pays most money. It should not be a back room deal coming right at the heel of parliamentary elections, and it should definitely not be an article 49 in disguise, essentially bypassing Lebanon’s Supreme Court annulling such a decree from our national budget.

What makes this decree even worse is the fact that it has not been published anywhere, it’s the fact that piecing together the names of those who have been given the Lebanese nationality is essentially a puzzle, and that requests to get the full decree from the president’s office are finding deaf ears. If they have nothing to hide, then why are they working so hard at hiding it?

Some of the names that have been naturalized, according to Facebook posts circulating around, are entities that have been essential to the Syrian regime over the years.

Yes, there should be a path to citizenship for non-Lebanese. It is silly that the only way people can become citizens in this country is for a president to decide to make them so, or for them to be married to a Lebanese man or have a Lebanese father. There should be a way for a people who contributed to Lebanese society in a substantial way to be granted to have a way to become more integral parts of this society.

What this new decree does is further solidify the injustice that is ingrained in Lebanese society when it comes to the very foundation of it.

Any person born to a Lebanese mother can’t become Lebanese, but a Syrian nationalist that is loved by some politician can. My cousin’s children, for example, can never become Lebanese even though their mother is, just because their father is American. Our country shows us once again that money trumps our women.

In a time when the mere thought of a Lebanese woman becoming equal in passing her nationality as a Lebanese man is met with racism, sectarianism, and endless backlash from the ruling class, we show our women again and again that they don’t matter.

Furthermore, a person born and raised all their life in Lebanon to non-Lebanese parents can never become a citizen. But a business man from Jordan who needs the citizenship for possibly some financial purposes can. But yes, it’s all fairness and unicorns and happy thoughts.

It’s not about demographics. It doesn’t even matter how many of those naturalized are Christians, that is not the point. 400 people won’t cause a population change. But it’s the principle behind laws that are passed in the dead of the night, without appropriate scrutiny, revision, and assessment.

I hope the MPs and politicians that are against such a decree work on at least trying to block it. I’m looking at you Lebanese Forces and Kataeb blocs – you have enough MPs now (or at least one of you does) to do so.

Hezbollah’s Culture of Death Attacks Nadine Labaki’s Triumph at Cannes

You would think that a Lebanese director becoming the first Lebanese and Arab female director to win big at Cannes would be a cause for celebration.

You would think that Nadine Labaki’s important win at Cannes for her newest movie Capharnaüm would be a cause of pride in all Lebanese, regardless of who they are and where they come from.

You would think the above two statements would be a given any day, in any country, but in the country of Hezbollah, the pride and celebration of other people in the country are entities they are not okay with.

It all started yesterday when Manar Sabbagh, an Al Manar reporter, tweeted the following:

Her tweet, calling Lebanese people celebrating Nadine Labaki’s win “the sons of Phoenicia,” ridiculing them and belittling them in the process, telling them that there’s no reason to be proud of Nadine Labaki’s accomplishment because of the superiority of the deaths of Hezbollah militants in Syria.

The opium of the resistance is pretty high in this one, it seems. How the hell does a movie about mistreated children, child brides, illegal workers and a Lebanese director winning at Cannes somehow turn into an existential crisis for Hezbollah members who are so pressed about the populace not being eternally at their ass adorning them with kisses? Einstein needs to be resurrected to figure it out, I bet.

Not only is Nadine Labaki’s latest movie devoid of Israeli influences, references, anything that is related to that entity that must not be named, but her entire win at Cannes literally has nothing to do with anything that Hezbollah pertains to. And yet here we are. In this culture of death that they are entrenching the country in, the space that they are leaving for people who want to celebrate such moments – few as they are – is becoming as narrow as possible.

Alas, it doesn’t end there.

Today, Hezbollah deputy Nawaf el Moussawi decided to pitch in as well:

With a play on words, he says that when the going gets tough, the only thing that protects us is our weapons, and by “our” he means the weapons of his party, the same weapons that were – at many points in the past 10 years – used against the very same Lebanese citizens they said they wanted to protect, and those weapons that were taken to war in Syria, to protect a tyrant who killed and decimated Lebanese people over thirty years of his and his father’s rule over our country, to “protect” us from groups that are best friends with that tyrant.

No, I am not thankful for that, nor am I grateful.

Today, this culture of death and treason that is being perpetuated by entities like Manar Sabbagh and Nawaf el Moussawi is a cancer plaguing Lebanese society, bolstered by the fact that few are willing to tell them enough is enough, and supported by hundreds of thousands of their militants who when told go, they go.

This culture of death, where a Lebanese director is ridiculed, her achievements miniaturized, where those celebrating her are described in condescending terms, is a slippery slope until these people turn the country – and they are well underway – into a country that only resembles them.

This culture of death sees an insult in a director telling the story of a Syrian refugee that was rendered as such by the very same regime they’re fighting for. It sees in art an affront to the limitations they believe are enough for everyone. It sees in their own perception of what matters as the only marker for everyone else to judge and be judged. Hell no.

Today, it is more important than ever to stand up to the rhetoric that is propagated by the likes of Manar Sabbag and Nawaf el Moussawi. The two visions we want for our country cannot be more at odds.

We want art, cinema, achievements, celebrations of humane causes, highlighting of human struggles, attempts to advance our country forward, not bring it back to whatever the Ayatollah expects.

Nadine Labaki, we are proud of you and of what you have done.

Nadine Labaki’s “Capharnaüm” Wins The Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Festival

What an accomplishment.

Nadine Labaki just became the first Lebanese director to win such a top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s the festival’s third highest prize.

After receiving a 15 minute standing ovation after its screening on Thursday, the film immediately became a front runner, at the heel of what some are calling “the best baby performance in the history of cinema.”

Capharnaüm, with its Lebanese and international release dates to be determined, tells the story of Zain, a 12 year old Lebanese child, who sues his parents for bringing him into the life they’ve given him: that of squalor, poverty, abuse, child brides, and lack of papers.

The reviewer for The Guardian called the middle section of the movie so ambitious that he doesn’t even know how Nadine Labaki pulled it off, calling the movie a favorite for the Best Foreign Feature Oscar as well for next year’s awards. Deadline, on the other hand, called the movie an instant foreign language Oscar front runner, believing the movie should even go beyond that category, the way Amour did in 2013.

With this movie, it seems Nadine Labaki has upped her game from the already high bar she set with her previous two features, and at this point it seems the sky is her limit. I cannot wait to see what this ingenious Lebanese director, the best in her generation, has to keep offering.

If anything, I hope that with movies like Capharnaüm, Lebanese moviemakers realize the importance of telling the stories that Lebanese society entails. Those are the kind of movies we should be making, as we touch on the wounds that plague our communities in our attempt to heal them.

Furthermore, the movie even features an Ethiopian refugee named Yordanos Shifera who’s been living in Lebanon without proper documents. That same actress has now been given the chance to walk the red carpet of an award winning movie in which she had a vital role. That’s amazing.

There’s already a scene circulating online from the movie, which you can watch here:

This is reportedly the opening scene of the movie.

Congrats Nadine Labaki. You made all of us proud, and I hope you keep receiving the accolades for your new masterpiece.

Kollouna Watani’s Joumana Haddad & Paula Yacoubian Are Now Parliament Members

Update: Somehow, since the writing of this post Joumana Haddad ended up losing. No comment.

On a more than depressing electoral day, a glimmer of hope that started two years ago with Beirut Madinati in Beirut –  1 translated into both Joumana Haddad and Paula Yacoubian becoming parliament members tonight, the first two ever civil society candidates to enter Lebanese parliament.

Joumana Haddad’s win for the minorities seat also makes her the first openly atheist member of Lebanese parliament, and possibly the entire Middle East, where atheism is still considered a crime in many countries.

The win of Kollouna Watani in Beirut – 1 comes at the heel of very poor turn out almost uniformly throughout the country. In fact, depressingly enough, the win of Kollouna Watani is because turnout in Beirut – 1 was the poorest in the entire country, a shame when you take in consideration that the last time we voted was 2009.

Both Joumana and Paula deserve their win. They worked tremendously over the past several months to raise their profile, scream for the change they want, and they did not take any vote for granted as many political parties seem to have done.

Change for the country started in Achrafieh, even if on the overall this election leaves me with a tinge of disappointment.

What I discovered today, after voting for Kollouna Watani last week in North 3, and then having all the Civil Society lists not even make the count on TVs because they were thrown into irrelevant is that 1) we live in a bubble, and 2) I don’t think our fellow Lebanese really want the change that we want this country to have.

To be sitting in front of my computer thousands of miles away and be utterly flabbergasted at how people just didn’t care was mind-boggling. Why was I, the Lebanese who already left, more interested in how things went than those who stayed? This sense of apathy, this mind-numbness that we’ve all exhibited is just sad, and it’s quite literally across the board, across all parties, across all regions.

And yet, I was proud of my hometown giving nearly as many votes for Layal Bou Moussa as they did to the Kataeb candidate, and proud that my candidate was the top candidate on the Kollouna Watani list in North 3. Those 90 votes in Ebrine are worth hundreds in my eyes.

Today, the Lebanese people are tired everyone and everything, that’s what these elections have shown. From the poor performance of El 3ahd’s lists, to even the performance of civil society lists outside of Beirut 1. Today showed that even our pleas for change were not enough for most of the Lebanese population to go and do something about it.

Some had their reasons, I bet. But others just sank in the complacency of thinking things will always be the same. This abhorrent freak of an electoral law, whose sole purpose it seems is to have Gebran Bassil become a representative for Batroun, didn’t help either. For the record, #NotMyNeyeb.

Instead, we settle for cheering for the least of evils. We go back to basics, but I did what I can.

A bunch of good people made it to parliament today, as well. Of those, I mention Ziad Hawat – the former Mayor of Jbeil who turned his city into a top Lebanese destination. I also mention Antoine Habchi whose victory in Baalbak-Hermel was truly the other highlight of these elections. A lot of women made it to parliament today as well, other than Paula and Joumana. The list includes Sethrida, Bahia el Hariri, and Inaya Ezzedine in the South. Hopefully even more female candidates will end up as winners once the tally is done.

On the other hand, Jamil el Sayyed who was the right hand of Syria’s occupation of the country, and whose real place is in jail, also gained a parliament seat thanks to the Shiite duo whose electoral performances truly strengthened the nature of the thoughts they’re perpetuating in the country. Their “either you’re with us or you’re a traitor” mantra, their “it’s your religious duty to vote for us” slogans are cancerous.

Another thing that today showed is that, when you try to have “modern” laws the least you can do is provide a modern voting experience. Everyone was complaining about how slow the process was, something I had spoken about last week here:

And yet, despite that no measures were made to make sure that people didn’t stand in lines for hours to cast a vote. We needed more booths at each polling place, the process has to be streamlined, and more importantly the law had to be explained to the average voter much more efficiency. But then again, it’s been nearly 8 hours that they’ve closed the polls and we don’t even have results yet.

Setting aside the romance, today Lebanon’s civil society has managed to get only about 20-30,000 votes across the entire country. This is not enough. And I frankly don’t know where to go from here. Perhaps the work of Joumana and Paula will get people to wake up to what they should be demanding of traditional parties, which puts more pressure on them.

Or perhaps we’re just too far gone as people, too entrenched in our ways to really learn that this candidate who’s providing us with a job today only does so because their policies deprived us of jobs for years, or that this candidate giving us food or money today is doing that because they made sure we were poor and starving leading up to that point.

Today, I’m proud of the choice I made. I don’t regret it at all, even if it’s going to be taken out of their equations, thrown into a bin never to be looked at again. And I hope that me going beyond my traditional party lines is proof that we can all do it if we believe that we deserve the changed country that befits us.

Tousbi7oun 3ala watan. Or not.