Dear MTV Lebanon, Lebanese ARE Racist

There’s plenty that MTV could have covered in their news: A failed 25th attempt at electing a president, more debate and analysis over the Roumieh torture videos, SaudiLeaks cables, etc… The same applies to any Lebanese TV station, clearly.

Instead of covering what actually matters, however, MTV decides to be offended by a Ramadan series aired on its rival LBC. Why? Because, and I quote MTV, “it’s showing Lebanese in a wrong light by portraying them as racist towards Syrians.”

I’ve watched the video over and over again. I honestly have no idea what that TV station is smoking or what that reporter is drinking or what country Naccache is located in because it sure doesn’t feel like the country I’m in.

This is the report currently making rounds, and which will make your blood boil for its sheer narrow-mindedness, lala landness and utter ridiculousness:

I don’t know about MTV, but let me talk about the Lebanon I come from.

1) A few months ago, my hometown decided to enforce a curfew on Syrians. Because that wasn’t enough, some men decided they wanted to form night guard duties, weapons and all, against those Syrians. It wasn’t even a hidden thing. It was a Ebrine normality. In between their “guard” duties, some of those men physically assaulted many Syrians simply because they existed outside of their rooms beyond their forced curfew. A pregnant Syrian woman had to take permission to go out of her house to the hospital to give birth. And the examples are ever-flowing. You can read this article for more info (link).

2) A couple of years ago, Annahar decided to go around Beirut and ask a few Lebanese what they thought of the Syrian refugee presence in their countries. The result was the following video:

I’m particularly interested how someone saying, and I quote, “there are so many Syrians here we might as well call it Syria,” qualifies as tolerance. Or how “I’m afraid of walking on the streets now because there are more Syrians than Lebanese” is a sign of progressiveness. I digress. Let’s proceed.

3) Since MTV was beyond pissed about how that TV show portrayed Achrafieh, let’s see what was all around Achrafieh just a year ago. Luckily, the internet is a beautiful thing, so pictures are aplenty and here are pictures to you:

Again, I’m trying to see how such signs, years after the withdrawal of Syrian troops and a clear manifestation of Christian xenophobia in a heavily Christian region are an indication of how tolerant and open minded we are as Lebanese.

4) With the influx of Syrians into the country, many municipalities, like mine, decided to start curfews for Syrians. Many took this a step further as well. Some places had political parties also come up with posters for the purpose of doubling down on the increasing Syrian presence in Lebanon:

The posters translate into the following: “No Syrian is allowed in this area starting this date or they’ll be insulted, beaten along with whoever’s helping them.” Another one says: “Boycott illegal labor. Hire Lebanese.”

Nothing was done about this back then. Few were the voices that called these as they were, racist and degrading. But we went about our days normally. Have a TV series give the narrative to a Syrian FICTIVE character? Oh Lord no, our Lebanese oversensitive pride won’t have that.

5) It’s been only two days that the following picture made the rounds on social media. An AUB student took a picture of Syrians and captioned it, on Instagram with filters and all: “Many heads, but no brains. #Syrians.” The outrage at that student was entirely political. I’m willing to bet most of those outraged at him were so simply because his political background serves as fuel to their own political hatred, more so than for them being caring about Syrians per se. But still, it clearly shows that such mentalities exist today and are aplenty.

Syrians Racism Lebanon

6) Now that we’ve established that MTV lives in a separate realm of existence (let them talk to Stephen Hawking, he’d be interested), let’s go over a quick survey of the many things we’ve all heard about Syrians and Syria, among people that we all know: Oh look, a Syrian. Oh, there are too many Syrians, be careful. The best thing to come out of Syria is “el festo2 el 7alabi.” And let’s not start with all the homsi jokes, which is when we are taught to be racist towards Syrians the moment we become aware.

But dear MTV, many Lebanese are not racist towards Syrians only. They’re also racist to those of nationalities they deem lesser.

Don’t you remember the guy who wouldn’t shake hands with people who are black?

Don’t you remember that Mothers’ Day ad about special offers on maids?

Don’t you remember the countless MEA reports about racism aboard their airlines? 

Don’t you remember the many maids that lost their lives to abusive employers and have no laws to protect them?

Don’t you remember that picture of the purse getting a seat while the maid remains standing as her family has lunch? 

We’re not only racist towards other nationalities. We’re also racist to each other. If you walk around MTV’s beloved Achrafieh, you are bound to find plenty of “Ra7 Tdall Jrasna Tde2” graffiti plastered around red crosses. Those newly coated with paint to keep their memory as fresh as their color. Who do you think they’re targeted to? Let’s just say it’s not someone who worships the Cross. For reference, I also have this to look at every morning:

 

 

People in Keserwan have endless stories about them chastising “el gharib.” The people of Tripoli are ridiculed by many because of the situation in their city. I have friends from Tripoli who changed their city on their CV because they know it decreases their chances to get hired. But please, tell me more about how we are not racist.

This isn’t to say that every single Lebanese is racist. There are many movements across the country to combat such mentalities. There are many people who are as far from racism as MTV is from being an objective and decent news outlet. The inherent problem isn’t only racism, it’s us pretending that there isn’t such a problem to begin with, it’s outlets like MTV – with substantial power and reach – engorging the ever-growing Lebanese ego, tapping it on the back, and telling it that there’s nothing wrong with you.

Fixing the problem starts with acknowledging it, not being offended by its existence. This is just shameful.

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The Geitawi Pedophile “Monster”

It is widely believed that incidents of child molestation are not really present in Lebanon. The reality, though, is that most of them go hidden for years. It might be because as a society, we forcefully turn a blind eye to such elements that may be very flagrant in front of us.

The last time child molestation made headlines was with an instructor at renowned private school. The issue has now made headlines again with a 28 year old man who has been doing so for 14 years in Geitawi, a part of Achrafieh.

There is a sense of tragedy in thinking of the lives of all the children this man has maimed and ruined. The innocence he has taken from them will have a lasting, albeit repairable, effect on their lives.
And it’s precisely that: these children can easily be helped.
The man in question has triggered countless red flags along the 14 years he spent doing his deed. And yet, no one ever thought of intervening apparently.

1) The man in question was discharged from the military back in 2007 for violent sexual conduct. That would make him 22 year old at the time. Didn’t it cross anyone’s mind to refer him to some psychological help? Doesn’t our army have anyone to council them for any PTSD, which has probably become recurrent lately?

2) The man in question was also reported to be the victim of sexual abuse himself when he was a child. I highly doubt this is new information. It never crossed anyone’s mind that such a childhood trauma would have an ever lasting impact on a person’s being?

3) The man has also been “active” for 14 years. That would make him 14 at the time things had started. I find it extremely hard to assume that there was absolutely nothing that ticked off anyone to any odd behavior he might have had back then.

There is an equally tragic aspect of this story, however, in the cluelessness and utter unprofessionalism with which Lebanese media is reporting on the issue. Of course, “monster” brings much more attention than trying to actually address the issue. Instead, we are met with attention-grabbing headlines and empty content: from baseless psychoanalytical theories to give some science cred to a journalist’s piece down to publishing pictures of the man, along with his name.

I’m not justifying what the man did as anything remotely acceptable. It’s not. It’s sick and revolting.

But what’s also not acceptable is for such incidences not to serve as a way to educate parents on signs that something wrong might be happening with their children in order to intervene before it’s too late.
Instead, we are met with gossip-like handling of the issues simply because it is believed this is what people want.

Pedophilia falls under a subset of sexual disorders called paraphilia which are related to culturally unacceptable sexual activities which cause the individual severe distress. This may not apply to this Achrafieh “monster” if his actions didn’t cause him distress. But I’m also tempted to believe that the “monster” he is today is the byproduct of his experiences as a child, which nobody even cared about. And I’m also willing to bet that many of us would have felt sorry for that child at some point in his life before the lack of help turned him into the “monster” grabbing headlines he is today.

Saving The Jesuite Garden… because It’s Christian

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I always thought everyone knew that Beirut had a green space problem. The city has 3 parks that are open to the public. You can count the trees on the entire city’s sidewalks. There is no concept of urban planning. And there’s certainly no functional public transport system, which is one of the main flaws with the city structure.

Yet there are people who think all is fine with the city environmentally. Don’t be shocked, yes they exist.

The fight to save the Jesuite Garden, which culminated in a protest held at the garden in question slightly less than a week ago didn’t take much to go down sectarian lines. The representative of the Beirut municipality that showed up at the protest had one line of interrogation to throw at those who didn’t want the garden removed: what’s your name? Where are you from? Who’s politically backing you?

Because, you know, God forbid a fight to save a park is exactly just that: a fight to save a green space.

Interestingly, for many – the fight wasn’t to save a green space. Many protestors against the park’s removal don’t even care that this is one of the few areas of green space in Beirut. They care that there are ancient Christian ruins there… And that might be exactly what is needed to save the park.

It’s one thing to tear down a tree. It’s even one thing to tear down a Phoenician port, a Roman hippodrome or any other old structure. But once religion comes into play, all projects are off. Do not even attempt. It happened with the Beirut Downtown site recently and it might happen again here.

The bottom line when the religion card is played in such cases often turns out to be positive. It might be even smart to cash in that card whenever possible. But is it healthy to coerce a municipality to save a park just because they don’t dare to awaken a sleeping monster not because they, as a municipality, should become aware of the problems such a destruction would cause?

The municipality will end up not learning anything for future practices later on or even possibly thinking about some plans to really tackle the issues that necessitated the park’s destruction.

Till when will the focus of individuals in this country be religion-centric, ignoring other facets of society that affect their lives as well and which are worth speaking up for?

I don’t want the Jesuite Garden gone not because it has a derivative of Jesus in its name and on its grounds. But what do I know, I guess. Talking about a temporary fix for parking and destruction of green spaces sure pales in comparison to Jesus.

The Destruction of Achrafieh’s Jesuite Garden

While walking around Rome with a friend yesterday, he said the following: “you know, it’s a beautiful city but I wish it had more trees like Paris.”
I replied: “We’re ones to talk. The only trees I’ve seen in Beirut are in the Jesuite Garden next to my apartment in Achrafieh.”

I guess I jinxed it.

A highway tearing Achrafieh in two, removing countless parking spaces and destroying greenery that is otherwise rare in Beirut was not an enough project for Beirut’s municipality.
They now want to destroy the Jesuite Garden in question, which I wrote about before, in order to build … *drumroll* … a parking space (link).

The municipality is trying to sugar-coat the deal by saying they will replant trees above the parking, which will be underground. But how is that acceptable when the park has been around for decades and has ruins in it that date back to ancient times as well?

Is there a parking problem in Achrafieh? Sure. Is the solution for that problem killing off one of the few rare green spaces in Beirut? Hell no. I have absolutely no idea who’s the urban planning expert working at that so-called municipality but how inept is he at his job?
But what can we expect, really, when experts from Ile-De-France try to convince the municipality that its practices are unacceptable and still they go through them?

It’ll be one sad day when this park where I broke my arm and where my grandpa used to take me to play becomes a mass of concrete rubbish. But isn’t that what Beirut really is?

Rest in Peace Achrafieh?

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(Picture source)
We have all been wondering for years what that hanging bridge was doing next to Sagesse school, as we headed towards or out of Achrafieh.

I didn’t even know it was a bridge until very recently. The only function I thought that construction had was to tell people the time and serve as a platform for political slogans and Christmas trees. Another entity into which our money was wasted.

How wrong was I?

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That meaningless bridge is but one piece in a big puzzle, one of which I was made aware a while back but thought was simply fiction. The complete picture didn’t make sense. It was too obscene, too disgusting, too horrible, too criminal to be conceivable.

But as things go in Lebanon, the monstrous project might just be underway.

The Fouad Boutros Highway this way comes, ripping Achrafieh in half, running straight into Mar Mikhael destroying countless old buildings in the process. All to alleviate the traffic problem.

I am not one to weep over Lebanon’s old buildings as if nothing better can be made. This isn’t about sentimentalities towards stone, towards a neighborhood in which I spent years of my life and witnessed first hand as it lost it charm bit by bit. This isn’t about the people who will lose their homes but get paid millions in compensation.

Achrafieh is dying. And nobody cares.

Do we have a traffic problem in Achrafieh and Greater Beirut? Definitely. Is a highway ripping a region in half the best way to deal with this traffic? Definitely not.

A highway which was planned before the civil war has no place in the Achrafieh of today, a place that has evolved beyond the project’s plans. The highway has no place in being the best current solution for the traffic problem.

What this highway does is only show some serious lack of foresight, which is normal around this country: fix a problem now, ignore the underlying cause. A few years after the highway’s potential completion, traffic will come and bite the same region again. The inherent flaw won’t be fixed.

The traffic problem in Lebanon, in my opinion, can be categorized in the following way:
1) Our common transport sector is nonexistent.
2) Our plans for developing the common transport sector are nonexistent.
3) People do not carpool. Nor is the notion of carpooling instilled in their minds.
4) Importing cars is a lucrative business. There are no limitations on how many cars can be imported and sold.
5) Our current roads are not equipped to contain the load of cars driving on their asphalt.
6) There are no plans to tackle the issue of Lebanon’s automobile sector overload.
7) There are no plans to improve the current state of roads across the country.
8) Driving laws are not applied nor are they enforced.
9) Driving education is archaic at best.
10) Lebanon is a deeply inefficient country.

And yet here we are, possibly spending millions on a highway that will disfigure an entire region and destroy its heritage because it’s the easy way out of a mess we don’t want to handle. After all, aren’t all major car importers in the country figuratively in bed with governmental figures?

Have we tackled every single possible resort to handle the traffic in the area that the highway will destroy before deciding to go ahead with it? No.

Instead of spending millions on a highway that will serve only one particular segment of Beirut mainly, why doesn’t our government have the foresight into planning for something more sustainable, friendlier and much more efficient?
Why not invest in tramways, in railway in Beirut and, yes, even metros?

Perhaps our current infrastructure is not equipped for such projects. But if the plans are made for such projects, I believe it is conceivable that we have the capacity to operate them by the time they’re done. Let’s not even begin to kid ourselves that the highway will be done in a short time. It’ll be years till that project ends as well.

The key to solve Lebanon and Beirut’s traffic problem isn’t horrible projects that manage to infuriate people only by having rendered pictures of them made. It is by investing in a common transportation system decent and sophisticated enough for the people to begin thinking about ditching their cars to go to work or to class.

Rest in peace Achrafieh if this highway truly goes underway. It was nice living the unbroken version of you.

Joe Kodeih’s Le Jocon – Review

Le Jocon Joe Kodeih

Lebanese comedian Joe Kodeih’s latest offering is Le Jocon, a play whose title is a play off the french name of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa.

Le Jocon starts with Kodeih visiting a psychatrist who immediately subjects him to hypnosis and asks him about his mother. Running for approximately 60 minutes, Le Jocon is a more or less autobiographical portrayal of some key moments in Kodeih’s life – all of which are given a comedic twist, obviously: from his moment of conception to his first days of school to growing up and going to Paris for a few days of vacation.

Those events are all done to the backdrop of a Lebanese life in Achrafieh, which makes the play very concentric. If you haven’t spent time in that part of Beirut or are not familiar with the many stereotypes associated with the people of Achrafieh, there are many jokes that you will miss.

Moreover, one of the key moments in the play which takes the biggest fraction is Kodeih’s visit to Paris which is told in three parts stretching over the three days of his visit. I personally found it hilarious because I had been to Paris but for someone who doesn’t know what Châtelet-Les Halles is (a subway station the size of Beirut’s airport) or what happens on the many different streets of Paris that he mentions, the jokes will come off flat or how difficult it is to take that infamous schengen visa picture: don’t smile, head at a 90 degrees angle, let the sadness erupt from your depth. Hilarious. Unless, of course, you were never submitted to a schengen visa picture.

My main problem with Le Jocon, however, is – and I understand this is overly analytical from my part – the stereotyping of the psychiatry experiment which Kodeih uses as a vessel to tell his story especially that it only serves to reinforce the misconceptions that many people have about the field, one which is more or less a taboo in Lebanon still. Of course there will be hypnosis. Of course the psychiatrist will ask about his mother. Of course he will turn out to have issues with his mother. I don’t feel we are at a point where that field should be an open field for comedy yet.

In general, though, Le Jocon is an entertaining short play. Tickets are for 20,000 and 30,000LL. Only two shows remain next weekend. It will make you laugh. So why not?

3.5/5

 

The Death of the Lebanese Dekkéné

Rue Aabrine Beirut Lebanon

Aabrine Street was, until recently, one of the last remaining Achrafieh streets that still contained a flair of an old Lebanese life that you wouldn’t believe still existed in Beirut, especially Achrafieh: one where a family lived in the same building which had a dekkéné that they ran. Their house harbored them for decades – all through the civil war.

Their house’s entrance is very inconspicuous. The cats roaming around the place hid in the space of those traditional windows. The family took care of them. I went to their place a few times: high ceilings, old chandeliers and armchairs… what you’d expect to find in old Lebanese houses in the village was there. Except this was the heart of Beirut.

Their house was also the witness to the Civil War story I wrote on this blog in 2011. You can read it in its three parts here.

Their home is no longer theirs as some investors took over the entire stretch of buildings on their block, all of which are old buildings. But this isn’t Amin Maalouf’s house for it to cause a ruckus.

Beirut Aabrine Street Old Bldg Beirut Aabrine Street old building 2

As I walked by the house yesterday, I was saddened to see all the dark, empty windows. What used to be lit apartments and the voices that emanated from inside is now nothing but emptiness awaiting for it to become non-existent.

The family that lived in that apartment lived off a small dekkéné at the other side of the building which stretches down the street by being connected to lesser maintained parts. This dekkéné allowed their father to send many of his children to the United States where they got naturalized shortly after the civil war ended. He ran the small place for 50 years. He played cards with my grandpa and other Aabrine men as customers came in and out – Tarnib Koubba in case you’re wondering. Backgammon tables were there as well.

Dekkane Beirut Aabrine Street Lebanon

Today, the door of Sassine’s dekkéné holds a paper which he signed to announce that he had relocated. Another small office a few meters away, in that same building, announced the same thing. This dekkéné, which by the looks of it could fit anywhere but in Achrafieh, is gone for good. It still stands. But not for long.

The building that contained the dekkéné and all the nearby buildings connected to it will soon be demolished to allow another colorless high rise in their place. The history of the place will be gone for good. The place where my grandpa played cards with his friends, where small children would run to get their mother something she urgently needed for the tabkha she was cooking will be gone and with it another chapter in the life of a city that will soon not recognize itself anymore.

This isn’t about the worth of the dekkéné or its efficiency – it’s about what the dekkéné signifies: how easily we tear down what is old to bring in what is newer but never better.

This is the other side of the building in question, less maintained than the section where the family lived:

Aabrine Street Old Building

Beirut Rue Aabrine old bldg

And this is what the dekkéné and its building will be replaced with. Beautiful.

beirut achrafieh high rise