Why The “Anthony Touma”s of Lebanon Make Us Proud

When I spent a month in France, back in August of 2012, I was somewhat surprised to find most people there had some gross misconceptions about Lebanon. I had thought that French people out of everyone would at least know slightly more than your average info about this country in the Middle East. But it was the same thing all over again: desert, camels, tents, oil, everyone is rich, etc…

It was grating at first. Then it became amusing. There was really nothing I could do to change what those people thought of me or my country or everyone who had my passport. It’s not only the French, it’s basically everywhere else as well. And we try to pretend as if the stereotype isn’t there but kidding ourselves is all we do.

I’ve been pondering for a while over why is it that the Lebanese candidate Anthony Touma on France’s The Voice managed to instill a sense of nationalism among us, one that doesn’t necessarily reflect the same way by the French over the French candidates on the show.

In more general terms, because Anthony Touma isn’t a lone example, why is it that we cannot not be proud of the Anthony Toumas of Lebanon, no matter how hard we try and knowing that they may not be the absolute best at what they do? Why do we feel wronged when they get wronged? Why do we, as Lebanese, feel involved in what they do and what they accomplish fully knowing that the benefits they reap don’t reflect on us in any way?

I am not the type of Lebanese people who gush over the Shakiras and Salma Hayeks who never set foot here and yet some people feel obliged to try and get them to identify with us.

But when I look at Anthony Touma, Amin Maalouf and others, I see people who are like me, who lived my life, who probably went to schools similar to mine, who walked the same streets that I walk everyday and who are doing the best they could with the talent they have.

The Anthony Toumas of Lebanon are the people who, with each word they write or each note they sing, give a better image of our country than we could ever do. And some might believe we don’t need that. But we do. We terribly do.

Our sense of nationalism as Lebanese kicks in often because we have something to prove. We want to prove that we can do better, that we can be better. We want to prove that this small nation can give the world great gifts. We want to prove that the confines of the 10452 km2 don’t limit us. We want to prove that war and violence and absurd politics don’t bring us down. We want to prove that we can rise above the terrible hands we are dealt on daily basis. We want to prove that this small Middle Eastern country has something to give and give well.

For many, those prospects are never self-fulfilled, which is okay. We are not all given the same chances in life. But when we look at Touma, Maalouf, Gebran, Nadine Labaki, etc… We see people who are trying to make it or have made it. And they give us hope. And those people who walk and talk and think like us make us proud.

There will come a time, hopefully, when we no longer feel we have something to prove to the world. Perhaps our sense of nationalism towards the Anthony Toumas of Lebanon lessens when that time comes. But until then, there’s nothing wrong with feeling proud of our countrymen who represent us despite everything and represent us well.

Or you can hate on them because feeling proud of someone because they’re Lebanese is just too non-scientific and mainstream.

Let Them Demolish Amin Maalouf’s House

Amin Maalouf's Home Beirut

Many people are panicking that Gaby Layon, our minister of culture, has approved the demolition of Amin Maalouf’s house in Beirut’s Badaro neighborhood, which started yesterday. You can check out pictures of what’s left of the house here.

My problem with the issue can be formulated in the following question: should we be against this demolition because it’s Amin Maalouf’s house, which is why most people are outraged, or because it’s is a one-of-a-kind Lebanese mansion that has been around for over a century?

While Amin Maalouf is definitely a Lebanese to make us proud and whatnot, I do not believe him living in the house holds any cultural value for the Amin-Maalouf-Lived-Here protesters. He did not create most of his literature in it. I don’t think the house he couldn’t wait to get out of helped shape him as a writer in any way. If Amin Maalouf wanted the house saved, I’m sure Amin Maalouf could have gotten it saved.

However, the house is more than a century old. It is an old fashioned Lebanese house, present in a capital that is fast losing any form of architecture that makes it distinctive – and this is where the wealth of this residence lies. Long-gone are those mansions that our forefathers helped build and told us about when we were younger. Long gone are those houses that make Beirut Beirut. They are but a distant memory stranded among a concrete jungle of high-rises, slums and Zaitunay Bays. The house shouldn’t be demolished not because Amin Maalouf lived in it but because it would, if renovated, fit in and give grandeur and character to its neighborhood – one that the coming high rise wouldn’t even dream of doing.

Not all old Lebanese buildings are nice and should be preserved though. But their demolition is a reflection of two serious problems: we have a lack of urban design that is only getting worse with each tower ruining Beirut’s skyline. The idea that high-rises shouldn’t be stranded all around the city but located in one main district is non-existent. For example, my neighborhood in Achrafieh has a very high building that hasn’t been completed yet and it’s been ten years at least. It sits there, out of place, out of character and absolutely disgusting-looking. These old buildings are being demolished at an increasingly rapid pace as well – out with the old, in with the ugly new. And this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the horrors of Beirut’s current designs.

The second problem is that those who should care about preserving our culture don’t. And those who have the power to point that out are in a deep state of apathy.

While the issue of electricity and Lebanon’s ancient ruins are different, they are both of the same importance. However, how many TV stations do you see grilling Gebran Bassil day in, day out? All of them except OTV and Al-Manar. How many stations do you see grilling Gaby Layoun for demolishing more landmarks during his time than any other minister of culture? None.

Gaby Layoun isn’t Michel Aoun’s son-in-law. He doesn’t have a protective clout around him. He can be very easily disposed, another Charbel Nahhas if you want.

Gaby Layoun doesn’t have the faintest idea what culture is. He is the minister behind the current demolition of Beirut’s Hippodrome in Wadi Bou Jmil and the demolition of the Phoenician Port in Downtown Beirut as well. For all matters and purposes, this is a man who doesn’t know anything that extends beyond the growing depth of his coffers. And yet he’s still adorning our government with his presence. He was even quoted “apologizing” for Maalouf’s home, not knowing its architectural worth. Please.

Let them destroy Amin Maalouf’s house. What remains of our ancestor’s Beirut doesn’t rest on it. Odds are there’s another house somewhere in Beirut right now being demolished as well. But no one cares. Lebanon’s cultural identity crisis isn’t contingent upon a house standing, in a country whose national heritage is a matter of disagreement, where those landmarks being destroyed are considered by some as unnecessary – “the tourists don’t want to see that.”

Let them demolish Amin Maalouf’s house. It is not his home. It is but a tiny speck in a dying country, a cancerous and corrupt ministry, an idle media and a wretched people all getting ready for Lebanon’s upcoming 2013 elections. I’m pretty sure if the ministry wanted to demolish Gebran Khalil Gebran’s home, few would have cared as well.

Let them demolish Amin Maalouf’s house because, if anything, leaving his old home actually allowed him to be great. 3a2belna.

Amin Maalouf Honored at the French Academy

The famous Lebanese author of “Le Rocher de Tanios” became a few days ago the first Lebanese ever to be inducted at the elite French Academy (l’Académie française) as one of of 40 living members chosen by the academy to represent the French language.

While being inducted, Maalouf wore the traditional academy clothes and held a sword on which he engraved a verse in Arabic written by his father, as well as the names of his wife and his 3 sons.

The sheath had the Cedar tree engraved on it, as well as the National French symbol. Maalouf had the following to say regarding the occasion.

“I bring with me everything that my two homelands have given me: my background, my languages, my convictions, my doubts and, more than anything perhaps, my dreams of harmony, progress and coexistence.”

Minister of Culture Gaby Layoun was present at the induction and commended Maalouf for the honor that he brought upon Lebanon with his achievment.

Banque de Liban has issued 1000 silver pieces with Maalouf’s face carved on them as a tribute to the honor he bestowed upon himself and his native country.

Kalam el Nas had an interesting interview with Maalouf in which he discussed the “Arab Spring” and his next novel. Make sure you watch it here:

Why didn’t this get the attention it deserves among Lebanese blogs and people? Because we were rolling our heads in the dirt of Myriam Klink and Nemr Abou Nassar while Amin Maalouf lifted his head up high in Paris.

Thank you Mr. Maalouf.