Why Those Who Insult Istanbul’s Victims Should Always Be Challenged, Not Ignored

I never thought that we, as a country first and foremost and as a region in the grander scheme of things, would so grossly disagree about our characterization of the victims of the Istanbul attacks. I’m not talking about whether they are martyrs or victims, but about people who are so full of hate that not only do they not mourn but believe others should not mourn too.

Those people have forsaken every ounce of humanity and turned the barbaric deaths of innocents as yet another event to correlate with their religious, sectarian or even political discourse.

Ramzi El Kadi & Huffington Post Arabi:

Earlier yesterday, I posted screengrabs from a Twitter account by someone named Ramzi Al Kadi on my blog’s Facebook page. Soon enough, the story was picked up by news outlets and it went viral.

Within minutes, Al Kadi was being called all kinds of names as if he were the only entity in this country and region regurgitating that horrifying word-vomit. Some were attacking the way he looked, digging through his entire online history and bringing it back to haunt him.

El Kadi had said he did not want to mourn the victims. He thought what happened to them was well-deserved given that they were at a night club, which is in his opinion is a disgrace of a place. To him, the victims – Rita, Elias and Haykal – were nothing more than sinners who had it coming for wanting to have fun at a “whore house.”

Unfortunately, Al-Kadi isn’t a lone example. You only need to head to Huffington Post Arabi’s Facebook page to see the exact same rhetoric being spewed by Arabs in the comments section. In an article posted by the page about Lebanese victim Rita El Chami, the comments ranged from those who were sympathetic to her sacrifice, calling her a hero, to those – like Al Kadi – who saw her as nothing more than – again, I quote – “a whore” for partying the end of the year away, wishing that she’d “go to hell.”

The debate in Saudi Arabia about the Istanbul attacks isn’t about their dead, but about whether they were at a nightclub or a restaurant, because that makes a difference in how their death is perceived. Palestinian victim Leanne Nasser is suffering from the same discourse back home: whether it was appropriate of her to go party the night away. It was her first trip abroad.

To note, Ramzi Al Kadi is saying his Twitter account was hacked. I don’t see why given there’s no value in hacking an account with 200 followers, but it’s a statement to be conveyed. Ramzi has since been arrested in order for his tweets to be investigated, which – regardless of how disgusting what his tweets were – is not something we should accept. Being an asshole is not a crime.

Hassan Hamzeh & Politics:

 

Al Manar reporter Hassan Hamzeh decided to insult the victims of Istanbul’s terrorist attacks from a different perspective. To him, this was pure politics. Being a Hezbollah supporter, he saw the attacks on Istanbul as nothing more than a chance for him to gloat in revenge and spite.

“Istanbul is paying the price it should pay” he tweeted. He then followed it up with: “Istanbul should pay more,” before concluding with: “Erdogan, you reap what you sow.”

To Hassan Hamzeh, the victims from all backgrounds are nothing more than pawns in his party’s political game, their entire lives and families and loved ones be damned as long as he can be satisfied that a city and a country he despises are being broken like this.

Other politically-charged social media users were annoyed at how the victims of Istanbul’s attacks were being called martyrs compared to others who “didn’t sacrifice their lives at a nightclub,” as if the location of where you are brutally killed has some bearing over the worth of your life and death.

While the Lebanese government flexed its muscles with helpless people like Al-Kadi, Hassan Hamzeh – with his political backbone – is still at large, free to roam and tweet more hateful things because he’s untouchable.

Why We Should Speak Up:

Regardless of where people die because of such vicious attacks – whether at a club, a brothel, church or Mosque – the sanctity of death should be respected. You have to be at a whole other level of deplorable to disrespect the passing of people whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time because you don’t like where they were or what they were doing.

When I first posted Ramzi Al-Kadi’s screenshots, people said that giving people like him such exposure makes them feel important and gives them power, that their negativity had no place in times of mourning. I disagree.

The best way for hate and bigotry to prosper is for them to run unchecked for a lifetime. The more we stay silent, the more we let such horrors fester in the minds and souls of those who are most susceptible, and the more Ramzis and Hassans we will have to deal with later on.

Our bubble as millennials or liberals has gotten us to think that the majority of people share our views and as such most will find the words of Ramzi or Hassan as abhorrent as we do, and that might be the case with many, but today’s world is far from being one where we can remain silent to people who insult victims just because they can.

Staying silent to people like all of those who insulted the victims of the Istanbul attacks in LaReina has a lot to do with why we are dealing with entities like Trump, Le Pen, Brexit and a rising trend in right wing extremism all around the world, why we are reeling from the effects of living in a post-truth existence where facts have become matters of opinion for many.

There remains a huge populace that lives among us that believes in what Ramzi Al-Kadi said, without them proclaiming it. We live in a conservative Arab world where it’s very easy to forget, as the only people we talk to are those who think like us, that there are those beyond our walls who believe that nightclubs are abominations, that those who frequent them are sinners and that those who die there should not be mourned.

Those people you want us to ignore are voters, influencers, mothers and fathers. We can’t repress them into a basket to be tucked away just because we feel like the higher road is the better road. To drive our society forward, those people’s ideas – not the way they look as many have criticized Ramzi – should always be challenged. We can’t shy away from the ideological debate taking place wherever we roam for fear of the challenge, or of upsetting others and ourselves.

Ramzi Al-Kadi and those who think like him think their ideas and beliefs are as valid, and should be applied on a more grander scale than just tweets or Facebook comments. To better our societies, we can’t just dismiss those ideas outright just because they’re horrifying. We have to listen, criticize, challenge the core of their thoughts.

The cycle of us versus them will never end if we stay silent and let the cycle perpetuate without breaking it. It’s easier to imagine “them” as enemies who hate the way we live no matter what. But “they” are victims of ideas that have been entrenched in their minds for years, and those ideas can be beaten if we take up the mantle of the fight.

Omar Mohammad: The 17 Year Old Martyr Of Arab Free Thought and Speech

Omar Mohammed

In the vast chaos ravaging through the Middle East, these past few days have been especially detrimental to the already extremely weak freedom of thought and speech. Yesterday, Jordanian officials banned Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila from ever performing in Jordan simply because they were afraid of their progressive message.

A few hundred kilometers away from Amman, a 17 year old named Omar Mohammad was living his last hours before being killed by extremists in his country. His fault? They thought he was an atheist, and as such an apostate. He was, however, a firm believer in God and Islam, but not the Islam those terrorists wanted to propagate, and as such his words on Facebook and his way of life proved to be too much for them to handle.

Today, Omar Mohammad is no more, because he dared to speak up against the horrors that had become customary in the place he called home, Yemen. People like Omar should be memorialized for the courage they exhibit in challenging the status quo where they exist, in doing so with extreme modernity in a sea of backwardness.

Going through his Facebook profile, on which his words will now forever be imprinted, the only thing you can call Omar is a martyr for Arab free speech and thought. He may not have been safe in his last days, as he wrote “a country in which you don’t feel safe is not your home,” but he was brave enough to oppose, brave enough to stand up for himself, for what he believe to be true, for what he thought was wrong in his community and society.

When accused of atheism he replied: “They accuse me of atheism! Oh you people, I see God in the flowers,
And you see Him in the graveyards, that is the difference between me and you.”

On extremists groups he wrote: “How do we await peace from those whose emblem is death?”

On the use of religion to pass ulterior agendas, he said: “You can force your will onto other people. Just call what you want to do the will of God, for that is what men of the cloak do.”

On the current status of the Middle East, he wrote: “We need a moral revolution before everything else, one that brings us back to our humanity, one that wakes us up from our coma. Our situation has become disastrous.”

On the sexual repression culture of the Arab world, Omar said: “Our societies have become purely sexual, and that is because of the repression that our youth live. The simplest example to that is sermons that call for heaven affixed with beautiful women. I challenge a man of the cloak to mention heaven without associating it with women.”

With the murder of Omar, the Arab world has lost a youth that promised a better future, that promised hope that one day this region would amount to something again. May his family find solace in him being remembered by millions of those who didn’t know him, his words propagated forevermore.

Mashrou’ Leila Getting Banned In Jordan Is The Ultimate Validation Of Their Art

Mashrou' Leila - Jordan

Lebanon’s most prominent indie band Mashrou’ Leila, who were embarking on a tour to promote their most recent and exquisite album Ebn El Leil, had a concert planned for April 29th at Amman, Jordan’s Roman Hippodrome.

Today, only a few days prior to the concert, they were informed that their concert was canceled for, as “official” reasons cite “[their] performance would have been at odds with what the Ministry of Tourism viewed as the “authenticity” of the site.” In other, more hidden words, the Jordanian authorities view Mashrou’ Leila’s progressive message, by Arab standards at least, as an agenda they don’t want to advance on their territories. Obviously, that scary message is one of sexual equality transcending genders and orientations. How frightening.

Mashrou’ Leila issued a lengthy statement on their Facebook page which you can check here (link), of which I quote the following:

We denounce the systemic prosecution of voices of political dissent.
We denounce the systemic prosecution of advocates of sexual and religious freedom.
We denounce the censorship of artists anywhere in the world.
We apologize for having thus far failed at creating a cultural environment that allows our children to speak their minds. We believe whole-heartedly that we have only ever acted with the intention of making our world a more equal, and just place, even if “only through song.” We pledge to our audience that we will continue to place the integrity of our art as our foremost priority, and to never succumb to the pressure to compromise our message, or to waive our freedom to speak. We promise to continue to write out of love, and with the desire to spread love. We will fight, as we have always done, for our right to freely play our music and speak our mind.

The ironic thing is that Mashrou’ Leila had been allowed to perform in Jordan, at that specific site, before. Their Jordanian concerts serve as a vehicle for their fans in that country to watch them perform and, more importantly, for many Palestinians to make their way into Jordan in order to attend those concerts.

Not only have Mashrou’ Leila been stopped from holding this particular concert, but they’ve been banned from performing in all of Jordan at all times.

Of course, for the feisty Lebanese who will proclaim Jordan as a backwards-thinking land because of this, please remember how Zouk Mikhayel had a problem with Mashrou’ Leila performing there only two years ago simply because their lead singer Hamed Sinno was openly gay. Leila getting banned in Jordan is not a reflection of Jordan, but about the collective Arab culture that favors oppression over acceptance.

I have to wonder though, how is this reflective of a country whose king and queen proclaim to be champions of modernity and progression in a regressing region?

 

It’s a shame that Jordanian and Palestinian concert goers won’t get to watch the awesome Mashrou’ Leila in concert. I’m terribly sorry that Arab governments are so scared of music imbued with messages that challenge what they know, in a way that they can’t really fight because, ultimately, progression is inevitable whether it takes a year, ten or a hundred.

In being banned from ever performing in Jordan, Mashrou’ Leila are not just winners. They are triumphant.

In being banned, they’ve reached the echelons of those entities in the Arab world that challenge the status quo so profoundly with what they do that they’re shaking governments, systems and belief foundations to their core.

In being banned, Mashrou’ Leila have proven that their music is not just an assortment of notes strung together to construct a catchy phrase, but rather a message for Arab youth to rise above what they know, what they’ve been brought up to believe and accept that diversity in the heart of their own culture is to be embraced not feared. Today, Mashrou’ Leila are victorious because their message of no fear is causing governments to be afraid.

Mashrou’ Leila’s music will not be silenced if their concert is stopped. In them being forced to be silent, they’re louder than ever, and their music will gain more audiences than they’ve dreamed possible. Today, they are victorious. Today, they should be proud of the walls they’ve broken and of the boundaries they will break with every note they sing.