Foreign Journalists, Can You Stop The Cliche & Poorly Researched Articles About Lebanon?

Dear Foreign Journalists,

We, as Lebanese people, absolutely adore the pride booster injections that you give us whenever you write about Beirut or our country.

In other words, the country gets a massive hard-on whenever you take the time to write an article about Beirut, or about how much of an “exotic” destination for tourism Lebanon is. Many of us (not me, to be honest) rise above the cliche of the articles because we believe they serve the greater good: to show the country in a better light, to show Beirut as a cosmopolitan city, and what have you.

But – and to put this gently – there’s just so much that you can say about a city being a party capital and about a people being party-loving before it becomes not only redundant, but utterly nauseating to read à la “oh look, it’s another one of those articles.”

I know that writing those articles gets you a lot of clicks and attention – blame our clicking-loving-Lebanese-fingers for that, but what needs to be said is the following.

Over the past couple of days, an article by The Telegraph by Ruth Sherlock – a foreign correspondent based in Beirut – has been making the rounds, aptly titled: “War is a million miles away when the Lebanese begin to party.” 

The article started off with a picture of a woman drinking champagne, with the caption indicating that the woman was doing so at a recent election, noting that the most recent election we’ve had was in 2009. But that’s not the “best” part about the picture.

Lebanon Telegraph Article

The author naturally assumed that the woman in question was Christian, because sectarian and religious designations by Western Journalists are perfectly fine when talking about Lebanon.

How is that woman Christian? I guess it’s because she’s unveiled? Because as we all know, there isn’t a single Muslim woman in the country who isn’t veiled. I should get the memo out to my friends. Or is it because she’s drinking alcohol? Because, as we all know there isn’t a single Muslim who happens to be female who likes to drink alcohol in this country? I should also get the memo to my party-loving friends; but please don’t get any ideas about writing articles about alcohol-loving Lebanese-Muslim women, I beseech you.

The article then goes on and on about Lebanon’s love for plastic surgery, because this is not new. What is new, however, is that we – as Lebanese – like to throw extravagant parties worth over $200,000 and weddings worth over $300,000.

I don’t know about you but I, as a Lebanese, currently have $30 in my bank account. Not only does my entire worth not equate $200,000, but I’ve never seen such money in my life before. This is to say that when you talk to an event organizer serving the Lebanese 0.3% in order to get an assessment of the other 99.7%, you are bound to – and forgive my French – fuck up. For reference on Lebanon’s distribution of wealth and why the notion of $200,000 events being the norm is completely erroneous, check the following article.

And because the Lebanese cliché is never really fulfilled without mentioning religion a few dozen times in a 500 word article, The Telegraph article made the very astute observation that Lebanese put sect before country, also known as something my not-yet-born cousin would gladly tell you on any of her sonograms.

The religious cliché also needs a good dose of how communities are segregated into East and West, Christian versus Muslim and how they rarely interact, with the occasional sectarian and probably senile man still living in 1965 who thinks those who pray differently are inherently bad people, although I have to admit the notion is not particularly erroneous among many people of the Lebanese populace, but it’s all very “been-there-done-that” topic wise, especially when name-dropping neighborhoods for their sectarian affiliation, and doing so erroneously; as far as I know, Basta is very Sunni.

Do not, however, and I beseech you again, go into how the Sunni-Shiite conflict of the region is having repercussions on Lebanon because that’s another overdone topic or how precious and vital Lebanon’s Christians are for the region because they, out of all denominations in the country, don’t need their self-worth inflamed any more.

Then, because it’s never an article about Lebanon without mentioning power cuts and how we don’t agree on our history post 1943, The Telegraph article aptly drops those, as if they’re coloring by number. Pastel color green goes into box number 3.

When you want to write an article about Lebanon, please don’t interview a party planner for the 1%, a businessman who is among the 1% and an old man who was probably taken aback by the presence of a foreigner, and was more than willing to blurt out anything, pile up the bunch together and call it an “article.”

I understand that Lebanon is not your target audience in such pieces; but we will be reading them anyway. Similarly, I assume you’d also be appalled if I wrote an article about the United Kingdom and mixed up Scotland with England, or if I wrote an article about New York City and I assumed the entire city is nothing more than Manhattan’s Financial District.

The Telegraph isn’t the only publication to do this. The examples are endless, from the Guardian to the Washington Times. It’s always the same topic over, and over again.

As a rule of thumb, the following headlines are so overdone they’re dead: Lebanon and parties, Lebanon and war, Lebanon and religious diversity, Lebanon and electricity &/or internet, Lebanon and the proximity of the beach to the mountain, Lebanon and skiing plus swimming in the same day, Lebanon and the active presence of Christians.

If you absolutely feel the need to write about any of the aforementioned topics, however, please, please do read the other twenty million articles written in the same vein, and try to give a new perspective, one that local media fails to produce because of the toes they’re afraid of stepping on, and one which both your Lebanese and local readers alike will find refreshing.

PS: The picture of the Church next to the Mosque in Downtown Beirut is a big no-no.

beirut-church-mosque

Best,

A disgruntled reader.

 

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My Article for Annahar: بلاد الضحايا الدائمة

Annahar A Separate State of Mind blog interview article

I was approached recently to be interviewed for renowned Lebanese newspaper Annahar regarding my blog. I obviously agreed and was also asked to write an article – in Arabic. After a brief moment of panic because I hadn’t written in Arabic since 2008, I gathered my thoughts and came up with the following, which I believe is decent:

نتباهى كلبنانيين، بصلابتنا التي نعتبرها مصدر فخر لنا في بلدٍ أقل ما يُقال فيه إنه يصعِّب كل نواحي الحياة علينا. الشعب
اللبناني دائماً ضحيّة… ضحيّة الغبن، الإهمال، النسيان، التناسي، المزايدة المستمرة،النفاق الدائم، والموت.

اللبنانيون ضحيّة المراحل. يكثُر الحديث عن تحضير جارنا الجنوبي لحرب كونيّة جديدة، فيما شعبنا المغلوب على أمره لا ملاجئ عنده ولا يشعربطمأنينة ولا بأمان.

اللبنانيّون ضحيّة الكلام الفارغ الذي يكثر ويعلو كل أربع سنوات ليشحن آمالهم بمستقبل افضل، لكن الدهر يعود بهم إلى واقع فقير، مرير لا خروج منه. ويتساءل البعض، من ضحايا القوقعة المناطقيّة، كيف يعلو التطرف في تلك المناطق التي لن يزوروها حتماً. فهم لا يعلمون أن الوجه الآخر للمركزية الإنفتاحيّة هو التناسي المكرّر، المحتّم والممنهج، نتيجته الأساسية زيادة الشرخ في كل مكوّنات هذه الأمّة المنقسمة على ذاتها، دائماً وأبداً. الشعب اللبناني هو ضحيّة خوف مستمر هدفه الأساسي سياسي، ويصوّرونه له بأنه للحماية. الخوف على الوجود، الخوف على أشباه الحقوق، الخوف على الذات، على الهواجس والخصوصيّات. كل هذه الأمور تؤدي إلى اقتناع راسخ في صلب الكيان الفردي، بصحة هذا الطرح السياسي أو ذاك. والحقيقة الواضحة أن أصحاب تلك الطروحات هدفهم واحد: جمع أكبر عدد من اللبنانيين ووضعهم في صناديق الاقتراع.

الشعب اللبناني ضحيّة التخويف التكفيري الذي يجعله يعتقد بأنه يحمي معتقده الديني كلما تشبّث بروحانيّته أكثر، لكن الواقع هو لحماية جيوب رجال الدين من خطر حرية الإختيار.

الجيش اللبناني ضحية المزايدة السياسية والعاطفية المتبلورة في السؤال اللّا متناهي: من يحب الجيش أكثر؟
فيعدد البعض أسماء شهداء جيشنا، متناسين أسماء أخرى لا تخدمهم، فيما تنقلب معادلة الأسماء عند آخرين ويبقى جيشنا رهن المتغيّرات العائليّة، الطائفيّة والسياسيّة التي تحمي الجميع، إلاّ أفراده. فلتسترح أنفس شهداء الجيش أجمعين، من أبطال نهر البارد مروراً بسامر حنا، فرانسوا الحج، وصولاً إلى بيار بشعلاني وإبرهيم زهرمان برحمة الله والسلام.

يكثر الكلام عن صعوبات اللبننة الحياتيّة ولا يكفّ. في استطاعتي أن أسترسل في الحديث الى أبد الآبدين، ولن يكفيّ!
الحق يقال، إن شعبي يلتقي في كونه ضحية معاناة مشتركة ويتشرذم إلى قطع صغيرة متى ذكرت له تلك المعاناة الّتي لا يراها كفيلة برفعه من حدود الإنتماء المناطقي والطائفي، ليتلاقى باللبناني الآخر المُفترق عنه قسرا
.

You can read the Annahar article about my blog here (click) and find the above article also on Annahar here (click).

AUB Student Newspaper “Outlook” Publishes Article About Homosexuality

Throughout my years at AUB, I watched as the level of the student publication Outlook decreased from something readable to, well, something unreadable – for lack of better words. I eventually stopped picking it up. Lack of interest, perhaps? I’d like to call it lack of content.

But Outlook is back with brand new controversial content that will make your head roll. Fact checking? What’s the point of that? Let’s publish anything that can get people talking. The latest? An AUB student named Mohamad Sibai wrote an article about homosexuality that he entitled: Viewpoint: Please Me At Any Price. You can read his piece here.

I felt it is my duty as a holder of a biology degree with an interest in psychology, two domains that Mr. Sibai is apparently very fond of citing, to say a few things, respectfully of course.

1 – ‘Why would God create people like that if he didn’t want us to do it?’ People are not born homosexual, usually one changes as he is growing from the infant stage up until puberty, some even later than that. This is, according to psychologists, due to certain factors during infancy and homosexuality can be treated in various ways.

Mr. Sibai, twin studies have shown that their is a genetic correlation for homosexuality. It’s not a linear correlation but there is an effect of genes on a person’s sexual orientation, whether you like to admit or not. There are other factors that science is currently actively researching. You also cite psychologists. Let me tell you Mr. Sibai that any psychologist who would be referring to homosexuality in the way that you are would be going against everything that he is taught, including the holy book of his domain: the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder). Homosexuality has been removed as a mental disorder from that book in its 2nd edition, back in 1971. The 5th edition will be published in 2013. Look at how far they’ve come, right?

2 – How would [allowing homosexuality] serve mankind any good? It obviously wouldn’t. The pair (if not more) would never have offspring, the rate of STDs would skyrocket, and any morality that society still had would disappear amongst a myriad other plights. 

Mr. Sibai, the rate of STDs is not correlated with homosexuality in any way whatsoever. It is correlated with sex. The millions of HIV+ people in sub-saharan Africa would disagree with you as well. Why have homosexuals been affected more in certain communities? Because the stigma associated with their behavior makes them more promiscuous. Your argument for morality is also highly invalid. What is the basis of morality? How can someone’s sexual preference determine whether that person is moral or not? For all matters and purposes Mr. Sibai, Hitler was heterosexual, and so was Stalin, so is Bashar Assad and so was Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Sibai, the evolution argument you are using regarding homosexuality not “serving mankind any good,” makes it unnatural is invalid. What do you say about infertility then? The way I see it, Mr. Sibai, overpopulating the planet is not in the “natural” course of things. And if homosexuality was unGod-like and unnatural, evolution would have had it extinct by now.

Also Mr. Sibai, an obviously religious person like you using evolution as an argument is sort of hypocritical, no?

3 – The point is, religion has done well in keeping society working well and efficiently in a respectable manner. God has set the rules for us to abide by, not to make life hard on us, but to make it better and easier.

Let’s see, you have World War I, World War II, the Cold War, a few thousand conflicts around the world, poverty all around, just to name a few things. How exactly is religion running things well Mr. Sibai? I understand you are a religious person. So am I, to an extent at least. However, to say that all religions have been working like clockwork in running things is false and delusional. Mr. Sibai, God has also set different rules apparently for different religions. You can marry 4 times, I can marry only once, just to illustrate my example. Now which so-called rules should we follow to not make life hard on us?

4 – Homosexuality in Russia is a crime and the punishment is seven years in prison, locked up with other men.

Starting May 27th, 1993, homosexuality was made legal in Russia. Your subsequent argument, Mr. Sibai, is invalid. A simple wikipedia search would have told you that.

I won’t go through the remainder of his article. However I have to ask: how did this make its way into Outlook? Don’t they have an editor-in-chief who knows what he/she is doing? Freedom of speech is obviously allowed to Mr. Sibai. But if everyone who wants to say something is given the platform to say it, then what does say about those platforms? Selectivity when it comes to newspapers, even student ones, is needed to keep a respectable level of discourse.

Mr. Sibai’s point of view is shared among many, I’m sure. It also adds a rather interesting field to the array of students in AUB. Unlike contrary belief, the university is not filled with liberals only. But Mr. Sibai, if you want to take your “viewpoint” to a newspaper, you need to formulate arguments that don’t appeal to your emotional side. Odds are if you had done some serious researching before decided to write something like this, you could have actually given a piece for people to think about and not criticize left and right.

What religion teaches, above everything else, is the importance of love and compassion. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” Let’s ponder on that, shall we?

Lebanese Transsexuals Exposed – A BeirutNightLife Article

This post is not to discuss the scientific content of the article at hand. This post is to discuss some technical parts of it – not even the scientific ones.

To say this needed a few revisions before going online is an understatement. Let me quote a sentence present in the first paragraph:

Ok, lets keep the wikipedia definition aside, the lady eye balling you all night IS A DUDE!!! A full fledged functional dude, just like you most probably with a package bigger than yours!!

Yes, this is a direct quote. Can I comment? I don’t find anything to say. But OMG, A DUDE?! With a bigger package?! OMG!

I’m not a grammar & spelling expert. But there are some things that are downright inacceptable, especially in a respectable publication like Beirutnightlife.

For instance, towards the end of the article, a man’s genitals are referred to as Gentiles. I didn’t know a Lebanese man’s penis is now a non-Jewish entity as well. Way to go, us?

 

The article also throws around scientific and anatomical information very loosely without going into their significance. Does a casual reader know what the basal ganglia is and how it could have a role in transsexualism? What purpose is served by throwing around the structure stria terminalis without explaining its scientific function?

I am a medical student currently studying these regions and I can barely grasp them.

This article offers nothing new and is very, very poorly written. Does BeirutNightLife really need shock factor to generate discussion? I really hope not.

The New York Times & Beirut Love Affair – A New Article: Beirut, the Resurgent Haven for Arabs

The picture used by the NY Times

If you felt that the NY Times is writing way too many articles about Beirut lately, you’re not mistaken.

A new article which appeared online yesterday talks about a resurgent Beirut, becoming a haven for the whole region. The point of the article is to show Beirut as a safety zone for the Arabs of the region, escaping the woes of their own country.

Of course, the backdrop of this safety zone is a cosmopolitan city that’s reborn where women strut on yachts in heels and Louis Vitton bags – I’m not kidding, this is how the article starts.

Sure, Beirut is among the safest cities in the Middle East today. But does talking about the safety of Beirut necessitate briefly taking about the fragile political status quo of the country and focusing more on the importance of Zaitunay Bay and Cafe Younes in harboring those seeking shelter?

In a way, I think the article is too superficial, making the city look, from the perspective of Arabs this time, as a place where they can escape the torment of their regimes and the situation of their countries by sunbathing and going shopping and laughing about the situation where they’re form.

Call me critical but I think a Syrian spending her time in Zaitunay Bay and an Egyptian taking a break from the political suspense of her country are not representative of the people in their corresponding countries, most of whom cannot afford to call Beirut a haven. Perhaps if the NY Times had bothered extending its scope from the few rich Syrians enjoying la dolce vita in Beirut, ignoring whatever’s happening in their country, they’d look at the thousands in refugee camps in the North, afraid to go back to their country and not exactly sunbathing on a boardwalk?

I love that Beirut is a safe city. I love that we’ve been in a state of peace for more than 4 years now, with very minor hiccups along the way. But this very narrow journalism and drawing conclusions based on very limited observations isn’t the best way to showcase Beirut.

I guess it’s what people like. Either way, we are sure proud of our little safe haven here.