Racism With Middle East Airlines (MEA). Again.

I recently got a tip from a reader regarding another racism incidence with Lebanon’s airline carrier MEA that is not dissimilar to the one that became everyone’s talk a few months ago, culminating in firing the employees involved.

The story goes as follows:

The export manager of a Chinese company was visiting Dubai for a few days after which he was sent by his company to Lebanon to work on a certain deal with a local business. Once his work in Lebanon was up and he had to go back to China, he presented at the MEA counter at the airport but the employee refused to issue him a ticket.

She said he didn’t have a visa for Dubai, which he did. He was also going through Dubai simply as transit to China, which is allowed even if you don’t have a visa. So shouting at the Chinese man, the employee talked down to him, dismissing him. A quarrel ensued, which was only stopped up by another employee interfering and issuing the ticket in question.

I wonder: how difficult is it for MEA to vet its employees before actually hiring them when it comes to the most basic of qualities that people who handle international customers should have? Or how difficult is it to actually have MEA’s employees go through some trainings in dealing with customers in respectable ways to bring them to the 21st century where a passenger isn’t dismissed based on the color of his skin or how stretched his eyes are?

Racism isn’t exclusive to MEA. It spreads to a lot of people across Lebanon with municipalities illegally banning Syrians (and officials who don’t want to do anything about it) to severe discrimination against migrant workers even in the media that should be helping to lessen this among people (link). But the least we should expect is for one of the country’s major companies – especially one that represents Lebanon to the entire world – to be stringent with the image it wants to give to the world.

As for how I believe racism in Lebanon should stop, I quote something I wrote (link) when the first racism incidence with MEA happened:

Racism isn’t also a Lebanese problem. It is a worldwide problem that takes many forms. It transcends the hate towards others based on skin color. It is the intolerance towards another’s religion, the intolerance towards another’s nationality. And if a country doesn’t have a predominant problems with someone’s race, then they probably have a problem with differing religions. It is the problem of “difference.”

We dislike those with whom we can’t easily relate.

So what’s different between Lebanon and those supposedly racism-free countries? It’s quite simple: accountability. And that’s what works most with us Lebanese: a slap on the wrist when we do stuff wrong (fines for smoking, for not putting on the seatbelt, for speeding….)

People who get accused of racism in those countries have consequences to deal with. In our country, racism is met with indifference. A prominent TV anchor was blantly saying that an Ethiopian maid who committed suicide a few months ago was deranged (click here)- and he found no trouble at all in passing his ideology to his viewers. I’m sure he got high ratings for that episode as well.

If that anchor had met the same fate as the employee, people would have known that what he said was wrong. They would have known that talking badly against someone else just because you don’t like the skin they were born in is unacceptable. And they would have realized that it is no longer accepted to have it happen.

Their racism would then regress – it would get suppressed. And that is how other countries do it.

Lebanon’s Independence Day

Most countries around the world celebrate their “Independence Day” with ecstatic joy. To all of those countries, it is a reminder of their struggle to break free from superpowers that were using their land, their people, their resources…

In Lebanon, November 22nd has become a national mourning day of some sorts. What are the people mourning? The French citizenship that could have been.

What is the notion of Independence and why do many Lebanese find it easy to ridicule the independence of their country? Contrary to popular belief, I feel proud on November 22nd, just as I feel proud about Lebanon any day. My country has grave flaws but regardless of those flaws, it exists.

The reason it’s so hard for many Lebanese to see their country as independent is because the notion of independence is grossly overestimated. No country in the whole world is truly independent from other countries. Example? The USA has a national debt of over $14 trillion, a big chunk of which is to China. Why do you think the US is struggling to fix its national budget nowadays? To fix the economy? Partly yes. But mostly to lessen this national debt and its dependence on other countries, such as China.

The difference between people in the US and Lebanon is that they have national pride that does not waver while we have a national pride as firm as water. The difference between us and them is that, even though they do have poverty and even though some of their States have horrible internet and even though the 3G provided by many of their carriers is not good, they feel proud to call themselves American. How many of us feel proud to call ourselves Lebanese?

You do know that the problems in countries such as the US, France, Switzerland, etc… are very similar to our problems? You have villages in the United States whose only source of livelihood is the production of crystal meth. You have places in France, like Lebanon, where it’s so corrupt that the police doesn’t dare enter. And then you have Switzerland, a country that, despite the great diversity of its people, managed to find a way to get them to coexist.

The problem in Lebanon? Our problems are magnified because of our country’s small size.

Some of us blame our politicians. We say they got us into this predicament. But simply put, our politicians arise from our society – they are inherently part of us. We voted for them and got them where they are today. But our “Independence” day is not our politicians’ to take. It is for all of us as a nation to celebrate: the sacrifices of our forefathers against the French Mandate to establish the Republic of Lebanon.

Others still call for a French (or any other “decent” country) mandate, wishing we were still under one. You know, if our forefathers found the situation under the French to be absolutely peachy and happy, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have fought to get Lebanon out of the mandate. Perhaps you should contemplate what all these superpowers are secretly doing in African countries where their influence is much more penetrating, where they still control national resources and lead the people of those countries to kill each other?

At the end of the day, it is hard for many to see Lebanon as independent because we live in a very, very difficult region. I look around and see Syria where Bashar Assad is killing his people left and right. I look to the South and see Israel/Palestine, both of which want a piece of my land as well and both of whom tried to get it as some point. And then I consider all those Arab countries and see that for a small country like mine, I’m sure of utter importance to them. Why is that? Why is it that many countries around the world can’t wait to get their hands on something related to my country? No, it’s not overwhelming pride. It’s an observation. Perhaps because they know that, as divided as we are, it makes it much easier for them to put their hands on our resources, our people and our land?

Our Independence is wasted by none-other than us: the people who let other countries wage their wars on our land. And amid everything that’s happening in the region around us today, perhaps we should be less critical and more vigilant against all of these countries with messed up systems that are ready to move their fights inside our borders.

You don’t want to call it independence, fine. Call it Lebanon’s National Day. But regardless of terminology, you should at least feel a stinge of pride that you have a country and, despite all its problems and the problems thrust upon it, it exists.

Kung Fu Panda 2 – Movie Review

Everyone agrees that the first Kung Fu Panda was a great animated movie. It had great animation, witty humor, an interesting storyline and all around awesomeness. It also made a lot of money, which motivated its makers, DreamWorks, to make a sequel.

Well, the sequel is here and is it as good? It depends on your personal preference.

When fireworks were discovered in China, Lord Chen, a peacock prince, started experimenting with them and got his parents worried. They went to an oracle who foretold his demise at the hands of a black and white creature. Chen, overhearing the oracle, went and eradicated all the panda population in China, not knowing that by doing so, he sealed his fate.

Meanwhile, Po (Jack Black) is still the dragon warrior and he’s still out of shape. If you thought him becoming the almighty warrior would allow him to go up a flight of stairs, you were mistaken. He also can’t control his hunger yet. Not that you should complain. It’s Po, after all. The Furious Five are also back, with the same actors and actresses giving vocal performances. Angelina Jolie returns as Tigress, in case you’re wondering.

Facing thefts across Chinese towns of metal things, Po and the Furious Five set out to save the day, only for Po to have a flashback from parts of his life he had forgotten. And so, as they set out to save China from Lord Chen, Po is also on a mission to find himself.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is much more heartfelt than its predecessor. It is at points simply emotional. There’s one particular scene in mind that will shake you to your core. It is also less funny than the predecessor. That’s why I’m not sure if it’s better. It is a very good movie in itself. It is highly enjoyable, authentic and, well, awesome. If your idea of a good animated movie is one that’s not fun all the time, with moments that will get you thinking or emotional, you will love this one. If you wanted something more like the first one (fun, fun, fun), this one is slightly different but you will enjoy it nonetheless.

Jack Black is great in giving life – again – to Po. He’s hilarious at some points and, when required, pretty sentimental. Angelina Jolie is back as the awesome heartless Tigress, only this time, she will have heart. The movie also features the vocal talents of Gary Oldman as the villain Lord Chen. Jean-Claude Van Damme (he still exists?) also gives his voice to one of the characters and so does Dustin Hoffman.

Overall, Kung Fu Panda 2 was a highly enjoyable movie. It doesn’t clash in continuity with its predecessor and fortifies the idea of a Kung Fu Panda saga. So if you have nothing to do on some afternoon and you’re in the mood for some heartfelt awesomeness, this is the movie you need to watch.