Sectarianism, Hate & Fear: How Hariri’s List Is Fighting Beirut Madinati

Beirut Madinati - bIERTE list 2016 2

As a rule of thumb in the Lebanese political scene, you should know you’re doing something right when all kinds of political groups from all across the political spectrum rally against you and fight you in the dirtiest of ways, slogans and rhetorics.

The “Byerte” list, translating to the Beirutis List, with its slogan “Keep Beirut For Its People” was Hariri and the political establishment’s choice for the upcoming municipal elections on May 8th. Of course, the slogan “Keep Beirut For Its People” is nothing more than a simple variation of the equally xenophobic, horrific political rhetoric rising around the world today, championed by people like Donald Trump. If they had the audacity, they might as well run with “Make Beirut Great Again” and be done with it.

The fact of the matter is no area in the country is exclusive to “its people,” and certainly not the capital which houses 50% of the Lebanese population.

Of course, those politicians had no problem with making sure all investment is placed in Beirut only while forgetting other regions entirely. Those politicians had no problem spending billions of dollars in post war restoration that belonged to the whole country to rebuild Beirut’s heart, making it heartless in the process.

They also had no problem in entertaining the idea of taking Beirut’s trash to places like Akkar. Clearly, keeping Beirut for Beirutis does not extend to their garbage.

Those politicians had no problem as well in championing policies over years to make Beirut not remotely affordable to its own people, unless we now have plans to nationalize GCC citizens.

Those politicians had no problem in making sure Beirut sunk in garbage and stunk of its smell, of its streets being the scene of fights and death that happened not even 8 years ago – ironically on the day the elections are supposed to happen.

I can go on and on, but the epitome of it all is in the fact that Hariri isn’t from Beirut to begin with. Say hi to Saida for me, why don’t you?

Horrifying slogans aside, the Future Movement and the rest of political groups in that list are rallying people in the only way they know how: fear and sectarianism.

Behold a Hariri supporter’s latest magnum opus on Facebook:

Hariri list Beirut 2016

It’s precisely rhetoric like this that shows how despicable and afraid those in governance can get, in order to instill this sense of fear and hatred in those who support them, by getting them to fabricate silly, redundant and baseless arguments in order to main a status quo that just doesn’t work.

Omar Chebaro is not alone. Many Beiruti Sunnis as well as other sects or party enthusiasts entertain the notion that opposing Hariri’s list would be unwise simply because it means falling out of rank at a time when doing so is not in the better interest of their sect. What I heard repeatedly goes along the lines: “you can’t be secular in a sectarian environment.”

This is not a justification to support Hariri’s list of “same old same old” at a time when people are dying, suffocating, and getting poisoned from that same old same old. It is in municipal elections that you can stand up to those who have taken you for granted and whose entire message is not one that’s based in the future but in a past rooted in bigotry and brainwashing.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, Beirut Madinati is not the list of Civil Marriage. A list running for Municipal Elections cannot enforce Civil Marriage, regardless of what its candidates believe regarding that issue.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, Beiruti Madinati will not set Beirut on the path to become a haven for sin. Walaw? Don’t be fooled by hateful messages whose only purpose is to get you to vote the way a party that has failed over and over and over again wants you to on May 8th.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, your vote on May 8th is really, very simple:

You can vote for trash. You can vote for the garbage filling your streets. You can vote for the smell that has made you vomit every day for the past 3 weeks. You can vote for the city in which you can’t afford to buy an apartment. You can vote for the city whose downtown you cannot even enter. You can vote for the roads congested with cars at any moment of any day. You can vote for poisoned water, poisoned food, poisoned air.

If you vote that way, you’d be voting for Beirut today, Beirut the city that is dying because of the policies of that who wants you to believe you have no other choice because you’re Sunni, or Orthodox, or from Beirut born and bred, keeping Beirut for its people, because its people are not all Lebanese.

Or you can vote to change things. You can vote to those who are not taking your vote for granted, but going to your neighborhood to ask you: what do you need? You can vote to those who have taken the time to write a 32 pages program for you, not someone asking you to vote for them just because you should.

On May 8th, the choice couldn’t really be simpler. I hope you choose those who are good, not those who make you afraid of wanting better.

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Let’s Talk About Lebanon’s 2013 Elections: The Orthodox Gathering Law

One can argue that the French mandate was the root of Lebanon’s sectarian system. Its goal was to make a country that serves as a safe-haven for Maronites, with an edge in parliament seats and in governing powers. The sectarian divide in power reflected upon the people over the years. Blame the French? Blame everyone I guess.

Growing sectarianism and a feeling of injustice among sections of Lebanon’s population led to the Lebanese Civil war which culminated in the Taef agreement. The agreement took away most of the president’s powers, rendering him a near-puppet in a growingly tense political scene, and equalized between Christian and Muslim representation in parliament, despite the case not being so demographically.

Subsequently, a Syrian-led Lebanese regime managed to fragment Christian communities even more. The demographics, due to constant persecution, low birth rates and high immigration rates of Christians, continued to become even more lopsided. As it stands, Lebanon’s population is 60% Muslim and 40% Christian. That’s on a good day of statistics.

The problem with a skewed demographic, however, with an equally split parliament is that many of the minority’s seats cannot be chosen by said minority, regardless of what that minority is. This wouldn’t be a problem in a place where majorities and minorities didn’t view themselves as such: I have the power of numbers, therefore I rule over you.

That’s how the idea for an Orthodox Gathering Law came to be: the power that Christians lost over the years “must” be recuperated. And that should be done despite Christians not having the power of numbers anymore.

Here’s what’s given about the Lebanese situation today:

  • There’s no such thing as a Lebanese social fabric.
  • There’s no such thing as national unity – it only exists in the wildest fictive ideas of those who live in their own Lebanon-utopia
  • There’s no hope to achieve a state of national unity under current circumstances.
  • The biggest obstacle towards national unity isn’t regional (i.e. coming from different cazas across the country) but sectarian.
  • Sects always feel threatened by different sects in the country.
  • Sects are already more or less isolated and with rising bouts of extremism.

Apart from a minority in the Lebanese population, people identify with their sects first and foremost. They are more inclined to feel sympathy towards another person’s strife if that person is from their corresponding sect. It’s sickening, definitely. It’s horrible, you bet. But it’s the way things are. To fix this, you need to fix sectarianism.

You can’t fix sectarianism by forcing secularism upon people. You can’t tell a country with many who associate the current political system with being “religious” that the country is now secular which they will undoubtedly believe is also correlated with atheism. Off with their heads! No, the change towards secularism has to be gradual just as Lebanese gradually but surely became a sectarian state. People need to leave behind their sect-survival instincts in order to adopt a more global approach towards how they vote, towards how they act regarding others who are different from them, towards how they perceive those who are different.

For instance, here’s a little experience that I observed firsthand recently.

As news of Hay el Sellom in Beirut being flooded broke out, I saw two drastically different reactions in front of me. In my own little piece of the Lebanese Bible belt, people asked: Are those Shia? If they are, then ma3le (it’s okay). On the other hand, as Lebanese journalist commented on those people of Hay el Sellom’s grave violation of the law in where they built their houses, half of Twitter’s Shias, who tend to be on the more liberal side, were up in a fit.

Sectarianism is there – even among those who claim not to be sectarian.

As it stands, Lebanese people vote in a “to be or not to be” mantra. This needs to change. They are voting as such because:

  • Christians are made to fear wilayat al Fakih and those bearded Islamists.
  • Sunnis are made to fear the Shia weapons.
  • Shia are made to fear everyone being after their weapons.
  • Druze are made to fear anyone trying to breach their tightly-knit community.
  • Minorities are made to fear everyone else.

As this article is heading, you might believe this is in defense of the Orthodox Gathering law. If you had asked me a few days ago where I stood regarding that law, I would have told you this: Based on the current way that Lebanon is run, given the country’s state and fabric, the Orthodox Gathering Law makes sense. The way I see it, it doesn’t increase sectarianism and it might help, if sects stop feeling threatened, to get people to vote based on accountability which is very needed in this country. On the long run, if sectarian parties can no longer fuel people in a sectarian way then maybe – just maybe – that would help with things.

But that was a few days ago.

The MPs going on and on about how the Orthodox Gathering Law is unconstitutional and how it’ll increase sectarianism and whatnot are full of it. The only reason they are panicking isn’t because they want to keep the idea of Lebanon being an example of non-existent co-existence intact. They want to have their own behinds saved from the chopping block of a law that most probably wouldn’t vote them in again. Our MPs – all of them – are only seeking out a law that ensures they return to power. It’s as simple as that. The discussion isn’t about the country’s sake, it’s about their own personal interests.

Today, when I think about the Orthodox Gathering Law, I am not on the fence, I am against it. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s a must to tackle the growing “injustice” towards Lebanese Christians, whatever that may be. It’s not because it is demographically incorrect as it gives Christians more weight than they’re supposed to have. It’s not even because it’s sectarian in principle. It’s not because it makes it harder for centrists to break in. It’s not because it drowns out a secular minority that can’t identify with it.

I am against the Orthodox Gathering Law today for very simple reasons:

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have the prerogative of having a law tailor-made for my sect and have it applied to all other sects as well? Don’t other Lebanese sects have woes as well? Don’t they have “minorities” whose voices are also drowned out by a Christian majority somewhere?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, consider myself to be the only sect in this country who has rights eaten away and who needs some “justice” restored?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have to vote only for people who correspond to my sect without knowing if those people share my worries or if they’re even aware of the issues that I want to vote for? Does a person from a certain sect running for office automatically mean that person is knowledgeable of the issues that their sect faces? No.

My problem with the Orthodox Law today is simply that it tells me that I, Elie E. Fares, a Maronite Christian (on paper) from the mountains of North Lebanon, should have a problem in having a Sunni or a Shia or a Druze or a Catholic or an Orthodox or a Jew or a Alawite or an Ismailite or a Syriac or an Evangelical or an Armenian or whatever sect a person belonged to have a say in a parliament member that represents them all, not just me.

I believe that what the Orthodox Law is telling me is unacceptable. But I’m a Christian minority in thinking so. Most Maronites and Christians, especially some of our politician who double as Christian saviors-wannabes, want you to believe that what I believe is wrong. They are telling you that their way is the only way for you to get your rights. They want you to believe that if Christians don’t elect every single Christian-designated MP, then they’re being persecuted.

The Orthodox Law isn’t the way we get back our “rights.” We get back our rights by voting to people who can fight for those rights without turning it into a media propaganda as they kickstart their 2013 election prospects. We get back our rights by actually knowing what our rights are. And let me tell you, those rights aren’t Lebanon’s Christians selecting half of its parliament all by themselves.

So as our politicians play a game of chess with each other, you know what your rights are according to some of them? You only have the right to be afraid of everyone else all the time. You only have the right to believe you are persecuted all the time – that those big bad Sunnis and Shia and Muslims are after you all the time. Welcome to the state of mass paranoia. And we just can’t live like that – not as Christians, not as Muslims, not as Lebanese and we can’t allow laws that are based on our paranoia as Christians rule the entire country.

The Rise of the Middle East’s Atheists

September 2012, Middle East:

A low-budget movie titled “The Innocence of Muslims” makes its way to the media of the region. The movie insults the prophet Mohammad and doesn’t pretend to do so innocently. The mayhem it caused became infamous, notably for the American embassy storming in Libya which made its way to the US presidential elections. Protests across the region turned bloody. Innocent people lost their lives because of cheap ten minute footage. And the image that some Muslims have been giving to Islam over the years was reinforced once again.

October 2012, Pakistan:

Malala Yousafzai, a fourteen year old girl, was shot in the head by Taliban individuals who feared her message. Malala’s message was not that of an uprising against the men who worked endlessly to make her life and the life of countless other girls like her a living hell. She was calling upon girls her age to seek an education, which most of us take for granted: the kind where we sit behind a desk and listen all day to teachers telling us things we believe we’ll never need. Her message did not sit well with the Taliban whose mission had been, in part, to eradicate education in the parts of the world where they are of influence. They had destroyed countless schools and forbade women from attending schools in their attempt to restore the days of 600AD.

October 2012, Facebook:

A Syrian woman named Dana Bakdounes posted a picture of herself on Facebook without the veil as part of a movement for the rights of women in the Middle East. (Check the picture here). The message Dana wrote, as part of her picture, said “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I was not allowed to feel the wind on my body… and on my hair.” The message rubbed some people the wrong way and a bunch of extremists took it upon them to silence Bakdounes, even on Facebook. So they mass reported her picture as offensive, prompting Facebook to remove it.

October 2012, Egypt:

In a post revolution Egypt where Islamists have been gaining power, two Copt boys, aged nine and ten, were arrested for defiling the Quran. Another Copt teacher was arrested after some students accused her of speaking badly of prophet Muhammad in class while another Copt is facing charges for material deemed offensive which he posted on his Facebook account. A veiled Muslim teacher also cut the hair of two girls in class who refused to wear the veil. She later explained that she had been “challenged.”

The Rise of Atheism:

The rise in religious extremism in the Middle East is touching all of its religions. Be it Christians who are worried about their fate and revert to their Bible in belief that it will somehow be their salvation. Or Jews whose reputation has become intermingled with zionism and borderline inseparable in the mind of many. However, I decided to only discuss Islam because the broader picture of the Middle East, in which there’s a tangible rise in Islamist Influence, is a canvas of Islam – as it is the region’s first and foremost leading religion, demographically.

The rise in extremism is attributed to many geopolitical reasons. It is also associated with a serious lack of understanding of religion from all involved, most notably the men of the robe who are doing more harm to their religions with their backward mentality than anyone else.

The Middle East has probably one of the world’s highest rates of religious people. And it’s simply because we were born this way. We are not allowed to choose what we want to be religiously. I was born into a Christian Maronite family. Therefore, I am a Christian Maronite. If fate had it differently and my parents were from another part of Lebanon, I may have been a follower of a different religion. And this applies to everyone. As we grow up, we are taught our religion and nothing else. Come Sunday morning, it was better for me to attend Mass. For others, they had better pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan and never eat pork or drink alcohol. During my early days at AUB, I was surprised to find that some Muslim people – obviously a minority – had absolutely no idea when Christmas was celebrated. On the other hand, I thought Achoura was a happy celebration. We rarely challenge our religious beliefs because we don’t feel the need to. Those beliefs enable us to blend in our societies and not get ostracized – at least in that regards. They enable us to connect to other people with whom we are able to identify not due to their mentality or thoughts but because of their religious beliefs. At a certain level, deep down, it’s always easier for a “Christian” to make “Christian” friends than to become friends with a “Muslim.” The reverse is also true.

Our narrow religious upbringing also limits us to the other religions present around us, especially in the region’s few relatively mixed countries. Egypt’s Muslims know very little about the Copts who were founders of their country. Lebanon’s Muslims know very little about its Christians. The opposite is also true. This lack of understanding, combined with an increased rooting in unchallenged belief, places the seed of conflict, which has been manifesting way too many times across the region.

However, religion is but one side of the coin. For with the rise of the Islamists on one side, I believe that the region’s atheist numbers are increasing dramatically, albeit most of them are probably closeted, and they are fueled by the exact same events that are getting people to become more religious, coupled with an increase of education across the board. What people turning increasingly religious see as a threat to their belief, others do not see it as such. What some increasingly religious people do to defend their beliefs, others see as a violation of freedom. What some increasingly religious people feel related to, others want to detach from it. The religious behavior that makes some religious people proud causes others to be the opposite. The picture that some extremists deem offensive, others see as a manifestation of free thought. The children seen as defiling Islam by some, others see as children being children. The girl infecting the minds of other girls with poison, which some (obviously very, very few) believe, others see as a complete violation of every single human sanctity.

One part decides to cling further to what they know because of such events. Others decide to look at alternative, which might fit better with how they see the world, away from a notion of faith that has become alien to them. After all, all they’re seeing of faith is repeated incidences of things they do not remotely agree with, despite that being as remote from what religions call for.

Religious people will call it a lack of understanding and narrow-mindedness for someone to turn atheist. They will never be convinced how someone who was born and raised on certain teachings can ditch them entirely and move towards thoughts that they find revolting. What they don’t get is that the same rhetoric they use applies in similar fashion to atheists who are moving away from teachings that they find revolting and forced upon them throughout their years.

Of course, this does not apply to all religious people as some practice their religion in silence, without letting everyone know when they’re praying and when they’re offended. But this silent majority is not the one that gives an impression. Out of a crowd of millions, the person who changes perceptions is that whose voice is heard the most. And in a time of religious insecurity, in a region of political insecurity, the voices heard the most are those of people that rub a whole lot of other people the wrong way.

Regardless of where you stand regarding the two sides of the religion-atheism coin, the image being painted is the following: religion is the bread of the poor. Atheism is the butter of the “educated.” However, the only one thing that I believe is of absolute necessity is that the Middle East needs more atheists.

Muslim Prayers At USJ

Everyone should be able to express their conviction in the right place at the right time. This is a conviction of mine. The right place and the right time may vary depending on where you stand regarding an issue but sometimes things are very clear cut and a stance needs to be taken.

A few months ago, the Antonine university had a tough situation with Muslims students who were adamant about praying at their university, which happened to be a Maronite Monastery, so they took the convent’s courtyard to do so. This sparked a debate in the country: should these students be allowed to pray or not at universities with obvious religious affiliations?

The point of view that I expressed back then and which I still stand by is the following: If a Muslim student (or a Christian student for that matter) believes it’s of utmost importance for him/her to pray, then that should go into their university selection criteria. If that student deems prayer not important enough and believes that getting the best education that can be provided, regardless of the university’s religious affiliation, is the way you to go, then that student doesn’t have the right to complain later on.

Université St. Joseph (USJ) had a similar incidence yesterday where more than twenty Muslim students decided to gather around and take a room without permission in order to pray. The incident was reported to the dean who rounded up the students only to have the situation swell by attracting more students to the place where the prayers were taking place. Some took the job of acting as guard to let the prayers continue.

The situation escalated to the maximum point without a confrontation happening and the incident has sparked some Christians at USJ to express outrage at what was happening. They believe that including a prayer room in the faculty of medicine was good enough – forcing every single faculty to adopt such policies is a step too far. The faculty in question was ESIB. For the Muslims who want to pray at USJ, it is their “right” to pray five times and they believe the university should provide them with a prayer room to do so.

It seems that such endless debates are our bread as Lebanese. But here’s what it breaks down into quite simply.

  1. USJ is a university that is obviously Christian. It is run by the Jesuites. It doesn’t hide its Christian affiliation and as such, those applying to study in it are well aware of that.
  2. Given that the nature of USJ is a general fact, weren’t those Muslim fully aware that attending USJ will bring them the best education possible and not spiritual fulfillment?
  3. When a prayer turns into proving a “principle” and rubbing it into other people’s faces, the question asks itself: what’s the point of praying in the first place?
  4. When a prayer becomes a point of conflict, the question also asks itself: are those students really seeking religious salvation or are they simply seeking trouble? I believe it’s obviously the latter.
  5. What forces universities with obvious religious affiliations to provide praying facilities for all its students? Is it something that they’re obliged to do? Absolutely not. If a university had been secular, the problem wouldn’t present itself. The American University of Beirut converted its chapel into an assembly hall and has denied requests for prayers rooms. AUB is secular. USJ is not.
  6. Universities abroad, which provide prayer rooms for students, are not religious in nature. And if the prayer rooms are provided, they are not for one religion and not the other – they are for all religions. Religious ones, on the other hand, are not forced to do so: Case in point: the Catholic Medicine faculty in Lille, France, does not provide prayer rooms for its Muslim students.
  7. Would a Lebanese Muslim university open a chapel for Christians to pray in it? The answer is obviously not. The argument that Christians don’t need to pray doesn’t hold. What if they want to?

Lebanese students in general, both Christian and Muslim, need to know that universities are not churches. They are not mosques. They are not synagogues. Universities are places where they pay in order to learn and build a future for themselves and their families. The fact that all of my Muslim friends at medical school, some of whom are extremely religious (they are Salafists and awesome), have no problem going through our long days without praying is testament enough that those “Muslims” wanting to “pray” at USJ are only seeking to create trouble and tension at a university that’s known of accepting people from all parts of Lebanese society, regardless of religion. But there are lines you cannot cross.

Beware! Tomatoes are Forbidden for Being a “Christian” Fruit… So Says an Egyptian Islamist Association

Crazy people with a platform. Hello bad side of the internet.

One of my Facebook friends shared this picture on my timeline with a sarcastic comment to show their corresponding disdain of its content. And I’m sharing it here for two purposes:

1) Comedy is needed these days.

2) Sometimes calling groups on their stupidity is needed.

The Egyptian Islamic Popular Association (or my translation of Alrabita Alsha3bia Almasriya el Islamia) has decided to call on people to stop eating tomatoes because it’s a Christian fruit which holds the Cross in it. Wait, there’s even a picture!

Praise Jesus! He is risen in a berry!

The translation goes as follows: “Eating tomatoes is forbidden because it’s Christian, praises the Cross and calls on you to worship three gods and not one. We beseech you to share it because a sister in Palestine saw the Prophet in a vision crying and warning his nation of eating tomatoes. If you don’t share it, know that the devil has forbidden you.”

The devil. We don’t want to upset that now, do we?

Their Facebook page, which you can access here, supports Mohammad Morsi for the Egyptian elections. They’re also happy that Shakira has converted to Islam and they have the picture to prove it. You don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot of that:

That’s not Shakira… or is it?

Meanwhile, the tomato post has a caption which calls Christians a blasphemous bunch (Kuffar), about 2700 shares and 1200 comments. The good thing is? Many of those comments are calling it as it is: retardation.

As for me, I’m classing this under humor.

A Bank in Jordan Fires A Christian Woman… For Refusing To Wear a Veil

I’m sick of articles shared by Lebanese “activists” that tell us how neighboring countries, such as Jordan, have more “freedom” than Lebanon. You tell them it’s not true, they ask for an example outside your basic Lebanese pride.

Well, here’s one for you. A Jordanian Christian woman was fired from her work not because she was incompetent, not because she wasn’t good at what she did but because she refused to wear a veil.

The woman, named Vivianne Salameh, was asked to hear a headscarf which goes with the uniform the bank, Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank, enforced for female employees earlier this year. Five other Christian female workers had already caved in. She refused to wear the veil. The headscarf doesn’t conform with her principles, she said.

The uniform the bank imposed on female employees wasn’t even registered at the trade and industry ministry, which means their initial uniform, despite them being “Islamic,” didn’t impose a headscarf.

Following the bank’s logic, it should be allowed for other companies to fire women who wear the veil. Right? Aren’t they breaking uniform? But other companies don’t do so because there is a very simple thing that seems to have eluded this bank: the concept of freedom of religion.

Muslim women are free to wear the veil, they are also free not to. Christian women are not supposed to wear a veil, according to their religion. Forcing them to is violating their freedom.

But how would a bank that’s straight out of the dark ages know that?

It’s a sad day when refusing to wear a piece of clothes means your source of living gets cut. I praise Vivianne Salameh for standing up to her faith. She’s exactly the type of people these retarded banks need.

The Different Classes of Lebanese Prisoners in Syria

First Class:

13 pilgrims were kidnapped in the Syrian city of Aleppo today. These pilgrims are all Shiite and were taken by rebels as their bus passed through the city on their way back from Iran.

As a result, Hezbollah-supporters are now burning tires and closing the roads. Hassan Nasrallah is now having a speech to calm his people down. It’s obviously working. His level of control is unparalleled. Talks are already underway to release the 13 men.

Prediction: they will be out in a few days, max.

The Less-Than-Dogs Class:

Every other Lebanese prisoner present in Syrian prisons or still missing because of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Their parents have been protesting for the past 5 years non-stop, asking for any news about their sons and daughters. They’ve been hearing nothing. The parents of these men and women don’t want their children to return alive anymore; they just want any news about their children for the sake of a thirty-years stretched out closure. Even that is too much to ask for.

What’s the “fault” of these men and women? They are Christian or not part of the pro-Syrian assembly of the other sects.

The conclusion:

It is here that I have to ask: is burning tires, closing roads and threatening civil war the only way to get to something you want in Lebanon? Is turning the country into a more savage jungle the only path towards forcing others to meet your demands?

After the past few days, I’m beginning to think so.

It is here that I ask Christians in the country: In a country of savagery, is our civility the best option for self-preservation and to make our voices heard?

How much more double-facing can the other sects in Lebanon take until they crack as well?