No Netanyahu, Israel Isn’t The Only Middle Eastern Place Where Christians Can Celebrate Christmas

In his increasingly childish bitchfit against the international political establishment that saw his country’s transgressions through settlements on Palestinian land finally made illegal with a UN resolution banning Israel – yeah, right – from building more of them, the Israeli PM is lashing out at his country’s closest ally and the reason Israel has been off the hook in everything it’s done for years, the United States.

As part of a rant aimed at US Secretary of State John Kerry whose tone was very moderate towards the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, with him recognizing the plight of Palestinians and their refugees, the land grab they’ve been victim of, among other things, Netanyahu figured it best to remind Kerry, and by extension of his buzz words that you know will circle Fox News for months to come, other Americans and Westerners who see Israel as the only worthy beacon of civilization in the Middle East that – and I quote:

“Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians can celebrate Christmas.”

In the grand scheme of things, such statements are utterly meaningless, mostly because they’re pure bullshit. But as we’ve seen bullshit can actually get equal bullshit elected. The danger in letting such statements go by unchallenged is that they play right into the rhetoric that Israel and its allies want to put forward: It is the only country in the Middle East that’s, for all matters and purposes, worth anything, everyone else be damned.

It’s precisely not challenging such statements in the past that has turned Israel from the apartheid state existing on occupied territory, turning a blind eye towards all rules of war, ignoring many of the UN resolutions in which it is part, among other things, to this “liberal,” “religiously free” beacon of “hope” in the Middle East that is only “defending” itself against those “Arabs” who just don’t get it. All of this to the backdrop of Christian-centric, Israel-loving, everything and everyone else-hating Trump coming in 3 weeks.

So Netanyahu, and those that seem to believe him, how about you come sit on last year’s Byblos tree? I’m pretty sure it will bring your lot quite the pleasure.

jbeil-byblos-christmas-tree-2015

This year’s tree can work fine too:

byblos-jbeil-christmas-tree-2016

Or how about you come see this year’s tree in Tripoli? In case you didn’t know, that’s *whispers* Muslim territory.

tripoli-christmas-village-1

How about checking out the tree in Downtown Beirut?

beirut-downtown-tree-2016

Pic via @livelovebeirut.

Or the many other ways through which Beirut celebrated Christmas? (Pictures via LiveLoveBeirut).

 

Or how about the tree in my own house where my family gathered for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch, opened presents and then had some of its members go to midnight mass?

lebanon-christmas-decoration-2016-2

Or those pesky Christmas decorations in all our malls?

I also don’t see Israel on that Huffington Post list of notable Christmas trees from around the world but Lebanon has TWO entries there, as does the West Bank. Weird, huh?

I find it odd that the country that sells itself as being the world’s only Jewish state and gets away with it because anyone who tries to challenge that notion is deemed anti-Semitic has the audacity to claim it’s a defender of Christian rights when Christians in Israel are, similarly to Muslims, inherently second class citizens due to the fact they’re not, you know, Jewish. Just an FYI to Netanyahu and his friends, the president in Lebanon is Christian and I, a Lebanese who happens to be Christian (on paper), have the absolute freedom to practice my religion if I want to without worrying about checkpoints, armies oppressing me, a state that deems my religion second-rate, among other things.

And if you thought that Lebanon was a special case, let me remind you that it was less than a week ago that Israeli rabbis had a problem with Christmas decorations at a local mall. Or does that not affect the way Christians celebrate Christmas?

Conversely, when that “scandal” was going down, I was visiting the Jordanian city Aqaba, from which I could see Eilat. The city was Christmas ready with decorations at its hotels and streets, even though its Christian population is minor.

aqaba-christmas-decoration

The fact of the matter is that the best Christmas in the Middle East isn’t in Lebanon or in Jordan, but where it all began: Bethlehem. And even that isn’t in Israel either.

Tea, meet kettle.

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Sorry Jbeil, Lebanon’s Best Christmas Tree Is In Tripoli This Year

At a time when Christmas decorations have become yet another opportunity for Lebanese locales to compete among each other, spending tens of thousands (if not more) of dollars for momentary decorations instead of more needed development.

But I digress. Jbeil, whose Christmas decorations have become a yearly landmark, wouldn’t be too pleased to find out that its (lackluster?) tree this year, which faced stiff competition from the one in Zgharta, is being bested by a very unlikely competitor for the coveted title of Lebanon’s best.

In Tripoli’s unfinished Rachid Karameh expo, a modern-art Christmas tree, inspired by one of Oscar Niemeyer’s landmarks in the expo, merging Ramadan Lanterns with Christmas decorations was unveiled yesterday, to show that the holidays in the country are better celebrated together and that we, as a country, are stronger in being together. This comes from a city that is trying to pick up the pieces from the mayhem it was forced into as a result of years of systematic neglect during which its people were killed, its infrastructure crumbled and its reputation took a beating.

But Tripoli is trying to change all that. Next to its Christmas tree, at 25 meters of height, is an entire Christmas village akin to the one you can go to in Beirut at Train Station. The place is full of local shops trying to sell you goods. I’ve been to that of Beirut yesterday and the one in Tripoli is quite different: the prices are cheaper, it’s more organized and it’s way cleaner. You won’t see people chainsmoking their way indoors up North.

The Christmas village imported the widely popular “Souk el Akel” to Tripoli as well. While the concept of a food market has escaped our Lebanese-ness with the fact that such places should be affordable, with the joke going laban with cucumbers there costing you around $20, this is not the case in Tripoli. The marketplace is half composed of local Tripoli restaurants, and they’re super cheap. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the local moghrabiye.

All of this, including access to the usually closed Rachid Karameh expo, a gorgeous place, costs just 5000LL. The money goes to help thousands of needy children this Christmas season as well as to buy gifts for 2,000 orphans around the city.

The Christmas village will also be hosting a slew of stars in concert this year, as well as Brazilian football player Roberto Carlos who will be there on December 20th:

roberto-carlos-tripoli

So I suggest all of you make the trip up North for the next few days (the village runs until December 22nd) and check out how Tripoli is trying to reclaim its spot on the Lebanese landscape.

Sectarianism & Islamophobia: Jounieh Wants To Become The “Christian Capital” of Lebanon


On the slope of how low some electoral programs can sink to try and attract votes, the FPM-backed “Karamet Jounieh” takes the cake.

You’ve probably seen their billboards all over the highway. From their super lame: Weina Jounieh? To them revealing it was “MasJounieh” before launching into a full blown attack about how they would bring back Jounieh’s dignity.

Now, 2 days before Jounieh votes, they went full force into the attack by proclaiming they would make Jounieh the “capital of Middle Eastern Christians.”

Out of a 9 point platform tackling various aspects of the city’s life, making it the capital of Christians in Lebanon was their #1 priority with it being the top point on their list.

How would they accomplish so? By building a multitude of Churches and religious centers for Near-East Christians to feel closer to each other so that if “Copts in Egypt are affected, we feel it in Lebanon as well.”

Because, you know, the hundreds of thousands of Muslims dying across the Middle East don’t deserve us “feeling it as well” because they don’t pray that way, or that we, as Lebanese, are supposed to “feel” with the Christian in South Sudan before we feel with our fellow Lebanese in Bab el Tebbaneh, simply because that Lebanese is not Christian.

Let us make Jounieh the capital of Christians. While we’re at it, why don’t we make Beirut or Tripoli the capital of Sunnis? Why don’t we make Tyr the capital of Shiites as well? I mean, why not? If Christians are supposed to have their own city, then why shouldn’t other sects too? Why doesn’t Keserwen then just secede into the Democratic Republic of Maronistan with Harissa in the center of its flag and be done with it?

This kind of xenophobic and horrific rhetoric has no place in elections aiming for LOCAL development in 2016. “Karamet Jounieh” claims that them wanting their city to become the capital for Christians is to face the persecution affecting Christians in the Middle East and to further solidify the importance of Jounieh with its strong Christian history.

For a moment there, I thought Daesh was at the footsteps of Maameltein and that Jesus did not come out of Nazareth but of Haret Sakher and Maronites did not get persecuted in the mountains of North Lebanon, but in the streets of Sarba.

In the face of such disgusting slogans, I invite this blog’s followers who vote in Jounieh to refuse such hateful, xenophobic notions and to vote for the list opposing “Karamet Jounieh” on Sunday, which is the list calling itself “Jounieh El Tajaddod.”

At a time when Christians in Beirut refused to be treated with the hateful, segregating rhetoric that Karamet Jounieh is giving its people in Jounieh by voting for Beirut Madinati, the last thing we need in this country is for such divisive talk to be center stage in any elections. Less fear and hate, more tolerance.

Christian Only By Name, No 1st Communion For Bassam Abou Zeid’s Children For Having Special Needs

  
Over the years, first communions have become less about the religious value they uphold but rather about which child has the best combo of it all: souvenirs, party, ceremony. 

It was the case when I did it almost 18 years ago. My parents went all out. Things have only gotten worse since.

Despite the materialistic aspect of the ceremony, it remains a rite of passage for a lot of Lebanese Christians, mostly Maronites. For many children, it’s the highlight of their 8th year. For most parents, it’s one of the last religious festivities their children will go through .

Yesterday, news surfaced that well-known Lebanese reporter Bassam Abou Zeid wouldn’t be going through that experience with his two little boys: Matheo and Iowan. 

In a Facebook post, Abou Zeid detailed the ordeal his children were going through in the St. Doumit Parish in Zouk Mkayel; the ceremony organizers were having issues handling them so they required the parents to be present during rehearsals, which the parents obliged to, only to be faced with the ultimatum that their children were not a “proper fit” with that particular parish to undergo the ceremony.

When Abou Zeid spoke to the Parish priest to sort things out, parents threatened to take their children elsewhere if Abou Zeid’s children were to remain part of that particular first communion, for fear of them “ruining” it.

To summarize: this is one of the most disgusting things to occur in Lebanese society in years, there’s nothing Christian about this. Those parents – screw them – should be ashamed. Those ceremony organizers should be ashamed as well.

Let’s start with the ceremony organizers.

It is your duty as volunteers to hold such ceremonies to take in children from all kinds of kinds whose parents want them to take the next step in their Christian life. Bassam Abou Zeid’s children having special needs and you not being able to adapt to them does not reflect negatively on the children, it shows your ineptitude at doing your job. I don’t blame you. I blame the Parish that accepted you to run their ceremony to begin with.

To those parents who threatened to transfer their children if Bassam’s boys were allowed to participate, you are nauseating. Not only is this utterly disgusting on your part, it also shows that you are unfit parents, to condemn little boys in that manner, little boys whose only fault was to have special needs, which isn’t really a fault at all. I hope that your children never face the kind of discrimination you’re throwing at Matheo and Iowan. I hope you never have to be the parent in Bassam’s shoes, and have someone like you tell them: oh, we don’t want your children to ruin it for ours. The only thing Christian about you is the sectarian tag on your ID. I advise you to take your children out of the ceremony anyway, there’s nothing Christian about what you are doing there.

To the priest Joseph Eid, it is your duty to make sure that Matheo and Iowan attend that ceremony along with the other children. It is despicable and horrifying if you were to succumb to the parents’ threats about not wanting their children to have their ceremony ruined. It is your job as a priest to make sure that the God you serve, the one who wanted all God’s children to be part of His church, not to have some children be excluded because their parents are dimwits or because your Parish is inept: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Mathew 19:14. 

To Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch, there are things more important in Christianity than the number of parliamentary seats Maronites get, what the president can do or who he is. The life matters of your people are important too. This is not an event worth letting by.

I don’t know what kind of special needs Bassam Abou Zeid’s children have, but it doesn’t matter. They’re just kids, and they’re falling victim not only to a religious institution, but to people who have no ounce of humanity in them. Tfeh. 

Geagea and Aoun’s New Love Fest: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun

In a widely predicted move, LF leader Samir Geagea and FPM leader Michel Aoun came out with a political understanding yesterday that saw the former supporting the latter for Lebanon’s presidency, after about 33 failed attempts at electing a president and 30 years of the same practiced politics.

Lebanon’s Christian field was predominantly supportive. After all, the whole burying the hatchet fest that we saw on TV was done because Christianity, and Christians sure love seeing #TeamJesus in all its glory on Lebanese TV.

The Good:

We can now say that on January 18th, 2016, after around 30 years of feud, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun finally saw eye to eye in something. A more zealous response would be: LET THEM KNOW NOW THAT CHRISTIANS WILL NEVER BE PUT ASIDE AGAIN, etc. But that’s not really the case.

It’s good to see a semblance of unity occur regardless of what that unity might mean. It’s good to see Geagea and Aoun talk things out.

But.

The Bad:

Many think that this move was visionary. The fact of the matter is it’s nothing other than reactionary to Saad Hariri nominating Sleiman Frangieh for president a few weeks ago. The only disturbance in the presidential race, protracted and dull as it was, was Saad Hariri’s deal back in November-December. That disturbance became the catalyst behind both the FPM and the LF’s deal today in order to “reclaim” their constitution-given Christian right.

How good can a move made in reaction and spite be, rather than it being foreseeing and contemplative, especially in the grand picture of Lebanese politics that not only requires foresight to navigate its murky waters? Why don’t you refer to Jumblat for that?

What this move does is not elevate the level of politics that Geagea and Aoun are practicing. It’s not a good thing that Lebanon’s Christian community is now practicing the same kind of tribal politics that the country’s other factions do. By “uniting,” Geagea and Aoun moved from their failed politics on a national level to failed politics on a sectarian level.

Yes, they were Christian leaders first and foremost, many of their policies had inter-sectarian tendencies. How will they move from here? Not in that way, clearly.

The move also comes to the backdrop of a 10 point agreement that the two forged over the past 6 months. It reads as follows:

Geagea Aoun Agreement

The agreement’s key points then are the following:

  • No use of weapons in case of conflict,
  • Supporting the Lebanese army in governing the entirety of Lebanon’s territories alone,
  • A Switzerland-esque foreign policy to get the country to avoid struggles,
  • Supporting UN resolutions,
  • A new electoral law.

Sure, those headlines are all wonderful, and looking at them with no critical thought warrants giving their alliance a second thought. But you can’t not be critical of Lebanese political talk, and the question therefore becomes: how will they do them?

The difference in ideology between Geagea and Aoun is not only related to their Civil War days: the two were supremely divergent even in times of “peace.” They have not agreed on an electoral law other than the Orthodox Law, and even that agreement was more about whose balls are bigger rather than it being done with political wisdom. They have not agreed on which kind of foreign policy they see best for the country. They have not agreed on which way is best to actually get the army to be the only rightful security force in the country, and how to implement all kinds of UN resolutions (hinting at ridding Hezbollah of its weapons).

Alliances need to have a minimum of common ideology. Establishing them just for the sake of common interests in the short run will prove, in the long run, to be detrimental, especially when it affects an entire community (in this case Lebanon’s Christians).

Is this how Christian rights are restored? By making Lebanon’s Christians more exclusive rather than inclusive? By making them more sequestered? By thirding the country instead of keeping it halved? By turning Christians from the entity that governed Lebanon’s dichotomy to another destabilizing agent in an unstable country?

Ignoring the differences that these two presented to Lebanon’s Christian community is the first step towards removing any semblance of democracy from that community. Difference is not to be feared in political contexts. Disregarding it is what’s scary.

The Ugly:

Geagea and Aoun made peace. But I have to wonder: what kind of peace?

They’re making the kind of peace that requires us to bury our heads in the sand, like the perpetual ostriches that our Lebanese existence has made us into; the kind of peace that does not deal with the past requiring such a peace to be made in the first place, effectively making it a recipe for impeding disaster.

The argument goes: other factions have done these peace making deals before, and as such Christians doing it should be celebrated. Making peace is good. But is it?

Is the peace made by Lebanon’s other war factions actual peace? The idea of making peace invokes stability. Is the country stable? Is making peace in spite of history not through it, as all those other factions have done, putting the country on the right path towards healing post our civil war?

I look around and see people from different sects still hating each other, still worried about the intentions of one another. I look around and see a political discourse that still gets those who have supposedly made up after our civil war to fear each other.

What kind of peace are they talking about then?

There are things that are a little too late, and this is one of them. Where was the common interest of Lebanon’s Christian community 30 years ago when these two were actively working on canceling each other out, when their wars tore apart Christian communities and left thousands of victims in their wake?

Yes, this is not the time to bring up war-time memories, but healing only starts with remembering.  Would there have been a need for such a “deal” to be made in 2016 had those two actually cared about the community they’re panicking about today back in the 1980s?

Peace cannot be made by those who only know war.

The Uglier:

I’m afraid to inform you my fellow Lebanese that this “alliance” does not, in any way, affect your life as a Lebanese in the ways that actually matter.

It will not bring you electricity.

It will not fix your garbage crisis.

It will not make your internet faster so you can stream Netflix.

It will not increase your minimum wage.

It will not make your passport worthwhile.

It will not stop the “SSSS” checks on your boarding passes and “random” checkups in airports.

It will not stop ISIS.

It will not extract the oil from our fields.

And, ironically, it does not even guarantee that a president be elected.

Our Lebanese reality cannot be changed when the same people who have been practicing their failed politics over us for 30 years start practicing their politics together.

The Funny:

To end this on a happier note, I can’t but share a few of the lighter tones with which some Lebanese handled the news, in the joke that this actually is:

When a Lebanese MP Thinks His Political Leader Is God

The above title is not made up by The Onion and is not, as it sounds, satire.

I had just got back home from hospital to find that the news all over is about another Aounist protest.

Ironically, the first thing I saw was a doctor shouting into the microphone: “this is the people *points at himself and other protesters* who are being impoverished!” (Imagine this in high voice for bravado). He was wearing a Ralph Laurent polo and flashing a Rolex to the camera.

Poor doctor. *giggles.*

The camera then flashed tointerview a girl who, unlike her friends, was not fully-clad orange. Hey, she’s still better than Gebran Bassil’s orange Ray-Bans. I guess millions don’t buy good taste. That girl, when asked why she was protesting today said the following: “I’m not Aounist but I’m protesting for my country today!”

She’s not Aounist. *giggles.*

So where was the little demoiselle last Saturday when there was an actual protest to reclaim her country’s rights, a protest beyond the confines of familial politics, narrow-mindendess and sectarian bigotry?

*crickets.*

I figured listening to such rubbish at the end of a long day was not how I intended to end the day so I turned off my TV and reverted to my best friend, also known as my laptop, for company. I wrote a little post about some hilarious new Instagram account taking the Lebanese internet by storm (link) and then I browsed Facebook.

It was funny at first. Have you seen Gebran Bassil, our minister of foreign affairs, making his big fashion statement?

Bassil FPM protest

I kept on going hoping for better material. Big mistake.

Nabil Nicolas, currently a member of Lebanon’s parliament with the Change and Reform bloc, decided to contribute as well to the megalomania taking over the country, so he shared a picture and hence our title.

Behold a screenshot of his post:

Nabil Nicolas Michel Aoun

This confuses me on so many levels that I have to ask: is Michel Aoun Jesus? Is his actual father God and the universe doesn’t want us to know? What is he doing inside Mary?

It’s sad that any person sinks to this level of ridiculousness. What’s even sadder is that the person in question is a Lebanese MP, in charge of running the country, and who’s apparently more pre-occupied with how best to kiss up to his political leader.

Nabil Nicolas is an example of those we’ve entrusted to run the country and who’ve failed miserably. And in case you need more examples, in times like these, as to how bad they’re failing, worry not for they will deliver, and here he is.

I’m not religious. I’m not offended by this picture and I don’t care about its content. But I love how such a “Christianity-offending” picture is coming from the personal Facebook account of an MP of the Lebanese party that, today, claims to be spear-heading the fight for Christian rights by fighting to elect a president with only one viable option and to get a commander of the army with one viable option, both of which happen to be either that party’s leader or his son in law.

This is not about Christian rights for those are besides the point at this point. This is about absurd politicians who think their leader is God, about their followers who think their politicians are the disciples of God and who believe in every word that they say without critical thought.

Such people are those with whom we are sharing the country. Such people are governing us and making sure we remain in the ditch hole we’ve been living in for years, and who will remain here for years to come.

Then, because Facebook pissed me off, I reverted to Twitter where I saw the following:

Lebanon FPM protest ISIS FM

Isn’t this hilariously sad? Doesn’t it put Nabil Nicolas’ Facebook post into perspective?

These are times when people think a politician fighting tooth and nail to get his son in law to power is a politician fighting for their rights as they drown in garbage.

These are times when politicians upload pictures proclaiming their leaders to be God and 172 blindly click “like” because monkey see, monkey do.

These are times when people in the country think a moderate Sunni is ISIS just because they were told to think as such.

These are times when people think their rights are aptly defended by someone who wants nothing other than power and swallow it like sugar pills.

In such a context, Nabil Nicolas is not an abnormality but is the norm. And the brain-washing machine goes woosh.

Update: they also believe in creationism.  

 

Extremism in Lebanon: Why Are You Shocked The Red Cross Was Banned From A Mosque?

Breaking news out of Lebanon today, because those are very few and scarce, but a Red Cross volunteer had his colleagues banned from entering the mosque where his family was receiving condolences for the passing of his grandmother, just because they were wearing their logo, which happens to be – well – a Cross, albeit having nothing to do with religion.

First with the story was the Facebook page “Stop Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon,” and at thousands of Facebook shares and likes, as well as having the story picked up by various news outlets now, it has definitely gone around, as well as have people in shock and anger.

I’m here to ask the very simple question: why?

To those who are shocked, I wonder if you’ve been so disconnected from life in this country lately that you haven’t noticed the fervent rise of extremism all around you. This isn’t exclusive to a single sect or religion. Of course, some get blamed more than others because it’s more popular to do so, but it is a tangible reality everywhere and in the hearts of many people around you, including people you know.

The time for you to be shocked was years ago. It was when hearing about things such as ISIS was not common place in your news. It was when people didn’t come up with excuses here and excuses there for their religious folks of choice to come off unscathed. It was when people weren’t made to believe that their entire existence in this country depended on the existence of their religious sect. It was when the discussion of an electoral law was not only about a law that allowed people of one sect to vote for that sect’s MPs. It was when I didn’t wake up every morning to the following graffiti outside my building:

Spotted in Achrafieh

Spotted in Achrafieh

The time to be shocked, disappointed, mortified, appalled or whatever you are feeling right now is long behind us. What you can and should do now is hope this is an incident that won’t set precedence, which I think is the case. This was probably the case of a few goons with near subzero IQs and near illiterate education levels deciding to flex their Allah-given muscles, as has become quite customary around this country.

Those people won’t care about explanations that the Cross on the Red Cross’ vest is not actually Christian. They won’t care that women wearing the Hijab can enter Churches whenever they want, albeit to increasing groans, and that people wearing Crosses can enter Mosques whenever they want. No, those are the people whose existence we have loved to dismiss for so long now, toning it down until we made them irrelevant in our minds.

The truth of the matter is that as everything in this country, this too will pass. You will forget about in a couple of days as something more media-grabbing happens. You may be reminded of it by some politician down the road who wants to cash in some political coins, of course.

What I hope this transpires into is more support for the Red Cross, this truly noble organization in the country that has transcended sects and political lines and religions to help people just for the sake of humanity. You want to be mad at those who didn’t let those Red Cross volunteers in at a wake? Go donate.

Ironically, at a time when some Lebanese retards were upset the Red Cross could have entered a Mosque, the Pope was praying at the Blue Mosque in Turkey. Contrast Lebanon with the following picture. As they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words. I’ve probably written something close to that by now, so you get the picture.
Pope Francis is shown the Sultan Ahmet mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque, by Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, during his visit to Istanbul