Racism, Bigotry and Anarchy: How My Hometown Is Breeding ISIS

Welcome to Ebrine

The sign says: welcome to Ebrine. Huddled on a bunch of hills east of Batroun, my hometown is considered as one of the area’s largest. It is Maronite by excellence. The sign could have also said welcome to Maronistan and you’d still be within realms of accuracy.

Growing up, I never truly fit there but I liked it nonetheless. It was peaceful, serene, had amazing scenery and, at the time, I thought it provided everything that I needed. Little did I know that a whole spectrum existed beyond the realms of those 7 hills, 2000 voters and dozen Churches.

My hometown has also lately become a hub where Syrian refugees and workers have aggregated in substantial numbers, or at least as substantial a number can be to tick off the brains of townsfolk that I had thought were kind. I was wrong.

The argument went: “if those Syrians got slingshots, they’d be able to overtake us.” Yes, 500 Syrians with slingshots overtaking a town of about 4000 people. Because that made a whole lot of sense. So some people in my hometown, without a municipality due to political bickering, decided to devise an ingenious idea: set up guard duty, whereby men whose ages range from prepubescent to senile made sure those Syrians were kept in line, whatever it took.

Those guards were self appointed, related to whoever felt it was his moral duty to protect the holy Christians of Ebrine from the fictive threat of Daesh looming among those dark Arab faces coming in from that desert to the East. Their duties were also entirely dependent on whatever they felt like doing. They circulated fliers, forcing shops to put them on their storefronts, to make sure that order is kept: you have to make sure the Syrians renting at your places are registered. You are not to hire Syrians to do work around the town. You are not to let those Syrians do anything that any normal human being is supposed to be able to do, because they are not worthy.

Day X of guarding. A Syrian woman goes into labor in my hometown. It takes her husband an hour between calling this or that to be able to get his wife out of their apartment, into a car and in to the nearest hospital so she can deliver her child. One more Syrian to protect those God-fearing Christians from. What a tragedy.

Day Y of guarding. A male Syrian worker is kept up by his employer at work beyond the 8PM curfew time for Syrians that the guards of my hometown set up for them. He complains about it because of how worried he was at the impeding hell he’d have to go through at the hands of those guards, manifesting primarily by a lovely town policeman who has been around as far as I can remember, bolstered by a support from the Frangieh household, that has seen him pull through a bunch of corruption scandals and still maintain his position. When that worker reached his home, he had the phone number of his employer at the ready, as the latter had told him to do, to ask the guards to call him. Our town’s policeman looked at that Syrian for a minute and told him: say this to your employer, slapping him across the face so hard he was left with a bruise over his left eye for the following week.

Day Z of guarding. Another male Syrian arrived from Syria to join his family at the very welcoming town of Ebrine. That young Syrian, aged in the early 20s, didn’t know of the rules that some random self-appointed people at that town had set up. So at 9PM, on the second day of him being in Lebanon, he decided to leave his house and visit a shop at the town renowned for opening late in order to purchase groceries. He was spotted by our town’s policeman. Why are you here was not even asked. Are you not aware of the rules was not even thrown out in the air. The next thing you know, that policeman was hitting that young Syrian like his entire existence depended on it. A few minutes later, he was joined by 5 or 6 other young men from Ebrine, with all their built up testosterone, and they let that young man have it. It wasn’t until his father showed up, and saw his son being tossed around from one macho to the next that they stopped. My son isn’t aware of your rules, he told them. He’s only been here for two days, he pleaded. What a shame.

I presume a bunch of thank yous are in order:

THANK YOU to those guards who found it’s their Jesus-given right to protect the townspeople against the nonexistent dangers of Daesh at the heart of Maronistan. I’ve never felt safer, or at ease at Ebrine as I do now. 1984 is alive and well. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the Qa’em Makam of Batroun for turning a blind eye to the practices of those guards and the arbitrary rules they’re setting up for everyone and the sheer immaturity with which they are governing a town that has no actual governing body. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to my hometown’s policeman, roaming around with that SUV on which “Baladiyyat Ebrine” is plastered across. I am eternally grateful to those muscles you used to beat up unknowing Syrians whose only fault was them being Syrians renting at the premises of someone you didn’t like. I am eternally grateful to you being the man that you are because if it hadn’t been for that, none of us would be safe and sound. None. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the Frangieh household which has stuck with that policeman through thick and thin. Pistachio goes a long way round this town. Corruption? Who cares. Madness? Nobody gives a shit. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the people of Ebrine who haven’t spoken up against the guards roaming their streets, who believe their presence is absolutely normal, who think those duties are actually protecting them and who have forgotten how it is to live under duress, under an all-seeing eye monitoring your every move. What goes around comes around, indeed. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the Lebanese government, in all its facets, for turning a blind eye to the rising self-governance taking place across the Lebanese republic. Extending the mandate of parliament is definitely more important. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

Some people, like those guards and that policeman, deserve Daesh. So, in frank Lebanese let me tell them: tfeh.

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Racist Lebanese Municipalities or National Policy Against Syrians?

My uncle was shot and killed 14 years ago today, March 26th 1999.

His killer’s name was Tony Rouhana. He was from my hometown, Ebrine. He was Lebanese. He was an active wartime member of one of North Lebanon’s well-known parties. They call themselves “Marada.”

May 2008. My mom enters our house and finds a hooded-man there. She shouts and runs after him. He was going through her jewelry. He makes a quick escape through our window. A couple of weeks later, his identity is known. He is also from my hometown. A Lebanese. He was only reprimanded – never arrested. Why should they ruin his future?

March 2013. A member of our municipality has his motorcycle stolen by a gang from Tripoli. They chase the thief, are on the phone with our security forces at all times, but are unable to catch him. The theft happened in broad daylight at noon. You can check more details here.

March 2013. I’m sitting with my family as we bid farewell to my uncle who was going back to his home in the United States after a short stay. We hear the sound of a four-wheel drive rolling by. They say it’s our municipality policeman’s new car. Why was he driving around at 10:30 pm?
Because my hometown, Ebrine, is now enforcing a curfew on Syrians. I expressed outrage and was told I oppose things way too often, way too much.

No, my town is not, like other places, hiding behind the shroud of “foreigners” when they mean one thing and one thing alone. There are no fliers being posted around the place. There are no banners to welcome you with the news. It’s all under the radar, hoping it would go unnoticed: a subtle regulation that won’t affect my life because I am Lebanese, from Ebrine and there’s absolutely nothing bad that I can do.

I didn’t want to write about this issue until I made sure it wasn’t simply townspeople gossip. I went to the municipality and asked. They confirmed. Their explanation? We got an order from the ministry of interior affairs recently to organize the Syrians inside our town and to have them listed – as per orders of Lebanon’s intelligence. They didn’t say anything about a curfew but, believing I was worried about the Syrians in my town, they went on further: “you don’t have to worry. A curfew was enforced on Syrians. The policeman is also patrolling the streets from 8 pm till 12 am. The town will stay safe.”

How beautiful and reassuring is that? I should look into extra safety measures against Ethiopians, Egyptians – basically anyone whose skin color or clothing style is too inappropriately poor for my taste.

I also find it hard to believe that such an order would come from the ministry of interior and would go unnoticed everywhere, especially that Marwan Charbel, our current minister of interior affairs, said municipalities who enforce curfews are committing illegal acts (link).

So which is it? Is our government or entire Lebanese administration, now that we don’t have a government, relying on vigilante justice in Lebanese municipalities to regulate the Syrian influx in the country? Are all our municipalities and circumscriptions now limiting the movement of “foreigners” just because the situation in the country is worrying?

Last time I checked, it wasn’t Syrians who were fighting in Bab el Tebbane and Jabal Mohsen nor were the Syrians fighting in May 2008 when all hell broke loose in Beirut.

Should the Syrians in Lebanon be regulated? Sure. Is their influx worrying? I think so. But turning their forced stay here into that of people living in an emergency nation will help things how exactly?

Let’s call it a temporary fix – a plug in a collapsing dam.

Do we have a lot of Syrians in my hometown? Frankly, I don’t see any huge numbers that were not there in 2008, 1999, etc. We are not that affected. Those Syrians are renting apartments here, buying stuff from the shops that even our townspeople don’t go to anymore (going to buy groceries in Batroun is much cooler. They get to use a trolley and pay 10,000 in gas in the process). And yet, somehow, those new Syrians are now posing such a big security threat that our municipality decided to do something for the first time since it was formed in 2010.

Our municipality, which left our roads go as the below pictures show, for over 2 months, which didn’t say anything and even sent a thank you letter for Gebran Bassil (who in all fairness was later outraged and called them out on it) is acting out, protecting us, making us feel safe, as part of a developed country. What’s worse is that this could possibly be some form of national policy.

Roads Ebrine Batroun Roads Ebrine Batroun - 3 Roads Ebrine Batroun - 4 Roads Ebrine Batroun -2

Ebrine’s Municipality Building & Library Get Flooded Due To Lebanon “Bride” Storm

My hometown in the Batroun district woke up today to find its municipality building and public library completely flooded because of the overnight rain of the recent blizzard that’s been named “Bride” storm.

The location of the municipality building is over a hole which was known to my town’s older generation for its water retention abilities. But it has since been fixed – or at least that’s what people thought:

Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain -  3 Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain -  5 Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain - 1 Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain - 2 Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain - 4MTV and other news services showed up to film this. It has also been mentioned on the Lebanese Forces website as an exclusive. So expect this to be part of the 23 minute report on tonight’s news bulletins about today’s storm.

My hometown’s public library which was donated by the late Lebanese University professor Youssef Farhat is also entirely ruined. This is the room you see completely covered by water in the above pictures.

Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain - 6 Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain - 8 Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain - 10 Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain - 7 Ebrine Municipality Lebanon storm rain - 9This is not a testament of Lebanon’s lack of decent infrastructure which everyone has been parading around today (not that our infrastructure is in top shape). If anything, this is a testament to the amount of rain we’ve had overnight. This is the first time in more than 20 years that this happens.

 

 

 

Stories of Lebanese on the Titanic – Part 1: Daher Abi Chedid from Ebrine

I’ve had these stories in mind for a while now, waiting for the week of the centennial anniversary of the Titanic sinking to post them. And I figured the best way to start is with the story from my very own hometown, Ebrine in North Lebanon.

Daher Abi Chedid happens to be the uncle of my cousins’ grandfather. My neighbor, the former mekhtar of my hometown, was eight year old at the time of the story’s events. Both of these men, now deceased, told anyone who’d hear the story of the man they knew, like no news service can now tell you.

Daher was a young man, very well-built and extremely tall. He was one of the people strong enough in my hometown to be called for building duties. This was 1912 – everything being built at the time required manpower. Daher Abi Chedid had it.

On one day in late March 1912, students of my hometown’s school heard a single gunshot and ran out of class, panicking. The sound had emanated from the basement of the Nakad family house, fairly close to the school and my hometown’s church – St. John the Baptist.

The Nakad basement

What had happened was the following: Daher Abi Chedid was in love with a girl named Marroun Sejaan. As the two were sitting together in the basement, Daher took a Martini rifle and pointed it as Marroun, asking her jokingly if she was in love with a guy named Maroun. She replied: I swear on the Virgin Mary that it’s not true. So he jokingly asked: “Do I shoot you?” Both had thought the rifle wasn’t loaded. Its tip was also corroded. Marroun replied with a yes. Daher pulled the trigger and the rifle fired, hitting Marroun in the neck and killing her immediately.

Once the people from nearby premises got to the location of the shooting and found Marroun dead, blood pouring out of her neck, no one dared to approach her as they waited for the Ottoman police officers to arrive. News of the shooting spread like wildfire around the area and Marroun’s cousin came from Batroun with a vengeful attitude towards Daher Abi Chedid who couldn’t but seek a hiding place at a relative’s place until he could sort out his affairs. At one point, the Ottoman policemen were close to rounding him up so he sought hiding in what we call the “Meghre2” today – a vast piece of land that fills with water during the winter, turning it into a big lake.

The meghre2 in late spring.

So Daher’s uncle, working with Daher’s mother in the United States, and through his connections with the Ottoman authorities, managed to get a boat for Daher readied at the port in Selaata, which then took Daher to Cyprus then to Cherbourg in France then to the Titanic.

Daher Abi Chedid was not shot dead by the security personnel on the Titanic. He jumped off the ship and swam for more than an hour, trying to save himself, before he got to an ice mass and froze to death on it.

His body was recovered by the boat MackayBennett. It was sent to Halifax in Nova Scotia first then to Mount Carmel in Pennsylvania where Abi Chedid was laid to rest on May 4th 1912. The following description was given for the body:

 

As the poets and singers of traditional Lebanese zajal competed to describe the heroics of the Lebanese aboard the Titanic, the poetic rhyme was as follows:

غرق تنعشر شب من حردين

وزينتهم ضاهر شديد من عبرين

Twelve young men from Hardin drowned

But their crème de la crème was Daher Chedid from Ebrine.

 

Stay tuned for another Lebanese story tomorrow.

Maronite Traditions: Visting 7 Churches on Thursday of Mysteries (Maundy/Holy Thursday)

I was always intrigued why Maronites visit 7 churches on the Thursday of Mysteries, the day preceding Good Friday. So I decided to finally get an answer and ask my hometown’s priest.

Anciently, Jerusalem only had seven churches. So it became customary for its people to visit those churches on Thursday of Mysteries. And the tradition kept going. There’s no religious reason to visit 7 churches. It’s simply a tradition that’s a byproduct of the culture present at that time – and that tradition has lived on.

So I figured, why have it stop with me?

Here are the 7 churches I visited yesterday:

1 – St. Charbel (From whom the Maronite saint took his name) Church – Ebrine

2 – St. Charbel (Maronite Saint) Church – Ebrine

3 – St. John the Baptist Church, Ebrine:

4 – The Virgin Mary’s Church – Ebrine

5 – Convent of the “Sainte Famille” Church – Ebrine

6 – St. Georges’ Church – Rashkida

This is hundreds of years old. It’s currently being renovated by my hometown’s parish as Rashkida is not a Christian town.

7 – St. Anthony’s Church, Ebrine

Lebanese Civil War Stories – Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

Saint George’s Hospital was packed. Simon’s mom looked at the multitude of strangers in front of her. They were all in agony. The mothers that had lost sons, the wives that had lost husbands…

She was asked to come down to the hospital. She didn’t know why but she felt it was odd that her sons hadn’t come back home yet. But for all she knew, they were hiding out at some relative’s house.

On her way there, she had heard how her brother-in-law’s son, my uncle John, was hit and taken to the Geitawi hospital. She knew his condition wasn’t severe. But why was she in Saint George’s hospital?

She looked around. Strangers. There wasn’t any face she recognized. And somehow, she couldn’t even connect to their pain. So she sat there, in the waiting room, waiting for God knows what.

But then she noticed the whispers. Why were the people there looking at her through sad eyes, breathing out worried words she couldn’t comprehend with their tired mouths.

And suddenly she felt there was something she didn’t know. And she started to get worried. Her sons hadn’t gotten home. Her oldest son, George, had gone to get his sister from school. Her son Simon had supposedly also gone to do the same thing.

Why weren’t they back yet? They should have been back when she left the house. Something must have happened to them…

And like every concerned mother, her train of thought took her from being in a relatively comfortable state to a mental wreck.

One of the doctors ran in front of her. She stood up and shouted “take me to your morgue”.

The doctor stopped in his tracks. He turned around and looked at her. “My sons are in your morgue. I need to see my sons”.

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There Goes My Heart… Home

We all know how it feels to be home… you’re too comfortable being there, you’re yourself there… But you know what feels even better than being home? Going home after a long absence.

I belong in Batroun. I am from the North and my heart will always go there. Driving around my hometown, Ebrine, in the Batroun Caza, I snapped these pictures.

When I wake up and open the blinds, this is the first thing I see:

And if I feel like going to sightsee, I don’t need to wander off a lot… these are a few scenes that await me after a few minutes of walking.
And whenever I feel like I want to be alone, I can simply drive down to a very old church, dating back to the 1400s. This is St. Charbel (the Lebanese saint took his name).

My hometown also harbors the mother Convent for Sainte Famille. We all know people who have been to their schools and there are two streets, one in Tripoli and one in Beirut, named after my hometown because they have Sainte Famille convents on them.

And if I feel like visiting my grandma, I pass by a canopy of trees and beautiful olive tree fields…

And if you ever feel hungry, Royal’s Pizza in Batroun offers the best pizza in Lebanon. And trust me, I have tried many, many pizzas. Nothing will ever come close.

All of these pictures were taken through my iPhone 4 and all effects are via an iPhone app: Camera+