Thugs Attacking New TV Because They Were “Offended” And Lebanon’s Armed Forces Doing Nothing Is A Disgrace

For the past two hours, New TV has been barricaded and attacked by “protestors” whose more accurate description is probably thugs, as they try to break into the TV station because, as far as they’re concerned, it broadcast something that offended them.

As part of its political satire program, Doma Krasiyé, New TV tackled the issue of the Imam Moussa el Sader who has been missing for the past 30 years. In doing so, they brought on them the wrath of some Amal Movement supporters whose political cover is so strong they dare go about and attack TV stations because their sensibilities were walked upon. Who else can do this? I can name one other party in this country who has the audacity to do this and not expect reperecussions.

So for the past few hours, those thugs have been attacking the New TV building, which has personnel working inside, with rocks and fireworks as they break down windows and doors in their attempt to break in.

Meanwhile, all of Lebanon’s armed forces are nowhere to be found. Their existence is as void as that presidential crisis we had for over two years, but yet again did you expect otherwise?

It borders on the comical. Our secretary of information reported that he had asked the protestors to listen to reason. Because you can obviously reason with testosterone-driven thugs whose entire moral compass is summarized with their sect and their political background.

It’s downright disgraceful that, slightly more than a year and a half ago, when protestors were doing so peacefully against the government’s inadequacy, they were met with rubber bullets and smoke grenades. I rememeber running through Beirut Souks, feeling like my throat was clenching up because of how barbarically we were treated.
Who remembers who ordered the attacks at the time? It was the exact same politician who has been sitting as speaker of parliament for the past two decades, and who was more worried about protestors standing symbolically in front of an empty parliament than about the garbage accumulating in the streets of Beirut.

Freedom of speech is holier than all of your politics. Your imams, your priests and patriarchs, politicians and holy figures, missing or wholly present are not above any form of criticism. If you’re annoyed or offended, as is your right, go ahead and protest with civility. Speak up as to why you are offended. But to have a knee-jerk reflex to trash and riot and attack is despicable, unacceptable and horrifying. What’s worse is that some of our politicians enable this as a form of muscle flexion.

Lebanon, parliamentary elections are coming up soon. We will never have a country that amounts to anything if we don’t vote for the change we deserve, a change that starts with politicians who do not harbor thugs and criminals to do their bidding at their will, and who have our entire security apparatus at their mercy.

Simply put: if Imam Moussa el Sader saw this, he would have disappeared willingly. 

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Dear Lebanon, Banning TV Shows Because Some Are Offended Is Never Okay

take-me-out

Almost a week after a tirade in which MTV called the women participating in LBC’s show “Take Me Out” whores, the country is still talking about that show and what to do with it. Spoiler alert: the answer to that question should be nothing.

Instead, the systematic outrage waged by rival TV stations at a show cannibalizing their viewers in primetime frames that they’ve become used to making millions from has gotten the government to start interfering at its highest levels with secretary of media and press Melhem Riachi saying the show was “immoral,” probably paving the way for governmental interference into the show and its possible cancellation.

It seems that the Lebanese populace as a whole, and MTV and our government and those agreeing with them in particular, have forgotten that this is 2017 and that their spectrum of “morality,” which is firmly stuck in 1943, does not apply anymore. Furthermore, they’ve totally forgotten that in the 21st century, viewers have the choice in what they want to be exposed to.

Picture this: in a few days from now, the government cancels a show because it has sexual connotations. But anyone in this country, those outraged and those who aren’t, can still turn on their laptops or unlock their smartphones, go to their browsers and stream their favorite “hedonistic” western series or – gasp – go on some porn website and look at people engaging in all the haram.

It’s truly saddening that some branches of our government and of our population are more concerned with a TV show they can simply not watch, rather than with the actual horrendous things threatening our well-being and the future of our children.

Your children will not be ruined because of the content of a TV show that airs at times they should be sleeping. They will be ruined because they live in a country where their mothers are second class citizens and where their father has the upper hand in society just because he has a penis.

Your children will not be ruined because someone dared to be provocative on TV, but they will be ruined if they’re brought up to be convinced they should be ashamed of who they are because they’re women or they’re not the model figure society thinks they should be.

Your children will not be ruined because of a TV show, but they will be ruined because they already have almost $15,000 in debt and won’t know the feeling of growing up with electricity or water or fast internet, or in a country where their worth isn’t relative to the sect you brought them into, and the list goes on.

It’s not that people don’t have the right to be offended by the content of any TV show. Everyone is entitled to have an opinion, albeit I’d prefer for that opinion to be well-informed, without any attempts to oppress others who disagree. Such oppression happens when you advocate for the cancellation of a TV show just because you don’t like its contents, or the closure of a newspaper because it published an article you disagree with or the jailing of some activist because you don’t agree with the politics of their activism.

The thing about “Take Me Out” or the entertainment industry as a whole is that it thrives with the attention you give it. The more we talk about this, and the more we challenge it, the more people will tune in. The other thing about the aforementioned industry is that, because of its competitiveness, it gives you – the viewer – so many options to choose from that you really have no excuse to be up in arms about something you can take a magical device called a “remote control” and flip the channel.

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The fact of the matter is, more harm is done when MTV calls the women appearing on shows airing on rival TV channels as whores, when it pretends to be worried about the “honor and reputation” of Lebanese women towards Arabs because she’s portrayed as “easy” or “sexual.” It baffles me that some aspects of my society actually give two fucks about what Arabs, whose women can’t drive or have to cover up to go out of the house or can’t even go anywhere without male companionship, think of our women. Is that the standard we want for ourselves? Why don’t we just migrate to Arabia and be done with it?

What’s even more horrendous is that a TV station that was once closed down for trying to oppose the status quo is now advocating for another TV station’s material to have the same fate. Can you feel the tangible hypocrisy in this? It’s not like said TV station is a beacon for morality itself. Wasn’t it recently that they had this level of material on its airwaves? Won’t the thighs and legs the dancers show on their show getting beaten handily by Take Me Out also give a “bad reputation” for Lebanese women?

The moment we allow someone to dictate what is moral and what isn’t for us, we start slipping into horrifying realms of oppression. Welcome to the Taliban’s Qandahar.

The perfect summary is as follows: Take Me Out is watched by two thirds of all viewers on Sunday when it airs. A good portion of those viewers tune in, finish the episode, and are then outraged at what they watched. Every single Sunday. You’d think with all their anger about morality and whatever other things are angering them they’d have changed the channel by now, but no. It’s 2017. Can we move on already?

Why Those Who Insult Istanbul’s Victims Should Always Be Challenged, Not Ignored

I never thought that we, as a country first and foremost and as a region in the grander scheme of things, would so grossly disagree about our characterization of the victims of the Istanbul attacks. I’m not talking about whether they are martyrs or victims, but about people who are so full of hate that not only do they not mourn but believe others should not mourn too.

Those people have forsaken every ounce of humanity and turned the barbaric deaths of innocents as yet another event to correlate with their religious, sectarian or even political discourse.

Ramzi El Kadi & Huffington Post Arabi:

Earlier yesterday, I posted screengrabs from a Twitter account by someone named Ramzi Al Kadi on my blog’s Facebook page. Soon enough, the story was picked up by news outlets and it went viral.

Within minutes, Al Kadi was being called all kinds of names as if he were the only entity in this country and region regurgitating that horrifying word-vomit. Some were attacking the way he looked, digging through his entire online history and bringing it back to haunt him.

El Kadi had said he did not want to mourn the victims. He thought what happened to them was well-deserved given that they were at a night club, which is in his opinion is a disgrace of a place. To him, the victims – Rita, Elias and Haykal – were nothing more than sinners who had it coming for wanting to have fun at a “whore house.”

Unfortunately, Al-Kadi isn’t a lone example. You only need to head to Huffington Post Arabi’s Facebook page to see the exact same rhetoric being spewed by Arabs in the comments section. In an article posted by the page about Lebanese victim Rita El Chami, the comments ranged from those who were sympathetic to her sacrifice, calling her a hero, to those – like Al Kadi – who saw her as nothing more than – again, I quote – “a whore” for partying the end of the year away, wishing that she’d “go to hell.”

The debate in Saudi Arabia about the Istanbul attacks isn’t about their dead, but about whether they were at a nightclub or a restaurant, because that makes a difference in how their death is perceived. Palestinian victim Leanne Nasser is suffering from the same discourse back home: whether it was appropriate of her to go party the night away. It was her first trip abroad.

To note, Ramzi Al Kadi is saying his Twitter account was hacked. I don’t see why given there’s no value in hacking an account with 200 followers, but it’s a statement to be conveyed. Ramzi has since been arrested in order for his tweets to be investigated, which – regardless of how disgusting what his tweets were – is not something we should accept. Being an asshole is not a crime.

Hassan Hamzeh & Politics:

 

Al Manar reporter Hassan Hamzeh decided to insult the victims of Istanbul’s terrorist attacks from a different perspective. To him, this was pure politics. Being a Hezbollah supporter, he saw the attacks on Istanbul as nothing more than a chance for him to gloat in revenge and spite.

“Istanbul is paying the price it should pay” he tweeted. He then followed it up with: “Istanbul should pay more,” before concluding with: “Erdogan, you reap what you sow.”

To Hassan Hamzeh, the victims from all backgrounds are nothing more than pawns in his party’s political game, their entire lives and families and loved ones be damned as long as he can be satisfied that a city and a country he despises are being broken like this.

Other politically-charged social media users were annoyed at how the victims of Istanbul’s attacks were being called martyrs compared to others who “didn’t sacrifice their lives at a nightclub,” as if the location of where you are brutally killed has some bearing over the worth of your life and death.

While the Lebanese government flexed its muscles with helpless people like Al-Kadi, Hassan Hamzeh – with his political backbone – is still at large, free to roam and tweet more hateful things because he’s untouchable.

Why We Should Speak Up:

Regardless of where people die because of such vicious attacks – whether at a club, a brothel, church or Mosque – the sanctity of death should be respected. You have to be at a whole other level of deplorable to disrespect the passing of people whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time because you don’t like where they were or what they were doing.

When I first posted Ramzi Al-Kadi’s screenshots, people said that giving people like him such exposure makes them feel important and gives them power, that their negativity had no place in times of mourning. I disagree.

The best way for hate and bigotry to prosper is for them to run unchecked for a lifetime. The more we stay silent, the more we let such horrors fester in the minds and souls of those who are most susceptible, and the more Ramzis and Hassans we will have to deal with later on.

Our bubble as millennials or liberals has gotten us to think that the majority of people share our views and as such most will find the words of Ramzi or Hassan as abhorrent as we do, and that might be the case with many, but today’s world is far from being one where we can remain silent to people who insult victims just because they can.

Staying silent to people like all of those who insulted the victims of the Istanbul attacks in LaReina has a lot to do with why we are dealing with entities like Trump, Le Pen, Brexit and a rising trend in right wing extremism all around the world, why we are reeling from the effects of living in a post-truth existence where facts have become matters of opinion for many.

There remains a huge populace that lives among us that believes in what Ramzi Al-Kadi said, without them proclaiming it. We live in a conservative Arab world where it’s very easy to forget, as the only people we talk to are those who think like us, that there are those beyond our walls who believe that nightclubs are abominations, that those who frequent them are sinners and that those who die there should not be mourned.

Those people you want us to ignore are voters, influencers, mothers and fathers. We can’t repress them into a basket to be tucked away just because we feel like the higher road is the better road. To drive our society forward, those people’s ideas – not the way they look as many have criticized Ramzi – should always be challenged. We can’t shy away from the ideological debate taking place wherever we roam for fear of the challenge, or of upsetting others and ourselves.

Ramzi Al-Kadi and those who think like him think their ideas and beliefs are as valid, and should be applied on a more grander scale than just tweets or Facebook comments. To better our societies, we can’t just dismiss those ideas outright just because they’re horrifying. We have to listen, criticize, challenge the core of their thoughts.

The cycle of us versus them will never end if we stay silent and let the cycle perpetuate without breaking it. It’s easier to imagine “them” as enemies who hate the way we live no matter what. But “they” are victims of ideas that have been entrenched in their minds for years, and those ideas can be beaten if we take up the mantle of the fight.

Dear Lebanon, Your Dignity Has More To Worry About Than a Facebook Status

A few days ago, a Lebanese journalist named Bassel Al Amin wrote a Facebook status that saw him thrown in jail. You’d never hear of such a sentence in any “civilized” country around the world, regardless of the content of said Facebook status, but here we are.

amin-1

It translates to:

“The shoe of the Syrian refugee and worker and citizen is worth more than your Republic, your cedar, your Lebanon, your right-wing, independence, your government, history, revolution, and presidents. Do you get it?”

Many journalists and activists have risen up to defend Al Amin with the hashtag: A status is not a crime. Of course, many others have also taken up the anti-Al-Amin camp with their proclamation, such as MTV in this piece of theirs, that – and I quote:

“We are faced with a segment of the population that wants to say what it pleases, whenever it pleases. It’s a segment that is completely in refusal of everything and doesn’t hesitate to insult our nation and express an opinion that should never ever transgress on the dignity of our country and our citizens. And even if what Al Amin wrote expresses the opinion of some people, then those should relinquish their Lebanese nationality.”

Let’s put it out there. What Al Amin said is nauseating. You can criticize anything you want about the country in any way that you like, and if you read my blog you’d know there’s nothing I like more than that, but I find that reverting to insults or derogatory rhetoric to get a point across takes away of the point you are making.

That said, let me put this out there as well: it is Bassel Al Amin’s right to say whatever he wants to say about anything that he wants, Lebanese Republic and presidents and politicians and botany, and still not be thrown in jail because of it.

The moment we start to limit what we are allowed and not allowed to say, we give our government and every censorship bureau out there a more than open occasion into further limiting the scope of what we can say in absolute terms. How long would it be, if we stay silent about the arrest of a Lebanese citizen because of a Facebook status, before our own statuses and tweets and even words on the street that we say to friends become the subject of lawsuits or arrests because someone with political or legal muscle decided they were “offensive” or “illegal?””

MTV may not like this, given their categorization of our segment of the population as one that wants to say “whatever it wants whenever it pleases,” but that is actually our right. I am supposed to be able to say whatever I want, whenever I want, and however I want, and you, MTV and those who believe in what it has said, are just supposed to deal with it in the multiple of ways that you can do so with, beginning with actually debating what I have to say and not stringing up poetic language to show people how my opinion or even my formulation of an opinion is a horrific act.

Lawyers across the country have agreed that Bassel Al Amin’s words are not, in fact, legal. However, a law existing does not mean the law is right. To note, Lebanon’s penal code has article 522 which allows a rapist to be absolved of his crime if he marries the woman he raped. The Lebanese penal code also has article 534 which bans “sexual acts contrary to nature,” an article that was used quite proficiently by Lebanon’s authorities on some occasions to arrest LGBT people.

The arrest of Al-Amin is also as hypocritical as it can get. A few years ago, Jean Assy, a prominent FPM supporter, went on a Twitter tirade against the former (then current) Lebanese president Michel Sleiman, leading to his arrest – albeit for very limited time. Gebran Bassil, son in law and politician galore of current Lebanese president, tweeted the following back then:

gerban-bassil-tweet

Perhaps tweeting and Facebooking is only a crime when it touches upon your president or your own political party?

This whole talk about national “dignity” being represented in the most mundane of things – tweets, statuses, what have you – reminds me of a debate the United States was having when I was there a few days ago.

When Donald Trump (cringes) tweeted (cringes again) that he was going to prosecute and/or take away the American nationality from everyone who burned the American flag, the US was divided. What was a fact, regardless of what Trump and his supporters wanted, was that the burning of the American flag was a protected act under the first amendment of the United States constitution, which guaranteers freedom of expression, therefore turning the burning of a flag – arguably one of the highest insults to a country – as an expression of freedom of speech.

Lebanon, we have a long way to go.

But for those who are worried about their dignity as Lebanese because of a Facebook status, let me remind you of the following:

  1. You do not have 24/7 electricity,
  2. You do not have access to water all the time,
  3. Your internet sucks,
  4. Your security situation is as precarious as it can be,
  5. You need a visa to go to almost anywhere,
  6. Your passport is the most expensive around the world,
  7. You have not voted for parliament since 2009,
  8. You stayed without a president for more than 2 and a half years, after a president that needed more than 8 months of void to be elected,
  9. You literally live in garbage,
  10. Your women can – as of the writing of this post – be raped and then proposed to and everything becomes okay,
  11. Your women cannot pass on their citizenship to their children, something that many of you wholeheartedly agree with,
  12. Your women can be victims of domestic abuse without repercussions.
  13. Your LGBT population’s existence is considered “illegal,”
  14. Your roads are in disrepair,
  15. Your infrastructure is near non-existing,
  16. Many see the country’s worth as contingent upon the well being of their religious sect,
  17. Censorship bureaus decide what you get to be exposed to depending on their whims,
  18. Not having a national budget since 2005?
  19. Your politicians – read Wiam Wahhab – having militias,
  20. The country having militias to begin with,
  21. You getting “SSSS”‘ed at airports just because you’re Lebanese,
  22. You getting secondary interrogations before entering countries even after you’re given a visa because you’re Lebanese,
  23. Smugglers and criminals being arrested and then freed a short while later because you need them to buy cheap phones,
  24. Your very last public beach in Beirut will soon become a resort,
  25. Your entire coast – your public property – is something you need to pay to access (refer to this for comparison),
  26. Your forests are subject to “accidental” fires but their wood ends up in your fireplaces anyway,
  27. Your governmental facilities are among the world’s most corrupt,
  28. You consistently rank among the countries with the least faith in their politicians… but keep on voting for them anyway,
  29. You put curfews for foreigners depending on where they come from,
  30. Your political class is basically warlords.

But yes, please tell me more about how our dignity was irreparably insulted by a Facebook status?

When Gebran Bassil’s Goons Don’t Understand Freedom of Speech

Breaking news: Gebran Bassil turned out to be yet another racist Lebanese politician. I have no idea how this piece of news was in any way a surprise, but over the past few days it’s almost the only thing people are talking about, apart from the fact that our phones now need Maps updates in order to skip the roads where garbage bags have started to take up lanes.

The details are as follows:

A few days ago, Gebran Bassil’s twitter account was quoting a speech he was giving in the United States to an audience of Lebanese expats ($10 says they’re voting for Trump in 49 days). In that speech, Bassil dropped the following:

The speech excerpts translate to:

  • I support giving Lebanese women who marry foreigners the right to pass on their nationality to their children but our constitution and societal fabrics don’t allow to give the Lebanese nationality to 400,000 Palestinians.
  • I support the law that allows Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their children, with the exception of Syrians and Palestinians to maintain our land.

Of course, it has probably escaped Bassil in that moment that St. Maroun, after whom his sect was named, was Syrian and Jesus, after whom he prays, was Palestinian, but that’s besides the point. Certainly, however, Bassil wouldn’t have had a problem if those Syrians and Palestinians weren’t mostly Muslim. I wonder, how different would his statement have been had those refugees been mostly Christian like him? I can imagine him now, à la Oprah, distributing nationalities left and right: YOU ARE LEBANESE, YOU ARE LEBANESE, YOU AAAAAALL ARE LEBANESE!

Context to Bassil’s tweets, however, remains important. His statements do not come from void. They emanate from a public sentiment that has only managed to gain popularity over the past few years with around 2 million Syrians seeking refuge in Lebanon. Of course, as is the case with Lebanon’s statistics, numbers do not exist. But it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that Bassil’s speech is not at odds with what the prevalent majority of Christians believes to be true, and a sizable portion of Lebanon’s Muslim community.

Yet again, the sentiment in the aforementioned denominations arise from their incessant need for self-sectarian preservation and are devoid from any national affinity towards a more global Lebanese state. Either way, I digress.

The uproar towards Bassil’s statements has been deafening. Human Rights Watch issued a statement whereby they found what he said to be abhorrent, in contradiction to the international treaties that Lebanon has signed in regards to women rights, and shameful to come from the minister of foreign affairs who is, whether we like it or not, the face of Lebanon to the world. Sorry #LiveLoveBeirut, you’re not it.

A slew of tweets and Facebook posts criticizing Bassil were also widely circulated, of which the satirical Facebook page Adeela led the forefront with a bunch of posts addressing Bassil’s tweets:

Lebanese blogger Mahmoud Ghazayel had a tweet (now deleted) in which he corrected Bassil’s statement to this:

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So far so good, right? Except this didn’t remain as just a manifestation of Lebanese online degrees of freedom because before you knew it, the situation – thanks to massive reports by Bassil’s online henchmen – became as follows:

Every single post that criticized Bassil about his racist tweets was removed because of Facebook reports, while the social media platform never bothered to check for the background upon which those reports were being filed in the first place, or the statements being criticized to begin with.

As a result, if you try and say something negative about Bassil’s statements, thousands will end up putting you in Facebook jail for at least 24 hours because you somehow violated the terms of being on that website, by simply expressing an opinion.

Maybe it’s fear of  exposing how ridiculous Bassil’s proposition – even if echoed by many – is. Maybe it’s wanting to keep his image pristine in their eyes, albeit it being irrevocably damaged in the minds of many others. Maybe it’s them wanting to keep a semblance of pride.

What Bassil’s goons seem to fail to grasp is that with every post they manage to bring down, ten more will spring up in their place. As it is their right to believe and want to defend what Bassil said, it is the right of every other Lebanese who categorically and irrevocably disagrees to not only criticize but mock those statements until kingdom come, whether they like it or not.

As the stench of garbage and filth overtakes their nares in every cubic meter of air in Beirut, as they spend countless hours without electricity, as they pray for the heavens for internet to be fast enough to load the images in this post, as they debate whether to flush or not because water is scarce, let them have all of that pride and the politicians whose image they want to keep. Let them have their “holy” land, their “better-than-thou” attitude towards anyone and anything they deem lesser. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many Facebook reports are issued, common sense will prevail.

PS: Dear Facebook, re-assess yourself, why don’t you? 

Why Michel Aoun Trying To Silence MTV Is Beyond Unacceptable

Welcome to the land of political diarrhea.

A few days ago, Michel Aoun – head of Lebanon’s FPM – called on his supporters to go protest for their Jesus-given Christian rights. Some of those supporters immediately sported orange ribbons across their rearview mirrors, plastered posters on their cars, stood out of windows and took it to the streets.

The following day, a minimal number of those protesters decided to do what they ridiculed the Future Movement for doing back in 2012, and storm the Grand Serail. They failed. Some of Aoun’s MPs were pictured beating on the Lebanese Army – army love is only yet another entity in Lebanon’s spectrum of political diarrhea – and the army was pictured beating on some of Aoun’s protesters. A hilarious press conference, ensued, the highlight of which is the following:

Flash forward a day later, and the politician in question has banned MTV from covering his press conferences and any other political activity related to him in Rabiyeh.

Naturally, MTV replied:

The translation of MTV’s video goes as follows:

And on July 11th, of the year 2015, of the 21st century, Michel Aoun banned MTV from entering the Rabieh paradise. The General of Change & Reform hasn’t changed a thing in his behavior: he’s a military man when he’s supposed to be a politician, and he’s a politician when he’s supposed to be a military man. More than 25 years of this Aounist pattern has gotten Michel Aoun to make politics militia-like, while he’s seeking without success – and thank God for that – to politicize the military. The General is showing us with his stubbornness where he shouldn’t, and in him changing faces where he shouldn’t and in his constant bias to favor what’s specific over what’s general, and in his constant hate for the media, that he is not fit to become president of the republic.

He is always ready, however, to attack the Republic. As a reminder, the General has always resorted to the tactic of “après moi, le déluge.” That is how he ruined the first Republic and brought the Taef agreement on Lebanon’s Christians, and this is how he is now working on ruining the second Republic.

Regardless of how he has benefited from the Taef Agreement until the very last possible benefit that said agreement gave him, building on its ruins the Republic of the son-in-law, the son of the Republic and its president, on the struggles of all of FPM’s activists and their sacrifices. And now that the Taef Agreement has dried up, General Aoun is divisive, federalist, Christian, Syrian, Iranian, petrolic, electric.

You want us to talk to you in your language, and here we are ashamed to do so. A little bit of shame, General. The MTV can survive without you, but you were not alive for over 15 years if MTV hadn’t carried your cause and that of your persecuted activists until its own head was cut. But how can your selective memory remember us when you disowned the best of your army’s officers and your party’s activists, excluding them without batting an eyelid.

How can someone who can’t tolerate a question from a journalist to manage an entire country? If only General Aoun you liked your own activists as much as MTV did, and still does.

It’s a sad, terrifying moment when a Lebanese politician – regardless of who he is – tries to silence any form of media because the questions they’re asking are making him uncomfortable.

 

Michel Aoun is not a lone example of a politician who tried to silence people and media because the challenge got too much to handle. Every single Lebanese political party has a track record of squashing liberties, whether it’s Hezbollah apprehending bloggers when they visit Dahyeh, or the Lebanese Forces suing people for libel whenever Geagea is placed in a sentence, and the examples are endless.

The danger in these examples is that not only are they increasing, they’re also becoming the norm. We get used to our politicians telling us to shut up and stand in a corner. Nay, some people actually applaud a politician when they shout at others.

The country cannot function when our voices are being squashed slowly but surely by those in power, just because they can, after they’ve successfully squashed our democratic right to vote not once, but twice. The country cannot also function when any entity’s freedom of speech is not absolute, but relative and contingent upon that entity’s leanings.

The sadder part is that there are people today that side with their politician of choice in such a power struggle with news corporations, those same people that were complaining not very long ago about having their own freedom of speech squandered, and their liberties trampled on like cockroaches.

Michel Aoun banning MTV from covering him is ridiculous. In this neo-media age, any press conference of his is broadcast for everyone to see, criticize and even – gasp – make fun of. The danger, however, is when those people in power, like Aoun and his friends, think that them being in power places them beyond reproach, beyond critique and beyond questioning.

It is my right as a Lebanese as a Lebanese citizen to ask questions. It is my right as a Lebanese citizen to get answers. It is my right as a Lebanese citizen to challenge those that call themselves my leaders without having my arms bent, twisted and broken. It is my right as a Lebanese person to live in democracy, and democracy cannot prosper in the shadows of a forced silence. It is my right as a Lebanese citizen to be critical, of not being forced to fall in line whenever push comes to shove, of not being co-erced to applaud just because.

No politician in the country has the right to ban any form of news outlet. No politician in the country has the right not to answer a question that bothers them only because that question bothers them. No politician in the country has the right to get away with being a new-age dictator, and get applauded for it by a bunch of “za22ife” that would cheer beyond critique.

I’m not an MTV fan, but Michel Aoun banning them from covering him is disgraceful, disgusting, horrifying. Yet again, this is not unlike Lebanese politicians who think they are God.

PS: This is the same man who is now sporting a crusader flag for Christian rights as his new political existential cause. 

 

 

The Lebanese President & The Arrest of Jean Assy

It was July 2011.

Some local band had their song picked up by Lebanon’s “security” agencies and were investigated regarding its supposedly president-insuling content. Everyone got up in a fit. The law being employed to justify the arrest was an ancient one that forbids Lebanese citizens from insulting the president.

A few hours later, it was our president Michel Sleiman himself who ordered the band be released when he found out they were arrested due to insulting him.

It is now June 2013.

A local activist named Jean Assy, who also happens to be a staunch FPM supporter, is arrested for insulting the president. All hell broke loose on social media. The constitution’s preamble that guaranteers freedom of speech has been quoted so many times that I can almost recite it at this point had I been paying closer attention. Jean Assy will soon be released because these charges never, ever stick. And he will become a local hero for many who are beginning to idolize him.

But is July 2011 similar to June 2013?

I do not follow Jean Assy on Twitter because I mostly disagree with content and find the tone unacceptable. But I occasionally get his tweets retweeted onto my timeline. Is this matter only because he “criticized” the president? I remember seeing many tweets in which the words “president” and “castrated” [in that order] were mentioned. Is that freedom of opinion or is it libel?

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Is the arrest of Jean Assy warranted? Possibly not. In an ideal situation, I can call my president anything and expect to get away unscathed. But this isn’t an ideal country. In fact, I can barely think of a few things that make standards of life here remotely acceptable. You only need to check the news – word of advice: do not – to know how deep in this hellhole we are. What Jean Assy’s arrest for investigation, however, is not a matter of political rhetorical martyrdom and the Lebanese president turning into a dictator when, for all matters and purposes, the Lebanese president may be perfectly unaware of this even happening and the whole arrest is carried out by some security men with a vendetta under the pretext of a law that needs to be changed and removed.

The other element of the Jean Assy arrest is some prominent FPM politicians running to his rescue with tweets and retweets of their own. I have to ask those politicians: where were you when Hachem Salman was killed at the front doors of the Iranian Embassy? Where are you now that Ramy and Marwa Olleik are forbidden from going back to their hometown due to their threats on their lives? Or are my liberties as a Lebanese contingent upon the political rhetoric they can spark?

It is a sad day when opinionated people get arrested due to silly outdated laws, regardless of how over-the-line those people may have gone. But look at the silver lining: at least Jean Assy has people to watch his back. Many other Lebanese do not.