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.

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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:

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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?

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To Burkini Or Not To Burkini: The Ages Of Men Deciding What Women Should Wear

When it comes to cultural assimilation, many parts of Europe have not been exemplary in the way they’ve dealt with the many minorities that have sought their land as refuge over the years, but none more so than France, whose problem with people who are lesser-white than the average they’re used to goes back to the time where it occupied much of Northern Africa and contributed to a mass exodus of people from those areas to serve as cheap labor for their home country.

The immigrants that flocked to France challenged the French about what it was to be as such: what is the French identity? What makes France as it is? How do we integrate such diversity into what we already know and take as scripture? Needless to say, the French model failed miserably.

Instead of integrating the laborers in French societies, they were settled along metropolitan areas with other destitute French, close enough to work but far enough from being part of actual French society, further widening the divide between “authentic” French and otherwise. Social programs, a hallmark of the French political system, also contributed to further encourage the differences between both population groups, further making the grounds for discrimination more fertile.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that in the France of today, and similarly to the African American situation in the United States, French jails have a much higher population of North African-origin inmates than of any other population, relative to their proportion of the general French populace.

As the French general public failed to grasp the fundamental problem at hand, the political rhetoric started to mirror the growing dismay from those immigrants. From having the French symbol “La Marianne” in a veil on the cover of Le Figaro, to tell people that France would become Muslim in 30 years, to people like Jean Marie Le Pen painting those immigrants as violent, uncontrollable, and who breed like rabbits.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that in 2004, the French state decided to ban the public use of the veil, much to the outcry of many Islamic and human rights group who saw the move as a gross encroachment on the rights of those women. The argument back then was that France, being a secular state, did not tolerate any signs of religiosity. The underlying tone, however, was that this secular state with an Christian undercurrent would not tolerate an apparent Islamization in its PR.

The rift between “immigrants” – French like everyone else but always viewed as lessers – and French continued to grow through the years, between attacks on Charlie Hebdo, to the terrorist attacks that overtook Paris and Nice, to the increasing rise of the Front National. Today, the clash of culture is taking place in a different way: French statesmen want to ban a conservative swimwear colloquially called the “Burkini” – a term merging both Burka and Bikini – in their attempt to preserve the semblance of the “liberated” image of France.

Introduced in Australia by a Muslim woman who tried to merge her religious and Australian lives, the piece of clothing soon became global. With the French bans, many people are purchasing them around the world in solidarity. The outcry against the French ban is deafening. The question of the matter, however, is why would such a ban be conceived in the first place?

This is a continuation of the French problem in trying to assimilate different parts of what makes France as it is into a modern identity that is holistic and inclusive. The French revolution slogan “equality, liberty, brotherhood” seems to only be applicable as long as you fit within the code of such a statement.

The ban is equal part Islamophobic and an attack on a woman’s freedom of expression. Would French police arrest a nun, for instance, who is wearing her religious clothing on a beach just because she is covered up? Would they arrest a swimmer clad in their sport clothes? Would they arrest any woman whose clothes attire conflicts with what they deem acceptable enough to fit within the narrowing, rather than broadening, confines of French culture of 2016?

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The ban of the Burkini can be summarized as follows: men trying to impose a dress code on women who have already had a dress code enforced on them by men elsewhere who view their chastity as directly proportional to how much skin they cover up, never knowing that maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t in the skin that is exposed or not, but rather in the minds that look at that skin in the first place.

Before Arabs and Muslims can be upset about France banning Burkinis, ins’t some introspection into what is happening in our own backyards warranted? How many of our cultures and countries coerce our women into covering every inch of them, whether they want to or not? How many of our cultures and countries treat women as second rate citizens just because they were not born men, limiting them with what those who were born men believe those women should be entitled for? How many of our cultures and countries have made women feel insecure just by walking down the streets with eyes that ravaged their bodies regardless of how covered up they were?

How many of our cultures and countries have stopped women from even going to the beach for fear of being viewed as nothing more than meat? How many of our cultures and countries have made wearing the hijab, and consequently items of clothing such as the burkini, as an indication of the woman wearing them – whether she wants to or not – essentially being a better person than the woman who decided not to? The fact of the matter is that women are more prone to be sexually harassed on our beaches, whether they were wearing a Burkini or a bikini, than in the beaches of France, even if they’re wearing nothing.

Tackling the abhorrent rise of Islamophobia in France cannot therefore occur without looking inside our own homes for once. Do we allow our women to wear whatever they want without conferring moral judgement on them for doing so? Do we give our women the freedoms that we believe they are being robbed of in France or elsewhere? Do we not pass judgement on those women who decide to go to the beach wearing a Bikini just because they felt like it, categorizing them as everything we believe women should not be?
The answer is no.

The resources France is putting into banning the Burkini are completely unnecessary. It’s a legislation that has become a farce: that of armed police officers assaulting decent women at the beach to strip them of their clothes. By coercing them out of a Burkini, the French state is doing to those women something that’s as bad as forcing them into one in the first place. It’s unfortunate that while standing as such a crossroads, France and the rest of Europe decide to make a U-turn rather than advance further into creating an environment where women can be free to choose whether they want to wear a Burkini or not. Instead, you have a bunch of men deciding they know, once more, what women want and what they should do. When ISIS tells Muslims they’re nothing but second class citizens in the West, one wonders, when does the West realize that its practices play right into ISIS’ hand?

Some Arabs Need To Get A Grip On Their Egos

I stumbled upon a very interesting article online yesterday, written by Robert Fisk, that discussed mainly how the “Arab Awakening” did not start with Tunisia in December 2010 but with Lebanon in March 2005.

So I shared this article via my twitter page with my friend Ali, whom I knew believed in the idea the article discussed.

Soon enough, I started to receive tweets about how we, as Lebanese, have a false sense of grandeur, how we are “insecure buffoons”, how our pride blinds us, how we claim fake glory, how Lebanon inspires no one, etc…

I wouldn’t naturally reply to such things, but I did reply, only to get even worse tweets about how we, as Lebanese, are basically nothing.

Even some of the comments on some YouTube videos online basically say how ridiculous Lebanon is to run a show like Star Academy while the region is busy running revolutions.

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Burning Tires

I’ve read many people saying that what certain protesters did today, burning tires and blocking roads, is hypocritical seeing as these same protesters “defamed” similar protests, albeit on different grounds.

I have a few things to note regarding this. The protests Lebanon saw today were a spontaneous act by a group that saw its choice at how this country should be running, one it clearly expressed through national parliamentary elections a year and a half earlier, going down the drain. These people felt oppressed. They were scorned. For a whole day of demonstrations, which ironically falls almost on the same day the other protesters burned tires, no one died, property was not damaged and the expression of anger simply resulted in excessive traffic on certain roads.

On the other hand, when the “defamed” people protested, people died. I know of at least one man from my own district who was killed through a sniper’s job. The whole protest at that point was to prove a point against the government at the time by the opposition. Wouldn’t you think that people would be given a choice to participate or not in the “strike” as it was called at the time? The answer is no. The whole strike was shoved down our throats. Some people had to close down their business in order for them not to get trashed. People were forbidden from going to work. Some were banned from seeking medical help. I personally know of one woman they did not let pass to go to her chemotherapy. Her husband, a supporter of the movement at the time, pleaded but to no avail.

On that day, I was in my senior year of high school. The school gave us the freedom to do whatever they want. If you support the movement, you can not attend. If not, then come to class. Classes were supposed to be held. So I went to school. Imagine going on a side-road from my village and seeing tires burning there. I mean, what’s the point of burning tires on a road that’s not even that important? They simply wanted to have fun. I got to school. Classes were not held, simply because the headmistress, who incidentally announced this supposed “choice” we had, did not show up. This headmistress’s uncle was an MP with Aoun at the time. Another example of shoving the “strike” down my throat.

As far as I know, the people demonstrating today did not shove it down people’s throats. And I repeat, they did not kill anyone nor have they damaged property. The outer shell might the same. And I disagree with this outer-shell in all circumstances, meaning I refuse this way of protesting in absolute value. But the foundation is much, much different. It’s so different, in fact, that I believe a comparison based on the outer shell becomes null.

Let me conclude by saying something I shared with a friend today. Hell has no fury like a sect scorned.