Gebran Bassil – our esteemed minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigrants – wants to change the name of the ministry he is heading from that dealing with Immigrant affairs, to – what I would assume translates as: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora. In Arabic, the change goes from Meghterbin to Mountashirin.
The change, it seems, is Bassil’s attempt – in his ever lasting effort to gain a parliament seat in my home district (which he will get with this freak of an electoral law they’ve come up with) – to indicate to us, Lebanon’s immigrants at large, that our identity is Lebanese.
As if we have forgotten.
We may have left the country, dear sir, but the attempt to wash away the very hard decision of us deciding to pack up everything and leave will not be accepted. The mere fact that you think I need to be reminded of my Lebanese identity is insulting.
I have not forgotten that I have not seen my parents in months. I have not forgotten that I couldn’t be next to my grandfather as he drew his dying breath. I have not forgotten that I am missing out on Celine and Yasmina growing up. I have not forgotten that I have not seen my best friends and have not been in their lives for almost a year.
I have not forgotten that I will be missing out on Celine and Simon’s baptisms. I have not forgotten that I haven’t hugged my grandmothers in what feels like an eternity. I have not forgotten that I haven’t seen my brothers in months either.
And yet, here we are.
What makes me Lebanese is them. It’s what I’ve left behind and I remember every single day of being ten thousand miles away, as I get glimpses of what I’ve left behind over WhatsApp voice messages.
No, you do not get to sugar coat me being away from home.
I have also not forgotten the country you and your friends made me leave. In the time I’ve been here, America has offered me more – and I’m not even their citizen – than what my own government has in over twenty seven years of being its citizen.
America has offered me well-paved roads. You haven’t.
America has offered me a well-paying job. You haven’t.
America has offered me fast internet, water that doesn’t die off on me, electricity that I can rely on, gas that doesn’t break the bank to buy, accessibility that cannot be replaced, and prosperity that cannot be priced.
America has offered me a place in which I can build my own home, without worrying about tomorrow might bring. You haven’t.
What have you offered?
You’ve offered a country where everyone has a militia, where you don’t succeed based on your qualifications but based on who you know, where half of people my age are struggling to find a job, where corruption is our modus operandi, where the most basic of human requirements are not provided to me.
But please, do remind me that I’m Lebanese. Remind me of how I can’t go on vacation anywhere without needing two hundred and fifty different pieces of paper to have them consider me for a visa. Remind me of how you and your friends have turned the country’s reputation into a shithole. Remind me of all that baggage that I’ve willingly left behind – just because you need my vote, I suppose.
You think we wanted to leave. No one wants to leave their home, and everything that they’ve known their whole life. But you’ve made me do so.
I have not forgotten why I left. I thank the heavens each day that I took that decision. And it won’t really matter what you name your little useless ministry, at least for me.
Come April 29th, Lebanon’s voting immigrants – please choose wisely. And on May 6th, I hope the Lebanese populace back home remembers that their sons and daughters are immigrating for a reason.
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.
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:
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:
You do not have 24/7 electricity,
You do not have access to water all the time,
Your internet sucks,
Your security situation is as precarious as it can be,
You need a visa to go to almost anywhere,
Your passport is the most expensive around the world,
You have not voted for parliament since 2009,
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,
You literally live in garbage,
Your women can – as of the writing of this post – be raped and then proposed to and everything becomes okay,
Your women cannot pass on their citizenship to their children, something that many of you wholeheartedly agree with,
Your women can be victims of domestic abuse without repercussions.
Your LGBT population’s existence is considered “illegal,”
Your roads are in disrepair,
Your infrastructure is near non-existing,
Many see the country’s worth as contingent upon the well being of their religious sect,
Censorship bureaus decide what you get to be exposed to depending on their whims,
Not having a national budget since 2005?
Your politicians – read Wiam Wahhab – having militias,
The country having militias to begin with,
You getting “SSSS”‘ed at airports just because you’re Lebanese,
You getting secondary interrogations before entering countries even after you’re given a visa because you’re Lebanese,
Smugglers and criminals being arrested and then freed a short while later because you need them to buy cheap phones,
Your very last public beach in Beirut will soon become a resort,
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:
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.
If you had any doubt that the FPM is a politically bankrupt party, now’s the time to be certain of it.
If you had any doubt that their website, Tayyar.org, was worse than the garbage filling our streets, today is the day when this becomes clearer than day.
Today, the FPM is in full blown crisis mode.
The Free Patriotic Oxymoron wants us to vote for a president. But they couldn’t even vote for their own one because their boss was too afraid his lovely son in law wouldn’t be their chosen one.
Today, the Free Patriotic Hypocrisy wants to reform and change the country, but they’ve been in power since 2005 and haven’t done any of that. 24/24 electricity in 2015? Wait while I go fix the generator.
Today, the Free Patriotic Whatever wants you to see how they’re secular, but their only rhetoric is about Christian rights, also known as the biggest load of bullshit of the year.
They want you to think they’re against the government, but they just happen to be part of it. They want you to think they’re against parliament’s mandate extension, but they just happen to have the biggest parliamentary bloc today.
*More orange applause here.*
And today, because the FPM is so scared of the #YouStink movement, because they’ve seen how a non-partisan, secular movement managed to get WAY more people than the 500 they got on their streets in their BIG revolt for Christian rights, they are after one of the organizers of the YouStink movement, Assaad Thebian.
For reference, this is Aoun’s latest excursion:
And this is the YouStink protest:
How? By digging up old Facebook statuses of his in which he makes jokes about Christianity.
How? By doing what Aounists do best, look at other people’s “mistakes” while utterly and irrevocably ignoring exactly how demented their ranks have become.
How? By basking in the glories of hypocrisy under the veil of Christianity. Haven’t you heard? Aoun is the next coming of Jesus, y’all!
The following are the Facebook posts that offended the FPM so much:
And because there’s nothing more I’d love to do now than to figuratively bash their rhetoric into oblivion, let’s remind the Lebanese masses exactly how hypocritical, deluded and – forgive them Father for they have sinned – blasphemous they are.
Here is Gebran Bassil pretending that he’s the Foreign Affairs Minister of a First World Country, caring for Freedom of Speech and whatnot at the Charlie Hebdo rally to support the victims of the very horrendous crime that took place in Paris earlier this year:
Except clearly freedom of speech is only allowed when it’s not practiced in Lebanon and where pretending we care about it gives our country a good name. All formalities, as you know, because as it is with the FPM words always speak louder than actions.
These are the covers that Gebran Bassil was defending while in Paris, note that they offend both Christianity and Islam, in a way much MUCH worse than Assaad Thebian ever did, but who cares, right?
2) I kneel in front of you, Oh General:
When Gebran Bassil was made president of the FPM, he started his new promotion with a very enticing speech addressing his father-in-law, mentor Michel Aoun. In it he said, and I translate loosely: “Oh general, you leader and mentor and companion, I kneel in front of you along with my compatriots so you could bless us.”
So let me get this, Aoun was giving up on becoming president so he decided to become Jesus? In the name of the Father, His Son in Law, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Yes, that sounds about right.
This wasn’t the first time Aounists turned their leader into God.
3) Aoun in the Heart of Mary:
A few weeks ago, MP Nabil Nicolas, who was the first to rush down to Martyrs’ Square a few weeks ago and support the #YouStink movement, posted a picture on his Facebook account of his leader, Aoun, in the heart of the Virgin Mary. No further comment needed:
4) They Tried to Hijack #YouStink, But Then Changed Their Mind:
If you also needed more examples on how hypocritical these FPM leaders are, only look at their attempts to hijack the #YouStink movements under the guise that it’s echoing their demands. Yes, right.
First was this tweet by Gebran Bassil:
Then Nabil Nicolas tried to join the protests. Then minister Elias Abi Saab tried to join the protests as well. The nerve that these people have.
Then Gebran tweeted again:
Then they decided the movement was not something they wanted to get involved in. I guess they realized, about a month later, that the movement was against them too.
5) Attacking The Patriarch:
And because we’re digging up stuff from a past long-gone by now, why not dig up something from the FPM’s past? Something like video footage of them attacking the Maronite Patriarch and Bkerki simply because they didn’t agree with Bkerki’s stances?
People in glass houses should not throw stones.
The FPM Doesn’t Just Stink, It Reeks:
Attacking Assaad Thebian is the FPM’s desperate attempt at getting whatever supporters it has left to rally behind the only thing they can use: religion. When your political message fails, when you become so desperate, when you become absolutely dumb-founded by a reality in which you do not matter, you go back to what you know, and the only thing the FPM knows is hate, hypocrisy, and enticing religious tension.
This party’s people saw fitting to scroll down a person’s PERSONAL Facebook page and dig up posts from over a year ago in order to score a few points on a non-partisan and secular movement simply because they felt threatened. Stalkers much?
What’s outrageous here isn’t Assaad Thebian’s personal opinion on religion, which he is 100% entitled to have, on his personal Facebook page, to his friends, but the fact that someone took the effort to make sure and invade his privacy, post these opinions for everyone to see and then have a lawsuit filed against him.
If only I had the financial resources to sue Nabil Nicolas or Gebran Bassil for blasphemy.
Christianity By Name, Never By Action:
This new breed of Christians, as exemplified by those outraged by Assaad Thebian’s Facebook statuses, are exactly what is wrong with Christianity today. They are those people who proclaim to be Christian just for the fun of it, but when it comes to practice, they are as far from it as it can be. Christianity is not only an ID categorization, but a way of life. Don’t tell them I told you this, though.
In between the “bedde nik kess emmo la Assaad Thebian” comments (what did his mother every do to you?), and the various responses that don’t only verge on hate, but fall precariously into the sectarian trash talk that the FPM has long been practicing, this is “Christianity” exemplified:
Screenshot by Chafic Atallah.
Screenshot by Chafic Atallah.
What would Jesus do? He’d slap them across the face, that’s what he’d do.
The Difference Between Us And You:
And here lies the biggest difference between us, those supporting the #YouStink movement in all our forms and colors and religious affiliation or lack thereof, and you. We do not follow a leader, we follow a cause. We are not protesting for someone. We are protesting because this country needs us to protest, because it is our national duty to stand up to the shit that your leader and his friends have gotten us into over the past 10 years.
Assaad Thebian is not a figure that defines the #YouStink movement, he is a figure of the movement. He is entitled to his opinion, and I will defend his right to that opinion in the face of hypocrites and anyone who thinks he should not have an opinion that trespasses on their belief system.
You? Well, you are people who are called after a person’s last name. You are people who are now wondering if your name should be changed to your new leader’s last name. You are followers not to a cause, but to a figure. You move the way that figure sways. You don’t have an ideology, you have a new god to worship.
Between us an you, the only people committing blasphemy are you.
Yesterday night, Nicolas Sehanoui decided to take his twitter presence and use it in support of another minister in his now-defunct cabinet. The minister he decided to support was Gebran Bassil, one of the FPM’s more polarizing figures. Mr. Sehanoui figured that tweeting some of Bassil’s “achievements” in the ministry of energy and water with the hashtag #ThankBassil would get people talking.
Well, people got talking alright. But it wasn’t good at all. Instead of the hashtag turning into something positive to light Gebran Bassil’s future electoral days, no pun, it became a space for people across the twitter spectrum to express their true sentiment regarding the minister. Saying those sentiments weren’t nice would be an understatement: people are still making fun of that hashtag today, almost 24 hours later.
Many FPM supporters cannot fathom how people can’t get past their prejudice agains this man and look at his achievements. But the reasons for that are actually quite simple. Let me try to list them:
1) Gebran Bassil is simply unlikeable. This is common knowledge among Batrounis, even those in the FPM circle. Many of the level-headed FPMers I’ve spoken to admit that any other “choice” for a battle-candidate in the region would get more votes. Why’s that? Because Gebran Bassil isn’t held in the best regards among those in the FPM, despite what they try to show, and he is not liked enough to get the votes of those who are politically “independent” in the region. Case in point? He lost twice. Another case in point? Even in Michel Aoun’s Christian hayday, he barely managed to get a majority in the caza. Nicolas Sehanoui, for instance, shares Gebran Bassil’s views. But he is likeable enough to get me to maybe consider voting for him. I don’t vote in Achrafieh so there’s that.
2) What is the source of said-achievements? It’s easy to categorize everyone on Twitter as a blind supporter of political parties here and there. Many actually are. But you know what’s also interesting about Twitter? It’s a space for many Lebanese who are fed up to express that sentiment. I am one of those people. I have no problem acknowledging when someone has done a good job. What I have a hard time doing, however, is to believe rhetoric that comes from political sources that have an agenda behind each word they blurt out: every number, every syllable, every point.
3) Have you seen some of those “achievements?” One example that comes to mind is the oil achievement. Am I supposed to be grateful and eternally thankful to Gebran Bassil that Lebanon has oil, something which many of us have known for years and years now? For reference, digging sites were set up in my Batrouni hometown in the 1970s for that matter. Or how about all those dams whose projects have been around since 1960? Are all the achievements non-sensical? Perhaps not. But I don’t trust any Lebanese politician enough to give them blind thumps up.
4) Why should I be thankful to anyone again? I’ve said it before in this article (link) but I don’t want to ever be thankful to any politician whatsoever for doing what they are theoretically required to do, regardless of how well they do their job. If I see tangible improvement in a certain area, which I’m not seeing with Bassil so far, I point it out. If them doing their job is absolutely horrendous, Gaby Layoun comes to mind, then I’ll point it out as well. It is our duty as aware Lebanese people not to get carried away with political hype, especially if it comes pre-electorally, and be critical of what we hear and what politicians do. But never, ever, be eternally grateful for something someone should be doing regardless of what his or her predecessors did. Meaning: when I start practicing medicine, please don’t be eternally grateful for me curing you when you are paying me to do it.
5) Does it even make sense for politicians of the same political party to start thanking each other for their accomplishments on social media? What’s next, have Gaby Layoun thank Minister Sehanoui next week and have minister Bassil thank Layoun the week after that? How is ministerial twitter love-fest remotely acceptable?
6) If you’re from Batroun, you’d know that Gebran Bassil is being paraded around these days almost everywhere. Thank you Gebran Bassil posters are literally everywhere across my region (pictures). Why’s that? Because the man is going around the country, to every single place his ministry has started a project, to make sure the project gets affixed to his name forever. Why is he doing that in the first place? Because he knows he won’t be going back to the ministry next time and he doesn’t want his “achievements” to be affixed to anyone else’s name. Two questions can be asked here: Did he take “accomplishments” from previous ministers? And isn’t #thankbassil another extension of the media frenzy?
7) Last but not least, if you’re from Batroun as well, you’d remember a little book that was also distributed across the region in 2009 ahead of the parliamentary elections to list Gebran Bassil’s achievements. Sounds familiar, right? Well, that little book was not only trashed, it was torn apart by criticism because it was so bloated and full of achievements that were not simply true. That little book was one of the reasons Gebran Bassil lost the elections in 2009. If you’re not from Batroun, now you know.
I met Gebran Bassil a while back at my hometown’s local church hall as he paid his respect to a deceased relative. He is very good friends with my aunt who was his classmates all through school days. He was more receptive to me than I was to him. He even joked that I wasn’t “apparently with them.” I laughed as he tapped me on the shoulder to tell me it’s okay.
For the record, I don’t think he’s a bad man. On the contrary, he seemed quite friendly and I wouldn’t mind having a chit-chat with him sometimes away from all the townspeople who couldn’t wait to touch his holy suit. We might end up at each other’s throat but that’s fine.
However, I do think he is a grating politician. Is he corrupt? Perhaps he is. I can tell you about the old houses being traded around Batroun or the aquifer water well permits being handed out to people as easy as saying A. But he is definitely not the worst and most corrupt of politicians to roam this country. Batroun has better examples to give to that. Kolestone, anyone?
It all boils down to what Twitter user @MWNader said yesterday: You can buy ministries but you cannot buy chemistry.