No Hezbollah, We Are Not Ready For War

When Hezbollah retaliated by attacking the Israeli army convoy on Wednesday, my knee-jerk reaction was to call my friend who was the most touched by the 2006 war. She’s a medical student in my class, lived all her life in a village right at the border, spent several sleepless nights back in July 2006 huddled in an underground shelter her family had and still cowers away from sudden loud sounds to this day. She had a test that day, and she was devastated.

As she tried reading Internal Medicine off her iPad while checking news on her phone, she frantically called her parents who told her that schools had closed in the region. People had rushed to the bakeries to buy all the bread they can get. Grains had run out of the market in minutes. Flashback to 9 years prior to presentation, in 2015. Welcome to Lebanon, where the fragile stability in which you try to thrive can be taken away in a second.

For several tense hours, we all wondered what awaited us next. Would we have to go through yet another July war, but in January? Can we handle another war? Do we really want another exacerbation of the situation we’re perpetually in?

As I caught up with news online, I remembered back in July 2014, at the ER of the hospital I’m rotating in when a colleague from the South told me about the house his family had built.

It was a big mansion near Tyr, he said. A massive structure with dozens of rooms and beautiful views, he boasted. They were building it before 2006 but it got destroyed in the war by an Israeli shelling. His moment of pride came when he shared with me how in the 8 years since, his family had rebuilt the entire house, this time bigger, fancier, bolder, and that when the mansion gets destroyed again, as he was sure it would, they would be only too willing to rebuild it once more, bigger, fancier and bolder. “I miss war,” he said. “I can feel my body itching to fight.”

I shrugged him off back then, despite me knowing that he echoed a lot of people in his sentiment. It was madness to me that this cycle would become close to normality. In Lebanon, it is normality.

As such, following the attack on Wednesday, many figured bringing up the data-side of 2006 would sober up some people. 1300 dead, billions in damages, ruined infrastructure, bridges destroyed beyond recognition, economy in tatters, millions of cluster bombs, political repercussions from which we haven’t begun to recuperate 9 years later, just to name a few.

In a way, if all of the previously mentioned data existed in another country, it would guide people away from what caused them, towards more stability, more security, and less volatility. In Lebanon, however, these statistics are as irrelevant as this blogpost you are wasting your time reading.

We are a country ruled by law of emotion. This is not exclusive to Hezbollah and its supporters. It transcends them to all sects and regions. Those up in a fit about Nasrallah’s speech today would only gladly shoot up in the air hundreds of bullets when their politician graces other screens and would also pump their fist in their air in synchrony with the see of “labbaykas” they are in.

People convince themselves that their politics today are what they are because of current times. Those views, however, always stem – almost with no exception – from those same political parties benefitting their supporters in one way or another: protection during the Civil War, financial support in times of need, cover-ups for high profile murders (Yves Nawfal anyone?), wastas for med school admissions….

As such, what Hezbollah did on Wednesday, what Hezbollah is doing in Syria, what Nasrallah said today and what might or might not happen in the coming days are all broad headlines and actions that, for Hezbollah’s supporters, only serve to reinforce the notion their party of Allah is unattainable, beyond reproach, beyond questioning, beyond criticism, and, for lack of better word, allah-like, especially for those whose “faith” was waning. They should have known better. Repercussions obviously be damned.

In a country of emotional rule of law, repercussions rarely matter when the statements and actions preceding them are feisty, ambitious, grand and resistive. The lives of this country’s people are also only a matter of plus or minus numbers when their death and sacrifices are for a greater cause that, in the greater sense, only moves at a snail’s pace except in the eyes of those who view those deaths as advancing that grand cause.

However, those repercussions that don’t really matter are lived and felt by all. Yes, we all live them, contrary to those who have been pointing fingers lately to say that even the 2006 war wasn’t felt by everyone. I was there in 2006 when my part of the Lebanese Bible Belt had more Ali’s than Elie’s. I was there when those Ali’s in my hometown wept at the sight of their demolished homes. I was there when my neighbor was wailing as his son narrowly escaped death at the Madfoun bridge when it was bombed. I was there when every single Lebanese without exception looked at the skies in horror as smoke from across the country filled the horizons.

Between 2006 and 2015, we have done very little, if nothing at all, to lessen the repercussions of a possible new confrontation with our enemy down under. For instance, have we at least made sure that civilian casualties this time around wouldn’t be in the four digits and that we wouldn’t lose children whose only fault was being of a certain region, living at a certain time in Lebanese history, by building shelters for them? No. We can’t even tell our people جهزوا ملاجئكم  because they don’t have any. In a culture of the glorification of death, such souls don’t matter.

Today, Hezbollah says it’s ready for war, as it would obviously say. Hezbollah’s entire existence is well-rooted in its preparedness for conflict. I would be surprised if they weren’t. Hezbollah’s supporters would pretend they are ready for war as well. Eventually, in the case of war, the country would also follow suit in supporting our countrymen against Israeli aggression, despite us just waiting until the dust settles to point the finger and shout that we did not ask for this, while people tell us that the whole “another” war rhetoric is futile since the mere presence of Israel invokes lack of safety. But I digress.

The problem with Hezbollah being ready for war is that, once more, it reinforces the notion that they believe they exist in void, which is something they are repeatedly failing to understand. Nasrallah’s party may be ready to roll, but that party operates within the confines of a country that I’m sure he’s sad to be stuck in called Lebanon, a country that extends beyond the borders of the Litani, in which millions other than Hezbollah’s militants exist, in which there are now 1 million plus refugees that are freezing to death, in which there is no president, in which the government is so handicapped it couldn’t convene following Hezbollah’s attack on Wednesday, in which we are facing one of the toughest economical situations in years, in which the entire status quo is hanging on a fragile line that few want broken. And that country, in all its irrelevance, is not ready for the war that Hezbollah doesn’t even want but is “ready” for.

Back in 2006, Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview (YouTube link) that if he had known kidnapping the two soldiers at the border would lead to the July war, he wouldn’t have done it. I highly doubt the country is in a better state this time around. Either way, this isn’t something we get a say in.

Upcoming Lebanese Doom: Hassan Nasrallah “Hosted” on Basmeit Watan

You can see it now, the headlines of tomorrow: riot spreads across the land… because of a caricaturization.

LBC has guts. They’ve been expanding their forte over the past several months with excellent reporting and productions. They have now set the bar higher for everyone else once again by doing something that they did a while back to some grave consequences: they got Hassan Nasrallah to be caricatured on their satire show “Basmeit Watan.” They also mentioned a prophet.

The following is the video of the episode:

Hassan Nasrallah’s supporters have already cut off roads around Beirut in protest.

I guess everyone tunes in when the subject matter is this juicy. I mean, come on, you can smell the drama coming off from hundreds of kilometers away. It’s not like Lebanese mentalities have evolved in the years since Hassan Nasrallah was “hosted” last in order to fathom such caricatures. If anything, the country has gone way backwards in its extremism.

The YouTube comments on the video in question are hilarious. The following is a screenshot:

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I wondered for a while if I just don’t get it. Then I decided that I do. I understand that Hassan Nasrallah is important to his people from a religious perspective, being theoretically a descendent of the prophet Mohammad and whatnot. I understand that a country like Lebanon where religious figures are taken in high regard is not the place to turn those people into satire.

I also know the following. Mr. Nasrallah is as active on the political scene as any other major Lebanese politician, if not more. Mr. Nasrallah is much more active politically and militarily in the Lebanese setting than any other politician and religious person in the country. Mr. Nasrallah is also the head of a party that is not, as its name claims, holy. Why should he get the prerogative that others do not get? Where do you draw a line that should not be drawn when it comes to criticism?

No Lebanese public figure should be above being portrayed in a show such as Basmeit Watan. No Lebanese public figure is holy enough not to be criticized. No Lebanese figure that toys with our lives in any way whatsoever gets to be put on a pedestal, as far as I’m concerned, and kept there until God knows when.

I couldn’t care less if Basmeit Watan or any other show portray the Pope, the Patriarch, my non-existent favorite politician or anyone else. What I do care about is that there are people in my country who think a silly TV show is enough reason for them to take it to the streets, do riots, cut roads and cause mayhem. What I do care about is the fact that the country has not changed one bit between Nasrallah 1.0 and Nasrallah 2.0. What I do care about is the fact that, in 2013, people still think holding religious office makes you immune to any form of criticism.

What’s sad is that our Lebanese priorities are reflected in the riots taking place today over a silly TV show instead of what actually counts. It’s sad that there are people who think Basmeit Watan portraying Nasrallah makes LBC an “Israeli Jewish parasite.” It’s sad that there are people who think such a portrayal is somehow a victory for Israel. Such logical fallacies exist in Lebanon, it seems.

Hezbollah, how about you take your men off the streets? Isn’t there some war we shouldn’t be fighting in to take part of? Isn’t there some government that should be formed but isn’t? Isn’t there a country that should not be run to the ground and have its streets cut off and liberties killed off in vain?

The Lebanese Version of Benetton’s “Unhate” Campaign

Leave it to the Lebanese to spoof controversial ad campaigns. Soon after Benetton’s “unhate” campaign basically went viral, online pictures of rival politicians making out surfaced on line and have been already shared a gazillion times on Facebook.

In case some of you wanted to see Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea kissing Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun or Saad Hariri kissing Hassan Nasrallah (to be honest, I really hope none of you wanted to see either of those), these pictures are for you:

Hariri & Nasrallah

Geagea & Aoun

The “United Colors of Benetton” logo has been changed to “United Colors of Lebanon” to show that Benetton has nothing to do with these. I’m pretty sure Benetton wouldn’t dare to do anything of the sort with Lebanese politicians. Can you imagine the black shirts that would pop up around Achrafieh because, you know, Benetton is Italian and Italians somehow have roots in Achrafieh.

But no matter, the fact that I think ads like this are pointless aside (check my opinion here), I really hope we get to a day where rival politicians can actually find themselves in a room without wanting to kill each other.

Respecting Religions in Lebanon: The Flip-Flop Issue

I’ve only been back to Lebanon about a week and the drama with the country’s religious diversity is back. This time, however, it has taken the form of a flip-flop.

This flip-flop in question had not one, not two, but even more than three Crosses on it. The attention to the issue was first brought by LFTV, the internet television of the Lebanese Forces, and soon enough the people of the concerned areas got the store selling these shoes, managed by Ali Fakih, to close.

I wouldn’t be writing this post if it hadn’t been for this article by Now Lebanon, brought to my attention via a retweet by someone who thought the reaction of the Christians was ridiculous.

Let’s get a few things straight.

1) Why was the store, managed by Mr. Fakih, selling such flip flops in the first place? Has it become fashionable to sell shoes where you step on a religious symbol all the time?

2) How is the Christian reaction to this in any way ridiculous? Did they vandalize the place? No. Did they beat the hell out of the manager? No. What did they do? They protested and got the shop to close. When will the shop re-open again? Monday.

3) It is sad, sometimes, that people who feel the need to talk about anything have a widespread platform like Now Lebanon to talk about it. How is it, miss Nassar, that forcing the man to close shop for a few days insulting? I’m not the most religious of people but I don’t want to see people stepping on Crosses as they walk. In my humble opinion, Mr. Fakih not caring enough to go through the merchandise that he sells is insulting. I’m pretty sure that if his store had received shipments of the same flip-flops, except with the Crescent on them, he wouldn’t have sold them.

4) To suggest that the same reaction wouldn’t have taken place against a Christian man is a deeply disturbing – and sectarian – idea on Now Lebanon’s part. Saying that the whole protest was fueled by people who only protested because the man selling the flip-flops is a Shiite Muslim is not only unfounded, but it’s also entirely in the realms of speculation. In fact, there’s little to back that point up. People, when offended, will act out – regardless of who’s offending them.

5) The article also suggests that us Lebanese have nothing to do but take offense to clothing items. I wonder, when did a clothing item make headline news? Not recently, right? Well, this is the first time that I hear of something “fashionable” cause up a stir. And if you think about it, it’s not really a huge stir. Christians of the area are now standing in front of the store, chanting.

6) Before Now Lebanon, in the form of Angie Nassar, apologize from Ali Fakih for this “sick charade,” how about they look at this “idiotic spectacle” from the perspective of someone who doesn’t want to write just for the sake of writing something controversial and actually notice that the response of the Christians of the area has been nothing short of civilized. They’re not “akin to dictators gunning down innocent men, women and children.” How this comparison was even conceived, I have no idea.

Every group in the world is allowed to express themselves when they feel offended and threatened. The fact that one of Lebanon’s major religious groups was offended by a clothing item and did something non-violent about it does not warrant people to call said people ridiculous, to write articles saying that closing down the man’s store for a few days is an insult and to ask for an apology from a tasteless individual who, probably, knew exactly what he was selling.

I wonder, however, and I do not mean to come off as sectarian, if anyone remembers the clashes that took place when LBC’s Charbel Khalil had someone impersonate Hassan Nasrallah on his show Basmet Watan. Shiites from Dahye swept into Beirut’s Christian areas and caused a riot. Is Hassan Nasrallah more important than the symbol that represents Christians? Was he even offended on LBC show? Nope. What was the cause of the riot? LBC isn’t allowed to portray someone of Nasrallah’s grandeur like that.

Do you also remember when some Danish newspaper published pictures of the prophet Mohammad and the Tabaris 802 Building in Achrafieh, home of the Danish Embassy, was vandalized? How are those pictures any different from having a Cross on the bottom of a shoe? If anything, I find the Cross even more offensive.

How is a civilized reaction from Christians of the area, that only led to the closing of a store, an “idiotic spectacle”? How is this spectacle driven by “willful ignorance, unreasonable attitudes and discrimination?”

Are people unreasonable when they ask for their symbols and convictions to be respected? Is it discriminatory if someone stands up for their rights? And in this case, I’m pretty sure willful ignorance does not apply – it would have applied had they known and decided not to do something about it, making it another example of Christians resigning to the status quo of the country.

And what better way to end this than with the same way Now Lebanon’s original article did: pro tip, fools: taking offense isn’t always a choice. Also, stop being so clueless. It’s offensive to your readers.

A little confession miss Nassar, this event barely registered on my relevance radar – until I read your article. Good job.

Hassan Nasrallah… Why So Silent?

Anyone else wondering why the head of Hezbollah is abnormally silent these days regarding almost everything going on?

I mean, a week into the Egyptian revolution and we had already gotten a speech about the greatness Egypt was going through. And yet, a week into the Syrian revolution and the Hezbollah camp is more silent that a mute person.

This takes me back to a point I made earlier, about the hypocrisy of said party and leader. When things are going their way, it’s very easy for them to come on TV and issue a speech about it. But when their second most trusted ally in the region is under fire, the same arguments given to support what was going in Egypt and Tunisia and Bahrain suddenly go down the drain.

Aren’t the Syrian people deserving of life and freedom and everything that you said the Egyptian people deserved? Aren’t they deserving of democracy and a leader that doesn’t bash them left and right? Or is that only applicable when the leader is loyal to you?

Moreover, Al Manar TV, also known as Hezbollah’s TV, said yesterday that the March 14 camp might be behind the Syrian uprising.

Syrian TV said the protests are filmed in Tripoli, Lebanon and March 14 is behind them as well.

I have a few questions to ask:

1) Do you really think this makes sense?

2) Do you think that if it did make sense, the March 14 camp has the resources to do a whole uprising in Syria?

3) Do you think if the March 14 camp even had the resources, they’d be able to use them in Syria? They’re struggling to get themselves together in Lebanon, let alone a country that is as hostile to their existence as the Iceland volcano?

Too many questions… too little answers and one whole load of bull.