Extremism in Lebanon: Why Are You Shocked The Red Cross Was Banned From A Mosque?

Breaking news out of Lebanon today, because those are very few and scarce, but a Red Cross volunteer had his colleagues banned from entering the mosque where his family was receiving condolences for the passing of his grandmother, just because they were wearing their logo, which happens to be – well – a Cross, albeit having nothing to do with religion.

First with the story was the Facebook page “Stop Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon,” and at thousands of Facebook shares and likes, as well as having the story picked up by various news outlets now, it has definitely gone around, as well as have people in shock and anger.

I’m here to ask the very simple question: why?

To those who are shocked, I wonder if you’ve been so disconnected from life in this country lately that you haven’t noticed the fervent rise of extremism all around you. This isn’t exclusive to a single sect or religion. Of course, some get blamed more than others because it’s more popular to do so, but it is a tangible reality everywhere and in the hearts of many people around you, including people you know.

The time for you to be shocked was years ago. It was when hearing about things such as ISIS was not common place in your news. It was when people didn’t come up with excuses here and excuses there for their religious folks of choice to come off unscathed. It was when people weren’t made to believe that their entire existence in this country depended on the existence of their religious sect. It was when the discussion of an electoral law was not only about a law that allowed people of one sect to vote for that sect’s MPs. It was when I didn’t wake up every morning to the following graffiti outside my building:

Spotted in Achrafieh

Spotted in Achrafieh

The time to be shocked, disappointed, mortified, appalled or whatever you are feeling right now is long behind us. What you can and should do now is hope this is an incident that won’t set precedence, which I think is the case. This was probably the case of a few goons with near subzero IQs and near illiterate education levels deciding to flex their Allah-given muscles, as has become quite customary around this country.

Those people won’t care about explanations that the Cross on the Red Cross’ vest is not actually Christian. They won’t care that women wearing the Hijab can enter Churches whenever they want, albeit to increasing groans, and that people wearing Crosses can enter Mosques whenever they want. No, those are the people whose existence we have loved to dismiss for so long now, toning it down until we made them irrelevant in our minds.

The truth of the matter is that as everything in this country, this too will pass. You will forget about in a couple of days as something more media-grabbing happens. You may be reminded of it by some politician down the road who wants to cash in some political coins, of course.

What I hope this transpires into is more support for the Red Cross, this truly noble organization in the country that has transcended sects and political lines and religions to help people just for the sake of humanity. You want to be mad at those who didn’t let those Red Cross volunteers in at a wake? Go donate.

Ironically, at a time when some Lebanese retards were upset the Red Cross could have entered a Mosque, the Pope was praying at the Blue Mosque in Turkey. Contrast Lebanon with the following picture. As they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words. I’ve probably written something close to that by now, so you get the picture.
Pope Francis is shown the Sultan Ahmet mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque, by Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, during his visit to Istanbul

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Following Up on Beirut’s Soon-To-Be Destroyed Roman Hippodrome and The Best Way To Save It

Lebanon isn’t a place where much changes in a year. Seriously, if you look at where we were last year around this time and where we are today, you’ll see a lot of similarities. The only exception, perhaps, to our Lebanese reality is real estate, especially when it comes to all the contracting taking place in Downtown Beirut.

More than year ago, I wrote about the Roman Hippodrome that was soon to be destroyed in Beirut (link), in Wadi Bou Jmil next to the Jewish Synagogue. A lot has happened in a year. So courtesy of a piece (link) by Habib Battah, an LAU professor, published by the BBC, an update on Beirut’s Roman Hippodrome is in order:

  • The developer who wants to use the land is Marwan Kheireddine. Sounds familiar? He is a minister in Lebanon’s current government. Way to go for transparency.
  • The project that will see the destruction of the hippodrome is a gated community where only “elite” Lebanese will enter. In other words: you and I are off limits. Unless you can afford paying millions for a Downtown Beirut apartment.
  • According to Kheireddine, the site is not worth preserving. How does he know this? He hired an archeologist who said so. Yes, because such matters are most transparently handled by the people you buy into your service.
  • Kheireddine is offering 4000 squared meters of the land to turn into a museum of sorts that people could access. Because a Roman Hippodrome was meant to be contained within the parking lot of a building, right?
  • Plots around the site in question are said to contain other parts of the stadium and need to be properly excavated as well.
  • There is an immense shortage of archeologists in the country. The job of those archeologists is to make sure such transgressions never happen. But the government doesn’t seem to care about such an issue.
  • Beirut is not the only place where Lebanese archeological heritage is being destroyed left and right carelessly. In fact, what’s happening outside of Beirut in lesser known areas might be worse.
  • Concerned activists are trying their best to halt the development. But there will come a time when they won’t be able to do much anymore.

I remember back in 2005-2006 when a local cafe in Batroun was being built. The initial digging site revealed a Phoenician burial site, sarcophagi and all. People flocked to see what the site was all about. The following day, nothing survived to tell the tale. Today, instead of that entire burial site lies a cafe known for its shisha and its July 2012 drug scandal.

The Best Way To Save The Hippodrome:

Earlier in 2013, hell broke loose twice over ancient ruins in Beirut. The first time was because some henchmen at District S assaulted the same person who wrote the aforementioned BBC article over him taking pictures of the ruins they were busy dismantling to open up Beirut into the new Dubai-esque age (link). The second time was due to Lebanon’s possibly oldest Church getting discovered at another site where a Jean Nouvel hotel was to be built (link).

The discrepancy between the fate of sites one and two is striking. The former is still operation. The latter has been halted. Churches can do miracles? Believe, people.

Arguments about how priceless a monument is, how irreplaceable it is, how silly it is to replace it with a building, how rare it is to find such a thing in Lebanon, how economically profitable it would be to keep it and turn it into an attraction are all useless simply because most people don’t connect to them on a primal level, enough to get them rallied up.

The only way, apparently, to get to a result, force government to get involved and save such sites in Lebanon is to infuse a dose of religion in the stones. The more religious those stones, the more people get rallied up, the less our government can stand quiet as bulldozers raze through the field. Unfortunately for the hippodrome, there doesn’t seem to be an ancient church in its ruins as of now. Let’s hope that changes soon.

The following pictures are all courtesy of the BBC:

A Visit To Bab El Tebbaneh

I recently visited an area of Tripoli that few want to think of, let alone set foot in: Bab el Tebbaneh. After my visit, I can see why. Even though the area is only a 25 min drive from home, it makes you feel like an outsider to your own country: nothing about you fits there. The people don’t want you to fit there. You don’t want to fit there.

The people of Bab el Tebbaneh thought I was a foreigner. I found it odd at first – we all share the same identification papers. But I later took it to my advantage. It’s much easier to pretend to be a gullible foreigner who has no idea what he’s doing than to try to reason with them using your native tongue. A foreigner can get away with more.

A few years back, when I used to visit the area’s vegetable market frequently, the people seemed to be much more at ease. They were poor back then as well and they were without prospects back then also. But they were hopeful. Little hope can be found in the faces of the people of Tebbaneh anymore. My visit to Bab el Tabbaneh exposed me to a section of our Lebanese society that is in constant paranoia – of that outsider walking among their shelled buildings, among their tarnished markets, violating their area.

We tried to delve deeper into Tebbaneh but faced resistance the likes of which I hadn’t seen in Lebanon before. We went up a flight of stairs that seemingly led nowhere only to have young men come out of nowhere to ask us what we’re doing there. Somehow they thought we were an “archeological team.” They let us through. Moments later they came back: “But there’s no archeology up this way.”

Bab el Tebbaneh is now a place where you are not allowed to take pictures and where you being out of place might warrant the Lebanese army to come hassle you as well. The people of Bab el Tebbaneh who were more than welcoming way back when look at every outsider suspiciously now. Their eyes will stalk you like a hawk whenever you move, tracing your every step, wondering what your plans are.

It is an area where the mosques are shelled, where little kids feel that those semi-demolished buildings are a point of pride and want you to go check them out. It’s a place where poverty is so entrenched in every fabric of that society that you have absolutely no idea how or where to start fixing.

“We are all poor people here,” a man came up to me and said, smiling, as I made my way through his street. “You won’t see anything but poverty.” I smiled back and moved on. There was really nothing I can do.

Where can one start? The politicians promise these people better lives every four years and end up doing nothing. They are untouchable. The religious men who sport the latest cars and equipment use these people’s poverty to their advantage in order to radicalize them. Factions use these people’s needs in order to carry on with their battles after handing them copious amounts of weapons. Most Lebanese hate the people of this area and the “image” they give their country and are more than willing to bash them in and out.

As we reached the point of saturation of what little we got access to of Bab el Tebbaneh and made our way out, as a man shouted at us not to take pictures anymore, another stopped us and pointed at a mosque whose walls were filled with bullet holes. He was exasperated by all the fighting. But he knew there was nothing he could do.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved when I reached the newer parts of Tripoli. It’s hard to imagine how this poverty can be found at a stone’s throw away from the house of one of Lebanon’s richest men. Then you realize that all of Lebanon’s richest men feed off this poverty and help perpetuate it. It’s how they remain powerful.

The mosque and its bullet holes.

The mosque and its bullet holes.

The section we couldn't visit

The section we couldn’t visit

"Come see all the destroyed houses."

“Come see all the destroyed houses.”

"You can't take pictures here."

“You can’t take pictures here.”

People used to live here.

People used to live here.

Maronite Church Land Forcibly Taken By Mayor of Lassa, Jbeil to be Given to Shia Mosque

The tensions in the Jbeil town of Lassa continue to surface. After an episode involving Hezbollah communication and whatnot, it has transpired that the town’s mayor, Issam Al Meqdad, started taking 5000 sqm of land owned by the Maronite Church to give them to the nearby Mosque, considering the land as belonging to the Shia “Waqf” of the town.

When the Patriarchal envoy to the region, Chamoun Aoun, found out, he contacted the Maronite Church in Jounieh and notified policemen who rushed to the town but couldn’t do anything. MP Michel Aoun was notified of what was happening. He found the affair very peculiar and notified Jbeil’s MP Simon Abi Ramia to pursue the matter further.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Lassa, with whom the policemen couldn’t do anything, still firmly believes that the land is not for the Maronite Church – even though they legally own it – but for the Mosque.

Now one cannot but wonder, what more do some entities in Lebanon need to do to prove ownership of a land? Is it not enough that they have the deed? Is it not enough that they paid for it? Is it not enough that it has been there and for years and years?

5000 sqm may sound like not much for many people but this is not the first time this happens and by the looks of it, it won’t be the last. This land was not bought or sold. In order for the Maronite Church to sell land, it needs authorization from the Vatican who most probably wouldn’t approve such a transaction. This land is being simply stolen – there’s no other word for it.

And the sadder part is we can’t do anything about this but watch. At least that’s what we did when land was being taken in the same way in other locations in Lebanon.