Sectarianism, Hate & Fear: How Hariri’s List Is Fighting Beirut Madinati

Beirut Madinati - bIERTE list 2016 2

As a rule of thumb in the Lebanese political scene, you should know you’re doing something right when all kinds of political groups from all across the political spectrum rally against you and fight you in the dirtiest of ways, slogans and rhetorics.

The “Byerte” list, translating to the Beirutis List, with its slogan “Keep Beirut For Its People” was Hariri and the political establishment’s choice for the upcoming municipal elections on May 8th. Of course, the slogan “Keep Beirut For Its People” is nothing more than a simple variation of the equally xenophobic, horrific political rhetoric rising around the world today, championed by people like Donald Trump. If they had the audacity, they might as well run with “Make Beirut Great Again” and be done with it.

The fact of the matter is no area in the country is exclusive to “its people,” and certainly not the capital which houses 50% of the Lebanese population.

Of course, those politicians had no problem with making sure all investment is placed in Beirut only while forgetting other regions entirely. Those politicians had no problem spending billions of dollars in post war restoration that belonged to the whole country to rebuild Beirut’s heart, making it heartless in the process.

They also had no problem in entertaining the idea of taking Beirut’s trash to places like Akkar. Clearly, keeping Beirut for Beirutis does not extend to their garbage.

Those politicians had no problem as well in championing policies over years to make Beirut not remotely affordable to its own people, unless we now have plans to nationalize GCC citizens.

Those politicians had no problem in making sure Beirut sunk in garbage and stunk of its smell, of its streets being the scene of fights and death that happened not even 8 years ago – ironically on the day the elections are supposed to happen.

I can go on and on, but the epitome of it all is in the fact that Hariri isn’t from Beirut to begin with. Say hi to Saida for me, why don’t you?

Horrifying slogans aside, the Future Movement and the rest of political groups in that list are rallying people in the only way they know how: fear and sectarianism.

Behold a Hariri supporter’s latest magnum opus on Facebook:

Hariri list Beirut 2016

It’s precisely rhetoric like this that shows how despicable and afraid those in governance can get, in order to instill this sense of fear and hatred in those who support them, by getting them to fabricate silly, redundant and baseless arguments in order to main a status quo that just doesn’t work.

Omar Chebaro is not alone. Many Beiruti Sunnis as well as other sects or party enthusiasts entertain the notion that opposing Hariri’s list would be unwise simply because it means falling out of rank at a time when doing so is not in the better interest of their sect. What I heard repeatedly goes along the lines: “you can’t be secular in a sectarian environment.”

This is not a justification to support Hariri’s list of “same old same old” at a time when people are dying, suffocating, and getting poisoned from that same old same old. It is in municipal elections that you can stand up to those who have taken you for granted and whose entire message is not one that’s based in the future but in a past rooted in bigotry and brainwashing.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, Beirut Madinati is not the list of Civil Marriage. A list running for Municipal Elections cannot enforce Civil Marriage, regardless of what its candidates believe regarding that issue.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, Beiruti Madinati will not set Beirut on the path to become a haven for sin. Walaw? Don’t be fooled by hateful messages whose only purpose is to get you to vote the way a party that has failed over and over and over again wants you to on May 8th.

Dear Beirutis, Sunni and otherwise, your vote on May 8th is really, very simple:

You can vote for trash. You can vote for the garbage filling your streets. You can vote for the smell that has made you vomit every day for the past 3 weeks. You can vote for the city in which you can’t afford to buy an apartment. You can vote for the city whose downtown you cannot even enter. You can vote for the roads congested with cars at any moment of any day. You can vote for poisoned water, poisoned food, poisoned air.

If you vote that way, you’d be voting for Beirut today, Beirut the city that is dying because of the policies of that who wants you to believe you have no other choice because you’re Sunni, or Orthodox, or from Beirut born and bred, keeping Beirut for its people, because its people are not all Lebanese.

Or you can vote to change things. You can vote to those who are not taking your vote for granted, but going to your neighborhood to ask you: what do you need? You can vote to those who have taken the time to write a 32 pages program for you, not someone asking you to vote for them just because you should.

On May 8th, the choice couldn’t really be simpler. I hope you choose those who are good, not those who make you afraid of wanting better.

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Ramadan in Tripoli

A friend of mine was sitting in a restaurant in Tripoli, waiting for the Iftar. At the first day of Ramadan, Iftar is a big deal. It had been a very tough day of fasting in the scorching July heat. The restaurant he was sitting in was abuzz with talks about a little girl named Jana. Everyone wanted to make sure she was doing well, that she was eating, that she was well-seated, that she was well-taken care of.

My friend, who wasn’t from Tripoli and was visiting the city oh so cautiously, was intrigued. He started asking who Jana was. She was the homeless girl selling flowers to the people having Iftar on the first day of Ramadan. As he told me the story, not knowing whether it was true or not, I decided that I must try and live – to the best of my capacities – parts of Ramadan in Tripoli.

My best friend being from the city made this quite easy. Soon enough, his mother was asking when I’d come visit. I very gladly obliged. So on a Saturday of Ramadan, I was standing at the doorstep of one of the kindest and most hospitable people I know, breathless as I was racing against a sinking sun, worried I wouldn’t be there on time. We sat on a breezy balcony that overlook a desolate street.

Tripoli might as well have been a ghost town at that point. Everyone was busy eating. I was served some soup, followed by fattouch then some mloukhiye the likes of which I had never had before. I daresay the food passed by quite fast for what I had in mind but I didn’t mind. The mloukhiye was coupled with some rice and chicken and other Lebanese mezze items. Soon enough, we found ourselves drinking jallab and other kinds of juices while the smokers puffed on that cigarette that had been sitting in their pockets waiting for such a long time. The chit chats grew louder. The conversations veered toward the medical as my med student status was revealed. The women started asking me questions about C-sections and normal deliveries. Cake was served. I didn’t feel like an outsider at all. In fact, I might as well have been part of the family, all to the backdrop of the tarawih chants emanating from the many minarets surrounding us.

A few minutes later, I found myself at the footsteps of a shabby bakery that did what I was told was incredible nammoura. “How much is the kilo for?” I asked. “6000LL,” the old man replied. He then took a sealed box, weighed it, looked at me and smiled: “It’s 1.5 kilos, but it’s okay – 6000LL it is. Have you tried the coconut-based pastry?” I shook my head. So the next thing he did was take one that was freshly baked, handing it to me to taste. I tried to decline. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I smiled as my teeth sank into it, taking pictures of the place in the process while one of the employees pointed out to things I should include in my frames.

After buying enough sweets to last our household a month, we walked around the busier streets of the city towards my favorite cafe, Ahwak. The place was unusually empty. We ordered some oreo cheesecake and carrot cake while we forcibly listened in to the conversations taking place around us. Two guys were discussing politics fervently, which is quite normal for a city whose entire current strife is based in those politics. Two girls were discussing keeping their figure with Ramadan fasting. We spoke about how things could have been in the city, in the country. Nothing like demotivating conversations to take you through the night, which was ironic given that the cafe we were in was pillaged a few days earlier by Islamists who accused its owners of serving alcohol. Then we saw her, a little blond girl in a blue dress, holding flowers in her hand.

A couple of friends then decided they were craving some Hallab sweets. So we walked to where Hallab originated, the only place where I find you can get the authentic experience of those Arabian sweets. We don’t take any of those Jounieh wannabe franchise places and their ad wars. The place was busy as well, though nowhere near as busy as in years past. Those friends had some ice cream and mafrouke.

The clock was ticking the night away as we made our way to Azmi street. I was told about its shops opening way past midnight to allow the city’s residents to buy all their Eid’s new clothes and gifts. As we got closer, the music grew louder. I jokingly said this was obviously emanating from a convertible 1980s BMW. I wasn’t mistaken. After all, who else would blast some horrible Arabic music at near 2AM?
The shops were open but mostly empty. The streets were stuck between wanting to be lively and succumbing to the reality of a city that is coming to terms with how economically dead it’s being forced to become.
“I expected more,” I told my friend as we walked past the coffee sellers, clinking their cups to attract those passing, and impromptu stands selling cheese kaaks hoping the smell of their sandwiches would bring in some hungry people in for an early Sohoor.
“I expected the same,” he replied. “But I guess this is what happens when a city has had the year Tripoli had.”

We made our way up the street, wondering what to do next. It was around 2:30AM and nearing the Sohoor time for the city’s residents. “Do you wanna go to Bab el Ramel for a typical Sohoor setting?”
I shook my head. My circadian clock was nowhere near equipped for the rhythm Ramadan required. I was getting tired. So we returned to my friend’s house where we saw his mother sitting on the veranda, quietly looking over the city as she was waiting for dawn to break.

As she offered us tea to get time to pass, we told her about how Azmi street was much different than the year before, how Ahwak had much less people than when we went last, how it didn’t really feel like Eid was approaching, only eleven or twelve days away. So she told us about the city she once lived in, where she had a Christian friend who used to be closer than a sister to her. We spoke about how things changed from my mother being able to go to Bab el Tebbane alone a couple of years ago to how the city feels today. We spoke about the politicians of the city who couldn’t care less. We spoke about the Syrian civil war/revolution whose hold on the city seems won’t know an end. She told us about how she fears the Islamists ruining her city more than everyone else. She told us how she is considered a kuffar because she’s one of the many who don’t agree with what they do. She told us how she is ashamed of the reputation they have forced on her and her family and the people she holds dear. She told us how she is worried about the future of her children in the city she can barely recognize. We spoke about life in general, our families, our aspirations, our hopes for the future.

It was then that we heard a faint explosion sound. I looked around, intrigued. “Don’t worry, they said. It’s the madfa3 announcing dawn getting nearer.” A few minutes later, an ominous voice rang across the city to tell the people to stop drinking water. Soon after that, the minarets started chanting again.
“Here we go again,” she said before going up to her feet to go to bed. “Do visit again, okay?”

I nodded. It was the first time I attended all Ramadan-related proceedings. We talk about how we are a country of coexistence and whatnot, but how many of us have truly attended another person’s religion-related practices? Almost no one. “I would love to,” I replied as the first streaks of sunlight slithered over the concrete walls.

The Death of Lebanese Civil Marriage

Khouloud and Nidale are a couple that distracted everyone from the utter failure of our politicians at coming up with an electoral law last week with them using loopholes in Lebanon’s political system to have a civil marriage in Beirut. Everyone was abuzz with what the couple did.

But, as is the case with Lebanon, not all reactions were positive and their marriage left us with more questions than answers (link).

The first official reaction to the marriage was Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman who expressed his support to what Khouloud and Nidale did, voicing the need for civil marriage in Lebanon. His statement was also echoed by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Raï.

Soon enough, our prime minister Najib Mikati was the first to shoot down hope of ratifying a proposal to have legalize marriage in Lebanon because we “don’t need such controversial issues at the time being.” It eventually culminated with Lebanon’s justice minister announcing that Khouloud and Nidale’s marriage was, in fact, illegal and will not be accepted.

And we thought that was it – we had a brief stint with the possibility of our country maybe becoming civil. But Lebanon’s civil marriage drama was renewed today when the Sunni mufti, Kabbani, decided to captivate us with his take on the issue by issuing the following fatwa (link):

“Whoever of Lebanon’s Muslim politicians in legislative power agrees to legalize and ratify civil marriage – even if optional – will be considered an apostate and a deserter of the Muslim religion. He won’t be washed, entombed, prayed on and buried in Muslim cemeteries.”

And with one of Lebanon’s main sects absolutely refusing any prospect of civil marriage in Lebanon, the issue has been killed probably to no return anytime soon. Many people agree with him as well.

What Mufti Kabbani is failing to realize is that he doesn’t live in a country where his sharia is applied to everyone and when he effectively shoots down a national proposition of this magnitude, he is limiting everyone’s freedom of choice – not only the Muslims that he wants to fight for.

What Mufti Kabbani seems not to know is that for $2000 his Muslim population can hop on the first plane to Cyprus, get married and be back in Lebanon that same afternoon. What he is failing to realize is that the point of an optional civil marriage is precisely that: it is optional. Those who want have a civil marriage, regardless of religion, should be free to have one. And those who want a pure Muslim or Christian marriage regardless of their reasons could have one as well. Why should it be the entire country’s problem if he’s worried that, when given another option, many of his Muslims would opt out of an Islamic marriage?

I fail to see how an optional civil marriage is degrading to the rights of Muslims. I fail to see how such a fatwa is Lebanon’s mufti fighting for the rights of his Muslims. Whoever of his Muslims doesn’t want a civil marriage and believes it is blasphemy can simply not have one.

We are now a country that threatens with apostasy to make a point. We are now a country that has fatwas target civil liberties. Last time I checked, that existed in places that we ridiculed as having no freedom of speech and whatnot. It turns out we may not be much better. Thank you Mufti Kabbani for the eye opening realization.

Let’s Talk About The Rights of Lebanese Christians

Lebanese Christians are worried nowadays about their constitutional also known as God-given rights of having a firm grasp on political power again. They want to vote for their half of parliament, they want to restore the powers of the president, they want to be the tipping balance between the ongoing Shia-Sunni feud.

They want their right to their “former” glory.

This “need” to feel more relevant politically stems from a conviction that’s rising among Christians lately that their presence in Lebanon is threatened.
I have no idea where they get these ideas from to be quite honest. Even if Islamists end up ruling Syria, even if the devil himself ends up ruling Syria, their presence in the country is not threatened one bit by those bad Muslims, especially not the Muslims of Lebanon who, whether we want to admit it or not, share our same woes.

While admittedly the past 23 years have been quite harsh on this section of the Lebanese population and some things need to be fixed when it comes to their status in Lebanon especially when it comes to political representation, is political isolation really the solution for the Lebanese Christian predicament? Is our politicians counting the number of Christian voters across the country really in our interest?

Are our rights as Christians really only summed up in us wanting to vote for 50% of an arguably stillborn parliament with members who don’t care about said rights to begin with outside of electoral-sectarian-fuel purposes? What is better for us as Christians, to vote for 64 useless parliament members without any qualifications just because of their “services,” their “name,” or their “political affiliation” just because it’s our “right” or to vote for less than 64 but actually qualified parliament members?

I find it ironic that Lebanese Christians want everyone to accept that the country’s president is one of them to rule over everyone else. But they can’t fathom how everyone else (Muslims) can get to choose a few of their MPs.

But I digress.

Is it my “right” as a Maronite from the North to choose the Maronite MP of Jezzine, an area I’ve never ever visited? Is it the right of a Maronite from Jezzine to choose my MP in the North just because he’s Maronite?
What does an MP’s sect have to do with guaranteeing rights? Why does an MP’s sect automatically means that person represents me? Does that restore our rights? Or does it violate them even more? Is an MP’s sect an automatic indication of their will to work, of their qualifications?

Is this how we get proper representation? Is this how we get “our rights?” Are “our rights” only summed up by having an MP from our corresponding religion represent us?

But yes, we, as Christians, do have rights that need to be accepted and acknowledged. We have the right to:

Better roads: this (click here) is the current state of the main road in Batroun. It is my right as a Lebanese citizen first and foremost and as inhabitant of the region to have a decent road for my car. My Christian Maronite representatives are not providing me with this.

Healthcare: how many decent hospitals do we have across the country? I can name three or four. And they are all in Beirut. Fact of the matter is most “Christian” areas have shortages in the healthcare system while it is our “right” to have a decent system to take care of us. I’ll take this even further: how many Christians in Lebanon cannot afford hospitalization due to rising costs? Isn’t it our “right” for a universal healthcare system to take care of us? I don’t see any “Christian” MP advocating this.

Electricity: here comes the broken record again. Isn’t it our right in the 21st century to have more than 12 hours of electricity per day? Isn’t it our right not to have to pay two electricity bills per month just because our “Christian” ministries can’t even do a good job?

Water: Beirut and Lebanon’s roads were flooded last week with water from the biggest storm to hit the country in years. A few days later, we were out of water. Is that acceptable? Isn’t it my “right” not to have water shortages in a country that’s arguably beyond rich in the substance?

Internet: Don’t we, as Christians, have the right for decent Internet access in the 21st century? Shouldn’t we have access to speeds that don’t die whenever it rains, whenever it heats, whenever anything odd happens? Shouldn’t we have the right for a better infrastructure that’s installed and provided to us without corruption, without political propaganda and surely without us having to overpay for it?

Security & Military Wings: Who among our “Christian” MPs is really working to boost security in this country? Who among our already-voted representatives can truly ensure our right for safety, our right not to become collateral damage due to some explosion somewhere? Who among our politicians is ensuring that some families don’t have military wings to threaten other people with?

Wasta: isn’t it also my right to have the same chances for employment, for university admissions, for a proper life as the sons and daughters of our “Christian” MPs and ministers? Isn’t my right not to have to worry about being excluded from something I’m more than qualified to get into just because some other candidate knows someone who pulled some strings for him or her?

Women: shouldn’t our Christian women be given the right to pass on the nationality to their children? Don’t they have the right to a state that protects them from abuse? Don’t they have the right for civil regulations that protect their rights?

State of Law: isn’t it my right as a Christian to expect the non-smoking ban to be applied everywhere, not to have our tourism police in a deal with restaurants to violate the ban? Isn’t it my right as a Christian not to worry about people violating every single form of driving laws, of every single law known to man in this country? Don’t I have the right to live in a lawful state?

You know what’s the interesting thing about our “Christian” rights? They’re also the rights of those “Muslims” that we love to hate. They have the same rights in this country as we do. And they need their rights as much as we need ours.

We blame Lebanon’s Muslims of being blinded and of voting in sectarian ways to the same parties without any convincing reason. But it seems we have forgotten that we aren’t voting for reforms and qualifications as well, but to people who give us the same sense of belonging, the same sense of safety – to the same people who offer us a service a couple of days before elections and then forget about us for four years before they give us the allusion of fighting for “our rights” when the going gets tough.

Is it our Christian “right” to have a bigger say in our representatives? Perhaps so. After all, this is how Lebanon is made up. But it is our duty to have our say in these representatives count – in making sure that these representatives advocate for our rights as much as the rights of others who are not “of us.”

It is our right not to live in fear all the time. It is our duty not to blindly allow our politicians to make us afraid of everything else all the time.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians today isn’t the growing extremism around them, it’s the absolute neglect that they get from those representatives that we already voted for which leads us to leave the country and lose hope in it.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians are national policies which lead to the impoverishment of most of Lebanon while the focus is on making only select places more cosmopolitan. The latter areas become more liberal. The former areas fall into extremism and poverty and we panic about those “big bad Muslims” of Akkar and Bab el Tebbane being after us.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians today isn’t that we don’t vote for a full list of 64 Christian MPs. It is our mentality towards our own country: we have changed from people who founded the Greater State of Lebanon to people who just want their share of this country and the hell with everyone else.
And that, my fellow Christians, isn’t how we get our rights back.

Let’s Talk About Lebanon’s 2013 Elections: The Orthodox Gathering Law

One can argue that the French mandate was the root of Lebanon’s sectarian system. Its goal was to make a country that serves as a safe-haven for Maronites, with an edge in parliament seats and in governing powers. The sectarian divide in power reflected upon the people over the years. Blame the French? Blame everyone I guess.

Growing sectarianism and a feeling of injustice among sections of Lebanon’s population led to the Lebanese Civil war which culminated in the Taef agreement. The agreement took away most of the president’s powers, rendering him a near-puppet in a growingly tense political scene, and equalized between Christian and Muslim representation in parliament, despite the case not being so demographically.

Subsequently, a Syrian-led Lebanese regime managed to fragment Christian communities even more. The demographics, due to constant persecution, low birth rates and high immigration rates of Christians, continued to become even more lopsided. As it stands, Lebanon’s population is 60% Muslim and 40% Christian. That’s on a good day of statistics.

The problem with a skewed demographic, however, with an equally split parliament is that many of the minority’s seats cannot be chosen by said minority, regardless of what that minority is. This wouldn’t be a problem in a place where majorities and minorities didn’t view themselves as such: I have the power of numbers, therefore I rule over you.

That’s how the idea for an Orthodox Gathering Law came to be: the power that Christians lost over the years “must” be recuperated. And that should be done despite Christians not having the power of numbers anymore.

Here’s what’s given about the Lebanese situation today:

  • There’s no such thing as a Lebanese social fabric.
  • There’s no such thing as national unity – it only exists in the wildest fictive ideas of those who live in their own Lebanon-utopia
  • There’s no hope to achieve a state of national unity under current circumstances.
  • The biggest obstacle towards national unity isn’t regional (i.e. coming from different cazas across the country) but sectarian.
  • Sects always feel threatened by different sects in the country.
  • Sects are already more or less isolated and with rising bouts of extremism.

Apart from a minority in the Lebanese population, people identify with their sects first and foremost. They are more inclined to feel sympathy towards another person’s strife if that person is from their corresponding sect. It’s sickening, definitely. It’s horrible, you bet. But it’s the way things are. To fix this, you need to fix sectarianism.

You can’t fix sectarianism by forcing secularism upon people. You can’t tell a country with many who associate the current political system with being “religious” that the country is now secular which they will undoubtedly believe is also correlated with atheism. Off with their heads! No, the change towards secularism has to be gradual just as Lebanese gradually but surely became a sectarian state. People need to leave behind their sect-survival instincts in order to adopt a more global approach towards how they vote, towards how they act regarding others who are different from them, towards how they perceive those who are different.

For instance, here’s a little experience that I observed firsthand recently.

As news of Hay el Sellom in Beirut being flooded broke out, I saw two drastically different reactions in front of me. In my own little piece of the Lebanese Bible belt, people asked: Are those Shia? If they are, then ma3le (it’s okay). On the other hand, as Lebanese journalist commented on those people of Hay el Sellom’s grave violation of the law in where they built their houses, half of Twitter’s Shias, who tend to be on the more liberal side, were up in a fit.

Sectarianism is there – even among those who claim not to be sectarian.

As it stands, Lebanese people vote in a “to be or not to be” mantra. This needs to change. They are voting as such because:

  • Christians are made to fear wilayat al Fakih and those bearded Islamists.
  • Sunnis are made to fear the Shia weapons.
  • Shia are made to fear everyone being after their weapons.
  • Druze are made to fear anyone trying to breach their tightly-knit community.
  • Minorities are made to fear everyone else.

As this article is heading, you might believe this is in defense of the Orthodox Gathering law. If you had asked me a few days ago where I stood regarding that law, I would have told you this: Based on the current way that Lebanon is run, given the country’s state and fabric, the Orthodox Gathering Law makes sense. The way I see it, it doesn’t increase sectarianism and it might help, if sects stop feeling threatened, to get people to vote based on accountability which is very needed in this country. On the long run, if sectarian parties can no longer fuel people in a sectarian way then maybe – just maybe – that would help with things.

But that was a few days ago.

The MPs going on and on about how the Orthodox Gathering Law is unconstitutional and how it’ll increase sectarianism and whatnot are full of it. The only reason they are panicking isn’t because they want to keep the idea of Lebanon being an example of non-existent co-existence intact. They want to have their own behinds saved from the chopping block of a law that most probably wouldn’t vote them in again. Our MPs – all of them – are only seeking out a law that ensures they return to power. It’s as simple as that. The discussion isn’t about the country’s sake, it’s about their own personal interests.

Today, when I think about the Orthodox Gathering Law, I am not on the fence, I am against it. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s a must to tackle the growing “injustice” towards Lebanese Christians, whatever that may be. It’s not because it is demographically incorrect as it gives Christians more weight than they’re supposed to have. It’s not even because it’s sectarian in principle. It’s not because it makes it harder for centrists to break in. It’s not because it drowns out a secular minority that can’t identify with it.

I am against the Orthodox Gathering Law today for very simple reasons:

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have the prerogative of having a law tailor-made for my sect and have it applied to all other sects as well? Don’t other Lebanese sects have woes as well? Don’t they have “minorities” whose voices are also drowned out by a Christian majority somewhere?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, consider myself to be the only sect in this country who has rights eaten away and who needs some “justice” restored?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have to vote only for people who correspond to my sect without knowing if those people share my worries or if they’re even aware of the issues that I want to vote for? Does a person from a certain sect running for office automatically mean that person is knowledgeable of the issues that their sect faces? No.

My problem with the Orthodox Law today is simply that it tells me that I, Elie E. Fares, a Maronite Christian (on paper) from the mountains of North Lebanon, should have a problem in having a Sunni or a Shia or a Druze or a Catholic or an Orthodox or a Jew or a Alawite or an Ismailite or a Syriac or an Evangelical or an Armenian or whatever sect a person belonged to have a say in a parliament member that represents them all, not just me.

I believe that what the Orthodox Law is telling me is unacceptable. But I’m a Christian minority in thinking so. Most Maronites and Christians, especially some of our politician who double as Christian saviors-wannabes, want you to believe that what I believe is wrong. They are telling you that their way is the only way for you to get your rights. They want you to believe that if Christians don’t elect every single Christian-designated MP, then they’re being persecuted.

The Orthodox Law isn’t the way we get back our “rights.” We get back our rights by voting to people who can fight for those rights without turning it into a media propaganda as they kickstart their 2013 election prospects. We get back our rights by actually knowing what our rights are. And let me tell you, those rights aren’t Lebanon’s Christians selecting half of its parliament all by themselves.

So as our politicians play a game of chess with each other, you know what your rights are according to some of them? You only have the right to be afraid of everyone else all the time. You only have the right to believe you are persecuted all the time – that those big bad Sunnis and Shia and Muslims are after you all the time. Welcome to the state of mass paranoia. And we just can’t live like that – not as Christians, not as Muslims, not as Lebanese and we can’t allow laws that are based on our paranoia as Christians rule the entire country.

Lebanon Described in 1982

I’m currently reading the book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman, in which he tells parts of his stay in Beirut between 1979 and 1984, as our civil war raged on.
While some parts so far are not entirely correct or too autobiographical to be generalized, the read is very interesting to say the least.

The excerpt I’m quoting is the most interesting part of the book so far. What rang true in 1982 still resonates today – and Friedman has to be commended for having the mind to see it, especially as an American Jewish outsider whose stay in Beirut was nothing more than an experiment.

“The real problem with the Lebanese today is that they have gotten too good at this adapting game—so good that their cure and their disease have become one and the same. The Lebanese individual traditionally derived his social identity and psychological support from his primordial affiliations—family, neighborhood, or religious community, but rarely from the nation as a whole. He was always a Druse, a Maronite, or a Sunni before he was a Lebanese; and he was always a member of the Arslan or Jumblat Druse clans before he was a Druse, or a member of the Gemayel or Franjieh Maronite clans before he was a Maronite. The civil war and the Israeli invasion only reinforced this trend, dividing Lebanese into tighter-knit micro-families, or village and religious communities, but pulling them farther apart as a nation”

This goes well with a previous description from over 140 years ago. Some things look like they’ll never change.

Muslim Prayers At USJ

Everyone should be able to express their conviction in the right place at the right time. This is a conviction of mine. The right place and the right time may vary depending on where you stand regarding an issue but sometimes things are very clear cut and a stance needs to be taken.

A few months ago, the Antonine university had a tough situation with Muslims students who were adamant about praying at their university, which happened to be a Maronite Monastery, so they took the convent’s courtyard to do so. This sparked a debate in the country: should these students be allowed to pray or not at universities with obvious religious affiliations?

The point of view that I expressed back then and which I still stand by is the following: If a Muslim student (or a Christian student for that matter) believes it’s of utmost importance for him/her to pray, then that should go into their university selection criteria. If that student deems prayer not important enough and believes that getting the best education that can be provided, regardless of the university’s religious affiliation, is the way you to go, then that student doesn’t have the right to complain later on.

Université St. Joseph (USJ) had a similar incidence yesterday where more than twenty Muslim students decided to gather around and take a room without permission in order to pray. The incident was reported to the dean who rounded up the students only to have the situation swell by attracting more students to the place where the prayers were taking place. Some took the job of acting as guard to let the prayers continue.

The situation escalated to the maximum point without a confrontation happening and the incident has sparked some Christians at USJ to express outrage at what was happening. They believe that including a prayer room in the faculty of medicine was good enough – forcing every single faculty to adopt such policies is a step too far. The faculty in question was ESIB. For the Muslims who want to pray at USJ, it is their “right” to pray five times and they believe the university should provide them with a prayer room to do so.

It seems that such endless debates are our bread as Lebanese. But here’s what it breaks down into quite simply.

  1. USJ is a university that is obviously Christian. It is run by the Jesuites. It doesn’t hide its Christian affiliation and as such, those applying to study in it are well aware of that.
  2. Given that the nature of USJ is a general fact, weren’t those Muslim fully aware that attending USJ will bring them the best education possible and not spiritual fulfillment?
  3. When a prayer turns into proving a “principle” and rubbing it into other people’s faces, the question asks itself: what’s the point of praying in the first place?
  4. When a prayer becomes a point of conflict, the question also asks itself: are those students really seeking religious salvation or are they simply seeking trouble? I believe it’s obviously the latter.
  5. What forces universities with obvious religious affiliations to provide praying facilities for all its students? Is it something that they’re obliged to do? Absolutely not. If a university had been secular, the problem wouldn’t present itself. The American University of Beirut converted its chapel into an assembly hall and has denied requests for prayers rooms. AUB is secular. USJ is not.
  6. Universities abroad, which provide prayer rooms for students, are not religious in nature. And if the prayer rooms are provided, they are not for one religion and not the other – they are for all religions. Religious ones, on the other hand, are not forced to do so: Case in point: the Catholic Medicine faculty in Lille, France, does not provide prayer rooms for its Muslim students.
  7. Would a Lebanese Muslim university open a chapel for Christians to pray in it? The answer is obviously not. The argument that Christians don’t need to pray doesn’t hold. What if they want to?

Lebanese students in general, both Christian and Muslim, need to know that universities are not churches. They are not mosques. They are not synagogues. Universities are places where they pay in order to learn and build a future for themselves and their families. The fact that all of my Muslim friends at medical school, some of whom are extremely religious (they are Salafists and awesome), have no problem going through our long days without praying is testament enough that those “Muslims” wanting to “pray” at USJ are only seeking to create trouble and tension at a university that’s known of accepting people from all parts of Lebanese society, regardless of religion. But there are lines you cannot cross.