The Sleepless Nights of Lebanon’s Tripoli

If you go by the geography they teach at Lebanese schools, you are taught that Tripoli is the second biggest city of Lebanon and the capital of its Northern governorate.

The geography they taught us at school also enumerated the numerous economic riches that Tripoli boasted: its port, its proximity to the border, etc….

The civics course they gave us at school tells us about the numerous touristic advantages of the city of Tripoli: its castle, its old souks….

The sociology they taught us at school mentioned how Tripoli has one of Lebanon’s poorest regions on its outskirts. It’s mentioned only fleetingly, like something we can’t wait to bury under a pile of blissful ignorance as if it’ll make everything okay.

If you look at the latest events taking place in the country, you’d think our Northern border is not at “Al 3arida” but at Balamand. You’d think those Lebanese people of Tripoli have been annexed to the Syrian war. You’d think that this Lebanese city that many find too easy to hate is no longer Lebanese – just a burden that we can’t wait to get rid of. Let’s return it to pre-1920 days when it wasn’t part of our favorite part of Lebanon, Mount Lebanon.

My friends in Tripoli haven’t been sleeping lately. But you’re not hearing about that. You’re not hearing about the explosions going off at any moment, the bullets piercing through the silent December nights. You’re not hearing about the people dying, the children getting shot.

You’re not hearing about the people like you and me cowering away at a corner of their house all night in fear that one of those stray bullets might do them in.

It seems as if our Lebanese media has washed its hands from Tripoli. That city is just not worth the coverage – it’s a “been there done that” type of things. They’ve covered similar incidences there before. What’s the use of covering them now? It might go well with their policy of “let’s show only the good side of Lebanon for the world in order to save the Christmas tourist season.”

Our politicians couldn’t care less as well – as long as they get their share of votes next year. This city, which has one prime minister, four ministers and a bunch of MPs, has no one to speak on its behalf. It only has people who preach about what should take place as they sit in gilded seats somewhere far, far away.

“We condone the presence of arms in the city.” You often hear say. And what will your condemnation really do, mr. politician, while you’re the one secretly buying your people weapons in order to fuel the struggle that you know will bring you loads of returns in a few months’ time?

I am not from Tripoli. But Tripoli is one of my favorite cities in this God-forsaken country. It saddens me to see ignorants portray my friends as a bunch of Islamists who deserve whatever’s happening to their home. It saddens me to have people panic beyond their minds how I had to drop off a friend in Tripoli around midnight a couple of days ago. It saddens me that with each passing day, Tripoli is stripped from the identity of a city where Muslims and Christians lived side by side for years and is portrayed as a place where the next Islamists Emirate will start from.

When it comes to Tripoli, the majority of Lebanese have one thing to say: “On n’est pas concerné.”

On Those Raging Muslims

I love Charlie Hebdo. How can you not love Charlie Hebdo. He hits the nail on its head so brilliantly and he makes it look so effortlessly funny. Oh, you don’t like him? Well, too bad for you.

I find the following caricature to be absolutely hilarious and spot on – especially if you’ve watched the movie he’s alluding to (click here).

Following the publication of this picture, French embassies across the world have started boosting their security measures as they prepared for a wave of demonstrations similar to those against the Americans following the anti-Islam movie that was published.

I, for one, have no idea why how some so-called Muslims even saw the prophet in that picture because all I can see is a man similar to the ones protesting getting dragged by an Orthodox Jew, an obvious jab at both religions but not at their holy figures. But what do I know, right?

The movie was disgusting. This picture though isn’t. The response of some so-called Muslims, obviously a minority, will be the same regardless. Their prophet was “insulted” therefore they must kill people. It’s a simple leap of reasoning for them. For everyone else, it’s nowhere near comprehensible. Even for other Muslims.

People are calling this the Dark Age of Muslims, in stark resemblance to the Christian witch-hunts and crusades and crackdown on science. But is the classification based?

I, for one, don’t think so.

Let me ask a question. How many Muslims look at the above picture and can’t help but smile? And why do those who smile actually do so?

The answer is quite simple: thick skin. And it’s what more Muslims need to start building. Why? Because in the age of freedom of speech that’s slowly but surely becoming less and less defined, the backward mentality of some of them when it comes to their religion is beyond unacceptable. It’s borderline nauseating.

Look at the following picture:

These pins are sold in a Christian area of Lebanon. Their origin has been reported to be somewhere in Beirut’s southern suburb but I don’t care about that. What I care about is the fact that these pins didn’t even elicit the response from Lebanese Christians that the flip flops did last year.

In the case of flip flops last year, the reaction was more than peaceful. No food chain stores were torched. The only thing that happened was that the store was closed by a court order for a weekend as people prayed in front of it. How many Muslims are publicly praying on the “insults” these days? Not many I suppose.

Keep in mind that for Christians, Jesus is God. Therefore, people insulting Him would be a much greater offense than insulting a prophet. And yet, no one is dying for insulting Jesus over and over again and let me tell you it’s not because Christians don’t have their fair share of religious pride.

How many so-called Muslims are publicly raging over the movie and the comic? Many. I’m sure there are many more Muslims who just let it pass. I’m also sure that there are many more that are better than the best of people at handling these things. But sadly that’s not the image the world gets across.

The image the world gets of many of my friends is that they are a bunch of narrow minded, religiously blind zealots who can’t but get up in a fit whenever their prophet is insulted and the world doesn’t know why. And this idea sickens me. But I can’t do anything about it because whatever I do, I’ll be the Christian looking at it from outside and preaching. So the world challenges Muslims again and again and again waiting for a change in their reaction. But the change never happens.

The reaction keeps on increasing. And the impression of Muslims becoming more blinded and more religious and, well, more unfree increases in the process. And all of this is because of the ignorant attitude of some.

The world doesn’t know that in Islam, portraying the prophet in picture is forbidden. Or it could be that they know and they don’t understand why. To be frank, I don’t even understand what the big deal is about painting a prophet in a picture. But what some so-called Muslims should know is that the world doesn’t care even if it was a cornerstone of their religion. Why’s that? Because the rest of the world is fast moving away from the bonds of religion and they expect everyone to keep up with them and the level of freedom that they are reaching. It’s overly simplistic perhaps but that’s the way it is.

The DaVinci Code. The book that caused a frenzy among Christians. It’s even banned in Lebanon. Contrast this to The Satanic Verses. Both books have more or less similar esoteric themes. Both books were widely successful. Both books are works of fiction. Both works were picked up by the corresponding religions they spoke about. Only one of those led to a fatwa asking to the murder of the author.

And I have to ask: why?

It’s not because Christians are more open minded. It’s not because they are more tolerant. God knows there are more narrow-minded Christians than they let on. I know many who are like that seeing as I come from the heart of Christian Lebanon. It’s because over the time, the majority of Christians developed a thick skin against these types of “insults.” Many don’t see them as insults anymore. I don’t think I’ll find a Muslim who doesn’t see in the above caricature an insult somehow. Even among the ones who are condemning the reactions.

But the problem isn’t only with those “people” protesting (read killing) on the streets.

Did you know that some twisted sheikh in Sidon decided to issue his own mini fatwa to permit the killing of the filmmaker behind The Innocence of Muslims? If you didn’t, now you do. How many Muslims can fathom this? The problem is that they are many. And some might even take him out on it. It has happened before with Salman Rushdie and Islam hadn’t been hit this hard since.

That sheikh’s protest was one of many that took place in Lebanon yesterday regarding the anti-Islam material. Some French language centers had even closed down for the day for fear of actions taken against them. Lebanese army tanks were spotted in the parking of Burger King and other franchises.

What some Muslims are failing to grasp is that the only thing hitting Islam and bringing it down is Muslims. And they are bashing it, tearing it, destroying it, demolishing it, annihilating every single foundation of it – all five pillars – with the behavior of some people and some beyond ignorant, beyond bearded religious men and their turban which, to those people, holds the pride of a religion whilst the only pride being held is the arrogance of said bearded religious men as they flaunt one extreme idea that defies the foundation of the religion they claim to know after another, sort of like candy at a carnival. Except it’s not haram.

Why isn’t this the dark ages of Muslims? Because such a thing is impossible to happen in this day and age. When the Christians had it, news didn’t travel in the blink of an eye. Almost everyone was ignorant. The corrupt church was the only entity effectively governing the world back then.

What is this age for Muslims? I’d like to call it the age of imbeciles. Because that’s what those violently protesting the movie are and that’s what those who are offended by Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon are. And they are the ones making their entire religion look like a religion of ignorants who can’t grasp the basic concept of freedom

But I have a solution to help these imbeciles.  How? Let’s start with making the level-headed religious men of Islam more powerful. Make their voices louder than the useless but effective shouting of those rallying the angry masses. Make the fanatic religious men with their hate mixed with extremism with a dose of stupidity to top it off categorically and irrevocably nobodies. Make more “anti-Islam” material. Brochures, clips, caricatures… you name it. Call it some people being offensive, call it freedom of speech. But make so much material that the only reaction possible would be to start ignoring and grow thick skin. It’s like giving a five year old so many toys he’d be saturated. Saturate their little heads. Expose them to so many stimuli that the only thing they’d want to do is go home and tuck themselves into bed and cry themselves to sleep and then wake the following day and realize that their prophet doesn’t care one bit about the movie, the caricature, the brochure and neither should they.

Did I mention I love Charlie Hebdo? Let’s not hope some fame-seeking bearded imbecile decides to kill the cartoonist too.

Ramadan Kareem. Now Help the Syrian Refugees

Ramadan Kareem to all my Muslim leaders. I hope it will be a blessed month for you and your families and may your fasting be accepted and hopefully accompanied by good deeds.

A devout Muslim friend of mine told me yesterday that the month of Ramadan is all about being as good a person as you can: to do well upon others. It’s not only about not eating from sunrise to sundown. And it that’s the only thing you do during Ramadan, then you’re not doing it right.

And if there’s one good deed that Muslims and Christians alike should do these days, regardless of whether they’re Ramadan or July for you, is to help out the 20,000 or so Syrian refugees that have come into our land, escaping the fights in Damascus and Syria. The numbers are not exact and there’s no way to truly make sure of them.

But regardless of the number, those are the same people that helped out some of our people back in the July 2006 war when they escaped the Lebanese South and the Bekaa into Syria. It’s probably high-time to repay them, regardless of their political stance from the revolution (pro or against the regime.) Our government has forbade hospitals from providing emergency healthcare for all Syrian refugees.

So for the Muslims of the Bekaa, let your fasting be accompanied by this good deed and help out those refugees who are homeless and fasting underneath the insufferable sun. For the Christians in the Bekaa, open up your homes because that is what a good Christian is all about: helping others.

For once, I hope so-called religious people don’t stop at the crust of their corresponding religion and actually delve a little deeper.

For my Muslim readers and friends, I hope your fasting goes smoothly in this heat.

Ramadan Kareem again.

The French Presidential Elections: How Lebanon Voted

The results of the French presidential elections have been revealed. François Hollande, sadly, barely edged out Nicolas Sarkozy with 51.62% of the votes.

In the first round of the vote, Lebanese-French gave Nicolas Sarkozy an edge over Hollande with more than 55% of the vote. You can check out the numbers for the first round here.

For the second round, the difference is even more drastic. But there’s something telling about the results.


Nicolas Sarkozy won in every single voting station in Lebanon, apart from two in West Beirut, one in Tripoli and one in Saida.

Don’t call me sectarian for this but the stereotypes about who’s voting for who are apparently true. And it is an interesting observation, nonetheless. Lebanese Christians, based on the predominantly Christian areas of East Beirut and Jounieh, overwhelmingly voted for Sarkozy, while Lebanese Muslims (Saida, Tripoli & West Beirut) favored Hollande.

The discrepancy is, I suppose, based on both candidate’s differing views to immigration. I would assume Lebanese-French Muslims believe a France under Hollande would make things easier for their families here. I guess people can dream.

Either way, an overwhelming majority from Lebanese-French to Sarkozy. And Lebanon sides with the Right. Again.

Dear Lebanese, Stop Selling Your Country Short

Lebanon is not a perfect country. It has its obvious and grave flaws. But it exists.

It might be rickety. You might think the foundations are not solid. But the country has pulled through too much: civil war, several occupations, invasions, Israeli wars…
We pride ourselves on being resilient. We describe Beirut by saying it’s a “phoenix”, albeit quite cliche, always rising from the ashes.

But I digress.

What we also do is bash our country left and right, up and down. And every direction in between those anytime something we do not agree with happens.
Let me illustrate this.

The most recent example is the arrest of Zeid Hamdan today, after being accused of libel against the Lebanese president, following a rather useless song.
The moment Zeid was taken into custody, Lebanese twitter and Facebook users were up in protest. The Facebook page dedicated to freeing Zeid gained about 2000 followers in a few hours. All good, right? I mean, the arrest was ridiculous. The law upon which the arrest was based needs to be revised. It’s no longer 1926 when our constitution was “inspired” by the French one at the time. France changed theirs. It’s high time we change ours.
Another side of the Zeid Hamdan arrest was a lot of Lebanese people bashing their country, some calling it a useless place, others calling it a failure of a nation, while some called it a piece of sh*t.

In another example, some people have expressed their desire to change their citizenship and abandon this tragedy of a country. The cause for such feelings? Some beaches in Lebanon only allow couples to be admitted.

Some have called the nation a failure because our phones are not cheap and our internet isn’t fast. The basis for that comparison? A country whose system is a failing monarchy.

Others have expressed that sentiment when they got stuck in traffic. I’m sure those people haven’t heard of the ridiculous traffic that hit L.A. a few days ago, or the traffic that lasted a week in China. But you know, you’re Lebanese. You nag.

Just because our political system is in a perpetually fragile equilibrium doesn’t mean the whole system is a failure. Just because power transfers easily doesn’t mean the country is a failure.

And you know what the most ridiculous thing is, our expectations are so low of anything Lebanon-related that we’re willing to believe any rumor that defames the country as a whole. I’m sure you all remember how NewTV decided to announce that our National Anthem is stolen from some dead quasi-Moroccan kingdom, which named itself “The Kingdom of Peasants.” The news spread like wildfire. Some of the Facebook statuses and tweets at the time: Even our anthem is stolen. We’re such a ridiculous country.
And what do you know, the whole rumor turned out to be false. It turned out that those Moroccan peasants stole our anthem. I wonder, why weren’t the NewTV people arrested for defamatory behavior against the whole country?

This is historically a chronic problem in Lebanon, selling the nation short while idealizing a foreign ideology as it might be the quick fix to our problems. In the 1950’s and 60’s many thought that Nasser’s Arabist ideology would be the great fix for Lebanon. People thought that his brave speeches and anti-West sentiments is what the country needed. Yet I wonder if those people realize that Nasser turned Egypt into a police state, banned political parties and demonstrations, evicted countless minorities, lost at countless wars which bankrupted Egypt, and even used poison gas on people in his war in Yemen. Meanwhile during that time Lebanon was in the midst of a golden age , yet people called for his brand of Arabism thinking it would solve things. And shockingly we have erected a statue to such a bloody dictator right on our own sea front promenade.

We lament our sectarian system and lack of national semblance. Let’s take a closer look at our neighbors that we envy so much. Sudan has recently split into two states. The South finally won its independence after years of bloody civil war, and yes a civil war longer then the Lebanese civil war! Southerners revolted against a forced campaign of Arabism and lack of freedom. In Iraq where Kurds were victims of genocide, they now have their own autonomous zone, and the state acts as a loose federation. Morocco has witnessed a huge rebel movement in its Western Sahara province which now has its own autonomy. Egypt for the last three decades has seen spats of sectarian violence where the Coptic minority still does not have the right to build churches. And one can only begin to imagine how Shiites are treated in the GCC states.

This may come as a shock to many Lebanese but Lebanon is still #1 in the region for media and civil rights. According to pew polls %97 of Lebanese Muslims view Christians favorably while only a dismal %48 of Egyptians do and far ahead of the Arab nations, and for bizarre reasons we say that we aren’t a model of coexistence. Our literacy and education rate is one of the highest in the region and Lebanese universities continue to attract students from across the region. Even Western critics admit that Beirut is the most cosmopolitan city in the region as well as the culinary capital. While many in the Arab world are dying just to ask for presidential term limits, better civil society and free elections, we’ve continued to be on top in those fields for years.

People need to start dwelling on the positives. YOU come from a nation that has produced poets like Khalil Gebran and singers like Fairouz. YOU actually have the freedom to criticize your own state – regardless of what happened today. YOU actually have the freedom to start your own NGO. YOU have the freedom to vote for a political party of your choice. YOU have the freedom to wear what you want. YOU have the freedom to protest for change. YOU have nature reserves. YOU live in the most diverse nation in the region. YOU have banks that weathered the financial meltdown. YOU have cabinet ministers that actually respond. YOU have freedom of press. YOU have the freedom of how you want to identify, i.e. Arab, Phoenician, or whatever.

A few days ago, #BlameTheMuslims was a trending topic on Twitter. People thought it was racist because they missed the point. A Muslim girl started it as a sarcastic approach to how Muslims are portrayed in media. Her initial tweets?
– My battery died. #BlameTheMuslims.
– My shirt got dirty. #BlameTheMulims.
– I’m sleepy. #BlameTheMuslims.
You get the picture.
With some Lebanese, their lifestyle regarding their country is like this.
– My food is cold. #LebanonIsAFailure
– I can’t go to the beach because I don’t have a girlfriend #LebanonIsAFailure
– iPhone is expensive! #LebanonIsAFailure
– It takes me two hours to download a porn video! #LebanonIsAFailure.

So dear Lebanese, when you start selling your country short and whoring your pride around so other people start making fun of you and your heritage, you become a failure. Think about the people that read or hear your words before uttering them. Odds are, if someone non-Lebanese says these things about your country, you’d be all up in a fistfight. So why do you say them?

Look at what others in the Middle East are facing before you start complaining again. Take pride in your nation instead of constantly selling it short, and envying others. If we actually took more pride in our own nation and its unique diversity there would be more national cohesion instead of fragmentation. Let’s appreciate what we do have and work towards a better common future. A lot of what we need for change is right under our own noses. Lebanon is a middle income country, and many of its neighbors are ranked much lower, so stop and think about what they’re going through and what it really means to live in a failed state.

We have a long way to go. And compared to more advanced countries, we fall short in many aspects. But at least be proud of what you have accomplished.

Take this symbolically

PS: Thank you to my awesome friend Boulos for his great input and help in making this post.