Stop Blaming & Shaming Lebanese Army Freed Hostages For Thanking Their Captives “Al Nusra”

Lebanon Nusra Army

A few days ago, after more than a year and a half of stagnation, a major breakthrough in the case of Lebanon’s hostages with “Al Nusra” came through, culminating in their release in what can only be described as a shameful and despicable swap that paints this proud nation of ours as powerless, useless and utterly, irrevocably castrated.

It took our government more than a year and a half to get our captives home.
It took our government more than a dozen mediations to even reach a breakthrough.
It took our government to beg for the help of foreign nations – as usual – to make sure its sons returned home.
It took our government giving back terrorists, making sure those terrorists are provided for, for our hostages to come back home.

And we still have nine left with ISIS.

The aforementioned is horrific. In fact, the only good thing about the recent hostage swap is that our heroes have returned, that their families are whole again and that this dark, shameful chapter of the history of this nation can now begin to heal.

Most of us don’t even know their names, but here they are for everyone to know:

  • Nahi Abou Kalfouni,
  • Rayan Salameh,
  • Georges Khoury,
  • Ahmad Abbas,
  • Mohammad Taleb,
  • Georges Khazaka,
  • Pierre Geagea,
  • Ehab El Atrash,
  • Abbas Mshik,
  • Sleiman El Dirani,
  • Lameh Mzahem,
  • Rawad Abou Darhamin,
  • Wael Homs,
  • Maher Fayyad,
  • Maymoun Jaber,
  • Ziad Omar.

We also received back the body of Mohammad Hamieh, who was executed in front of his fellow captives on September 14th, 2014.

The release of Al Nusra’s Lebanese prisoners meant the potential for a bombastic field day for Lebanon’s media outlets, and they made sure to benefit as much as they could: Sixteen men freed from a terrorist group meant a whole lot of interviews and “scoops.’

Part of the media frenzy was a New TV interview with freed captive Georges Khazaka which you can watch in the video below:

The video translates loosely to the following:

Georges: I want to also thank “Al Nusra” for the good treatment they gave us.

Reporter: They treated you well? Someone who kidnaps you treats you well? *in semi-outraged tone.*

Georges: Yes, thank God.

Reporter: We used to say you were under pressure to say such things. Today, there are no more outside pressures on you to thank Al Nusra which is a terrorist organization that kidnapped you.

Georges: A terrorist organization, but they were okay with us. No one beat us, no one verbally assaulted us.

Reporter: But you were kidnaped for 16 months! You broke the heart of your families for 16 months. You thank Al Nusra for that?

Georges: Thank God.

The comments on Facebook are of the same outraged tone that reporter sported while interviewing this man who has been, as she said, held hostage for over 16 months in conditions that – so say the least – are much worse than anything that reporter or any of us has lived through in the past year and a half. Behold an exhibit:

 

You’d think that with the prospect of their release, after more than 16 months of captivity, that there would be some research into what to expect from ANY human being who has been in such conditions for such extended periods of time. You’d think they would know what to ask, how to ask it, how to handle such fragile creatures whose only fault really was to be citizens of a spineless country that couldn’t bring them back until 16 months later.

Yet again, expecting Lebanese media to actually do its job before crucifying people in the public eye is similar to expecting an owl dropping your Hogwarts acceptance letter at your windowsill.

In the mayhem of the freeing of these Lebanese prisoners, no one bothered to look up why these hostages had a sense of gratitude to their captives, and it all boils down to one concept in psychology called the “Stockholm Effect.”

 

The Stockholm Effect was discovered in Sweden in 1973 after captives at bank were held hostage for five days and then found to have developed attachment to their captors, rejecting governmental assistance at a certain point.

It’s a phenomenon in which people taken into captivity express empathy and even sympathy and could have positive feelings towards their captives. The feelings are considered to be irrational, emanating from the victims believing a lack of abuse at the hand of their captors is an act of kindness.

Research has suggested that hostages may exhibit the condition in situations featuring captors that do not abuse the victim, a long duration before resolution, continued contact between the perpetrator and hostage, and a high level of emotion. It affects around 8% of victims of kidnapping.

A prominent example is that of the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847. Shortly after takeoff from Athens, two terrorists stormed the cockpit and demanded the diversion of the flight to Beirut. After capturing the plane, the perpetrators released the women and children. Two sailors and a group of wealthy American businessmen remained on the aircraft, and the captors held them for 10 days.

During the incident, the terrorists threatened the hostages with guns to their heads and in their mouths. They also beat one of the victims to death and dumped his body out of the tail section of the plane.

After the eventual rescue, reporters interviewed the captives as they disembarked. When asked to describe the captors, one hostage stated, “They weren’t bad people; they let me eat, they let me sleep, they gave me my life.”

 

There are certain Lebanese media using Georges Khazaka’s interview to showcase ‘Al Nusra’ in a positive light, in the sense of “oh look, they’re not that bad,” and those media are as bad, if not worse, then those who are outraged at what Mr. Khazaka said.

Al Nusra is a terrorist organization. They took soldiers and policemen hostage for over a year. They beheaded some of them for political and theatrical purposes. They are not human. They are animalistic barbaric entities that, like ISIS, should be annihilated. Period.

As some of you mighty keyboard clicking Goliaths click away at your Facebook, YouTube and Twitter profiles to shame our freed soldiers and policemen because of their statements, none of you had to go through what they went through for the past year and a half.

None of us had to be separated from our loved ones.

None of us had to take each day one step at a time hoping we wouldn’t die the next.

None of us were forced to watch as our colleagues were decapitated in front of us.

None of us had to go through what they’ve been through, and yet here are many of us belittling them.

This can be a political ploy. In the political chess game overtaking the region, these soldiers are mere pawns being manipulated by those who are far higher up. And isn’t the following picture the clearest indication of that?

Lebanon AL Nusra - 13

Our soldiers kneel while higher powers rise above. Isn’t that the truth everywhere?

Before being soldiers, our hostages are people. And they are people who lost everything they knew for more than a year. They’ve been broken, humiliated and decimated.

Before being soldiers, our hostages are people. Understanding that they might be prepared to fight terrorism in Arsal, where they were placed probably because they don’t know someone who knows someone who can assign them to less risky areas, but were not ready to be taken into captivity for more than a year is key.

Before being soldiers, our hostages are people. Wearing a police suit does not mean they are exempt from being human beings who can be hurt, changed and maimed too.

I’m not saying Stockholm Syndrome is a certainty. I’m saying it’s a possibility. Asking our soldiers to move on from their ordeal just because they’re freed is akin to asking a depressed person to snap out of it. We will never get it. We will never know. Whether psychology or politics, everything that we do will remain nothing more or less but speculation.

But when it comes to me, I look at Georges Khazaka and see a man whose humanity comes first and who breaks my heart at him being nothing more than a scarred pawn in a game of nations that is much bigger than him, than me or any of us will ever be.

 

Being Gay Is Worse Than Being ISIS: 2 Lebanese Men Tortured For 3 Weeks in Prison Over Their Sexuality

You, as a Lebanese, are as irrelevant as a cockroach. Your rights are the doormat every single person with power steps on to ascend up the scale of political prowess.

A couple of weeks ago, two minute-long videos were leaked out of Roumieh jail. They featured security officers beating up on Islamist suspects – people who have not been convicted yet. I won’t be sharing the videos here, because there’s no point in propagating such barbaric things.

Mini-Lebanese-hell broke loose as a consequence. In the quiet Ramadan month, politically, the bombshell of torture happening in Lebanese jail – surprise, surprise! – got some people on the streets burning tires, blocking roads. It got Ashraf Rifi, our minister of justice, up in a fit as to how such a thing could ever happen – how shocking – but we all know it was because those tortured are Sunni.

Many were ecstatic about the videos, as I was able to assess with the sheer enthusiasm that many of my Facebook friends shared them. Human rights are not an argument to some people it seemed: those people killed our soldiers, they’d shout at you. Sure, they might have… but how are we better than them if we film them being humiliated and then use those videos for political fuel? Oh, you just love ISIS. 

But this post is not about ISIS torture videos.

Another reaction that took place when the Roumieh videos surfaced was utter shock that such stuff happen in Lebanese jails. Torture? In Lebanon? Mais c’est pas possible? Le liban est le plus beau pays du monde, oh mon dieu. 

Those people clearly lived in their version of Lebanese Switzerland where Beirut served as a Middle Eastern Geneva. The wake-up call that they got to realize that they were indeed living in a third world country where their value is worthless was shocking: this is not a land where human rights are scripture, where your value as a human being is paramount and where your sanctity is holy.

The story of Roy Azar, who had a sound grenade aimed at his chest, killing him a few weeks before his release time, was never front-page news. Roy Azar is not fuel for Ashraf Rifi to ride on the Sunni-anger bandwagon.

The story of Jamil Abou Ghina who died of a heart attack due to the severe torture he experienced at the hand of sadists in Lebanese jail was not front-page news. Jamil Abou Ghina was not filmed being beaten up and laughed at by some irrelevant security officer who probably got orders from high above to do so.

But this isn’t about Jamil or Roy either.

L’Orient Le Jour broke a story a few days ago that I think everyone should read (link). It’s the story of torture that also took place recently, but clearly did not get the attention that a terrorist getting beaten up in Roumieh got.

On June 9th, 2015, Omar and his friend Samer were on their way to spend the weekend in the South when they were stopped at a checkpoint that found a few grams of weed in their car. So they were arrested, their belongings confiscated, and were taken to be interrogated and ended up spending the night in jail where they were subjected to drug testing, all of which turned out negative.

So with no more charges under their belt, our lovely police officers went through Omar’s phone conversation with his friend Samer and noticed that he called him “habibi.” So they accused Omar of being homosexual, which he denied. Then they took out the negative drug test result, told him it was positive, in an attempt to get him to give out details about drug dealers in Beirut. When that failed, they brought out his friend Samer, stripped him and started beating him up with their hands, with their canes. They submerged his head in icy water, in attempt to get them to confess to both drugs and homosexuality charges.

Samer was beaten up, drowned, electrocuted. He ended up confessing to the charges. Then they started torturing Omar to give our names of people in the Lebanese gay community, which he didn’t do. It was then that the police called Omar and Samer’s parents and told them that their children were gay.

When Omar and Samer’s parents arrived to the place where they were held, they were not allowed to see their children. When they asked if their children had been tortured, the officer assured them: walaw? Where do you think we live?

The two men spent 6 days in Tyre where they were faced with a choice: either get beaten up or give out names of gay men in Lebanon. Then they were transferred to the infamous Hobeich police station, where they stayed for 5 days, in a 20 squared meter cells with 20 other people. Then they were transferred to holding in Saida where they stayed for 8 days, with 200 other prisoners who were informed by the security officers there that Omar and Salem were homosexuals.

Omar was then released two days later after being seen by a judge. His friend Samer was kept in jail, until L’Orient Le Jour contacted Nohad el Machnouk who took it upon himself to address the issue. Samer was liberated 30 minutes later.

Of course, the story of Omar and Samer did not receive front-page attention in Lebanon. No one burned tires. No one closed roads. No one got upset. It simply passed by, like any other piece of news, irrelevant and useless.

Why would a Lebanese MP care? Defending the rights of two men who were violated in such a way does not help him with a populace that only seems to care when the issue is sectarian.

Why would Ashraf Rifi, the minister of justice, care that severe injustice has befallen Lebanese citizens when those citizens are maybe not Sunni, or not in any way material for him to further fuel his ascension atop the Future Movement in the absence of Saad?

Why would the Lebanese populace care about two men who were beaten up, electrocuted, humiliated, and have their reputation ruined?

Why would the staunch new-found defenders of human rights who popped out of the blue after the surfacing of the Roumieh videos also rise up to the mantel after such a horrific story as well?

Omar and Samer are just one example in a growing list of stories of torture across the Lebanese Republic. The only difference is this time Omar spoke up for himself and his friend.

How many Lebanese are there among us who have had to suffer horrific transgressions just for falling under the pawns of some barbaric animal with power and are too afraid to tell their story for fear of repercussions? How many stories are there, similar to that of Omar and Samer, of people who are being violated just because someone in power felt like it? How many Lebanese are there, who have been accused of drug possession, of drug use, of homosexuality, or any other charge, had to be subjected to severe transgressions just because?

The sad part is that there will be people in the country to say that Omar and Samer deserve what they got, just as there were people who say those prisoners in Roumieh deserve what they got as well. Welcome to the Republic of shame, we offer you 18 sects, diversity, a capital with identity issues, mountains close to the sea, and 21-st century torture to feast your eyes, senses and human rights.

 

A Phone Call with Lebanon’s Police

I keep hearing about security plans for this country, especially for the places where security has been non-existent. My idea of a security plan, despite me not being an expert whatsoever, involves – at the very least – a sense of involvement from the police seeing as we are asked nowadays to report any suspicious behavior because you never know if that behavior might lead to us getting blown up.

For instance, one of the two bombers in Tripoli apparently parked double parked the car in broad daylight and simply walked away. People called after him and I’m sure someone might have tried to call 112. What would 112 have done in that setting?

I present to you a transcript of a phone call of a man from Tripoli, the city that was victim of two explosions on Friday, with the police in his city. I’m not sure if this is funny or harrowing.

Police: Alo, police.

Man: Alo, I want to report a person who set up a checkpoint while carrying a weapon.

Police: Where?

Man: Next to the Ayyoubi store for paint products.

Police: Where? Bab el Ramel?

Man: At Muharram, yeah. He’s standing there, asking people where they’re coming and going.

Police: There are 5000 armed men in Tripoli, okay, habibi.

Man: But he’s setting up a checkpoint!

Police: There are 5000 armed men in Tripoli doing like him.

Man: Do I shoot him then?

Police: I don’t know. You can do whatever you want.

Man: Seriously? Are you the state or not?

Police: It’s fine, may God give you strength.

(hangs up).

I especially liked the fact that the policeman told the civilian to do whatever he wants when the latter suggested to shoot the gunmen. Is this what they’re expecting of people nowadays? Self-security because our police are too nonchalant and passive?

What’s next if every region or sect sects up its own brand of self-security? What’s the point then of having a state from which we need protection?

Check out the video here.

2012’s Most Powerful Pictures

Buzz Feed has recently published a set of 45 pictures that they’ve called 2012’s Most Powerful Pictures. And the least that can be said about these pictures is that they’re chilling. Some of them are haunting, others will bring tears to your eyes. And they are all supremely striking.

Woman suicide Greece

A Greek woman’s suicide attempt as she’s told she would be laid off work

Bangladesh Riot Beating woman with baton

A woman from Bangladesh defies the police

Palestinian girl punching Israeli soldier

A little Palestinian girl tries to punch an Israeli soldier

Syrian Father saving daughter hospital Aleppo

A Syrian father trying to save his daughter’s life after his city, Aleppo, was shelled by regime forces.

Father begging Bangladesh soldier Myanmar

A father from Myanmar begs a border control officer from Bangladesh not to deport his family back to Myanmar

An American woman mourns her son on Memorial Day

An American woman mourns her son on Memorial Day

Check out the rest of the brilliant pictures here.

The Killing – TV Series

I recently started watching a newly airing TV series titled: The Killing.

Based on a Danish series by the same name, The Killing can be summed up with its tagline: who killed Rosie Larsen?

Set in Seattle, Washington, the show follows the series of police investigations revolving around the murder of a teenage girl, Rosie Larsen, found dead in the submerged trunk of a politician’s car. When the city of Seattle is at the brink of mayoral elections, every twist in the Rosie Larsen murder case has more ramifications than that of a simple investigation. Some people want the truth to be hidden forever, while others long for it.

The first season is made up of thirteen episodes, each chronicling one day of the investigation. The show is highly absorbing. The overall tone is very dark, and it shows. The city is almost always gloomy and so is the whole ambiance. You delve into their world. You live the sorrow of the Larsen family and the frustration of the police department and the political bickering of candidates trying to score points against each other using Rosie’s murder.

The Killing is highly addictive as well. With each episode ending on a revelation regarding the investigation, it keeps you coming back to know what will happen. And unlike other murder investigation TV shows, this one is realistic. It is authentic. It is not about the death of Rosie Larsen, per se, as it is about the psychological aftermath.

Starring Mireille Enos as lead police investigator Sarah, The Killing has very strong acting. None of the actors and actresses in it underperform. They actually blow you away at certain points Michelle Forbes, whom I know from True Blood, gives a powerhouse performance as Rosie’s mother. At one point, when she learns her daughter died by drowning, she tries to mimic the feeling by submerging herself in the bathtub. Not able to continue through it, she emerges, weeping, clutching the side of the tub. And it is in moments like this that The Killing gives you chills.

Overall, this is a series that you must watch. Why? because it’s real, raw and sometimes gut-wrenching. The series does not shy away from ripping the bandaid while the wound is still fresh. On the contrary, it relishes in the idea of doing so. And I honestly really want to know who killed Rosie Larsen.

The Domino Effect

It all started in a quiet Tunisian city named “Sidi Bouzid”. An unemployed college graduate was selling fruits and vegetables on the street when his cart was taken by the police due to lack of authorization. He rebelled. He lit himself on fire. And soon enough, his whole city lost its quietness and lit its rebel voice.

A mini-domino game followed. Neighboring cities starting protesting against the status quo in their country: political oppression, unfair elections, squashed liberties. In a matter of days, the whole country was rebelling. They wanted change. They were willing to die for this change. And change happened: the president, Ben Ali, succumb to his people’s demands and resigned.

I will not go into the details of what happened in Tunisia after that. The Tunisians have a long way to go in order to build the country that I believe they deserve.

Tunisia was a major domino piece. Soon enough, many in the neighboring countries of Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania… started to try to implement change in their countries by copycat acts of burning themselves. These didn’t work.

However, on January 25th, Egypt rose. Egypt, the country of the pharaohs, rendered in a near coma after years and years of even worse oppression, decided to stand up for what it is. The people started rebelling. They started to stand up for what they deserve, for the life they should be leading.

Egypt is a country of over 75 million inhabitants. Many of those live such a poor life that describing it is truly saddening. Imagine living with less than $1 per day. That’s not even enough money for a bottle of water in some places. Yet these people lived by.

But on January 25th, they decided their life’s standards were no more acceptable. The Egyptians are revolting. Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year rule is, hopefully, nearing an end. His speech yesterday made it clear that this is a very tired man who cannot rule a country as important as Egypt anymore. He cannot fulfill his people’s needs, regardless of if he ever actually fulfilled them.

My hopes for the Egyptians at this point is to not let their will down. Their army and police are fighting them back. But soon enough, these forces will let down. They are, at the end of the day, part of the people they are trying to keep at bay. These people want to be with the protesters on the other side. But they’re still afraid. So hang in there. I know it’s much easier to preach than to be there. But Egyptians, you are a great population of many, many numbers… use those numbers to your advantage. And know that you are not alone in your fight.

I’m worried, however, that in these countries where the political regime is changing, worse people would take over. It would be catastrophic if the people of Egypt and Tunisia did not go by true democracies now that they have the opportunity to change and instead went by Islamic rule. You might say it is unlikely but these movements are surging in more “open” countries than Egypt and Tunisia, such as Turkey. One would assume that countries where these movements are somewhat strong would have an even bigger surge now that the opportunity is there for them to do so – and ultimately get to power. Islamists arriving to power would be detrimental to the whole region. Now that you have the opportunity to change, let this change reflect positively on the region as a whole.

You might wonder why I chose my title to be “The Domino Effect”. The answer is quite simple. For the region around it, Tunisia was a “Sidi Bouzid”. The power the people of Tunisia showed radiated to their neighboring countries and filled the people of those countries with strength and hope that they could change their lives as well.

The domino effect might also be applicable to the presidents of the countries where this is happening. But presidents are not important. They come and go. They might stay for a while, as has been the case for Tunisia and Egypt. But what really remains is the people. The people are the catalyst of anything that goes on in a country. If they feel subdued, the country is subdued and those who take advantage of that will be happy. The presidents, whose reigns are nearing their end, were taking advantage of their peoples being conformists. But that is no more. Their people are revolting. They want them out. And soon enough, out they will be – along with their dynastic, uptight and oppressive mindsets.

Tunisia was the first chip in a giant domino game involving many countries. And this game was purely initiated by the people. Not other countries making it look like these people started it – but by a single man whose college degree was not getting him anywhere and who didn’t see any horizons in front of him. What I hope those in charge around the world would take out of this is to never take the people they are in charge of for granted. Those people got you where you are and even in the darkest of situations, this people will rise again.

Here’s hoping some other populations follow suit…

And these are pictures of the current protests in Egypt: