Fight Rape in Lebanon: The January 14th Protest

The women and men of Lebanon are taking it to the streets of Beirut on January 14 in their struggle to get our legislators to recognize rape as a criminal activity even among spouses, marital rape. As it is, Lebanese law only recognizes rape as such when it’s done by non-married individuals. And when the act of rape has been verified, the perpetrator has the right to offer marriage to the victim and his act would be absolved.

An interesting post by Beirut Spring regarding this matter exemplifies the distinction between marital rape and rape as the former being part of domestic laws, where men of religion rule supreme, and the latter being part of criminal laws, governed by parliament. And as you know in Lebanon, men of religion always win – especially when outdated scripture is their only reference for logic, not the needs of a 21st century society.

If that doesn’t sicken you enough, there’s even a section in our law that goes into the specifics of how torn a woman’s hymen has to be for her to be considered raped. I posted about it before, which you can check here.

But what’s worse is that most men, and many women, are very oblivious to how pejorative these laws are to them all. Sexual assault is not only exclusive to physical acts. Its scope also includes sexual harassment which Lebanese law doesn’t cover as well. Sure, these laws are giving the men of Lebanon an “upper hand” in society. But it’s not really an upper hand when this hand is raised over the other crucial component of Lebanese society: its women. A society where women are not given full rights is a dysfunctional society at its heart and core.

Men are also affected by the unfairness of the laws, although obviously not as much as women. I’m certain no father, husband, brother would accept his sister or wife or any female member of his family and close circle be violated in any way – and to have no law for her to lean on and defend her.

The January 14 protest is needed for Lebanese society. It’s the first time I’ve seen an anti-rape march getting this much propagation around the social networks. This is a sign as to how much the youth in our community want to change thing. But I have a simple question that doesn’t attempt in any way whatsoever to lessen the importance of the protest at hand.

Rape is a crime, regardless of who does it.

What do the protesters truly hope to achieve? I’m only asking this out of concern for the cause. The objective of the protest is surely righteous. But I can’t shake the feeling that this movement is stillborn for many reasons.

In my opinion, a parliament full of men taken straight of the dark ages will never ratify a law that brings the women of Lebanon into the 21st century. Like it or not, the men of our parliament (not all of them obviously but a decent chunk of them) are fine with the status quo. It doesn’t help that women have less than 10 MPs out of 128 to represent them (and not properly may I add). Perhaps the fight should be to ensure that women can actually get to office and fight for their rights from there. Perhaps the women of Lebanon should protest to get the elite of them, who can actually voice their concerns during parliamentary sessions, to be their parliament representatives. And there are many elite women in Lebanese society, who surpass at least half the men of our current parliament in qualifications.

It is here that the need for an upheaval of our laws is in need – and such changes cannot happen in the drastic way that they are needed without active female participation in making the decisions. You might think the “female quota” is limiting. Well ponder on this: is the situation without the quota any better? And can it get any better without a quota?

This post is not to lessen of the importance of the protest nor is it to belittle of the demands, as I made obvious in the first part of this post. This is simply to say that in the current political atmosphere of the country, the only way for women to have their full rights given is to assert political power. And women asserting political power cannot happen except through an electoral law that suits their needs . We’d be fools if we thought Lebanese officials actually cared about rape at the moment. The women (and the men of Lebanon who support them) would be fools to believe the men of our parliament actually care enough, deep down, to change things on the ground. All they care about is doing whatever they can to get re-elected next year. Many believe the ultimate solution is a civil state. Sure, a civil state is needed. But a Lebanese civil state will take a long time to happen in Lebanon and this matter is very urgent – more urgent than the oil law that has been debated for months now.

There is something, however, that is happening much sooner than a Lebanese civil state. Parliamentary elections are in a year. The law to run these elections is being discussed now. In a few months, the preparations for the elections will go underway and the voices of these women will be diluted and tuned out – unless they get their voices heard now and get themselves a secured proportion of representation in the parliament that will arise from the 2013 elections.

So Saturday’s protest becomes, as I see it and as Beirut Spring eloquently put in a follow-up post, “a watershed demonstration against denial and stigma in our society.” Perhaps it will get more people to be aware of the horrors our women have to face. Will it bring about change? I doubt the stubbornness of those in charge will let any change happen. So on Saturday the women and men of Lebanon march for a righteous cause. And I truly hope the slogans they will chant up until their vocal cords rip won’t fall onto ears as dead as the laws they want to change.

Respecting Religions in Lebanon: The Flip-Flop Issue

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

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

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

Let’s get a few things straight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictures From The March 13th Protest

These are the pictures I took of the protest. This post will be updated when my friend sends me the pictures he took with this professional camera.

If you’re wondering why I decided to participate, you can check out my reasons here.