The Closing of Ghost & Lebanon’s LGBT “Crust” Activism?

“Gay people should not exist. They are an abomination.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard this countless times in your life.

It doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is. Homophobia is entrenched in Lebanese society and pretending it doesn’t exist because you live in a more “liberal” place in Beirut doesn’t mean it’s not there.

People see someone wearing something they may not fancy and they say he’s gay. People see a girl with super-short hair and not-so girly clothes and she’s a lesbian. People see two close friends from the same gender walking on the street and they’re automatically dating.

And sometimes, when someone has enough power, they act out on their homophobia. It’s very easy to freak out how someone as homophobic as the mayor of dekwane, the newest a place to close down a gay pub, made it to office. But is it any surprise?

Is it any surprise really and honestly that your security task force, which has no problem wolf-whistling your women on the streets, also has no problem in violating people that your law considers as “unnatural?”

I had no idea what “Ghost” was until today. I asked a few LGBT friends the following question: if it had been a hetereosexual place, do you think it closing would have been justified if the same stuff were happening in it?
They answered yes. The question begets itself: is it okay to do whatever people did at Ghost just because it’s a gay place?

Of course, Ghost closed down because it broke one particular Lebanese law, not the many others that, in any normal setting, should have counted. Of course the mayor wanted to protect his city against the “louwat” and whatnot. And you know what’s also interesting? For everyone person outraged by what happened and by what that mayor said, there are many more others who were just convinced to re-elect that mayor. No amount of Facebook sharing and Tweeting will change what people believe in deeply, surely and resoundingly: gay is not right and should not exist.

You know what’s the best way to tell a homophobic official to go to hell with his decisions? To have the law on your side to protect you, to have a law that doesn’t label you as an inferior human being just because of who you want to sleep with.

Until a time when closing down pubs because they’re gay-friendly becomes illegal and raiding cinemas because someone thinks “unnatural” things are happening there becomes not allowed, isn’t getting up in a fit because of those events happening while forgetting the base of the issue sort of like crust-activism whereby the small victories that might result are celebrated but the underlying cause for the struggle leading to those victories remains?

Until a time when homosexuality is removed form Lebanon’s penal code and homosexual men and women are not considered in law with a prefix, pubs will keep closing and cinemas will keep on being raided and activists will keep on panicking. It’s a cycle that will repeat itself indefinitely – until Lebanon’s LGBT community manages to get LGBT-friendly officials on their side in order to advocate for their rights and make laws that can be shoved in the mayor of Dekwane’s face.

I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

The Problem With Banning Pork and Alcohol At Some Lebanese Restaurants

Gino Raidy’s encounter at ZWZ’s Hamra Branch went viral across Lebanon’s internet community very fast. His shock that a restaurant like ZWZ, infamous for his Halloumi bacon sandwiches, would actually have a branch that wouldn’t serve anything non-conformant with Islamic sharia sparked some huge debate as is evident by the extensive response to his post which you can read here.

It is beyond perfectly understandable that such an issue would be considered by many as infringing on their basic freedom of eating whatever they want to eat. It is also beyond ironic that ZWZ Hamra might as well be the go-to restaurant for Lebanese pub-goers who drink themselves away a few meters away in Hamra’s infamous alleyway and other pubs.

So why would Islamic sharia be up and running in one place and completely shattered in another place? ZWZ’s diplomatic reply to the matter alluded to their leasing conditions: the person from whom they got their lease doesn’t allow pork and alcohol on the premises of his building and ZWZ had to conform.

The question, therefore, asks itself: couldn’t have ZWZ opened elsewhere?

The answer is: most probably not.

It’s easy to preach regarding the matter but the fact of the matter remains that landlords have the upper hand in cosmopolitan places like Hamra (despite what Homeland’s producers want you to believe) because of the extremely high demand for property and the low supply. Whatever a landlord wants, a landlord gets. And most companies have to deal with is as such despite their better judgement.

The fix for this is, obviously, stricter governmental regulations. But in a country where such an issue comes at possibly the lowest of importance in woes, such regulations will not be enforced anytime soon.

The issue, though, is not in disassociation with the general mood of the country.

This vigilante sharia applying is unacceptable. I’m not entirely sure if it’s legal as well. Is it allowed for someone to enforce something on their own property that is not legal across Lebanon? My gut tells me no. But Lebanese law has these sporadic eccentricities that make it baffling. And regardless of whether it’s legal or not, what is actually legal in Lebanon and is actually applied?

The only urban planning law that I know of pertaining to this matter is banning alcohol sales within a certain radius of any prayer house, including Churches. Christian areas do not conform with it while places like Tripoli apply it to the letter. You would be lucky to find a place in Tripoli with a carton of booze under the counter which they dispense to their most loyal customers only.

What is sure, however, is that this vigilante sharia is creating an even bigger divide in a country that doesn’t need more divisions to begin with, even among Muslims themselves because it’s not really about religion but about ideology. Banning alcohol and pork, which slowly turns places in a country that falls more on the liberal side in this deeply conservative region, slowly disassociates regions from each other: turning some more extreme while others become more liberal, the cultural and sectarian divide growing even bigger. The conservatives, subsequently, become more conservative. The less conservative folk become less so and the merry goes round. The clash between these ideologies would grow stronger.

Perhaps it is ZWZ’s right not to serve alcohol and pork on some of its premises. But when there’s no regulation to dictate this, the question asks itself: what’s the limit for this sort of “freedom” for restaurants? When does imposing restrictions on others, even those who share your religious views, crosses the line of freedom? And is it truly permissible to say that, due to the presence of alternatives, discussing the presence of Sharia-abiding restaurants should not be allowed?


Beirut’s New “It” Place: Dictateur – A Big Failure

This is for you Roland, as promised 😛

After going to Dicateur on Tuesday with a couple of friends, I found the place to be very interesting – completely different from any other pub I’ve been to (and contrary to popular belief, they are many). It had a rustic, authentic, innovative, hipster feel to it. It just felt like a great fit for someone like me and the crowd I usually frequent: something not too sophisticated but still with taste.

So after trying out the newly opened Outpost Grill in ABC (not too bad a place, the average grade we gave it was 55/100), we decided to go and get much needed drinks in Dictateur. After parking, which in Burj Hammoud is a feat in itself, we walked steadily towards the place. A lovely chap greeted us at the door.

“Do you have a reservation?” he asked.

We obviously didn’t. But we were there for a couple of drinks so we didn’t think it would matter.

“Is anyone here below 24?” he then asks.

We were all 22.

“I’m sorry. Only 24 and up are admitted to this place.” He then replies.

“But I was here a couple of days ago and no one was 24,” I interjected.

“The policy wasn’t enforced back then. I’m personally enforcing it starting today.” He replied.

And voila the big question. Why the f*** would a pub have an admission age of 24?

1) Alcohol drinking age is 18 in Lebanon. So if I’m above 18, I’m as entitled to an alcoholic beverage as the next person. I’m 4 years above 18. Just saying.

2) Dictateur is, whether the owners like it or not, geographically in a region known for having pubs that are  approachable by everyone. I understand Whiskey Mist, Phoenicia’s night club, to have an admission age above 21. But do you seriously expect the people who will be frequenting Dictateur to be as “high-class” as the people going to Whiskey Mist?

3) Regardless of what entertainment Dictateur may have had set up for the night, it doesn’t justify the 24 age. Come to think of it, why is the admission age 24? Why not 23? Or 25? Why not make admission age 40 and be done with it? You’d guarantee a “high-class” clientele that will never tarnish the place’s reputation.

Oh wait. I, a 22 year old, can go to a strip club, a super night club, can get wasted at any other bar, vote and decide my country’s future, gamble my parents’ money away at Lebanon’s Casino and can’t enter Dictateur. Is anything wrong with this picture?

I had plans set up to visit with a bunch of friends to fully test the place, food and all, next weekend. Well, even if they change the admission policy, you won’t find me there anytime soon.