Lebanon’s Colored Shades of Racism

Wel lebneneh? El lebneneh 3onsore. El lebnene 7mar. El lebnene sheyef 7alo.

Those were some of the answers some Lebanese decided to come up with to the question asked by the Cheyef 7alak video above.

People are failing to realize that the video is not of real students in a real classroom situation and is an exaggerated representation of Lebanese society.

Therefore, the entire country is judged accordingly.

Is Lebanon a racist country? Sure, we have racism. But is everyone a racist? No. The correct designation for Lebanon would be: a country which has many racists. And this description applies to every single country on this planet – all 200 of them, with slight variations in the description.

I’m currently in France for a neurology clerkship at one of their country’s and europe’s leading facilities in the field. I see patients on daily basis who are losing their mind, therefore many of their social inhibitions, and who say whatever they feel like saying. I’ve also met enough French people to last me a lifetime and I’ve discussed with those French people politics on more than one occasion. And one thing has come very clear to me.

They are racist too.

“Est-ce que tu as voté, madame?” was something a physician asked a woman who thinks she’s still in then 1900s when Mitterand was running for elections. She shook her head. The physician asked her why. She replied: “Les memes personnes gagnent toujours… les Arabes, les Noirs, les Chinois….”

The physicians and interns, some of whom were Arab, took it with humor as they do everything in this country apparently.

But I knew better.

One of the many discussions French people seem comfortable to have with me as a Lebanese Christian is about Islam. And if you heard the things I heard, you’d be offended as I was – yes, even as a Lebanese Christian. Note that the discussion happened with Holland-voting people who should be more “tolerant” to the “others” in their country than right-wing voters.

So France is a racist country. Typical flawless Lebanese logic. Right?

No. Why? Because even in France, you will find people who do not think that way and who are open to other people around them. Just as it is in Lebanon. I would even argue that there are as many people who are worried about Islam in France as there are people in Lebanon who don’t like black people.

Racism is not a Lebanese problem and we might as well stop making it seem that way. Racism is a problem that derives from the basic human fear of difference – we are automatically inclined to like those that are different from us less. Those differences might be the color of their skin, their religion, their political views, etc….

The French, however, would say we are the retarded society because we can’t accept those who are different from us skin-wise. They fail to see that they are not accepting those who are different from them religiously. Even the French atheists have no problem with the Christians but have problems with taking in the French Muslim population.

And by the looks of it, it’s the same across Europe. It’s the same in the United States as well where you being from the Middle East comes with a baggage of stereotypes. The only difference between all those other “better” countries and us is that they don’t see it as a bad thing to have in their society. On the contrary, it is a constant matter for political debate that benefits different parties in their quest for political power.

In Lebanon, on the other hand, we absolutely love to bring down the Lebanese. Houwe sha3b bhim, sha3b 7mar, sha3b bajam…. And the list goes on. Sure, there are many things that we need to work on as a society, including racism and looking down on people from different nationalities. But we need to know that not everyone thinks this way and the majority might not be this ignorant. And if there’s anything that I’ve come to realize with me being away is that the good in us is absolutely great.

And if there’s anything that still makes me proud about my country it’s all the good that we, as people, have achieved again and again.

Our political problems? Sure they bring you down. They make you lose hope. They make you lose pride. They make you want to leave. They make you want to give up. Sometimes you try to change your community and sometimes your community breaks you down. Sometimes you stick around. And sometimes you just leave.

And it is when you leave that you see exactly how great the Lebanese really is – when they are in a country where they have to live by law and regulations and where their ambition isn’t limited by wasta. You randomly encounter a middle aged man who hears you talking Lebanese and see his eyes light with pride only to find out you should be proud of him being the head of neurosurgery at the hospital you’re working at.

You see other Lebanese who have managed to become interns at one of France’s most competitive medical programs. You find other Lebanese who have fought adversity and tough conditions to get into a Masters program in France.

You find other Lebanese who are heads of banks and enterprises. And you also realize that when the French talk of you as a Lebanese they don’t put you in with those “others” that they dislike. Why? because you as a Lebanese are their boss in more than one field.

Does it make me proud that the French don’t think that low of me? Honestly, I don’t care. Does it make me proud that my people are excelling in their country? Yes. Does it make me proud that my friends can actually apply to scholarships and not worry about getting rejected just because they don’t know someone? Yes. Does it make me proud to see my people reaching places despite their hopeless, country-less country? Yes.

Does it make me proud to see the achievements of my countrymen in spite of all those other countries that have turned their land into their playground? Yes.

El Lebnehe sheyef 7alo. Beddkon l sara7a? Bi7e2ello. 

Crash – Movie Review

Crash is a rare cinematic event. It is a highly undercut movie, in the sense that almost everyone thinks it did not deserve the awards it got. It’s also an underrated movie, in the sense that not many people truly appreciate its genius.

Set over a period of 36 hours in post 9/11 Los Angeles, Crash is literally a snapshot in the lives of a few people that inhabit the city. A racist white cop who disgusts his partner, an African-American TV director and his wife, a Persian store-owner inept with English, a white suburban wife, whose idea of a perfect life is one that doesn’t involve much of the different other, and her DA Husband, two car-jackers, two racially different investigators who happen to be lovers and a Mexican locksmith trying to sustain his wife and daughter.

Crash examines the cultural crash that takes place when all these characters come together. It intelligently examines the fear and bigotry that take place when we don’t understand what the other is dealing with. It shows how everyone is intolerant at points, how no one is immune to violence that, at some points, can change lives drastically.

Continue reading

Bullying in Lebanon

I was sitting in a class yesterday when an openly gay guy sat next to me. I’m not very good friends with him (I barely know him) but he seems like a cool guy. I know of at least one incidence after an exam where he was more caring about how my friend and I had performed than many people we know.

So the desk he sat at had the following scribbles: [His name] is gay.

The guy took it with humor. He doesn’t care and the people that care about him don’t care either. He took his pen and scribbled down: And proud. He then signed.

I, however, felt bad for him. I have no idea why but I got the feeling that he put on this facade of the non-caring person who ridicules these kinds of insults, but on the inside he was hurt.

A similar thing happened with another person I know, who was forced to come out because of bullying. Everyone started to make fun of him (and imagine your whole age group making fun of you). But he still held his head high and went through it. While I have some reservations on many things this person did, I have to admit that he was being, in a way, bullied.

Bullying in Lebanon – and other countries for that matter – has always been against those perceived as weaker than us, be it racially, sexually, religion-wise, etc….

So just let me say this. Bullying does not make you a better person – on the contrary, it makes you ridiculous. Whether you enjoy the little surge in power that you get when you make someone lesser than you feel bad, just know that this lesser person is the better person and better people are the people who ultimately get the good jobs, the nice girlfriends (or boyfriends) and lead the better life.

So if you’re a bully, take a minute to ponder how horrible you’d feel if the same things you’re doing to those you are bullying are being done to you.

And as final food for thought: aren’t we all bullies? haven’t we all made fun – at certain points – of people that we see as “lesser” than us?

Born This Way – Lady Gaga

Listen to Lady Gaga’s new single here:

Lady Gaga – Born This Way by gagadaily

Get the song on iTunes now.

My thoughts on the song:

After a few listens, it catches on. But that’s how it’s always been with me and Gaga’s songs. The only instantaneous ones were “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance”.

The lyrics are pretty great. I do not agree with those saying that this is a gay anthem. Sure, some parts of the lyrics can be interpreted that way but they can also symbolize any struggling person. The song is an empowering anthem to everyone who has ever felt teased or bullied, regardless of race or sexual orientation.

I understand that Lady Gaga is considered an icon for the gay community. But this doesn’t mean that a song about embracing who you are is directed at that community, exclusively. Many people struggle with their identity in this world where the media paints a certain identity that we should all follow. This song tells us that whoever we are is just enough because that’s the way God made us. The beauty of music in general is that it transcends cultural boundaries. I am Lebanese and find that the part where she references me describes what my country and I go through on almost daily basis.

Now, leaving the philosophical interpretations alone, I have to say that I actually felt that a slower tempo would have given the song more justice. After reading the lyrics, and regardless of what had been said that this would be an uptempo, I thought the best way to represent those lyrics would be on a piano. Lady Gaga does very good renditions of her songs acoustically so maybe she’ll start off her Grammy performance like that on Sunday?

Regardless of what I personally think of the song, it has already hit #1 in the iTunes store of 23 countries. It has broken Britney Spears’ record for first-day radio spins in the United States. The only thing that’s sure is that Lady Gaga is nowhere near done. You might like it, you might hate it… either way, you are living with it.