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?


The Death of Lebanese Civil Marriage

Khouloud and Nidale are a couple that distracted everyone from the utter failure of our politicians at coming up with an electoral law last week with them using loopholes in Lebanon’s political system to have a civil marriage in Beirut. Everyone was abuzz with what the couple did.

But, as is the case with Lebanon, not all reactions were positive and their marriage left us with more questions than answers (link).

The first official reaction to the marriage was Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman who expressed his support to what Khouloud and Nidale did, voicing the need for civil marriage in Lebanon. His statement was also echoed by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Raï.

Soon enough, our prime minister Najib Mikati was the first to shoot down hope of ratifying a proposal to have legalize marriage in Lebanon because we “don’t need such controversial issues at the time being.” It eventually culminated with Lebanon’s justice minister announcing that Khouloud and Nidale’s marriage was, in fact, illegal and will not be accepted.

And we thought that was it – we had a brief stint with the possibility of our country maybe becoming civil. But Lebanon’s civil marriage drama was renewed today when the Sunni mufti, Kabbani, decided to captivate us with his take on the issue by issuing the following fatwa (link):

“Whoever of Lebanon’s Muslim politicians in legislative power agrees to legalize and ratify civil marriage – even if optional – will be considered an apostate and a deserter of the Muslim religion. He won’t be washed, entombed, prayed on and buried in Muslim cemeteries.”

And with one of Lebanon’s main sects absolutely refusing any prospect of civil marriage in Lebanon, the issue has been killed probably to no return anytime soon. Many people agree with him as well.

What Mufti Kabbani is failing to realize is that he doesn’t live in a country where his sharia is applied to everyone and when he effectively shoots down a national proposition of this magnitude, he is limiting everyone’s freedom of choice – not only the Muslims that he wants to fight for.

What Mufti Kabbani seems not to know is that for $2000 his Muslim population can hop on the first plane to Cyprus, get married and be back in Lebanon that same afternoon. What he is failing to realize is that the point of an optional civil marriage is precisely that: it is optional. Those who want have a civil marriage, regardless of religion, should be free to have one. And those who want a pure Muslim or Christian marriage regardless of their reasons could have one as well. Why should it be the entire country’s problem if he’s worried that, when given another option, many of his Muslims would opt out of an Islamic marriage?

I fail to see how an optional civil marriage is degrading to the rights of Muslims. I fail to see how such a fatwa is Lebanon’s mufti fighting for the rights of his Muslims. Whoever of his Muslims doesn’t want a civil marriage and believes it is blasphemy can simply not have one.

We are now a country that threatens with apostasy to make a point. We are now a country that has fatwas target civil liberties. Last time I checked, that existed in places that we ridiculed as having no freedom of speech and whatnot. It turns out we may not be much better. Thank you Mufti Kabbani for the eye opening realization.

Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections: The Delusion of the Islamists, Salafists and their Sharia

No, I’m not following up with anything Egypt-related. Partly because it’s not my cause to be part of but mainly because I’m disgusted by what’s happening to the Copts there. It sort of puts a damper on what could have been had the Egyptians saw their revolution to the end and didn’t slack off the moment Mubarak was overthrown.

No, this post is not my own analysis on an election I have no idea of nor will it attempt to be one. This is simply me ridiculing any person who thinks the way of ruling any country in the world today, especially a country like Egypt, is by way of Islamic Sharia.

No, I’m not berating Islam. And no, I’m not being anti-semitic. I’m just being realistic. Whoever thinks the ways of 600AD still apply in 2011 is not only delusional but should probably get their brains checked. Whoever thinks a theocracy where one religion’s rule is enforced on everyone else is still living in the Dark Ages of their corresponding religion, be it Islam or Christianity or Judaism.

Israel, the country these Islamists perceive (along with the United States and possibly Iran) as the ultimate devil, has a neo-theocratic ruling system. And look where that’s leading us.

But no matter, this is not a post for overanalysis. This is a post to present this picture that a friend was outraged enough to share on Facebook with me.

In order to showcase their point about the validity of their view of Islamic Sharia, this picture was made out to show people who would be damaged by applying the Sharia. You have, starting from right to left: the homosexuals, the alcoholics, the prostitutes, the corrupt politicians and killers: what they consider as the scumbags of society. The picture serves to paint a picture where these people would be eradicated from Egyptian society if the Muslim Brotherhood (and those with whom they have an alliance) win the elections.

But naturally I beg to differ. Not only is this picture non-sensical, it’s also demeaning, ridiculous and unfounded. I wouldn’t be addressing it hadn’t it had tons of Facebook likes and an immense amount of shares. This picture has basically gone viral. But I digress. To suggest that the existence of these people would cease upon applying the Islamic Sharia is, simply put, stupid. Or aren’t those Islamists the same people who are horny enough to pursue the prostitutes or the closeted homosexuals who are afraid to come out? Being a staunch religious person with an infested three-foot long beard does not mean that person is holy.

Besides, who says it’s up to the Islamists to judge these people for what they do? What will their punishments be in case Sharia is applied? Whiplashes and cutting hands? How is that humane? Some might say there’s a process to follow when it comes to these types of punishment, that it’s not a haphazard process. But simply put: this is year 2011. Corporal punishment enforced by the State should not exist. What gives the state the right to cut off a thief’s hands or whip a person’s back until they can’t walk anymore? There’s a reason the charter of Human Rights was adopted by almost all countries around the world: it’s because basic human rights, even when people mess up, should be respected. Some even say such punishment would teach others. Then why is prostitution the world’s oldest profession? And why are thieves a part of every society? Why would I get punished for drinking alcohol? Who has the right to dictate what food and drinks I want to consume?

And how does a Sharia-run society work for those who do not want sharia to govern them in the first place?

So let me paint a picture of Egypt with Islamists ruling:

1) Increasing persuction of religious minorities in Egypt, only this time the state would turn an even blinder eye to them. If whatever type of ruling Egypt has today were to change to Islamic Sharia, who’s to say the Coptic minorities in Egypt won’t be decimated worse than they are being persecuted today? I understand Islam does not preach this. But there’s a drastic difference between Islam as a religion and what people understand of Islam. After all, the Islamic Sharia is some man’s interpretation of Islam, whether you like it or not. And it is these men that will believe that these Copts (and other minorities) are not suited for living under their ruling. The mentality that it’s okay to dispose of these Copts will grow. One only needs to remember how many Egyptians, including Egypt’s National TV, commented on the Maspero murdering of Copts to know that fertile ground for hate is there. Moreover, according to a Pew Poll, half of the Egyptian population has negative views of Christians in their country. Couple all of that with Islamic sharia and you get the picture.

2) Increasing censorship and decreasing free speech: I cannot begin to fathom Islamists allowing liberals to express their opinions now, would they? It’s the way things are with most parties that get to power in countries that are struggling to achieve democracy. Even in countries that we consider democratic models, media has never been unbiased. Fox News is pro-Republicans in the United States, ABC and CBS are pro-Democrats. So it will only be rational for many Egyptian TV Stations, newspapers and other media outlets to be coerced into diffusing one type of news only: the one approved by the political majority, run by Islamic Sharia.

3) Worse oppression than the one SCAF is now implementing: Many may want Islamic Sharia to be applied. But if it is applied, how would the atheists be treated? How would the Muslims who want a civil non-theocratic state to rule them be handled? The premise is not religious; it’s humanitarian. Islamic Sharia is being applied in many countries around the world, most notably Saudi Arabia. And if you look at Saudi Arabia from a non-economical point of view, the idea of living there is dismally depressing. Women cannot drive, they need to be veiled all the time. No movie theaters for you to spend time at, punishment laws that date back to the dark ages, patriarchal supremacy, very high disregard to basic human rights of free speech and freedom of religion, etc…. So to those who champion the idea of Islamic Sharia being the solution for all, this is definitely not the case. And there will come a time when drastic compromises in the basic foundation in that Sharia have to be given in order to accomodate the views of those who are different. Odds are those compromises will not happen and this is where oppression starts.

4) Worse economic situation as many of the world’s countries lose their faith in dealing with Egypt. It’s not very hard to imagine this really. Tourists will start coming less and less to Egypt. If the Mubarak regime had them fooled into thinking Egypt was somewhat liberal and understanding, I’m sure any delusion will be washed away by Islamists winning. Investments by major businesses will start decreasing as investment laws dictated by the Sharia will start getting implemented. And the ball gets rolling until the poor get poorer and with Egypt that’s a lot of people getting poorer.

5) Finally, all of the aforementioned points coupled together would mean Egypt back to pre-Mubarak days. The revolution dead.

No, the picture I’m painting is not grim. It’s one that can be easily evaded. And no, it’s not delusional like that picture being circulated among Facebook’s Islamist Egyptian populace. It might as well happen (with a higher probability that is than Islamists eradicating the people portrayed in that picture). Perhaps the youth who actually care about being who they are in Egypt should stop caring more about their country’s political situation and vote?

You know what they say: if you don’t vote, you can’t nag.

And sometimes the choice is so obvious that you can’t even begin to fathom another choice. Just look at this electoral poster from Egypt:

These people are calling for a modern Egypt. What’s modern about having the eyes of the only woman on their list hidden from everyone? The woman even looks like she was drawn there, not given the decency of having a proper photograph taken of her (even if that photograph won’t show anything). Who’s to say under Salafi and Islamists ruling such a thing won’t be forced on all women of Egypt? Who’s to say whatever rights women in Egypt have today won’t be taken away by these men who see themselves as superior?

And at the end of the day, as a Lebanese, an Islamist Egypt has the least effect on my political system. The only country getting the bad side of the deal will be Egypt itself. Good luck with that, I guess.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to the Copts. Again.