When Gebran Bassil’s Goons Don’t Understand Freedom of Speech

Breaking news: Gebran Bassil turned out to be yet another racist Lebanese politician. I have no idea how this piece of news was in any way a surprise, but over the past few days it’s almost the only thing people are talking about, apart from the fact that our phones now need Maps updates in order to skip the roads where garbage bags have started to take up lanes.

The details are as follows:

A few days ago, Gebran Bassil’s twitter account was quoting a speech he was giving in the United States to an audience of Lebanese expats ($10 says they’re voting for Trump in 49 days). In that speech, Bassil dropped the following:

The speech excerpts translate to:

  • I support giving Lebanese women who marry foreigners the right to pass on their nationality to their children but our constitution and societal fabrics don’t allow to give the Lebanese nationality to 400,000 Palestinians.
  • I support the law that allows Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their children, with the exception of Syrians and Palestinians to maintain our land.

Of course, it has probably escaped Bassil in that moment that St. Maroun, after whom his sect was named, was Syrian and Jesus, after whom he prays, was Palestinian, but that’s besides the point. Certainly, however, Bassil wouldn’t have had a problem if those Syrians and Palestinians weren’t mostly Muslim. I wonder, how different would his statement have been had those refugees been mostly Christian like him? I can imagine him now, à la Oprah, distributing nationalities left and right: YOU ARE LEBANESE, YOU ARE LEBANESE, YOU AAAAAALL ARE LEBANESE!

Context to Bassil’s tweets, however, remains important. His statements do not come from void. They emanate from a public sentiment that has only managed to gain popularity over the past few years with around 2 million Syrians seeking refuge in Lebanon. Of course, as is the case with Lebanon’s statistics, numbers do not exist. But it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that Bassil’s speech is not at odds with what the prevalent majority of Christians believes to be true, and a sizable portion of Lebanon’s Muslim community.

Yet again, the sentiment in the aforementioned denominations arise from their incessant need for self-sectarian preservation and are devoid from any national affinity towards a more global Lebanese state. Either way, I digress.

The uproar towards Bassil’s statements has been deafening. Human Rights Watch issued a statement whereby they found what he said to be abhorrent, in contradiction to the international treaties that Lebanon has signed in regards to women rights, and shameful to come from the minister of foreign affairs who is, whether we like it or not, the face of Lebanon to the world. Sorry #LiveLoveBeirut, you’re not it.

A slew of tweets and Facebook posts criticizing Bassil were also widely circulated, of which the satirical Facebook page Adeela led the forefront with a bunch of posts addressing Bassil’s tweets:

Lebanese blogger Mahmoud Ghazayel had a tweet (now deleted) in which he corrected Bassil’s statement to this:

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So far so good, right? Except this didn’t remain as just a manifestation of Lebanese online degrees of freedom because before you knew it, the situation – thanks to massive reports by Bassil’s online henchmen – became as follows:

Every single post that criticized Bassil about his racist tweets was removed because of Facebook reports, while the social media platform never bothered to check for the background upon which those reports were being filed in the first place, or the statements being criticized to begin with.

As a result, if you try and say something negative about Bassil’s statements, thousands will end up putting you in Facebook jail for at least 24 hours because you somehow violated the terms of being on that website, by simply expressing an opinion.

Maybe it’s fear of  exposing how ridiculous Bassil’s proposition – even if echoed by many – is. Maybe it’s wanting to keep his image pristine in their eyes, albeit it being irrevocably damaged in the minds of many others. Maybe it’s them wanting to keep a semblance of pride.

What Bassil’s goons seem to fail to grasp is that with every post they manage to bring down, ten more will spring up in their place. As it is their right to believe and want to defend what Bassil said, it is the right of every other Lebanese who categorically and irrevocably disagrees to not only criticize but mock those statements until kingdom come, whether they like it or not.

As the stench of garbage and filth overtakes their nares in every cubic meter of air in Beirut, as they spend countless hours without electricity, as they pray for the heavens for internet to be fast enough to load the images in this post, as they debate whether to flush or not because water is scarce, let them have all of that pride and the politicians whose image they want to keep. Let them have their “holy” land, their “better-than-thou” attitude towards anyone and anything they deem lesser. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many Facebook reports are issued, common sense will prevail.

PS: Dear Facebook, re-assess yourself, why don’t you? 

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Dear MTV Lebanon, Lebanese ARE Racist

There’s plenty that MTV could have covered in their news: A failed 25th attempt at electing a president, more debate and analysis over the Roumieh torture videos, SaudiLeaks cables, etc… The same applies to any Lebanese TV station, clearly.

Instead of covering what actually matters, however, MTV decides to be offended by a Ramadan series aired on its rival LBC. Why? Because, and I quote MTV, “it’s showing Lebanese in a wrong light by portraying them as racist towards Syrians.”

I’ve watched the video over and over again. I honestly have no idea what that TV station is smoking or what that reporter is drinking or what country Naccache is located in because it sure doesn’t feel like the country I’m in.

This is the report currently making rounds, and which will make your blood boil for its sheer narrow-mindedness, lala landness and utter ridiculousness:

I don’t know about MTV, but let me talk about the Lebanon I come from.

1) A few months ago, my hometown decided to enforce a curfew on Syrians. Because that wasn’t enough, some men decided they wanted to form night guard duties, weapons and all, against those Syrians. It wasn’t even a hidden thing. It was a Ebrine normality. In between their “guard” duties, some of those men physically assaulted many Syrians simply because they existed outside of their rooms beyond their forced curfew. A pregnant Syrian woman had to take permission to go out of her house to the hospital to give birth. And the examples are ever-flowing. You can read this article for more info (link).

2) A couple of years ago, Annahar decided to go around Beirut and ask a few Lebanese what they thought of the Syrian refugee presence in their countries. The result was the following video:

I’m particularly interested how someone saying, and I quote, “there are so many Syrians here we might as well call it Syria,” qualifies as tolerance. Or how “I’m afraid of walking on the streets now because there are more Syrians than Lebanese” is a sign of progressiveness. I digress. Let’s proceed.

3) Since MTV was beyond pissed about how that TV show portrayed Achrafieh, let’s see what was all around Achrafieh just a year ago. Luckily, the internet is a beautiful thing, so pictures are aplenty and here are pictures to you:

Again, I’m trying to see how such signs, years after the withdrawal of Syrian troops and a clear manifestation of Christian xenophobia in a heavily Christian region are an indication of how tolerant and open minded we are as Lebanese.

4) With the influx of Syrians into the country, many municipalities, like mine, decided to start curfews for Syrians. Many took this a step further as well. Some places had political parties also come up with posters for the purpose of doubling down on the increasing Syrian presence in Lebanon:

The posters translate into the following: “No Syrian is allowed in this area starting this date or they’ll be insulted, beaten along with whoever’s helping them.” Another one says: “Boycott illegal labor. Hire Lebanese.”

Nothing was done about this back then. Few were the voices that called these as they were, racist and degrading. But we went about our days normally. Have a TV series give the narrative to a Syrian FICTIVE character? Oh Lord no, our Lebanese oversensitive pride won’t have that.

5) It’s been only two days that the following picture made the rounds on social media. An AUB student took a picture of Syrians and captioned it, on Instagram with filters and all: “Many heads, but no brains. #Syrians.” The outrage at that student was entirely political. I’m willing to bet most of those outraged at him were so simply because his political background serves as fuel to their own political hatred, more so than for them being caring about Syrians per se. But still, it clearly shows that such mentalities exist today and are aplenty.

Syrians Racism Lebanon

6) Now that we’ve established that MTV lives in a separate realm of existence (let them talk to Stephen Hawking, he’d be interested), let’s go over a quick survey of the many things we’ve all heard about Syrians and Syria, among people that we all know: Oh look, a Syrian. Oh, there are too many Syrians, be careful. The best thing to come out of Syria is “el festo2 el 7alabi.” And let’s not start with all the homsi jokes, which is when we are taught to be racist towards Syrians the moment we become aware.

But dear MTV, many Lebanese are not racist towards Syrians only. They’re also racist to those of nationalities they deem lesser.

Don’t you remember the guy who wouldn’t shake hands with people who are black?

Don’t you remember that Mothers’ Day ad about special offers on maids?

Don’t you remember the countless MEA reports about racism aboard their airlines? 

Don’t you remember the many maids that lost their lives to abusive employers and have no laws to protect them?

Don’t you remember that picture of the purse getting a seat while the maid remains standing as her family has lunch? 

We’re not only racist towards other nationalities. We’re also racist to each other. If you walk around MTV’s beloved Achrafieh, you are bound to find plenty of “Ra7 Tdall Jrasna Tde2” graffiti plastered around red crosses. Those newly coated with paint to keep their memory as fresh as their color. Who do you think they’re targeted to? Let’s just say it’s not someone who worships the Cross. For reference, I also have this to look at every morning:

 

 

People in Keserwan have endless stories about them chastising “el gharib.” The people of Tripoli are ridiculed by many because of the situation in their city. I have friends from Tripoli who changed their city on their CV because they know it decreases their chances to get hired. But please, tell me more about how we are not racist.

This isn’t to say that every single Lebanese is racist. There are many movements across the country to combat such mentalities. There are many people who are as far from racism as MTV is from being an objective and decent news outlet. The inherent problem isn’t only racism, it’s us pretending that there isn’t such a problem to begin with, it’s outlets like MTV – with substantial power and reach – engorging the ever-growing Lebanese ego, tapping it on the back, and telling it that there’s nothing wrong with you.

Fixing the problem starts with acknowledging it, not being offended by its existence. This is just shameful.

Racism, Bigotry and Anarchy: How My Hometown Is Breeding ISIS

Welcome to Ebrine

The sign says: welcome to Ebrine. Huddled on a bunch of hills east of Batroun, my hometown is considered as one of the area’s largest. It is Maronite by excellence. The sign could have also said welcome to Maronistan and you’d still be within realms of accuracy.

Growing up, I never truly fit there but I liked it nonetheless. It was peaceful, serene, had amazing scenery and, at the time, I thought it provided everything that I needed. Little did I know that a whole spectrum existed beyond the realms of those 7 hills, 2000 voters and dozen Churches.

My hometown has also lately become a hub where Syrian refugees and workers have aggregated in substantial numbers, or at least as substantial a number can be to tick off the brains of townsfolk that I had thought were kind. I was wrong.

The argument went: “if those Syrians got slingshots, they’d be able to overtake us.” Yes, 500 Syrians with slingshots overtaking a town of about 4000 people. Because that made a whole lot of sense. So some people in my hometown, without a municipality due to political bickering, decided to devise an ingenious idea: set up guard duty, whereby men whose ages range from prepubescent to senile made sure those Syrians were kept in line, whatever it took.

Those guards were self appointed, related to whoever felt it was his moral duty to protect the holy Christians of Ebrine from the fictive threat of Daesh looming among those dark Arab faces coming in from that desert to the East. Their duties were also entirely dependent on whatever they felt like doing. They circulated fliers, forcing shops to put them on their storefronts, to make sure that order is kept: you have to make sure the Syrians renting at your places are registered. You are not to hire Syrians to do work around the town. You are not to let those Syrians do anything that any normal human being is supposed to be able to do, because they are not worthy.

Day X of guarding. A Syrian woman goes into labor in my hometown. It takes her husband an hour between calling this or that to be able to get his wife out of their apartment, into a car and in to the nearest hospital so she can deliver her child. One more Syrian to protect those God-fearing Christians from. What a tragedy.

Day Y of guarding. A male Syrian worker is kept up by his employer at work beyond the 8PM curfew time for Syrians that the guards of my hometown set up for them. He complains about it because of how worried he was at the impeding hell he’d have to go through at the hands of those guards, manifesting primarily by a lovely town policeman who has been around as far as I can remember, bolstered by a support from the Frangieh household, that has seen him pull through a bunch of corruption scandals and still maintain his position. When that worker reached his home, he had the phone number of his employer at the ready, as the latter had told him to do, to ask the guards to call him. Our town’s policeman looked at that Syrian for a minute and told him: say this to your employer, slapping him across the face so hard he was left with a bruise over his left eye for the following week.

Day Z of guarding. Another male Syrian arrived from Syria to join his family at the very welcoming town of Ebrine. That young Syrian, aged in the early 20s, didn’t know of the rules that some random self-appointed people at that town had set up. So at 9PM, on the second day of him being in Lebanon, he decided to leave his house and visit a shop at the town renowned for opening late in order to purchase groceries. He was spotted by our town’s policeman. Why are you here was not even asked. Are you not aware of the rules was not even thrown out in the air. The next thing you know, that policeman was hitting that young Syrian like his entire existence depended on it. A few minutes later, he was joined by 5 or 6 other young men from Ebrine, with all their built up testosterone, and they let that young man have it. It wasn’t until his father showed up, and saw his son being tossed around from one macho to the next that they stopped. My son isn’t aware of your rules, he told them. He’s only been here for two days, he pleaded. What a shame.

I presume a bunch of thank yous are in order:

THANK YOU to those guards who found it’s their Jesus-given right to protect the townspeople against the nonexistent dangers of Daesh at the heart of Maronistan. I’ve never felt safer, or at ease at Ebrine as I do now. 1984 is alive and well. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the Qa’em Makam of Batroun for turning a blind eye to the practices of those guards and the arbitrary rules they’re setting up for everyone and the sheer immaturity with which they are governing a town that has no actual governing body. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to my hometown’s policeman, roaming around with that SUV on which “Baladiyyat Ebrine” is plastered across. I am eternally grateful to those muscles you used to beat up unknowing Syrians whose only fault was them being Syrians renting at the premises of someone you didn’t like. I am eternally grateful to you being the man that you are because if it hadn’t been for that, none of us would be safe and sound. None. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the Frangieh household which has stuck with that policeman through thick and thin. Pistachio goes a long way round this town. Corruption? Who cares. Madness? Nobody gives a shit. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the people of Ebrine who haven’t spoken up against the guards roaming their streets, who believe their presence is absolutely normal, who think those duties are actually protecting them and who have forgotten how it is to live under duress, under an all-seeing eye monitoring your every move. What goes around comes around, indeed. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

THANK YOU to the Lebanese government, in all its facets, for turning a blind eye to the rising self-governance taking place across the Lebanese republic. Extending the mandate of parliament is definitely more important. Bravo, bravo. Applause everyone.

Some people, like those guards and that policeman, deserve Daesh. So, in frank Lebanese let me tell them: tfeh.

Racist Lebanese Municipalities or National Policy Against Syrians?

My uncle was shot and killed 14 years ago today, March 26th 1999.

His killer’s name was Tony Rouhana. He was from my hometown, Ebrine. He was Lebanese. He was an active wartime member of one of North Lebanon’s well-known parties. They call themselves “Marada.”

May 2008. My mom enters our house and finds a hooded-man there. She shouts and runs after him. He was going through her jewelry. He makes a quick escape through our window. A couple of weeks later, his identity is known. He is also from my hometown. A Lebanese. He was only reprimanded – never arrested. Why should they ruin his future?

March 2013. A member of our municipality has his motorcycle stolen by a gang from Tripoli. They chase the thief, are on the phone with our security forces at all times, but are unable to catch him. The theft happened in broad daylight at noon. You can check more details here.

March 2013. I’m sitting with my family as we bid farewell to my uncle who was going back to his home in the United States after a short stay. We hear the sound of a four-wheel drive rolling by. They say it’s our municipality policeman’s new car. Why was he driving around at 10:30 pm?
Because my hometown, Ebrine, is now enforcing a curfew on Syrians. I expressed outrage and was told I oppose things way too often, way too much.

No, my town is not, like other places, hiding behind the shroud of “foreigners” when they mean one thing and one thing alone. There are no fliers being posted around the place. There are no banners to welcome you with the news. It’s all under the radar, hoping it would go unnoticed: a subtle regulation that won’t affect my life because I am Lebanese, from Ebrine and there’s absolutely nothing bad that I can do.

I didn’t want to write about this issue until I made sure it wasn’t simply townspeople gossip. I went to the municipality and asked. They confirmed. Their explanation? We got an order from the ministry of interior affairs recently to organize the Syrians inside our town and to have them listed – as per orders of Lebanon’s intelligence. They didn’t say anything about a curfew but, believing I was worried about the Syrians in my town, they went on further: “you don’t have to worry. A curfew was enforced on Syrians. The policeman is also patrolling the streets from 8 pm till 12 am. The town will stay safe.”

How beautiful and reassuring is that? I should look into extra safety measures against Ethiopians, Egyptians – basically anyone whose skin color or clothing style is too inappropriately poor for my taste.

I also find it hard to believe that such an order would come from the ministry of interior and would go unnoticed everywhere, especially that Marwan Charbel, our current minister of interior affairs, said municipalities who enforce curfews are committing illegal acts (link).

So which is it? Is our government or entire Lebanese administration, now that we don’t have a government, relying on vigilante justice in Lebanese municipalities to regulate the Syrian influx in the country? Are all our municipalities and circumscriptions now limiting the movement of “foreigners” just because the situation in the country is worrying?

Last time I checked, it wasn’t Syrians who were fighting in Bab el Tebbane and Jabal Mohsen nor were the Syrians fighting in May 2008 when all hell broke loose in Beirut.

Should the Syrians in Lebanon be regulated? Sure. Is their influx worrying? I think so. But turning their forced stay here into that of people living in an emergency nation will help things how exactly?

Let’s call it a temporary fix – a plug in a collapsing dam.

Do we have a lot of Syrians in my hometown? Frankly, I don’t see any huge numbers that were not there in 2008, 1999, etc. We are not that affected. Those Syrians are renting apartments here, buying stuff from the shops that even our townspeople don’t go to anymore (going to buy groceries in Batroun is much cooler. They get to use a trolley and pay 10,000 in gas in the process). And yet, somehow, those new Syrians are now posing such a big security threat that our municipality decided to do something for the first time since it was formed in 2010.

Our municipality, which left our roads go as the below pictures show, for over 2 months, which didn’t say anything and even sent a thank you letter for Gebran Bassil (who in all fairness was later outraged and called them out on it) is acting out, protecting us, making us feel safe, as part of a developed country. What’s worse is that this could possibly be some form of national policy.

Roads Ebrine Batroun Roads Ebrine Batroun - 3 Roads Ebrine Batroun - 4 Roads Ebrine Batroun -2