Dear Riyadi, The Turkish Flag Raised To Tease Homentmen Wasn’t Photoshopped, And Yes It’s Despicable

It says a lot when the knee-jerk reaction to something as disgusting as this is to cry foul and call photoshop instead of calling out those who did that.

It says even more that the men who were holding the Turkish flags weren’t even holding them right: they were just there to tease the Armenian team the team they’re supporting was playing.

I posted the above pictures on my blog’s Facebook page and was immediately inundated by replies that it was photoshopped. No, it wasn’t. Not only was it shared by one of Al Riyadi’s top Facebook fan pages, but a little zooming in and you can see the person holding the flag. Some even tried to defend it. Anything to save face? No, just no.

Perhaps it’s a good thing to have a “it’s photoshopped” reflex in order not to raise tensions, but when faced with evidence that it’s not, the right route is to own up to it and apologize to the team you were playing whose entire history you insulted, to those who support that team whose ancestral struggles you’ve insulted and to your fellow citizens whose fight is a daily, yearly thing to have their genocide recognized. And all for what? Teasing?

There’s a whole other level of disgraceful when you have to sink to such low levels and then try to justify it. Turkey is a good friend to Lebanon? Yes, but that’s not the place to celebrate that. People wanted to commemorate the memory of our victims at Istanbul’s Reina attacks? Really now, against an Armenian team, during a basketball game that followed a period during which organizers for both teams wanted to deviate tensions?

The fact of the matter is that Turkish flag was intentional, and that picture was authentic and the act was despicable. It was even preceded by fans making that “joke” on social media over and over again:

But it’s not a joke. It’s not funny. What it is is disgusting, disgraceful, hurtful and despicable.

To set an example, Al-Riyadi should identify whoever those fans were and ban them from attending future games of the team in order to set an example. It’s easy to dismiss such acts as goofy play, but we’ve experienced them way too often and fans of multiple teams have been banned from courts so repeatedly for things to remain as is. Sometimes, such as this time, you have to call out things as they are so people know that doing them isn’t worth the laughs they got with the bros or that surge of pride they felt when they pulled that flag out of their pocket mid-game.

This is about the mentality that would push a supporter of a particular team, in this case Al Riyadi Beirut, to figure it’s a good idea to insult Armenians in the worst way possible by bringing a Turkish flag to a game and not even hold it properly, or the mentality of a Sagesse supporter chanting Islamophobic slogans just because they can. The examples are endless, and they’ve been thoroughly documented.

I’m 100% certain that this is not what all Al-Riyadi supporters are like as many of my friends are supporters of that particular team and they would never be in such poor taste as to pull a similar stunt. I’m also positive that such stunts do not paint the picture of the entirety of Lebanon’s basketball fans. However, with sectarian and political slogans becoming as part of the game as the ball, isn’t it high time for the entirety of the game to be re-assessed?

Why Those Who Insult Istanbul’s Victims Should Always Be Challenged, Not Ignored

I never thought that we, as a country first and foremost and as a region in the grander scheme of things, would so grossly disagree about our characterization of the victims of the Istanbul attacks. I’m not talking about whether they are martyrs or victims, but about people who are so full of hate that not only do they not mourn but believe others should not mourn too.

Those people have forsaken every ounce of humanity and turned the barbaric deaths of innocents as yet another event to correlate with their religious, sectarian or even political discourse.

Ramzi El Kadi & Huffington Post Arabi:

Earlier yesterday, I posted screengrabs from a Twitter account by someone named Ramzi Al Kadi on my blog’s Facebook page. Soon enough, the story was picked up by news outlets and it went viral.

Within minutes, Al Kadi was being called all kinds of names as if he were the only entity in this country and region regurgitating that horrifying word-vomit. Some were attacking the way he looked, digging through his entire online history and bringing it back to haunt him.

El Kadi had said he did not want to mourn the victims. He thought what happened to them was well-deserved given that they were at a night club, which is in his opinion is a disgrace of a place. To him, the victims – Rita, Elias and Haykal – were nothing more than sinners who had it coming for wanting to have fun at a “whore house.”

Unfortunately, Al-Kadi isn’t a lone example. You only need to head to Huffington Post Arabi’s Facebook page to see the exact same rhetoric being spewed by Arabs in the comments section. In an article posted by the page about Lebanese victim Rita El Chami, the comments ranged from those who were sympathetic to her sacrifice, calling her a hero, to those – like Al Kadi – who saw her as nothing more than – again, I quote – “a whore” for partying the end of the year away, wishing that she’d “go to hell.”

The debate in Saudi Arabia about the Istanbul attacks isn’t about their dead, but about whether they were at a nightclub or a restaurant, because that makes a difference in how their death is perceived. Palestinian victim Leanne Nasser is suffering from the same discourse back home: whether it was appropriate of her to go party the night away. It was her first trip abroad.

To note, Ramzi Al Kadi is saying his Twitter account was hacked. I don’t see why given there’s no value in hacking an account with 200 followers, but it’s a statement to be conveyed. Ramzi has since been arrested in order for his tweets to be investigated, which – regardless of how disgusting what his tweets were – is not something we should accept. Being an asshole is not a crime.

Hassan Hamzeh & Politics:

 

Al Manar reporter Hassan Hamzeh decided to insult the victims of Istanbul’s terrorist attacks from a different perspective. To him, this was pure politics. Being a Hezbollah supporter, he saw the attacks on Istanbul as nothing more than a chance for him to gloat in revenge and spite.

“Istanbul is paying the price it should pay” he tweeted. He then followed it up with: “Istanbul should pay more,” before concluding with: “Erdogan, you reap what you sow.”

To Hassan Hamzeh, the victims from all backgrounds are nothing more than pawns in his party’s political game, their entire lives and families and loved ones be damned as long as he can be satisfied that a city and a country he despises are being broken like this.

Other politically-charged social media users were annoyed at how the victims of Istanbul’s attacks were being called martyrs compared to others who “didn’t sacrifice their lives at a nightclub,” as if the location of where you are brutally killed has some bearing over the worth of your life and death.

While the Lebanese government flexed its muscles with helpless people like Al-Kadi, Hassan Hamzeh – with his political backbone – is still at large, free to roam and tweet more hateful things because he’s untouchable.

Why We Should Speak Up:

Regardless of where people die because of such vicious attacks – whether at a club, a brothel, church or Mosque – the sanctity of death should be respected. You have to be at a whole other level of deplorable to disrespect the passing of people whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time because you don’t like where they were or what they were doing.

When I first posted Ramzi Al-Kadi’s screenshots, people said that giving people like him such exposure makes them feel important and gives them power, that their negativity had no place in times of mourning. I disagree.

The best way for hate and bigotry to prosper is for them to run unchecked for a lifetime. The more we stay silent, the more we let such horrors fester in the minds and souls of those who are most susceptible, and the more Ramzis and Hassans we will have to deal with later on.

Our bubble as millennials or liberals has gotten us to think that the majority of people share our views and as such most will find the words of Ramzi or Hassan as abhorrent as we do, and that might be the case with many, but today’s world is far from being one where we can remain silent to people who insult victims just because they can.

Staying silent to people like all of those who insulted the victims of the Istanbul attacks in LaReina has a lot to do with why we are dealing with entities like Trump, Le Pen, Brexit and a rising trend in right wing extremism all around the world, why we are reeling from the effects of living in a post-truth existence where facts have become matters of opinion for many.

There remains a huge populace that lives among us that believes in what Ramzi Al-Kadi said, without them proclaiming it. We live in a conservative Arab world where it’s very easy to forget, as the only people we talk to are those who think like us, that there are those beyond our walls who believe that nightclubs are abominations, that those who frequent them are sinners and that those who die there should not be mourned.

Those people you want us to ignore are voters, influencers, mothers and fathers. We can’t repress them into a basket to be tucked away just because we feel like the higher road is the better road. To drive our society forward, those people’s ideas – not the way they look as many have criticized Ramzi – should always be challenged. We can’t shy away from the ideological debate taking place wherever we roam for fear of the challenge, or of upsetting others and ourselves.

Ramzi Al-Kadi and those who think like him think their ideas and beliefs are as valid, and should be applied on a more grander scale than just tweets or Facebook comments. To better our societies, we can’t just dismiss those ideas outright just because they’re horrifying. We have to listen, criticize, challenge the core of their thoughts.

The cycle of us versus them will never end if we stay silent and let the cycle perpetuate without breaking it. It’s easier to imagine “them” as enemies who hate the way we live no matter what. But “they” are victims of ideas that have been entrenched in their minds for years, and those ideas can be beaten if we take up the mantle of the fight.

Victims, Not Threats: The Massacred In Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Yemen Are Not Terrorists For Hateful Rhetoric

Meet Adel Al-Jaf. He also calls himself Adel Euro, so you might know him by that. He was a rapper, a dancer and a man who tried to do the best that he could with what he had in his country. Last year, Adel said he was lucky enough to narrowly escape an explosion in Baghdad so he could dance again. This time, Adel was not as lucky.

Adel Euro Adel Al-Jaf

He is one of the 200 people in Iraq who, instead of buying Eid gifts these days as Eid el Fitr comes tomorrow, are buying coffins for their loved ones.

In the blink of an eye, an explosives-ridden van detonated itself through a busy shopping mall in Baghdad. Two hundred families, as a result, lay shattered, maimed, beyond repair, beyond the ability to heal.

It’s become way too easy to dismiss the deaths of those two hundred innocent people as just another thing that happens in *those* parts of the world, in a country (like Iraq) where suicide bombs are an every day occurrence.

But it’s not. And even if it is, the normalization of their tragedy makes the brutality of reality even more horrific. These were people, just like a regular American or European – because we all know your worth is higher the whiter your skin is – who could have been going to the Mall to buy their children and loved ones Christmas gifts.

And yet today, the Eiffel tower didn’t light up to remember them as it did yesterday to commemorate France’s victory in a football game. Even Burj el Arab, which remembered the victims of Brussels and Paris, while failing to remember the massacred of Beirut and Istanbul, couldn’t care less about the brutality of what took place less than 2 hours away. I guess keeping up with the westernized value of human lives is more befit of the image Dubai wants to give itself, so who are we to judge?

Today, those two hundred people that were brutally massacred as they went about their daily lives in Iraq are considered terrorists to be by many. The forty that died in Beirut almost 8 months ago are also considered as such. The hundreds of thousands that died and are dying in Syria are nothing but pests who have, thankfully, not encroached on the holiness of Western values, and so are the people of Yemen.

Good riddance, Donald Trump and his supporters would say. They had it coming, the far right across the world would point its finger and blurt out. And to those people, at the wake of my region being burned once again partly because of the repercussions of the actions of their people, I can’t but say: the only terrorist is you.

Sarah Sadaka, an Arab living in the United States, was going to a Best Buy store today. She went into that store speaking on her phone in Arabic, only to be circled by a woman who made it clear that her presence, her skin, her language made her uncomfortable. No one came to Sarah’s defense: she was just another sand nigger, breathing that free American air on the fourth of July. She did not deserve to have her right as a human being not to be violated that way taken away, she is, after all, only Arab.

Sarah, today, is the living embodiment of what it is to be the victim of terrorism in the United States, except this time it’s the brand championed by the likes of Donald Trump and the people with whom his rhetoric resonates.

When Omar Mateen went to a gay night club in Orlando and killed fifty people, mainstream American media only saw his name Omar as enough reason to justify his actions. He was just another Muslim. He was just another Middle Eastern offended by “our” way of life. Except Omar Mateen did not do so in the name of Islam, he did it in the name of his own insecurities, the insecurities of a man who is afraid of his own sexuality and who is so deluded in his own belief that he’d support two politically opposed factions in Hezbollah and ISIS as vindications for his action.

Omar Mateen’s characterization, and the repercussions that follow it, are a direct result of the kind of terrorism that Arabs and Muslims have to endure at the hands of people like Donald Trump, the Far Right across the world, and the minds that listen to them.

My mother tongue has become synonymous in people’s minds with death. If I speak it on a plane, I become an automatic threat, forced to undergo security checks, apprehended by officials because the words I utter from lips only resonate with fear, even if it’s to say: peace be upon you.

Victims, not threats. The more we are silent towards our murder, our decimation, and our characterization as people who do not deserve to live, the more we perpetuate the notion that people who think of Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners and those that live in the area are worth nothing is true. The more we are subdued in not demanding our deaths be remembered, be proclaimed, be cared for, the more our inherent value slips even further, even less than it already is, down an abyss in which the least valuable lives on this planet are Arab lives.

I should not be living in a world where I need to convince a friend of mine not to name his son Abdul Rahman because the name is “too Muslim.” I should not be living in a world where I have to defend myself at my own funeral. I should not be living in a world where the deaths of two hundred Iraqis is considered as just another bleb on the evening news, as they are just a waste of space.

We are people too, and we are worthy of life, one in which two hundred of us do not die at a mall buying new clothes for their children. We are victims, not threats.

 

 

The Genocide They Want Removed From Our Collective Memory

I imagine life would have been much different for me had my last name ended with -ian. I’d have come from a very different place than the one I currently come from. I would have spoken yet another language.  I would have grown up listening to stories that morphed into darker and darker territory as I grew older: stories told by my grandparents, stories of my friend’s great grandparents, stories of entire families and homes and communities and towns and cities that exist no more today.

If I were Armenian, I’d have been an immensely proud person of those people who are the reason I am here today, the people who defied the cold, the heat, the hunger and the systematic killing at the hand of a ruthless sultan, the people whose stories would give me strength, enriching my view of the world, making it more and more certain each day that this is not – as many want everyone to believe – a just world.

If I were Armenian, I’d carry around a baggage of horrors around with me of things that happened to my ancestors, things few dare to speak of because of how ruthless they are. I’d never let go of those horrors, clinging to them even more when the hands of time try to take them away. Those horrors would have made me who I am.

If I was Armenian, I’d be mad as hell today that the death of 1.5 million ancestors of mine is – to some countries – nothing more than a political pawn for them to play with, for them to have a political auction with, for them to try to forget, for them to try to make me forget. for them to try to take down historical memory lane: never written, never discussed, never acknowledged, never recognized.

If I were Armenian, I’d be livid that the memory of 1.5 million of my countrymen, all martyrs because of their ethnicity and their religion, is being tarnished by some who want to portray it as nothing more but a collectively inserted piece of fiction in the memory of a far-away nation I’d still feel belonging to, a nation that is still hurting 98 years later.

If I were Armenian, I’d still be hurting today and I’d hurt everyday people across communities do not recognize my people’s struggles the way they are eager to recognize the struggles of others, just because it soothes their guilt. I’d be angry no one feels remorse and guilt for the cold-blooded murder of my people, one by one – women and children and elderly and men.

But I am not Armenian. I am but an irrelevant Lebanese with a voice that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But I feel it’s my duty to tell whoever listens that there is a people of this world who was systematically killed for just existing and whose killing isn’t recognized by everyone the way other genocides are. I’d tell that a country that plays with my country like a yo-yo killed those people and has been trying to convince its own people for 98 years now nothing wrong happened. And I would never forget and – until everyone acknowledges what happened – I wouldn’t forgive.

May all the martyrs and innocent souls of the Armenian Genocide rest in peace.

Tsitsernagapert, inside the museum: A photo of the museum next to the memorial, Yerevan Armenia. - Photo by Shant Demirdjian

Tsitsernagapert, inside the museum: A photo of the museum next to the memorial, Yerevan Armenia. – Photo by Shant Demirdjian

The Lebanese Issue With Fetih 1453

Fetih 1453 is a Turkish movie that was briefly released in Lebanese cinemas last week before meeting outrage from Greek Orthodox Christians due to its “historically incorrect” and defamatory content.

The movie has since, of course, been banned.

I won’t go endlessly about the uselessness of bans and how I’m officially against banning anything, etc, bla bla bla. You don’t want to waste your time reading it and I’m frankly tired of sounding like a broken record with this happening frequently lately.

Having said that, I do have an issue with Fetih 1453. Let’s call it the Lebanese Turkish obsession.

I don’t like Lebanese people watching Syrian-dubbed Turkish endless dramas. It was “funny” to see the Nour craze (this still makes me cringe). But when it started moving towards twenty five series per second on every single channel on TV, it became frankly nauseating.

And yet those series still find an audience. So I figured housewives and school children must be bored. The former don’t get access or can’t read Fifty Shades of Grey and the latter haven’t discovered porn yet. And it’s fine – it’s just something free and silly for them to watch.

However, I have to ask: Why did a Turkish movie get a wide release and such intensive publicity in Lebanon to begin with?

It’s not because the movie is a foreign movie. The world has about 200 countries, many of which produce cinema. I don’t see Latvian movies getting wide releases here.

It’s not because Turkey is a nearby country. I’m pretty sure Greece has movie offerings as well and we don’t get those.

It’s not because the cinema in Turkey is such an attraction. If anything, why not bring Bollywood movies? For the record, please don’t.

We don’t know the Turkish language. Most of us (I’d say all but who knows) don’t want to learn the language. Many other cinematic offerings by other more cinematically “significant” countries never see the light of day at our cinemas. And yet someone decided that this Turkish movie was such a cinematic jewel that we couldn’t live without it.

A Separation,” a movie that by all accounts is near a masterpiece, didn’t even get a wide release here. Let alone all the billboards announcing it. And that movie is Iranian, so another neighbor whose number we don’t understand and who’s politically involved with us.

Do Lebanese movies get the same treatment in Turkey? Our movies don’t even get the same reception in Egypt that Egyptian movies get over here.

Moreover, didn’t anyone stop for a second and think what would the Lebanese Armenians think about a Turkish movie being released in Lebanon? Why don’t we bring Armenian movies to Lebanon instead? At least there are people here who’d go watch them without needing the subtitles.

It would have been much better for Fetih 1453 to be incorporated in one of the many movie festivals we get over here. Lebanese movie distributors should either be fair in bringing movies here or just keep the regular formula that honestly seems to work: bring the American and French. Leave out the rest. Sprinkle some Lebanese Nadine Labaki occasional seasoning on top. And that’s it.

The Meteorite Shower over Lebanon – a Russian Missile Launch?

New information is surfacing regarding yesterday’s meteor shower over Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Israel/Palestine and Armenia.

It seems as if the whole thing was not mother nature’s doing. Instead, it was mother Russia flexing its military muscles.

This video shot in Syria shows the “meteorite” as following a spiral trajectory, which is not possible for a meteorite.

The Voice of Russia reported that the country’s Missile Forces conducted a test from the Kapustin Yar firing range in southern Russia on Thursday. Such a launch could theoretically be seen from areas of the Middle East and the Caucasus. While they said the missile hit its target, Israeli officials are saying the missile spun out of control.

It could just be the Israelis panicking as usual though.

Similar spiral-trajectory objects were seen in 2009 over Norway but they turned out to be a failed missile launch.

Sorry to disappoint you my fellow Lebanese but the Mariam Nour jokes have just become unfounded – or she could be a Russian spy. Let the conspiracies begin.

Lost in Istanbul?

I think not.

You see, when I landed, I immediately started talking with the Lebanese guy who sat one seat away from me. And as it is with Lebanese people, they immediately ask where you´re from and if it´s a familiar location, they start to ask you about people you may know from there. More often than not, you´re clueless about the names thrown at you.

But in that case, I was not clueless. In fact, Joseph, the guy I met on the plane, turned out to be from my grandmother´s village. More so, in fact, he was a distant member of her family. And apparently, he was on good terms with her brother. Where does Joseph live? Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Apart from yours truly being impressed by that at first, Joseph then asked me if I knew a girl from a neighboring village. I replied positively. She was a person I befriended during the many common biology courses we took together as we both finished our Biology degree. Why was Joseph asking? He was her sister´s boyfriend – for two years now. Yes, he made me guess and I did.

So naturally, being the chit-chatty person that I am, I kept on walking with Joseph and we sat in a Turkish cafe in Istanbul and ordered Turkish tea.
For the record, Turkish tea is like your regular tea. But Turkish. Get it?

So for an hour, I sat with Joseph. Then a very random tweetup with Samer, who happened to be in Istanbul airport at the time, was set up on twitter. So Samer joined us and we discussed politics, life, Lebanon, Algeria, Brazil, peace, violence… and then it was time for me to board.

I got to my terminal and behold… the whole group was shouting at me that I got lost. They thought I decided the exit the Istanbul aiport since we don´t need a visa. I know it was the first time I traveled but come on, I´m not that stupid. Try to tell that to a priest though.

Was being reprimanded worth “getting lost”? I think so.