Attacking Alsharq Al-Awsat’s Offices Is More Insulting to Lebanon Than Their Caricature

Earlier today, Saudi newspaper Alsharq Al-Awsat, which most of us had not heard of until this point, decided to contribute to April Fools with their joke, the pun being Lebanon.

Alsharq Al-awsat Newspaper April Fools Lebanon

The caricature translates to: April Fools… the State of Lebanon.

Of course, Lebanon was in an uproar, but none more so than self-proclaimed comedian and frequent let-me-run-for-parliament-as-a-joke Pierre Hachach who decided to pay the Lebanese offices of Alsharq Al-Awsat a visit and, obviously, vandalize them.

He was so proud of what he and his friends did that he posted the video on Facebook, in two parts:

Is it just me, or is it immensely ironic that Pierre Hachach and his friends saw that the best way to respond to someone saying the Lebanese state was a joke was by showing how barbaric the Lebanese people can be and how absent the Lebanese state actually is in preventing such a ruckus from taking place to begin with?

The caricature in question can be interpreted in many ways. I personally found it lame, and not even worth a second glance. It was first and foremost political, coming at a time when Lebanon and Saudi Arabia were at political odds, regardless of what Saad Hariri thinks of this. Any other consideration, be it about its artistic, comical, any other value or lack thereof, is besides the point. As such, the reply to such a caricature should be political and in the same manner that it was made: write about it, tweet about it, insult it, make another caricature replying to its content, or any other civilized manner that befits us as a people and this country whose name we’re so keen to uphold.

We live in a region where freedom of speech is not absolute, where press is almost always afraid to say what it thinks, where dictators own airwaves and where the masses are led to figurative slaughter houses like sheep without knowing so. What happened today is attacking any ounce of freedom of speech this region has left, even if that freedom of speech was expressed in a way that we as Lebanese find insulting.

Lebanon is a regional pioneer when it comes to freedom of speech. In many ways, it’s the most important piece of dignity we have left. I am writing this because laws in my country allow me. You are reading this on your computer in Beirut or Tripoli or wherever because internet in this country hasn’t banned you from doing so. You are able to say whatever you want because we do not live in a security state. Things are not perfect, but things are not Saudi Arabia either.

Pierre Hachach and his friends attacking the offices of Alsharq Al-Awsat is an attack to that last piece of dignity that we as Lebanese have, giving us an image of barbarics who can’t take differing opinions, who think fists are the proper response to speech, who think that chaos is more appropriate than order, and who think that our dignity is restored with violence, not with honor.

How different would that make Pierre Hachach and his friends from those who attacked the Danish Embassy a few years ago because of a Danish newspaper’s caricatures about the Prophet Mohammad? How ironic is it that those same people probably were all about #JeSuisCharlie when the Charlie Hebdo HQ in Paris was attacked in January 2015 by people who were as offended about the dignity of their religion as they are about their country’s?

The answer is not so much.

Pierre Hachach, you would have done better by posting another meaningless Facebook video in which you replied to the caricature than by going down to the newspaper’s offices. I would have probably disagreed with you, but I sure as well wouldn’t be appalled and horrified at how insulting that video’s reflection is of this country you’re supposedly defending.

To that caricature I say: وإذا أتَتْكَ مَذَمّتي من نَاقِصٍ فَهيَ الشّهادَةُ لي بأنّي كامِلُ.

 

A Tale of Two Cities: Lebanon Edition

I went to watch a movie in Beirut yesterday. It was done by 1AM so I simply went back home. As I walked up the sidewalk leading to my apartment, I could hear the parties bustling around me. Gemmayzé was gearing up to lose its cars. Cars were still circling the roads fervently in search for their next destination.

Even the movie that I watched was marred by the beats being dropped at a nearby nightclub. It was one of those old cinemas that didn’t bother invest in soundproof systems. Or was the club too loud? I guess nightlife in Beirut is alive and well. All was well.

As I walked back home, there was probably someone my age also making his way back to his place in the Northern city of Tripoli. Unlike me, however, he did not walk carelessly to his apartment, carefully examining his surroundings. That man was probably too wary of the bloodshed taking place in his city as he walked, of all the people that died, of his life that hung with the balance of every footstep he took on that cold bloody and empty Tarmac.

My day prior to the movie had been meaningless. I have a ton of exams to prepare to and anyone who has dabbled with medical school exams knows the material I’m supposed to cover by next week is basically uncoverable. But I persevered anyway. My friends asked me if I wanted to go out to their favorite burger joint. I declined. They went anyway, had ice cream afterwards. Nothing like some calories to burn off the stress.

And as I worried over my exams, there was a 16 year old boy not far from where I was trying to escape the school he attended, whose area had been overtaken by bullets and missiles. As he ran for cover, his every instinct pulling him for safety, the 16 year old boy existed no more. I don’t even know his name. He is but a number in a growing list. He is but one of many similar schoolchildren who escaped their schools by jumping over the fences, running through sniper-filled streets for their lives. Typical.

I do know, however, the name Paul Walker. As I woke up today to a house that feels cozier by the Christmas Tree I decorated a day prior, my social media timeline was lit with people who were upset that an American actor had died. I didn’t appreciate how they were more upset at a guy’s demise while trying to be fast and furious while the death of one of their own, that 16 year old whose name we don’t know, didn’t even resonate.

A few hundred meters away from me, Gemmayzé’s car free day, part of the Achrafieh2020 plan, was in full swing. The street was packed with people who had taken their children out on a sunny Sunday, benefiting from a neighborhood that had become synonymous with traffic, a day or so before it starts raining, finally.

The street was filled with children who had no other worry on their mind apart from the schoolwork they were returning to in a few hours. Those children were having fun, lots of it. They were safe. They were sheltered. They were protected. They were being brought up exactly as children should be.

And then I started thinking of the children I knew in Tripoli, how they were not being brought up exactly like children ought to be. I thought of two adorable twin girls and it broke my heart that at the tender age of three, they’ve been exposed to more gunfire and missile sounds than almost everyone else that I know. It saddened me that those two little precious girls couldn’t enjoy the same joys in life that the children roaming around Gemmayzé had, only because it was not safe for them to leave their house.

I also thought of all the children in that city who, with each passing day of violence, are forced to take sides, to become radicalized even if only in thought, and to possibly take arms later on.

These are two cities that are about 80 kilometers and a few decades apart. This is to the children of that city no one likes talking about. May they have better days someday. I wish they were sheltered, carefree and unaware sometimes. The sad part is that nobody really cares.

The Jamerek That Cried Wolf

The last time Lebanese security personnel openly beat up civilians with absolutely no regards to the potential repercussions to their actions was when the Syrian security apparatus was ruling our country. Back then, I had to cross checkpoints set up by that army in order to go to school. We were not allowed to voice opposition… or else. We were bombarded with images of the young men and women who tried to defy that apparatus: how they were beaten up then taken in those army vehicles to some jail cell in who knows where.

Things have been miserable in Lebanon, yes. But amid all of the tensions and the violence and the country not knowing where it’s heading, I didn’t think I’d see people getting beaten up by armed forces whose job is to supposedly maintain order.

NewTV’s journalistic crew was researching the corruption that infests Lebanese Customs at our one and only airport. We all know such corruption exists. I know of stories about the hints they drop regarding the money you should pay in order to get certain equipments into the country. Of course, no tangible proof exists and even if such proof were to be found, what would change?

NewTV’s crew didn’t think the country that championed freedom of speech and of the press would do such a thing to them. So they took their megaphones and braced those Beiruti roads and called for the head of customs to grant them an interview. They got beaten up and arrested. People were outraged. Customs officials were scrambling to come up with excuses: they were bad-mouthing our chairperson, they said in a statement they hoped would explain where they were coming from, as if that’s an acceptable excuse. Can you imagine, for instance, what would have happened if American military personnel beat up a civilian for bad-mouthing Obama?

NewTV’s crew was released late last night. They had bruises over their face. They looked victorious and proud of what they had accomplished, as they should be. They had – even if only for a minute – gotten the country to look at our customs that have been using laws that, similarly to the entirety of Lebanon’s laws, have not been updated in a long, long time and which enable them to blatantly do whatever they please without any consequences.

I have to wonder though, what would happen to the people like you and I who don’t have the platform of a TV station to support and protect in case of such transgressions to their basic rights? Make no mistake, this isn’t a case of freedom of speech. This is a violation to those journalists’ human rights. And it happened in broad daylight. And there will be no repercussions for it, because that’s how Lebanon rolls.

But the story doesn’t end there because our jamerek figured it would be such a great idea to go on a strike to protest what had befallen them a day earlier. Their rights had been violated, I’m sure they thought, which include the right to guzzle endless amounts of money here and there to build their villas and buy their fancy cars and rise above the system that is geared towards decimating the finances of those like you and I, all while such “rights” are overlooked due to the countless of reasons that make up Lebanon’s political landscape what it is today.

I give it one more day until this becomes old news and we are forced to reckon with other more “important” things. Lebanon is always exciting that way. 

Tripoli And “El Khetta L Amniyé”

I’m not the kind of people to get deterred from going to Tripoli by the sporadic fights that erupt there or the occasional bomb that finds itself to explosion. It’s not that I have a death wish – it’s that 1) the fights are often not close to the places I frequent, 2) the people I visit there are like family and 3) I  love the food.

Around late September, I was driving to Tripoli, rolling fast on the highway, when I was shocked to find traffic. Those of you who have been there know it’s near impossible to have a congested highway. But it was. And it took me almost 30 minutes to cross those few kilometers into the city.

Why did that traffic exist? Because a “khetta amniye” (security plan) was put forth. I’m not following the news so I had no idea. I grabbed a picture then of the cars piling up above each other and figured I’d write a blog post about it: security vs efficiency – we just couldn’t have both. Should we accept to compromise over the other?

But I let it pass.

photo-14

Today, all entrances to the city are blocked by checkpoints that screen every car as well as rude officers that don’t even try to make it The army is also present across the city and it’s all part of said “khetta amniye.”

The catch? These past few days have witnessed a resurgence of the fights in Tripoli. And the fights are heavy – heavier than in the last round the city witnessed. Of course, no media will talk about these things because, you know, must keep perfect image about Lebanon (as many of the comments on this suggest we should). But the question is no longer of security vs efficiency in Tripoli. We’re getting neither.

My friends from Tripoli call their city jokingly the Qandahar of the North. We laugh about it because there’s nothing else to do but make fun of  the situation that has befallen their city. But the question to ask: if a security plan as stringent as the one imposed on Tripoli now can’t keep the city safe then what can?

What’s the point of making the lives of its people a military mess if said military can’t keep the city safe when the going gets tough? There’s no point I guess.

My friends in Tripoli, your city is not tragic in itself. It’s a manifestation of the utter failure of the Lebanese state. It’s sad that you have turned out to be the scapegoats of a government and a country that can’t keep its citizens safe even if it tried. The story of Tripoli and said “khetta amniye” is one sitcom waiting to happen. Just make sure to never tell that officer monitoring those many checkpoints “bonsoir” and you’ll be saved.

Day One: Rebuilding Tripoli

Day one post two blasts that killed 45 of its sons and daughters, this is Tripoli.

This morning, these young men and women are not pointing fingers and expressing blame. They are not sinking to the sectarian rhetoric that many people believe will change how this country is going. They are mourning their city in the way they know best: by cleaning up the rubble and the destruction so they can at least have part of the place they call home back.

For many Lebanese, Tripoli is a city that exists way up there, beyond that army checkpoint, that we don’t need to visit. For many Lebanese, Tripoli exists only as a city that is ravaged by Islamists and militants and violence and destruction. But this city, which currently sits in a near-comatose situation, is – thanks to the efforts of those young men and women – trying to get its spirit back, fully knowing that it may not be for long in a country that has become nothing more than the playground of the struggles of others.

Today, I will not bore you with political extrapolations about what might have been and what could be. I won’t state of the obvious and remind everyone how bad the situation is, something all of us know and live. Today, I salute those young men and women of Tripoli who, in that simple act of sweeping the rubble off the streets of their city or visiting the wounded of yesterday’s acts of cowardice, are trying their best to achieve some form of normalcy. And isn’t normalcy what we all long for nowadays?

The above pictures have been obtained through this Facebook page.