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.
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.