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.

 

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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.

Lebanon, Screw This

It’s been one week since our news broadcasts last cut out regular useless programming to let us know that a part of our country was burning to the ground following an explosion, that people were dying, that terrorism had struck yet again.

It’s been one week since innocent people lost their lives just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Last week, those people were shopping. This week, those same people were praying. How many more wrong places and wrong times are we supposed to accept as a justification to the absolute hell we are living through?

What is the current situation in Lebanon? I don’t really know. There’s no diagnostic criteria to follow to really ascertain how deep this goes. There’s simply a sense of “if no one I knew died then it’s sad but forgettable” that’s roaming around. Till when are we supposed to be happy that someone we know didn’t die just because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time?

Till when will our media worry first and foremost about the explosion being in the proximity of a politician’s house, one that he barely uses, then after making sure that politician was okay turn around to examine the possibility of other irrelevant casualties like you and me and then parade their burnt corpses for sheer shock value left and right – except those pictures don’t even shock us anymore?

What is this country in which you are forced to worry about doing the most mundane of things just because you might die doing them? What is this cause that needs to target people who are praying? What is this cause that needs to target people who were shopping?

Why are these causes and wars entering our country through open wide doors? Why is my country always getting screwed, always in a state of violence?

What is this need for people to start throwing blame on those who satisfy their rhetoric of choice just moments after an explosion, while the wounded are still bleeding and the victims have still to be found?

What is this life in which our mothers waste all their tears away, worrying for our sakes, while the only thing that we might have done is drive past a street that ended up becoming ground zero a few minutes later? Till when will our fathers regret not leaving and establishing our families in countries where they don’t have to worry about their sons and daughters meeting their demise on the blown up tarmac, resting on blown up concrete?

How further can our cities handle being ripped apart this way? How much more can the people of Tripoli take in a city that has not only been destroyed by gun violence but now has an affinity for explosions as well?

What is this life in which a strange car on your home street can cause you insomnia? What is this life when your own home doesn’t feel safe anymore?

How is this any different from the times they want us to believe are long gone, “tenzeker w ma ten3ad?” How further down the abyss will every single one of our politicians take us now that they have yet another opportunity to get their rhetoric to sink further, to let their anger seep to surface even more, to let people hate each other more than they already do?

All the words resonate emptily. All of our mothers’ tears fall down on useless surfaces. All of our worry won’t change a thing. All our anger won’t make a dent. All of the victims will soon be forgotten. All of the explosions are to be replaced by the next explosion which takes center stage. All of the people are to mourn in days that are becoming way too many. Nineteen have died in Tripoli today as a first estimate. Nineteen men and women and children died just because they felt like being closer to the entity they worship on a day of worshipping. If there’s really a God, He must have left this land a long, long time ago.

It’s just a bomb, again? Should we be “resilient” again? Lebanon, screw this.

The New Brand of Lebanese Threats: I Will Shoot You

Things have been calm in Tripoli lately. There have been no mass shootings for Lebanese media not to report. Ramadan had been a more or less safe month on the city and Lebanon as a whole despite some irregularities here and there.

Yet there was something rising to the surface during those days that has apparently become so redundant that the people of that city had become used to: individual shootings.

Two people had a fight or a quarrel in the street? Their natural reaction was to draw weapons at each other. In case weapons were not available on them, their verbal threat to shoot the other person sufficed.

Meanwhile, passerby just passed by.

It’s easy to dismiss Tripoli as something out there in the North which many of you don’t care about.

This “I will shoot you” mentality, however, is not exclusive to there. It’s present in areas and settings where you’d expect such threats never to be issued, let alone possibly carried out.

It is probably my luck for Eid to fall on the day I had chosen to do my hospital duties. As I awaited the X-ray results of a patient with some breathing difficulties, the phone next to me rang. It was almost midnight so I answered out of courtesy as no one was around.

“Are you serving on the obstetrics floor?” The man asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Can you tell the man who just showed up on your floor to come move his car? It’s blocking the hospital’s entrance.”
“Yeah, no problem.” I hung up.

How problematic could such a request be, I figured. Guess again.

I knocked on their room door, got in, introduced myself and relayed to the husband what the security personnel asked of me.
“Can you call them back and tell them to fuck off?” He replied.
“Excuse me?” I said, not quite hearing what he was saying.
“Yeah, call them back and tell them this car belongs to the president.”
“What president?” I asked with a tone of obvious sarcasm in my voice.
“Tell them I’m not moving my car and if they ask again, I’m going downstairs to shoot them all.”
He had a gun on his waist and a Kataeb wallpaper on his iPhone. I simply looked at him sideways, rolled my eyes and left.

I will shoot you has apparently become the go-to threat for a Lebanese who doesn’t like what he’s being asked or getting exposed to. Nothing can justify this man’s outburst. I’ve seen countless women in labor pain. I’ve seen countless men who are standing by their wives supportably, obviously worried but holding it together.
This was a man, a sample of many others in this country, who are armed, brainless, moronic and ready to act out on it. And yes, we are all used to it.

Next time a psychologist wants to give you some tutorship on how to deal with shooting threats, tell them as Lebanese, we simply walk away and shrug our shoulders.