Lebanese Christian Egoism

Fake-sympathy.

That’s what many Lebanese Christians express to news that touch upon other parts in the country but not them. Of course, it’s not necessarily an attribute to that part of Lebanese society. I’m sure all other sects indulge in the act of caring while not really caring.

But when it comes to Christians in Lebanon, we take this act to a whole new level as we glorify ourselves in the process.

Here’s a conversation that took place this morning which I was lucky to observe. Let’s call the three characters Elie, Georges and Joseph.

Joseph: did you hear that Beirut was up in flames last night?
Georges: really? What happened?
Joseph: two Sunni sheikhs were beaten up and roads were cut as a result.
Elie: I heard Sunni militants beat up people of other sects as well with the army standing there looking.
Joseph: I don’t expect otherwise.
Georges: Do you know which areas were affected?
Elie: You know, typical West Beirut.
Georges: Meaning?
Joseph: Enno, shi matra7 honik. Ass2as, Verdun, whatever.
Elie: Aslan mannon sha3b tarsh… The whole country is screwed because of them.
Joseph: 100%. You would never see such a thing with us.
Georges: Yeah, thank God we can actually think for a change.

The Elie in question is not me – I had to put it out there because some people like to call me an Islamophobe. Fa ktada l touwdi7 .

Many Lebanese Christians actually think they are outside of the current debacle in the country, or as it is commonly known the Sunni-Shia feud, simply because they are better people, they know better, they are more educated and are simply above such petty acts.

The civil war, which was partly caused by Lebanese Christians clinging to the power the French gave them against every thing (that’s not to say others wouldn’t have done the same), was a pure act of civility from the part of the Christians.

But wait. The Civil War is behind us, they’d say. We are better than that now, they would explain.

I’d like to see this Christian civility that they often speak of when somehow we’re thrown in the midst of any Lebanese conflict. With the presence of the mentalities similar to those of Elie, Georges and Joseph what “civility” are we talking about?

The most prevalent thing in our societies today is a severe bout of egomania. You know what they say: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. And we’re all big with nothing but emptiness inside – the fall is going to be one beautiful thing to behold.

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The Disgusting Men of Lebanon

You’d think that in 2013, the least you could expect not to find is men in Lebanon who ridicule the struggle of our country’s women to be able to secure themselves and their children. But what can you expect from a country in which marriages of met3a and maysar and underage girls are absolutely legal while civil marriage causes a fatwa of apostasy.

It would have been more honorable of the mufti to issue a fatwa against the mentality of some of our country’s men.

The following image is something I have seen many men jump around on Facebook as a reply to the letter sent to Nabih Berri by a Southern Lebanese woman who was afraid for her life after the domestic abuse she had to go through.

20130131-095204.jpg

Yes, these people exist. And many of them might be people that we actually know: who believe that women’s rights in this country should be non-existent. She is there to please and feed and breed. They are also more numerous than we want to believe.

We, as Internet users and people who fall mostly on the “liberal” side of the Lebanese spectrum, want to think we are a majority in the way we think and act. We want to believe that the majority of the country has similar ideologies. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The even sadder realization is that even if the proposed law passes, which is unlikely given some of the illiterate greatness we have in parliament, it will do little to protect the women of a state where applying laws is belittled, frowned upon and ridiculed.

They say a goat is lucky to find a resting place in Mount Lebanon. A goat, yes, but not a woman. Steer clear from here and some of its ridiculously stupid men.

A Visit To Bab El Tebbaneh

I recently visited an area of Tripoli that few want to think of, let alone set foot in: Bab el Tebbaneh. After my visit, I can see why. Even though the area is only a 25 min drive from home, it makes you feel like an outsider to your own country: nothing about you fits there. The people don’t want you to fit there. You don’t want to fit there.

The people of Bab el Tebbaneh thought I was a foreigner. I found it odd at first – we all share the same identification papers. But I later took it to my advantage. It’s much easier to pretend to be a gullible foreigner who has no idea what he’s doing than to try to reason with them using your native tongue. A foreigner can get away with more.

A few years back, when I used to visit the area’s vegetable market frequently, the people seemed to be much more at ease. They were poor back then as well and they were without prospects back then also. But they were hopeful. Little hope can be found in the faces of the people of Tebbaneh anymore. My visit to Bab el Tabbaneh exposed me to a section of our Lebanese society that is in constant paranoia – of that outsider walking among their shelled buildings, among their tarnished markets, violating their area.

We tried to delve deeper into Tebbaneh but faced resistance the likes of which I hadn’t seen in Lebanon before. We went up a flight of stairs that seemingly led nowhere only to have young men come out of nowhere to ask us what we’re doing there. Somehow they thought we were an “archeological team.” They let us through. Moments later they came back: “But there’s no archeology up this way.”

Bab el Tebbaneh is now a place where you are not allowed to take pictures and where you being out of place might warrant the Lebanese army to come hassle you as well. The people of Bab el Tebbaneh who were more than welcoming way back when look at every outsider suspiciously now. Their eyes will stalk you like a hawk whenever you move, tracing your every step, wondering what your plans are.

It is an area where the mosques are shelled, where little kids feel that those semi-demolished buildings are a point of pride and want you to go check them out. It’s a place where poverty is so entrenched in every fabric of that society that you have absolutely no idea how or where to start fixing.

“We are all poor people here,” a man came up to me and said, smiling, as I made my way through his street. “You won’t see anything but poverty.” I smiled back and moved on. There was really nothing I can do.

Where can one start? The politicians promise these people better lives every four years and end up doing nothing. They are untouchable. The religious men who sport the latest cars and equipment use these people’s poverty to their advantage in order to radicalize them. Factions use these people’s needs in order to carry on with their battles after handing them copious amounts of weapons. Most Lebanese hate the people of this area and the “image” they give their country and are more than willing to bash them in and out.

As we reached the point of saturation of what little we got access to of Bab el Tebbaneh and made our way out, as a man shouted at us not to take pictures anymore, another stopped us and pointed at a mosque whose walls were filled with bullet holes. He was exasperated by all the fighting. But he knew there was nothing he could do.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved when I reached the newer parts of Tripoli. It’s hard to imagine how this poverty can be found at a stone’s throw away from the house of one of Lebanon’s richest men. Then you realize that all of Lebanon’s richest men feed off this poverty and help perpetuate it. It’s how they remain powerful.

The mosque and its bullet holes.

The mosque and its bullet holes.

The section we couldn't visit

The section we couldn’t visit

"Come see all the destroyed houses."

“Come see all the destroyed houses.”

"You can't take pictures here."

“You can’t take pictures here.”

People used to live here.

People used to live here.

The Sleepless Nights of Lebanon’s Tripoli

If you go by the geography they teach at Lebanese schools, you are taught that Tripoli is the second biggest city of Lebanon and the capital of its Northern governorate.

The geography they taught us at school also enumerated the numerous economic riches that Tripoli boasted: its port, its proximity to the border, etc….

The civics course they gave us at school tells us about the numerous touristic advantages of the city of Tripoli: its castle, its old souks….

The sociology they taught us at school mentioned how Tripoli has one of Lebanon’s poorest regions on its outskirts. It’s mentioned only fleetingly, like something we can’t wait to bury under a pile of blissful ignorance as if it’ll make everything okay.

If you look at the latest events taking place in the country, you’d think our Northern border is not at “Al 3arida” but at Balamand. You’d think those Lebanese people of Tripoli have been annexed to the Syrian war. You’d think that this Lebanese city that many find too easy to hate is no longer Lebanese – just a burden that we can’t wait to get rid of. Let’s return it to pre-1920 days when it wasn’t part of our favorite part of Lebanon, Mount Lebanon.

My friends in Tripoli haven’t been sleeping lately. But you’re not hearing about that. You’re not hearing about the explosions going off at any moment, the bullets piercing through the silent December nights. You’re not hearing about the people dying, the children getting shot.

You’re not hearing about the people like you and me cowering away at a corner of their house all night in fear that one of those stray bullets might do them in.

It seems as if our Lebanese media has washed its hands from Tripoli. That city is just not worth the coverage – it’s a “been there done that” type of things. They’ve covered similar incidences there before. What’s the use of covering them now? It might go well with their policy of “let’s show only the good side of Lebanon for the world in order to save the Christmas tourist season.”

Our politicians couldn’t care less as well – as long as they get their share of votes next year. This city, which has one prime minister, four ministers and a bunch of MPs, has no one to speak on its behalf. It only has people who preach about what should take place as they sit in gilded seats somewhere far, far away.

“We condone the presence of arms in the city.” You often hear say. And what will your condemnation really do, mr. politician, while you’re the one secretly buying your people weapons in order to fuel the struggle that you know will bring you loads of returns in a few months’ time?

I am not from Tripoli. But Tripoli is one of my favorite cities in this God-forsaken country. It saddens me to see ignorants portray my friends as a bunch of Islamists who deserve whatever’s happening to their home. It saddens me to have people panic beyond their minds how I had to drop off a friend in Tripoli around midnight a couple of days ago. It saddens me that with each passing day, Tripoli is stripped from the identity of a city where Muslims and Christians lived side by side for years and is portrayed as a place where the next Islamists Emirate will start from.

When it comes to Tripoli, the majority of Lebanese have one thing to say: “On n’est pas concerné.”

3askar 3a Min?

The above picture is not in Syria. It is not in Libya. It’s not in Egypt. It’s not in Bahrain. It’s in our own backyard. Or front yard in this case – in Downtown Beirut.

The men you see on the ground are not terrorists. They are a group of seven people that were protesting to ask parliament to pass a bill for civil personal status. The men you see on the ground were not holding guns, they were not burning tires, they were not kidnapping people.

They were holding one banner. They were acting out a wedding between people of different faiths in front of our useless parliament. You know, the parliament that’s always in deadlock and doesn’t pass any law whatsoever except when it is to give those in parliament and those in government more money. And they were beaten up by our awesomely protective security forces. One of the security forces even thought it would be cool to rape a guy with his riffle.

You know those security forces. You know them well. Their testosterone kicks in when students protest for a history book (click here) or when students chant at some university or when a couple decides to kiss in public.

Yes, we sure have macho security forces, staying up every night for our safety. Making Lebanon feel more secure with each passing moment one of them staying awake, fighting all those criminals…. Oh wait.

No, those same security forces cower away when brainless people decide to cut off roads with burning tires. They stand there and threaten you if you take pictures of the protestors while they chat them up and smoke cigarettes together. BFFs I tell you!

Those same security forces are the ones who want you to put them on a pedestal, to honor them, to pay them off – literally – whenever you want to do something. And they want you to do so happily.

Those same security forces are the ones who want you to think you are protected and yet they advise you not to walk around certain areas after certain hours. They also advise you not to walk around certain areas at all.

Those same security forces are the ones who shrug their shoulders whenever they receive news of someone getting kidnapped and continue doing what they do best: eating their Malek l Tawou2 sandwiches.

This is not a country. This is an anarchy. And it’s hopeless. And these convictions are reinforced daily.

3askar 3a min? 3a yalli ma fi bidahro 7ada kbir.

Welcome to the Republic of Anarchy

Welcome to Lebanon.

Those were the words I thought I would be very keen to hear halfway through my stay in France. I’m almost two weeks in. And the last thing I want to do is go back.

As I sat in my French apartment, looking over a car stopping at a red light at 4 am in the morning, I started to wonder… what am I going back to in a couple of weeks?

And after the political unraveling of the last few days, that question’s broken disk kept spinning. I am not a Lebanese who has been so overly seduced by life in those “better” Western countries that the thought of life in Lebanon has become intolerable. I am perfectly able to live there as I’ve done for the entirety of my 22 years so far. In fact, the only thing I’ve done these past two weeks in France – apart from hospital duties – is to tell everyone about all the good that my country has to offer, slowly working on changing their stereotypes.

The ironic part is that just yesterday at noon some French person asked me about the situation in my country and I answered: there’s nothing really happening except in few select areas that you wouldn’t really go to.

How gullible of me? Yes, I know.

Once you’ve tasted the forbidden fruit of everything that those “better” countries have to offer and once you’ve dipped your toes into the waters of safety that are spread around all their land, you can’t but wonder: how are we living exactly?

Where am I going back in a few weeks?

To a place where we enjoy a security kept together by fragile forces enjoying an exquisite 69. To a place where “pilgrims” getting kidnapped is solved by some family’s army wing kidnapping people in retaliation. To a place where families have army wings. To a place where some families are called clans. To a place where these clans stick together. To a place where these clans threaten to make things worse.

Go back where you ask?

To a place where these clans decide to take things into their hands. To a place where clans actually have the option to take things into their own hands. To a place where you – irrelevant, clan-less, arms-less – are close to a bug, ready to be squashed. All for the greater good.

Go back to what?

To a place where any irrelevant person finding any irrelevant TV station can get the whole country to boil. To a place where people believe they have principles but are so brainwashed that they think they reached their opinions freely. To a place where saying your opinion can get you threats. To a place where freedom of speech is slowly becoming a myth. To a place where some people would much rather have you silenced than to defend your right to say your opinion. To a place where you would much rather stay silent because talking has become expensive.

Go back where?

To a place where we accept doing a war for a few prisoners in some country and eleven in an another but talking about those other prisoners who have been as such for decades is considered treason. To a place where some people’s only fault is not to be born into this family or that because that’s the way to get things done. To a place where each house has an arsenal of arms tucked away with winter’s carpets, ready to be unloaded at any second. To a place where the range of self-control is as expanded as the emotional range of a spoon.

Go back where?

To a place where the way people look at you is determined by your nationality, by the color of your skin or the religious symbol you wear around your neck. It might be the same in other countries, true, but I’m certain there are no other countries where workers of certain nationalities are threatened not to roam certain towns after a specific hour.

Go back where again?

To a place where some people have minds so messed up that they think messing up the whole country serves their best interests only when, in fact, the only interests being served are those of countries that we love to hate. And they do so willingly, lovingly, exquisitely and proudly.

Go back where?

To a place where we pride ourselves of being triumphant in non-sensical wars when, in fact, we are losing the more important battles of science, research, advancement, economy. To a place where we pride ourselves on the importance of resiliency – only when it comes to certain very specific things. Everything else? Well, the hell with that.

Go back where?

To a checkpoint that gives you digital rectal exams if you don’t have all the papers you’ve ever been given in the country, a checkpoint that turns you into a national threat while others kidnap citizens of other nationalities left and right and are left to go on with their business as if they are doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Go back where?

To a place whose airport road is closed 300 days out of 365 by those same irrelevant people who think they are so relevant. To a place where burning tires has become a meme we laugh at. To a place where the concept of a peaceful demonstration does not exist.

Go back where?

To a place where my MacBook charger gives me headache because the electricity we get sporadically is not only non-existent most of the times but of such a low quality that our electronics suffer in return. To a place where a smoker is always right. To a place where a woman is wrong most of the times. To a place where a woman driving a bus is deemed “mestarjle.”

Go back where?

To a place where you are ripped off for the bare necessities every single day. And you can’t do anything about it. To a place where you have to beg for any little thing you want to get. To a place where phone companies are screwing you daily. To a place where consuming tap water gives you diarrhea. To a place where breathing gives you pneumonia. To a place where walking on sidewalks means maneuvering your way around cars, dog feces and drunkards. To a place where a public transportation system is non-existent and where going from point A to point B, despite them being within the same city, gets you to panic.

Go back where?

Somewhere whose capital is a concrete jungle, becoming uglier with each building getting torn down and a high-rise replacing it. Whose capital has very few select spots that we love to show to tourists because that’s really the only thing we’ve got to show. Whose capital is clinically dead in every possible way – except partying the night away in a pride element of “joie de vivre.” Whose capital dances so wildly on the tip of a yo-yo that you can’t really tell which road you have to take in the morning to get to work safely.

Go back where?

To a place whose regions are so close together and yet so segregated that telling people where you’re from comes with a baggage of stereotypes that you have to tolerate your whole life. To a place where those regions are always – always – unicolor.

Go back where?

To some place where shit hits the fan so frequently that you end up having no idea what kind of place you’d be going back to. And it’d be raining shit all the time. To a place where all the components for the situation to get messed up are in place. All the time. And somehow we always end up utterly shocked when it happens. It’s what was getting brewed when we were partying the night away at Skybar last night. Cheers by the way.

Go back where?

To a place whose “activists” are neo-socialists who want to advance their own agenda under an umbrella of independence. Where the only slogan those activists raise is beautiful rhetoric of a better tomorrow. Someone has watched that “Annie” movie often. Where those activists have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. But don’t tell them I told you that.

Go back to what?

To a place whose expats berate you for writing something similar to what you’re reading right now – because somehow that place is an awesome place, much better than the places they decided to immigrate to. And yet they are there – not here. Whose expats are so blinded by homesickness that they can’t really see how sick their home really is.

Go back where?

To some place whose national pride comes in the form of the following: Cedars, mountain close to the sea, skiing and swimming in the spring, Christians having an “active” presence, Jeita Grotto, whatever green we have left, Skybar, White, Gemmayzé, Byblos, the politician you think is next to God, the history you are not even familiar with, the fact that this place is so much better than those places around it, the resiliency, the “joie de vivre.”

And the list is limited to that.

At this point though, I don’t care about the few Cedar trees that we have left. I don’t care that the white in our flag is that of the snowy mountains we adore so much. I don’t care about a cave you have to pay a shitload to get access to. I don’t care that the president of the country always has to be Christian – something you somehow find yourself always saying to ignorant foreigners who think your country is a haven for Islamists. I don’t give a shit about Lebanese joie de vivre: let’s dance the night away tonight and not care about what’ll happen tomorrow. I don’t care about comparing Lebanon to lesser neighboring countries just because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

What I do care about is having a decent country to return to. A place I can be proud to call my land, my home. Where my rights as a human being, first and foremost, are respected beyond any other measure. Where I don’t feel a stranger in a land that is supposedly mine. Where I know that the safety I feel today will still be there tomorrow. Where a girl walking down the street in Gemmayzé knows that if she saw someone being involved in lude acts, that someone will end up in prison. Where I don’t have to be eternally grateful for any asshole for doing their job. Where I don’t have to kiss up to assholes for them to do their job.

What will this lead to? Absolutely nothing. It’s the way things are. And it’s the way things will remain. Thousands will read this. Some will love it. Some will have a sense of national pride miraculously kick in and decide than I’m not worth it. Others will get stuck at the fact that I alluded to that country that shall not be named and decide that I’m an ignorant traitor of a history they apparently know very well.

Others will say I should stop criticizing and come up with a solution. But what’s the point, really? It’s not like any solution you can come up with can get illiterate growers of hashish to decide they want to integrate in a country where you don’t even have anything to integrate in. A solution to what? Bring forth national unity?

Go back where again?

To a place that has literally (check this) remained the same for the past 142 years when it comes to the basic fabrics of its society. To a place where Sunnis hate the Shiites who hate the Druze who hate the Maronites who hate the Orthodox who hate the Catholics who hate the Jews who hate the Shiites who also hate the Sunnis who in turn hate the Maronites and what you’re left with is a clusterfuck of sects hating each other. And you can’t begin to dream to change that because if there’s anything that our meaningless history has taught us it’s that diversity is beyond overrated.

There was a week back in July where I lost hope in Lebanon (check here) ever becoming a country I would love to be in at least in the foreseeable future. But I retained my pride to be Lebanese. There’s a love/hate relationship with this land that you can’t escape from.
But today, as I’m typing these words on a subway taking me to the hospital where I’m gladly working 10 hours a day, I’m even considering if this national pride is enough anymore. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. But when it’s gone, the only thing I’ll be left with is me caring.

Some French people here, as well as people from other nationalities, commend me for being overly patriotic. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a good thing. I’m beginning to wonder if my pride that should be non-existent in a country that can’t begin to dream to function is stopping to me as an individual from moving on and becoming something.

If there’s anything I noticed from my stay in Europe is that no matter what you do and how well you integrate, you will always be looked at as the intruder to their culture. You will always be looked at as the outsider, the person who was not there when it all began and the person who will always be looked down upon.

Then you look at your “culture” back home and, despite having people who share your thoughts and dreams and aspirations, you are faced with the realization that you are a minority. You are not where your country is heading. The culture currently sinking its teeth into the land you hold dear is not that of liberties and freedom but that of fear and hate and disgust and lack of law.

Welcome to Lebanon. I thought I would be dying to see that sign two weeks into my stay in France. Two weeks in, the only sign I can see looming above my country’s airport is: welcome to the republic of anarchy.

And do I really want to go back there?

The Shadi Mawlawi Lesson for Lebanon

For all matters and purposes, Mawlawi is irrelevant. In a few weeks, he will only be remembered as the man who was important some time ago. But for his followers, Mawlawi represented a cause, a reason to fight and stand up to a state they hardly consider their own.

Arrested last week, the salafists got into fights that led to destruction and chaos amounting to millions of dollars. Mawlawi got bailed out yesterday for $300. His release was celebrated in the streets of Tripoli: the return of the savior, the hero, the “messiah” of the salafists, the one who represents their struggle.

Mawlawi’s release has showed the salafists what they can do. It showed everyone what can be done to get what you want. Induce chaos. Start havoc. Block the streets. Burn tires. Kill people. Bomb buildings.

The government? It will cave.

The army? Too weak to retaliate.

The ISF? Too involved to be relevant.

Political leaders? Their influence is waning.

Shadi Mawlawi’s release has showed an inherent flaw in the design of Lebanon. There is no state. This is a farm of “people” grouped together. The toughest “person” who can get the others to cower the most for a specific period of time rules.

One of the many diseases in Lebanon is the “Shadi Mawlawi” disease. It exists in many sects and political parties: people who rise from zero to hero in the matter of seconds, who manage to rally the masses behind a “cause,” who get the masses to die for that “cause” and who end up burning the country for a matter that is irrelevant.

There are too many Mawlawis  in Lebanon to count, too many people above any consideration, above any law, above any form of government, above any form of civility. Shadi Mawlawi, Samir el Kentar, the airport officer who led to the May 2008 events, the Islamists of Nahr el Bered…

And then there are those who are taken by the Mawlawis of Lebanon and who believe burning tires is the best solution to get your voice across. The sad thing is they are getting results. It is here that I reiterate the question I asked yesterday: in a country of savagery, is civility the best option for  self-preservation?

“Hay balad? hay mesh balad… hay shellet 3alam. Majmou3in? La2. Madroubin? La2. Ma2soumin? La2. Matrou7in? La2. Oum fout nam w sir 7lam enno baladna saret balad.” – Ziad el Rahbani.