A Few Thoughts on the Torture of Islamist Terror Suspects in Roumieh

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These inmates are the vilest of vile creatures in my honest personal opinion, or at least most of them, since I’m sure the horrible performance by our broken and corrupt judiciary and police force, have locked up innocent people with the terrorists that have wrought so much havoc in Lebanon. But, I am extremely against what has been done to them, despite the fact many of you guys I’m sure would be ok with it, especially those of you politically opposed to this brand of extremist Sunni militants. It’s wrong though, and here’s why.

The Da3esh and the anti-Da3esh

I’ve sat on many a roundtable and forum trying to discuss why Da3esh is still gaining popularity, and what to do about it. Their narrative seems to be trumping ours, and it’s a bit hard to understand. How are barbarians fresh out of the Dark Ages more popular than anyone who isn’t for some people? The answer is simple, there is no clear narrative for anti-Da3esh people.

Hezbollah and Iran are anti-Da3esh, but so is Saudi Arabia and the United States (conspiracy theories aside). So are many conservative Muslims. But, liberals are also staunchly anti-Da3esh, and so are empowered women, the LGBT community and atheists. It’d be a cold day in fictional Hell if the anti-Da3esh team includes Iran, Saudi, conservatives, liberals, atheists, women and gays. I hate Da3esh, but I also don’t particularly adore Iran and Saudi, nor conservatives with intolerance in their heart that is an obstacle to progress, yet don’t go the extra step of blowing stuff up and chopping heads off (I’m talking about the type of conservatives who were happy about things like the Charlie Hebdo massacre, even though they’d never have the guts to do it themselves)

So, there is no real anti-Da3esh narrative, and sadly, it has become just an excuse for anyone doing something unacceptable under normal circumstances, or to justify their failures. Kinda like how March 14 always blames Hezbollah’s arms for its resounding lameness, or how Hezbollah always says Israel to justify its constant breach of human rights and Lebanese sovereignty. It’s also like the Bush administration used “terrorism” to kill and torture innocent people over mistaken identities and without a fair trial.

I Understand Your Hatred Towards Them

The people in the video being beaten on the floor in their underwear, would probably do a lot worse to anyone they deem as “the enemy”. Heck, they’d probably saw off necks and rig cars full of explosives and detonate in a heavily populated area at rush hour (populated by folks that are from a different sect of course). So, it is only natural to hate these inmates, especially with their constant acts of defiance, blackmail and rioting even behind bars, and the luxury provided to them by influential Sunni politicians to appease their conservative voters.

This hatred isn’t exclusive to us here. In the US, 49% of folks thinks torture is ok under certain circumstances, and 57% think it does help get vital information (both are not true). To compare, only 44% think the Big Bang is true (as John Oliver so astutely put it last week). Everyone wishes ill on those they deem are the enemy, or who they believe are hellbent on hurting them.

What’s the Difference Between Us and Them Then?

If we are all anti-Da3esh, we sure have no problem acting like them. If the excuse is that “they’d do that to us, and they do every day”. Teb, how is us doing it to them any different? What makes us better? The fact we shower more and have less beards? Why would I support someone who behaves the exact same way as those we deem the greatest threat to our society and existence?

What are we fighting for? The Assad Regime? Iran? The Ummah? Our Saudi bankrollers? The za3eem? The jazma (boot)? The honor of our sects? Well, I for one, couldn’t give less of a fuck about all of those. I am against Da3esh because I believe in a humane society, where freedom is the only sacred thing and rights are guaranteed. For me, it’s not a Classico match and I either root for the Shiite extremists or the Sunni ones. If we humor Hezbollah and assume they were never extremists, then their fight with the Sunni ones have made them so, and for the reasons I mentioned above. So, like everything else in this region in the past half-decade or so, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Assad Regime and Nusra-Da3esh. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Military dictatorship, etc.

Be The Better Person

For folks who seem grossly preoccupied with what their religions tell them to do, they sure overlook the mercy stuff. Why would one prefer the Lebanese government and institutions over Da3esh, when they are just as evil? Why would we respect our police, when we know and are absolutely sure that torture is not just present, it is endemic in Lebanese security institutions? Why would I be ok with cops beating people senseless, when I know they’d do that to me if they had the chance to, like they do with everyone unlucky enough to be arrested and without a good and fast enough wasta? We’ve all heard the screams of agony from places like Makhfar Hbeish. Why are we not ok with those screams, but don’t bat an eye when it’s an Islamist terror suspect’s? (and vice versa if you’re an extremist)

Cut the Extremist Crap

Perhaps the one thing that really pisses me off most, is when Islamist extremists protest and shut roads and hurl threats, because the rights of their inmates were violated. The same people who regard Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as “heroes”, and the same ones who torture, execute and humiliate their hostages and prisoners, suddenly seem to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. But that’s ok, because they are hypocrites and emotional blackmailers, and they do have a point, two-faced as it is. We accuse them of being barbaric and inhumane, but get pissed when they call us out for doing the same to them. They’re right, even though they themselves shit on everything that is related to human rights, tolerance and freedoms, they are experts at shaming the slip-ups of non-extremists towards terror suspects.

So, fuck you for suddenly caring about human rights when it’s your evil minions at the abused end, but when you’re the abusers, it’s Allah’s will and blessed. Still doesn’t mean it’s ok for the cops to torture inmates.

Rifi-Mashnouk Cut-Throat Tit-for-Tat

It’s been interesting following the dynamics of the two hopeful Future Movement candidates trying to fill the vacuum of MIA chief Saad El Hariri busy having iftars and brokering commissions off the 3 Billion USD arms “gift” to the Lebanese Army which we have yet to see.

On the one hand, Mashnouk has taken several unpopular moves to curb the Islamist extremist dominance in Roumieh and other parts. Rifi, has always been a staunch supporter and protector of religious extremists, whether its fuelling the clashes in Tripoli or prosecuting Da3esh flag-burners or fiery speeches against Shiites, a cleans-haven version of a Da3eshi. The man who while in uniform, routinely disobeyed the orders of beloved Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, and eventually led to the resignation of who is perhaps the best minister to ever grace the putrid halls of Lebanese governments.

Mashnouk appeals to the less-extreme Sunnis, and Rifi makes sure he’ll get the votes he need form the Saddam Hussein lovers in his home district, It’s been an interesting power play, and gun to my head, I’m rooting for Mashnouk, if only he’d sign those civil marriage licenses…

We need moderate Muslims on both sides, despite the deep-rooted hatred that is radicalizing both Sunnis and Shiites using the excuse of being victims of the oppression of “the other side”.

Why Are Islamist Lives More Important than Ours?

How many people you know have been tortured in custody? For sharing an article, for writing a blogpost, for smoking a joint, for a case of mistaken identity, for being in the way of a politician’s motorcade, for being gay, for being somewhere someone thinks you shouldn’t be (murabba3at amniye) and the list goes on and on. Why can all these people be abused and tortured and no one bats an eye, but videos of terror suspects being beaten, make the entire government work like crazy to “bring those responsible to justice”?

I’m not saying they shouldn’t, I’m saying they NEED to be brought to justice and made an example of. I’m just stressing the need to do the same for every other piece of shit cop who has ever laid a finger on a suspect, tried to sexually harass female suspects, falsified evidence and testimonies and any other abhorred law breaking by those that are supposed to be enforcing it. How can we trust a police force we’re afraid of? By showing us that the corrupt and criminal ones are put in Roumieh too. Then, maybe, we’d start to trust men in uniform. Till then, they’re just thugs with a lot of power, and we’re walking farroujs stuffed full of desperate bribe money or if the cops are unlucky, possible good wastas.

All in All

Don’t be bad people. Don’t be happy about those you hate being tortured. Remember, in this brutal, barbaric, devastatingly costly regional turmoil, it’s important we stick to what used to make Lebanon special: a certain degree of freedom and laws that are not from the Dark Ages (not all of them at least). Torture is wrong under any and every circumstance, even if the ones you’re torturing would do the same and worse to you. Otherwise, mitlak mitlon, and I don’t really see how you’re any better than the average run-of-the-mill Da3esh foot soldier.

Thoughts on the Issam Maalouf Issue

I’ve been silently watching all of this unfold over the past few days, and all I could think of is how emotional everyone is being, and how everyone involved completely divorced themselves from rational thought and got married to their elitist leanings.

Scandal TV shows in Lebanon are very much like Televangelists: corrupt, manipulative experts on emotional blackmail that often have zero evidence to back their claims. The difference is, they usually prey on gullible, angry people and corrupt those people’s minds. They don’t decide what law enforcement, government and the judiciary does. In Lebanon though, that is the only way the police and judiciary do anything. It’s like the cops sit at home waiting for Joe Maalouf to tell them what to do, usually based on videos that could be easily classified as entrapment.

What was surprising, is that Kalam Ennas broke this story, not the usual duo of doom: Maalouf-Khalife. Kalam Ennas is perhaps one of the most respected talk shows in Lebanon, but you can’t blame them for jumping on the emotionally stimulating stories that catapulted Khalife and Maalouf to the forefront of Lebanon’s salon talks. Regardless though, the reactions on both sides were worrying.

Anti-Maalouf Camp

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It’s as if all the pent-up hatred for everyone in a labcoat exploded with this story. I even read comments demanding the government force doctors to see patients for a minimum of 30 minutes for a fixed rate price. Communist dictatorship much?

The anti-Maalouf camp have a point, many doctors are pieces of shit. Just like everyone else in this country who gives you sub-par service for jacked-up prices. Like plumbers, electricians, waiters, engineers, architects and government employees. Since when is that an excuse to burn someone at the stake though? A patient had complications? Those doctors are all money-hungry assholes, yalla, throw him in jail without enough evidence or a semblance of a fair trial based on facts and rational judgment, not sensational “awww, poor little girl!”

Pro-Maalouf Camp

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Many doctors rabba7oona jmeeleh that they kept studying for 34 years to become doctors. Last I checked, that was their choice, and if not, they must’ve been unable to stand up to their traditional Lebanese parents’ mentality. Studying for that long doesn’t exempt you from paying for making mistakes. True a carpenter won’t get in as much trouble for doing a mistake, but that’s because a crooked coffee table is a much smaller problem than 4 amputated toddler limbs.

One cannot dismiss that many doctors are guilty of severe malpractice, but go unpunished because of a wasta or the victims’ lack of faith and trust in the Lebanese judiciary (and lack of money to pay bribes and get wastas). That doesn’t make locking up a doctor because a TV show was the judge, jury and executioner, ok.

My Two Cents

Maalouf (the doctor) should be released, pending a proper investigation by people who understand the medical details and have no bias one direction or the other. If he is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, then he and any other physician found guilty of malpractice, should suffer the consequences of the law.

From the looks of it, a viral infection exacerbated by a drug-resistant bacterial infection, doesn’t seem like a winnable case for the anti-Maalouf camp, which would explain the relentless campaign against him before anyone has enough time to try to understand and process that it probably wasn’t the guy’s fault.

Of course, that is not to say that doctors should be beyond reproach. I don’t care how elite you feel you are, and how many fellowships and rotations you do. If you ruin someone’s life or end it because of negligence or malicious intent to make money, then fuck you and maybe you should remember that Hippocratic Oath you post on your Facebook after graduating, which oddly, I didn’t see once in this whole debate.

Also, as much as I trust your teta’s opinion on medical matters while reading your fortunes in empty coffee cups, she doesn’t know squat compared to your average run-of-the-mill resident physician. This means that you should take medical opinions on the matter far more seriously than Marcel’s, or the parents of Ella. What happened to Ella was extremely sad, and I can only imagine how difficult the rest of her and her family’s life is going to be from now on. But, I cannot stand for a minute that someone pay for that when it wasn’t their fault. It feels nice to blame someone and burn them for it, heik, fashet khele2 and makes us feel righteous. Is that the kind of society we want though? The one that chops dicks off, hangs suspects on electricity poles and shreds them to pieces on TV? Or one where primitive tribal sentiments are shelved in favor of rational thinking and fair trials. I mean, come on, even Michel Samaha got something similar to a trial in something similar to a court (Martial Court). How can a doctor whose suspected of negligence, be so swiftly incarcerated in a very uncommon and novel way. I mean, can you name one other malpractice case you’ve ever heard of in Lebanon?

To sum up, for every Lebanese taxpayer who feels they have been the victims of malpractice by doctors, please, file a lawsuit and report it to the necessary authorities. I’m not a fan of immunity for professions Lebanese folks see as “superior”, like lawyers and doctors. I mean, that piece of shit lawyer who beat his wife to a pulp in the ABC parking lot, is still jacking off to BDSM porn with a cigar up his ass because “he’s immune, he’s a lawyer.” Bad people should be punished, doctors or not. But for me, I don’t see that there is much of a case against Dr Maalouf, without forgetting that many doctors deserve to be behind bars but Marcel Ghanem never shed light on them, and they remain at large, endangering more lives.

Also, one last thing. You’re not idiots. You don’t need a medical degree to know you are not healthy. Choose a doctor you like and trust. Some doctors are assholes, but many are amazing and go out of their way for their patients, many of whom are my former classmates and I’d trust them with my life and the lives of my loved ones. Heck, my life has been saved 3 times by doctors who went out of their way to make sure I was in the OR and back on my feet in no time. Don’t expect every doctor to be amazing, and that’s the beauty of having a profit-driven medical field: you can choose the one you like and let your insurance worry about paying them.

A Must-Read About Aarsal

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I know most of you had never heard of Aarsal before 2011 or 2012 maybe, but that’s really part of the problem. Aarsal and its hinterlands are a very sizeable portion of our 10452 square kilometers. A portion that extends along an important corridor between Lebanon’s Bekaa and Syria. There is so much misinformation and misconceptions on Aarsal, especially in the last few weeks, that I felt I need to write this post and clarify a few things and put others in a less sensational-Lebanese-news-intro perspective.

What Happened to Aarsal

Aarsal was home to some 40 thousand Lebanese citizens. After the fighting intensified in Syria, entire town populations sought refuge in Aarsal. At its peak, the number of refugees in Aarsal was just a little over 100 thousand. Today, the number is closer to 80 thousand, which is still double the host community population.

Imagine double the population in your city suddenly moves in, and the government is incapable of properly managing the crisis. Add to that a general sentiment in the city that is pro the secular FSA. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine having to readjust to the present situation, and make it work as smoothly as possible.

That’s until August 2nd, 2014, when all hell broke loose in Aarsal. That is when militant groups ISIS and Al Nusra Front attacked police and army checkpoints and bases, killing several and taking hostage dozens more. The fierce battles and the hostage crisis that is still unfolding to this day, changed everything in Aarsal.

Islamic Courts and Relationships with ISIS and Nusra

Most of Aarsal supports the FSA’s cause and are anti-Assad. Some empathise with Al Nusra. But all of them are squarely against ISIS. Al Nusra and the FSA largely stuck to dealing with Syrian affairs in Aarsal, never encroaching on Lebanese citizens’ sovereignty or right to govern themselves. ISIS however, who mostly consists of non-Lebanese and non-Syrian foreign fighters in the area, was a different story. Their barbaric murders, kidnappings and bomb attacks were unacceptable to everyone in Aarsal, and you will find unanimous hatred and apprehension for the extremist group.

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The news about Aarsal being run by Islamic Courts and Councils is somewhat inaccurate. It is true that these courts do exist, but in the outskirts, the hinterlands “jrood”, not the city itself. The ones in the jrood are ISIS courts, where Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees who were kidnapped from Aarsal, were tried and sometimes executed. As for within the city, as I mentioned before, entire towns sought refuge in Aarsal, and the local municipality and refugees saw fit that each town population have its own council, and a council that groups them all together, which would help them sort out disputes and concerns amongst the Syrian population of Aarsal. It was never for Lebanese citizens of Aarsal, but more of an internal mechanism for the massive Syrian population there to govern itself. Al Nusra did have a complaints bureau in the city though, which ISIS bombed out later on.

The Army’s Role

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) deserve our gratitude and respect for what they have achieved in Aarsal. They successfully control the flow of people and material to and from Aarsal. This means that the supply routes and kidnapping-spree corridors have been cut off. The army also expelled the fighters from the city, bringing safety back to its citizens. This was a major victory that allowed the restoration of calm inside Aarsal, with the fighters holed up in the jrood unable to freely reassemble and resupply in the city.

However, this mission is not without negative consequences. Aarsal’s is a heavily agricultural economy and many Aarsalites’ fields are in the jrood now controlled by ISIS (or Hezbollah) and cut off from the city by the LAF. It’s also made commuting to and from the city increasingly difficult, and mobile Internet service has been halted for almost a year now.

What Should Happen

The ISIS and Al Nusra militants need to be expelled from the jrood of Aarsal. Hezbollah chief Nasrallah is right in saying that these militants need to be removed from there. However, he is even righter in stressing he and his fighters have no intention of going into Aarsal. That’s because in this scenario, it’s likely the people of Aarsal would side with the militants against Hezbollah. It has to be the LAF who weeds out any pockets of resistance in the jrood or the city itself. Dislodging the militants and freeing our hostages will ensure calm is restored to Aarsal and our border with Syria.

It’ll also give the people of Aarsal a break. Over the years I’ve been lucky to meet many brilliant Aarsalites, and it saddens me I need to get clearance from the Military Intelligence to go and visit. It saddens me even more that the most basic of daily life needs, like going to a neighboring town to shop or do business, or having 3G on your phone to Whatsapp your friends and family, has become a thing of the past now in Aarsal. Add to that the constant fear of a militant onslaught or sneak attack, and a near-constant barrage of misinformation in the media and the vilification of an entire Lebanese city that has already been through so much, and you get the daily struggle of every Aarsalite.

Aarsal is part of Lebanon, and its people are Lebanese and the Syrians in it are people who sought our help in their most dire hour. Lebanon’s government has not done right by Aarsal yet, and the LAF have done a fantastic job in making sure Aarsal is safe, but its job is not completely done yet, and I can only wish them a swift success with no loss of life for our soldiers.

Next time you hear something about Aarsal, put yourself in their shoes and try to understand the unenviable situation they are in. Don’t let biased media outlets make you forget that Aarsal is a Lebanese town, and that it is our duty to make sure it’s safe and peaceful. It’s also our hope that Hezbollah will stay away from Aarsal, and not threaten to escalate the situation dramatically when it is so close to resolution. Our hopes lie with the Lebanese Army, as always.

My Latest Trip to Aarsal

I went up last month with my dear friend LBC reporter Dalal Mawad, and assisted her in a workshop being given to young men and women from Aarsal. The workshop was designed to teach them basic techniques and principles to become successful citizen journalists in a town increasingly hard to reach for journalists from outside the city. The idea was to empower and guide local Aarsalites to cover their own city and its people, their concerns, hopes and stories. I’m happy to say that in the week after the workshops, our students produced 8 amazing reports from Aarsal, which I will be uploading veryyyy soon! And that was our lunch that day!

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Special thanks to my dear friend Carol Maalouf

Love and War on the Rooftop: MARCH’s Awesome Conflict Resolution Project in Tripoli

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Many of you have been following the progress of MARCH’s project in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city. I am extremely happy and proud to announce that the project has finally come to fruition.

The idea was simple really: write and produce a play. The catch was that the actors and writers were young men and women from Tripoli’s notorious Beb El Tebbene and Jabal Mohsen districts. The minute the guns were finally silenced, we partnered up with locals and held auditions in Northern Lebanon’s capital. Soon, we had a 16 young men and women, most of which participated in the years-long violence, on-board with us. Amateur actors, who became the best of friends, from neighborhoods divided by a street ironically called Syria street.

Under the guidance of Lucien Bourjeily, our 16 amateur actors helped write and rehearse a play that details their daily lives and struggles in a witty, comedic way. Every week over the course of several months, prominent Lebanese actors and directors, such as Nadine Labaki, George Khabbaz, Rafic Ali Ahmad and Rita Hayek and Mark Daou from AUB, held workshops that provided much-needed insight and guidance that helped the actors’ brilliant ideas come alive on the stage.

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It was perhaps what happened during the breaks, that was the most fascinating and encouraging. Friendships between former enemies started to flourish, and soon enough, rooftops some would have guns aimed at, were now venues for get-togethers, arguilehs and plenty of laughs in neighbourhoods formerly drowned with the clickity-clack of bullets and cries of anguish.

The project was not without its challenges: several unfortunate security incidents threatened our scheduled rehearsals, and a pattern of misbehavior, violence and deep-rooted hatred took time and many a tough conversation to resolve. Our fantastic trainers and volunteers though never gave up, and helped the actors channel energy that was wasted on conflict and intolerance, into theater and comedy that captures the tough realities in Tripoli in a light-hearted way only people from those two neighborhoods could truly portray.

I cannot stress how amazing this conflict resolution project was, and how happy I am to have had the chance to document parts of it. I cannot but be extremely proud and grateful to Lea, Steph and everyone who invested their time and effort to make this happen (and our volunteers like Joyce!).

The first performance (avant-premiere) will be held in Tripoli’s Rawda Theater on June 9, at 6:00PM. The premiere will be on June 15, 8:30PM in Al Madina Theater in Hamra. Both performances are already fully booked, but the play is going to be touring different parts of Lebanon in the coming weeks and months, such as the Gemmayzeh Theater on July 29. For more info on other dates, or to reserve, please email info@marchlebanon.org. (Entrance is free, only booking is required and you can donate to help support MARCH’s many projects at the screenings)

HERE’S OUR OFFICIAL TRAILER!

And a special Kalam Ennas report on our project in Tripoli

More info on MARCH:

I dedicate my time as often as I can on NGOs working to better the state of Lebanon and everyone residing within it. However, MARCH is the one NGO I am actually part of and constantly follow and participate in. For those of you who still don’t know, here’s a bit about MARCH:

MARCH’s mission is to educate, motivate, and empower citizens to recognize and fight for their basic civil rights, raise a tolerant open Lebanese society in order to foster diversity and equality and reach a genuine reconciliation among the various communities. The focus is on the youth, who are our best hope for positive change in leadership and who will drive Lebanon’s future.

In its current strategy and projects, March is currently focusing on fighting for the right to freedom of expression (and fighting censorship), women’s rights, and peace-building through diversity and conflict resolution activities.

The Black Cat Loto Campaign Confusion in Superstitious Lebanon

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When I saw that campaign while walking in Saifi the other day, I was impressed. To create a campaign with such witty sarcasm was awesome, but I also worried that it’d be severely misunderstood by Lebanese folks, and it was, in different ways.

The Leila Abdellatif Factor

Lebanese people are hopelessly superstitious. Our millionaire entrepreneurs are sadly all astrologers and other types of snake oil salesmen (Michel Hayek, Maguy Farah, and all the copycats they spawned). It’s understandable people would resort to believing horse shit that cunning marketeers pedal to desperate masses, given that they cannot hope for anything more from a failed state and corrupt leadership that is nose-diving the country’s economy and society into the abyss.

This tendency to believe in something that is obviously not true, and is actually quite stupid if you think of it, makes people more likely to participate in the lottery, which I think is aptly dubbed the “stupidity tax”. Therefore, from a marketing standpoint, pandering to many Lebanese people’s weakness to obviously false and idiotic superstitions, was genius, though heavy-handed somewhat.

What’s Happening to the Cats

According to the press release I received, the black cats that are “reported” are picked up and shipped all the way to New Zealand, one of the few countries where superstitious people consider black cats as “good luck”, not “bad luck”. Now, the first thing I thought when I read this, is “fuck, those cats are lucky, leaving this superstitious cesspool of religious extremists to go to one of the most gorgeous, peaceful places ever: Middle Earth, otherwise known as New Zealand.”

But then, I was like, “NO! What are you doing, stop encouraging the decline of Lebanese intellect into a sad, sad old woman that truly believes a black cat is bad luck cause she’s a witch in disguise”.

But at the end, I was happy for the cats. Happy they managed to escape Lebanon into a good country. Lebanese cats and animals in general suffer massively from the cruelty and evil of folks. How many times have we seen stupid kids microwaving their animals, shooting them, torturing them, dragging them behind their cars, running them over on purpose and even FUCKING MUNICIPALITIES like the Burj Hammoud criminal ones that were shooting stray dogs at night. So, if I can make the “stupidity tax” people pay moeny to save poor animals and send them somewhere more civilized, then why the hell not?

Transparency is an Issue

Did the cats really get to New Zealand? Would someone really spend so much money and diplomatic connections to send a bunch of black cats to one of the farthest countries from ours? I’m not sure, and these “stupidity tax” stuff always lack enough transparency for me. Can we get the number of cats? How much all this cost? Who paid for it exactly? How can we verify the cats are doing ok in NZ?

And the press release mentions that they had the “support of municipality officers”, the same officers who shoot stray animals on the street because they somehow think that they are all “rabid” and pose a threat to citizens, which is something anyone with a functional brain knows is absurd. A rabid animal would show clear signs of that, and would die soon after the symptoms kick in, so the chance of that happening is almost negligible, or at least not enough to explain the slaughter of so many poor animals for no good reason using LIVE AMMUNITION in our neighborhoods…

Conclusion

It was a cool ad, although I think instead of fostering and encouraging the ill-advised superstitious decision-making of Lebanese folks, the focus should have been on removing the myth from the Dark Ages that cats are actually witches (which back then meant women that could read and write, and thus, in the backwards religious mind “threaten faith”).

It also has a hint of racist behavior, whereby we purge a certain “color” (black) and celebrate another (white). It also wreaks with our bloated self-importance and entitlement attitudes: “these cats are bad luck, so fuck it, let’s get rid of them cause I didn’t pay enough attention in school to know that witches don’t exist and it’s 20 fucking 15″.

What are your thoughts?

قانون سير أفضل لضمان سلامة المواطن اللبناني

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بعد القرار في بدء العمل بقانون السير الجديد في لبنان، قررت وضع قانون سير لبناني من نوع أخر نحن بحاجة إليه، هو لضبط مخالفات المسؤولين وقوى الأمن في وطننا الحبيب

دركي على الخليوي بدل تنظيم السير: ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
دركي عكس السير: ١٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
دركي صافف على الرصيف أو نصف الطريق: ١٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
موكب أمني يسبب زحمة سير للمواطنين: ١٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
موكب أمني يهدد بالسلاح المواطنين العزل: ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
موكب أمني يعتدي بالضرب المبرح للمواطنين العزل: ١٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
حاجز درك نيته إهانة المواطن بلا سبب وافساد ليلتهم: طاولة مجاناً على حساب الدولة وإعتذار لدافعي الضريبة
حواجز اسمنتية في منتصف الطريق “لأسباب أمنية”: ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
تلطيش الأنسات والسيدات اللتين تقود السيارات من قبل قوى الامن: فرك ألسنتهم بالصابون البلدي و ١٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
إقفال طريق عام أو اوتستراد لتدريبات عسكرية: يوم عطلة مدفوع لكل اللبنانيين مع غرامة ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
إعطاء ضبط سير بدل من تسهيل السير وامن السير: ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
إجبار المواطن على تجاوز الضو الأحمر ومن ثم اعطائه ضبط سير: إجبار العنصر على دفع الضبط، وتعويض للمواطن بضعف مبلغ الضبط
السماح لشبيحة الفالي باستملاك طريق عام مقابل رشوة: دفع مبلغ الرشوة ضعفين لكل مواطن يسلك الطريق المذكورة

 إن كنتم توافقون على هذا القانون، أو لديكم أي تعديل أو إضافة، الرجاء إستخدام هاشتغ #يا_نظيف

مع أطيب التمنيات والتهاني للدولة على الثروة التي ستجنيها دون تحسين السلامة المرورية في وطننا الحبيب

جينو رعيدي

ملاحظة: هذا النص ساخر، ولكنه يحاكي الواقع المرير الذي يعيشه المواطن اللبناني جراء انتهاكات القوى الأمنية والمسؤولين السياسيين دون أي محاسبة أو معالجة

Oh BTW, Zahleh Now Has 24H Electricity

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What happened in Zahleh is both extremely encouraging, and awfully scary. Encouraging because it’s been almost 50 fucking years since the war started, and we still don’t fucking have fucking electricity in 2000 fucking 15. Scary because the politically-backed “moteurs” gangs are shooting transformers to stop EDZ from supplying 24 hours of electricity a day. And the best part is, the government, church, and every other useless, self-important institution was busy fighting over the stupid corrupt Casino du Liban and some stupid contracting project no one gives a fuck about at the Port.

It’s unacceptable we don’t have electricity all day yet. It’s shameful, given that so many tens of billions of dollars have been dumped into the pockets of everyone involved in running Lebanon the past 25 years. It’s shameful we have accepted it as a reality we can never change: that we will never have electricity. All they do is buy stupid, expensive, useless ships to pollute more and supply less. They build an extremely polluting “new” power plant in a heavily populated area with no or bad filters. Their rotten employees close the main highway into Beirut so they get ill-gotten benefits for sub-par services. Tfeh.

I am extremely proud of Electricite de Zahle. Proud of them for saying to the government, fuck you, we’re gonna give the people who pay us what they’re paying for. Fuck you to the disgusting animals that run the generators who threatened to disrupt this plan, and attempted to on several occasions, while police ate fried chicken and tortured kids smoking pot.

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EDZ showed that waiting for the government is useless, and the only way is for the private sector to take initiative and fix things, and let the government try and keep up when they’re too busy boycotting parliamentary sessions till their foreign patrons give them the go-ahead. I hope they can install bullet-proof infrastructure, but that would cost too much. Here’s to hoping all the moteur owners die suddenly of heart failure caused by the pollution of their illegal “livelihoods”. I hope the rest of Lebanon learns from Zahle and its surroundings, and remembers that, hey, it’s 2015, I’m pretty sure humans have figured out a way to generate electricity round the clock, right? Mafrood ya3ne.

Bravo EDZ!

Why the LBC Fadl Shaker Interview Was Actually Good

w460

I’ve followed the hurricane of criticism hurled at Edmond Sassine and LBC for the interview with notorious pop-star-hearthrob-turned-filthy-islamist-terrorist Fadl Shakr, or Abou Whatever according to his terrorist pet name. It was amusing, to say the least. I loved the March 8 team of conspiracy theorists, especially Al Akhbar who turned into an international, best-selling thriller. But, it was actually sad. Very sad.

Freedom of the press is sorely misunderstood here. If you get an interview with Satan himself, you go take it. If a CNN anchor got an invite to interview Bin Laden, they’re gonna fucking take it for sure. Why? Not because they want to be the mouth piece of Bin Laden, but because people wanna know more about these terrorists, where they are hiding, are they alive, etc. Ask yourselves, who among us didn’t wonder what became of Fadl Shaker? I for one care a lot, and for me, I want to know where the murderous terrorist with Lebanese soldiers’ blood on his hands is hiding. I want to know why he isn’t behind bars yet. I wanna see how this coward will try to escape the hand of justice like his filthy collaborators who tried to escape the airport in Beirut posing as metro-sexual male escorts…

We learned one thing from that interview, which is that a plot to get the terrorist off the hook is being cooked up. Do I think Pierre El Daher or Edmond Sassine are the masterminds? Of course not. Why would they? The Waleed Ben Talal argument is stupid, and I think Al Akhbar and co with these allegations are just encouraging LBC to cover that issue even more, an issue that Lebanese folks honestly couldn’t care less about. We don’t care about the legal disputes with the Saudi prince. So, please, please stop the absurd conspiracy theories about this.

I think the interview turned our focus to something that was a mystery. I’m outraged someone thinks they can whitewash the filth off that murderous traitor, and will definitely not sit idly by as this unfolds. I mean, come on, an awkwardly placed framed photo of his toddler smiling juxtaposed with a worn-out Oud, I mean, come on. How stupid does Fadl and his handlers think we are? If he by a miracle escapes the hand of justice and is exonerated, then we’ll all make sure his musical career remains a laughable throwback, and that a comeback will never happen, and that’s one thing I’m sure all of us can guarantee.

LBC had every right to air that interview, fake and hollow as it was. The questions were obviously coordinated if not dictated by Shaker, and Edmond wasn’t exceptionally tough on Skaker. Then again, he was in territory that is harboring this criminal, and where the security forces can’t intervene if the worst should happen. Regardless, the insight Edmond gained was valuable, and Shaker’s extremely flimsy rationalization of his crimes, claiming he “was asleep” when the clashes with the army erupted, and that he simply walked into the camp and took refuge. This, he just casually says, while the opposite is well-documented in video and audio recordings of the terrorist kissing Assir’s forehead and boasting about killing two Lebanese soldiers, referring to them as “fteesten” (which means two carcasses).

The first phase of this whitewashing campaign has started, and it was a major flop. The next logical move in this deceitful campaign is infusing the kidnapped soldiers crisis into the mix. The increasing moves toward a prisoner swap with the terrorist groups in Aarsal’s hinterlands, though in my opinion very imprudent, seems to be getting momentum. Shaker would make a great dance-monkey in a bell-hop suit as a cherry on top of such a “deal”.

Here, I know many people will feel offended and outraged, but, we need to think a little less with our testosterone and feelings and a bit more with our brains. Releasing terrorists which will do exactly the same thing and try to kidnap more soldiers, is a mistake. As hard as it is to acknowledge, these brave men knew the risks they took when they joined the army, or they should have at least. And the only way to release them is to actually rescue them. We have ISF and army teams which are extremely well-trained in counter-terrorism tactics, and I think the initial mistake was stopping the battle before rescuing our boys taken hostage.

What I’m trying to say, is that the interview fooled no one. And that airing it was the right thing to do, and I fully support Edmond and LBC in that. Anyone with that scoop would’ve taken it, and I’m glad it wasn’t with a media outlet more friendly with the Assir phenomenon and its religious extremist followers. What I think we should do now, is make sure no one ever forgets the crimes of this disgusting, vile “human being” and I use that term liberally to describe Shaker. I expect that if he ever releases another song, a team of patriots will bring down the networks of any label that dares approach that islamist terrorist thug, who is cowardly trying to back-pedal.

And, lastly, even if Shaker finally saw the error of his ways, this isn’t a fucking romcom. He still has to pay for his past crimes, no matter how much you dress that pile of shit up and shave its face.

No respect, no compromise for these individuals. However, despite my deep, deep hatred of them, unlike many who share these sentiments, I don’t want to torture or kill them. If we do, we’ll be just like them. He needs to stand a proper trial, and spend the rest of his days behind bars, singing his beloved songs to try and forget the miserable conditions he will eventually die in thanks to the crimes his newfound faith in religion made him do.

25% of Lebanese Left, 35% Leaving Soon

image56The Lebanese Emigrant Statue in Beirut [image source]

A Real Crisis

There are 5 million people around the world that have the Lebanese passport. 25% have already left and reside in other countries now. Whereas another 35% are either waiting for their papers, or are expecting to emigrate from Lebanon soon. That’s not taking into account Lebanese citizens whose parents or grandparents immigrated to foreign countries. (source: Al Jazeera)

That’s 6 in every 10 Lebanese who either left, or are preparing, or at least expecting to, leave Lebanon. We sort of all know that most of us would rather be working and studying somewhere else, where mentalities and attitudes aren’t governed by a Civil War that supposedly ended 25 years ago, where they have 24-hour electricity and potable water. Probably even somewhere where people vote and have rights and enjoy freedom and equality under fair, secular laws. But, seeing them in percentage form is still quite shocking.

It is obvious that the emigration problem is a massive one in Lebanon. Add to that the influx of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and you are certain to have the excruciatingly delicate Lebanese demographic scale, which our political system is built upon, completely pushed off-balance. But, after countless field missions and dozens of fixing jobs with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, I’ve come to realize that Syrian folks are generally very eager to Lebanon, and that often times, all the odd jobs and money they try to scrape together, is to buy a ticket to Turkey, and figure out what to do from there. So, the broken record of astoundingly bold claims that the Syrians are going to replace the Lebanese is simply not true, and the reality is closer to: they both want to leave Lebanon, but it’s easier for Lebanese to do so than it is for a Syrian refugee.

Regardless, this powerful repulsive force in Lebanon should be a major crisis on our agendas. But, from a governmental and policy perspective, it seems Lebanese governments over the past couple of decades sort of encouraged Lebanese people leaving, and for good reason. Remittances from Lebanese expats amounted to a whopping 16.2% of Lebanon’s GDP in 2014 (7.67 billion USD). Just to put that into perspective, Russia’s was a total of 7.33 billion USD, and Italy’s was 8.22 billion USD. (source: Daily Star)

However, despite the perks of having an extra 7+ billion dollars a year, it’s not ok that first, Lebanese people so overwhelmingly feel the urge, or need, to leave. And second, that they contribute so much, yet have virtually no say in what happens in the country they grew up in, have family in, identify as from and increasingly support financially.

Faced with the unanswerable question of “how we can fix Lebanon”, pragmatic options aren’t that many. With no president, and illegitimate parliament and a cabinet of ministers busy exploiting that void to empty tax coffers into personal or party interests masked under the guise of the taxpayers’ interest, it’s hard to suggest something feasible. Add to that the endemic corruption in every state institution, the brutality of Lebanese security forces and the crippled and politicized justice system, and you get a brain teaser political science students visiting Beirut from abroad have sought for decades to try and understand, while their local counterparts just gave up trying to make sense of it from an early age.

A Silver Bullet, Sort Of

Numbers are nice. They speak louder than words sometimes and more safely convince us of what the right thing to do or focus on is. If we take into account how many Lebanese people there are in the world, safe estimates put them at somewhere around 14 million outside of Lebanon. That’s 3.5 times more folks than in Lebanon itself.

The first thing these numbers make me think of is, that’s the key to our elections problem. The sad truth is that political allegiances in Lebanon are largely sectarian based, with the majority of Shiites supporting the Hezbollah camp, the majority of Sunnis supporting the Future Movement camp, the Druzes largely in Junblat’s Progressive Socialist Party, and the Christians sorta split down the middle with a slight (and easily reversible) advantage towards the Michel Aoun camp in the past two elections. So, the wiggle-room has always been in the Christian votes that are more likely to change their minds at the ballot box. Sadly though, the options they have to choose from, are both far, far from ideal. They’re not even remotely adequate, and so, the option of change by ballot boxes, and that votes can speak louder than bullets, is hard given the current political landscape in Lebanon. That’s where those 14 million Lebanese folks become our best chance for changing something.

The Obstacles

But, the hopes that Lebanese abroad can help change the tide faces a lot of obstacles before becoming a reality. First and foremost, most of these folks don’t have the Lebanese passport, given that their families might have been in their new countries for generations now. So, getting them on the books will be the first challenge, assuming they even want to of course. Second, our electoral law is absolute shit, and most of the suggested amendments are also absolute shit. The problem is that those trying to write it are thinking on a very tiny scale, towns and districts to try and predict the results of the elections before they even happen, lessons learned from the days of the Syrian occupation. And third, and less quantifiable and observable, is how the Lebanese emigrants will vote. Will it be based on pre-emigrating attitudes? Less or more conservative? Policy-oriented or za3eem-oriented?

I’ve met and talked with a lot of folks from the Lebanese diaspora in different parts of the world, and you can never really know what to expect. Sometimes, I find they’re a bit more open, outspoken and dare I say liberated. Other times, I feel like I could very well be in a rural village talking to illiterate octogenarians who still think black people are referred to as “slaves”, despite living for decades in urban metropolises of the West. So, it sorta is a gamble, but one that would speak loudly and resonate through not just votes, but maybe even representation.

It might sound unorthodox, but given how much they outnumber Lebanese residents and how big their share in funding Lebanon’s GDP is reminds me of the Washington DC license plates that read “taxation without representation”, given how the district is only represented by a delegate in Congress instead of congressmen and senators, but still pay taxes to the federal government and lie exclusively under the Congress’ jurisdiction. Difference is, DC folks are vastly outnumbered by the rest of the country, whereas in our case, it’s people residing in Lebanon that are the minority.

Wrapping Up

So, an ideal electoral law would guarantee the right of Lebanese emigrants to vote. Their fresh, uncorrupted votes will be a major help in restoring faith in the democratic process in Lebanon. Crooked politicians have already understood the value of the Lebanese diaspora, and in previous elections, both camps chartered flights to herd in expats loyal to them and bribe a few extra thousand votes where they needed them most. Therefore, it’s even more necessary to install a voting from abroad process, to try and discourage this foul form of bribery, and make sure that at least expats, can vote somewhat more freely and wholeheartedly.

Then again, should people who don’t live here have the major say in what happens here? Honestly, given the track record of those living in Lebanon, I’d be willing to take my chances, and if not, maybe a formula that guarantees the Lebanese diaspora are properly represented, just without completely alienating those actually residing in Lebanon.

Who knows. And which group are you guys in? The 25%, the 35% or the remaining 40%?

Why We Never Go to Downtown Beirut

Thursday 007s

Downtown Beirut, which the most zealous of the pro-Hariri camp always hail as the reason he should be idolized by every single Lebanese person, is a massive failure. Apart from the fact that how it came to be rebuilt, is everything but transparent, if not outright criminal, it was built and invested in for all the wrong reasons:

1- Never build a part of your own country for tourists

Tourist traps are usually parts of a city or country already there from centuries ago, which locals decided to turn into a tourist attraction instead of replacing it with new, expensive buildings. In Lebanon, we let contractors destroy priceless heritage sites to build high-rise towers that no one ever buys, and proof of that is how initial single-unit floor plans quickly get divided up into 3 or 4 units to try and sell them when the bigger, expensive ones don’t get any absurd million-dollar bids.

After the July 2006 war, when Hezbollah started to lose favor among most Sunni Arabs, especially the wealthy ones in the Gulf, and the authoritarian monarchs there decided to bar their wealthy subjects from visiting Beirut, Downtown became a ghost town, and remains one today. In a country and region this volatile, one can ask why on earth we’d invest tens of billions of post-war rebuilding funds into a tourist trap designed to vacuum every cent possible from wealthy Arabs seeking to escape their suffocating regimes for a little fun in much less uptight Lebanon. You know, the whole point was to rip people off, not give a good experience, and that Lebanese “7arba2a” had a major role to play in Downtown’s downfall.

One can ask why not a single establishment there was geared towards Lebanese people, Lebanese families and Lebanese youth. None of us want to pay 20USD for water and stale peanuts we never ordered. None of us wanna pay a deposit to guarantee a reservation. At least, not very many of us.

But, one cannot blame the political tit-for-tat that stopped the flow of Gulf petrodollars that financed a big portion of the crucial, yet unreliable services sector in Lebanon, which exponentially eclipses more stable and secure sectors like agriculture and manufacturing. There’s more to it than the absence of rich Gulf tourists.

2- Obnoxious, Useless and Brutal Security

How many times did you try to pass through (if not actually mean to go to) Downtown Beirut and got surprised by a complete or partial shutdown for whatever silly reason? Too many. When it’s not some special interest group trying to twist the hand of the government, which in reality just giving the average taxpayer undeserved hell for it, while the ministers and MPs jovially order their foreign-financed, armored vehicles to cut through any perceived threat, which sometimes, incredibly, can be peaceful protestors in tuxes and wedding dresses demanding for their right to get married on their own terms, not the church’s or mosque’s. If it’s not that, it’s some meeting or whatever that they hold behind hordes of armed riot police and 4-meter high walls of barbed wire. Cowards. Afraid of their own constituents.

If you’re that afraid for your safety, then stop being a drama queen and pretending to go down and do your job in parliament or some ministry. Stay home, do your “work” from there, instead of mess up our commutes and daily lives for your unbelievably inflated sense of self-importance, when most citizens don’t even know your name or what you look like (just the ones you pay off, of course).

So, another reason, is that we get harassed by the cops enough as it is, why would I ever in my right mind go down to a place that’s practically their mini-fiefdom along with the warlords that assign them to that post? Fuck that, I’ll go somewhere with some peace and quiet, and some respect for fellow human beings, especially when its their taxes pay for the cops and politicians’ ill-deserved salaries.

3- Solidere is hard to trust and stomach

Did you know you need to pay Solidere a few thousand dollars for a half-day of shooting something there? And that you need permissions from so many people, that you’d gladly fork out the money just to get all of them off your back. I’m not sure about you, but when my taxes all go to build those 2-3 blocks of fake buildings, I better fucking be able to shoot a video of me dancing in a tutu without needing 8000USD to be “allowed” to in what is supposed to be public property.

Another issue is transparency. Between the horror stories you listen to from the anti-Solidere camp, and the fairytale ads on CNN International by Solidere themselves, you’re sorta lost on who’s actually right. Why don’t Lebanese taxpayers know more? They don’t have to of course, if that’s what the company thinks, but, personally, I’d much rather go spend money in a place where I trust the people a bit more. People straight with who they are and what they do/did with all that money.

Personally, I don’t really have an opinion and don’t feel any sources of information are credible enough. But, the fact that this issue is such a controversial one, and with many people so vocally pro or con, it sorta ruins the mood for me.

4- Everything Interesting is a Church/Mosque or Mausoleum

You can feel how much Lebanese people hate each other when you see the gargantuan Mohamad El Amin mosque, built on land “donated” by the St Georges cathedral right next to it, that looks more like a doll-house now. Of course, this “insult” by making the mosque so much bigger, didn’t go unanswered by the Maronite church, which decided they’re going to spend many, many years and millions to build a bell-tower that’s as high as the mosque minarets. I mean, come on, who wants to go see that happen when they’re on a date or out to club?

When it’s not the race for who has the biggest, shiniest tower, it’s a battle on whether or not we should light up the crucifix on this church and the crescent on that mosque. And in between, there’s images and mausoleums of prominent folks killed violently everywhere, and with security to make sure no one vandalizes them. Quite the atmosphere to go out in, right? And how many of you haven’t gotten into odds with the annoying gatekeepers and guards of those sites, who somehow think you owe them some kind of allegiance or respect, when they’re the ones closing your roads, barring your access and not allowing you to park without paying their cousins who work as valet parking thugs.

I’d Go Down Someday If

If the roads stop being blocked. If I can find cheap parking. If the soldiers and cops there are taught respect to the taxpayer they’re supposed to serve and protect, not humiliate and abuse. I’d go down there if I won’t be charged money for stuff I didn’t order. I’d go down there if there’s a museum or cultural space where you can sit and work, maybe with internet connection that doesn’t cost a fortune and a million wastas to put the fabled “fiber optics network” to use. If I know if I ever felt the need to, I could protest in front of this illegitimate parliament without getting the shit beaten out of me after the cops have confiscated everyone’s phones and cameras.

Prospects of that are starting to appear though, with the Uruguay street and Annahar building restoring some of their old days’ glory. But, if it weren’t for happy hour reasons, I’m not sure how many people would voluntarily commute to the area if their work wasn’t already walking distance away. That’s why people migrate to places like Gemmayzeh, then Mar Mikhael and now Badaro. It’s because we feel like we’re in our own country there, not a ghost town patrolled by bribe-driven security people protecting the thieves of taxpayers’ money and votes. It’s also because we don’t feel everything is geared towards ripping us off (like most business owners in the area who have modeled their business plans on ripping off rich Khaleejis).

It’s not because of the political in-fighting, nor the security situation, and even if all that suddenly stopped and everything was fine and dandy, I’m pretty sure many of you would still not go. It’s been 9 years now. It’s time to figure out how to do business, without relying solely on rich Arab money, and instead trying to engage Lebanese folks who aren’t easily dazzled with glitzy price-tags for sub-standard services and products.