Good People of Lebanon: Arm Yourselves

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Yes, you read that right. Arm yourselves, but not with guns and knives. Nor with words and human rights. Arm yourselves with non-lethal weapons. Buy tasers and pepper spray, and keep it with you at all times, and here’s why.

The Fake Lebanese Hero-Complex

I almost felt sick reading all the statuses about how outraged people where that no one at the crime scene did anything. Suggesting even that if they were there, they would have swooped in and saved the day, highlighting the issue as “people’s indifference” in this whole ordeal, and not the actual problems behind it.

It is well-documented that under similar circumstances, almost everyone would stay out of it. It might seem counter-intuitive, and you might genuinely believe you would do things differently if you were there yourself. Truth is though, that’s wrong, and that unpleasant side of who we are has gotten a fair share of research in Psychology to try and understand why and how we won’t help in situations like this, even though movies teach us that’s what we should, and that we can save a helpless person from weapon-wielding brute by just the goodness in our hearts to some nice background music.

I shan’t go into it here, but I urge you to read up on cases like Kitty Genovese, and the research that it sparked in it aftermath.

I just ask you to lay-off the fake heroism, and stop hating on the people who minded their own business instead of being attacked by the bloodthirsty criminal that killed George El Rif. Unless of course you yourself have been in a similar situation and can prove all the science wrong.

Questionable Story

I know it’s not popular to ask questions about the victim’s motives, but come on, if some wozzeh in a Picanto hits your car, how is following him to somewhere kilometers away justifiable? The official story is that they needed the license plate number, but I doubt it’d take all that time for that. So, the options are either George wanted to confront the guy, who is obviously a savage brute, or that George and his wife, who was allegedly on the phone with the cops, didn’t trust the police enough to find him and decided to do that themselves. Both unfortunate options.

If you try to out-za3ren an az3ar, you’d get upset 9 times out of 10, and it seems the killer (who is a Christian, not a Muslim by the way, for all you Christian conservatives worried about the Christianity of Ashrafieh) took him to an area where he knew he would be safe and can get his hands on George without any real resistance.

So, based on the information we have, I think the alibi of George’s wife doesn’t hold up much. He should have just let the guy pass and put some nail polish on the dent the Picanto caused, not start a high-speed car chase with a villain when you have four kids and a wife to live for. And if they truly believe in our cops, give them the number and a photo if they took one, and let it take that route. Not taking things into one’s hands.

Arm Yourselves With Non-Lethals

Everyone is armed in Lebanon, or at least all the bad people like Tarek Yatim. Bad people like him, also have powerful friends. Whether its multimillionaire bankers, or ministers in the government that are pro-ISIS, they’ll always bail their thugs out.

So, as we’ve learned, time and again, bad people in this country never pay for their crimes, in fact, they’re usually rewarded by being voted as political party chiefs and heads of government. But, that needs to stop.

The guns and knives are staying with those bad people, and if you’re like the majority of peace-loving people, you’d rather not carry a lethal weapon. That doesn’t mean we should remain pieces of meat for these people to shoot and cut up.

With the risk of sounding like a crazy NRA Republican, imagine if George’s wife had pepper spray, and while he was attacking her husband on the ground, doused Yatim in his eyes. The perpetrator would have been rendered incapacitated, or at least it would have hindered his ability to butcher George savagely like that. Difference between what I just said and an NRA rep? The weapons I’m suggesting for self-defense, are actually for that, and not “assault” rifles for “protection”, as Jim Jeffries once joked.

Get tasers, maybe the ones that shoot the electrodes out. Electrocute someone that wants to kill or rape you. Make sure you render them helpless, and then figure out if you should call the cops or just run away with your life intact.

Here of course, remains the threat of retaliation from the bad people and their godfathers. If George’s wife had tasered Tarek Yatim, would someone as steroid-injected as Yatim and his godfathers, allowed them to escape after they hurt his macho “honor”? My advice? Just leave, and be happy you have your life ahead of you. Forget Lebanon, forget whatever big titles. Nothing is more important that your lives, and if you can’t keep and protect them in Lebanon, then just say thanks very much and go somewhere with less guns, more security and actual police versus thugs in uniform that laugh at your calls.

I’m not sure how legal these non-lethal weapons are in Lebanon, given how we’ve banned vibrators and cock rings, yet allow religious extremists to form militias and run for office, and murderers and rapists to roam free, I wouldn’t be surprised if pepper spray was technically banned (after all, that would help women protect themselves from rape, and we all know how much the government doesn’t want women protected). However, they’re readily available in the market, and if you’re breaking the law by owning pepper spray because the police won’t help and bad people are plentiful and well-armed, then I wouldn’t mind breaking that specific law any day of the week.

Cut It Out With the Death Penalty

Stop it. Just stop. It’s like every time anything happens, people pull out their knives and start sharpening them, championing the death penalty as if it’s not only justifiable, but necessary. It’s 2015, and I can’t believe how many times I’ve had to say this, but torture and execution is wrong, under any circumstance, period. I don’t care if it’s Ahmad El Assir himself, no torture, no execution. Or else, what makes you better than Baghdadi? The Saudis? Iran? Cheney? Tarek Yatim? They all thought killing or torture was justified in their circumstances too.

As if the threat of being hanged like in some Medieval city would have stopped Yatim from murdering El Rif for such an incredibly stupid reason.

In Conclusion

Calm down, be careful. You live in Lebanon, remember that.

The lies that homicide and rape are very few, have an ulterior agenda. Usually, conservatives revel in how little crime we have (homicide, rape, etc.) but the truth is, it is high, we just hide it better and our police suck at uncovering the truth. How many young people do you know about who got killed in a “hunting accident”? Please. What happens there, is the killer’s parents with a priest or sheikh go and tell the dead boy’s son “Your son is dead, he isn’t coming back, he’s with god. Why not forgive and call it an accident, instead of throwing away another boy’s life?” and you end up hearing it’s an “accident”. I’ve witnessed this first-hand btw, and I know you suspect or know about similar cases too. It’s just a way for conservative religious fundamentalist to justify the oppression and backwardness with fantastical claims in a country where people still chop penises off, and lynch people for xenophobic reasons on electricity poles.

You live in a bad part of the world, full of bad people, where good people die when they try to be heroes, or go to jail because the police have no one else to put there. Don’t try to be a hero, nothing is more valuable than staying alive, as I’m sure El Rif’s loved ones agree. A stupid case of road rage should have never led to this, but, it uncovered a few problems in Lebanon, and I tried to tackle some here.

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.

A Few Thoughts on the SKYBAR Incident

Woke up to the unfortunate news that a good part of SKYBAR has burned down overnight. I found out from the sarcastic statuses and conspiracy theory blog posts, not the news. For one thing, I’m sad we’re gonna miss this Sunday, after a turbulent few years with the guys at SKYBAR, I was happy to see an underground flavor infused with fantastic electronic talent in a place that was formerly known mainly for the insane bills and strict door policy.

Whether one likes it or not, SKYBAR is an icon when it comes to Lebanese nightlife, even Lebanon overall actually. It always was that glitzy rooftop catering to vivacious patrons living in a part of the world plagued with way too much terror and sadness. It was the political stability thermometer, packed when things were calm, but less packed when there was unrest in Beirut. How many days per week it opened was like an economic gauge: if it opened every day, summer’s good. If it closes for a couple of nights a week, means wallets are slimmer that summer.

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The prospect of a summer in Beirut without SKYBAR is an odd one for most of our generation. But, I wouldn’t give up on them that easy, and will hope for the best and that they’ll be able to reopen this summer, or at least keep doing parties, even if it’s somewhere else.

Nightlife Does Matter

Elie joked that maybe The Garten set it on fire to eliminate competition. Elie admits he’s not really a “party person” and hasn’t been to any of Beirut’s clubs. Well, I am a party person. I fucking adore it. It’s actually the one thing I’m not disappointed in when it comes to this country. The SKYBAR crowd and The Garten crowd could not be more different. Heck, most of them wouldn’t be caught dead in the other club. I’m not saying this as if to seriously explain why that scenario wouldn’t happen, I’m pointing it out because it shows how little knowledge and insight into what happens at night, many people have.

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Clubs are the only places in this country where people’s names, sects, genders, race, sexuality, etc. doesn’t matter. You could be an atheist, shiite-born, liberal, lesbian grinding on a devout christian, conservative straight girl while you pose for selfies, and no one would bat an eye. If you’re over a certain age, and want to party, you’re always welcome in most places if they’re not packed. It’s a place where you can be yourself, or whoever you want to be, with other folks there for the same reason: to have fun.

I won’t easily subscribe the cliche theory about clubbing being “therapy” for us “traumatized” Lebanese. It’s a lot more than that. None of us think “ugh, I’m so traumatized by the political and security situation, I need to go get drunk and dance to forget.” What people usually think is, “Hmm, this DJ sounds cool tonight. Let’s go!”. It’s normal. It feels normal. Very few things feel normal in Lebanon. Driving sure doesn’t, nor does the city’s urban planning, electricity supply or law enforcement. Let’s not even pretend our president-less country with an illegitimate parliament is even close to normal. The parties are though, no matter which president, what cabinet ministers, what war or what calamity unfolds. The electricity never goes out, people aren’t all angry at each other, it doesn’t matter if you’re Sunni or Shiite.

This tolerant attitude towards clubbing, does translate into people’s daily lives as less hatred. I’ve never met anyone at a club who’s against civil marriage, doesn’t support women’s rights and embraces religious extremism. Sometimes, after an all-nighter, a few friends of mine usually have breakfast and chill before heading to bed. I look around, and I see people from all over the country, named after saints and imams, all collectively not giving a fuck about everything plaguing the rest of the population.

We live in a region being swallowed up into dark times of religious extremism and oppression, where public mass executions are a daily fact of life, and being different warrants your murder. Liberal attitudes have never been this important before. The hot-button topics are usually civil marriage, women’s rights and gay rights, but those usually happen in public forums, court rooms and halls of government. Clubbing happens on the street, on the grass-roots level, where things actually matter. The fact that most straight clubbers don’t mind having gay clubbers with them anymore, has a far more powerful effect than any malicious interpretation of a vague Lebanese penal code.

A club is where many people are their best. They do their best in choosing their outfits. They do their best to get the right companions. They do their best to have a good time. It’s a glimpse of what sectarian and dysfunctional Lebanon could look like. It’s a source of pride for Lebanon, whose clubs like B018 and Skybar are known worldwide. There’s something for everyone too. If you wanna listen to Techno, you can. Ali El Deek, youjad. French oldies? Plenty. And the list goes on and on.

Clubs bring life back to dead and abandoned areas. Abandoned train stations, former bomb shelters and other remnants of Lebanon’s turbulent past are brought back to the spotlight when a party happens in them. Clubs are beacons that remind us that Lebanon, despite everything that’s happening and has happened, still has a flourishing liberal element. A segment of the population that helped make Lebanese synonymous with joie-de-vivre.

So, yes, what happened to Skybar was sad, and a loss, even if it wasn’t your scene. And don’t be so quick to dismiss and downplay the power and effect what happens at night in Beirut. It’s kinda awesome.

Thoughts on the Michel Samaha Scandal

This his picture taken in June 2003 shows former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha, an ardent supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad and for whom has long acted as his unofficial media adviser. Samaha was arrested in a dramatic, high profile police operation on August 9, 2012 and subsequently indicted for plotting terror attacks in Lebanon at Syria's behest. The civil war in Syria is affecting its fragile, tiny neighbor Lebanon in countless ways and has already spilled over into sectarian street clashes, kidnappings and general government paralysis. (AP Photo)

The humiliating verdict and the reactions to it over the past few days have been extremely enlightening when it comes to the fundamental problems in Lebanon: we’ve forgotten what a democracy means, the irrational political ideologues that will gladly dismiss hard evidence to back their political camp, a severely corrupt and decaying judiciary and most importantly, complete lack of trust in the security apparatus.

1- Military Court Should Vanish, ASAP

It’s the 21st Century. A decade and a half into it actually. However, for some perverted, inexplicable reason, Lebanese civilians get tried in military courts. You don’t need someone to explain to you why this is fundamentally wrong and unacceptable in what is supposed to be a democratic republic. It’s not supposed to be legal to do that, and I don’t mean “legal” in the “for-one-time-only” mockery we make of our laws and constitutions to pass outright rude and despotic “amendments” like extending for this sorry excuse of a parliament. Twice.

The military should have its own internal judiciary system for crimes related to the military and exclusively for its own members. So, a civilian that is charged with a security threat, should be tried in a criminal court, not a military one, simply because HE’S NOT in the military! The laws that apply to civilians and those that apply to enlisted members of the military are vastly different. Asking a military court to rule on a civilian, is admitting we are a security state where the armed forces are in power, not democratically elected (even though not for a while now) officials. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a country ruled by orders you can’t disobey and rights you are expected to forfeit “for the greater good” which is another way of saying that you’re screwed if you aren’t part of the establishment.

And for those of you who think that civilians get tried in military court for serious offenses only, like Michel Samaha’s, and Fayez Karam’s a few years back, you are gravely mistaken. If you video tape ISF darak beating up an unarmed civilian in public, and you say something that shows you’re in disagreement of what they’re doing, you’ll be served papers to go to MILITARY COURT, for taping policemen breaking the law they’re supposed to protect, and would spend A YEAR in jail if the judge feels like it, or your wasta and bank account aren’t good enough.

2- Double Standards from 14 and 8

It really bothers me that someone like justice minister Ashraf Rifi, known for his protection of da3esh supporters far and wide, would get so pissed off about the Samaha scandal. Whether it’s prosecuting taxpayers who chose to burn the da3esh flag, or being in the same political party that includes terrorists as vile and guilty as Samaha, such as Khaled Daher, a known traitor and responsible for financing and orchestrating desertions from the Lebanese Army to terrorist elements like Al Nusra or Da3esh.

March 8, who Samaha hails from, abandoned him when this all went down in a heartbeat. I mean, a water-balloon takes longer to deflate than any support for Samaha when he was arrested and charged a few years back. Aoun’s only issue was “how could the Information Branch arrest him in own bedroom?!” (apparently, bedrooms are off-limits). The more seasoned pro-Assad elements of March 8, Hezbollah and co, shyly suggested that maybe the Information Branch fabricated the evidence (something the hours of tapes and voice recordings revealed later on would later prove that that was not true).

So, the bleak support of Samaha back then, and the fierce defense of the insanely short sentence now, means they know what Samaha did was abhorred, but that they could easily get him off the hook for it in military court.

3- Trust Issues and Transparency

We don’t trust the cops. That’s not news, and you all know it. However, there are some cops who do good, honest police work, which often gets brushed off or dismissed because of the general lack of trust in the whole security apparatus, or because the perpetrators get driven away in limos from their jail cells by their political godfathers.

Obviously, the police needs to be reformed. In reality though, we know that’s kinda farfetched. A quick fix to cases that are high profile, like the Samaha one, would be more transparency. Make the evidence public, let us know what is happening in the court room. That way, it’ll be easier for the average taxpayer to nod their head and be convinced there’s probable cause for an arrest and that no tampering or fabricating of evidence occurred.

That way, public trust will be slowly earned and maybe the good example will be followed by other security agencies. But, when good police work is done, and people can easily dismiss it because of the generally abysmal track record of the ISF, that’s not right, and puts everyone in danger.

What Should Happen

Exhaust appeals for this verdict, which is an insult to Lebanese taxpayers’ intelligence. Ideally, get rid of the military court, or at least reorganize it to remain an internal military affairs court, one that has no jurisdiction over civilians, ever, no matter what. Retry Samaha in a criminal court again, and hand down a sentence that is comparable to the gravity of what Samaha did and was trying to do. I mean, for fuck’s sake, you get in more trouble for having a gram of weed in your car, than 50 kilograms of explosives. Come on, don’t be that obviously biased or irrational.

Samaha shouldn’t be let off the hook this easy. He should face justice. Adding him to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon cases instead of resolving it here, now and effectively, is just political manoeuvring by M14 who have sadly yet to reap the rewards of the STL. Sentence him here, with our own laws.

Food for thought: if Samaha got caught, imagine how many weren’t…

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?

Still Here, Still Bleeding: A Century Later [VIDEO + MAGAZINE + EVENT]

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It’s been a hundred years, an entire century since the genocide. In that century, the Armenian community in Lebanon has been an integral part of Lebanese society, and their contributions culturally, economically, politically and socially are a priceless part of Lebanon’s vastly diverse history, heritage and culture.

Lebanon has always been the place where persecuted peoples sought refuge, even though many Lebanese would like to forget that. It’s no surprise we have 18 different recognised sects, and houses and churches carved into solid rock to evade conquering and genocidal armies like the Ottomans. Perhaps the hammer strike’s full brunt was felt in Armenia and the horrors committed there are unparalleled in modern history, but Lebanon also suffered at the hands of the Ottomans, and our plight is one and the same.

Audio Kultur has dedicated its 12th issue for the celebration of Lebanese Armenians and their influence on us all. It selected five Armenians who gave the testimonies of their grandparents and ancestors who survived and made it to Lebanon or Syria. The five also donated a bit of their blood for the occasion, which was used by the AK creative team to create the red ink which AK12 was printed with. I am a huge fan of Harout Fazlian, the conductor of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, and Angelique Sabounjian is a very dear friend of mine, and they’re just two out of dozens of Lebanese Armenian friends I love and look up to. I love the thought of using their own blood to immortalise their ancestors’ sacrifice and suffering today, a century later.

That’s not everything though, the gorgeous video below was filmed with the 5 donors, and I urge you to watch it before continuing reading.

But, that’s not all either! On Sunday April 26, Armenia Street (Mar Mikhael) will be closed down by our friends at Achrafieh 2020 for yet another amazing car-free day from 10:00AM till 7:00PM. AK will be providing the entertainment, with several stages and entertainment stations along the street we all love and spend most of our time in, showcasing Armenian music and culture. In keeping with the still bleeding theme, DSC Lebanon will also be on site, accepting blood donations that will be delivered to those who need it across Lebanon, and a chance to remember the sacrifice of the Armenian people and turn it into something that will help save many lives today.

So, pick up the AK12 issue available for free across Lebanon, check the AudioKultur.com website, RSVP to the Facebook event now, and make sure you donate blood with DSC Lebanon on that day!

See you all on Sunday for a day where we remember the bleak past, celebrate a brighter present and look for a prosperous future.

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