GCR: Lebanon Among Best in Education, Absolute Last in Trust in Politicians + More Numbers

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So, the World Economic Forum published its Global Competitiveness Report, and Lebanon got some interesting number I’ll highlight here:

Stuff We Sucked At

  • In public trust in politicians, we ranked ABSOLUTE LAST. We ranked 148 out of a total of 148 countries…
  • We’re next-to-last at 147/148 for “favoritism in decisions of public officials”
  • For cost of terrorism to business, we ranked 141/148
  • Wastefulness of government spending 144/148
  • Reliability of police services 119/148
  • Irregular payments and bribes 138/148
  • Judicial Independence 135/148
  • Quality of overall infrastructure 142/148
  • Quality of electricity supply 148/148
  • General government debt 145/148
  • Women in labor ratio to men 142/148
  • and the list goes on…

Stuff We’re Good At

  • Quality of primary education 7/148
  • Quality of math and science education 4/148
  • HIV pervalence in adult population 11/148
  • And a few other cool stuff…

All in all, everything really, really, really sucks. Like really bad, like, the absolute worst in the world for many things… But, we’re pretty good at a bunch of stuff too. We don’t have as much HIV+ people walking around. Our primary education is one of the top 10 worldwide, and our maths and science education is in the top 5 worldwide, so, there is hope in our future generations…

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The Invalid Excuse: Child Pornography Threat

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In Lebanon, we have a history of corrupt politicians and authorities who commit heinous crimes and put up some noble cause as their excuse. Remember when the MPs decided to cross off the word “woman” from the women’s right’s law that would protect from rape and abuse? Do you remember what the FPM MPs cited the cause as? They said, “all family members should be included, not just women, but men and children and the elderly”. What the MPs failed to tell you, is that that legal provision would render the law almost useless, since it failed to explicitly mention “women”, meaning the barbaric, ancient religious laws still have precedence over this rational, civil one.

Being a victim myself of several attempts to block my website, I’ve become accustomed to the tricks and ploys used. One I’ve been noticing over the past few months, is a rising trend in citing the Internet as a menace due to “child porn” dangers, and “corrupting children’s minds”.

Now, banning anything with that excuse is a slippery slope, and just another attempt to pretty-up a despicable clamp down on freedoms in Lebanon.

Here’s why it’s stupid to do that:

Use Child Porn to Catch Pedophiles

In most respectable countries, child pornography is dealt with rationally. When a pedophile is stupid enough to upload photos online, this should be considered as a chance to track him or her down and arrest them. The police in Lebanon is amazing at hacking people’s phones to find out if they’re gay or do drugs, and they go all CSI-FBI-CIA on innocent people’s asses. I don’t see why they can’t do the same if child porn is ever found in Lebanon online. So, instead of hiding behind our thumbs, we should use the data to track down the pedophiles and put them behind bars. That’s a far more noble use of this power to monitor the internet, then just a stupid, easily bypass-able ban.

So, use the incriminating content to catch the bastard, then have it removed altogether instead of a simple ban anyone with a brain can bypass.

Slippery Slope

Who the hell determines what “corrupts children’s minds?”. Maybe to some, Reddit and Facebook and 9gag are “corrupting”, should they be banned? What if someone writes something that pisses someone higher-up off? Will they get slapped with the “child protection” excuse to be shut down?

In the absence of a sensible civil law, authorities have no right to clamp down on the Internet in Lebanon without due process and monitoring, a proper appeals system and transparency and access to information regarding the ban. I mean, we still don’t even know the details of the 6 porn sites banned… Walaw?!

Do Something Offline First

If you drive through Maameltein at night, you’ll see grown men walking around with underage girls soliciting cars and passerby… Girls who obviously couldn’t even get into a club because they’re so young. Why doesn’t the police arrest that man? Why doesn’t any governmental authority protect these kids? Or is it just “smallteenpussy.com” that’s the real threat to those poor girls being sold on the street in plain sight of everyone… Maybe, if we see real attempts to rectify this injustice, we might start thinking of doing something online.

But, for now, the government has proven otherwise. Why? Because when I wrote about an online prostitution ring online in Lebanon last year, the authorities shut the blog down, but kept the prostitution websites I wrote about running. Inno, w air?! Could it be any clearer that the intention is clamping down on freedom, and not protecting children?

My Thoughts on Rifi’s Actions

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Being an outspoken atheist means I get into a lot debates with annoyed theists over statuses. It’s funny how they forget that the “fundamental” elements of their faiths are chopping heads off, selling women into slavery and ethnically cleansing entire regions of the Middle East. But, hey! A status is just as offensive and bad, ok?!

One argument I always hear is that “these extremists are a minority” and “not everyone who is faithful is like that.” Well, DUUUH! No one ever said every faithful person is a blood thirsty barbarian straight out of the Dark Ages. If they did, they’d be stupid and unreasonable (just like the religious extremists.)

But, as Rifi was so brilliantly demonstrated, the “moderates” pave the way for their extremist counterparts by their irrational behavior to what they perceive as “protecting their faith.”

Richard Dawkins said it beautifully once: “The moderate, sensible religious people… make the world safe for extremists… by influencing society to respect faith.” I’ll edit it a bit to fit the current situation to make it sound something like “The self-proclaimed moderate, sensible religious people in Lebanon are forcibly making Lebanon a safe-haven for their extremist counterparts by forcing people to respect their faith.”

Here, I’ll break it down to help you understand why what Rifi did was NOT ok.

MAJOR Hypocrisy

Rifi is from Tripoli, a town where Islamist extremist flags are always a source of conflict. After the Lebanese Army removed the despicable black flags and replaced them with our Lebanese flag, the Islamist elements removed the national symbol of our country and replaced it with the black flags that have become synonymous with horrific death and genocide in our region.

Why didn’t Rifi ever send police cars to arrest these people? Where are the criminals that burned the historic library? The criminals that burnt the Christmas tree? Why didn’t Rifi think that they deserved to be “punished in the severest forms”? Is it because they were Christian symbols? Is it because the people he’d be arresting are constituents where we all know he’s planning to run for elected office?

Why are a bunch of misguided youths in Ashrafieh such prime targets to Rifi, enough to distract him from saving the lives of our abducted soldiers, who, till this day, Rifi and his government have no idea how many they are? How can he suggest he’s protecting the coexistence in Lebanon, when it’s clearly only Christian areas and individuals that feel the full brunt of his legal weight, while murderers and terrorists in his own hometown remain at large, with his blessing and the blessing of his colleagues? Is that really the best way to “protect coexistence”? By targeting Christian youths to try and score points with the extremist elements in his district? I think not.

Christian-Protector Bandwagon: FPM vs LF

The FPM (Free Patriotic Movement), the arch-rivals of Rifi’s FM (Future Movement) immediately jumped on this and even delegated its MPs to act as the youths’ defense attorneys. Though that is welcome, I’m sure dozens of independent attorneys would have come to the aid of these young people. It’s an attempt by the FPM to score points in their own districts, just like Rifi. As Rifi panders to Da3esh and Nusra members who can vote for him, the FPM pander to the Christian community in Lebanon, which plunges day after day into hopelessness and existential fears amid the vicious genocides the Islamic State has committed in Mosul and Syria, and the failure to fill Lebanon’s presidential seat, ceremonially sat on by a Maronite Christian figurehead.

Regardless the real motives though, the FPM deserves a nod of respect for stepping up so quickly and forcefully.

The LF are the ones that I feel are truly embarrassed. The LF traditionally sees itself as the most righteous protecter of Christians in Lebanon. It might not be said explicitly as much (except during the mass honoring their martyrs), but slogans like “Mar Charbel wel 7akim” are always present in their rallies and Facebook statuses. So, to seem them sit mute while Rifi does this to what was traditionally one of their powerhouses: Sassine Square in Ashrafieh, is embarrassing, and goes to show you how dependent Christian parties in Lebanon are to the funds they receive from their Muslim allies. Rifi is Future Movement, so, they keep their mouths shut. A shiite puts tiles in his home in Lasa (Kesserwen), and their media mouthpieces herald it as “an attack on Christians” or something just as sensational. But, prosecuting kids for protesting in what was once their “heartland”, and for strictly religious purposes, doesn’t even make them bat an eye…

It’s the “Orthodox Law” all over again, with both sides trying to score points with the increasingly skeptical Christian audience which is exhausted from the hypocrisy their political parties demonstrate every day, as a consequence of being tied down financially (and security-wise), to their Muslim coalition mates.

Freedom of Speech > Religion

Your faith is yours. Your religion is yours. But freedom of speech is universal, unalienable and absolute. Why can Islamist terrorists burn US and Israeli flags, but a disgruntled Christian kid can’t burn the flag of the most evil terrorist group to grace the face of this Earth? Doesn’t the Israeli flag have a Star of David on it? Isn’t that a religious symbol? A religious symbol of a sect the Lebanese government recognizes? Do people who burn Israeli flags mean to insult all Jews or Judaism in general, or just Israel? Then why did you consider the IS flag an insult to Islam in general? Why the painful hypocrisy?

Dear Minister, Call Your Witch Hunt Off

And focus on our kidnapped boys. You know, the ones kidnapped by the murderers who use that flag you are so dearly fighting for. Apologize to the Lebanese people. And don’t worry about your election hopes, because your protection, and dare I say support for the fighters in Tripoli, has sealed that deal for you already. So, leave Ashrafieh alone, and focus on banning alcohol and other IS-like things in your hometown, the victim of religious extremism with no salvation in sight unfortunately. And if you wanna uphold “principles”, make sure you exert the power of the law equally on everyone. Why should Tripoli youths who burn flags have the right to do so, and kids in Ashrafieh can’t? Your attempt to “protect coexistence” has actually exacerbated sectarian tensions. You are the Minister of Justice, so, please, be just.

What Tripoli’s Municipality Did Is Illegal, Here’s What To Do About It

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The nice thing about our Constitution is that in its preamble, it’s pretty awesome. It ensures Lebanon’s utmost adherence to human rights, the equality of its citizens under law and the absolute right to believe or not believe in whatever you want, and the freedom to practice that freely. The specific articles I’m referring to are the following:

A) Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent country. It is a final homeland for all its
citizens. It is unified in its territory, people, and institutions within the boundaries defined
in this constitution and recognized internationally.

B) Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its affiliation. It is a founding and active
member of the League of Arab States and abides by its pacts and covenants. Lebanon is
also a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its
covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Government shall
embody these principles in all fields and areas without exception.

C) Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties,
especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of
rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination.

D) The people are the source of authority and sovereignty; they shall exercise these
powers through the constitutional institutions.

E) The political system is established on the principle of separation of powers, their
balance and cooperation.

F) The economic system is free and ensures private initiative and the right of private
property.

G) The even development among regions on the educational, social, and economic levels
shall be a basic pillar of the unity of the state and the stability of the system.

H) The abolition of political confessionalism shall be a basic national goal and shall be
achieved according to a staged plan.

I) Lebanese territory is one for all Lebanese. Every Lebanese shall have the right to live
in any part thereof and to enjoy the rule of law wherever he resides. There shall be no
segregation of the people on the basis of any type of belonging, and no fragmentation,
partition, or settlement of non-Lebanese in Lebanon.

J) There shall be no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the
‘pact of mutual existence.

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So, as you can see, the extremist stances of the Tripoli municipality chief is illegal according to Lebanon’s constitution, which has precedence over any local government crazy decisions like “banning foreigners from going out at night” and “banning the sale of alcohol.”

Why the Tripoli Affair is Scary

It’s definitely not new. Many parts of Lebanon are already forcibly alcohol-free, like Nabatieh and Sour and other regions in Lebanon where places that sell liquor have been burned, bombed or forced to shut down. What’s different about the Tripoli incident, is that apart from the thugs and extremist elements, it added some “fake” legitimacy to the intolerant decision that encroaches on people’s rights and freedom to choose what to do, and what religion and religious practices to abide by, or not to. I say “fake” legitimacy because the municipality doesn’t have the right or jurisdiction to disobey the unalienable rights guaranteed in the Lebanese Constitution’s preamble. (It is in clear violation of articles B, C, E, F, I and J).

That is why, it’s imperative that this injustice be rectified, and immediately.

How to Rectify this Injustice

Ever since word broke out, a team of awesome people with the support of some of the nation’s brightest legal minds have been considering what can be done, and we’ve decided it’s time to take this to the Shura Council of Lebanon. The Shura Council is sort of like the US Supreme Court, which has the final say regarding constitutionality of bills and laws and other matters in Lebanon. What’s great is that any citizen can file a lawsuit with the Shura Council, and we plan on doing just that. All we need is your help, especially if you’re a Tripoli resident.

We’re very proud to announce that if you’re willing to file the lawsuit, we will take care of all your legal fees and proceedings with some of Lebanon’s brightest and most-connected attorneys and the support of several legal, rights and freedom NGOs.

Just call 01 208 101 and we’ll take it from there!

A Few Words

Despite the vicious onslaught of extremist Islam in different forms in Lebanon, we’re still here, and true to the ideals we all believe in: freedom, equality and peace. Whether its terrorists in Aarsal or delusional murderers blowing themselves up, or extremist clerics derailing women’s rights laws, or even hateful, intolerant municipal chiefs, they’ll never kill what makes Lebanon special: its liberal nature compared to other Arab countries.

No matter how much fear, disgust and hopelessness these extremists preach, we should never treat them as they would treat us. Violence and hatred is never an option we’ll want to take. Instead, due diligence and non-violent direct action is the path we choose to take. After all, if there’s one thing that makes us different from them, it’s that we don’t chop heads off and condone raping women and children.

So, no matter how vicious and abhorred the extremist camp and its fans become, we can’t resort to their level. Go party, have a beer and toast them. Go about your every day lives. Try to make where you are a bit better. Show the world and Lebanon that our version is better, happier and more tolerant. Help charities aiding locals and the millions of Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi refugees who came to Lebanon to escape the hell these extremists made them go through back home. Never give up. This isn’t petty politics or academic debates. This is a real threat to our way of life, our way of thinking, and it’s up to us to keep it alive and well as our petty, dim-witted, corrupt politicians bicker over seats and their wages…

Thoughts About The Aarsal Operation

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I’ve been following the news minute by minute over the past week. The general sentiment was already an unpleasant one with the heart-wrenching crimes against humanity being committed in Gaza and Mosul, by equally extremist ideological entities, and it became worse when it hit so close to home, as we’ve all been predicting.

I’ve been to Aarsal several times over the past two years. I’ve met many locals and many Syrian refugees there. I know firsthand how hard it’s been for that Lebanese town of 40,000 originally now housing some 100,000 refugees in the greater Aarsal area and border regions, a barren, dry no-mans-land with no proper border demarcation. This lack of demarcation makes it difficult for international aid agencies like the UNHCR to get access to many of the refugees who happen to live in the part of town beyond the de-facto border set by the last Lebanese army checkpoint, beyond which the Lebanese jurisdiction doesn’t hold up for the UNHCR and its partners. This leaves the aid up to thousands of these refugees to independent NGOs and individual initiatives like Lebanese For Refugees.

Why You Should Be Confident in the Lebanese Army

Simply? Because I’m confident they’re one of the most experienced, if not most experienced armies in the region and the world when it comes to successfully fighting extremist Islamist terrorist groups. The epic and costly fight in Nahr El Bared, and squashing the “Fateh El Islam” terrorist group was the first major battle, add to that the unrest in Tripoli, the clashes with Al Assir in Abra, and earlier in the decade during the Syrian Occupation when they were attacked on New Year’s Eve Y2K by extremist terrorists as well.

So, training-wise, I know our boys in special forces units like the Mujawkal and Maghawir, are the best and brightest. Equipment-wise, they could always use better weapons and I hope the Saudi-bought French tactical weapons will make it into our soldiers’ hands ASAP.

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Why You Should Be Worried About the Lebanese Army

Because our elected officials see them as numbers. Our media and municipalities see them as “just another martyr”. This is unacceptable. If there’s one thing alone I agree with or would even dare say “respect” about the Israelis, is that they never leave behind one of their own. Every soldier’s safety and life is precious and a matter of national security. We need to take care of our soldiers, decrease as much as possible the loss of life among our troops, who often leave behind families that depend on them.

I’m also worried that the Aarsal operations’ effects extend beyond the Aarsal region. Already you hear voices of dissent and violent attacks against soldiers in the Tripoli area. The excuse is a contorted spin on events that feed off on Sunni disenfranchisement in light of Hezbollah’s virtually unstoppable participation in the Syrian war in support of the Bashar El Assad. Most Sunnis sympathize with the original uprising against Assad, which puts them at odds with the Shiite Hezbollah. The worrisome scenario is when Sunni youths get disillusioned into supporting terrorist groups that seem to many  of them as the only alternative to the Shiite scarecrow Hezbollah. Which puts them at an inevitable clash, which often innocent civilians and Lebanese Army soldiers pay the price for.

Why Everyone Should Support the Army, But Also Hold It Accountable

I cannot imagine someone not supporting the Lebanese Army in this operation. A group of foreign, extremist fighters taking an entire Lebanese city hostage, executing many and using others as human shields and obstructing their attempts to flee to neighboring towns. But also, calls for a media blackout and “unified media coverage” seems unreasonable to me. Sharing false information is unacceptable, but counting on official press releases alone, is not enough for the average Lebanese taxpayer who deserves to know what the LAF is doing in a Lebanese town full of innocent Lebanese civilians and thousands of innocent refugees.

I know many people would wish harm and pain and even torture for these murderous criminals, but when we don’t let proper civil justice take its route, we become guilty of the same crimes as the terrorists: blind hatred and zero rights. That’s why videos of beating up an unarmed suspect in Abra by a group of soldiers and civilians, is unacceptable. The alleged civilized society our boys are fighting for against the barbaric way of life the terrorists forcibly try to impose, demands we respect human rights of both the criminals, as well as the innocent civilians paying the price.

Worst Case Scenario?

That the voices of dissent against the army rise, and unrest boils up in regions like Tripoli, would apart from causing violent clashes and loss of life, would also hinder the immense efforts of the General Security, LAF and ISF to foil suicide bombing plans before it’s too late. The worst case scenario is not yet upon us, and I hope it never will be. Of course, Hezbollah’s possible participation in the Aarsal operations might be the spark that ignites the fuel, but I doubt Hezbollah would take that rash decision. Besides, the LAF is more than capable of doing the job, so their intervention would be even hard to justify to their own supporters, and a blatant reinforcement of every single crime March 14 accuses Hezbollah of.

Best Case Scenario?

That the operations end immediately with the fighters agreeing to release the soldiers they’ve kidnapped and retreat back into Syria. This would hopefully stop the loss of precious life, and jump-start the way-overdue process of properly managing the refugee crisis and making sure none of the impromptu refugee camps become fertile ground for these terrorist to regroup and replenish, for the sake of both Lebanon, and the Syrian refugees who are also victims of these extremist fighters. Talk is already starting about Aarsal being “Kahwagi’s Nahr El Bared”, which compares the success of former president Michel Sleiman as Army Chief in the Nahr El Bared battles that many agree ensured his selection as Lebanon’s next president. Lebanon’s presidency is currently vacant, and no clear resolution in sight, which helped spark hopes for some that the LAF’s victory would speed up the process of electing the current Army Chief, Kahwagi, as Lebanon’s next Maronite president.

We’d also see even more forceful condemnation from more moderate Sunnis, making it clear to the terrorist groups and other Lebanese people, that they stand as one hand in fighting this extremist, violent way of life Lebanon never was and will never be part of. The broken record of “these people don’t represent us!” without any viable action taken to further elaborate that, and the comfortable excuse “It’s Hezbollah’s fault” as an alternative, makes it pretty shaky when it comes to making sure our young men don’t end up enchanted by extremist promises of violent empowerment.

Last Words

Remember, Aarsal is a Lebanese town. The infamy some of its officials and groups have earned doesn’t negate the fact the overwhelming majority are hospitable, kind, generous people who have equal rights to every other person in Lebanon. They need to be saved from the terrorists and expect the Army to liberate them, and care for their safety and wellbeing, which I am one hundred percent sure the Lebanese Army is doing heroically.

As for our troops, we wholeheartedly wish you all stay safe and be careful, and thank you from the bottom of our heart for fighting the fight we never could. You make us proud, and repaying you is impossible, but making a better country to try to make it worth your fight, just might be one small step at a time…

Disturbing Christian Cult Leader Sends Innocent Women to Mental Asylum

This is disgusting on so many levels, it hurts.

1- Delusional Cult Leader

Ok, religion all in all is a group of delusions, but this guy has got a particularly terrible case of them. He thinks the “Virgin Mary” is “inside him”, and has somehow managed to brainwash the faithful in his town, including the clergy, into playing along with his delusions.

2- Delusions Turn into Sexual Assault

Having the “Virgin Mary” inside him wasn’t enough for the cult leader, he wanted to be inside another woman, and what better way than to invoke sanctity and being inhabited by the “Virgin Mary”. That’s when Helene Abi Nader decided to go to the cult leader, in desperate hopes he might heal her “uterine problems”. Of course, the cult leader forcibly insisted that his hand should be the one to massage the holy oil into Helen’s private parts.

Be stupid and delusional all you want, that’s your own problem, but when your delusions become a power roller-coaster where you abuse people’s naivety and force yourself upon them, shielding yourself with words of God or whatever other delusion, is not ok. Never will be no matter what imaginary friend you have inside you.

3- Church and Government Condoning This

Since when the fuck did someone “asking” the government to put someone in Der El Saleeb, all it takes to do that? Yalla, start calling 112 and asking them to put your annoying parents and boyfriends in Der El Saleeb, mnetsalla kilna, why do through due process, legal proceedings, actual check-ups by professionals… Let’s just skip to forcibly injecting an abused woman with a cocktail of unknown drugs because some fucking lunatic decided she was the crazy one because she didn’t accept him sexually abusing her.

The Maronite church’s response was a memo… After mobilizing entire government bodies to “capture Satanists” (which we have yet to find!) and cracking down violently on “slutty nun costumes” and assaulting people shedding light on pedophile priests, the church seemed very disinterested in putting down this “descent”, if it could be called that, and allowed its clergy to be part of this harmful farce.

4- Release Helene, Prosecute the Cult Leader

Inno, it’s like watching a damn sarcastic comedy, where the crazy bastard who thinks a god lives inside him, gets to decide who is mentally disturbed or not… Really? ReallyyyyY?!

And stop using the excuse of “holiness” to protect child and sexual abuse. I don’t care how holy you are, if you start forcibly touching people’s peepees, you better damn spend your days behind bars, not altars and cults.

A Friendly Post to Muslims About Ramadan

I’m a very outspoken, irreverent atheist. This makes a lot of people dislike me, and I don’t have a problem with that. I am wholeheartedly convinced religion is not only wrong, but very detrimental to our lives and humanity’s progress. However, please put this aside for this post, and I promise I’ll be as respectful as possible.

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The Abra Memo

This memo made my heart ache. For a municipality to violate the constitution, and its jurisdiction, and issue a memo banning non-Muslims and non-practicing Muslims from “eating in public”, was painful. What was even more painful, is how people twisted it as a “good-will” move that demonstrates how tolerant Lebanese people are, and how coexistence is working between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Really though? Do you really think a move of good-will should be imposed by a municipality? Do you really think a Christian that wants to respect his Muslim friend and not eat a popsicle in the sweltering heat in front of him, was waiting for a municipality memo written by a Christian chief whose hand was forced by a Muslim Sunni mufti? How is that good-will? How is that a choice? How was that respecting coexistence?

It’s good that the municipality chief recanted this shameful memo. It’s a clear victory for the liberal voices in Lebanon, often drowned-out by extremist religious conservative bombings, the violent opposition of Muslim leaders to laws that protect women’s rights and other disgraceful acts fueled by archaic religious beliefs exacerbated by inadequate education and the ever-present existential threats sects feel in Lebanon that makes the religious turn into evil.

Here I’d like to thank Stop Cultural Terrorism, BlogBaladi.com, Trella.org and Joe Maalouf’s 7ki Jelis for the attention they brought to the Abra issue, and helped through public opinion, reverse this shameful memo.

Other Attempts to Oppress People’s Choice

Abra’s got a lot of attention, but many others do not. It is very important this Ramadan that we all stay vigilant to these attempts to put down Lebanese people’s choice to do whatever they want under the law. If a place tries to impose such a religious law, it’s important we shed light on that, and show them we are not happy about this.

Some might say, “so what, it’s just for a month”, but as we’ve already seen in the Hamra example, where Zaatar w Zeit was forced to abandon bacon and beer because their landlord is a religious extremist. This is a dangerous phenomenon, one that should never get traction in liberal Lebanon, the one thing that makes Lebanon stand out from other Arab countries, the one trait that makes Lebanon the crown jewel of the conservative Arab countries.

So, please, if you believe in choice, and coexistence, discourage places and areas that force you to do something you don’t want to. Don’t go there. Don’t pay your money in support of religious extremism. Celebrate the difference, and sanctify the right to choose. Pay your money to Islamic charities if you are feeling charitable, but don’t pay a bill at a restaurant that doesn’t give you the choice to do what you want.

To My Conservative Muslim Readers

As a libertarian, I wholeheartedly respect whatever you want to do in line with your faith. It’s your absolute right, and no matter what I think of it, it’s your holy right to do it. BUT, forcing it upon others will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be acceptable.

If you want to fast, do so yourself, don’t force anyone else to. If your faith in your beliefs is strong enough, you won’t mind seeing someone else eat in front of you. I’m sure you can muster up enough will to keep to your beliefs. Forcing people to do what you want, shows that you are too weak to resist temptation, and that reflects very negatively on your faith. So, please, keep your faith to yourself, be proud of it, show it off, but don’t ever commit the transgression of imposing your beliefs on others, and have the nerve to call it coexistence, when it wasn’t a willing choice.

Some Last Words

Religious freedom is an absolute right in Lebanon. This means that your right to practice your religion is untouchable. It also means that your right to not to, is also untouchable. At a time when religious conservatives are ruining the country, with clashes all over the nation, suicide bombings every other day, executions with no trial and other horrible, horrible things, you must stand with what little human rights and liberal ideals we still have.

Abra was won, but Tripoli has already fallen. A similar, more forceful memo has been issued, in a city that has already suffered for decades from the tyranny of religious conservatives. This is saddening. And it feels hopeless in a city so polarized religiously, that disobeying this memo would put people’s lives in danger…

No one can tell you when can eat and when you can’t. No one can tell you you can’t protect the rights of your mom, sister, wife, girlfriend or friend. No one can tell you you can’t marry the love of your life because she worships another god. You are a free person, with individual rights that can never be robbed. Fight for them. Fight the good fight, not with bombs and suicide vests and intolerant memos and opposing fair laws, but peacefully and rationally.

Happy Ramadan!

Nouwweb by SMEX and Lamba Labs: For a More #OpenLeb

Access to information is extremely hard and tricky in Lebanon. We don’t even know which MP voted for what, much less how to get in touch with them.

The guys and gals at SMEX and Lamba Labs have started an online tool that will hopefully snowball into the kind of information we demand becomes available, and is our right as Lebanese taxpayers.

The usual scenario is, if you tell your friend “General X has stolen so much money”, his answer will usually be, “Well, so has Dr. Y”. It’s an endless circle jerk with no real effect on political decisions and attitudes. But, if I can show you what, how, when, etc. You probably won’t defend the corrupt and wrong so easily anymore.

That is the plan eventually, for now, Nouwweb is making the MPs in Lebanon more accessible to us, the voters. It includes information about their districts, sects as well as contact information including cellphones when available and social network accounts.

Here’s an example:Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 4.26.31 PM

 

Check out the website here.

Actions by Pro-Assad Syrians in Lebanon Today Were Unacceptable

Syrian presidential elections in Lebanon

Today was a dangerous, disgraceful, distasteful, rude, disruptive and ungrateful display by the tens of thousands of alleged “refugees” on one of Lebanon’s main thoroughfares and areas.

1- Ungrateful and Hypocritical

Lebanon has been the absolute most generous host of Syrian refugees around the world. Almost 2 million Syrian citizens flood Lebanese territories. Despite minor racist slogans and banners, the overall hospitality has been unprecedented.

The fact that these people who are seeking refuge on Lebanese territory blatantly violated a ministerial decree banning such political rallies and blocked the international highway into the Lebanese capital, was disrespectful, ungrateful and scary.

Personally, I believe every single person who came out to vote today and blocked the streets, needs to be considered a persona-non-grata, an unwelcome person in Lebanon, including the Syrian ambassador.

2- Shameful

The Syrian regime has done everything to obstruct relief efforts in Lebanon. Syrians are terrified to register with the UNHCR for fear of retribution when they get back home. Logistically, the Syrian government has done nothing to aid its citizens seeking refuge in Lebanon.

However, the regime had no problem pulling off a logistical feat by getting buses and organizing elections on a scale that makes the March 8 and 14 2005 logistical preps pale in comparison. What a hypocritical stance… Not lifting a finger to aid refugees, but making sure the logistics of this charade are pulled off perfectly. For shame.

3- Unacceptable

Bashar Assad’s regime is one that caused Lebanon and the Lebanese unparalleled pain and suffering for over 3 decades. Tens of thousands of Lebanese people were butchered, imprisoned and kidnapped, and thousands more remain in Assad’s notorious prisons. To see tens of thousands of people so disrespectfully and provocatively insult the families of the victims of Assad’s barbaric regime, was both unacceptable and scary, and I’m glad Lebanese folks kept their cool and didn’t get provoked by this disgusting display of force and defiance.

4- A Resounding Message to March 14

March 14 has always felt that the Syrian refugees are mostly anti-Assad, and hence had no problem with the lax security and maintenance as to the refugee crisis. I believe the March 14 bloc should reconsider their positions, and push forward for refugee camps on the border regions that are better controlled and maintained.

5- Go Home Pro and Anti-Assad Supporters

Lebanon welcomes civilians seeking refuge, not disturbers of the peace and militants. Every militant or activist that broke the law today and closed the streets, is unwelcome in Lebanon.

6- Step-up Government

Eject every single disturber of peace that participated in this fiasco today. If they feel this confident and safe with the murderous Assad regime, then they’re more than welcome to go back to the territories he controls. But, for them to abuse the hospitality of the Lebanese people and government, who has suffered enough from Assad and his troops, is a point no Lebanese person can accept, regardless of the narrow political mindsets. Also, make sure the roads stay open tomorrow for the second day, no matter what.

7- For Peaceful Refugees

We have been your closest friends for 3 years now, and we have done the absolute most to help whichever way we can. This post is not aimed at you, it’s aimed at the questionable behavior today that many if not most Lebanese are not OK with. Please don’t take this as an attack on you, we know your safety is in danger back home, and we welcome you with open arms and homes till the day things better in Syria. However, please keep Syrian politics out of Lebanon, and help us maintain what semblance of a functional country we have managed to pull off.

Comments on the Rai Visit to Jerusalem

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The recent uproar about the Maronite Patriarch’s visit to the Palestinian territories is yet another installment of the painfully hypocritical ideological stances political and religious figures in Lebanon take.  Before we begin, let me be clear this is no way an endorsement of the Maronite church and its patriarchy, just common sense.

The critics of this trip cite their mortal enmity with Israel as the reason the Patriarch shouldn’t accompany the Catholic Pontiff to the Holy Lands of that faith. Here though, I want to remind those critics that the Maronite church has an archdiocese there. There are Maronites there, and just like Rai visits Mexico and the States and Cyprus to check up on his “flock”, why should Palestine be any different?

Don’t you all agree that what religious figures do is above the “law” and what applies to normal folks doesn’t apply to the ones that don a black robe and shiny bling bling? Remember when muslim religious leaders went absolute ape shit over the law to stop men from beating and raping and killing their wives? Remember when they resolutely stood against popular demand to allow civil marriage on Lebanese soil? What was that? How is a religious figure allowed to change the whole policy of a nation? Disobeying the will of its educated youth, for their archaic means of making money while not giving back any in taxes?

I know these two examples aren’t really comparable, but the point I’m trying to make, is that the very same people hiding behind their ideologies, take the liberty to do what a sizable part of the Lebanese population considers horrendous, and they get away with it. Personally, visiting his faithful parishes in Palestine is a far less grievous crime than sanctifying butchering women and encouraging division by barring civil marriage for immensely idiotic reasons like “it’s an Israeli conspiracy” or “we wouldn’t be able to control our women”.

So, respectfully, spare us the emotional blackmail we’ve grown accustomed to ignoring. Murderers of women and the youth’s dreams have no say in what another religious figure can and cannot do. If anything, it’s the smartest thing he’s doing in the wider anti-naturalization movement. Instead of being scared silly and hiding away in big halls built with your money, he’s actually going there and making a statement. Proving Israeli authorities cannot control this religiously driven visit, breaking the self-imposed ban we’ve maintained on ourselves from visiting Palestine.

I for one would love to visit a land only a couple of hours away from where I live, but that doesn’t mean I support Israel. If anything, it’s supporting the sovereignty of a Palestinian state we all aspire for, visiting them and sitting with them and performing religious rites there. Sure beats censoring movies because their director is Jewish, don’t you think? What’s sad though, is that the Patriarch can go because he’s a religious figure, but you and me cannot. Another example of how sectarian control of our daily lives is an inconvenience to our progress as a nation trying hard to break free from the civil war days which never really left us…

So, if you want to condemn the patriarch for this visit, I’m not really gonna take you seriously unless you condemn the muslim religious leaders whose crimes lead to the abuse, torture and death of Lebanese people every day of every year. But, you overlook that human rights abuse and encroachment of mosque on government, you know, cause they say they hate Israel in public and do nothing about it in reality. Oh, and when Ahmedinajad was lecturing in universities in New York, why didn’t you feel offended? Why wasn’t this as unacceptable as the Rai visit?

Hypocrites.