10 Years Later…

I’m alone a lot. I know folks think I’m always at a party or exploring some cool stuff with cool people, but remember, my Instagram is the stuff I choose to share. I live alone. I travel alone. I work alone. Sometimes I watch a movie alone. Sometimes I even go clubbing alone.

Being alone allows you to think a lot. Thinking uninterruptedly because the free WiFi is just 30 minutes at that airport. Thinking uninterruptedly because there’s no smoking area in that terminal (the one that caters for the budget airlines). Thinking uninterruptedly because you’re not worried someone traveling with you forgot something and you need to go back to the security check.

“Eurotrips” aren’t something new, and by any standard, I’m very late to that party. But this one was exceptionally epiphany-inducing for me. It might have been the solitude. It might have been the legal drugs. It might have been the music. It might have been the people I met. I’m not really sure, but one thing I knew it coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the Hariri assassination. I knew it would coincide with that anniversary, so I knew I’d probably be sitting on a river bank in Amsterdam with a rolled-up joint to ponder that a little.

Love

I love Lebanon. I love its people. I’ve fallen in love with a few Lebanese girls. My closest friends are Lebanese. Most of my family is Lebanese. It’s where I went to school, where I had my first kiss, where I partied my first party and where I raised my dog.

I love my hometown of Ehden. I love the heavily-scarred, over-choked Beirut. I love the parties there and I love the DJs that spin in them and create their music. I love that a Lebanese person can get themselves out of a tight spot in pretty resourceful (though not always ethical) way.

I love the weather. I love the resilience. I love that almost every major civilization has conquered and eventually liberated us, leaving some of their ruins, and their genes, behind. I love we have an opinion on everything, even if it has nothing to do with us. I love that everyone thinks they’re an expert on everything, and often get into embarrassing situations because of that. I love how everyone tries to be holier-than-thou when behind closed doors they’d make Mia Khalifa blush.

Hate

I hate it because we’ve spent unlimited billions of dollars on electricity, but we have none. I hate it because our slow internet is always expensive, and when it isn’t, our quotas suddenly become shorter. I hate it because they think they have the right to censor us. I hate it because almost every person thinks they’re important enough somehow to dictate how others should live and what they can and cannot do with their own lives and decisions.

I hate it because I know everything done politically in the name of the people, involves a not-so-secret contract worth many, many millions. (Remember the fire extinguisher thing a few years back? Well, compare the current food and garbage and casino and port ludicrous issues as exactly the same). I hate it because I’m 24 and I’ve never voted, and don’t think I will anytime soon. I hate it because issues that I care about like civil marriage, women’s rights, no police brutality, fair courts and respect for human rights always gets sabotaged by filthy religious men and the politicians that fall under the same corrupt sect.

I hate it because the police do miracles to crackdown on harmless civilians for having a beard, or smoking a joint, or other petty “crimes”, but when someone actually commits a crime, like block a road, murder, assassinate, terrorize, they are left to roam free and unabated (maybe cause the cops are too chicken like their favorite food, or simply, there’s not much bribe money in it). I hate it because people think revenge is right, and often take it into their own penis and head-chopping barbaric hands I hate it because people think being a soldier means benefits from the government, not the duty that includes putting your life and liberty on the line for the sake of your country, and expect us to release terrorists for their sake, terrorists who will try to the exact same vile things again, instead of trying to rescue them like a military should, not pander and court a stupid, barbaric terrorist network.

I hate it most though, because it punishes hope. Being hopeful in Lebanon is like being stupid. I didn’t particularly like Rafic Hariri. I had not forgotten that for most of his life, he was a partner in the Syrian occupier’s crimes, and only when their interests shifted, the very public strife between them arose. The images paid for on TV ads and spots making Hariri look divine made me uneasy, and the fact that people who a week earlier wouldn’t have hesitated calling him a “bad man” to put it politely, were suddenly shedding tears at the edited videos with sad soundtracks about his life. But, I hated the Syrian occupation and everything about it, and I was hoping that the loudspeaking vans and pick-up trucks that kept inviting people to go down to Martyr’s Square and tell the government to resign and the Syrian occupiers to get out, would actually amount to something. It did. And I did go down, with very big hopes about a Lebanon we could be proud of and live in and look up to.

A couple of weeks later, the mostly bonafide Syrian lackies who had suddenly become March 14 freedom fighters, reverted to their old ways and gutted the very essence of the March 2005 movement, with the disgusting and aptly named “foursome” electoral coalition which ensured that the Christian parties that had been actual “14 March” for years (LF and FPM) stayed out of power. All the years of struggle against the Syrian occupation, while the newcomers to M14 getting fat from the crumbs the Syrian regime was dropping on the floors of torture dungeons for them. That was the first slap in a hopeful kid like me’s face.

Then, Gebran died, and none of those left could be trusted anymore. And I switched camps. But, I don’t like ideologies and I don’t like Arabist nationalists and I don’t like Islamist ideologues and above all else, I don’t really like hypocrites. So, that didn’t last long, and ever since, I’ve been watching how the two pathetically incompetent camps have performed worse than anyone’s wildest (and incredibly low) expectations.

I hate it because it makes me feel guilty. I feel guilty because when we work on a specific cause, I still feel like we giving others hope, when we have none… And that has been taking its toll on me, and I hate that.

It forced us to make our goals less ambitious. A lot less ambitious. In a decade, we went from restoring our old, free, independent country, to “please don’t kill us with this toxic chemical and that rabid law” and “no guys, it’s not ok to beat and rape your wife cause of your religion”, and “please stop wasting so much energy and time ruining young people’s lives for a quick buck”, and “hey, why is it unsafe to run an election, but it’s safe to take taxes and arrest people with zero probable cause or legal precedent”, and the list goes on and on.

Gateless, Fenceless Metros Did It

Berlin’s metro and trams don’t have gated stations. People can just walk in and sit without paying first. But they do. Imagine the money saved on all those gates and fences and stations. The transport authority trusts the people will do the right thing, and the people know that if they don’t pay for what they use, the city won’t be able to afford running that service anymore. Of course, if an inspector asks you for a ticket, and you don’t have one, you’ll get a fine (but didn’t run into any of those in over a week).

Picture a metro in Beirut. It’s hard to imagine it ever being completed because most of the money for it would be in politicians’ pockets, like everything else. Assuming it did though, imagine the vandalism and sabotage it’d endure by Lebanese folks: people who have historically never learned to trust a government or respect authority, which was mostly foreign invaders. Look at what the disgusting creatures that run the generators in Zahle are doing: they’re shooting transformers that promised to provide the area with something that should be an absolute basic right, not an unattainable luxury: 24-hour electricity. And look what the cops and politicians are doing about it: nothing. Imagine what the service and bus drivers that keep menacing our roads, would do if we had a better, cheaper and more efficient alternative…

Instead, they make big deals about corruption scandals like in the past few weeks the Casino one, and the Port one, where the real issue is only that they didn’t split the crooked money between themselves evenly, so they try to turn it into a religious or national thing (with the Maronite church, frustrated it can’t influence the political class to vote for a Maronite president, always meddling in these non-religious affairs, trying to fill the president’s shoes, which don’t really do much btw). The casino thing ended by paying off fake employees with your real tax liras, and in the meantime, you watched a dramatic sitcom unfold, when really, a microscopic casino that no one visits doesn’t need 3 fucking thousand employees with 200,000USD of severance…

The Fortress Has Fallen

A good friend once told me that Lebanon is a fortress, where anything bad can go in, but barely anything can escape. More like a prison. We all know how restrictive our passport is, and how difficult it is to secure a student or work visa, or immigration, to somewhere where we could build a better life for ourselves. That didn’t bother me before, and the thought of trying to stay away no matter what the cost, was never an option. It is now though. I’ve realized that other than the States, there’s plenty of countries I’d rather live in than at home, and that’s sad. When we get hungry and someone suggests we order delivery here, I immediately think of local Lebanese delivery spots, then remember I’m not there anymore.

I guess, 10 years later, I’ve become the person who will probably persuade others to leave, instead of persuading my family and friends why I, and they, shouldn’t.

Beards and Eiffel Towers: Reflections on My First Night in Paris

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For those of you who saw me live in the past few weeks, you know that my beard has become exceptionally long and bushy. One reason is that, in all honesty, I love my beard. Another, is I wanted to experiment what someone like me, backpacking through Europe with a big beard, would run into.

I got to Paris around 10:00PM and Mika picked me up and after a breather at his place, I decided to go see the Arc de Triomphe, Trocadero Square and the Eiffel Tower. I thought at night, the walk would be more pleasant and with less tourists to ruin your experience and shots. After a good 45 min walk, I finally made it to Avenue de New York, and crossed the Iena bridge to get to the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

I was lucky, cause I got to see a good 15 minutes of cool light shows before they turned it off at 1:05AM (to save energy, and the highways were completely dark too btw). I walked under it, and found a nice place to sit there and have a cigarette and think about life and shit. I crossed my legs, lit my cigarette and not 2 minutes later, 4 police officers come up from behind.

Now, the split second I saw them, I started to prepare my passport, expecting them to ask for it, but instead, the policewomen very casually, and politely said: “there’s been a bomb threat, you need to clear the area please”

And I did, and crossed the street and sat there instead to finish the cigarette while I watch from a distance. People were still walking through the area that supposedly had a bomb threat, passing by the 4 police. It also seemed odd that 4 police officers, on foot, with just a hand gun, would be dispatched to deal with a bomb threat at one of the world’s most visited landmarks…

Then again, bomb threats are a common occurrence for the Eiffel Tower, yet, I couldn’t help but feel it was particularly convenient for the police woman to use that excuse to politely tell me to GTFO.

It was almost 2:00AM now, and like every city, the kids who couldn’t hold their liquor were stumbling about the park, unable to afford a cab fare and upset to find out the Metro is already closed. He approached me and asked for a cigarette, so I obliged. When he found out why I was sitting on that bench a bit further away from where I had came all the way to see, he was furious.

He insisted on giving the cops an earful, and I pleaded with the drunk young man not to. I didn’t want any trouble, and I assumed the cops don’t know any better. I also assumed the civilians don’t know any better, but that kid, inebriated as he was, gave a speech about freedom and liberty, and how racial profiling was wrong, how ignorant they were, etc.

It felt good that people understood. I don’t really get upset anymore when I get pulled aside in airport queues and get my underwear dusted for explosive residue. They’re just people doing a job, with inaccurate information and bigoted prejudice that could get frustrating when you think of it.

In Lebanon and the Arab World, extremists and their bootlickers call us shit like “Imperialist” and “Zionist” and whatever words they use to scare their children before going to bed. We’re the “evil seculars and atheists” that want to make Lebanon “like Europe” (as if that’s a bad thing?). In Europe and the States, we’re the “terror suspects”, the “enemy” (as many US veterans in New York called me).

It’s the sad reality, you’re not welcome in both places. One side accuses you of being like the opposite side, and when you go there, it’s the same thing all over again. But that drunk kid reminded me that many people know better. And that reminds me of another reason I keep my beard long. Who the fuck are religious extremists to take away the beard from us? That many of them know that we have suffered the most under both the hands of extremist religions, and colonizing powers… Oh, the irony.

All in all, it was a cool first night in Paris. Today, I’m going to Republique to the Charlie Hebdo memorial to see what the reactions there will be like, and buy a couple copies for myself. Then checking out the underground party scene.

A New Level of Absurdity for Censorship in Lebanon #SenselessCensorship

10369892_786765624694166_3684344099274024970_nAt March, we’re used to the impolite and juvenile way the General Security’s Censorship Bureau deals with us. The former chief, upon banning our play satirizing the bureau’s work, made it his sacred mission to go on every talk show in Lebanon and elaborate how “stupid” “childish” “uneducated” and “far from reality” our work was. He based his “analysis” on a secret “panel of experts” that conveniently echoed what the bureau chief thought. Eventually, our play did get OK-ed by the new chief, marking a victory for March and proving how broken the censorship “laws” actually were: one chief banned it completely, another let it through untouched…

However, the bureau has stooped to unusual lows this time after our most recent experiment. We got together a bunch of scripts and op-eds from popular TV shows and websites and newspapers in Lebanon, and put them in play-format and submitted them to the bureau, to see if they’ll ban something that’s already public. They did, completely. And after 90 minutes of back-and-forth, the bureau chief said it was fully banned.

When we started mounting our campaign to demonstrate how absurd censorship is, the higher-up in the GS’s censorship bureau called us liars, saying that they didn’t ban it, that they just wanted a few words removed. How was it possible to do that? They never give you a paper to prove anything, they just inform you “orally”. The same thing happened when they refused to renew one of our members’ passports to punish him for writing our first banned play, which after the intervention of the Ministry of Interior, was rectified and this absurd “ikhda3″ (submission) tactics made a thing of the past, hopefully!

This fear of the General Security when it comes to written paperwork backing up their decision, goes to show you not even they are convinced of the things they censor, and they realize it’s just as stupid, insulting and uncalled for as we do. So, here, I’d like to ask them, if you think what you’re doing is right, why hide and deny it? Stand by your decisions and give us papers to verify you banned our work so we can avoid this high-school mean-girls discussion of “he-said-she-said”.

Luckily though, under law as well, if the GSCB (General Security Censorship Bureau) doesn’t reply within 8 weeks, it gets considered as a “rejection” or ban. And that is why we are filing a complaint with the Lebanese Shura Council, in hope they’ll do the right thing and overturn this executive order that is blatantly useless and unfair to Lebanese artists and writers who are the only people who suffer at the hands of the GSCB.

Here, we’d like to remind you of several things you can do to avoid going through the GSCB altogether:

  • Screen or display your work in university campuses. The GSCB has no jurisdiction there, and even if something is banned, you can freely display it on campuses like AUB and LAU with no trouble whatsoever.
  • March and SKeyes are ready to appoint legal representation and cover all the expenses if you are ever targeted for something you said, wrote, filmed, recorded or published online. We can’t be expected to tell the Lebanese people to speak freely and unabated, without making sure if the government or those controlling it for their special interests, you are fully protected and represented by some of the country’s foremost legal minds.

So, ma tkhafo min el 7orriye, khafo 3laya!

 

To Lebanese Christians: Please Stop Being Stupid Hypocrites

As a recovering Maronite, when Christians in Lebanon behave in a stupid, naive way, it makes me exceptionally sad. After all, even if you don’t identify with a group anymore, you still hold them dear to your heart and care about the mistakes they do more than you would a group you never belonged to.

The past week, I’ve been flabbergasted with how childish and extreme they’ve been, and how poorly their understanding has been, and how quick to jump to conclusions they are, absurdly contradicting every single teaching of the lord they worship, Jesus Christ.

1- Catholic Information Center Sparks Strife with Future Movement

Nadim Koteich is a friend, and a fellow non-believer. We might not agree on many things, but we do share a lot in common and I do appreciate his courage and outspokenness. He shared a photo on his personal Facebook account by the artist Christina Guggeri which depicts various world leaders, including the Pope, doing their “Daily Duty” on the toilet seat.

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A couple of hours later, he was surprised with brazen threats by the Catholic Information Center, which is the biggest banner of books, fashion, music and culture in Lebanon, that if he did not remove it, the Christian body would go public with a statement attacking him, and the chief of his political party, Saad Hariri. Ironically for the Future Movement, this came only days after Sunni conservatives slammed the party’s newspaper for having a “Je Suis Charlie” headline in solidarity with the weekly satirical magazine after the barbaric attack against it that left over a dozen innocent people dead.

I sympathize with them, and tell them that many liberals do appreciate their brave stance, myself included.

What is unacceptable is how this “information center” is acting in a mafioso manner and censoring what people can and cannot say on their own Facebook profiles! Perhaps they are like North Koreans, and think that this modest pope doesn’t go to the toilet because “he works so hard for the people, he just burns it off”. I mean, seriously? It’s a silly art thing by some artist somewhere, and you create a local crisis with a main Sunni party over it?

What happened to turning the other cheek? Dusting off sandals and moving on? When I saw the photo, I was like, “meh”, but when I heard of the lengths they went to and the threats they issued, I couldn’t stop laughing and being deeply, deeply disappointed about how petty and juvenile they could be. I mean, seriously? Seriously? Was it worth it?

Now, I wish Nadim didn’t remove it and stuck to it, but the threats of the Catholic Information Center were too great given to how silly the post is, and I understand why Nadim might’ve wanted to avoid getting his party in trouble over something so absurd.

2- Christian Zealots Really Hate Toilets it Seems: The Lockstock Mar Mikahel Scandal

Apparently, someone needed to pee at Lockstock in Mar Mikhael, took photos, and sent it to a Maronite priest in Argentina, who subsequently posted it on a 17k+ group on Facebook called “Maronites of the Whole World” claiming that Lockstock was using the chalice used for holy communion as a toilet sign.

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10922607_10155111175060080_2834790376452094518_nThese signs used to be in Kennedy’s, in Hamra, but it seems the Maronite thought police didn’t go to what they probably call “el gharbiyeh” and had no clue, till one disgruntled zealot decided to go drink at Lockstock. The post has since been deleted from the group, I’m guessing cause they realized how stupid it was, but, here’s a screenshot of it, and another when the priest was asked by other zealots why the original post was deleted.

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“Lock stock restaurant in Beirut is insulting Christian holy symbols, with a toilet seat similar to the chalice of communion”

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“We received word that the insult to Christian holy symbols issue in a Lebanese restaurant is now in the hands of the General Security and will handle the issue carefully and calmly”

This reminds me of the time there was the English flag on shoes and slippers, and the same people did the same thing. Or when people thought Bershka’s Santa Muerte shirt was “insulting” to the Virgin Mary, in a classic racist, xenophobic fashion which dismissed the holy symbols of Latin catholics as “insulting” and “satanic”.

I’m not sure what the General Security will do, but if they now censor our bathroom doors too, then, lucky us! Just what we need, more bans and censorship on a stupid basis for an absurd misunderstanding that tickles the fancy of religious zealots, and tabloid-style TV shows who are already working on a rabble-rousing episode of “how Christianity is being attacked”. I know that Tony Khalife is working on it, and expect Joe Maalouf to mention it too (which is sad, considering his recent track record has been exemplary since moving to LBCI).

It’s a fucking toilet sign. The artist drew symbols, one looks like the Swiss flag’s cross. No one is insulting anything. You’re just embarrassing yourselves, and contradicting the claims that you are all about “forgiveness, love and compassion”. Imagine “What Would Jesus Do?”, and if you know anything about him, you know he’ll disapprove of this childish behavior.

3eb, walla 3eb.

3- #JeSuisChrist Proves that the Real Reason is Showing Off to Muslims

Often times, religious zealots know that their real motives are absurd and no sound-minded person would agree with them, so they disguise them with fancy causes that make people become all excited and angry. Fighters from Lebanon in Syria give excuses like “preemptively fighting terrorists” or “to save our brothers and sisters from a tyrant”, when the real reasons are more along the line of “Those other kinds of muslims are attacking muslims like me, I’m going to go kill them because I have nothing else to live for here”

For Christian zealots, they hide their outrage with stuff like “it’s illegal” or “holy things shouldn’t be insulted”, but deep down and in private conversations I was privy too on many occasions, they say “look at what muslims do, when they show Nasrallah, they riot, when Denmark publishes cartoons, they riot, why should we christians sit idly by and look weak?”

And this could not have been clearer than in the past couple of weeks, when the #JeSuisChrist hashtag popped up in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. At first, when they thought the comics were just insulting The Prophet, these people didn’t mind, and jumped on the free speech bandwagon. When they found out about the comics that depict Jesus and Mary in unflattering ways, they immediately switched gears to show that they can be as adamant and condemning as many Muslims when it comes to their religions being insulted, even though they probably didn’t mind it at first when it was just about Mohammed.

This need to constantly “prove” to muslims that christians are just as “bad-ass”, is sad and hypocritical, with many christians often drawing parallels that “at least we don’t do like other religions do when they’re insulted” and then falling into the same dangerous cycle of believing that what’s sacred to them, must be regarded as such, even by force, by everyone else, even when they don’t share the same beliefs, or simply didn’t mean to, it just was a coincidence.

Stop Embarrassing Yourselves

In a time when religious extremism is on the rise, you need to be the example of how to be peaceful and “bigger” than being dragged into these medieval conflicts that people on the sidelines and moderates, regard as a ridiculous joke, a laughingstock. Lead by example, follow your religion’s most basic principles and stop being all macho and “mujatama3 shar2e” about it. Come on, seriously. Toilet seats made you go all berserk? Make those “WWJD” bracelets more than just a fashion statement, and ask yourself that honestly, and you will know what you’re doing is both wrong, and in your faiths, a sin.

When We No Longer Feel Safe in Lebanon. #JusticeForYves

justiceThis has been an exceptionally tough topic to write about. I won’t pretend Yves was one of my best friends, he was an acquaintance. But, his cold-blooded murder shook us all. Of course, my first instinct was getting the actual story, from eye witnesses and victims of the barbaric attack, and I did. But, right before I hit publish, I deleted it, for several reasons. What’s the point of sharing the exact details and timeframe? It’ll just fuel more “salon talks” of the Lebanese, who are often fascinated by these (once-rare) crimes. So, I’m writing this instead.

We don’t feel safe anymore. Less than 48 hours after the grizzly murder of Yves in Faraya, an innocent bystander, Eliane Safatly, was shot dead in Kaslik by a species of human being similar to those that murdered Yves. There’s several issues that are apparent here, and need to be tackled if we can ever feel safe again in the places we frequent and party at.

1- Non-existent Police Response

We were going up to Faraya when the storm was starting to sit in our friends’ chalet and watch the world around us turn white, we got stopped by the police for what seemed to be a routine checkpoint to “make sure citizens are safe”. We were in a 4×4 car equipped with steel chains and a seasoned driver who is from up there. The police refused to let us pass through, and as they were being rude to us, they let an old BMW pass by, which wasn’t equipped with any steel chains and was obviously gliding around on the snow and ice. When we pointed to it and asked: “Really?!”, the police officer started fuming, and yelling “SHU MFAKKARNE SUKLEEN 3AM BE7KE MA3AK?! MA FI TOTLA3O!” (you think I’m some sukleen worker talking to you?! You can’t go up!) and he repeated that several times. In my heart, I wanted to tell the racist officer that, honestly, I respect a Sukleen worker a lot more than I do him, for the Sukleen worker does his job properly, and nobly, and deserves our respect for picking up the garbage of people like that officer.

When the police officer finally realize he had no right to stop us, and that our car was ready and we had a valid excuse, he let us pass, but after a dire warning: “Iza bitde2oole ta sheelkon min fo2, tale3 2aweskon kilkon” (if you call me to come rescue you, I’m gonna shoot you all). To serve and protect indeed… How shameful.

On the night Yves and Saba were shot, a mutual close friend went down to the police station in Faraya to report it. The police cars were stuck in snow, and the officers weren’t even bothering to try and get them out. When asked if the police officer was going to accompany Yves to the hospital, the police officer responded “it’s 4:30AM, I did what I have to do, I’m going to go to bed”. And he let Yves go down to the hospital, where the next day he lost his life, instead of going down to make sure the murderers don’t come back to murder more people.

These are the people we are supposed to count on. The people that should make us feel safe. Instead, in a matter of days, one threatened to shoot us after racist remarks, and another failed to respond properly to a mafia-style homicide minutes from their precinct. Would I call the cops if something happened to me? I don’t think so honestly, not after these past few days. I’d rather take my chances without their meddling and threats.

This is unacceptable. The fact the killers’ names and accomplices and instigators are known, and are able to release statements, but haven’t been caught yet, is despicable. There’s even camera footage of the shooting itself. Here, I’d like to point out how stupid the murderers are, setting up an ambush in probably the only place with security cameras in the area: a posh ski store and a gas station.

2- Lack of Medical Facilities

Yves was shot 4 times at 2:13AM. He made it to the hospital at almost 5:00AM. I know the Lebanese Red Cross never shy away from doing their noble duties, and that the road conditions and traffic didn’t help that night, but it’s unusual to have such a popular ski and entertainment hub, with the closest medical facility a 40-minute drive away. I don’t like coulda-shoulda-wouldas, but, it is a question that must be asked: shouldn’t there be a better-equipped medical facility or ambulatory station closer to the slopes?

3- Gun Laws and Wastas

I know it’s useless to talk about gun laws in a country where almost every household has a pistol and an assault rifle. It’s also understandable in a country ravaged by a devastating civil war and an incompetent police and judiciary force, for people to want to keep themselves armed for “protection”.

That obviously wasn’t the case, and given the long police record of the suspects, it’s unbelievable they were allowed not only to roam free, but armed to the teeth. Rumors are that a political figure in the Kesserwen region is harboring the criminals now, which only adds insult to injury. Wastas for murderers are never ok, even in a country that runs on the powers of wastas…

4- Macho-mentality

The lack of a decent police force people can trust, often forces people to take justice in their own hands. Of course, the testosterone-fueled machoism of people from towns renowned for their violence doesn’t really help, and a stupid bar brawl caused by a steretypical Lebanese bimbo, should NEVER escalate to the point where there’s cars ambushing and several automatic weapons being fired. Walaw. How stupid, or how high on cocaine and steroids do people need to be to do something so vile and cold-blooded?

This notion of taking this warped sense of justice into one’s own hands is common in Lebanon, and you could witness it clearly in those coming out and saying that Charlie Hedo “had it coming”. To these people I say, if you’re a woman wearing a sexy mini skirt and a douchebag rapes you, who’s fault is that? The fact that many people will say it was the women’s fault for “provoking”, not the man’s for not actually raping her, is sad, and a symptom of how unhealthy our society is.

Conclusion

We don’t feel safe anymore. We often live in a bubble in our clubs and areas we frequent, thinking we are safe from the violence that plagues other parts of Lebanon. We often are proud of ourselves for having a relatively low crime rate when it comes to homicides and rapes (given that most crimes are terrorist or sectarian conflicts), but that’s changing. These brutes attacked someone just like me and you, an innocent, unarmed, life-loving person that just wanted to have a good time on his birthday, like so many of us do. This is not ok, and we will not rest till justice is served, and brutes like the murderers will have to think twice and thrice before doing something like that again with impunity. The wave of support for Yves and his family is only growing, and the snowball effect it’s having will hopefully force the hand of the law to actually do what we pay it to: keep the order and deal justice to criminals.

And lastly, I’d like to ask, “why?”

My thoughts go out to Yves’ family and friends, and I wish Saba a full and speedy recovery.

Charlie Hebdo Massacre from One Arab’s Point of View

unnamedartwork by @SabineDaou

We’re a generation with no purpose. We don’t have world wars to fight in, we don’t have an industrial revolution to initiate and the common denominator of all the verdicts on a generation like ours, is: “obsessed with their Facebook profiles”. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth…

Our generation’s duty is monumental, and we haven’t had a proper start before a major onslaught. Our fight is to keep the liberal ideals we have in some parts of the world, and try to encourage the same set of ideals in others. Our struggle is between the democratic, peaceful secular form of governance, and religion-based dictatorships that excel at murder of innocents, quashing individual and human rights and nurturing violent hatred and intolerance.

Today’s horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices was a major blow to every freedom-loving person in this world. The 12 heroes who were killed are martyrs in the age-old struggle for free speech. Right after North Korea’s digital terrorist attack on free speech in the United States last month, the fundamentalist muslim criminals struck both flesh and bone, and the freedom all of us take for granted, when not holding dear.

As an Arab, and quite a liberal one, the terrorist attack hit hard for many reasons. For one, Charlie Hebdo is the perfect example to follow for anyone who publishes “controversial” content. They set the standard with each issue, and their staunch resilience in the face of countless threats and several attacks. For two, in a part of the world where freedom is a scarce resource in perpetual depletion, the West and many of its media outlets embody the goals we aspire to accomplish. It’s always there, it’ll always be there, and if it gets that bad, we can always move westwards and be part of a liberal society elsewhere. So, when that “safe-haven” gets so savagely attacked, it makes our unfortunate circumstance even more unenviable. If the Islamist extremists can get to Charlie Hebdo in the heart of Paris, where they are a tiny anomaly, imagine what that means for us, in a place in the world where these islamist extremists form parasitic hordes that plunder, kill and rape everyone that doesn’t submit to their violent, archaic religious laws.

I know today was very hard, and that it my make others think twice about publishing freely. But it can’t. We’re counting on you. Our hope is to eventually defeat this violent current, so you cannot let its brainwashed minions score a victory on the “home turf” of free speech. Please, publish the cartoons again, and again, and again. Maybe with time, the murderous savages that kill for a drawing in the name of their god, will get it through their thick heads that they can never stop us, and every attempt to only fuels our cause more. Charlie Hebdo needs to stay our symbol of hope in our times’ greatest struggle.

As for the murderous cowards who attacked pens and pencils with assault rifles, I ask you, what god are you serving, if he asks you to kill human beings over a fucking drawing? How do you think this makes your fellow muslims and arabs feel? Proud? No. Ashamed, and horrified. Yes, ashamed that these horrendous individuals share our languages and the religion of some of us. Horrified that we’re in such close encounters with them every day of our lives. Horrified their terror can spread to supposedly much safer and freer parts of the world. Shame on you, and I hope justice is done swiftly on you. And know that your disgusting crimes only serve to prove the cartoons right. Violently reacting to peaceful suggestions your religion is violent. Geniuses. You do exponentially more to ruin the face of Islam than you allege these 12 heroes you killed did. And by the way, in your hatred fueled crime, the police officer you gunned down in cold blood was a Muslim, Ahmad Merabet. You killed in the name of the prophet, a man who shares the same name.

Now more than ever, we need to stand up and fight for our right to free speech and expression. We cannot let the rising tide of extremist religious ideologies and the malicious censorship being enforced in Lebanon win. We’re Lebanon. We’re supposed to be the Paris of the Middle East, and so, we are just as involved in today’s tragedy, and it is just as much our mission to make sure their deaths were not in vain. That the wheels of time will turn in the favor of choice and liberty, tolerance and equality under a fair, democratic, secular law.

Thank you for everything Stéphane Charbonnier, Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac and all the other victims. Your work will continue to inspire us all, and we will always cherish your memory and achievements.

Je suis Charlie Hebdo.

Why We Don’t Want Weed Legal in Lebanon (YET), Just Decriminalized (NOW)

I have been a very vocal advocate of decriminalization of marijuana in Lebanon for years. If not for my personal appreciation for the plant, for the extremely brutal, vicious, barbaric and sometimes even deadly reaction by Lebanon’s super corrupt judiciary and police force.

The horror stories I hear every day from busted pot smokers and their friends and parents, make my gut wrench. We all know someone who was caught, unlawfully incarcerated and often tortured. Every step in the right direction we take, is countered by a devilish scheme by the police to circumvent it. They can’t imprison users? They trump up dealing charges for them, which is a much more severe crime. Lawyers are often in on it too, and wait to get paid handsomely along with the bribes, before getting someone out of the police station. It’s a horror story from every angle, and if you need help, there are good people who will help you, like Skoun and Legal Agenda.

Anyway, that isn’t the point of the post. The point is a recurring theme in Lebanon, especially with Joumblatt’s controversial tweet this week.

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Lebanese immediately think money, and start proclaiming that if we legalize and tax it, we’ll pay off the national debt, etc. To that I say, come on, we both know that’s not true. Here are a few arguments I overhear, and why they’re invalid:

  1. “We don’t need to allow it here, just export our production to countries like Amsterdam”Firstly, Amsterdam is not a country, it’s a city. Secondly, export of marijuana plants is still illegal. We can’t ship off something illegal here to somewhere where it isn’t. It’s just not how things work. So, please, put this absurd argument to rest.
  2. “Taxes will pay off our debt, and make Lebanon prosper”Really? In Lebanon? With one of the most corrupt institutions on Earth? Where will those taxes go? Who will actually be taxed? Look at what’s happening with our non-existent oil sector: we didn’t even break ground and already millions of dollars are unaccounted for, shell companies in Hong Kong and the whole money laundering and theft of public money mechanism has already been worked out. Plus, remember, the main pot growers are all politically backed, or even owned. Why would they tax themselves? You’re right, they wouldn’t. Plus, making it legal would drop their bottom line, after all, what’s illegal is always more expensive. So, I don’t really see this working, and if it is, it’s the small-time farmers that’ll get taxed, not the ones that matter. And assuming it does, where will the taxes go? The answer is hard to find, but a definite one is that it won’t benefit us taxpayers in any way fathomable, just like every other tax we pay for no return.

    A good example is Joumblatt’s double-standards here. He tweets pro-decriminalization, when the security apparatus entrusted with butchering and torturing pot smokers is considered loyal to him in Lebanon’s disgusting confessionally-divided security system. Now, I’m not saying he’s doing it on purpose and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he really is on our side, but perhaps he can’t micromanage the whole corrupt apparatus. But, he could at least try to use his political privilege to make them tone down on their barbarism and instead do something that helps society, you know, like fighting actual crime.

  3. “Lebanon is not ready, now is not the time”It feels like it’s never the time for anything in Lebanon for nay-sayers. To those folks, I say, pot is endemic in our society. Lebanese folks have been doing it since before Christ, and they still do. I’m not sure how not putting them in jail after beating them to a bloody pulp would “hurt” or “damage” our society, but in my humble opinion, removing the fear and hatred of the cops, and restoring some trust in the system would do our society wonders. So, you’re right, it’s not the time now, it was the time a decade ago before thousands of lives were destroyed forever for the sole purpose of getting paid bribes.

The main point I’m trying to get across, is that the point isn’t making money for the government’s leaky coffers, the point is stoping lives from getting ruined. That’s what the focus should be on, not unrealistic expectations of fortune and bliss. Let’s stop people getting violently and unlawfully detained for absolutely no good reason, and maybe then, we can consider a Colorado-like plan of legalization even for recreational use. For now, we need the cops to stop, and those encouraging them for part of the bribes, to stop as well. Khallas, enough.

Lebanon: 10th Most Inspiring City, 14th on Global Terrorism Index

It couldn’t be truer really. As observers, commentators and above all taxpayers in Lebanon, it’s often hard to figure out where we stand. We’re abysmal on so many fronts like corruption, lack of basic necessities like electricity and water and the constant threat of escalating violence. But, we’re also pretty fucking awesome. We put most other countries in the region to shame with our liberal ideals, even under threat by filth and scum like Da3esh and its sympathizers, we party harder than any other somewhat civilized people and the art, science and culture that ooze out of Beirut’s streets and underground basements deserves a special light shed on it.

Lebanon: 10th Most Inspiring City on the GOOD City Index

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The last bastion of the liberal Middle East, Beirut is where the rest of the Arab world comes to let their hair down. While there is much more to the city than drinking cocktails on the beach, the fact that one can even do that legally is an important aspect of life in Beirut. More importantly, Beirut is one of the region’s only cities where people are free to embrace secularism, gay rights, and free artistic expression. Residents of Lebanon are constantly reminded that they are living in the midst of ongoing regional and political turmoil. However, this uncertainty has done little to slow Lebanese-funded construction. Nor has it impacted infrastructure, park development, or partnerships with cities like Geneva, London, and Paris aimed at making the city a better place to live. In 2014, Beirut’s startup scene thrived: Displaced Syrian artists established new studios in the city, the arrival of Uber ameliorated the city’s notorious traffic problem, and green activists proved Horsh Park could be a place for tolerance. Clinging to its outlier status in a region of uncertainty, Beirut will continue to be a beacon of possibility.

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Talk about a boost of serotonin, huh? Philippa Young said it pretty accurately above, and there’s not much I’d like to add here.

Lebanon 14th on Global Terror Index

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The Global Terror Index is a comprehensive study prepared by IEP that accounts for the direct and indirect impact of terrorism in 162 countries in terms of lives lost, injuries, property damage and the psychological after-effects of terrorism.

It is disheartening to see that we lie just behind Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and others when it comes to how deeply we’ve been affected by terrorism. Lives lost, opportunities missed, property damage, economic tolls, social unrest…

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Make Your Choice

Given such stark, yet such Lebanese, contrast in where our position lies among the world’s countries, it’s almost impossible to reconcile them both. Are we the 14th most devastated country by terrorism? Or are we the 10th most inspiring place to live in? We’re both in reality, but I choose the inspiring one more. Cause if I don’t, the terrorists win, and I know that sounds cliche, but if we stop advocating for women’s rights, gay rights, our right to drink and party and make art and make love, we sorta become like Da3esh’s Islamic State. We do have a role, and as the late Pope John Paul II said, “Lebanon is a message, not just a country” (or something like that), and even though me and him differ on what that means, I do agree that Beirut and Lebanon are a message, a message of hope for the rest of the region in turmoil.

We came out of a brutal 15-year Civil War and somewhat survived in one (though incoherent) piece. When cops shove a stick up a person’s ass because they suspect him of being a homosexual, there’s an uproar and backlash and we force it to stop. When we fight for women’s rights and it gets derailed by religious authorities, we force them to pass it, though partially, and keep struggling till it’s in the format we aspire to in the 21st Century. When a conservative minister wants to punish an Olympian for posing for risquee photos, we all got naked to shut him up and support one of the few heroes representing Lebanon in such events.

The list goes on and on, and even though it’s barely even scratching the surface of what needs to be done, it’s something, and we’re not giving up. We’re just rethinking our strategy, and toning down our ambitions to more achievable, pragmatic ones. No revolutions, no mass protests, just smart, patient and well-timed pressure to preserve our liberal ideals that so many have tried in vain to erase…

Shake b3aynkon ya jayyet w 2ol3at el tatarrof <3

Lebanon Now Officially a Failed State

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On Wikipedia, the definition of a failed state is when a government:

  • Loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein
  • Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions
  • Inability to provide public services
  • Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community

All the above apply, as I’m sure you know. Add to that the complete breakdown of the Lebanese representative democratic system, and you get where we are now. Here, I’d like to pause at a few moments I find significant and important.

March 14 = Assad Regime 2

The images we saw of the brute force and uncalled for arrests by police of protestors practicing their legitimate right is eerily similar to when the “kaak” sellers used to go down and beat the shit out of Huvelin and AUB students during the Syrian occupation. So is the autocratic trend that has extended terms of the parliament twice. I’d like to remind the 14 March hypocrites about why they fell out of the Syrian occupier’s favors back then: the Assad regime wanted to extend Lahoud’s term. Today, they’re all standing in line, getting eggs and tomatoes thrown at them, while they demonstrate what Assad and his cronies taught them for years before they rose up, and simply replaced the Syrian security system with their own version of oppressive, corrupt and permanent security system. Assad’s excuse is he’s a foreign occupier, what’s the Lebanese zo3ama’s excuse?

The LF Should Be Sued for Damages

Remember when LF MPs filed a lawsuit against taxpayers because they called them “128 thieves” for stealing the people’s right to vote? Remember how the LF MPs also said they’re against the extension this time? Remember how they alleged after the lawsuit that “they wanted to work together” with us against the extension, sponsored by Fatdouche? Well, lo and behold, the LF have flip-flopped a whole 180 degrees, again. So, technically, the 128 thieves slogan was correct (at least when it comes to the 95 scumbags that extended for themselves) and so, the “accusation” was in fact true, thus, the slander and libel case is meaningless.

Future-Hezbollah Childish Game of Chicken

“No! You want temdeed!” “No, you want temdeed!” and magically, they both went down and voted in favor. The theatrics were so poor, it’s like a cowardly jock at a party asking his friend to hold him while pretending to wanna attack another dude. And the saddest part? Their followers justify their disgusting stance as “no other choice”. Umm, how about holding elections like most other countries around the globe? “Security reasons”, really? Is Iraq or Libya or Egypt or Afghanistan or Pakistan more secure than Lebanon?

The Presidential Election Excuse

So, if Aoun and co don’t wanna go down to the parliament, and the parliament is failing at everything else, in what universe is extending the term of that same parliament for ANOTHER TWO YEARS AND SEVEN MONTHS a solution? How stupid do you think taxpayers are? Who would buy this rationally, without the indoctrination and bias of the “peasants” following their “chieftains”?

March 14 Need to Desperately Change

For a team whose political career is founded on the sole purpose of “not being Hezbollah” and being better, more democratic, bla bla bla… They too often behave the exact same way, and justify it with “at least we didn’t do it as bad as Hezbollah”. Dude, if your entire platform is being against Hezbollah, then stop behaving the same way and saying “they’re doing it!”. I mean, they can if they want to, but they need to change their rhetoric. That was crystal clear yesterday, when the supposed mortal enemies came together to supplant power and fuck us all over as long as they keep the seats they illegitimately covet.

New Rules

The death of democracy in Lebanon is sad, especially since we’ve always been a beacon for progressive and liberal ideals in the Arab World. But, this also means that since we’ve been robbed of our rights as voters and taxpayers, we might no longer need to fulfill our duties as taxpayers and voters… Civil disobedience? I wish. Stop paying taxes? I’d love that. Refuse to recognize the official institutions’ power and jurisdiction? Would be completely appropriate. Will it happen? I guess only time will tell…

Ashoora in Nabatieh: One Year Later

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Last year, when I went down to Southern Lebanon to witness first hand the Ashoora commemorations in Nabatieh, it sort of awakened in me the love of exploring misunderstood rituals, people and places and sharing that experience from my personal point of view. This year, I wanted to go back, given that the sectarian tensions in the region are as high as ever and hatred and intolerance spoil so much lives in Lebanon and the region.

What It Was Like There This Year

Reading intelligence memos about plans for a “woman suicide bomber that will target Ashoora commemorations” and other unnerving intelligence leaks leading up to the 10th day of “Muharram” made this year’s trip somewhat more disconcerting. Add to that rumors that “many suicide bombers” had been caught in the days leading up to the Ashoora memorial made it feel like visiting a bomb site and hoping that a secondary bomb wasn’t ready to go off when you’re there.

The alleged heightened security measures made me go to Nabatieh a day earlier, and spend the night there at a friend’s instead of risk not getting there in the morning (traffic + security measures = hours on the road). But, security wasn’t that visibly unbelievable. Roads were blocked off, and you get quickly patted down a couple of times before getting to the town center. The men are locals, some with Hezbollah insignias, others with no noticeable uniforms or tags. I saw a few riot police there too, and Lebanese Army intelligence officers with their brown vests were walking around. But, that was it. One thing I’ve learned about security in places like Nabatieh, is that it’s not the obnoxious, loud kind our police do, but the useful one that doesn’t ruin your day or overshadow the actual event they’re supposed to be protecting.

Anyway, after making our way into the town center, we bought some croissants and juice and waited to see the processions come in from different towns surrounding Nabatieh. The first few were bloodless ones, either because it was still too early, or because the men and women of that procession decided not to practice bloodletting anymore. But, soon enough, the copper-like smell of coagulating blood creeped up, amplified by the light rain that only made the smell more overpowering. A picture can never really portray that moment, when the streets turn red and the squeamish start to cover the mouths and noses to keep up with the procession…

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The swords are ceremonial, and on any other day, one would be a bit spooked to see so many stern-faced men with machetes and swords walking around, but not on the 10th day of Muharram. At around 9, we made our way to the local Husseinieh where the actual incision is made by men with sterilized silver razor blades. A friend, WJ, had come all the way from Canada to participate in the bloodletting procession and was kind enough to let me tag along and ask him questions all day long. Two swift strikes on the top of his head by a relative later, and the blood started to stream down his face and he donned a white cloth on his torso and made his way to his old childhood friends’ procession.

As for the turnout, it was the same if not slightly less than last year, given that many locals chose to go to Beirut’s Southern Suburb instead for the main Ashoora event that HA Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah personally participated in. The mood was somber of course, given the sadness for the Hussein that surrounds the event, but it was also relaxed. The threats didn’t seem to deter anyone, nor did they make anyone more intent on being there. It was just like any other year.

Religion vs Tradition

WJ helped confirm to me that the ritual is more of a cultural tradition than a religious one. Sheikhs rarely ever venture into Nabatieh on the day, and most of them condemn the act of bloodletting. Even Hezbollah frowns upon this ritual, and encourages its members to donate blood instead of participate in this violent ritual. A couple of hours later, we met up with WJ again after a shower at his aunt’s house, and if I hadn’t seen him earlier, I wouldn’t have believed that only minutes ago, he was drenched in his own blood.

WJ and many of the young men who participate, don’t adhere to religious teachings in their every day life. Even when asked why they do this, the answer is always along the lines of “you need to do it to really understand why”. But, a part of me feels that it’s to feel you belong, wanting to go along with friends doing it and participate in it that forms a bond that would make someone come all they way from Canada, 9 years later, to reminisce the old times he used to spend with friends.

That doesn’t apply to everyone participating though, and one thing I continue to vehemently disagree with is kids and people with Down Syndrome participating in the ritual. Apparently, when parents make their kids participate in this bloody tradition, it’s to repay a “نذر”. That’s when religious people promise a divine figure to fulfill an obligation they choose, if the outcome they were looking for unfolds. For example, like when Maronite Catholics promise if their son heals from a disease, that they will “walk barefoot” to St. Charbel’s tomb from their town, or wear the Virgin Mary’s clothes for a month, etc. It’s not in the religion per se, but folks still do it.

Of course, cutting a child’s head is a lot more extreme, but the religious rationale is somewhere along those lines. Which explains why parents might do that to their kids, but, I still find it completely unacceptable. Me being ok with the idea of Ashoora is based on my belief that adults have the right to do whatever they please with their own bodies, without permission from anyone as long as it does not hurt or violate the rights of others.

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Please, Donate Blood Instead

I think dismissing this ritual as something “barbaric, backwards” and other such comments is unfair and incomplete. I also think that pretending it’s not there doesn’t make sense. It’s one of the few places on earth where this still happens, so, culturally, it’s a chance to witness firsthand something rare and unique, whether you think it’s right or not. The problem is that many non-Shiites see it as scary, and many Shiites find it embarrassing. But, when you understand the idea of bloodletting and feeling the pain and suffering the Hussein’s loved ones felt after his gruesome death, you see it as more of a show of grief and sadness, not of thirst for blood and violence.

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As an outspoken atheist, this is something I’ll never be able to relate to and believe that the recent trend of donating blood instead of it letting it flow down your head to the street, is a much more fitting way to remember the Hussein and help those in desperate need of blood. That is why, I fully encourage and support the Who Is Hussain? initiative with DSC Lebanon and hope more and more people decide to switch to donating blood instead of bloodletting on the street.

Will I go next year? I don’t think so. I feel like I’ve experienced and witnessed the Ashoora commemoration in Nabatieh to the fullest. Would I encourage folks to go see for themselves? Definitely, if you’re not squeamish. I’d like to thank the people of Nabatieh for making everyone who comes down from different parts of the world and Lebanon for the warm reception, and the amazing food at WJ’s aunt’s house!

And please, remember, at such a difficult time, when folks in places like Nabatieh or Tripoli are demonized and vilified in the media, it’s vital to remember we’re all Lebanese and that the reality on the ground is that these people are nicer and kinder than most folks in Beirut, and that prejudging them based on misunderstood traditions or as religious extremists en-bloc, is both unfair and plain wrong. Go down to Nabatieh, spend a day up in Tripoli and stop being afraid of a minority that gives a bad name to the rest. Try to understand that in Tripoli, it’s politics and economics that are screwing things up, and that in Nabatieh, it’s misunderstood traditions that are giving the rest of the population an unflattering reputation.