Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Ground Zero Mosque...

The debate is still raging over the Ground Zero Mosque - shorthand for the Islamic Cultural Center that will be erected a few blocks away from what used to be the World Trade Center. Interestingly, I came across two articles today attempting to show the contrast between Lebanese religious tolerance - as exemplified by the completion of the restoration project of the Maghen Abraham Synagogue in downtown Beirut - and American Islamophobia that is kicking in full gear in tandem with the widespread opposition to the building of the Islamic Cultural Center in NY. 

David Samel in What Lebanon can teach the U.S. about religious tolerance and Gus Bridi in Lebanon is more tolerant of Jews than New York is of Muslims present essentially the same argument. It goes something like this: despite all the destruction wrought at the hands of Israel the self proclaimed Jewish state, and as recently as 2006, the restoration of the Jewish Synaguoge in Downtown Beirut proceeded without any opposition. Even Hezbollah - Israel's staunchest enemy - blessed the restoration project while stressing the distinction between Judaism as a religion and Israel as a Zionist state occupying Arab lands. While in the US, Republicans and Democrats alike, fail to draw such a distinction and are lumping American Muslims - themselves victims of 9/11 - in the same basket as the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11. 

How cute! The great nation of the biggest hommos dish is a model of religious tolerance. Yeah, right!

The racist official and popular reaction to the building of the Islamic Cultural Center and the surfacing of all this animosity towards Muslims is not surprising. What do you expect from a country where the President has to remind us of his Christian faith and upbringing on every occasion to counter the accusation - yes, it is an accusation - of him being Muslim. What's surprising is how two authors on the same day make the same inference about Lebanon's religious tolerance from a single observation - the restoration of a Synagogue in Downtown Beirut. This is outright ridiculous. I mean, how can a people who spent close to 20 years slaughtering each other on religious grounds  - and who continue to do so even today - be described as a model of religious tolerance? If anything, the Lebanese are the epitome of bigotry and religious intolerance which is probably their only claim to fame beside their documented feats in the Guinness Book of Stupid Records!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lebanese Mythologies…

Today, while sifting through my reader account, I stumbled upon a blog post about Lebanon’s identity crisis written by a Lebanese-Canadian who goes by the name of Seif (You can read it here). As is well known, the Lebanese suffer from an acute case of collective Multiple Personality Disorder that has rendered them unable to adopt a common identity. Instead, the Lebanese have resorted to a host of mythologies that have been internalized by many and that function as enablers to their paranoid fantasies. Below are a few examples of such myths:

Myth No. 1: Lebanese stand out

Seif says that “Many have told me upon the first time of meeting them that they ‘knew I was Lebanese right off the bat’”. He is unclear on whether it’s a physiological difference or a cultural one as he employs the general verb “to look” when he says: “I don’t look Saudi, Jordanian, Egyptian or Moroccan”. I personally have had quite the opposite experience; Lebanese is usually thrown out as the 2nd or 3rd guess. Drawing on my experience is as ridiculous as drawing on Seif’s. There is nothing specific to Lebanese physiology and nothing that physically sets them apart from Syrians, Jordanians, or Palestinians. Culturally, there might be certain different markers but these are very hard to identify and qualify. Of course, one can tell immediately from the accent but that is hardly a quality that sets the Lebanese apart from the rest.

Myth No. 2: Lebanese are Phoenician/European/Klingons

The question of Lebanon’s identity has been hotly and consistently debated ever since Lebanon gained independence in the 40s. The famous – now defunct – formula of Lebanon being a state with an Arab face withstood challenge until it was defeated in the civil war. What emerged was an acknowledgement of Lebanon’s Arabism. This is of course the culmination of a political struggle that started with the challenge imposed on the fledgling Lebanese state by the Pan-Syrian and Pan-Arab ideologies that rejected the unnatural partition of the Levant area by the British and French and called for the reunification of the separated entities by one mean or another. Obviously, this appealed to a portion of Lebanon’s population but did not to another who saw Arabism and Syrian Nationalism as existential threats to their survival. In retaliation, the ethnic elites who controlled most positions of power in the new state – namely Christians of the Maronite persuasion – adopted an exclusionist Lebanese nationalism based on an absurd notion of Lebanese uniqueness as a means to counter Arabism, Pan-Syrianism, and later on Islamism. This reactionary strand of Lebanese nationalism was built around the negative premise of what the Lebanese “are not” instead of being formulated in the positive by attempting to define what the Lebanese actually are. This negative approach to the identity question led to the emergence of many absurd and hilarious notions one of which that gained substantial currency sought to define the Lebanese as a continuity to a civilization that was extinct 6000 years ago and of which not much is known; hence Phoenicianism was born. Of course the Lebanese who boast about being Phoenician most likely do so for lack of a better way to say that they are not Arabs – which they consider to be a derogatory term unworthy of themselves.

Myth No. 3: Lebanese Genius

A corollary to the the previous myth. The promoters of Lebanese uniqueness did not stop by seeking refuge in a mythical past but insisted on finding it manifest itself in the present. Thus daily publications like AnNahar and national TV stations like LBC (who have been recently joined by the Hariri media) make it a point of highlighting the profile of a new Lebanese genius every week, Every week a new Lebanese finds a cure to a form of cancer and every other week a new Lebanese discovers how to run a combustion engine on water. This without mentioning the slew of real and fake international recognitions and awards (Lebanese are obsessed with international awards perceived as acknowledgment from the white man) collected by individuals and hailed on a national level. This obsession with recognition from the white man has reached new levels recently with a newfound monomania of beating ridiculous Guinness Book Culinary Records: The biggest Tabbouleh dish, the biggest Hommos dish, the biggest Fatteh dish, and soon the Lebanese will be contending on the biggest collective fart.

Another corollary of  the Lebanese exclusivist nationalism, their uniqueness, and their inherent genius is an abhorrent racism manifesting itself in their treatment of foreign workers – of the non-white skin complexion – reminiscent of the most repellent forms of slavery.

Myth No. 4: Other’s wars on Lebanese land

This is the justification by Lebanon’s elites of the 17 years ethno/religious war that devastated the country. In their narratives, Joseph mutilating Ahmed, Tony gutting Shaheh, and Mohamed decapitating Ali, were side events in the tragic international ploy that sought to destroy Lebanon – for its uniqueness they add – with a cast of actors that includes the US, the USSR, Syria, Lybia, Iraq, Israel, Iran, KSA, Palestine (or Palestinians), and Jordan, among others. Any internal reasons for the carnage are simply non-existent for Lebanon was the land of milk and honey, the Switzerland and/or Paris of the MIddle East, before the forces of Evil all colluded to destroy it. 

Myth No. 5: Christians are inherently Secular; Muslims are inherently not

For a reason or another, Lebanese Christians have the most warped view of themselves as a community. They seem to think that they are progressive, enlightened, and open when in fact they are as obscurantist as the other sects albeit  - and fortunately enough I might add – with more tolerance to certain vices. Of course, one needs not delve much to find that in fact Lebanese-Christians are as much opposed, if not more, to the political and social secularization of Lebanon than any of the other sects. This is somewhat understandable as they are the ones who structurally benefit the most from the sick  and corrupt sectarian system that gives them a disproportionate share of power than they would otherwise get in a more democratic and secular system. But what is most annoying is how the hypocritical soldiers of the Christian God who killed the civil status law and civil marriage initiative, effectively censored a host of publications and documentaries (as with the recent show about Jesus whose broadcast was halted), and recently threatened with excommunicating anyone who disrespects the Maronite Patriarch, have the gull to consider themselves embracers of modernity and accusing others of being inherently incompatible with secular democracy.

Myth No. 6: Lebanese are Tri-lingual

This is another uniqueness associated myth; that all Lebanese are able to converse easily in three languages English, Arabic, and French. I don’t know of real statistics on literacy and language proficiency but based on my own experiences this is absolute crap. Most Lebanese I know are either monolingual or bilingual; very few are trilingual. Even fewer are those who are actually proficient – as opposed to being able to comprehend and mumble back a few words - in two or more languages.


At the end, allow me to deflate some egos. There is nothing special about the Lebanese, their culture, or their history. They are as interesting – or uninteresting – as any other conglomerate of ethnicities and tribes that have earned or were gifted a state of their own. Will there come a day when the Lebanese will abandon all those feel-good fairytales and see themselves for what they really are? Inhabitants of a broke and failed state who will wither away only to be remembered in the Annals of the Guinness Book of Records for the big joke of a people they were (with their hommos dish and collective fart).

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Compliant Minority: Smokers…

Minorities are usually comprised of vocal, loud, defiant, activist, and enthusiastic lobbyers for whatever it is that defines the minority in question. The majority is silent, uninterested, and generally unconcerned. This is the common norm in modern societies – in societies of past ages, minorities offered excellent target practice. Bakers protest loudly whenever the government tries to encroach on their rights or perhaps privileges by raising the prices of wheat or fixing a cap on the prices they can sell their bread at. Truck drivers protest whenever prices of fuel go up. Gemmayzeh goers protest whenever the government places restrictions on pubs while Gemmayzeh residents loudly protest against traffic, noise, and open-top wearing chicks. Patients protest about the costs of health care, Palestinians protest their lacking basic human rights, liberals protest foreign workers’ rights to bathe on public beaches (forgetting that most of them can’t even get to a public beach – but hey, as long as it makes a nice Youtube hit who cares!).

All minorities protest. All minorities are loud in their protests. Except for smokers. Smokers are a compliant minority. Smokers are a shamed minority. Look at us shunned and defeated rushing heads down to the choke holes assigned to us Nicotine junkies. Have you seen them? Have you seen those little 2 x 2 glass vitrines at airports where Nicotine lovers are put on display? Have you tasted the air inside those smoke-saturated holes? Actually one is more likely to drown to death rather than choke to death in one. And yet, smokers don’t mind. Smokers rush in happy and thrilled that out of the millions of square meters of real estate comprising those airports they are still given their space – their own 4 square meters of a CO coffin. Have you seen them standing outside under rain, hail, or snow; puffing away while they shiver because some bureaucrat somewhere decided that smoking inside restaurants, pubs, or cafes is illegal in-spite of the owners’ wants or of their clients’ needs.I have never seen such a planned and systematic erosion of minority rights faced with total abdication and surrender.

Then there are those annoying self-appointed self-righteous assholes who have the nerve to approach you and ask you to turn off your cigarette.

“Excuse me, but smoking is not allowed at the airport – Formerly Beirut International Airport now known as Rafic Hariri International Airport All Praise Be Upon Saad The Prodigal Son – could you please put off your cigarette; I’m allergic to smoke!!!”.

“OH, you’re fucking allergic to smoke!!!! Did you know I’m allergic to pollen, house-dust, your mother, and this vomit inducing cheap perfume you’re wearing?” 

“Why don’t you wipe out your abhorrent scent first then we can talk!! How is that for a deal?”

“Oh and guess what fucker; you’re going to die too!!! hahahaha” (courtesy of BIll Hicks)

Now I understand that governments are up in arms against smoking because of the huge health care bill they’re having to support! But hey, why won’t they fucking let us smoke ourselves to death if we so wish to? Raise the freaking cost per pack to USD 8 which would pay for my health bill a hundredfold and get the fuck out of my way!

Oh, and to the compliant minority; fight back idiots and stop accepting to be herded wherever they decide to herd you like a bunch of leprous infected outcasts. You have no less a right to gush out your feeble contribution of CO2, CO, and other cancer inducing toxic gases  than their lovely family SUVs or their power producing factories….

Oh, and cheer up; we’re all going to die soon!!!!