Gebran Bassil: Pimp or Foreign Affairs Minister?

The Lebanese Minister Gebran Bassil in on top of a delegation to the United States, mainly tasked to present the Lebanese stance to the United Nations on the war against ISIS.

Gebran Bassil is not the first foreign affairs minister who uses the budget of the ministry for his travel expenses all over the world, most of which we as Lebanese never get to know the purpose of, nor is he the first Lebanese minister who forScreen Shot 2014-09-28 at 1.26.37 PMgets that he is a politician and acts like the flamboyant tourist flooding the social media with photographs of his travels and getting overwhelmed with the attention from foreign media, making  sure to let us know that he is so famous that he got a FIVE-MINUTE interview on CNN.

It is ok, after Gebran Bassil is a product of the Lebanese political system and is not expected to behave any differently, and CNN definitely has a bigger audience than OTV that covers Bassil’s every step.

As a Lebanese, I embrace Gebran’s humorous character and simplicity in addressing critical issues, for I always believe that his baby face makes up for his oratory skills, but to start acting like a pimp in front of Emirati foreign ministry delegation is way beyond what his baby face can cover up for.

Minister Gebran Bassil, you owe the Lebanese population an explanation. It is unclear in this video who is Caroline and what her role is, but it is clear that you considered this to be the most important and urgent point to bring up when the delegations were still shaking hands.

It seems from the video that Caroline is a member of the Lebanese delegation that Bassil reduced, according to his hand gesture, to a physically attractive female (not to say more about the woman) whose presence was crucial in font of the Emirati delegation.

I will not put any meaning into Bassil’s gesture, facial expressions, and body language. I will let the viewers make their own judgement, and I will let the females themselves comment below and tell us what they think.

In the meantime, I believe Gebran Bassil owes the Lebanese an explanation justifying his action and disgusting gesture in a meeting that is supposed to be serious and in a way that reduces him as the Lebanese minister of foreign affairs to a lustful pimp.

Here is the video:

Posted in Lebanon | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The war against the Lebanese army: 3 things you should pay attention to

Often, politics seem complicated and difficult to understand. We wish that governance and political affairs would fall into a simple equation that would make it easy to solve and figure out the right answer, but instead it seems complex, vague and haphazard.

The reality is that governance and politics could be as simple as a mathematical equation, the only problem is that there are multiple variables and most of the time we are not even aware of those variables or who controls them.

Bottom line is, everything happens for a reason, and Lebanon is no exception.

As a Lebanese, have you ever asked yourself why did we have a series of random bombings between December 2013 and January 2014 and then it suddenly stopped?

Did you ever wonder why were Jabal Muhsen and Bab Al Tebbaneh fighting endlessly for more than a year, and then suddenly Rifaat Eid disappeared with the wave of a magician’s wand?

Well let us make a simple observation. 

Najib Mikati resigned from the Prime Minister position on the 22nd of March 2013 and despite that fact that Tammam Salam was named the prime minister on the 6th of April 2013, it took until the 15th of February of 2014 to actually form the government. 

When did most of the car bombing in Lebanon happen?

According to the tracking provided by Now Lebanon, we have had 15 out of 22 vehicle bombings between the 9th of July of 2013 and the 17th of February 2014. 

It is obvious that the bombing diminished exponentially after the formation of the government, and the majority of the bombings that followed happened within a month of the formation. So did the new cabinet have a magic wand for the bombings and suddenly wipe out all the fundamentalist groups active in Lebanon?

Well, if you are not convinced, let us observe the Tripoli fighting between the two neighborhoods of Bab El Tebeneh and Jabal Muhsen.

As soon as the revolution evolved into a war in Syria, the battlefield of Jabal Mohsen and Bab Al Tebeneh erupted again as Hezbollah carried its resistance to Syria and the Syrians carried their revolution to Tripoli. The clashes started on June 2011 and kept escalating until suddenly it all ended in March 2014. 

Isn’t that the same month when the series of vehicle bombings cam to an end as well?

Isn’t that almost the same month the cabinet was formed?

All these are calculated chess moves that the various stakeholders in Lebanon orchestrate depending on the regional conditions and how they want to influence the decisions on the inside.

This cabinet, similar to all previous cabinets is nothing but a shit-show. They cannot even provide water to the people or handle university dean appointments, so nobody try to convince me that they were able to contain all the turmoil and annihilate all the armed groups.

But wait, before you jump your guns, I am not denying the fact that there are fundamentalist groups in Lebanon, as I am sure they are active and well-funded, but what I am trying to say is that they are merely tools and puppets being orchestrated by our political leaders whenever there is a need for them. One day they are Jabhat Al Nusra, another ISIS, then ISIL, then Kataeb Al Kassam and you name it.

They give them multiple names only to keep us confused and to show us that the danger is coming at us from every angle.

This is why today we are witnessing another episode where unfortunately the Lebanese army soldiers fall as casualties as always. Today, as the country enters its third month without a president, as we are about two weeks from the deadline of calling for elections (دعوة الهيئات الناخبة), and as the pressure escalates on the cabinet for increasing wages , we are one more time distracted by another series of terror attacks on the country, a series that started this time with a group called the Free Sunnis of Baalbeck in Arsal, Tayouneh and Raouche.

I am all for supporting the army against all these rogue puppet armed groups that sprout every now and then, but I would like to raise a few points that I feel every Lebanese should pay attention to as the events unfold. 

1. Support the Lebanese Army, not only in dying but also in living:

Every time the Lebanese army engages in a battle with some terrorist group, profile pictures and infinite statuses and tweets flood the social media in support of the fallen martyrs and the brave heroes of the Lebanese army. While it is great to support our troops as they die, it would also help them if we supported them to live. A Lebanese soldier, if serving in a fighting troop, serves somewhere between 80 – 120 hours a week for a base salary of 450,000 L.L. equivalent to $300 (before transportation and other added figures). These soldiers are not allowed to have another job that would add to their income and have been waiting for three years for the wage hike that the various governments has been evading. 

This year the Lebanese army is fighting ISIS and Jabhat Al Nusra, last year it was fighting Ahmad Al Aseer. leb armyA few years back it fought Fatih Al Islam in flesh and bone and years before that in Seer Al Doniyeh. We still do not know who killed captain Samer Hanna or who are the names behind the continuous attacks on the checkpoints. The Lebanese soldiers are the innocent victims both in peace and in war, so do not simply remember them during battle and forget their rights and cause when things are going well.

So before you get all touch-feely and supportive for the Lebanese army as they go die as martyrs for the recklessness of the politicians you voted for, support their right for better wages and better standard of living.

2. Be aware of another military president

I fully support and salute the leadership and bravery of General Jean Kahwaji as he leads the Lebanese Army at these critical times where the army has become the direct target of terror attacks and when the army is expected to maintain peace without being given the political orders to intervene.

Supporting General Kahwaji for his military leadership does not mean supporting him blindly. General-Jean-Kahwaji11Quite often, as is the case in the United States and many other countries, the enemy is often exaggerated in order to push forward policies that require more military spending and aggressive foreign policies. In the case of Lebanon, I fear that the campaign to market the exemplary leadership of General Jean Kahwaji and stress on his role as the protector of Lebanon in his battle against the insurgent groups, is an attempt to push him forward as a neutral nationalistic candidate for the Lebanese presidency at a time when the political parties cannot agree on a name for that seat.

We have had enough Generals ruling our country. Let the Generals do what they do best, lead their armies and let politicians, lawyers, economists, or whoever else is qualified lead a democratic state.

3. Instability leads to parliament term extension AGAIN

As I tried to prove earlier, these surges of attacks sprout every now and then for a reason. A group of people somewhere allow the fundamentalist groups to gather themselves, gain momentum as long as they are leashed. When the necessary time comes, their leash is loosened in order to stir up controversy, distract the public and serve other hidden purposes.

In July 2013, the Lebanese parliament unconstitutionally cancelled elections and extended its term till November 20, 2014 under the alibi of instability in the country. While a small group of activists raised the voice and took the streets, the rest of the population was mentally numb or physically intoxicated in the bars of Jemayzeh, Mar Mkhael, Hamra, Jounieh and other areas. كاريكاتير 02-06-2013So, despite all their disagreements, all the MPs agreed on one thing “Kill the democracy in Lebanon”. 

And so, at a time when the Arab world was in revolutions East and West asking for democratic elections, we in Lebanon went the opposite direction and cut the last chord of democracy in our country. Since then, we have been ruled by an unconstitutional parliament whose term ends in November 20.

This means that the deadline to call for elections is August 20 of 2014, three months before the date of the elections.

Almost 2 weeks before this deadline the violence escalates one more time in the country, which will definitely be used as a reason of instability preventing the Lebanese from going to vote at these turbulent times. 

This is a very important and critical one, so please pay attention as the events unfold.

The influx of political events and news in this country is hard to keep up with. Every week we are occupied with an issue to be distracted from and shift our attention to another the week after. While we are distracted, busy trying to survive, a few key players are calling the shots and kneading the dough for their own plans. 

I may well be wrong in my assessment, but what I am trying to do is look beyond the distraction and understand what purpose does it serve. I hope we can all wake up and be a little more strategic in our support for whomever and be pro-active rather than reactive in our involvement and activism.

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Adel Nehmeh

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Posted in civil society in Lebanon, Lebanon, political activism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Dare we speak for peace? Caught in the cross-fire between Israel and Gaza!!

Warning!! It is almost impossible to be objective on this issue, and so I do not promise to be objective at all. 

As the whole world and its social media are flooded with talks of the war on Gaza and the brutality of the Israeli Defense Forces, I thought I would escape to a little more promising future and benefit from the rich experience that the country of South Africa offers to the world when it comes to overcoming apartheid and striving towards reconciliation.

IS IT TIME TO FORGIVE? QUESTIONS OF RECONCILIATION, ACCOUNTABILITY AND PAROLE FOR APARTHEID CRIMES AFTER 20 YEARS” was the lengthy title of the roundtable discussion that would be my refuge and inspiration for the evening. The discussion was organized by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation, a direct outcome of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.

The discussion was definitely inspiring, especially that it allowed me to witness how racial issues and finger-pointing were so accepted and welcome as long as they were respectful and civilized. In the room, I heard multiple black South Africans blame the white for their cruel history, or call out their attitude of privilege or even support the right of the oppressed not to forgive. Even in the United States, it would be difficult to have such an open discussion about race, and in that sense it was very inspiring. One has to be able to talk about the issue openly before being able to address the issue.

From the discussion, it was clear that South Africa still had a long way to go before reaching true reconciliation, or even social justice, but to me it was inspiring the way people could openly discuss issues of race, socioeconomic injustice in a room full of people of all color.

I could only imagine how it would look like if we were able to get Christians and Muslims in Lebanon to talk so openly in order to move forward, or even a Sunni-Shia discussion in any of the war-torn Arab countries. What would it look like 10 or 20 years from now, if we had Palestinians and Israelis talking so openly about the atrocities we are witnessing now, and the state of apartheid in Israel?

Well, it did not take too long for me to receive two consecutive phone calls back to reality. In the reception afterwards, one of my colleagues who works at IJR introduced me to a gentleman who also works with them. I introduced myself as Adel from Lebanon, and the man’s face lightened up as he responded “Masha2allah – ما شاء الله” – Cape Town has a huge population of Muslims from Indo-Asian and Malay origins. The Muslim population in Cape Town, is still very traditional. Men, old and young, still wear the Thobe (ثوب) and Taqiyah (or Kufi as referred to by Cape Malay).

Phone call #1:

This man, hearing my Arabic name and knowing that I am from Lebanon, assumed that I was Muslim, and so he responded in Arabic to indirectly tell me that he was Muslim as well. I had gotten used to that assumption so I often accept it and welcome it, although this man went further than any other Cape Malay has openly gone in the past 2 weeks I have spent in Cape Town.

“Hezbollah, no?” the man followed to my surprise.

“Not really,” I responded.

“How come?” asked the man as if he was shocked to hear my response.

“Well, not all Lebanese are Hezbollah you see!” was my polite response to an un-necessary question.

“I know, but when it comes to the greater enemy, we are all Hezbollah. When we have an enemy on the outside, we let go of our problems on the inside and focus on the enemy on the outside.”

I had just met the man and he felt comfortable enough to label me as a Muslim (which I am not opposed to), to assume my adherence to the Palestinian cause (which I am also not opposed to), and to go as far as preaching me about the politics of my own country and region.

This conversation was all happening amidst my friend who introduced us, and a few others who started gathering around as the man started preaching. None of the attendees were Muslim or Middle Eastern, and thus the indirect language that the man was using was not clear to everyone. So I played along and tried to be as diplomatic as possible, while at the same time expressing my refusal to attach a Muslim religious monopoly to the Palestinian cause. I wanted to challenge the notion that we should blindly support resistance, that I acknowledge that we have to stand up against Israel and the rights of the Palestinians (even though I do not really support the perpetuation of the enemy mentality), but it is not enough to keep blaming Israel for the suffering of the Palestinians. We have to start with ourselves, be it Muslims or Arabs, and acknowledge the enemy within ourselves that is adding to the suffering of the Palestinians.

“Sometimes, our strongest enemy resides within. It is easy to blame the enemy on the outside, but before doing so we have to change our methods from the inside,” I responded. Then I followed that sentence with a verse from the Qur’an:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ[الرعد:11]

The conversation became even more confusing for those around us, but the man was clearly understanding the indirect message I was sending across. He looked at the glass of wine in my hand, corrected my paraphrased verse and said:

“When you use this sentence, you cannot take it out of its context.” and he continued expressing his point of view and explaining that as Muslims we have to keep striving to fight for Palestine and this is how we change things around.

And so, my attempt to escape the discussions and coverage of the war on Gaza for a few hours failed as we engaged in this conversation, but I was still not willing to engage in a heated debate over this matter, especially at that moment and place. I believe the man as well was not looking for a debate, and so we both left the conversation to die after his point, pretending to agree, knowing that we did not necessarily disagree but had totally different views on the topic.

As the man faded among the crowd, I went back to the topic that brought me to that venue, reconciliation and forgiveness, but in the back of my mind I was thinking of how despite being an outspoken supporter of the rights of Palestinians, I was not antagonistic enough for this Muslim man who felt that I had to hate Israel and adhere to the blind military resistance in whatever shape or form.

So it is not only difficult to be objective when it comes to the occupation of Palestine, it is also frowned upon to be a “soft supporter”, perhaps better described as “critical and open-minded supporter”.

After the event, I walked with my friend to a nearby eatery to bid a friend goodbye. When I arrived, my friend introduced us to the international crowd in the room using our names and our countries of origin.

I sat down and started chatting and before I knew it, I received phone call 2, reminding me not to go too far in my dreams.

Phone call # 2 :

{…} “I can say that it is very difficult to live with a vegan or a vegetarian, but when it came to pork it worked for me,” said the blonde man across from me.

The man was clearly not Muslim, so I asked him “Are you Jewish?”

“As a matter of fact I am,” said the young man whom I will call Adam.

“I have to say I was surprised by how influential the Jewish population in South Africa is,” I responded. “I was not aware that there was such a significant Jewish population before coming here.”

“I would not say they are influential, since they have no political power,” expressed Adam.

“Well, they certainly have a lot of economic leverage and as I have learnt they have the highest remittance per capita ratio in support of Israel in the world,” I said.

“Oh yes, in that sense we are. The Jewish population here is very Zionist,” clarified Adam.

Up to this point, our conversation was still general without any contentious aspect to it. The fact that he was Jewish, or even Israeli, did not seem to bother me at all and as far as I could notice, he did not seem to be bothered by talking to a Lebanese.

“I did not know you were Jewish,” chimed in my friend who had introduced us.

“Oh yeah I am. I am also a Zionist myself, and I am not ashamed to say that out loud,” uttered Adam as he responded.

You see, despite having grown up in Lebanon, my travels allowed me to meet and converse with many Jews and Israelis around the world. I always perceived it as an opportunity to get to know them and hear their side of the story. I always welcomed such an interaction since I do believe that we have to engage in dialogue, especially with those who disagree with us, in order to start addressing our contentious issues.

Only for some reason, Adam’s words dropped like hot water unto my skin. For the first time ever, I felt that a Jew/Israeli was being provocative enough to express being a Zionist out loud.

Then I thought to myself, it is only provocative because I am allowing it to provoke me, so I responded: “Well we clearly have opposing views on this matter, so it is best to avoid any political conversation and simply talk about other stuff so we can enjoy our friend before she leaves.”

“I agree,” responded Adam as we shifted our conversation to food and drinks, both agitated by the recent revelation. The awkwardness accompanied both of us to the rest of the evening, as we both evaded the elephant in the room and kept ourselves busy talking to those around us about mundane topics.

So there I was with phone call 2, that left me frustrated not because I had to adopt silence on a cause that I strongly stood up for, but for the mere fact that engaging with someone who has stated such a clear position up front would only result in a sterile debate that would only leave us more hardened in our opinions and make everyone around us disengaged. I was also agitated by the unease we both felt at that point. I thought to myself “This is such an important lesson. Here is a man with whom I strongly disagree, but I have allowed our opposing views to stand in the way of me being able to see all the other sides of him. How can I speak of peace when I am not even able to engage someone who stands on the opposite side from me?”

At the end of the night, I was challenged both for not being pro-Palestinian enough and for not being Pro-Israeli. 

In the first interaction, I refused to blindly and religiously support armed resistance and religious dogma in the name of the Palestinian people. I refused to condemn all Israelis of the atrocities of their defense forces and government. By standing up for Palestinians themselves and their unchallenged right for peace, homeland and a dignified life, by refusing to support military resistance organizations that fail to stand up for the Palestinians when they need support the most and instead aggravate their situation, I was perceived as an affectionate for Israel.

In less than hour later, because I refused to approve of Zionism and the occupation of lands and killing of innocent civilians, children and unarmed civilians, I risked the potential of being perceived as anti-Semitic and a Jew-hater.

The question I face as I reflect upon what happened to me last night is:

Where do we stand as those who are subjective, but yet open to working across the trenches and building bridges for possible solutions and peace?

What is the role of someone like me who clearly opposes the atrocities inflicted by the Israeli forces, but who also opposes the selfish wreckless practices in the name of Palestinians by military organizations that monopolize resistance , but fail to offer solutions?

I clearly do not have an answer to those questions yet, and in the meantime, as I stand strong in my opinion, I risk the potential of being caught in the cross-fire of those who lean heavily on one side on the other (which has already happened a few times on Facebook already).

Those who care already have a strong opinion, and what usually happens in these abrupt encounters and discussions, or through the viral posts on social media, is that we wither end up preaching to the choir or engaging in debates with people who will not change their mind either way. So, I have committed myself to limit by conversations and posts on social media to those that only promote understanding, peace, and further collaboration between Jews/Israelis and Palestinians.

Here is a list of links that I suggest reading:

A blog post from a fellow American blogger: http://kevinpruyn.blogspot.com/2014/07/who-are-we-giving-spotlight-to.html

An op-ed from an Israeli professor at the KROC Institute for International Peace Studies: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/atalia-omer/criticizing-israeli-polic_1_b_5627869.html

Israeli heroes: http://www.rabble.ie/2014/07/23/israeli-heroes/

Gaza crisis promotes unity between ‘enemies': https://storify.com/Jessicaleaxo/gaza-crisis-promotes-unity-between-enemies?utm_campaign=website&utm_source=email&utm_medium=email

Jewish Voice for peace: https://www.facebook.com/JewishVoiceforPeace

REQUEST: PLEASE SHARE MORE SOURCES THAT PROMOTE PEACE BELOW

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This post has also been published on my other blog ‘The Cape On Tape

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Posted in Lebanon, political activism, self-monitoring, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Is violence in Lebanon inherited?

We want to believe that we are not prisoners of our ethnic histories, but the reality is that we are.

A few days ago, Lebanese basketball fans and those who follow Lebanese news were consumed by the fight that broke up on the court at the last seconds of the game between Sagesse (الحكمة) and Sporting (الرياضي). You can read my related blog post here.

If you are the kind of person who does not like to spend more than 10-15 seconds reading, here is the twitter version of the blog post:

Lebanese are not violent by nature, they are raised in a violent culture and the right approach is to empower and train rather than punish.

This was before I started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlierswhere in chapter six he talks about the culture of honor and family feuds. Although Gladwell is using violence as an example of how traditions and attitudes we inherit from out forebears can make a significant difference in how well we do in the world, I would like to take his mentioned studies about violence an apply them and relate them to violence among youth, specifically Lebanese youth.

Before I go into the studies and examples I serendipitously stumbled upon in Outliers, let me first share with you, what I would refer to as the “Tale of the 5 monkeys”.

Tale of the 5 monkeys:

monkeys 1

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 4.49.20 AMScreen Shot 2014-06-08 at 4.49.25 AMScreen Shot 2014-06-08 at 4.49.31 AMScreen Shot 2014-06-08 at 4.49.37 AMScreen Shot 2014-06-08 at 4.49.44 AMScreen Shot 2014-06-08 at 4.49.55 AMScreen Shot 2014-06-08 at 4.50.03 AM

Many of you may know this experiment already, but what you may not know is that although inspired by a real experiment that took place in 1967 by G.R Stepehenson, this was never a real experiment and is simply a tale created by Michael Michalko in a blog post in 2011.

Moral of the story? 

Stating the obvious, very often we as humans behave just like the monkeys described above. We do not question our assumptions, and more importantly we do not assess the nature and origins of our behaviors. If we grew up in a culture dominated by fear and violence, we are often taught and trained to approach many of our challenges and vague problems in life with violence.

meeting_hammer_fritsalIn many of our societies, the primary tool offered to the youth is a hammer. As they grow up, every problem becomes a nail and every action is a hammer swing. 

Cultures of honor and inherited violence

Going back to the studies and references made by Gladwell in Outliers, in chapter 6 he refers to the small town of Harlan in the stretch of Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern corner of Kentucky. In the early 1800s, Harlan witnessed a cross-generational feud between the Howard and the Turner families. Generation after generation, the two families were killing each other over a crime that took place n 1806 between two individuals, and the two families kept revenging for each other until the 1930s. This family feud was not unique to Harlan, as there happened to be a pattern among identical little towns up and down the same mountain range. Patterns exist for a reason, and in the case of this appalachian pattern, consensus among sociologists was that this virulent strain was due to a “culture of honor”.

We Lebanese, and Arabs in general, know a lot about cultures of honor don’t we?

It happened that the original inhabitants of Appalachia were mostly herdsmen coming from the world’s most ferocious cultures of honor, the “Scotch-Irish”. Herdsmen, unlike farmers, have a strong culture of honor. The reason for that is that herdsmen are usually of by themselves, unlike farmers who depend on cooperation within the community.Herdsmen are worried about their livelihood being stolen at night, while farmers are not worried about their whole field being harvested in one night. This is why a herdsman has to make it clear, through his words and deeds, that he is not weak. He has to be willing to fight to even the slightest challenge to his reputation, and this is what defines a “culture of honor”. Ethnographer J.K. Campbell notes about herdsmen:“The critical moment in the development of the young shepherd’s reputation is his first quarrel. It has to be public, usually in a coffee shop, village square or grazing boundary.”

So basically a “culture of honor” is based on fear of losing resources, which establishes a culture where a man’s reputation is at the center of his livelihood and self-worth.

Let us look at that for a moment. Do we live in a “culture of honor” in Lebanon? Think of all the violent events you have hear of, whether recently or in the past. Usually they are a result of one group being insulted by the other group and retaliating, which spurs a vicious cycle. Think of the civil war, where men had to stand up for the honor of their towns and cities, or defend their sect or religion. Think of the feuds between university students who have to defend the honor of their religion, their political party, or their student club’s reputation, and proving themselves to be strong men in their niche culture.

Think of the last game between Sagesse and Sporting. How did it start? The players on both sides are coming from a long season of competition, representing two teams that have a long history of accomplishments and have a reputation to defend. After an hour and a half of intense and provocative sports action, the players are pumping with adrenaline and testosterone. Their fans are bustling with fury and excitement as they struggle to control their themselves in a charged atmosphere. In the last few seconds of the game, the result is settled and so the Riyadi players take the blow and accept defeat by greeting the Sagesse players. An excited and pumped up Sagesse player releases his tension by going for the open court and dunking the rim. This was deemed disrespectful by a Riyadi player who had assumed fair play and was not defending. This disrespect is a symbol of the culture of honor.

What is special about this last basket? The Sagesse had been scoring all night, but this one in particular was offending the honor already established. By dunking the ball, it felt like the Sagesse player was “rubbing it in” and adding oil to the fire already blazing in the defeated hearts of the Riyadi players. The small physical confrontation between the two players suddenly sparked the barely contained tension among the fans, and they were offended by seeing the Riyadi player attack one of their own players physically. In a society that offered most of them hammers as tools to confront conflict, this confrontation unfolding in front of their eyes was another nail to be hit hard, and so they burst with violence attacking not only the one player, but the whole team, as is usually the case with cultures of honor. The Riyadi players themselves had to react with violence, defending themselves as they felt outnumbered and threatened perhaps, also resorting to the hammer under fear rather than any other tool.

So after this lengthy analysis, we see another live proof of how violence is a cultural acquisition of some sort. A feud that started almost a decade ago, continues among the progeny of the grand-grand-sons of the original fighters. The fans of two teams in 2014, carry the sentiments, grudges and stereotypes of their previous fans from the 1990s and 2000s.

Ok, so it is one thing that violence is learnt and acquired through socialization, but isn’t it a far stretch to say that it is inherited? The inhabitants of Appalachia are surely still not engaging in an endless streak of killings in revenge, are they?

True, they are not, but there are clear remnants of the culture of honor in the modern era.

In the 1990s, Dov Cohen and Richard Nisbett conducted an experiment at the University of Michigan to study exactly this question. Looking to test the heredity of culture of honor and violence, they discovered that being called an ‘asshole’ was received to be very insulting to young men eighteen to twenty-four years old. So they conducted a study based on using that word  and other provocative behaviors to  study their subjects’ reaction and anger, looking at their handshake, facial expressions, saliva samples, testosterone and cortisol levels. If you are interested in the full paper, you can read it here.

In short, the two psychologists discovered that the reactionary behavior of their participants was not based on how emotionally secure they were, nor whether they were intellectuals or jocks, physically imposing or not. The deciding factor was where they were from. Northerners seemed to treat the incident with amusement, and laugh it off while Southerners got really angry, their cortisol and testosterone levels shot up and they were itching for a fight. To Cohen and Nisbett, the fact that students at the University of Michigan, in one of the north most states in America, would show higher symptoms of adherence to culture of honor simply because they grew up in the South was remarkable. After all, these young males were not herdsmen themselves, neither were any of their parents, they were not living in conditions similar to their Scot-British ancestors and were cosmopolitan enough to travel across the country and go to college, but they still acted like they were living in nineteenth-century Harlan, Kentucky.

Ok, great? How does this relate to Lebanese youth?

In the case of Lebanon, there is no need to go a century back in time. Think of the age group born in the late 1980s and onwards, of which I belong to. In addition to growing up amidst wars, series of dispersed bombings, sectarian clashes, political tension and witnessing the 2004-2006 political events at the prime of their age, perhaps I should say our age, we have been shaped by violence, fear of the other and standing up for our group’s honor, be it political or religious group. We have inherited the culture of violence from our parent’s generation, even without our parents being violent themselves. Our grandparents had their own turf wars and honor battles to fight as well. Think of the early years of the building of this nation and the sectarian clashes, think of the wars between the inhabitants of the mountain and those of the cities in the late 1800s, think of the herdsmen culture that was dominant in Lebanon, think of the strong culture of honor that still exists very pervasively in Lebanon, how families revenge for the killing of their own, how patriarchal males “dispense” women that bring shame to the family, how a family castrates a young man for eloping with their girl and dishonoring their reputation.

So where am I going with this lengthy commentary?

All I am saying is that recurring incidents of violence in a community are a symptom of deeper roots than simply a personal quarrel, excited fans, or angry mob.

Think of violence as a disease. You can either inherit it from your ancestors and carry it in your genes, or you can simply acquire it from your environment, and most often it is both of those factors. 

I believe that there has not been enough effort spent of addressing issues of violence among the youth in Lebanon. As an outside observer these days, I can see how those residing within are being fed violence on a daily basis and are handed hammers as their only tools. As someone specializing in youth and conflict transformation, I have also learnt how violence is inherited and passed on from one generation to another.

Often, we hear the older generation and the policy-makers blaming the youth for their violent behavior and their resort to fists and pistols to settle disagreements. These accusations tend to disregard the fact that these violent acts are symptoms of community, families, and educational system that fail to provide the necessary tools to handle conflict, and provide conflict management skills that surpass the  natural instinctive reaction of fight or flight (I really recommend this TedX talk).

Just like you would not blame an individual for capturing a disease, you cannot simply blame a young man or woman for their violent behavior, IF it is part of a larger pattern of violence in a community AND without acknowledging the fact that such a violent behavior is because someone somewhere failed to provide them with another tool, show them another way to laugh it off and not fall hostages to their hormones.  

If you have not read the whole post, the last quote in italics is what I would like you to go leave this page with before you move on to your next shared link on your Facebook news feed, or the next email in your inbox.

 

More about youth and violence? Start with the videos below:

Teaching with the World Peace Game by John Hunter – click here.

Every kid need a champion by Rita Pierson – click here.

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Adel Nehmeh

M.S Electrical Engineering & M.A. Peace Studies and Conflict Transformation

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Posted in Lebanon | 8 Comments

Open letter to Lebanese Minister of Youth and Sports: Empower the youth, do not punish them

Enough has been already said about the last basketball game between “Al 7ikmah” and “Al Riyadi”, the rivals since the day I was born. Such hooliganism is not new to Lebanon, in fact it is not unique to Lebanon. It exists in UKSpainScotlandColombiaArgentina and many other numerous countries. Lebanon is not the first and only country to witness violence resulting from sports, and do not let the most recent episode distract you from the fact that this has been an ongoing scenario and football, known as soccer in some parts of the world, has also been a source of violence among its Lebanese fans.

So let us set two things straight once and for all:

“The problem is not with basketball, football or any other sport.”

“The problem is not that the Lebanese are violent by nature or they have no sportsmanship”

So what is the problem?

Violence experienced as a result of fan hooliganism or even athlete violence, is only a symptom of violence in the society. As someone who has been studying violence among youth, and having looked at this issue with close attention, many researchers attest to the fact that “The fan or the athlete, who feels his manhood is being challenged, may struggle not to respond with physical force. However, fans/athletes who do respond physically may be simply reflecting cultural upbringing that was established outside of sport. Sport may not be the cause of violence, but rather a result of the fans’/athletes’ upbringing or natural disposition, which led them to choose reflect violence onto the sport. It is often young men from lower socioeconomic classes who tend to embrace sport to prove their masculinity, or become loyal fans as the club offers a sense of belonging that extends way beyond the sport. Any challenge to their manliness or identity reflected in the club loyalty, compels them to respond or lose face in front of their peers.”

In simple words, “violence is reflected onto the sport mainly by young men from lower socioeconomic background as a form of masculinity and a manifestation of violence in the upbringing.”

To most of the readers, this is not new. So now that we know this, what to do about it?

Well, the Lebanese Basketball Federation FLB and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, can do what they have always done. They can blame the fans and the team managers, ban the fans from attending the basketball games, and possibly issue a statement condemning the violence and asking people to embrace sportsmanship. In order to cover the costs and teach everybody a lesson, they will fine the teams, suspend a few players and let things die out.

“The basically play the role of the fire-fighter. They extinguish the fire, penalize the instigators, and wait for things to cool down.”

Both the FLB and the Minister know well enough that such measures will not suffice, and all they are doing is absorbing the tension and surrendering to the fact they are powerless, as they await for the next episode to burst out so they can play the role of the heroic fire-fighter again.

So what can really be done?

First of all, recognize the above mentioned reality that the violence is a result of societal violence and structural violence. Once that is done, then the ministry should be proactive about actually fulfilling its part in empowering the youth and improving the sports. This will require a long-term thorough plan that is not impossible nor difficult, and all it requires is commitment and interest in combating such symptoms.

Second, affirm that the whole purpose of the sports and sport leagues in Lebanon is to offer a venue for the Lebanese youth to pursue their physical talents and hobbies, provide an opportunity to compete professionally, and provide a family environment entertainment for the Lebanese populace. Without affirming such purposes for sports, then the federations, clubs and ministry will be running an industry without a compass, not knowing what purpose do they serve.

Third, conduct a serious and thorough conflict mapping and assessment of the sports-based violence in Lebanon and start addressing the issues over a long-term plan that includes, sports teams, federations, NGOs, Ministry of Education, schools and other possible stakeholders. Such an assessment should look into the factors contributing to the violence, starting from but not limited to the pyramid below:

Image

Fourth, provide non-violent and conflict resolution training for the youth, especially the males, who constitute the sweeping majority of the fans attending sports games. These young men perpetuating violence inside and outside the stadiums, are similar to the young Lebanese university students who engage in fist fights every time university elections come up. They are also similar to the wife batters and the men who are sending at least one woman per week to her death bed or hospital emergency room due to domestic violence.

Fifth, be proactive rather than reactive. Recognize that the strategy of penalizing, cracking down using security forces and banning from attendance will not solve the problem. What is required is education and an intensive short and long-term campaign to address such an issue from its core, rather than putting lipstick on a dirty pig and pretending that it is now photogenic and can run for a beauty pageant.

So after all this, I hope that this humble opinion gets to the Minister of Sports and Youth, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul-Muttaleb Al-Hananawi.

Dear General and Minister Hannawi,

It is cumbersome to put all these demands and pressures on you, knowing that you have only been i the ministry for less than four months. While such a period of time is enough to take serious action, I and the rest of the Lebanese population recognize the endless amount of turmoil that the country is facing. As a retired brigadier general from the Lebanese army, I ask that you recognize the need for training and discipline among the youth, but also acknowledge that the military strategies of the army will not solve the issue at hand here. Violence is an endemic disease, and not a pimple. It cannot simply operated on with a biopsy and removed, but it requires diagnosis and treatment. The Lebanese youth, the ones we have seen last night on the TV screens, whether players or fans, do not need more security forces to control them and most certainly cannot afford paying fines. They love sports and should be encouraged to enjoy it in a friendly and safe environment. We the fans abroad and at home enjoy watching basketball, soccer and other sports and we stand proud when our players complete internationally wearing the cedar on their chests and serving as ambassadors for the Lebanese potential.

It would not be fair to hold the Ministry of Sports and Youth responsible for all the violence that Lebanon is witnessing, but this ministry has in fact been entrusted with Lebanon’s youth, whether they are affiliated with sports of or not. Change happens at so many levels, and while the change we seek is mostly behavioral and attitudinal, I believe that serious steps at the structural level will encourage and engage stakeholders and key players to start addressing inherited and acquired behaviors and attitudes.

Please do not let this incident be treated like all its predecessors, by simply taking penalizing measures, banning the fans and telling them that they are not worthy of sports or civil engagement of any sort. The Lebanese youth are just as civilized and capable as any other youth in the world. Those who are prone to falling victims to their hormones and societal habits leading them to violence need guidance and training, not punishment and rebuking. They need someone to believe in their humanity and capabilities, rather than someone breaking yet another level of their self-esteem and perpetuating the notion that they are not worthy of being civilized.

You are in the right spot at the right time. Do not simply extinguish yet another fire and hope that the grey cloud passes and the responsibility be passed on to whoever minister follows you next.

With all due respect,

A young man from Lebanon and a huge fan of basketball

Adel Nehmeh

 

To read Minister Hannawi’s initial response to the latest episode of violence, click here.

To watch what happened in the last seconds of the game, click here.

 

 

Posted in Being young in Lebanon, civil society in Lebanon | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dance to the sound of the Lebanese Cedar

To the Lebanese people, the cedar is more than a tree, it is a symbol of identity and national pride.

While the Lebanese diverge and disagree on all other aspects of their identity, Muslims and Christians, left and right, March 8 and 14, North and South, they all agree and cherish the cedar tree.

With the immense and unplanned urbanization that Lebanon has witnessed over the past decades, especially since the early 2000’s, this identity is under threat.

When was the last time you saw a cedar tree, and by that I mean other than the one on the flag, or on the logos of political parties, or the one on the MEA airlines?

What is the remaining area of the Cedar tree reservations in Lebanon?

How can the symbol of our identity and nationality be reduced to a rare conifer that we can only access in a reservation here and there?

In a much-appreciated initiative, The Lebanese Ministry of Environment, in co-operation with the Ministry of Education, has found an innovative way to give the cedar a voice for conservation. With the help of bioacoustic engineer, Derek Shirley and his team, they were able to extract the nearly 3,000-year-old rhythm, playing inside a cedar in the Barouk Forest. The rhythm was handed over to popular, Beirut-based DJ ESC (Ribal Rayess) who, in collaboration with Jad Jazzy Jay (Jade Hazim), used the raw sounds to compose a House track.

‘3,000 Years’ is the first track in history created using a rhythm extracted from inside a Lebanese cedar tree. Composed by Beirut-based DJ ESC, the track is the focal point of the ‘Save the Music’ campaign for cedar conservation in Lebanon. By downloading this track and sharing this video, you’re not only acting to save our cedars, you’re buying a song that’s been playing for three thousand years.

You can listen and download three different versions of the song on this website.

Do not be cheap and illegally get the song. Spare $3 for a cedar tree.

It is not clear who the proceeds exactly go to, whether it is the Ministry of Environment or some other environmental organization focused on cedar preservation in Lebanon, so I hope someone picks up this blog post and provides more information about how the proceeds will be used.

Transparency is key here, otherwise it will just be a phase where a popular song sold for $3 will be played everywhere in Lebanon throughout the summer 2014 season, without actually raising much awareness or giving the cedar trees a hand.

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Adel Nehmeh

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Posted in civil society in Lebanon, Lebanese Changing Lebanon, Make a difference, public sector in Lebanon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pornography of Suffering: The Lebanese Media version

Your wants, desires, needs and wishes
Will be duly noted
Processed, filed, and cataloged, labeled, and encoded
Turned into sitcom dialog and advertising slogans

We’ve got a box to put in your brain
Hard wired for downloading
All the secrets and the mysteries
You’ve been selfishly withholding

The dreams and hopes that once were yours
Will now be collected and dispersed
So the first to come with cash to spend
Will be the first one served ~ Tracy Chapman, Hard Wired.

They are on the look, trying to grasp their hands on any topic that will raise their “TV share”. You see them bustling around, looking for the next “sexy” topic to get a “scoop” and sell more ads.

They often operate with the mentality of “An explosion? Where? I need to get there quickly, talk to the people who are bleeding before they clear the scene,” or “You know a woman who was beaten by her husband? That is prime time news material. You have to connect me with her and share her cause with the world.”

While it is important to highlight social causes and inform the people of what is going on, it must be done with the ethics, focusing on the subject first and foremost. Quiet often, we see factors of trauma, safety of the subject, privacy, respect for the individual, justice and beneficence completely neglected for the sake of gaining pairs of eyes hooked on the screen.

Of course not all journalists and TV hosts are the same, so this is in no means trying to generalize and include the few ethical ones out there with the majority of the fame-mongers, but the fact is, not only in Lebanon, but all over, we are seeing media and TV channels that have no respect for their subjects nor their viewers.

They simply want to sell ads, gain TV shares, regardless of whether they are treading on private matters, making them public and digging deeper wounds and harming lives.

This is what I call pornography! Why? Simply because pornography is the mere idea of making someone’s, or a group’s, most private interaction and making it public. Real sexual pornography is even better than the pornography of suffering, for at least it is performed by professional actors who willingly take part and know in advance the consequences of their theatrical performance.

The pornography of suffering on the other hand, abuses real people with real issues, convinces them that it is trying to help them, makes them believe that going live in front of thousands or millions is actually beneficial for them, and then after the suffering is exacerbated, and the trauma is induced, it leaves them hanging, to suffer on their own, for they have it all on tape, copyrighted and ready to go viral.

This is happening every day, and today’s pornographic director of human suffering is Zaven Kouyoumdjian, on Future TV.

Before I offer my comments, I will let you watch one minute and thirty eight seconds

Many of you will be shocked to see the young man talk to his mother in such a disgraceful manner, or to see him kick his mother on the head!

Yes, we all agree on that, but that is up to the young man and his own moral values. We do not know the full story and the nature of the relationship between the mother and her son.

What should be shocking, is that a TV presenter abused the suffering of a woman and her relationship with her son.

Doesn’t the presenter have a responsibility and ethics standards to abide by?

Didn’t he put the woman at risk?

Why would he bring a young man, unprepared, stir up his emotions, confront him with the mother when they are not on good terms to start with?

All this to sell ads, to get more fame, to go viral on social networks. All this for greed, for personal gains, with no respect whatsoever for people’s privacy, with complete disregard for the impact of the such an enforced encounter in front of thousands of viewers.

Pornography of suffering, taking the private suffering of people’s lives, putting it on stage, provoking it and broadcasting to millions.

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Adel Nehmeh

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Posted in Lebanon | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment