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

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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

I’m coming home mom and dad. Don’t let them scare you!

“Mom, dad! I am planning to come spend at least a month in Lebanon this summer. I am so excited to see you.”

Mother : “Ya habibi! We miss you so much. I cannot wait to hug you and smell you”

Father: “Now this is good news. Finally something that brightness up our lives amidst all this pessimism we are engulfed with.”

Myself: “Yeah, now that I am back in school, I get to have longer summer vacations, so I get to spend more time with you and dad. I cannot wait to go to the beach, do some camping and hiking, and travel around the country with you!”

Mother: “Oh my dear! We were expecting you to visit this summer. Your dad and I were actually discussing this earlier, and I think your dad has something to tell you!”

Myself: “Oh oh! I can sense a serious tone! What is going on dad?”

Father: ” No need to worry my son. It is just, as you know, the situation in Lebanon is getting very scary and insecure. It is no longer political, it is terrorism and you never know when the next suicide attack will take place or where. Don’t get me wrong, you are our ONLY son and there is nothing in the world that we want than to have you among us, but we are worried about you. You are a very active and social individual, you always want to spend time outdoors, travel around the country, and most importantly you are always politically and civically active.”

Myself: “What are you trying to say dad?”

Father: “What I am trying to say is that we are worried. We were thinking that it might be worth sacrificing and maybe considering you not visiting this summer!”

Mother (jumping in to absorb the gravity of the statement): “Every single day since August 20, 2009 and I long for you by my side. I wake up and I open Skype and I cannot hug the pillow before I listen to your voice. There is nothing I want more than to hug you and have you next to me, filling my eyes with joy and my nose with your sweet smell. It is just that I am scared. I am worried about you abroad on your own, but I am more scared to have you roaming the streets here. I see the tears and the sorrow of those mothers on the TV screens after every bombing, and I do not want to experience their pain. I cannot stand the pain and worry to know that you are driving or walking on one of those booby-trapped streets. I know I will be living in fear every single moment of every single day when you will not be close to my side, safe inside the house.”

Myself: ” Mom, don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

Mother (crying): “We only have you and as much as it hurts to have you far, we at least know that you are safe. I know you think I am exaggerating, but this is the way I feel. I am afraid, worried, scared, whatever you want to call it. You are not a kid anymore for us to restrict your movement and social activity, and this is why we are worried. This country has stolen you from us and put you thousands of kilometers away. That is enough sorrow to live with. We are not ready for it to steal you again, maybe this time permanently.

Father (interrupting my mother’s emotional eruption): “We are worried my son, just like every other parent in Lebanon. We go on with our daily lives not knowing that to expect. Future has become so short-sighted that it does not extend beyond getting back home safe at night. We would be glad to have you with us if you decide to come, but we needed to let you know how we feel!”

Myself: “I completely understand your fears. The last thing I want to do is to make your life more stressful. I would still like to visit and spend some time with you this summer. No need to worry. I will be careful.”

This is an actual conversation that took place between me and my parents last week. Of course it did not take place in English, but the core of the narrative, the emotions and fears were all expressed.

What makes caring and loving parents to get to the point to tell their only child that they do not want him to visit after a year of being away from them? The same two parents that call every day to check on their son, now a 27-year old man. The same parents who almost 5 years ago were opposed to the whole idea of their only son leaving the country for 2 years to pursue post-graduate education. The same parents who learned how to operate a desktop computer, a rapid uncontrollable mouse pointer, a smart phone, a tablet and all the social media to stay in touch with their son abroad. The same parents who jumped on an airplane for the first time ever, going through security checkpoints across two continents and interrogated in 2 different unfamiliar foreign languages,  to attend their son’s graduation and spend time with him knowing that he could not visit that year due to starting a new job.

These two parents, like many other Lebanese parents, have conquered various civil wars, technology barriers, distances and physical separation only to be defeated by the fear of their children’s safety.

My parents may be over-emotional and exaggerating a little bit, but I know for sure they are not the only ones. Lebanese parents are now, more than ever, encouraging children to move abroad.

This sentiment that troubles Lebanese parents’ hearts and minds is not limited to a particular sect or geographical region. While politics may be dividing the people, the fear is uniting them across regions and religions. 

It certainly was not easy for my parents to utter those words, asking me to reconsider my decision to visit. It is not easy for any parent to tell their children to stay away, at least temporarily. What is also not easy, is for those of us who are safe abroad, to know that we have parents, friends, brothers and sisters who are in danger’s way every single day. We also worry about the safety of our beloved, as we watch the news and follow the hashtags. If I am Lebanese, I might as well share and experience the fears that the Lebanese at home go through every day.

I will be visiting home this summer. I will be spending quality time with my parents, my friends and relatives. I will not allow the fundamentalists and the corrupt politicians to steal from me the opportunity to be united with my family.

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Adel Nehmeh

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Posted in Being young in Lebanon, Lebanon visits, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The role of males in the advocacy for gender equality: Lessons from Wadjda and Abdullah

WadjdaWadjda (Waad Mohammed), to the left, is not your typical feminist. She is a lanky 10-year-old with long dark hair, a loosely-hanging scarf, big eyes and a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors. She memorizes the Koran and wins the prize for best recitation at her school. 

AbdullahAbdullah (Abdullrahman Al-Gohani ), to the left, is definitely not a feminist. He, also a 10-year-old lad, wears the traditional Saudi outfit and head cover, considers the long twirled mustache as a symbol of manhood, and laughs at Wadjda’s dreams of ever riding a bicycle in Saudi Arabia. Abdullah is nothing but a young innocent boy who may simply has a crush on Wadjda. He could care less about the structural violence that his female peers might face and the repression they encounter daily at schools.

Wadjda and Abdullah are not feminists, but they are the most inspiring and competent advocates for women rights and gender equality you may ever encounter. They may be fictional characters in an inspirational motion picture, but they are nonetheless depictions of human realities and individuals.

In case you are not aware, I am talking about the two toddlers from the first Saudi film to be directed by a woman. Wadjda is Saudi Arabia’s first feature film directed by Haifaa Al Mansour and Saudi Arabia’s first submission to the Oscars. If you live in a country where the film is prohibited, click here for entire movie (author endorses link only in countries where film is prohibited).

A lot has been said about Haifaa’s achievement and Wadjda’s character and what they represent for gender equality in general, and women rights in Saudi Arabia to be more specific.

In this article, I would like to highlight a much-neglected factor, a character that has not been recognized and pushed forward as a role model for Arab young men. I am talking about the character of Abdullah.

If it were not for Abdullah, Wadjda would probably had not been able to ride the bike. This is not to say that females are incapable without men, but more so to highlight the power that could result in their collaboration rather than their separation. Throughout the film, Wadjda wins over two male characters who play a crucial role in making her dream of riding a bicycle eventually come true. The first, although minimal, is the shopkeeper who saves the bike for her even when she clearly has no way of ensuring she can pay for it. The second, playing a much more significant role, is Abdullah.

Abdullah is her friend, secret admirer, bodyguard, problem-solver and race contender. Wadjda recognizes that she lives in a male-dominated society where men, even young lads, have more influence in society and already have the upper hand in the equation. Instead of competing against those who can assist and challenge their own authority, Wadjda appeals to them using her mesmerizing smile, her charisma and her persuasive character. She wins them over and asks them to help her overcome the obstacles, instead of becoming the obstacles themselves.

Abdullah is the one who shows up when Wadjda is being harassed by the sexually repressed migrant worker at the construction site. Whereas Wadjda is looked down upon by other boys and peers, Abdullah shows admiration for Wadjda’s pluck and individuality. He applauds her personality traits not exactly encouraged by others around them. He acknowledges that Wadjda’s determination won’t be crushed, and that she will do everything in her power to achieve her goal, so he decides to be her ally, and her supporter. He tags along on her trip to intimidate the Taxi driver, and uses his male authority and privileged social status to threaten the immigrant worker so that her mother would be able to go to work. Abdullah agrees to bring his bike to the roof for Wadjda to learn discretely, after a smart manipulation on behalf of Wadjda of course. Abdullah is the one who installs the two additional bike tires for Wadjda to learn, and later removes them and holds Wadjda as she adjusts to the balance on two wheels. Abdullah helps Wadjda perfect her riding day after day on the roof. He even offers to give her his bike when Wadjda’s ambitions to buy her own bike shatter after she involuntarily donates the Koran recitation prize money to Palestine. In the end, Abdullah celebrates Wadjda’s victory and joins her on her first bike ride in public as they race on the streets.

In short, Abdullah is not threatened by Wadjda’s defiant character, but rather inspired by and appealed to it. Together they were able to overcome the obstacles that the society has put in front of Wadjda.

Abdullah is not supposed to steal the spotlights from Wadjda, but as I said earlier, his character has been much neglected. After all ,it is Wadjda’s determination and power of persuasion that enables Abdullah to play this role.

The story of Wadjda and Abdullah is not to be taken lightly, as that of two toddlers in love wanting to ride bicycles together. It is a symbolic example of what the fight for gender equality and women rights should be.

Think of what Haifaa Al Mansour was able to achieve. Would she have been able to achieve it in the Saudi society without relying on men who supported her vision and dreams, who believed in equal opportunities and rights for women. Haifaa Al Mansour knows very well that Saudi Arabia is segregated, that women are not supposed to be outside, especially mingling with men. She says:

“…whenever we would shoot our outdoor scenes, I would be in a van, and I would sit with a walkie-talkie and a monitor … It was tough; it was very frustrating to be in that confined space. .”

When asked why she did not work more publicly, as a statement of standing up for women rights, she confesses:

“It wasn’t part of the statement I was trying to make. I wasn’t trying to clash with people; I was trying to make a film. And I know people, if they see me, they will get offended, or people will come question [us] and try to stop us. I don’t want to provoke people. I’m making a film in Saudi Arabia — I’m a woman — about a young girl who wants a bicycle. That’s enough. I don’t have to push it.”

Haifaa Al Mansour, just like her juvenile character, recognizes that she needs allies and not additional foes. They both recognize that their success and progress depends on winning over their supporters from the other, not opposite, gender.

And this is where us, specifically Arab men, play a role in joining the ranks of advocates for gender equality and women rights.

Forget about the stereotypes of feminism, defiance of male authority, deconstruction of traditions, redefining gender roles and all that radical talk that most advocates for women rights and gender equality are opposed to in the first place.

We cannot fight for the women, but we can choose to be their allies. We should not be threatened by their defiance, subversive methods and struggle. Their liberation will only empower us to become stronger.

We are part of the equation, whether we like it or not. We do have some power in this system, whether we use it or not. Sitting on the sidelines, cheering from behind the benches, puts us on the side of the unjust system. The struggle for gender equality and equal rights for women, is part of our own struggle for social justice and equal opportunities in corrupt and feudal systems.

We as men have a role to play, and strategic female advocates for women rights should know this by now. Wadjda, the 10-year-old recognized this and so should every hardcore rebellious feminists out there.

Be a leader, not a follower! There is plenty of work to be done and positions to lead from.

In my country, women are dying in their own homes, on the hands of their own husbands, with the compliance of the society and the reluctance of the legislative powers in the parliament.

If I remain silent, I am a partner in crime. 

KAFA MArch 8 MarchOn march 8, 2014 you have the opportunity to voice your support for women rights. KAFA, Lebanon’s leading advocate for the end of domestic violence, is organizing a peaceful march from the Museum to the Justice Palace in Beyrouth. You can start there, and do not be afraid to be labeled as a feminist, after all you cannot be a meninist without being a feminist. Feminism is only a synonym for masculinity.

 

In whatever country you reside in, I am sure there is a role for you to play.

If you want to read more about role of men in the advocacy for women rights and gender equality, check this list below.

Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue By Jackson Katz, TEDx
I’m a male feminist. No, seriously By John Brougher, CNN
Roles of Men with Feminism and Feminist Theory By Brian Klocke, National Organization of Men Against Sexism

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Adel Nehmeh

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Posted in civil society in Lebanon, Lebanese Changing Lebanon, political activism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lebanese cabinet up to a rough start

Come on you guys!!!

You had one simple job, and guess what, all you had to do was to stand still and keep your mouth shut!!

You even managed to make a scene out of that!

In case you are not aware what I am referring to, our newly-formed long-awaited savior cabinet have made it to international news as the cabinet that alters photos using photoshops.

Yes, the Lebanese government has used photoshop to produce their official cabinet photo. According to the Associated Press, you can see in the photo below that the first shot was taken with Berri and the ministers present, after which Berri who was headed for Kuwait had to leave for the airport. When the missing ministers arrived, the group stood again for a new picture without Berri, who was then added by Photoshop.

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Why does it matter?

“Adding elements to a photograph is entirely unacceptable and is in clear violation of AP’s standards,” said AP vice president and director of photography Santiago Lyon. This is why after learning of the photograph’s manipulation on Sunday, the AP removed the image from its archives and issued an advisory to customers not to use it.

What did the Presidential media advisor have to say about this?

“So what?” was Adib Abi Akl’s response when asked to comment. The presidential media adviser continued:” The photo has been sent to the media, it is your choice to use them or not.”

Come on you guys! We have waited 11 months for you to get your act together, couldn’t you have organized your schedules a little bit more and saved us this rough start and negative media coverage globally.

We can’t even ask you to cheat and do a good job cheating anymore!

We are not expecting you to suddenly become the world’s most ethical and honorable politicians overnight, but as Lebanese we do expect you to be good at avoiding getting caught!

You guys, and lady, are up for a rough start. What is a photo after all. Don’t let that demotivate you, you had a lot of bad guys to catch!

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Adel Nehmeh

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