Monthly Archives: January 2012

Shhhh..We Don’t Want to Know!

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Make Love Not War by ~JamesAllsopp

So we as a race have to have a say in matters. “I like Basam Fattouh’s makeup, I love Maya Diab’s style, Arab Idol is a bore, Paolo Coelho is a con artist, tattoos are scary, Harry Potter is my idol, Green Elves ROCK” and on and on. Fine, to each his own and people are entitled to their opinion, but I think that artists, whether singers or actors, should keep silent about their political views. Simply put, an artist is not a politician, that’s just not their industry, not what they produce. Granted, the artist him/herself might be the subject of dissension among the public, some would be fans and some not; however, when a celebrity takes a public stand on a political issue siding with a certain party AGAINST another, he or she would very much be pitting his or her OWN fans against each other as it is more likely than not that they don’t have similar political views. Thus, instead of being an element of coherence and harmony in a society, bringing people together through the love of art, the artist will have willingly transformed him/herself into yet another element of division creating more rifts and fractures among people.

Prime examples here come from the Egyptian revolution of January 25, 2011. Once loved and respected by millions, Adel Imam now resides at the top of the Black List of artists who defended the Mubarak Regime. Adel Imam is definitely entitled to his opinion, but he could have simply held his opinion in silence, choosing to side with his own image as a popular man of the people instead of trampling in the mud of a dictatorial system.

Another example is from Lebanon, where Lara Fabian’s impending concert has incited its own doze of controversy. Fabian is allegedly a fierce defendant of the Zionist state of Israel. According to Al-Akhbar.com:

YouTube videos have emerged showing the singer performing at a concert in France in 2008 to celebrate the creation of Israel in 1948.In the concert, directed by her fiance Gerard Pulliccino, Fabian sang in Hebrew in front of images of various Israeli leaders, settlements and other iconography.After her song finished she reportedly shouted: “I love you Israel” to the crowd. She has also performed in Israel on a number of occasions and attended pro-Zionist meetings.

Some might still want to argue that artists have the right to practice free speech and to express their opinions regardless of who agrees or not. I beg to differ.  An artist is not a “regular” human being, just like a teacher is not. In her/his capacity as an educator and a public figure, a teacher can NOT express devisive political views in the classroom. Imagine if your math teacher suddenly announced her allegiance with the March 8 movement, how would that impact the students who support March 14?It would simply be an academic catastrophe.

Artists of the world, just listen to John Lennon: he said, “Make Love, Not War.” Amen.

 

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Thou Shalt Be Pretentious

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Quick Question: How many dresses does a woman need in order to attend a wedding?

If you answered one, then know that I have doubled over laughing at you. Just Know it.

If you are a Lebanese Druze woman, you need to shop for THREE sets of dresses, shoes, and accessories in order to attend only ONE wedding.

Let me explain.
The vast majority of the Druze community still celebrate their weddings the very traditional way. A couple of nights before the wedding, usually a Friday night, the parents of the bride throw a party that’s akin to a bachelorette’s, except both men and women of the bride and the groom’s families are invited, and the male stripper is not an option. Naturally, a female invitee has to go all dressed up in a cute dress and a matching pair of shoes, with hair and makeup done to a tee, especially if she is of a marriageable age and of some claim to beauty since weddings in all cultures are just cover-ups for matchmaking conferences. So, that’s outfit number ONE. It will probably cost the lady or her parents something in the realm of 200$.

The wedding day arrives. The female wedding invitee will have spent no less than a month prior to the wedding shopping for TWO outfits as there are two separate celebrations that take place on the same day: the daytime wedding and the nighttime wedding. During the daytime wedding, the families of each of the bride and the groom would gather at their own homes, where they would have a mini-celebration complete with a ‘zaffe’ and ‘dyafe’. Then, the groom would go in a big procession of relatives and cars to the bride’s house, where another mini-wedding is also celebrated with zaffe, dyafe, and the works. Then, the groom would “take” the bride away from her parents’ house and to his own house in a symbolic ritual of crossing over from one life and family to another(it’s a marathon just trying to explain it). In the meanwhile, if the female wedding attendant is either the bride or the groom’s sister or close relative, then woe is she. For this daytime wedding, she would have to show up in a gown that is:
a.fancy enough to suit her “sister of the bride” social status
b.not a straight out evening gown, or else people would criticize her for trying too hard.

daytime dress: a tricky test of taste

This ordeal along with its matching shoes, bag, makeup and hair would, on average, cost around 600$. Yes, that’s more than the Lebanese minimum wage.

And finally, part three of this tragicomedy, the nighttime wedding or the evening money pit . Here, the expensive celebration at a beach resort or five star hotel that all the Lebanese know will take place. And again, the female wedding attendant will have to present at the venue in a dress that is NOT the same one she was wearing earlier during the day. This one will have to be a straight out evening gown, and she can have it shimmer and sparkle to her heart’s contentment, channeling her inner diva. This dress with its accessories could cost up to a 1000$.

sell a kidney and get the dress

So if you do the math, 200$+600$+1000$=1800$, that’s a small fortune and a respectable one month’s salary by Lebanon’s standards, all wasted for three outfits which this female attendant will most probably not wear any more because “everybody had seen her in them”.

And what if somebody dared to break this extravagant, pretentious, and wasteful ritual?

You don’t want to be that woman; she would be labeled cheap and a spendthrift, and a typical Lebanese would rather take out a small loan with a ridiculously high interest rate to pay for all that extravaganza, and NOT be called the ‘c’ word.

Yes, It’s This Bad

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the sad truth (from cartoonstock.com)

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.”
—Malthus T.R. 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Chapter VII, p61

I am not a sociopath.  I just hate and despise how much chaos and imbalance we as a race have brought to this world.

Here’s my point:

When a lion hunts a prey, he eats his fill, leaves the remains behind, and moves on. A hyena that was lurking in the bushes approaches and subsists on the carcass, then moves on. Birds of prey tear away at any flesh left on the bones, and then, they fly away. Ants, lizards, and other insects and reptiles also find nourishment in the leftover flesh and skin. Eventually, the bones rot and decay and return to the womb of the holy mother, Earth.

Thus is the cycle of life in nature. Efficient. Thrifty. Complete. There is no waste, no ‘trash’ and no dumpsters swarming with toxic substances.

Left alone, nature has a system that governs the multiplication and ‘calculated’ existence of all living things. It regenerates itself and it cures itself. If we were to scale the world down to a forest, then in it we would find just enough deer and other prey to feed the predators and yet more of them to keep the deer species in existence.  There would be just enough worms to feed the birds and yet more to ventilate and till the land. There would be just enough diseases to eliminate the weak who compete with the more fit on space and sustenance .

Cue in the species that has run out of control of the natural order of things: human beings.

The population is multiplying even faster than brown algae, and the poorest of us breed themselves literally to death. They procreate herds of hungry, sickly, and miserable little creatures for no obvious evolutionary or utilitarian purpose. In plain words, they bring children to this world and afflict them with poverty only because they like “to do it”.

We have destroyed more than 20% of the Amazon Rainforest, which hosts more than 50.000 species and gives the world a quarter of its oxygen supply. It is now gone forever. Why you may ask? Because room has to be made for agriculture, to feed the gluttonous bellies of the seven billion leeches.

illegal deforestation in brazil (from greenpeace.org)

We have fought diseases so viciously that the joke has now turned on us: now we are the ones multiplying like cancer cells.
We eat and eat like there is no tomorrow, and we throw away leftovers in trash bags that are cleaned away by half-starving sanitation workers.
We buy the biggest SUV’s that guzzle fuel and paint the skies in death-ridden smog just to spite the neighbors.
We log down forests  and displace animals from their natural habitats only so we could own a country house or build ugly,concrete buildings where we can resume our miserable existence.
We flush our human waste straight down to the sea, along with thousands of chemicals in the form of detergents and cleaners poisoning and killing the dwellers of the sea.

And we’re so egocentric as a race that we truly believe that we’re entitled to all of this destruction. Nature should bow its head and accept this torture.

I accuse you and me and all humans of being the virus that has gone mutant, defying all  possible remedies.

Gone Baby, Gone..

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Picture of Old Beirut

So the new BAD kid on the block is the old house.

Forget about the construction site next to it and which most probably unsettled the base. Forget about the fishy new owner of the building who was not maintaining it; the old building is the only culprit accused of killing its unfortunate inhabitants, and soon enough, all the remaining traditional houses and building still surviving in Beirut will be incriminated.

The dust on the collapsed building in Ashrafieh had literally not settled yet when I spotted them pointing fingers and sneering right there on my TV set’s screen.  “The building is too old and dilapidated”, “it was not fit for residence”, “they had built two extra floors on top of it which weakened the base”; anonymous ‘engineers’ who for some reason held a deep grudge against those beautiful old sandstone structures boasting red brick roofs. They hate their spaciousness, their artistic architecture, the breezy gardens in front, the genuine living space they form. They hate the beauty that they are.

Photo taken by Mahmoud Safadi, posted on the Save Beirut Heritage Facebook page.

Mark my words, this year will witness a total crackdown on the old buildings still standing in Beirut, and the argument is ready: didn’t you see what happened to the Ashrafieh building?

Et tu, Brute?

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I’ll tell you a story:

Last week, one of my students was giving an oral presentation on the topic of sexism. Being the social activist that she is, she ended her presentation by passing out invitations to the demonstration against rape that took place yesterday in Downtown Beirut.

It was pretty impressive.

One of the points she covered in her presentation was particularly upsetting to a couple of her classmates: marital rape as a form of sexism. Two of my female students raised their hands to ask a question; one of them pointed the presenter’s attention to the fact that Islam tells a woman that her duty is to comply with her husband’s needs and demands, especially the sexual ones. The other student, told her that “there is no such thing as ‘marital’ rape, it simply doesn’t exist”. The student who was presenting got flustered; it would take years of reading, struggling, experience, and skepticism to be able to stand up for the mighty power of the religious argument. However, her reply was extraordinary: she told her classmates that she respects religious doctrine, however, many married women who are also religious still feel that they are being raped by their own husbands, and that religion should respect that too.

The  story ends here, but the questions begin.

I was both proud and saddened: proud that one eighteen-year-old should have a mind of her own, and saddened that another two should stand with what they have been taught against the common sense stance with the suffering of their own kind.

Thief

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Tuesday January 10, 10:38 p.m. From my window that overlooks a street in Hamra, I witnessed the capturing of a thief.

He was probably trying to rob a nearby shop when he was chased out, and being so utterly dumb, he tried to hide in a building’s underground parking lot that has only one way out: the entrance the thief went through. Around twenty men teemed at the parking lot’s entrance, pacing back and forth in front of the hideout like hungry lions. Surprisingly (rather astonishingly) the police arrived on the scene just a few minutes later. They went down the parking lot and ten minutes and a few screams later, the officers went out trophy in hand: they had caught the thief. I could discern that he was a twenty something man, dressed casually in a pair of jeans and a sweater; he didn’t match my image of an outlaw. I was expecting a bigger and buffer thief of the criminal-type we see on T.V., with tattered clothing perhaps, a gun in hand, a head band, a mask? Granted, I wasn’t expecting Captain Jack Sparrow to exit that underground parking lot, but the sight of a human being so ordinary looking surrounded by angry law enforcement officers triggered an unexpected reaction in me: pity. I mentally took back a step and cocked an eyebrow at myself: “are you really pitying the THIEF Mother Teresa? He’s the bad guy! He was trying to deprive another man of his hard-earned cash. He should have went and gotten himself a job instead”. Yes, yes, I know all that. I am not taking the side of the criminal.Granted: he has committed a terrible act and deserves to be punished. And, had it been my house or shop he had attempted to break into, then no,I wouldn’t have written this blog post since I would have been too busy cursing him and his family to hell.

Yet still, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pity as I saw that dragged to the police car, slapped and kicked and cursed at while crammed in the back seat. I could only imagine the horrors waiting for him at the police station.Why did the plain clothes police officers have to start the torture right there in the middle of the street in plain sight of the whole neighborhood? To teach the rest of us a lesson? Or to showcase their superhero abilities? Or was it to shake us out of a cruel comfort zone? Incidentally, my husband and I were making fun of the slogan of an infomercial that was being aired just a few minutes before this incident happened, the infomercial is part of a campaign that raises awareness about torture in Lebanese prisons. The slogan in Arabic goes “L3azeb mish ra7a”  which literally translates into ‘torture is not comfort’, a play on the common Lebanese saying “3azebak ra7a” or in English “I would gladly be ‘tortured’ for you”. We were laughing at how the ad simply states the obvious, and then ‘the obvious’ manifested itself right under our window. No, that didn’t look comfortable at all. Couldn’t they have just put him inside that police car and took off like we see happens in movies that depict life in civilized countries? That is, countries other than this jungle we live in?

An speaking of the jungle, what makes people steal and thus break the social contract? Is it poverty? Loose morals? Lack of sufficient legal deterrents?

And who gives the right to a police officer to insult another human being’s whole ancestral lineage using all sorts of genital organs and types of feces in one long string of curses while he beats the heck out of him? Well, I have no answers for this one, but I’m sure they didn’t read him his rights.

Mitil 3indna b Libnen

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Only four years ago, this image would have probably brought a smile to my face but wouldn’t have occupied me much beyond that. A female member of parliament cradles her new born as she votes on legislation. A woman at work with her baby attached to her. My pre-baby self would have probably also pffted at how encumbering babies are by nature.  Can’t a woman take a break?

Fast forward to this day, and I see a personal hero in that member of parliament.

I see my mom, a teacher, having to go back to work exactly 40 days after she had gone through the gargantuan ordeal of making and delivering a human being. According to our Lebanese legislation, a woman needs no more than six weeks to recover her health and sanity after 9 months of physical and mental spinning and draining. I see her leaving three toddlers in the care  of neighbors and aunts and heading off to work at 7 a.m. She was well aware that her kids were most probably not receiving the proper nutrition she would have wanted them to, and that proper stimulation of their physical and mental development was certainly not item number 1 on Tante Im Sa3id’s priorities list. I see her guts wrenched with doubts and fear that her babies might be hurt or abused or afflicted by any other possible scary scenario while entrusted to the care of strangers. She knew all that, and more. But she also knew she had no other choice.

I see her tears as she walks down half-deserted, cold streets in the early morning, secretly hoping to find the school had been flooded over night so that she could go back home to her babies.

Back in the 80’s, schools, institutions, and companies couldn’t care less about providing childcare facilities for working mothers.

And in 2012, things are still exactly the same.

I see me, an instructor at the best university in Lebanon, blessed with a little baby girl whom I have to leave behind in order to go to work. Unlike my mom, I am very lucky to have both her and my mother-in-law to look after my child in my absence. Unlike my mom, I am certain that my daughter is in safe hands while I’m away. But just like my mom, I have to suffer the pains of missing my baby and worrying about her every minute of the hours I spend away from her. My prestigious university, which I’m proud of, sadly still lags behind in terms of providing childcare facilities for its faculty and employees.

Does it make sense for me as a teacher to tuck my baby in a sling and bring her with me to class? Maybe not; that would probably be too distracting for both my students and me. However, it should be mandatory for a commercial institution of any kind to provide working mothers with a safe and secure place for their kids to frolic as the mothers do their job. Imagine how much more productive a person would be if such a load is taken off her shoulders.

Licia Rozulli, I salute you.