First they marched against the proposed history book, now they’re planning to march in support of Beirut’s Phoenician Port and Roman Hippodrome. I guess with the expansion of Turkey’s influence in the region, we’re now due for a march against Ottoman encroachment…
Not sure what to think of this. On one hand, it is transparently opportunistic and hypocritical (quickly: Name a female Lebanese Forces politician who is not married to the boss). But on the other, it is raising awareness of an important issue by using a star female politician.
Here’s an interesting comment I got from blogger and friend Tony Saghbiny:
the last thing we want is artists doing self-censorship because they’re afraid of what would the activists say [...] I’m very sad to see the blogosphere and the activists using their influence to damage the freedom of expression in the country.
He is not alone. Other bloggers who think the racism charges against Lebanese TV stations is unfair are treating this as a matter of free speech and are painting the online activists as some sort of thought police. I don’t think this is a fair characterization.
To start, the stations in question already exercise several forms of self censorship:
- A self censorship with political patrons: MTV doesn’t criticize the Murr family and its political allies, Future TV doesn’t criticize the Hariris, Almanar doesn’t criticize Hezbollah ..etc.
- A self censorship on religious deference grounds: When was the last time Ktir Salbeh made fun of the Maronite church and the patriarchy?
- A self censorship from topics that clearly inflame sectarian feelings. Everyone steers clear from vulgar sectarian stereotypes on TV.
- Self censorship dictated by social and cultural norms: For example, you don’t make fun of a Lebanese politician who just died
- Self censorship dictated by political taboos: For example, you don’t publish stories that portray the state of Israel in any positive light
The reason online activists are doing what they’re doing is not because they’re in some sort of witch hunt. It’s because they see the weakest elements of society, –the poor, the foreign domestic workers, the homosexuals and yes, the women — as fair game. These people are not been treated with the same tactful care that is given to other groups in society. Little gestures like not making fun of people who are committing suicide, or not making women-beating jokes when someone was just killed by a wannabe rapist are simply escaping the peripheral vision of our media editors.
The purpose of our online feedback is simply to call attention to such issues. We don’t want to punish anyone and by all means we don’t want to muffle the free opinion of anyone.
Spreading the good word..
Since everyone is talking about the electoral system, I figured I’d pitch in with a little poster in support of the principal of proportional representational. It was inspired by a similar poster made for a UK referendum but I adapted it for the Lebanese. Don’t forget to spread it around!
The cabinet with zero women strikes again.
If your father’s father was Lebanese, congratulations, you just earned the Lebanese nationality! Don’t worry, even if you or your father have never been to Lebanon, you deserve it (patting you on the back). That’s because you’re the man! You’re the son of a man who’s the son of a man who was once in Lebanon before he left at age 9.
On the other hand, if you lived your entire life in Lebanon, went to Lebanese schools, speak the language fluently and your mother is Lebanese but your father is not, tough luck. We don’t recognize your paltry lineage and dubious connection to this sacred land.
Yesterday, I wrote a post that argued that catcalling shouldn’t be considered sexual harassment because in my mind it didn’t seem equally serious. From the avalanche of responses I got from ladies, I realized how wrong I was.
But we still have a problem. I look at who’s sharing that video on Facebook and it’s mostly women. Even those liking, making approving comments and LOLing all over the place are women. It was like an echo chamber of women patting each other on the back while many of the men (like me and those who sent me secret approving messages) didn’t understand what the big deal was.
It’s obvious from the copy of the campaign that the ladies are trying to reach men with the message. But come on, do you honestly think that a man would be bothered by a bunch of faceless ladies making funny catcalls? It’s not how it works with us. How can you blame us if we don’t get the message that this is a very serious matter?
But then I came to a realization: There are matters in Life that only a woman will genuinely understand and where men are truly a lost cause. You can create all the awareness campaigns in the world, but men will never understand on a visceral level the humiliation of a catcall. This is why you ladies need more women in parliament and government to make laws. It’s the only way you’re going to get sexual harassment laws, official rape awareness and overall fairness in the Lebanese legal system.
I think that getting more women elected should become the number one priority for all awareness campaigns by Lebanese feminists.
Remember back in the day when President Elias el Hrawi made a big push for civil marriage in Lebanon?
Back then we had an epic battle that pitted progressives (the secular left, liberals, the President and civil right groups) against traditionalists (Religious leaders and a strong Prime Minister). The progressives fought a good battle, but in the end they lost.
But take a moment and think what would happen if we re-lived that fight today?
The Maronite Patriarchy, a key pillar of the traditionalist alliance seems to have had a big change of heart: Patriarch Rai now wants compulsory civil marriage for all the Lebanese. That is a game changer.
The Sunni scene has also changed. The sect no longer chants in unison behind a strong Prime Minister and his Mufti. The Mufti is not on good terms with the Future Movement, the Future Movement is no longer ruling and the Sunni Prime Minister is weak.
Even the overall environment has changed. We didn’t have Facebook and Twitter back then to organize, and the entire region is more ready for big changes and people action today. Lebanon deserves a slice of the Arab Spring.
I say it’s time to re-enlist the troops, roll up our sleeves, dust-off the old banners and fight a decisive second round..
This morning while browsing Now Lebanon’s blog I saw a post (now removed, but you can see a screenshot I took here) featuring a Lebanese version of the now-infamous Benetton unhate campaign, with a couple of posters that pair together Lebanese politicians in a similar kind of steamy embrace.
I said to myself: There’s no way this is going to stay here. I was sure Now Lebanon was going to kill it (after all, they’ve done it before). So I wrote a comment on that post saying “let’s see how long those will last”.
My comment never showed up (but you can find it in the cache). The post was removed less than an hour later. At the time of the page’s removal, the post was seen around 6500 times. What was seen cannot be unseen.
Update: I wrote a follow-up post speculating on why it was censored.
I downloaded it and played with it a bit. It’s basically a wrapper around news and video feeds that are already available online, but it organizes everything neatly into one place. Useful for the truly dedicated followers.
What I find most interesting is that it is entirely in Arabic and appears to be aimed more at Syrian activists than Arab observers.