Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for April, 2010

Haunted by Kıtırmäya

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/04/2010

I couldn’t get the image out of my head. I tried, but it kept on coming back. Not the one posted here, which is bad enough, but the one that my mind reconstituted from the pictures I saw and the facts I learnt about this ghastly affair. This type of drama is the stuff of fiction; Peter Greenaway’s Baby of Mâcon meets Ken Russell’s The Devils. Having it happen a couple of miles from where you live is unbearable.
So basically, a man who had brutally killed an old couple and their two grand-children was nabbed while in custody… twice!! by angry villagers. The first time, he was beaten unconscious by a mob that snatched him from the police who had taken him to the scene of the crime for reconstitution (a day after the crime was committed). After being taken to hospital, he was nabbed a second time by the same crowd (that had followed him), stabbed, hanged to a car and dragged to the village square where he was hanged by a butcher’s hook while women ululated and men shouted that the crime was avenged.
I won’t be surprised if some journalist in the Orient Le Jour claims that this crime committed in a Sunni village of the Chouf is somewhat linked to Hezbollah being armed…
All day, I listened to the news and read the press, nobody spoke of any arrest in the village. All that time I sat wondering how the police and the judges should react to such a criminal outburst of collective anger. And frankly, I don’t know how.

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Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Lebanon, Violence | 4 Comments »

Photo-romance

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/04/2010

I knew nothing of the play before stepping into the theatre. All I had was some fond memories of some of Rabieh Mroué’s and Lina Saneh’s earlier works. I expected to find something both interesting and exasperating: Interesting because of the work, talent and intelligence the couple invest in their works; exasperating because of their political militant stands, that of the self described Lebanese left with its contradictions and complacency.  What I found was an enthralling contemporary play both in subject matter and in form. It combines 3 elements: photography (projected as an outdated photo-story), acting and music (played by Charbel Habr), masterfully interacting with each other. Instead of one story, one finds three distinct ones: that of a playwright and a lawyer going through a script to see if the copyrights are respected, that of the italian story that the script is based on (Ettore Scola’s “Una Giornata Particolare”), and that of the Lebanese adaptation of the play (presented as a photo-story).

The play met some critical success in the Avignon Festival in 2009. It just came back from Paris where it was performed in French. It was presented to a Lebanese audience for the first time this week. Judging from the applause it got at the end of the performance, I think it was quite appreciated by the usual mix of artsy crowd and socialites.

Some critics have described it as a political play, scrutinising each and every one of its political references. I personally don’t believe that this dimension is particularly significant. Sure one finds many references to contemporary Lebanese politics (the massive demonstrations, Hezbollah…), but they are dealt with humorously and only one of their feature is really taken into account, the eclipse of the individual and the rise of masses as the only significant civic actors. One critic went back to Ettore Scola’s film and saw in the play a criticism of fascism. But fascism is all about unity. What defines Lebanese politics is its fragmentation and its recurrent bipolarity. Sure there is the mass phenomenon and the cult of “virile” leaders… but with the absence of unity, and the necessary absence of diversity and a fragmented and shared public space, one cannot push the comparison too far.

Posted in Culture, Diversity, Lebanon, Political behaviour | Leave a Comment »

Politics as an artistic performance or a happening

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/04/2010

Three thousand participants. That’s quite a number for an artistic performance. And let’s not forget the viewers who saw images of this event on their TVs or in their mail box. The organisers should be proud of their achievement. I truly believe that this activity should have been integrated to Ashkal Alwan’s forum on Cultural Practices “Home Works 5” (more on that in the coming days). But how significant is it politically? what meaning does it have? and what does it say about our politics?

The political significance of an artistic performance
As expected, the 4 months of preparations weren’t enough to clarify the message and the demands of this demonstration. People joined with no contraints, no program, no structure… only one common enemy “al-ta2ifya”, a Lebanese catch-word that is used to describe everything that’s wrong in the country. Each person could bring along his or her banner, board or sign; shout the slogans we’ve been hearing for almost a century with the impression that something revolutionary and new was being done.
This show-performance reminded me of those that I very willingly (and happily) attended in 2005: the midweek and the thematic sunday marches. They were less participatory (everything was prepared for us) and consequently more uniform (at least visually). But the feel-good atmosphere, the self-satisfaction that exuded from them was present today. But back in 2005, these performances enjoyed a large political support (i.e. they were sponsored by first rank politicans on both sides of the spectrum) and were organised with the help of Ad agencies (which made them visually very appealing and gave their cristal clear slogans a very sexy edge).
But these demonstrations gathered hundreds of thousands of people and reached a million on several occasions. They gave people the impression that their voice matters and that they not only could express themselves freely, but that this public expression of opinion could have a significant effect. For a very long time, the Lebanese were prevented from taking to the streets. Rafic Hariri prevented any kind of social protest, and the Syrians banned all political protests. The 2005 demonstrations signified that things had changed. People could once again demonstrate, voice their complaints and even bring governments down (or is this restricted to governments headed by Omar Karamé, a guy who holds two titles: son of a Prime Minister like Saad H. and martyr’s brother like Bahia H.). The downside of these demonstrations was their numbers. They were so monstrously high that they dwarfed demonstrations of other kinds, making them politically insignificant. That was the paradox of the 2005 demonstrations. They opened up the public space to social and political mobilisation while practically restricting them to two players: Mustaqbal and Hezbollah.

الاستنتاج

There is nothing wrong with artistic performances. Calling Laïque Pride by that name is in no way demeaning. Performances are mant to express something before an audience, something meaningful, to intrigue the public, to engage it. And that’s exactly what Laïque Pride achieved. It also showed the limits of political protests without big sponsors and ad agencies. It also showed that demonstrating against the most shared prejudice in Lebanon (الطائفية), the biggest political insult that is used against a politician or a system  (طائفي) can only mobilise a limited number of people. Could Laïque Pride have been anything more than an artistic performance? Probably not.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Culture, Democracy, Discourse, Lebanon | Leave a Comment »

Commemorating what?!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/04/2010

“You should do activities that have to do with the memory of the war. The most important thing is to remember what happened during the war”, that’s what a socially very active woman said the other day when she learnt about the activities we were doing in the peace organisation. A few years ago I would have congratulated her for her stand, but now, I wasn’t so sure how to react. Why is remembering the war so important? Are people forgetting what happened during the war? Is this dark experience not being transmitted to the younger generation? Would this knowledge prevent future wars from happening. I’m not so sure about that any longer. I’ve been interested in that topic for a long time. I remember back in college a teacher in anthropology launching a large research project on that. I remember the many authors and books he suggested I read. I remember reading them, I remember them. And yet I’m not so sure that “remembering” the war should be everyone’s priority.
I’m not saying that the war should be forgotten. Quite the contrary. I firmly believe that we should preserve some of its physical traces. I also think the work many organisations and individuals are doing is crucial. They are collecting the traces of this war, trying to understand what happened and why it happened. They are gathering data, providing narratives. But all this isn’t enough to prevent a new war from happening. However, it is more than enough to condemn the perpetrators: the politicians, the militiamen, the hate-mongers… Oddly enough, this elements is usually overlooked by those who work on the “memory of war”. Those on the “left” still believe that Kamal Jumblatt, or Yaser Arafat were good blokes (and absolve them of all criminal intent and behaviour), the few that are on the “right” have the same feelings for Bachir Gemayel or Dany Chamoun. If these men and their wrongdoings are not condemned, is it really worth remembering or commemorating the war? and what exactly is being remembered?

Posted in Civil Society, Lebanon, Memory, Peace, Violence | 4 Comments »

Muslim-Christian feast… symbolised by a song

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/04/2010

This year, Lebanon finally celebrated its first muslim-christian feast: the Annunciation (البشارة) on March 25th. I said “finally” because the decision had been taken last year by the Council of Ministers, but the Prime Minister Fuad Siniora had refused to sign the decree, yielding to pressure from the Sunni Grand Mufti who had disapproved of the decision (and sacked one of its most crucial promoters, his secretary).

This day commemorates the announcement to Mary (by the archangel Gabriel) that she would miraculously conceive a child despite being a virgin. As long as you don’t go into details and stick to this general description of the commemoration, you’ll find it compatible with the New Testament and the Coran. But if you delve into the details, disagreements between the two texts start to appear. For Christians, the angel announced the birth of the Son of God, Jesus (يسوع or in the old language of Lebanon يشوع), for Muslims, the angel announced the birth of a Prophet, Issa (عيسى). Now these are very important dogmatic and theological differences. So to safeguard this feast consensual and inter-religions character, one has to respect the delicate line between what assembles and what separates; keep to the communalities and discard differences.

At first, I was quite skeptical about this inter-religious feast. When I was asked to write a short article about it last year, I had to fight against myself to “stay positive”, rein in my skepticism and cynism. But oddly enough, when the current Prime Minister Saad Hariri signed the decree in February, and announced it to the pope in Rome, I started to feel that there was something good about that celebration, and felt all the potential it had. Hopefully, it will be more meaningful (and pleasing to the eye and ear) than this rendering of the Ave Maria.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Religion, Values | 8 Comments »