Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lebanon: Painful Reminders

"The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war". - Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

In several earlier posts (here and here), I lamented the tendency of many Lebanese, including many politicians, the bury their heads in the sand when it comes facing the country's tragic history of the last thirty years. Two recent stories give me hope that things may be changing. There is perhaps a growing recongnition that you really cannot move forward, not in any meaningful way, without facing the past. The NYT published a story on the new Beirut Art Center showing and exhibition titled “The Road to Peace: Paintings in Times of War, 1975-1991”. Across town, in Haret Hreik, another, more humble cultural center, The Hangar, is screening a film series entitled "What is to be done: Lebanon's War Loaded Memory".

For those Lebanese too young to remember these days, it will be an eduction that they missed in school -official history books omit any mention of the war years. For those who remember, it is a necessary, if agonizing, recall of a not so distant past, and a reminder that many of the problems that led to the civil war have yet to be resolved.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Sword of Damocles Still Hanging Over Syria's Women

President Assad scraps article 548 of the penal code. The new amendment however, represents only a small step forward in combating the scourge of honor killings. As clearly explained here (in Arabic) the new amendment sets the minimum sentence at two years and removes the statute from article 548 that essentially justified honor crimes even when adultery is suspected. Does this really represent progress? Yes, if you believe that a slap on the wrist as opposed to a pat on the back is adequate punishment for the horrific act that is honor killing.

How could it be acceptable, in 2009 -or in any other year, for that matter- that half of Syria's population is still held hostage to such an inane law? and why was the president's amendment so timid? What constituency within Syria is holding him back? With 98% (or was it 99%) of the votes in the last election, one would think that he has a mandate to push through real change if he so desired.

This is no trivial matter; there are over 200 victims of this crime in Syria every year. And yet there is a certain reluctance to talk about the issue. For some, and here I include myself, it is out of shame and embarrassment that such crimes are associated with our country. Others, may feel that it is a crime of the poor and uneducated and therefore of no concern to them. Even among those who condone it, many, I suspect, know deep down that these crimes are wrong but somehow feel compelled by societal or distorted religious beliefs to think that these are justifiable acts.
There is no room for partial or stepwise solutions to this problem. It is wrong, it is unconscionable, it is morally reprehensible. It is murder pure and simple and it should be punished as such.
(Photo: Grave of Zahra el-Azzo; victim of honor killing; NYT)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Gad El Maleh and the Beiteddine Festival

Gad El Maleh is a manic, wickedly funny French comedian born and raised in Morocco to a Moroccan Jewish family. I first learned of him from my younger brother when I visited him in Morocco. After seeing a couple of his one-man acts on DVD, I was hooked. We went the Rabat mdina (old town) to buy pirated El Maleh DVDs to take home with me. It is clear from his skits that he considers himself culturally Moroccan who happens to be Jewish. He speaks Arabic and his website has the French and Morocaan flags and is in three languages: French, English and Arabic.

I was therefore taken aback by the recent row over his scheduled appearance at this year's Beiteddine festival. Apparently, Al Manar TV aired a peice that suggested that El Maleh served in the Israeli Army and he was a stauch supported of Israel. The story rsulted in threatening calls to the Festival's organizers and ultimately El Maleh decided to cancel his three sold out shows at Beitiddine. The response, as everything else in Lebanon, was as polarized and politicized as it was predictable. The organizers said that there was no basis for the accusations and that Hizbullah was mounting a smear campaign and that the campaign amounted to "cultural terrorism". Wanting to go past the usual histrionics of Lebanese politics, I went on an internet search to see if I could find anything incriminating enough about El Maleh that would disqualify him from appearing at the festival. The bottom line is, I did not.

Al Maleh went on tour in Israel and was recieved by enthusiatic audiences. In interviews during the tour, he said that he was glad that he came (he is Jewish after all) and praised the Israeli people. There was nothing remotely political about his statements. Now, some would argue that no statement involving Israel could really be apolitical. Perhaps, but one must consider the context. Gad El Maleh is a talented comedian, he was not invited to Lebanon for his political views but to entertain.