I read a poem that seems fitting to post today, on a day when so many around the world are mourning the death and celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela.
When Great Trees Fall
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
Last night, I had the pleasure of celebrating Lebanon’s Independence Day by watching the parade in downtown Beirut.
Though it seemed like quite a strange way to celebrate independence from the French Mandate, it was entertaining. From police horses, the mayor of Beirut, Harley Davidson hogs and clowns on stilts and unicycles to hundreds of scouts, kids on a tank, Sukleen trucks and even a monkey wrapped in a Lebanese flag, it was the most random collection of groups and floats I have ever seen in a holiday celebration. Below are some fun shots from the parade.
A video went viral this past week of a young Lebanese man, Hassan Hammoud, microwaving his cat, Bousbous, sparking outrage not only in Lebanon, but internationally as the story was picked up by global outlets, such as The Huffington Post UK and Al Jazeera, among others. The incident brought attention not only to Hammoud and his friend, Mohammad Jallad, who filmed and posted the video, but to the archaic animal rights legislation in the country.
For the rare person who missed the video and subsequent coverage, Bousbous was put into a microwave by Hammoud, the first time for a couple of seconds, then again roughly shoved back in for several more seconds before he was pulled out and Jallad stopped filming.
The majority of the comments across social media ranged from shaming to super violent, with many threatening to retaliate against the two for what they had done to the cat. A Facebook page was even created in wake of the video titled “Stop the Criminals Mohammad Jallad & Hassan Hammoud – Animals Abusers.” The page has been documenting the story as it has developed, but they have posted that later today, they will be deleting the page, now that all has been resolved.
Initially, both Jallad and Hammoud issued videotaped apologies (Mohammad’s, Hassan’s) that many rejected on social media as not being genuine. But with the help of Lebanese comedian Nemr Abou Nassar, a meeting was finally arranged to hand over Bousbous to Animals Lebanon on Monday.
(See the video of what happened at the organization here).
Instead of just “bitching on Facebook,” Nassar decided he would try to do something. He checked out Jallad on social media and saw that he rapped about listening to your parents and being one with God, which made him think that these were guys who could be reasoned with. After many phone conversations between first Jallad, then eventually Hammoud, he was able to convince them that giving Bousbous to Animals Lebanon was the right thing to do – both for themselves, and for the cat.
“It’s very rare for me to try something and not be able to do it,” Nassar said. Indeed, he was able to, with the help of the community and all parties concerned about Bousbous, including Animals Lebanon, who he was in constant contact with throughout the entire ordeal. After viewing this video, “the highest example of what not to do because we have opposable thumbs,” his motivation from the beginning was that the cat was in trouble, and it was his responsibility to do something.
Ultimately he pointed to the positive, saying that the experience was a great way to see that repercussions don’t always have to come from the law, but rather sometimes can be done by talking. “It was the community responding in a very good way,” Nassar said.
Bousbous is now resting peacefully in the care of the staff of Animals Lebanon and is sure to have a waiting list of people excited to adopt him.
In an interview with Animals Lebanon, Hassan acknowledged his mistake and urged others not to follow his example as he followed someone else’s on YouTube who nuked a chick in their microwave. Both he and Mohammed seemed sincere as they repented and have agreed to do 150 hours of community service to the organization, although there is no legal way to enforce this.
This story exemplifies an ongoing issue for the rights of animals in Lebanon. Though Bousbous is now vaccinated, healthy and ready to be adopted, this is not the case for most animals in the country. A huge part of this is because of the laws, or the lack thereof – the one that would punish Hassan, if enforced (it hasn’t been in 20 years), would be the equivalent to a financial tap on the hand. Less than $15.
We should all celebrate Bousbous’ rescue, but keep in mind that there are many more steps to go before animal rights will be protected in Lebanon.
“What happened to Bousbous is terrible and we should all be outraged, but this instance of animal abuse is not isolated,” said Lana El-Khalil, President of Animals Lebanon, in a press release. ”Horrific abuses are reported every day and we need to address this not as isolated events but as examples of a larger problem.”
I hate to start off my France blog with such a cliche, but I can’t help it! Ernest Hemingway said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Despite only spending a couple of days in Paris, I feel that this notion is true. A week in France was not nearly enough, from the beautiful and serene countryside in Normandy, to the small town of Bayeux and to the sprawling, vibrant Paris. (Don’t forget to click through the photos!)
Inspiration is everywhere and Normandy is gorgeous. We spent out first full day in France at Mont Saint Michel, originally built as an abbey back in the eighth century AD, and where nuns and monks continue to live even today. It is perched on an island and surrounded by winding cobbled stone streets and narrow alleyways.
Aside from visiting an ancient monastery, even with my pitiful prior knowledge of World War II, I was able to take so much away from some of the “D-Day” sites we visited as well. It is a hard war to connect to as a student from the states with little desire to learn about history. But in Normandy, vestiges of that terrible war are everywhere. Monuments, the shores, museums, memorials, graveyards, bunkers and war-scarred buildings are everywhere. Even today, it is not unusual for people in Normandy to find enormous unexploded bombs buried in the ground.
Never before have I had the opportunity to touch history as I did in the past week. I crawled through German bunkers on Omaha Beach, touched the remnants of old bridge structures used to supply the Allies, bombs, anti-aircraft guns, tanks, boats used to ferry the troops to the shores. My history has been piqued! Though we could not legally enter the graveyards in France due to the government shutdown (HUGE bummer), we got a good glimpse at the one at Omaha Beach. After seeing hundreds of rows of white crosses, making up some of the thousands of troops killed, I feel an obligation and responsibility to delve deeper into the history of the war and those events that changed the time we live in today.
At the Bayeux War Correspondents Festival, tucked away in a picturesque tiny town where everything shuts down at night aside from a couple of bars, great journalism was on display everywhere. Large photos were throughout the town, hanging on walls and atop buildings from photographers around the world. Though most of it was in French, the incredible work on display often needed little translation. James Nachetwey had two beautiful exhibitions, and an awards ceremony honored other journalists who risk their lives to tell extraordinary stories. One of the best parts of the festival though was the proximity to the journalists doing that work. At Bayeux, we found ourselves drinking a beer five feet from greats such as Nachtwey and Patrick Chauvel.
And lastly, Paris. All the hype really is true. The metro is much more aesthetically interesting than New York City, with different themes as you make your way from one part of the city to the other. Omar and I could have spent days in that metro, talking to people and taking their photographs. There is real life within those seemingly endless tunnels. And each time we came up or out from the metro, it was like we were in a new city. There is so much richness – the food, the wine, the people, the history, the culture. It’s incredible.
This includes streets filled with prostitutes – like the one we passed through often in the short time we were in Paris.
One of the highlights for a book lover like myself was visiting Shakespeare and Company in the Latin Quarter in Paris. It was opened in 1951 and named in honor of Sylvia Beach’s historic Shakespeare and Company, which was frequented in the 1920s by writing giants such as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and sadly closed in 1940 during the Germany occupation (it never reopened). The smell of new and old books, the weathered bookshelves up to the ceilings, narrow aisles, tiny alcoves, worn chairs all gave the feeling of the past, where writers could come to find comfort and creativity.
In the foreword of a copy of A Moveable Feast that I’m reading, Patrick Hemingway, his only surviving son, wrote a beautiful passage that I think applies not just to Paris as a moveable feast, but of many places I have traveled and lived in.
“In later life the idea of a moveable feast became something very much like King Harry wanted St. Crispin’s Feast Day to be for “we happy few”: a memory of even a state of being that had become a part of you, a thing you could always have with you, no matter where you went or how you lived forever after, that you could never lose. An experience first fixed in time and space or a condition like happiness or love could be afterward moved or carried with you wherever you went in space and time.”
With all of the problems and fears regarding a Syrian spillover into Lebanon, there are some masterful silver linings. This week I had an opportunity some of those silver linings at an exhibition of modern Syrian art at Beirut’s Artheum. The sleek space was filled with paintings, mixed media, bronze sculptures, stone, concrete installations, photography, among other mediums.
Over a million Syrians are estimated to be living in Lebanon – among them are some of Syria’s great artists. Syrians are flourishing in Lebanon’s already thriving art scene. In article in Boat Magazine, the writer quotes an artist who spoke to The Economist. “The revolution didn’t stop the Syrian art movement,” Rabee Kiwan said, who fled Syria and is now in Beirut, continuing, “On the contrary it made it more active, but inside Syria there are no more galleries and exhibitions.” Kiwan’s work can be found in the slideshow below, along with many other talented artists’.
After it was announced yesterday that the U.S. Embassy had asked its non-emergency personnel and their family members to leave Lebanon yesterday because of security concerns, a protest of about 50 people gathered in front of one of the streets that lead to the American consulate in Awkar, Lebanon to decry potential military intervention of the United States in Syria.
”The blood will be on your hands Obama,” demonstrators yelled from the crowd of Syrian regime supporters, some of them waving gloved hands splattered with symbolic red paint.
As the region continues to wait and prepare for a possible U.S. intervention in Syria, there are many reports that have highlighted potential consequences of the strike. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the United States intercepted an Iranian official’s order for Iraqi militants to attack U.S. interests in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. Now Lebanon reported this morning that pro-Syrian regime groups will target Western interests in Lebanon in the event of a strike, rather than attacking Israel from the south.
Below are some photos from yesterday’s demonstration, taken by Omar Alkalouti.
I usually don’t write about pop music, but my friend Steven is a college professor who frequently uses pop culture as a tool in his writing classes. This week, I saw a post on Facebook that read the following:
“”Controversy” by Natalia Kills
“Aura” by Lady GaGa
“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke
“Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
“They Don’t Care About Us” by Michael Jackson
Pick one issue presented in the lyrics of one of the songs and write an analytical essay where you discuss the issue at length; dissect and analyze the lyrics, inject your own thoughts, and include outside research in which you either research the controversy of the song itself (ex: “Blurred Lines” being criticized for glorifying rape culture, or the exploitation of Muslim women in Gaga’s “Aura”), or research a particular issue presented in the lyrics (like the use of bath salts and “Molly” in society from “Controversy” or the criticism of the Catholic church in “Same Love”) and discuss it’s relationship to current popular culture.”
I have listened to the song a couple of times this early morning in Beirut, and read the lyrics several times as well. The song starts off promising, with the beginning, “I’m not a wandering slave, I am a woman of choice, my veil protects the gorgeousness of my face.” For me, this goes along with what many Muslim women I know have told me about why they feel covering their body, whether it be with a hijab, nikab, burqa, or something else, actually empowers them. They own what they offer to the public world by tastefully concealing the curves and shapes of their bodies.
There are a couple of things to consider. First, let’s be clear on what a burqa is. And a nikab. And a hijab.
This is a garment that is worn by some Muslim women that believe that their faces should not be seen by men that are not their “mahram” for them. This would include men whom they cannot marry, such as their father, brother, uncle, or son. Not all Muslim women wear the burqa, or adhere to the belief in the Qur’an of modest dress. But many do as well. Okay? Moving on.
Next, let’s continue to the chorus of the song.
“Do you wanna see me naked, lover?
Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura, behind the aura?
Do you wanna touch me, cosmic lover?
Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?
Behind the aura, behind the aura, behind the aura?”
This song sets a dangerous and unfortunate notion that sexualizes the women underneath the burqa. Women in the Middle East often have to contend with enormous issues related to wearing some sort of covering, not only as part of their religious practice, but as protection from harassment. This type of language only encourages viewing women as sexual objects who are asking for men to “peek underneath the cover.” Just to use the country of Egypt as an example – even when women are covered, they face a daily nightmare of sexual harassment. According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more than 99 percent of Egyptian women reported being sexually harassed. And amongst the intense protests and passion of the opposition in Egypt in Tahrir Square this July when they forced the ouster of Mohammed Morsi, women were being assaulted and raped.
Umema Aimen wrote in The Washington Post, “[Aura] perpetuates violence against women and contradicts the message in “Monster,” in which you condemned the “wolf in disguise.” In “[Aura],” you seem to suggest that by tearing off your clothes he is fulfilling your fantasy. It is a dangerous message that does not just affect Muslim women but all women. No woman wants to be tormented with unneeded attention, to be stalked and to be told that she was asking for it.”
But to go further than just reading criticisms online, I wanted to make sure though that my thoughts are not an orientalist way of looking at exploitation of Muslim women by asking my friends in the region.
One of my friends from Jordan messaged me this morning regarding my questions on the song. ”I think this song was not meant to empower women more than it is to create controversy, viewing the burqa as a sex object hardly empowers women, and when she says “I’m not a wandering slave I am a woman of choice” what makes her think they’re slaves to begin with, in some cases yes women are forced to wear it but in others no, they wear it by choice so that doesn’t fall in with being a ‘slave.’”
Another friend from Jordan quickly chimed in. “It actually disgusts me the way she talks about women as objects. The point of hijab is not to be looked at this way and to be judged for whats in our head, yet she says first that she’s not a slave and she hides her beauty and then she talks about herself as a body. I see it offensive to all women, not just women in burqa.”
Further, I have a very good friend here in Lebanon who is constantly giving me new insights into life for women in the Middle East. When I finally dragged a response out of her, this is what she said. “Muslims in the West are always falling under stereotypes that are jeopardizing their freedom to practice their faith. One of my friends had to remove her veil after the Boston attacks in April because she was being harassed on the streets. People have the freedom to express their reservations on some of the practices that religions have, however, to ridicule and mock a symbol that represents a religion is pure ignorance and an act of intolerance.”
Certainly, there are people who think otherwise and three people are hardly more than a handful of opinions, but I do believe that this is representative of the way a lot of women from this region feel when they listen to this song.
In any case, I think like Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga got what she was asking for by making this song: attention from controversy. And perhaps some may think we are all wrong in our criticism because ultimately, maybe not that much is changed by a single song. But this one song, combined with someone with her global reach, who has 59, 010, 967 likes on Facebook, she does have an impact. It has an impact. Even though her lyrics at the end seem to take back the significance of her singing about or wearing the burqa at all.