Shia Girls Singing Christmas Carols in Lebanese Church

A message from this past Christmas, from Lebanon: here’s a video of Shia orphan girls performing Christmas carols in the Saint-Elie church in Beirut.

Happy coexistence everyone, enjoy the music!

The Fighting

744px-Lebanese_French_flag.svg

The fighting over flags is ridiculous.

The fighting over who suffers the most is ridiculous.

The fighting over where people come from is ridiculous.

The fighting over refugees is ridiculous.

We are all tired, afraid.

We all want to live.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.org

Beiruti Graffiti in a Time of Turbulence

10402964_10153188059712903_4009785402964153413_n

Beiruti graffiti, captured with someone’s smartphone and posted online.

Is it maybe a comment to the ongoing protests against the uncollected garbage in the city, the so called Garbage Crisis? Or is it a comment to the terrorist groups in the region, pretending to commit crimes in the name of God? Or maybe it’s just the people being fed up with not being listened to by anyone in power?

The graffiti reads, in translation:

“There is no God but the people.”

Did you get the reference?

“There is no God but God.”

Photo credit: Charbel Maydaa’s Facebook page

The Destiny of Being Lebanese – on Today’s Bombings

beirut bombingsWhenever I think about Lebanon I think about night life and the beach, sunny memories from long summers. But there are other things too that comes to my mind – the underlying fear of something to happen, because that something regularly does happen, and the intolerance that so easily pops up, young people that many years after the civil war still despise anyone from another group. The wounds from the civil war just doesn’t get a chance to heal when the violence button seems stuck on repeat. Today’s bombings of Iran’s embassy in Beirut is a depressing but recurrent event.

The destiny of being Lebanese if I can have my say is having a country to be proud of – beautiful and dynamic, a place people from more boring countries loves to visit. Who wouldn’t want their home country being the given summer destination instead of wanting to go anywhere else every year?

But the cost of being Lebanese is also often bitter – I dare to say this after all the “where are you from” questions with dreamy eyes I have received from various people at any occassion. For a country with all it’s potential, a vibrant job market and internationally prestigious universities, the young people still just wanna leave. And who can blame them, when your Sunday brunch in the center of Beirut suddenly can be shattered by explosions tearing people’s bodies into pieces?

The bombings and occassional violence in Lebanon has different reasons, from internal Islamic groups targeting the crazy night clubs to people who wanted to get rid of that inconvenient politician. But the very worst reason for being bombed in your own country must be when it has absolutely nothing to do with you. When your country happens to be a playground for dirty international affairs just because it has always been and because your own government can’t or won’t control the violence within their own borders.

We condemn this cowardly terrorist act which is aimed at inciting tensions in Lebanon and using the country as an arena to send political messages”, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said today.

I hope next time the government will back up their wise words with some actions. Giving the Lebanese people the right to being able to stay in their own country that should be no one elses but theirs.

Photo credit: http://www.dailystar.com.lb

Arab Idol 2013

Arab IdolI’m a huge Nancy Ajram fan so when Arab Idol started broadcasting and she was in the jury, I was really happy. Ever since the Lebanese number one’s smash hit Ah wa noss in 2004, I’ve forced people to perform singalong to her songs in parties.

In Arab Idol 2013 young boys and girls from all over the Arab World compete about the prestigous award, and traditional music blend with modern pop. A young girl performs a song to her hometown Agadir, Morocco in a wailing voice; a Tunisian boy sings accompanied by traditional bells.

In one episode a girl and a boy from Iraqi Kurdistan perfoms a song each in Arabic, obviously not their mother tounge – especially the girl speaks broken Arabic. When presenting themselves the young boy say they are from “Northern Iraq”, probably to avoid tensions since many Arab states doesn’t accept the independent region of Kurdistan. The jury positively encourages the two, and they move on to the next level of the audition, have a look:

What I really like with Arab Idol is not only Nancy Ajram, it’s the kind and polite way the judges treat the participants. Many talent shows makes a point out of humiliating the participants – Arab Idol is not one of them. I also like how the show makes people from all of the MIddle East unite, despite ongoing political conflicts. Music has a way of bringing people together, and Arab Idol takes the much used concept of talent shows to a new and higher level.

Photo credit: http://www.mbc.net

First Civil Marriage Registered in Lebanon

mixed loveSo this week all Middle Eastern-freaks like me noticed that the first couple ever were able to register their marriage as a civil marriage in Lebanon – something that mixed couples have been advocating for ages. Cyprus have been the choice for many mixed Lebanese couples if they had the money – otherwise one of them had to resign to marry under their partner’s religion (usually the man’s).

I meet people that says “it’s not possible” about interfaith marriages. Why? Some religions don’t accept it; sometimes the two religions clash when it comes to the childrens’ religion (in Judaism the children inherits the mother’s reigion and in Islam the father’s – so what happens if a Jewish woman marries a Muslim man?); sometimes it’s simply the society and family that says “it’s not possible”.

Well I have come across so many mixed marriages that I can conclude one thing in this messy discussion: you can’t make people stay away from each other. As often as societies puts up rules for love, there’s always someone that will break them.

A Swedish-Lebanese family that I know were so determined to stay together that they married in the midst of the civil war, despite the danger of being a mixed Christan-Muslim couple. During the first years of their small children’s lives they were living in hiding from militias, until finally being able to escape to Sweden. They now have three children that has been raised celebrating Christmas and Ramadan, learning about both religions, and they take pride in their mixed background. Sometimes maybe a mixed marriage is the best way of preventing a civil war? Unfortunately Lebanon is still a place where such an effort is extremely difficult to carry out.

So when the news about the registered marriage broke, I hurried to get online. What kind of groundbreaking couple was it that decided to make a point out of not register in one religion? Maybe a Muslim-Christian couple? If not, could it be Druze-Christian? No, it was a Sunni-Shia couple – two branches within one religion. Not accepted by everyone, but not the major breakthrough that I had hoped for. If it was, I’m not sure that they would have been able to have the marriage registered.

But let’s hope it’s a first step for Lebanon to heal from it’s intolerant past and the horrifying events that took place under the excuse of sectarian divisions. If Lebanon really wants to move on, there’s only one way, the way forward.

Photo credit: www.biculturalmom.com

Xena the True Lebanese Feminist

Xena Amro

This article is published in an edited, Swedish version in the feminist magazine AstraNova’s October issue 2013.

When Xena Amro started the True Lebanese Feminist Facebook page in July 2012, it created turmoil. Xena’s own Facebook page had been reported and blocked several times, so she wasn’t surprised.  On her desk in high school, random insults were written in the beginning of her school year: “Xena is stupid”,Lesbian”, “Feminism sucks ass”, reads the messages that she shows to me when we meet at Starbucks in Beirut, pictured on her smartphone.

Why was it so provoking to her fellow students that Xena was an outspoken feminist? Was it because of the success of her page? Or was it because of her uncompromising position? “I am a feminist, because those ignorant rapists out there, have limited my Freedom! They have ruined my childhood! And made me lose my mental innocence!” says one post from September 2012.

Despite the harassments in school and on the Facebook page, Xena kept up her page and now it has over 6.000 followers. She has support from both men and women, and she says she loves it especially when men become feminists:

“That’s what’s keeping me strong” she says.

Xena became a feminist early in 2012 when she was one of the winners in a competition for young writers, on the topic “In Lebanon”. “True Lebanese Feminist” was the story’s name and it was chosen to be in the top 12 list nominated for the prize. After the story and the competition, it was impossible to look back.

Xena explains on how stories about domestic violence reached her and that the general suppression against women was what made her become aware at such a young age.

“The purpose of the page is to raise awareness about women’s issues not just in Lebanon, but also globally” she says. “There are too many stereotypes placed on women that I want to fight against.”

I started to follow the page myself in the beginning and have seen it explode in to what must have been a previous vacuum, where a similar feminist page didn’t exist before. On Facebook there are many pages for women’s rights, but few that create as much discussions. What makes the page different is also that when someone attacks Xena or her statements she often don’t reply, but let the discussion have its course, relying on her supporters on the page, and makes a point out of not insulting anyone back.

Every day the self-taught 17-year-old Xena updates the page with pictures combined with quotes; invites the followers to discussions; and shares other women’s stories. Female Arab writers like Joumana Haddad and Nawal El Saadawi inspired her. The numbers of followers quickly increased and the page turned into a place full of heated discussions. Not shying away from any subject, Xena brings up religion, sexuality and mass media from a feminist point of view:

Today is the international day for safe abortion!” reads a post with a link to “Women’s Rights to Abortion in Lebanon

True?” over a photo that states “Girls see over 400 advertisements per day telling them how they should look”.

Calling myself an outspoken dictator wouldn’t get me as much hate as I’m getting for calling myself an outspoken feminist” says another one.

Despite being as provocative in a society as Lebanon, one of Xena’s goals is to increase the number of Lebanese people on her page – out of 6,000 followers only 528 are from Lebanon (in comparison with 1,532 from US). It might not be a coincidence since her posts on religion and its links to patriarchy provokes many, and she has been accused of being a westernized atheist that hates religious people – a quite harsh insult in a society where religion plays a crucial role. Still Xena wants her page to stay relevant in her own country.

“I don’t hate religious people” she says. “They have the right to think whatever they want, and so do I – this is freedom.”

Since the beginning also emails for help has poured in. Many women from different countries have been writing to her about violence and rape, desperate for support, probably not knowing Xena is only 17. Xena takes her time to answer all emails, urging girls and women to seek help and not to feel ashamed.

I ask her how she handles it all. On top of managing the page on her own and the publicity it has given her, she gives feedback to all the members writing to her, and is also trying to finish high school to hopefully be admitted to nursing school this year. She admits that her parents, although very supportive of her feminist page, are worrying about the toll it might take on her grades.

“It takes all my free time… But the page is not pressure, it’s relief. I see a lot of injustice in the society, and I don’t want to hold these grudges in my heart.”

Photo credit: Xena Amro