Friday, October 23, 2009

US Media and Olmert

Massive protests have met ex Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in his recent tour of the US. Attempted citizen arrests in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago. Disruptions of speeches, and police action against protesters also took place... yet, there was zero coverage of these events by US news outlets. Talk about reinforcing existing perception about the media here.

Thank god for citizen journalists and outlets like YouTube

Monday, September 28, 2009

Separation of Church (or Mosque) and Retail

A Muslim teenager claims in a federal lawsuit that she was denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store at a Tulsa mall because she wore a head scarf. The manager of the store apparently told the teen that her Hijab (head scarf) violated the company's "Look" policy. After reading the details of the case, I felt compelled to take the retailer's side in that issue.

Before I get accused of Islamophobia, hear me out. I am all for women wearing the hijab if indeed it is their personal decision. I was also outraged by France's decision to crack down on women who wore the hijab simply because, again, it is an issue of choice. It's a bad choice, in my humble opinion, but nevertheless it is their right.

That said, the line needs to be drawn when those decisions affect others... businesses included. Companies such as Abercrombie and Fitch have spent years and millions of dollars trying to build a particular image of their brand. That brand, or look if you prefer, extends to all consumer touch points, and in particular, their retail outlets. If an employee's appearance is not in line with the brand, that would result in loss of business. And it is not just a religious issue, but I'm sure other attributes apply here too. An old man working at "Forever 21" or "Victoria's Secret"? It is fair? probably not, but if you don't like it, you don't have to shop there...I have yet to taste them wings at Hooters

I have to wonder why, in the first place,would a religious person, such as this young lady, apply for a job at A&E, a company that is famous for its hedonistic image? does she really want to be surrounded by loud techno music and images of semi naked teens all day?

Again, I am all for women (and men) embracing and displaying their religious choices, that's what freedom is all about. But you can't have your cake and eat it too... if you choose a more religious orthodox life, than don't expect the world to bend over and accommodate your needs especially when they are not in line with established goals, business or otherwise.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Match Towards Normalization?

For all the negative press Al Jazeera gets in US circles, little attention is given to the recent news about the network's plans to carry Israeli sports on their sister network: Al Jazeera Sports.

A match of the European Champions League that has the Israelis playing Munich will be broadcast, leading the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth to suggest that a “new Middle East” has started to emerge.

Note that is not the first attempt by an Arabic network to cover Israeli teams, Nile Sport, the Egyptian government run network did feature a volley ball game about a year ago between an Israeli team and an Egyptian one. However, that ended in a mess as the Egyptian team captain tore up an Israeli flag in front of cheering crowds.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Transgender belly dancer helps launch Arab gay initiative in Sweden

Dressed in a flashy black belly-dancing outfit, Nancy is a hobby transgender dancer from Iraq, ready to take to the stage with full make-up and skinny high heels. She is preparing to entertain more than 200 other Arab gays, lesbians and transgender people in Stockholm, Sweden.

The setting is the Stockholm headquarters of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL). The occasion is the launch of Arab Initiative, the first Arab LGBT rights group in Europe.

Nancy has been in Sweden six years now. She lives with her Iraqi family in a Stockholm suburb and hides her preferred gender identity and hobby from her family.

“I was a hobby trans even back in Iraq. I believe most of my friends back then were bisexuals, they just refused to admit it, even if I had a relationship with them,” Nancy says, as she keeps watch of the entrance to the RFSL party premises.

She lets a fellow Iraqi in, and kisses him on both cheeks. Turning around, Nancy says her family would never accept her lifestyle and explains how she has to stay out with other Iraqi friends when she’s in town dressed up as the person she prefers to be.

“However, people here are more open to accepting a transgender belly dancer than in the Middle East.”

Ali, who started the Arab Initiative, takes some time off from serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to members and their friends to speak about the purpose of the organization.

“Our aim is to create new bridges between European and Arab cultures, spread information about the Arab world in Sweden, support LGBT people with an Arabic background, and hopefully to bring more tolerance and understanding of their issues and defend their rights in Sweden and abroad,” he says.

“We as Arabs are discriminated against in general as an immigrant group, and then we are discriminated against again amongst our own minority for being gay,” he adds.

Ali and his peers have received funding from the European Union, which supports several LGBT organizations for immigrant minorities around Europe.

Since its establishment last May, the Arab Initiative has held parties, partaken in two Pride festivals, arranged three film showings, and four seminars.

“We have been making connections with LGBT groups in the Middle East, promoting ourselves locally through word of mouth, and standing up for LGBT rights against media producers who portray this particular group in a negative way.”

Ali adds that it is not a political organization, but mostly a place for Arab LGBT people to find support and meet their peers.

Karin Båge, head of RFSL in Stockholm, says that her group was contacted by the Arab Initiative. RFSL quickly gave the group full access to its premises, skills, and contacts.

The difficulties faced by gays in Iraq was brought into sharp relief this week as Human Rights Watched published details of a murderous militia-led campaign against homosexuals in the Middle Eastern country. In response, RFSL called on the Swedish government to halt all deportations to Iraq of people who have sought asylum on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.

"We urge Sweden to investigate the possibility of evacuating homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people who are at risk of being subjected to 'sexual cleansing'," RFSL chairperson Sören Juvas wrote in a press release on Monday.

Sa’ad Ibrahim, 37, is an Iraqi citizen who was granted asylum last May after being threatened with death due to his sexual orientation.

“One day in 2006, I received a call between 8 and 9 in the evening when I had arrived home from work. A friend of mine told me that another friend of ours had disappeared. So we asked around and after ten days we found out that his dismembered body had been found. Three of my friends were killed this way. I am the only one alive in my previous circle of friends,” Sa’ad tells The Local.

He had previously received written threats in his ladies’ shoe shop in a conservative Shiite district of Baghdad, where he was told he was a “fag” and that “God hates fags."

“Around 9.30 to 10 at night there were six people asking about me around the corner. I got the message to leave before they made it to my shop: I escaped through the back door and left everything behind me. I went far away to my uncle’s place where I stayed for the next five months. Every day I would imagine myself torn to pieces.”

He made his way to Sweden through a smuggling network, using up all the money he had managed to gather. When he came to Sweden he was devastated and lonely, he says.

“Now I am very happy because here I am able to mingle and mix with all sorts of people. I met an Iranian man who became my boyfriend. I fell in love with him, as he took me to the Pride festival, which turned my life around 180 degrees. I was totally amazed by the energy of the festival.”

Meanwhile, it was time for Nancy to mount the stage and wow the crowd with her belly dancing shakes to Arabic music. Swedes, Arabs, Africans and people of other ethnicities, men and women, straight and gay, gathered around the stage and clapped to the rhythm – a sight unseen in any Arab country.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

اطلاق كتيّب "احبهم...و لكن

قامت جمعية العناية الصحية وجمعية "حلم" بالتنسيق مع التحالف العالمي لمكافحة السيدا وفي إطار برنامج التوعية لفئة الرجال ذوي العلاقات الجنسية مع الرجال ...بإنتاج دليل "احبهم... ولكن

وقد تمّ اطلاق هذا الدليل، الذي يتوجه إلى الأهل الذين لديهم ابناء مثليين او مثليات الجنس ليزوّدهم بالمعلومات العلمية ويناقش المواقف الأفضل للتعامل مع هذا الواقع، خلال لقاء جمع ممثلين عن منظمات الأمم المتحدة ومن الوزرات المعنية ومن المؤسسات الاجتماعية والصحية التي تهتم بالشباب كما وجمع اللقاء أختصاصيين في مجال علم النفس والعمل الإجتماعي مع عدد من الاهل ومن المهتمين بموضوع المثلية الجنسية وذلك في فندق بادوفا سن الفيل صباح الثلاثاء 15 ايلول 2009

وتضمّن اللقاء نقاشات عن المثلية الجنسية، من حيث الواقع والتحديات، اضافةً الى التطرق للدليل من ناحية انتاجه ومحتوياته وكيفية استخدامه ووضع خطة مستقبلية بهدف ايصاله الى المعنيين

Beirut: City Of Projected Fantasies

By Diamond Walid

Diamond Walid is the pen-name of a Lebanese-Croatian TV producer and writer, based in Beirut

Beirut has been labelled the Paris, sometimes the Switzerland, of the Middle East. According to one recent New York Times article, it is now the region's Provincetown (the Cape Cod resort favoured by gay visitors). This ever-changing city seems to have become a mirror where people project their own fantasies.

Comparing Beirut with another city, whether Paris, Rome or Provincetown is a denial of its uniqueness. Beirut's gay culture is also unique and specific. As a gay man who has lived in the city for more than 30 years, I know that notions such as "gay", "straight", "public displays of affection" and "homophobia" can take on completely different forms and meanings in this part of the world. Yet there was no mention of these nuances in the New York Times article, obviously built on a series of denials.

"When I go out from Bardo [a gay-friendly restaurant] I always feel at ease hugging my friends – of course in a decent way – in front of the police. This is the kind of change I am talking about," Raed is quoted as saying. No mention of the fact that Lebanon, like all countries of the region, is a place where men often touch, kiss and hold each other's hands in public, whether gay, straight, policemen or not (whereas in New York, holding hands can apparently cost you your life). Or the fact that Lebanese heterosexual couples do not necessarily show more public affection than gay ones, also for reasons of "decency". If any "change" has recently occurred, it is only in the fantasies of some.

Reading this article, it seems as though gay culture in Lebanon was non-existent until the clubs it mentions opened or the Mr Bear Arabia election took place. In reality, one could go back to the Phoenicians to find same-sex relations an integral part of local culture. In more recent years, and even during the civil war (1975-90), gay men and women have gathered and partied in many public places, more or less visible but nonetheless vibrant.

The author not only denies local gay culture its history, but also its real space. Most of the venues cited in the article are hangouts for the Beiruti moneyed élite. In some, you will not be admitted if you don't come with an expensive car or wear certain fashion brands. Thankfully, the vast majority of the Lebanese don't belong to this obnoxious crowd. The less affluent gay population meets in different places, doesn't talk about its escapades in the Marais or Soho, doesn't always speak English or French or watch Sex and the City. In fact, it seems to have its own world, much larger and more open than the one described in the article.

The story of Paradise Beach is a telling example. This large public beach in the city of Byblos was very popular with working-class gay men from different cities and religions. A colourful place where gay men mingled and flirted more freely than elsewhere. Until the day the beach was privatised and turned into a luxury resort, with a strict admittance policy. However, a small strip of land was still left unsold and frequented by the working-class gays. The sight was amusing: the resort's stiff and bourgeois crowds – gay and straight alike – eyeing with utter shock their flamboyant neighbours. Today there are no more public gay beaches left in Lebanon.

The article also denies other Arab countries their own gay cultures. Many western journalists sum up Arab gay realities with sentences like: "Saudi Arabia: homosexuality punishable by death", "Iraq: gay men killed." Full stop. But gay men are also killed in "civilised" western countries. While homophobia is certainly a problem in Arab countries, like anywhere else, it never overshadows the thriving and lively local gay cultures. Yet no one talks about these cultures. "Cairo: bad", "Damascus: bad", we're told by Ricardo, the Spaniard in the article. Even Dubya and his "Axis of Evil" would envy such eloquence.

How ironic that many Lebanese gay men, including myself, actually feel more comfortable in places like Damascus or Amman and go there often in order to escape the Beiruti agitation. There might be no Kylie Minogue nights there, but on the other hand there is a lot less snobbery and less fuss about homosexuality. My friend Ali recently went to Jordan to be wedded to his boyfriend by a Muslim cleric and then spent his honeymoon in Damascus. The advantage of such trips also comes in finding an anonymity one is denied at home.

But even Amman seems to have its "globalised" gay crowd. Watching Ugly Betty and wearing D&G is what gay culture is about, these people seem to say, along with the NYT article and many gay men across the global village. I can still remember how discovering Steven, the gay character in Dynasty, during my childhood in the 1980s, opened a whole new perspective for me. It is another matter altogether to equate this mass consumption with gay culture, or even with gay rights advocacy. Just as Beirut's old neighbourhoods are being gentrified, its "superb architecture" (sic) being torn down to make way for soulless, surveillance-camera-equipped skyscrapers, its local gay culture is facing the challenge of McDonaldisation.

How long before writers start describing Beirut as a new Bangkok – rather than a Provincetown?Will sex tourism advance its population's gay rights or social wellbeing? In the meantime, Beirut is certainly turning back into the playground of multinational companies, regional interests and greedy entrepreneurs ("I can see a future for us here", one businessman says in the article).

The NYT article falls into the category of the infomercial, tailor-made for a certain clientele, and it has every right to. However, it is typical of much reporting about the Arab world, perpetuating tired stereotypes: Arabs are homophobes, except for the "westernised" ones, Arabs are "sexy savages". In doing so, not only is it extending the cultural gap further, but it is also exposing a much wider divide: the one between the haves and the have-nots.

Monday, August 31, 2009

العرض الأول لأجرأ فيلم مصري

يقدّم فيلم "طول عمري" حكاية أناس لم نسمع عن حكايتهم من قبل. إنها حكاية الإختلاف عن الآخر، وقصة اولئك الذين أُجبروا على الصمت والعيش في الخفاء. يقول مخرج الفيلم، ماهر صبري: "الرقابة عبارة عن خنجر في قلب الحركة الإبداعية. الرقيب بيعاملني زي الطفل بيحدد لي كإنسان أقرا إيه، وأسمع إيه، وأشوف إيه. وبالتالي بيحدد لي أفكر إزاي وأعبّر إزاي. كل ده باسم "حماية الصالح العام" لكن بالفعل هو حماية السلطة والكرسي".

تمّ تصوير "طول عمري" في مدينتي القاهرة وسان فرانسيسكـو رغم كل الصعوبات، وإستغرق تصويره ثلاث سنوات. موسيقى الفيلم للملحن اللبناني الدكتور إلياس ايليا. أما الممثلون فتتطوعوا وتوافدوا من مصر، لبنان، العراق، السعودية، البحرين، ليبيا، المغرب، المكسيك والولايات المتحدة الأمريكية لإنجاز هذا الفيلم الضخم.

القاهرة، في ٢٠ مايو (أيّار) ٢٠٠٨ -- يسرّ الجمعية المصرية للافلام المهمشة أن تعلن عن العرض العالمي الأول لإنتاجها الأول، فيلم "طول عمري"، ضمن مهرجان فرايم لاين 32 ، مهرجان سان فرانسيسكـو السينمائي الدولي للافلام المثلية من ١٩ حتى ٢٩ يناير (حزيران)، وهو المهرجان الأقدم والأضخم لأفلام أحرار الجنس في العالم! وفيلم "طول عمري" يندرج في خانة سينما أحرار الجنس الجديدة. يتناول الفيلم حياة بعض المثليين والمشاكل التي تواجههم في ظل التمييز الإجتماعي والإضطهاد نحوهم، خاصةً بعد الحملات التعسفية ضدهم التي إزدادت منذ سنة ٢٠٠١ وأشهر تلك الحملات قضية الـكوين بوت والتي قبض فيها علی ٥٢ رجلٍ بإدعاء أنهم مثليون جنسيًا وجرت محاكمتهم في محاكم أمن الدولة.

رغم ان السينما المصرية، منذ بداياتها، قد قدمت شخصيات مثلية جنسية عديدة، إلا إن معظمها كانت شخصيات كوميدية، كأداة رخيصة لإضحاك الجماهير. وقد قُـدمت المثلية الجنسية بشكل جاد من خلال شخصيات ثانوية صغيرة في بعض الافلام المصرية مثل "حمام الملاطيلي" (1973) لـصلاح ابو سيف، أو "الإسكندرية ليه؟" (1978) لــيوسف شاهين، أو "شحاذون ونُبلاء" (1991) لأسماء البكري، أو "مرسيدس" (1993) لـيسري نصرالله، او "عمارة يعقوبيان" (2007) لمروان حامد. إلا أنها قُـدّمت بشكل سطحي جدًا إلی حد التلميح فقط أحيانًا.

يقدّم فيلم "طول عمري" حكاية أناس لم نسمع عن حكايتهم من قبل. إنها حكاية الإختلاف عن الآخر، وقصة اولئك الذين أُجبروا على الصمت والعيش في الخفاء. يجسّد الفيلم مقولة شهيرة للحركة النسائية في السبعينات: "الأمور الشخصية هي سياسية حكماً". حتى في يومنا هذا، إنّ الناشطين في مجال حقوق الإنسان يتوقعون من المثليين والمثليات أن ينتظروا دورهم حتى بعد إيجاد حلول لأمور أخرى "أكثر أهمّية". ليست الحرّية المجتزءة حرّية على الإطلاق، وإن أهمّ خطوة نحو الحرّية تكمُن في ضمان وجود صوت للمقهورين.

عنوان الفيلم "طول عمري" مُستوحى من أغنية "طول عمري عايش لوحدي" من الثلاثينات للموسيقار المرحوم محمد عبد الوهاب. موضوع الأغنية هو العيش وحيداً بين "الأهل والخلّان"، والبحث عن رفيق الروح. هذه الأغنية التي عُزفت بشكل مُقتضب في الفيلم ليست فقط إستعارة أدبية رئيسية بل تعبّر عن زمن غير بعيد كان المجتمع فيه متحرراً أكثر ولم يكن إنتشار الأصولية السياسية قد إنتهك الحريات الشخصية بعد.

تمّ تصوير "طول عمري" في مدينتي القاهرة وسان فرانسيسكـو رغم كل الصعوبات، وهو فيلم بدون ميزانية إستغرق تصويره ثلاث سنوات، وإعتمد على عمل المتطوعين. تمّ التصوير في الشارع وفي بيوت المتطوعين. ساهم الممثلون والمساعدون في تشغيل آلة الصوت وحمل الميكروفون وبناء الديكور وتقديم المرطبات. هذا الفيلم هو مِثال لتعاون فريق العمل المتعاضد بكل ما في الكلمة من معنى.

رغم كل المخاطر، كون كل المَشاهد في مصر قد صُوّرت على طريقة "الغوريلا" (أي صَوّر وأهرب) بسبب القيود التي تفرضها الدولة على التصوير في الشارع، كان ضرورياً تصوير الفيلم في مصر وكاليفورنيا. ورغم أنّ الهجرة هي من مواضيع الفيلم، فإن الهروب ليس حلاً. لا يجوز التضييق على مَن هم مختلفين حتى يتخلوا عن موطنهم. إستعنّا في هذا الفيلم بالمواهب العربية في العالم العربي وبلاد المهجر آملين إرسال شرارة الحوار عبر القارات ونقل الحوار حول مسائل هامّة الى العلن.

ويقول مخرج الفيلم، ماهر صبري، وهو أيضًا كاتب السيناريو والحوار:

"كلنا بنبني اسوار حوالين نفسنا علشان نحميها من الوجع والالم. علشان كدة لما بنشوف الظلم بيحصل لغيرنا اسهل حاجة نعملها اننا نقنع نفسنا ان ده مش حيحصلنا، لأن أكيد ضحاية الظلم عملوا حاجة تستوجب عقابهم. ويمكن الضحاية دول بيؤمنوا بآفكار غير أفكارنا أو بيعيشوا بطريقة مش على مزاجنا فيبقى الموضوع اسهل بكتير. ولما العجلة تدور ونقع تحتيها حنلاقي غيرنا بيقولوا لنفسهم نفس الكلام لحد مايبقاش فيه حد ماداقش الظلم."

مع تزايد الموجة المتحفظة والمتشددة في مصر والعالم العربي في السنوات الأخيرة، أصبح الفنان العربي لا يستطيع أن يتناول الكثير من الموضوعات التي تناولتها السينما المصرية في الماضي. مثال علی ذلك، في العام الماضي عندما عُرض الفيلم المصري "عمارة يعقوبيان، " قام 112 عضو من اعضاء مجلس الشعب، ربع اعضاء المجلس، بالتوقيع على بيان يطالبون فيه بحذف مشاهد الشخصية المثلية. وبالمقارنة بين الطريقة التي قُدمت بها الشخصية المثلية في هذا الفيلم وبين الطريقة التي قدمت بها الشخصية المثلية مثلًا في فيلم "حمام الملاطيلي" (١٩٧٣) نجد ان مخرج "عمارة يعقوبيان" كان أكثر تحفظًا من نظيره في السبعينيات. فيلم "طول عمري"، واللذي صور بطريقة تعرف باسم سينما الغوريلا يقوم بكسر كل التابوهات والمحرمات التي تفرضها الرقابة المصرية، سواء كانت جنسية أو إجتماعية أو سياسية.

وعن ذلك يقول مخرج الفيلم:

"الرقابة عبارة عن خنجر في قلب الحركة الإبداعية. الرقيب بيعاملني زي الطفل بيحدد لي كإنسان أقرا إيه، وأسمع إيه، وأشوف إيه. وبالتالي بيحدد لي أفكر إزاي وأعبّر إزاي. كل ده باسم "حماية الصالح العام" لكن بالفعل هو "حماية السلطة والكرسي" الرقابة مش موجودة غير في البلاد اللي تحت حكومات فاسدة ومستبدة واللي بتخاف إن شعبها يكون عنده وعي وبكده تضمن ان الوضع يفضل على ماهو عليه. وزي ما ثورة الإنترنت فتحت الباب للتاس اتها تعبر عن نفسها بالكتابة من غير رقابة ، ثورة صناعة الافلام الديجيتال حققتلي نفس الفرصة. من البداية وانا عارف ان الفيلم بتاعي مش حايتسمح له يتعرض بشكل رسمي لكن متأكد إن الناس حاتشوفو لان تحت الفساد، قرصنة الڤيديو شغالة علی ودنه. يعني بعد المهرجانات حتلاقي الفيلم بيتباع عالرصيف مع كل الافلام الممنوعة. يمكن بالطريقة دي مش حاعوض تكاليف الفيلم، لكن حأحقق إشباع ذاتي."

Well, Hello There Stranger.....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Our Civilized "Allies"

Sixty-seven Filipino men working in Saudi Arabia face jail and lashes for "imitating women" after being arrested at a party in which a number were dressed in drag, a Philippines embassy official said on Saturday.

Riyadh police arrested all 67 men at a private party and drag show in a resort villa near Riyadh on June 13, Philippines embassy Vice Consul Roussel Reyes told the news agency AFP.

"They had alcohol and some were dressed up like women," he said.

Both drinking and cross-dressing are forbidden under Saudi Arabia's conservative Islam-based sharia laws, and both could bring up to six months in prison and lashes.

None were charged with homosexual acts, a much more serious charge under Saudi law, Reyes said.

The men have all been released to their employers while formal charges are drawn up, he added.

Some one million Filipinos work in Saudi Arabia.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Help... Censorship

Remember that scene in the wonderful "Cinema Paradiso" (Oscar for best foreign movie, 1990) where the village priest, a one-hand censorship committee, sits all alone in the darkened movie theater to do his dirty deed while Philippe Noiret's Alfredo plays him the latest flick? The one-handed deed being, of course, that every time the screen flashes anything approaching the hint of a kiss or a flash of flesh, up goes the priest's hand in the hysterical sign--not of a cross, exactly, but close: of scissors. It's the prelate's unspoken signal to Alfredo in the projection room to cut the offending bit of celluloid (often a cousin of unpriestly cellulite) and cast it to the dust-devils of Alfredo's cutting-room floor. So it was in 1950s Giancarlo, the tiny southern Italian town of Giuseppe Tornatore's lip-smacking imagination.

And so it is still, it seems, in 21st century Lebanon, where something else deserves a smack.

"Help" is a Lebanese film by director Marc Abi-Rached. It's the mostly platonic triangular story of a delinquent teenager called Ali who lives in an abandoned van in a junkyard, who befriends a prostitute called Soraya, who rooms with her gay friend Janot. The themes are more daring than the scenes (for Lebanon, anyway, where befriending a junkie can provoke all sorts of suspicions).

So far so cool. Abi-Rached got permission to distribute his movie in July 2008 from the ominously called Lebanese General Security board, which serves as the country's film licensing authority. The board asked Abi-Rached to tone down one image that purportedly flashed something Eve Ensler would have a monologue about, and to restrict the movie to adults. Abi-Rached complied and got himself a license--license number 1460, to be precise. The movie was shown to reviewers on Feb. 12, who gave it pretty good reviews, and it was scheduled to open on Feb. 19. And why not? There's a good bit of cursing and frank discussions about homosexuality, but this is Beirut, after all, the Christopher Street of the Middle East. On Feb. 16, the license was pulled. What gave?

Lebanon's clerics--Maronite Christian, Catholic, Sunni, Druze, Shiite in all their sect-ual denominations--can be a powerful bunch (put them together and they could probably field a hell of a team on soccer's senior circuit, if it existed). They control the film board, ensuring against immorality. But Lebanon isn't Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. It's not even Lebanon, if by recent re-definitions of Lebanon we mean what Hezbollah's turbaned Jansenists are doing to the country's relative liberalism: Hezbollah's influence would keep a movie like "Help" from playing in southern cities like Tyre or Sidon, but it couldn't keep it from playing in Beirut, Junieh or even Sunni Tripoli way up north. Besides, it's for movies like "Help" that the Arab world's hypocrites take their vacations in Lebanon. (They want their Beirut and eat it too.)

So what could have happened to the movie? It's Lebanon, therefore it's conspiracy time. The religious element is obvious, but too obvious. Too convenient. The homosexual element may be a bit more convincing. Lebanon isn't Iowa, after all (or Vermont or Massachusetts or California). It's more like the sort of place where Antonin Scalia and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could still feel comfortable--where homosexual acts are illegal.

So maybe that's what did it. Lebanon's moviemakers, from Nadine Labaki ("Caramel") to the emerging great Philipe Aractingi ("Bosta," "Under the Bombs") and the fitfully fabulous Ziad Doueiri ("West Beyrouth," "Lila dit ça") are an undiscovered country of force and wonders. But they tread on themes close to Lebanon's broken heart. In "Help," Marc Abi-Rached tries the Star Trek approach--going where no Lebanese moviemaker has gone before. Gay theme, full monty. A dare too far?

My theory is this: it has nothing to do with the gay theme, nothing to do with the cursing (the occasional Brooklyn Likudist aside, no one curses better than a Lebanese) or the glimpses of nudity. No. It's about Joanna Andraos. She's one of the stars of the movie. She's also the daughter of Antoine Andraos. Antoine Andraos is a member of Lebanon's Parliament. Not only that. He's a member or the ruling March 14 Alliance. He's running for reelection in June's parliamentary bash. And he, like the rest of the March 14 Alliance that represents Lebanon's alleged "Cedar Revolution" (and western outlook) is in a fight for the coalition's life as Hezbollah's coalition appears poised to make big gains, and perhaps demolish the March 14 coalition.

Antoine Andraos doesn't want to lose. He doesn't want his daughter's movie thrown up in his face every time he delivers a speech. If you know Lebanese families, if you know Lebanese fathers, you probably know the kind of anguished, top-of-the-lung screaming match that may have taken place in the Andraos living room. Spacious as it is, as all Lebanese living rooms are, it wouldn't have been spacious enough to contain the decibels of Father Andraos shouting his despair at his daughter's transformation into a prostitute, however fictional the transformation.

So Andraos did what any self-respecting despotic Lebanese father would do. He pulled strings. He had "Help"'s license revoked. End of story. That, anyway, is my theory. I doubt it's the end of the story, though now, for all my sympathies for the venal and corrupt and ineffectual March 14 coalition (for all its venality, the alternative is worse), I'm kind of rooting for Antoine Andraos to lose. If that's how he treats his daughter's freedom of expression.

By the way, at the end of "Cinema Paradiso" Toto got a special treat from Alfredo, from beyond the grave: all the scenes that had ever been cut (enough to make you fall in love with life all over again). There's hope yet, Marc Abi-Rached. You're the winner here, not the censors. I can't wait to see your movie, uncut and unturbaned.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Power And Torture

A real disturbing clip about a serious torture case from Abu Dhabi....

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oh, The Chutzpah

This morning, Reuters is reporting that the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement saying that he and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had decided to recall Ambassador Ilan Elgar from Berne "for consultations and in protest at the conference in Geneva". The conference in subject is a UN gathering planned to discuss global issues of racism.

Once again, many countries are, rightfully IMHO, trying to equate Zionism with Racism. The US as expected, is boycotting the conference on orders from AIPAC on the hill.

And now, we have Netanyahu, the prime minister who said that Israel should have gone all the way in Gaza, apparently over 1,000 civilian deaths were not enough for him, and Lieberman who openly advocates mass transfer of Palestinians from their '48 lands protesting the gathering..

oh, while we're at it, war is peace and ignorance is bliss...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Murders In Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Six gay men were shot dead by members of their tribe in two separate incidents in the past 10 days, an official with Iraq's Interior ministry said.

In the most recent attack, two men were killed Thursday in Sadr City area of Baghdad after they were disowned by relatives, the official said.

The shootings came after a tribal meeting was held and the members decided to go after the victims.

On March 26, four additional men were fatally shot in the same city, the official said, adding that the victims had also been disowned by their relatives.

The official declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Witnesses told CNN that a Sadr City cafe, which was a popular gathering spot for gays, was also set on fire.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Skokie, Palestine

There was rioting in the Palestinian town of Umm El Fahm in Israel yesterday due to a planned march by an ultra nationalist Israeli group who insisted on parading the middle of town. The Israeli high court gave permission to the highly controversial request, but police had postponed it several times, fearing violence.

Reading that, I was reminded of a similar incident that happened in the town of Skokie, a suburb of Chicago IL back in 1977. The National Socialist Party of America (a Neo-Nazi group) planned a march in the middle of town which had a largely Jewish community including many Holocaust survivors.

sad, no?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Defending Bashir

I was laying in bed this morning listening to RMC-Doualiya the popular NPR- like station based in Paris and covering the entire Arab world. The program was called Oxygen and consisted of a blend of popular pop songs along with call-ins by listeners to discuss current events.

While the host of the show was trying to suggest various topics of conversations, caller after caller seemed intent on discussing one issue and one issue only; that of the warrant of arrest against Omar Bashir, the president of Sudan.

What was interesting and scary is that none of the callers believed Bashir to be guilty and there was a unanimous belief that the whole thing was nothing more than a US (read Zionist) led conspiracy to go, not only after Bashir, but after every Arab leader in the region. One woman even suggested that the UN passes laws protecting all presidents from prosecution.

While the host of the show tried to raise some questions regarding Bashir's own flaws, that didn't seem to change the opinions of the callers. Just like in the days before we took down Saddam in Iraq, at least on the popular front, there was once again, the sentiment that by going after the leader, you are going after the country. The two are simply the same.

If there is anything that Arab leaders were successful at, this was it..

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gay Protest In Beirut

In response to recent police brutality incidents, HELEM, the Lebanese LGBT organization organized a demonstration in Beirut yesterday...

this is the first ever protest of this kind in the region....

Check out the video:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Medium Is The Message

Obama's "first official" interview on Al Arabiya struck all the right notes, but too bad it happened on the wrong station. Obama's aides should know better that, just like in the US, the medium is the message. Al Arabiya, a Saudi funded network out of Dubai, is regionally perceived as being too pro-America and pretty much in support of established regimes and monarchies. As such, despite their very strong penetration in Arab markets, their audience is rather small and falls behind many other networks such as LBC, Future, and the notorious Al Jazeera.

And speaking of Al Jazeera.. love it or hate it, it is by far the leading network in the regions, and thru its English outlet (AJE), rapidly becoming a leading news organization worldwide. Our enemies and foes realize that and that is why they go out of their way to ensure that their messages are somehow carried there. Even the Israelis, who have long resisted dealing with AJE have finally realized that it is the network of choice to speak to the Arab Street/Muslim World.

Knowing Obama, I know this won't be his last interview for that region.. let's just hope that better planning and media realities are taken into consideration next time.

Let me suggest a sit down with Sir David Frost or Riz Khan...