Tag Archives: Middle East

Grin and “Bear” it or (How to Cure the Hard Heart Syndrome)

The Hard Heart Syndrome!

Over the course of a lifetime lived in a corner of the world that is full of conflict, war, and death, it sometimes happens that people get a condition that I will call “hardening of the heart”: this is not a medical condition but it is more of a psychological condition or syndrome that gradually diminished one’s apathy and compassion and that makes a person indifferent to the agony of witnessing so much injustice, so much violence, and so much pain.  It is also a condition that makes people selfish, hey, survival in dire times requires self-protection, and self-protection requires a big dose of self-love.

I write this because of a seemingly insignificant incident that happened last week and that got me thinking about starting to reverse the process of the hardening of my heart in order to really feel human again, not only that, but I wanted to remember how a younger version of me experienced life with a fully functioning heart.  So I am writing this blog entry as a totally transparent exercise in self-examination!

It’s just a bear!

Some friends and I went on a little road trip to a mountain village and visited a little wild animal shelter run by a couple who have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness about wildlife in Lebanon (the story of this shelter is very important and I may write about it at a later time).  There we saw different animals with different injuries in enclosures and in cages being taken care of in order to be re-released into the wild.  One animal, a large bear that looked a lot like a grizzly, somehow touched my hardened heart.  The caretaker told us that this species in now nearly extinct in Lebanon, and that this guy is a sole survivor and has been living at the shelter for a while.  This made me sad and stuck with me for days and I’m not the kind of person that gets emotional over animals: I eat meat, and I would wear fur if I could afford it!

It’s a lot to bear!

But this whole unexpected emotional episode over a lonely bear in a big cage really got me thinking about how tough I have become on the inside and I asked myself some hard questions: why is it that children begging in the streets don’t move me? Why don’t the senseless and violent deaths of innocents in the many warzones all over the region make me angry or sad anymore? Why am I indifferent to the plight of millions of refugees? Why do I only care about a small number of people who comprise my family and close entourage? When did I become so good at selecting who to feel for and when to feel? And how did the big sad bear break through my defenses?

Bear with me on this!

Each person who is suffering from “hardening of the heart” will probably have different answers if they were to ask themselves the questions I asked myself, or similar ones depending on what they have selected to harden their heart about.  And (I know I shouldn’t start a sentence with and) even if they found the answers, would that make any difference? Would it cure this affliction? I don’t think it would, although it might help a little in finding a cure or a course of treatment.  And are we really sure we want to be cured? YES I WANT TO BE CURED because a lukewarm life is a sign of surrender!

And I found that the cure lies in a decision, a decision to care again in spite of the pain that is suffered because of caring.

And once I start to care and hurt again, I just might become part of some kind of solution.

Thank you almost extinct bear! I love you

The Bear! You can visit him at https://www.facebook.com/animalencounter.org

The Bear!
You can visit him at https://www.facebook.com/animalencounter.org

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Conflict Terminology- The not so innocent way media chose their words!

This is a repost of a previous entry, and a precursor to my upcoming series: Conflict Terminology for Dummies.

Just a word to the wise, even the most objective media can slant your opinion: not by overt propaganda (as most Middle East media do) but with simple language nuances.

Language: a system of symbols that help us to communicate facts, thoughts, and feelings.  Sounds innocent enough, well it isn’t, and the media and advertising industries have known this for a long time, and so have some of the world’s best writers.  Since these are the “communication” times, where information is disseminated at dizzying speed and in overwhelming quantity, it’s important for those who want to be well informed to be able to do a quick analysis and an instant filtering in order to discern the real facts and arrive at some sane opinion.

Below you will find different terms used in media today to describe one situation, occurrence, or phenomenon,  using different terminology (in both English and Arabic), as well as some suggestions as to what they may really mean to imply. This is just the very short list, as this is a 101 level, feel free to add your favorite “synonyms”.

 

Fundamentalist-Extremist-Ultra Orthodox    أصولي-متطرف-ارثودوكسي متطرف

All very close in meaning, I mean a fundamentalist is an extremist ultra orthodox believer.  But note how Ultra Orthodox is a little less threatening than fundamentalist, and how fundamentalist is a little less threatening than extremist.

 

Dead-casualties-martyrs   قتلى-ضحايا-شهداء

The dead simply ceased to be living, casualties were victims, and martyrs are heroes, that’s how we quickly interpret these words in our minds.

 

Killed-Murdered-Slaughtered  قتل-ذبح

Killed implies some violence, murdered implies violence and criminal intent, while slaughtered implies barbaric violence.

 

Hundreds-Thousands-Tens of Thousands… مئات-آلاف-عشرات الآلاف-مسيرة مليونية

Ah, the numbers game! When do hundreds become thousands? Is 999 about a thousand? Or is around 800,000 a million?

 

Demonstrations-Riots-Civil disobedience  مظاهرات-أعمال شغب-عصيان مدني

Civil disobedience is perceived to be the tamest and most peaceful, demonstrations are a bit scarier, but riots are really scary.

 

Rebels-Insurgents-Freedom fighters   متمردين-مقاتلين-ثوار-مجاهدين

Freedom fighters are noble, rebels are romantic, insurgents we don’t really know what to feel about.

Leader-Strong Man-Head of   قائد-زعيم-رئيس

A leader is a father figure that has supporters, a strong man is more like a gang leader who rules by force, and a head of is kind of neutral.

 

Militia-Gang-Guerrillas   ميليشيا-عصابة

All of these terms carry negative raps, Guerillas however sometimes has more of the freedom fighter connotation than a gang or a militia.  And militia implies a more organized gang with a purpose.

 

Stormed-Attacked-Stomped   شن هجوما-اقتحم

To storm something is almost neutral in its outcome, although it means a swift and strong action.  To attack is a bit more aggressive in nature, and to stomp implies greater angry aggression.

 

Invaded-Occupied-Marched into   غزو-احتلال

The nuances of language here are at their best, to invade has a sort of temporary feel to it, while to occupy implies long-term.  March into is the most neutral.

 

Supporters-proponents-followers   مؤيدين-أنصار-أتباع

Supporters and proponents seem to be well aware of what and who they are supporting, while followers implies a type of blind and ignorant faith.

 

Never underestimate the power of a single word, every word carries within its folds many emotional and intellectual triggers that (unfortunately) can move the “masses”.

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“Heritages” the Movie: an Introspection on Lebanese Reality

I don’t usually rush to my blog to write movie reviews, I am not an expert in the field of film making but I am a movie buff.

HOWEVER, after watching the movie “Heritages” by Lebanese director Philippe Aractingi, I felt moved and compelled to share this experience.

“Heritages” holds a mirror to our daily realities as Lebanese, our choices, our lack of choices, our constant love hate relationship with this small, deeply flawed, yet beautiful country.  It is a brave endeavor that does not seek to beautify a very bleak reality; it does however approach its subject matter with great love and respect, and that is commendable!!

The movie is an autobiography of a Lebanese family and has a documentary feel to it, but what is really exceptional and noteworthy is that the makers of this film bravely told their intimate histories with depth and honest reflection.  Every Lebanese watching this film will related to this family is some way, they are ‘us’.

Philippe Aractingi’s personal struggle to understand, cope with, and get over the experience of the Lebanese civil war rings very true with those of us who remember it vividly.  It is an experience that we have all tried to keep hidden somewhere in the backs of our minds so we can carry on with our normal lives; the images and scenes that this director chose to show of that era resurrected a monster that we must all learn to face…

The movie deals with all of our doubts and struggles: our diverse backgrounds and heritages, our relationships with each other and with the region around us, our exiles, our returns, and most of all our trying to understand why we are so attached to this country and why we are so reluctant to leave it.

This kind of scripting is very rare in Lebanese cinema as it contains depth and real multi-layered characters and story lines.

Go see it, it’s one of the gems of Lebanese cinema and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

https://www.facebook.com/heritagesthemovie/info

 

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Yabroud of my Childhood

Back when Lebanon was going through its own civil war, when we were little children, we lived in Yabroud for a few months.  This city that has been in the news lately and whose name has become synonymous with conflict, death, terror, and war, holds a very different image in my mind, one I’d like to share…

Through the eyes of the child I was, Yabroud was a green village, a beautiful oasis with strange looking rock formations on the hills that surrounded it.

In Yabroud, people dropped fruit baskets at our doorsteps and showed us great friendship and hospitality.  The women there still walked to river with their laundry, little boys smoked in the streets, and they cooked wheat in large communal vats in its little neighborhoods.

Some of the older women still wore the traditional colorful costumes of what they claim was “Queen Zenobia’s” time.  They were still proud that the once powerful queen had taken Yabroud as her summer residence.

We even went to school in Yabroud, and it was an unforgettable experience for us; coming from a Western style multilingual system of education we found it strange and foreign to be in a totalitarian traditional type of teaching environment.  What I remember most is that me and my cousin had short hair, unlike all the other girls in our class, and for physical education we were required to tie white bows to our pony tails (which we did not have).  It was mandatory, so we had to pin two large white bows to our short tresses to conform….

We made friends easily there, and although I don’t remember names or faces anymore, I remember the feeling of being welcomed into beautiful homes, I remember the older girls making us ‘Tabbouleh’, and I also remember sitting on beautiful balconies overlooking lush fruit gardens and having a first experience with ‘Matte’ an herbal tea drink very popular in the region.

I do believe that places become part of us, and Yabroud is a part of me.  I will always hold on to the image of this beautiful place through the eyes of the child inside of me, as I try to do with all other places that I am rooted to.

We have lived to see too much violence in this region, it robs the soul of its innocence if you let it!

Today I will pin two white bows to my head in remembrance of a childhood, and adulthood spent in times of war….

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Fundamentalist Extremists Don’t Bother Me!

At least fundamentalist extremists are clear about their dogma and about who they hate and what they worship.
What bothers me are those people who act moderate in their ideological or religious views, and then turn into radical monsters at the drop of a button, spewing all kinds of toxic talk. Those people not only bother me, but they scare me!! I know to stay away from the extremists, they are honest and visible and obvious, and they let you know they are coming to get you if you disagree with them, but the extremists at heart with moderate cloaks, well they will get you when you’re not looking!
I respect those who are honest enough with themselves to publicly announce their real convictions whatever they might be, yes, I respect the fundamentalist extremists, and I despise those who shift ideology or belief to fit the trend the day, and those who hide their true extremist colors also to fit the trend of the day.

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Love in the Time of Politics

Love and Politics in this corner of the world are two things that evoke very strong emotions and reactions. Here very few, if any, grow up without some kind of political ideology (often closely linked with religious dogma) and it becomes entrenched in the mind and part and parcel of the overall individual personality.

Here I am talking about hard core politics, not the kind you find in Western democracies where opposing parties are not necessarily bipolar in nature and ideology. This type of hard core political thinking tends to overshadow all aspects of a person’s life, and yes even a person’s love life.

Love in the romantic sense, is another very strong motivator for an individual, but is it enough to overcome political differences (on the individual level)?

What happens when love and politics clash in the lives of a couple? When their semi inherited ideologies come to a head with each other? What do you think wins: love or politics?

Today, on this Valentine’s day, and especially in this region, political fervor is at its most heightened state with revolution and uprisings and attacks and counter attacks and reactionary movements etc.. Emotions are high, nerves are strained and love is in hiding.  Only those who share the same political thinking are allowed to love each other, all others are destined to clandestine and strained situations.

All emotion is taken up for the ideology war against the others.  Sad times for Love in the time of politics.

Happy Valentine’s day.

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All Modern Governments are Oppressive Regimes

Even in the most democratic of systems, certain individuals and groups will be oppressed, whether on the basis of ideology, ethnicity, religion, economics, race, etc…  The concept of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” (meaning you become a potential enemy of the state) is still very much alive in today’s politics, and it manifest itself in different ways.

People who think and behave in a way that does not agree with the government’s vision (whether the government is democratic, dictatorial, theocratic…) will be persecuted or at best marginalized.

Oppression is not exclusive to totalitarian systems: the rule of the majority in so called “democratic” states is by default oppressive to the minorities.  Although the levels of oppression may vary from one state to the other, it remains a product of power struggles that are the direct result of fear: fear from fundamental system changes and loss of control of resources. This oppression may not always be overt or violent, in the more democratic systems it takes on an underground quality, psychologically terrorizing those who are in dissent into submission.  Here I think it is important to give a detailed example experienced first hand:

1.  The Arab American and Muslim American communities in the United States, especially after the September 11 attacks, became direct targets of this psychological state terrorism.  People of all Middle Eastern descent felt threatened, and those in disagreement with the government’s ensuing policies and actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, became direct targets.  The word “Guantanamo” to this population became synonymous with some of the symbols of oppression in their countries of origin.  Even Americans who are not of Middle Eastern heritage, and who did not agree with the new “anti-terror” hysteria felt threatened.  This continues to this day, many are afraid to voice their real opinions and thoughts because they feel as though they are being watched by “Big Brother”, and that at any moment, they can be accused to have ties with “Al Qaeda” and then their livelihoods and lives would be destroyed.  These first generation immigrants who fled politically and economically oppressive systems find themselves living in uncertainty in what was supposed to be “the land of the free”.  And the second and third generation Americans of Middle Eastern and Muslim origins find themselves alienated in the only home they have ever known.

There are many other examples of this sort of covert oppression in all modern democracies, and lots of them that have nothing to do with cultural issues, but with ideological, racial, and even philosophical issues.  Just because a government is democratic, does not mean it is not oppressive to sections of its own citizenry.

This is a struggle that has always existed, and I am not saying that I have an inkling about a solution, I’m just saying that it is important to discern that the way we have come to govern ourselves has some major flaws, and that no government is truly just.

As we say in Arabic”ما حدا أحسن من حدا “or very loosely translated: same shit, different place.

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