*Find my original Facebook post here.
** Illustration by the online meme world.
Let’s talk again about our national bipolarity and our unreal quest for freedom in the lands of the cedars.
96 years ago this week, my great-grandfather, Shafiq Beik al-Azm, was hanged by the Ottoman Governor of Greater Syria, Jamal Pasha “the butcher”.
My great-grandfather’s crime was his nationalism and his aspiration for his country to be free. He was publicly executed with twenty-one other Arab nationalists on May 6th 1916. The executions happened simultaneously in Damascus and Beirut: 7 nationalists hanged on Marjeh Square in Damascus, and 14 others on Burj Square in Beirut. With time, both squares came to be known as “Martyrs’ Square”. Those men were Arab nationalists executed for the same (t)reason: the desire to be free.
May 6 is called “Martyrs’ Day” in Lebanon and Syria for this reason. It commemorates the bravery of 21 strong men who stood against oppression and paid for it with their lives. Were freedom and sovereignty ever achieved in the Arab lands? Never.
We went from 400 years of Ottoman rule, to 25 years of European pseudo-colonialism and manipulation, to back-to-back interstate regional wars linked to the forceful establishment of the state of Israel, to intrastate civil wars spanning 50 years, to Western-supported oppressive murderous regimes that butcher their own people in the name of “stability”… and the world acquiesces.
But there’s something to be said here. Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East today where public hangings will not happen if you dare ask for freedom, for rights. They simply will not happen, because there is nobody in this country with enough power to mass-murder and hang a bunch of people for “asking for rights”. We don’t have a totalitarian regime, absolute power doesn’t exist here and it can never exist here. That is the blessing or the curse of our naturally pluralistic nation with no existing majority. This is a luxury our neighbors don’t have. While all our neighbors in the most dangerous states have taken to the streets to ask for freedom from their oppressive, murderous absolutist regimes, the Lebanese seem to not see the “need” for it… “freedom” that is. We’re already “kinda” free. Look at us partying in Sky Bar until 4am, eating the greatest sushi and lounging for hours on the beaches of Jiyeh to perfect that tan. Well, that’s not where freedom stops.
Do you feel “free” with the monstrous corruption of our politicians eating up our rights? How about with the unbearably straining judicial laws forbidding women from having adequate _human_ rights? …
- or the poverty levels in the backstreets of our country that would make Congo’s slums look like home,
- or the offensive gas prices we are forced to pay because the politicians are taking a cut out of it and we are ok with it, the same politicians that killed your family during the civil war,
- or the abusive prices of mobile phone bills we are forced to pay because of a duopoly colluding with the government and we are ok with it,
- or the outdated time-wasting egomaniacal men who dare call themselves leaders of this nation but who thrive on insulting and abusing the Lebanese population and discriminating against “other” factions they deem inferior just because it is “the mood” they collectively decided to input in the country and it raises their chances to be in power and we are ok with it,
- or the insulting lack of electricity and us being forced to resort to “generators” to power our lamps and monstrous bills, notwithstanding the abusive rise in market prices and cost of living that has now become equal to the prices of Manhattan yet our salaries are less than those of Gabon (check IMF’s GDP per capita list!),
- or the dismal conditions we are forced to drive in. You think this “traffic” is normal? Getting out of Hamra takes forty-five minutes. That’s 6 blocks to drive. Six blocks. Last year 100,000 new cars made their way into Lebanon, did we get rid of any of the old cars? No.
- or the total disregard for our environment? This is one of the dirtiest inhabited seashores on the planet. The fact that we burn tires just to abuse the ones we disagree with? What about all these new tower buildings being built in Beirut with zero greenery taken into consideration? What about this complete absence of urban planning where builders are allowed to build 24-story towers in the _first row_ of the city by the sea. Nowhere in the world does this exist.
- or the atrocious, mountain-raping “kassarat”? Our mountains have become shards because politicians are giving permits to builders (with a large cut of course) in order to break the stones of our natural mountains and build 20-story towers out of the demolished natural rock so they can have the choice of facing the sea. Towers you will never -ever- be able to live in because you will never be able to afford their exorbitant prices of $11,000 per square meter! The families of Beirut are indirectly being forced out of Beirut to live in the outskirts of the city while rich families from the Gulf and expats are buying premium apartments by the dozen and are “seasonally” inhabiting the prime lands of our city Beirut. Are you ok with that?
- or this civil marriage preposterousness where two lovers of different religions are not able to marry in their own homeland although the majority of us want that to change?
- or the fact that we “cannot agree on an electoral law” and so we feel so free to “postpone elections” and create a government vacuum? We’re bored.
At some point in our nation, we have discussed every single one of the above-mentioned issues with anger, and we caused a tumult on the news… for a couple of weeks. Then the tumult died, and the corrupters went back to their normal life. Why? Because we are bipolar “excited-bored” people. Life isn’t _that_ unbearable so why change anything? And so like those cartoon characters, our behavior is inconsistent, ludicrous and bipolar… and doesn’t get anything done.
In Syria today, over the past two years, 70 thousand men and women have been murdered in broad daylight for trying to oust the most oppressive regime in today’s world. The more they are killed, the more unstoppable they are, the more they take to the streets. Do you know what they are fighting for? The right to be able to take to the streets with dignity. They want to be _able_ to protest without being murdered. That’s freedom. Article 1 through 30 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There:http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/
We, in Lebanon, already have the power to talk. If we take to the streets, our revolutions will be met by no violent opposition because the army, the civil guards, the police officers, the security apparatus are us! We won’t be protesting against a “specific” political party, we are protesting against all those who are perpetuating the above-mentioned problems. What more needs to happen for us to stop the illegal, corrupt job performed by all our politicians? Not only the ones in parliament today, the ones who were in parliament working _for_ the system, and the ones who strive to be part of this “system”. What needs to happen for us to protest the dismal state of our country? Do our mothers need to be raped by politicians and their bodyguards like our neighbors in Syria? Do our brothers need to be tortured and mutilated in underground chambers and sent back to us in garbage bags like our neighbors in Syria? Tell me. What needs to happen to us in order for us to protest the dismal state of this country? This is a real question.
If those problems are not enough, then it’s maybe true to think that: if Arabs have never known freedom, how can they ask for it? Let the Western colonials back in then, maybe they can teach us some consistency because today, we’re too weak and bipolar to deserve freedom.
Those are my thoughts in honor of Martyrs’ Day and in honor of all the martyrs who die for their freedom.