Monday, September 24, 2012

Sectarian Voyagers - Observations from Lebanon

Antoine was nailing me with his questions when we met at the beach in Chekka, south of Tripoli: what does Europe do to stop the influx of Muslims to the old continent? What measures have been taken to prevent Europe from falling into Muslim hands? I answered that Europe, in prinicple, follows the rules of law and most particularly the European Convention on Human Rights. It was not possible to limit the number of children for a Muslim family to one or two, while Christians - or atheists - have the green light to reproduce freely (which they actually have, but don't exercise...). Antoine was not entirely convinced and the drift of his questions became clearer to me: where will the Christians of the Middle East turn to when the Christian's shit hits the fan here? Where will they go when Europe is dominated by Muslims and the United States are run by Barack Obama and his extremist Muslim gang (well, this according to the ever fear mongering Michelle Bachmann)? The Christians in the Middle East, they worry.

At the same time that Pope Benedict XVI went through passport control at Rafic Hariri airport in Beirut - starting a three day visit in Lebanon - the Kentucky Fried Chicken was burning in Tripoli. Declared as yet another protest against a dumb minded anti-Islam movie "made in USA", the assault left one protester dead and many customers and employees terrified. I happened to be in town when the KFC went up in smoke, but I wouldn't even have noticed, if not for a whatsapp message I received when watching the Pope on tv. I went out to the street to check on a Burger King and a McDonald's just a few hundred meters away. It was all calm, but the restaurants were closed; Lebanese soldiers with their tanks were posted in front of the buildings. Now here's a new task for the Lebanese army: Guarding the outlets of American fast food chains! Is this "resistance" in the 21st century?

50 faces of rage: protesters in Peshawar

Just as the Pope, I have become a sectarian voyager myself when in Lebanon. My apartment is in an area CNN would call "a Christian stronghold", and I realize that I am comfortable with that. I was brought up in Christian faith, but I never go to church except for funerals, and I don't pray. Does this still make me a Christian? "Back home", I never think about religion at all. But in Lebanon I feel transformed, reflecting much more about it. Religion defines a great deal of who you are and what you can be in Lebanon - a president, a prime minister, the chief of a security service.

That insidious movie. That "the Innocence of Muslims". I laugh it off, because it is so obviously brainless, because it is not aimed at me, but I want to cry when I see the Muslim world so easily infuriated and manipulated. I know you are all very emotional people here. It shows in your many words for love, in your food and in your music. But: stop being donkeys, people! Watching the images from Pakistan, with frustrated, bearded men looting cinemas, setting churches on fire and basically tearing down everything standing in their way, even I got scared. These guys look like their own cartoons. A day of love for Mohammed turned into a battle leaving 19 people dead: love is a killer, I do know this.

get along, please: the Pope in Lebanon

A stupid movie inciting all that rage? Remember: we are living in a political world. Protests against "the film" are politically motivated and only marginally by religion. Manifestations in Egypt ended violently because all parties of Egpyt's political society wanted them to be violently. The army to demonstrate that security is going down the drain without them being in power - in Egypt, in the Middle East, vis à vis Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood to cater to their constituency and have them vent whatever anger was eating them up. And the Salafists to discredit the ruling MB party and president Morsi, for more heft in current political discussions and a better shot at winning the next elections.

In Lebanon, expect for the KFC in Tripoli, the reactions to the movie were calm, until... until the Sayyed needed to rally his troops. Assad is at the ropes in Syria and Iran is under sanctions, with the Mullahs having a constant threat to have their nuclear installations bombed dangling over their turbans: the double star of Shia and Hezbollah has lost some of its shine in recent months. Something had to be done. Thank God to the American film industry and a movie sent from heaven.

totalitarian feel: protesters in South Beirut

I was impressed, even in admiration, and frightened at the same time, when I saw the Hezbollah organized protest march in South Beirut on September 17. Impressed, because it all happened in an orderly manner. Frightened, because it had a totalitarian feel to it. No protests until the boss calls for it. And when you protest, you protest non-violently. What distinguishes Hezbollah followers from Salafi protesters in Cairo and Talibans in Peshawar? Is it a true belief in non-violence? It is discipline or is it a subjection to a totalitarian concept? Does totalitarianism come in different forms, non-violently in one context, violently in another? There is a lot of brain washing going on in the Arab world. And beyond.

They say the last European to die will be a Muslim. It won't be the Pope. He is 85. He left Lebanon for Europe on a note saying that Christians and Muslims should get along in the Middle East. In the Middle East. Not in Europe, necessarily. That is the Pope's home turf. While Charlie Hébdo published yet another Mohammed cartoon, damn well knowing it will boost the magazine's sales in France and blood spill elsewhere, a judge stopped another French magazine from publishing topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge. One Queen of England has more weight than a billion Muslims. Double standards. Deux seins, deux mesures. Felix Europa! Always look at the relevant side of life.