Save Lebanon: Keep the Word Alive | Archived Posts from 2005
2005 was a turbulent year in Lebanon. It was the year of the Cedar Revolution when the Syrian president bowed down to the national and international pressure, and announced that the Syrian army would pull out from Lebanon in two stages. No timeline was set for the withdrawal, but it didn't stop Syria from proclaiming the implementation of the UN resolution 1559. The Syrian army withdrew its troops from Lebanon at the end of April 2005 after 30 years of occupation. My family had emigrated to Canada before 2005 and then the US. But with many relatives and friends still remaining in Lebanon, they read the blog posts from numerous websites including savelebanon.org. Friends in Lebanon who were involved in Lebanon’s “Independence Intifada” still speak with intensity about its metamorphosis, beginning with the violent assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri on February 14 and culminating with the withdrawal of 14,000 Syrian troops on April 26, 2005. Recently I had visitors from Lebanon at my house for dinner. I was telling them how having recently discovered that the domain for savelebanon.org was available, I had bought it with the goal of recreating some of its content from archived pages. I definitely didn't want someone else purchasing the domain and re-purposing the site for something that had nothing in common with Lebanon and the amazing year of 2005. While we were sharing memories and stories after dinner, I accidently spilled some Recioto della Valpolicella, a classic Italian dessert wine on an antique Persian rug that had been passed down on my father's side of the family. Fortunately my wife knew of an experienced rug cleaning NYC company that specializes in not only cleaning, but also restoring oriental rugs. She would call them in the morning, so I was not to worry. Enjoy the rest of the evening and don't worry abut the rug, she admonished. And she was right. The Agara company was terrific, removing the spilled wine stain and even doing a little restoration work on the fringes. The recreating this site brought back lots of memories to my guests which triggered more discussions regarding the disaster that ISIS is sowing in the Middle East. There was also some heated discussions about what was happening in Syria. If you have stumbled upon this site, enjoy the content I have added thus far in its historical context.
They want to silence the media, disrupt our unity and lie about the facts, but Lebanon's cause is above all.
Tuesday, April 19. 2005
this Group-of-14 [G14] is to carry us through to the upcoming elections...
if genes are telling, Mikati might have some goodness within him.
but this great Sabaa, who is he?
he's meant to be non-partisan and a retired general....... general.
- Najib Mikati Prime Minister
- Elias Murr Vice Premier and Defense Minister
- Retired General Hassan Sabaa Interior Minister
- Ghassan Salameh Minister of Education and Culture
- Mahmoud Hammoud Foreign Minister
- Damianor Kattar for finance and economy
- Adel Hamieh for public works and displaced
- Alain Taborian for telecommunications, youth and sports
- Khaled Kabbani for justice
- 1Bassam Yammine for energy and industry
- Chales Rizk for information and tourism
- Mohammed Khalifeh for public health and social affairs
- Tarek Mitri for environment and administrative development
- Barrak Hamadeh for labor and agriculture. -dailystar
ummmm.... where are the women?
Friday, April 15. 2005
Riad El-Solh - 1898-1951
Freedom my love I died for thee
I would have loved to live more for thee.
This is the epitaph Riad would have had on a small white grave by the sea near his “friend” the Imam. (The Imam Al Auzai an emiment scholar of Islam who lived in the eighth century and protected in the name of Islam, the Christians of Lebanon against the ill treatment of the Abbassid governor of the region.)
But the people of Lebanon had decided otherwise: another grave, another epitaph altogether. They were paying a farewell tribute to the man who gave them a new vision and a new taste of life, who taught them that dreams had no walls and that through freedom only they could make them come true.
By public subscription from the poorest to the wealthiest the nation raised a mausoleum with the inscription:
To Riad El-Solh from the grateful nation.
“Beware of the misbehaving Freedom, it will either disintegrate into chaos or be dismantled by a dictator in the name of order.”
This ominous warning was uttered by Riad El-Solh on day one of Independent Lebanon, more than half a century ago.
That was the answer he gave to a group of his fellow freedom fighters who had come to him and asked: “What comes next?” “Next we shall learn how to live with Freedom after we have learned how to die for it. Remember Mayssaloun, we were all marching to our death for honour, for pride, for freedom. But no one ever bore in mind: for a better life, a happier life or a more productive use of Arab skills and intelligence. No it was all revenge on history and the brilliant past revisited.
We were defeated at Mayssaloun and we had to start all over again. But as of today we are free men in a free country. The time has come for us to dump that syndrome of defeated people in perpetual anger. This land is not only fit for angry heroes, there should be enough room for happy human beings too.
It should flow with contentment, serenity, joy and prosperity as well as justice, equality, dignity and culture.”
Riad El-Solh would count the blessings of Independent Lebanon for hours on end. He was very protective of that new born independence for fear it is misused or abused.
Freedom was Riad’s first and everlasting love. His quest for it started years and miles away.
The time: a sunny day of the year 1908.
The place: Salonica in Greece.
A few youngsters running along the beach, screaming joyfully: Missolonghi, Missolonghi. That was the name of the game, the very popular one among Greek boys at that time. It aped the famous battle between Greek freedom fighters and the Turks. But before starting their fake battle, the boys were already fighting over who played what role. The highly coveted one was that of the famous Greek freedom fighter, the hero who defended Missolonghi in 1823. Botzaris the brave.
Among the boys were two newcomers, Riad and Ahmad the sons of the newly appointed Ottoman governor to Salonica, Reda El-Solh. At a glance the two El-Solh boys grasped the rules of the Greek game. Leaving the other boys to their precast battle, Riad grabbed the wooden swords awaiting the young warriors and proclaimed himself Botzaris the Great.
“You cannot be Botzaris,” said a Greek boy, “you are the son of the Ottoman governor.”
“Well I’ll be Kapitan Pacha, the Turkish admiral who in the end had beaten you all,” replied the governor’s son.
“You cannot be that either. My father told me that you Arabs are no rebels, no fighters, no heroes. You serve under the people who have stolen your countries and your freedom.”
Our Arab boy did not quite understand the Greek child’s words, but he surely felt them deep in his flesh and soul as a disgrace and had an irresistible urge to react.
He took his younger brother’s hand and jumped into the sea to drown all the wooden weapons.
The angry Greek boys followed them and the battle ended in a tragedy which was to become a turning and decisive moment in Riad’s life. His beloved brother Ahmad drowned and his little body buried forever in the alien grave of Salonica.
Riad’s first revolt was against his father, but Reda El-Solh the Ottoman governor explained to his broken hearted son that despite what the Greek boy said, for generations on end his forebears were Arab freedom fighters, but unfortunately fighting is not always rewarded with freedom, it is often punished with more repression.
The new strategy was to infiltrate the structures of the Ottoman Empire and break them from within to emancipate the Arab provinces.
A few months later the governor took his son to Istanbul to meet the Ottoman Sultan. The ruler who knew the boy and was quite fond of him, greeted him gently and lifted him to his lap.
Being seated there on the lap of the mighty Sultan, surrounded by the glitters and gilt of the imperial palace, in short on top of the world, and yet nothing mattered to Riad, the little Arab boy, but the fact that he could not be “Botzaris,” a hero not even in mock battles.
As the officer brought the coffee tray, at a glance Riad decided to avenge his brother’s death and his people’s shame. He pushed the tray as an awkward move and the boiling coffee splashed about burning the Sultan’s hands and staining his studded sword. The stain on the sword was the good omen. This was all the little boy could do at that age and in this place. The only arm in his possession was the cup of boiling coffee and he used it. It didn’t occur to him that he had no choice but to remain silent and obedient. He was not seeking an alibi but an action. It was his first act of rebellion. Thus he became the youngest freedom fighter ever.
From the Sultan’s lap Riad marched to his own freedom and to that of the Arab world. He fathered the independence of Lebanon and became an active member of all liberation movements from Waters to Waters, that is, from Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean to Iraq on the Arabian Gulf.
After the impromptu in the Sultan’s Seraglio, he threw a bomb on the Turkish Wali’s carriage at age thirteen, at age sixteen an Ottoman court sentenced him to be hanged with his father ex governor and ex-member of the Ottoman Parliament. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonement in Anatolia. Until November 22nd 1943 when Riad El-Solh came back from his last jail in Rachaya, a free man to a free country, he had already collected from Turkish and French authorities five death sentences, a dozen life terms and tremendous hardships like hiding in forests and caves weeks on end, escaping in a fisherman’s boat and on a cattle train.
He had it all except resting in a rose garden surrounded by his daughters.
But in the end he had fulfilled his childhood dreams, succeeding where his ancestors and even Botzaris the Great himself had all failed.
Riad El-Solh had even succeeded with a bonus: Lebanon was not only independent in 1943 it became the very first Arab country to accede to independence. It was not an easy task, because at that time the country was labelled the weakest, the least homogenuous, the most precarious of them all.
And yet the first on the rope. That was an omen, once more Lebanon should always lead the way with all the blessings conferred on free souls.
Free Lebanon became the platform for all liberation movements in the Arab world in Riad El-Solh times and after his death.
His legacy was “Lebanon, free country, also Freedom country.”
From 1943 to 1975 there was no better forum in the Arab world for free choice, free speech, free research, free creativity, free enterprise, free breathing. . . and this last item was not the least with the ever growing number of military regimes in the region.
For day after day democratic Lebanon was becoming more and more insular in that sea of dictatorships until it was finally confirmed as Liberty Island. For power seizing by a bunch of ambitious officers in the name of the People anger was never to be scheduled in Lebanese political agenda.
Riad El-Solh used every endeavour to persuade the nation to disentangle the concept of freedom as applied to a country and freedom as applied to men. He would repeatedly preach “Being a citizen of an independent country does not always make you a free man. Only human rights and democracy do. But those blessings do not become effective by decrees only, they should be implemented by all the shareholders, you the people. The People of Lebanon more than others, with its multiple ethnic and religious groups should always keep in mind that fraternity without equality will remain an empty word. The true cement is democracy and the ballot box will remain our best friend: free to choose, free to change. A far better way to soothe our anger than the officers’ tank. Ultimately a popular uprising will always be safer than a take over by a few. . . Believe me there is no such a thing as pawning your freedom and your rights for safety order or stability. It will take bloodshed to take them back.”
Thus spoke Riad El-Solh anytime, anywhere addressing popular rallies of a million as well as chatting with his family around the dinner table. We, his daughters were his latest recruits but we had the privilege of receiving the first flashes of his ideas. He used to think loudly in front of us in spite of our young age. Why not, he was ten when he had learned through a tragedy what it was like to fight and die for freedom. Now he wanted us to learn through awakening and faith how to properly live with it, hence to keep it alive.
He wanted to humanize the notion of freedom: from a passion to a blessing, from a projective fiery quest to a lively multifaceted way of life. For, there is a tremendous difference between freedom as a missing object you have to battle for and freedom at hand which you have to handle knowingly for fear of losing it again by misuse or abuse.
Knowingly means not to live beneath it because you ignore the protection of human rights; not to step over it because you dismiss democracy as codified freedom, which makes it accessible to everyone: seen by the blind, heard by the deaf, obeyed by the mighty and open to the outcast but closed to the outlaw.
With enthusiasm the people of Lebanon followed Riad El-Solh in his dream of making Lebanon the pilot country in the region for democracy, culture and prosperity by keeping the windows wide-opened to ideas, to research and creativeness. Beirut would become little Bagdad in the days of Al-Amin the scholar philosopher-caliph, little Damascus in the days of Abdel Malik the builder-caliph, little Grenada at all times with its innovative taste, beauty and joy.
For this pilot country and hence for the Arabs. Riad’s dreams had no walls.
Living then in Lebanon was a sort of ascent to a better quality of life, a higher self esteem. The two promoters of achievement and progress.
Lebanon was described as little America, the golden land, where all neighbours or otherwise wanted to be.
Among newcomers were the Syrians who resented the first military coup in the Arab world, that of Colonel Husni Al-Zaïm, whose alibi-anger for the coup was the defeat in Palestine of the Syrian army decoyed by its civilian government. But once in power Al-Zaïm did nothing to avenge the lost honour of his army. He had only opened the flood-gates to military coup d’Etat in the Arab world, triggered a series of democracy dropping countries and a wave of Freedom orphan citizens seeking a foster-country. Lebanon as shaped by Riad was one of the most sought after shelters.
One of those Syrians, a member of the last freely elected parliament before Al-Zaïm would tell you: “I decided to stay in Lebanon waiting out for better days in Syria. Besides, parliamentary life is so active in Lebanon with legislation always in the making, with might surrendering more and more to right: no ruler would be above sanctions not even Riad El-Solh, father of the nation. I attend most sessions of the Lebanese parliament.” For that man, being in Lebanon was like extending his mandate in his own parliament and giving himself a new term in democracy.
Another brand of refugees was that Iraqi Jew who would confide gratefully: “After the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, it became hard for a Jew to worship in Baghdad. So I came to Lebanon to remain faithful to both my hebraic creed and my Arab being and culture. In Baghdad I had to drop my Jewish half as related to the new state of Israel, and nonetheless accept to be degraded to half a citizenship. In Israel, if I had followed the trend of the Aliyah, I would have had to drop my Arab half and nonetheless accept implicitly never to acceed to a first rate citizenship because of my origins stigma. Whereas in Lebanon, I was welcome as an Iraqi guest and never discriminated against as a Jew.”
In fact Lebanese Jews had been extra protected during the 1948 Arab Israeli war for fear that some people might confuse the Jews with the Israelis who were fighting the Lebanese army in the south of Lebanon.
The two measures, fighting against the Israelis and protecting the Lebanese Jews were simultaneously taken by Riad El-Solh who had an exact vision of the Zionist danger. In his student days in Istanbul he had known and discussed with a number of Zionist activists and zealots and had acquired the deep conviction that the Idea of Israel as a homeland to the Jews who were nowhere else at home could not be particulary attractive to Arab Jews. They have never felt as being aliens or visiting citizens in their respective countries, and never were they singled out for ill treatment as their European counterpart. The holocaust made them cry on their co-religionist, but at no time made them see it or transpose it as a possible Arab threat. Riad was protecting the Jews of Lebanon not as guest citizens but because he didn’t want any fear to intervene in their lives that would make them question their identity and reach the age of uncertainty and with it the door out of Lebanon. A single Lebanese Jew emigrating not even to Israel, merely to Argentina or Brazil because of ill-treatment and amalgam between an irreprochable Lebanese citizen and an Israeli agressor, just because they both share the same religion, would destabilize Lebanon as a multiconfessional democracy in the making and give a solid alibi to the sectarian state of Israel.
The small Lebanese army was fighting against the Haggana on the southern border, because Riad wanted the Lebanese people to feel concerned and try to keep out of bounds the enemy of today and the distabilizer of tomorrow.
With faith and in spite of its weakness the Lebanese army won one of the few battles where victory was on the Arab side: Al-Malikiah.
This war was to bring a wave of Palestinian refugees to the whole Arab world. One of them would tell you. As a matter of fact my family had left Palestine to X or Z Arab country. But once grown up I chose to come to Lebanon because freedom is not mere rhetoric there. It is true life and we found much more free-handed backing to our struggle than anywhere else. The people of Lebanon has wide-open windows onto the universe. In Lebanon I have learned how to address the world. I became an expert at right and efficient appeals for Palestine, shrewd at deciphering true from false promises. Whereas in neighbouring countries windows if any were of a shorter range, narrower because always shared by the jammings of the brother host.
A Saudi guest of Lebanon would explain. I still live in Saudi Arabia but I spend half of my time in Lebanon, where my daughters are schooled. This was his way to express his yielding to woman’s liberation.
A Kuwaiti would boast I have built the most beautiful mansion in Bhamdoun where I live most of the year. This is his way to proclaim that he was free to choose. He had democracy at home, he was choosing a certain quality of life. . . . And so many others from Somalia to Algeria.
All those Arab guests were singing Freedom Song and the people of Lebanon so proud to give them the tune.
And then came the end of joy and Freedom. Too much of a good thing and Riad was no more, he was assassinated on one of those roads to freedom away from home. He would have repeated what he had always said.
“Dreams have no walls but freedom should have a roof woven with yarns of rules, laws and ethics.”
Riad Knight of Freedom was he the hero of the useless?
No as long as there are free men on earth. And freedom fighters in the south of Lebanon who decided to die for freedom, took up the torch, they will hand it to their sons who will one day open Riad’s book and learn again how.
by Alia El-Solh
Monday, April 11. 2005
Being Osama: Documentary Review
I met Mahmoud Kaabour [director of Being Osama] in Montreal. An ambitious Lebanese [like every Lebanese], who hopes to move the world with his documentaries...
...and has succeeded thus far.
I watched Being Osama and found it worthy of its acclaim, but felt that the characters seemed somewhat surreal, quite a bit off from the norm, which to an ignorant audience, can mislead towards misconceptions of "What is an Arab in North America".
Review by The Daily Star: Being Osama
Lebanese director explores the difficulties of carrying the Al-Qaeda leader's name and being an Arab in Canada in award-winning documentary
by Ramsay Short
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
"How much more does an Arab need to do to become a Canadian," Mahmoud Kaabour says via email from Montreal. The 25-year-old Lebanese who has lived, studied and worked in Canada since 1998 has just returned from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation's Anti-Racism Awards in Alberta. There he received a Certificate of Merit for his documentary film "Being Osama," which aired in February on the prestigious Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's series "The Passionate Eye."
Kaabour was refused permission earlier this month by Canadian Immigration services to visit Harvard University in the United States, where "Being Osama" was one of six documentary films screened at a festival entitled "New Documentaries From The War On Terror."
Fittingly, racism and the difficulties facing Arabs in Canada are exactly what the young director's film is all about.
"It's ironic," he explains, "and so frustrating. Having lived in Canada for such a long time and perfected my English and French and contributed to multi-culturalism with my film, it's absurd that I keep waiting for the day when I'll be considered a permanent resident of Canada."
Kaabour, a Concordia University graduate, was not allowed to travel because he remains an Arab in the eyes of Canadian authorities and not a citizen despite the fact that he has lived in Montreal since he was 19. He has not yet been granted security clearance for his application for permanent residence though he has everything else - medical clearance and assurances from Ottawa that he will be allowed to remain on humanitarian grounds.
"This was the big story that no one picked up on last year when my documentary was first aired. I came here at 19 to study film and Canada grew on me," he explains. "So I submitted an application for immigration in 2001 but it still hasn't received a final ok. If I leave the country my file will be annulled, so I haven't been able to visit my folks or Raouche or Gemmayzeh or any of my favorite places in Beirut for five years now."
Kaabour explained that the Canadian Immigration services will let him go wherever he wants but there is no guarantee he will be allowed to return.
Being an Arab in North America is not easy today. Three-and-a-half years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. and two years since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, if you have not been interned at the pleasure of the American government as an Arab or Muslim, you are likely to have faced obstacles in everything from applying for a driver's license to depositing a check in your name in a bank.
Canada, the more tolerant and generally better-regarded nation for Arabs and Arab immigrants, has also been guilty of impeding Arabs (both Muslims and Christians) in their daily lives.
In Montreal where Kaabour's film is set, there are about 68,000 Arabs, two-thirds of whom are Muslim, according to a 2001 federal census.
Produced by independent Canadian production company Diversus Films, and funded by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) (Kaabour received $309,000 from CBC to make the film, about 50 percent more than the average cost of a CBC documentary) "Being Osama" examines exactly the above subject.
Except that the Arabs involved did not face a backlash because of their skin color, race or religion. They faced adversity because of their name.
"The film was a way for me to evoke memories of my childhood, the weddings, the funerals," says Kaabour who is a Muslim. "I had shit happen to me because of my name after September 11, working for racist Italians - but I didn't want to make a film about myself. I preferred to make it about a whole community through the Osama hook."
"Being Osama" explores the lives of six Montreal residents with highly diverse backgrounds, interests, and personalities, united by their first name and by their experience as Arabs living in Canada in the post-September 11 world.
It is an intelligent, well-made story that raises questions in the viewer without banging them over the head with the dilemmas faced by the Osamas involved. Not only does it touch on the subject of racism in Canada, "Being Osama" does much to combat that racism by portraying the humanity of the subjects and meaning of identity through their Arab names, rock and roll, religion, Middle East politics, and indeed weddings and funerals.
The film follows the subjects beginning with the launching of the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003 to the anti-WTO demonstrations in late July of that year, and offers an intimate look at the evolving lives of each of them.
There is Osama Sarraf, a Palestinian-Canadian who is a successful DJ and aspiring rock star, pursuing a chance at his big break. There is Osama Naggar, an Egyptian-Canadian who is an opera expert and major importer of classical CDs, as he celebrates his birthday and finally makes peace with his identity as a Quebecois.
Then there is the diminutive Osama al-Jundi, a Lebanese-Canadian who runs a Muslim school and holds onto his roots and traditions as he cares for his students and lives through the sudden loss of his father. One of the more outspoken of the six is Osama Demerdash, a politically active Egyptian-Canadian who battles injustice in the streets and in the courts even as he wrestles with his own future in Canada.
Osama Dorias is an Iraqi-Canadian political science student who embraces Canadian life and dreams of being a diplomat while pondering the proper way to be a "cool Muslim." And finally there is Osama Shalabi, a composer and musician from an Egyptian family who provides music and a narrative commentary throughout the journey.
None of them look like your typical post-September 11 Osama bin Laden-standardized image of an Arab - Osama Sarraf has dreadlocks and goes to church, for example.
"It was important to show the fact that none of the Osamas match the usual stereotype of the person with a beard sitting on a camel with a gun," Kaabour says.
All the Osamas have dealt with personal attacks or problems because of their names.
Shalabi had his bank account frozen after attempting to deposit a cheque in his name. Demerdash's colleagues in a computer firm tried to get him fired. Sarraf saw his career as a musician suffer with rejections from record companies. And Naggar says poignantly at one point "My name was stolen from me."
"Being Osama" has gotten a lot of recognition, attracting around 500,000 viewers when it was aired last month in Canada. It won Best Documentary at the University Film and Video Conference in the United States in 2004 and consequently was selected for the screening at Harvard. No small achievement for Kaabour, who was unable to speak about his film at the University's festival.
Quoted in The Montreal Gazette, one of the assistant curators at Harvard's film archive responsible for selecting "Being Osama" for screening, said of the film: "I'm fascinated as an American to find that some of the challenges we face are washing over into Canada," adding that the American public broadcaster PBS sadly would not show such films as it was under political and financial pressure and couldn't afford to be controversial.
Kaabour, however, is unbowed and hopes to get his film to Lebanon and the Arab world this year.
"I hope we can get it to the likes of the Docudays film fest in Beirut, and the Dubai Film Festival might be interested. I am also trying to get it to the Ismailia Documentary Film Festival and am negotiating with Al-Jazeera to get it aired too."
For those interested in watching the film now, "Being Osama" can be purchased through the U.S. based distribution company www.arabfilm.com
Kaabour's next project is a film about his grandfather - one of the legendary Egyptian diva Oum Kalthoum's violinists: "He left behind him seven beautiful violin improvisations recorded on a little tape-recorder which I had remastered here in Canada."
As for Kaabour's status as a permanent Canadian citizen he may leave whether he can return to Montreal or not. "I will be returning to the Middle East this year whether the immigration file is concluded or not since enough damage has occurred, in my opinion.
"I miss Beirut a lot," he said. don't we all -dailystar
Being Osama can be purchased online at: www.arabfilm.com