Sunday, November 05, 2006


- Rafii can I have half a pound turkey slices?
- Sure, now how are you? Are your parents alright? I was asking your friend about you.
- I’m fine. Perfectly fine and so will Lebanon be. You know what Rafi, everybody in the Arabic world looks down at Lebanese as people who are not serious just because they are ‘liberal’. You have made your share of wise comments to me about LBC and Lebanese women over the years. Where do you come off? I hope you realize that when faced with circumstances like that, Lebanese people have more strength respect and will of power, men and women alike, than any other Arabic people. As women, we fight for our life the same way Palestinian women do and we are as respectful as Saudi women are but when we live we live honestly and we have nothing to hide. Our men that you dismiss as weak have been through hell for decades now. Lebanon, as you seem to so conveniently forget as you write it off as a party land, has paid the price for the cowardice of its neighbors. We might party hard and seek entertainment to get our mind off of decades of war and suffering and economical disasters. So spare me your concern.
- Ok. Well take care of yourself and I hope your family is fine.

A scenario that took place last July. I stepped out of the store with tears in my eyes not knowing what came over me. The poor Rafii didn’t deserve this reaction. It’s true that I had been so frustrated with his chauvinistic attitude against women, with his judgmental attitude towards Lebanese people, with his altered reaction when he first heard me talking in Arabic to a friend and with his marriage proposal to me, even when he has a wife and kids back home, so that, in his words, he can make a better woman out of me as if I’ve been casually pursuing my studies here and trying to make a life for myself only waiting for a man from Yemen to come and save me from my meaningless life and make a ‘better woman’ out of me.

Let me give you another example. I got to know this Egyptian club owner and this Palestinian DJ at this club I like to go to in nyc. I was faced with the same patronizing attitude the minute I said I was Lebanese. It usually is reflected through comments like; Lebanese women are the best people, I would love to go to Lebanon and live in jounieh but I heard downtown is catching up. To these guys, a man who serves alcohol for a living and doesn’t like to go into the Egyptian politics because ‘he’s over it’ and a Palestinian who help people shake it for a living and is also ‘over the Palestinian issues’, being a woman, I must be easy or cheap because I am Lebanese and I party. The point was made through so many comments, trust me.

My real frustration though was not about this attitude towards Lebanese women or women in general. I don’t like to talk about equality between men and women. I think feminism is an oxymoron. Women should not be asking for equality, they should just act it and be convinced with it. Some problems should be solved organically and are better not being dwelled on and reinforced. What frustrates me is the way we are typically perceived, as Lebanese men and women, by the Arabic world. I started talking about that before by describing the beautiful mosaic in Lebanon but seeing this made me want to elaborate here.

As I said this is not about the way women are particularly viewed and I really wouldn’t let these situations normally bother me. I think we have much important issues as a people to worry about and more pressing differences as a nation to reconcile but this article was too much. Now we have Americans describing us as cheap because we don’t do things behind closed doors or under the 3abaya (as some women in Saudi Arabia do as I have heard and seen in our same downtown) and we don’t hide our love for life and for partying. Is it me or just a couple of months ago we were portrayed as a replica of Taliban women. So now we are the extreme of that, we’re a generation of silly women who are haunting men so that we’ll have a chance of a life. The men who live at home are also portrayed as lost causes with no ambitions that are not worth pursuing by these haunting women. The research behind the article was a couple of interviews with a couple of teenagers and the venue was, well, one nightclub.

I’m a competent person in society. I pay my bills and I aim high. I care for others and I like to be informed. It also so happens that I love to dance and, yes, I show skin when I go out to clubs. It happens that, aside from sweating over the bench in lab, I broke a sweat on top of bars in most of the clubs in Lebanon and a lot of major cities in the world. It so happens that, as opposed to the vulgarity one comes across in nyc clubs, the clubs in Lebanon still maintain a level of class. It also happen that, from what I hear, other Arabic countries, like UAE, are following the trend and emulating the free spirit and fun loving life style of the Lebanese people. It so happens at the same time that only Lebanese people end up with the same reputation over and over again.

I do acknowledge that there is a general feeling of despair in our beloved country and that there’s a shift in values and an exaggerated care for the materialistic. There’s a global sense of depression and an inclination towards business and a quick buck as opposed to intellect, in some cases. We all know that this feeling is a direct result of being in and out of wars for the past decades. This is the main reason we delve into a life of immediate fun. What’s the excuse of the other Arabic countries? There is a continual feeling of frustration with our country and our government and the impotent repetitive political and economical events that might leave one wanting to live for the moment and to look for easier faster solutions. There’s a sense of defeat and lack of dreams. There’s a lack of believing in better days. Again, what’s the excuse of other Arabic countries? Dictatorships? Well revolt. We have done more than you did even when it wasn’t enough. Globalization? Fight it. Lack of industrial power? They certainly had a chance to prosper intellectually yet our universities remain the best in the ME, for once. You think you’re suffering from the Arabic Nakba still, we certainly took the plunge for that. You think you’re better and you have the right to criticize us? Stop emulating the Lebanese life style then, back us up and protect this little country in times of wars, and maybe then you can earn a higher moral ground and teach us how we should cope with stress and live our lives. Until then, keep quiet.

I think the image about Lebanon in the Arabic world started in the 50’s and 60’s. Those were different times in the Arabic world. Lebanon was viewed as the most ‘liberal’. That, for some reason, was synonymous to the least serious country. Throughout the wars we’ve risen and celebrated life over and over again. All the while maintaining our worldly status and our level of talent and intellect. The only impression we seem to leave on neighboring Arabic countries is the one left by our entertainers and our free media. The hypocrisy of this situation is that most of these Arabic countries live and celebrate quietly. The close mindedness is that just because we reflect an image of life and fun, we are considered cheap and far from worries. Just because we dress as we wish and we party and we live, we are labeled as non-traditional, non-religious and silly, men and women. We are criticized because we have gay clubs because homosexuality is still not accepted in the Arabic world. Do other Arabic countries have a lower percentage of homosexuality? I sure don’t think so but again we don’t hide. Again, just because a man cares about his appearance and a woman dresses as she wishes and act with confidence and independence doesn’t make him a weak boy and doesn’t make her a whore. My sister prays and goes out and in Ramadan she doesn’t drink at the club since she fasts. She’s a true believer and I always admired that in her. I wish most of the people who don’t leave the mosque and judge others would have half as much faith as she does.

Seriously now, where do they come off?

But anyway, there are issues far more important to worry about like Saddam’s death sentence coinciding with the mid-term elections for once.
(pic: a mosque and a church in downtown, close to where i live, right across the street is my favorite club in Beirut)


Anonymous said...

Ahh Mirvat, writing up a steam. Good though, very good. From the precious question of liberty of woman to the pondering musings of Lebanons charisma.
I enjoyed reading this, so should anyone else ... and get informed along the way.

palo-girl said...

this is the first time that a blog has me cry. and it's not even the type of topic that makes me cry!

i just remembered how extremely proud i was when Hezbollah was the first in YEARS to stand up to Israel. i was just SO filled with pride, and so touched. for years, palestinians have been something like the forgotten people, who are only remembered in prayers. it was so amazing that someone finally stood up and acknowledged what the palestinians were going through, and cared enough to put the lives of it's country's people at stake. and i was even more awed and humbled by the fact that we NEVER heard one complaint, from a sunni, shia, or christian, lebanese man or woman - throughout the whole war. it was so beautiful, as they all stood behind Hezbollah, and supported it, even though they could have easily said what all the other arabs said, 'hey, it's not our fight. isn't praying for them enough?' not even weeks after the start of the war, when thousands had fled their homes, not ONE voice was heard to oopose the war. for that, i will always have a huge respect for Lebanon and it's people.

i don't think that it's any of my business what the lebanese people do apart from that.. kol wa7ed beino w bein rabbo. and to add to your comments on the arab countries: illi beito min azaz, ma yirmeesh byoot innas bil 7ajar! the other arab countries are less than perfect - and that's a huge understatement.

Mirvat said...

i was so happy reading this, thank you. i know not everybody sees us like that but it's been a general view that we had to live with and you can imagine how, as a woman, you would be offended by that. it's bad enough to try and explain that you are still to be respected, as an arabic woman, even if you dress a 'certain way' or lead your life the way you want, let alone being lebanese.

people forget so fast having seen us go through hell in times of war and only remember what they see on LBC in times of peace and they will do it yet once again.

when i called my mom during the war, i was saying to her haven't we had enough, she answered, yes so now imagine how the palestinians feel. they go through this son a daily basis and it's terror on a more individual level and it's been going on for much longer. for that i don't like to dwell on our issues palo-girl. just needed to vent :)

Leafless Eve said...

Nice post... We are like any other country, we have the liberals and fanatics, the straights and the homosexuals, the only difference is that we don't HIDE what we are. Other Arab countries do the same things we do, but all in hiding. They all live accodring to "everything is ok as long as no one knows about it" attitude...
We are what we are, and we aren't afraid to show it.