Patriarchy: Sex work and Body work.

The following text has been first written by Islam Khatib on her personal Facebook account and has been republished here following her authorization.

Two stories from Lebanon & Bosnia:

1- An ex-sex worker told me about her mid-nights working at a plastics factory (somewhere near Tripoli)
She said that the atmosphere was bitter and fraught with conflict between workers, supervisors and managers, and it was hell for Lebanese and non-Lebanese men and women alike, but she said that the women she worked with were under constant attack. She said she was always tired so I asked her why and she broke it down for me: “Well, I used to go home and bring the kids to school the same time my husband usually gets home for lunch, and he got really upset if didn’t make him something and stayed up and ate with him. The kids used to back home from school at 3, and then I had to make supper and clean the kitchen. I used to sleep from 7 until 9, and then got up for work. Funny how working in a nasty brothel was easier than working in a factory.” She said that once she got to the factory, she and other women were barraged with verbal abuse from whoever the supervisor happened to be. She told me a “funny” story about this religious supervisor who didn’t think God wanted women in the workplace, and constantly conspired to have the women on his shift fired.
That factory closed ages ago, but this shit still happens in ALMOST every local “factory” or “shop” or ”offices” that happens to hire non-Lebanese women or Lebanese women who have no one to turn to.

2- A Bosnian woman who came to Lebanon with an “artist” passport (also related to sex-work, if you don’t know about the “artist passport” please google it) told me about an incident that happened in 2013. She decided that she wanted to give up her Bosnian citizenship and take the German. She had to go several times to the Bosnian embassy 70 miles from where she lived. They’re the only ones that are responsible for her federal state and they know how dependent people are on them, there are no alternatives, apart from traveling to Bosnia, which is no alternative, either. So she requested the deprivation of citizenship and brought a ton of papers to look at. One guy in his 40ies sat face to face with her and checked on them. So in one of the papers it was listed that she used to work as “an artist” in Lebanon and then he asked her “Have you ever tried older guys?”

Does this remind you of an official institution that casually harasses non-Lebanese women in Lebanon?
Such situations are especially vile, because those guys know how much we need them. And there’s no one in charge of them. Well, the state, but c’mon, this is a culture where they would tell harassed “what’s your problem? Consider it a compliment”. So, back to that lady’s case, had that official had a bad day, he could’ve told her “no older guys? okay, no paper work done for you” and she wouldn’t have had anyone to turn to.
This literally happens here EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Then comes your typical sexist man and goes like “looool at this feminist defending sex workers stupid silly masculine go get married”

Forever laughing at the shit that sexist men say with a satisfied grin, that fades as his righteous anger subsides and the blood rushing in his ears gets replaced with the ever present, all encompassing silence of an empty life.

On Al-Manar ban and Censorship.

I grew up with al Manar always on the TV in my house, and to this day Anti-Israeli and Anti-Saudi and pro-Resistance songs reach my ears, my changing positions made me gradually reject al Manar and almost everything behind the channel. To me it’s only a channel of propaganda, brain-washing the pro Hezbollah followers to stand with the intervention in Syria, which I passionately oppose.

The ban against al Manar by first Arabsat and recently the Egyptian-based Nilesat is of course a political ban, another step in the growing tensions between Hezbollah and the governments of the Gulf. It’s the ban of Hezbollah propaganda from other propagandists in the region.

Despite being a direct propagandist, Al Manar should be able to broadcast in the “Arab world”, even if the channel isn’t completely harmless in my point of view, because it pushes you to support Assad (despite all his documented war crimes and his bloody repression against the people of Syria) and thus dehumanizing the struggle in Syria.

Al Manar ban makes you question censorship itself. Censorship is always about politics and power when you receive it or give it. This interpretation may seem simplistic, but if you have the ability to censor, then you have either institutions under your hand to help you ban your enemy, or you have to ability to wield forceful and violent direct power against the institutions, such as physical attacks against newspapers and TV stations that some people don’t agree with.

And isn’t self-censorship also about power? The power of your context to control you without even telling you, by sending you signals to stop you? And I don’t want to enter the structural model of Freud.

I won’t judge censorship and label it to be “good or bad”. But I believe censorship should be wielded when some media become too dangerous, and I always think about the Rwandan genocide here and the example of the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC) (English: “Thousand Hills Free Radio and Television”). The Radio played a significant role in growing the hatred against the Tutsi, and a study by the Harvard university found out that the radio incited murder against 9,9% of the murders against the Tutsi! That doesn’t mean that the ban of the radio would have prevented the genocide, or even the 9,9% of the genocide. But shouldn’t dangerous stations and TV’s be stopped? Shouldn’t one try to stop a person shouting that we should kill all of X, Y and Z? Would that be censorship? Or just common sense?

If al Manar employees were directly shouting to kill a whole people X, Y, and Z, then I would happy to see it banned, and even shut down. You could argue that they already do so with “Al mawt li Isra2il” and “Al mawt li Amreeka”, death to Israel and America. But the TV broadcasting it, and the hundreds of thousands of people shouting it every year, are saying Israel not “Israelis” and America, not “Americans”.  One must understand why so many people voice that in Lebanon, and the world.

The question then is what do you do with the channels and newspapers, consciously directing hatred and blame against a certain people? (I can think of Fox News here). You fight them with your thoughts, protests, pressure. You don’t want to help the illusion that these people are alienated by effectively and directly alienating them with censorship. The victimization that will occur will only help them.  One should fight not to censor these kind of channels, like al-Manar and most of the Lebanese channels really, but to render them as objects of pariah. Those will eventually disappear in isolation, and shut themselves down. You do that with alternative media, voices that will not educate and patronize the “others” but that will produce valuable debates, questions and information.

The whole idea can be summarized as such: to fight shit, produce non shit. (Or at least try).


Gay and Religious: Stuck Between Ashura and Pride.

This post was originally written by A.I. on his blog here and has been republished on Levant Chronicles with the writer’s permission.  You can follow the writer on Twitter. @Fairuzist 

(Feel free to listen to Shim El Yasmine while reading this, it’s what I did writing it)

I have a love-hate relationship with Shim El Yasmine by Mashrou’ Lelia. It’s one of my favourites but at the same time it’s often played at the start of my self-hating sessions at 2 am. As it plays I often imagine myself laying in bed with a guy my age, covered from the waist down with a white blanket. He’s got tan skin, a nice scruff and messy hair. It’s 10 am, on a weekend in an apartment over looking some part of Beirut. And I’m laying there my head against his bare chest listening to his soft heart beat while he runs his hand through my hair and down my back. It seems nice. I feel like there’s a sense of safety there. I imagine breathing him in, kissing his scruff, his neck, his bare torso and making it all the way down and taking him in. This is what Shim El Yismine brings up in me. Not sex. But a life with a guy I love. A happy life where I feel loved and wanted with him. Maybe adopt a kid with him. I feel like we’d name him Mahdi. After I’ve had the song on repeat, I decide there’s no point in agonizing myself with fantasies, I shut down Itunes and finish my assignments to get through, yet another day. After all, what is it they say? Don’t sacrifice heaven for this world? They want us to die everyday in this world for an ending that may not even be there. It’s a joke.

It took me several years to come to terms with the fact that I was gay. Those years were scattered with days where I would lay in my bed at night crying because I didn’t feel right. Days where i would pray to god to just make me feel something towards girls. Anything. But god never replied. So for the longest time, I felt alone. Even with all the gay scene going on in the West across the net. I was never able to find someone from home I could somewhat relate to. Recently, however, on twitter I came across a bunch of queer people from back home. While I don’t know any of them personally, after growing up feeling so alone, it was nice to find someone similar. Ironically, I also follow people who are somewhat religious. Though for the sake of my own sanity, they’re limited to 1 or 2. You find that religious and queer people are often distributed to either end of the spectrum in terms of religion.

You have the religious folk, who on a constant basis shame your existence, call you slurs, degrade you and proudly flaunt their homophobia. Even though I can almost guarantee their brother is gay or their cousin is a lesbian. But what do I know. And then to the other side of the spectrum, the LGBQT+ folk. Queer people, from what I’ve noticed at least, often either hold religion to a minimal value or have quit completely. I both understand and envy their courage. And I find myself unable to relate completely to either of them. I’m stuck in the middle. Between those who commemorate Ashura, an event remembering the sacrifice of the prophet’s family and those who celebrate their queerness with pride. I feel I should reinforce that I’m talking about religious or queer people from back home. Lebanon and the Arab world.

Being able to comfortably look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re gay is relieving. Finally feeling genuine support for the LGBQT+ community was freeing. How could you not when you know that those people have struggled the same way you did. However, my support for the queer community is limited. My support is there for everyone except myself. You don’t need to be a genius to guess why. Religion has always been restrictive. And people have often said ‘just leave’. And I wish I could. I really do.

During one of those crappy days during which I feel like dying, I often question god’s existence. Why would he reveal himself through the prophets and miracles to our ancestors but not us? Why could our ancestors get proof but we were supposed to have blind faith? I never found an answer. But as I was looking it up, I came across an answer which stated that proof of god differs between people. There are people who have blind faith. There are also those who reflect off of things to find proof of his existence. Growing up shia, I find god’s existence in Ashura. I have listened and cried over the sacrifice of the prophet’s family. And I see god in their actions. I see god in their faith. It reaffirms my belief in god because it raises a question that how could someone be so willing to die and send his family to a fatal fate if they weren’t certain of his existence and the path he supposedly drew for them.

So here I am stuck. Because in the days where I would think of pressing my body against another guy or feeling his lips against mine, religion constantly nags at you and entraps you in a vicious cycle. Religious verses flow through your head reminding you of the fire and torture you’ll endure on judgment day for a fucking kiss. It’s a vicious cycle being gay and religious. He makes you gay, and isolates you. He reminds you that you’ll go to hell if you act on how he himself created you. And the build up of being depressed and isolated increases more and more. And when you get to a point where you just want to die, where you contemplate suicide on a daily basis. He comes back and tells you once more you’ll go to hell if you do it. You’ll go to hell for every fucking thing you do. It’s a fucking vicious cycle that I can’t escape. All because I have genuine faith. Faith that sometimes makes me sick. While Hamed sings Shim El Yasmine for an ex-partner, for me it represents someone I will never get to be with. Because I would have wished for there to be someone I can be with and keep close. For me to introduce him to my parents. To cook for him, and clean for him and raise his kids. But he’s somewhere off limits and so am I. And I hope someday, this isn’t the case anymore.

If you actually took the time to read this. Thank you.
If you’re queer and surpassed the point where you care about god and religion. I envy you. And I’m happy for you.
And in case you’re like me, I hope we find a way out of this crushing sensation.
If you’re homophobic then I hope this helps you understand our struggle.

The Lebanese civil war 41 years later.

This is not a post to try to explain the Lebanese Civil War, but to remember, and to eventually move on.

We must remember the absurdity of war, death, destruction, and the subsequent Nihilism. We must take a look at our past and be shocked by the amount of nonsense that this country has witnessed over 15 years, and is still witnessing. The war can’t be clearly explained, lines could follow, the Palestinian question can enter the scheme, Syria, Saudi Arabia, France, the Murabitoun, the Christian extreme-right, the nationalism, fascism, extremism. We must remember Israel and its rain of bombs.

We must remember their faces, Geagea, Pierre, Bachir and Amine Gemayel, Nabih Berri, Hassan Nasrallah, Kamal and Walid Jumblatt, Camille and Dany Chamoun, Yasser Arafat, we must save their faces and paste their images into our heads. These are the faces we should look at with not only anger and indignation, but pity, and a strong wish for fair justice.

We must not try to explain too much the war, but we must analyse what has kept the war lords of yesterday as our politicians today. We must look at the Taef agreement and spit on it. We must deeply think and explain their tools to stay in power: neoliberalism, despotism, clientelism, and of course, the sectarian system, the use of religion, God, and finally, identitarian politics. The use of the identities to rule over one own identity and to fight with others.

Most importantly, we must completly reject and fight the Lebanese identity to explain our so-called importance regarding the Syrian refugees or Palestinian refugees, or really, everyone and everything non-Lebanese. This is racism and lead to apparently innocent statements as: “Lebanese have more rights to fair pay and fair jobs than the Syrian refugees, it’s our country” This statement could be easily transformed into “The Lebanese state can’t allow other Lebanese or non-Lebanese to mock our symbols, the Cedar, the flag, the national anthem”. And that already exists by law. Palestinians and Syrians often laugh on this, saying they have less rights than the Lebanese flag, which is true.

We must fight and stop everyone talking in the name of their sect, as if he was designated to be their spokesperson . “Nahna l shi3a, nahna l sunna, nahna l massi7iye, nahna l druze”. “We the Shia, we the Sunna, we the Christians, we the Druze”. If you hear someone talking like this, just stop him. It’s easy, I do it. And of course, a so called political leader of the ruling class isn’t more representative of his sect. So reject them.

We must remember, and hope it won’t happen again. “Tenzakar w ma ten3ad”. We must remember the 17,000 disappeared, those are mostly forgotten. We must fight to retrieve them, or at least I fear, their bodies.

We won’t have a better Lebanon if we keep following those “leaders”, and if we don’t think about an alternative system, not only a secular one, but a socialist one, one that wouldn’t allow the oppressor and the oppressed game, one that would allow less differences between rich and poor (and eventually none?). Let’s reject the shallow and lazy statement that “It’s has always been like that”. No it hasn’t always been like that.

Finally, let’s not exclude the Syrian and Palestinian refugees from society, alienation won’t help anyone, and will also trigger more tensions between the different people of this country. We shall not feel kinder if we do, or even prouder, those politicians just need to be more humane, but they won’t, so let’s oust them.

“Ma nrabe7 7alna jmile” if we include Syrians, Palestinians, migrant workers, everything non-Lebanese, let’s not applaud ourselves. Let’s go beyond nationalities. It’s our role not to exlude them first. Let’s not be patronising about it.