On Marriage by Khalil Gibran

The Collapse of a Tradition, from Sacred to Profane: The Abolishment of the Institution of Marriage

by George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D.

In the Middle East, in general, gender equality, love, sex, marriage, emotional relationships, and the proper place of women in society and in the workplace are still issues of debatable outcome and still draw mixed interpretations and polemic conclusions. Simple rights, whether a woman should be allowed to drive, to walk into a mall unescorted, to openly date and be free to choose a mate, and to climb the corporate ladder and lead a company, such topics can still fuel serious debates and bring down questionable consequences. Of course, there are cases, in many Arab countries, where the few have dared to challenge the tradition and break the norm. However, these are rare instances where a woman, or a group of women have been bold and “wild” to take such dangerous steps. Overwhelmingly, women still lag behind and remain treated as second class citizens.

I have spent the last six months in Lebanon and have witnessed firsthand the destruction of what is commonly held as the sacred “marriage institution.” Of course, there are couples who fall in love and fight for their togetherness and try to make it the old fashion way, by earning the right to a successful marriage and a happy family, but by and large, marriage has become a commodity, a sort of contract that should yield a lucrative mutual gain, a connection with benefits, at best, a necessary evil that in some cases is performed under social, parental or economic pressures. Even further, unfortunately, it has become a monetized, materialistic show of wealth intended to keep up appearances while in reality; it is rather void of romance and any traces of love burning in the heart of either partner. (more…)

Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr celebrate the departure of US troops from Sadr City last year

‘The near future of Iraq is dark’: Warning from Muqtada al-Sadr – the Shia cleric whose word is law to millions of his countrymen

by Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, November 29, 2013

The future of Iraq as a united and independent country is endangered by sectarian Shia-Sunni hostility says Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia religious leader whose Mehdi Army militia fought the US and British armies and who remains a powerful figure in Iraqi politics. He warns of the danger that “the Iraqi people will disintegrate, its government will disintegrate, and it will be easy for external powers to control the country”.

In an interview with The Independent in the holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south-west of Baghdad – the first interview Mr Sadr has given face-to-face with a Western journalist for almost 10 years – he expressed pessimism about the immediate prospects for Iraq, saying: “The near future is dark.”

Mr Sadr said he is most worried about sectarianism affecting Iraqis at street level, believing that “if it spreads among the people it will be difficult to fight”. He says he believes that standing against sectarianism has made him lose support among his followers.

Mr Sadr’s moderate stance is key at a moment when sectarian strife has been increasing in Iraq – some 200 Shia were killed in the past week alone. For 40 years, Mr Sadr and religious leaders from his family have set the political trend within the Shia community in Iraq. Their long-term resistance to Saddam Hussein and, later, their opposition to the US-led occupation had a crucial impact.

Mr Sadr has remained a leading influence in Iraq after an extraordinary career in which he has often come close to being killed. Several times, it appeared that the political movement he leads, the Sadrist Movement, would be crushed.

He was 25 in 1999 when his father, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, a revered Shia leader, and Mr Sadr’s two brothers were assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s gunmen in Najaf. He just survived sharing a similar fate, remaining under house arrest in Najaf until 2003 when Saddam was overthrown by the US invasion. He and his followers became the most powerful force in many Shia parts of Iraq as enemies of the old regime, but also opposing the occupation. In 2004, his Mehdi Army fought two savage battles against American troops in Najaf, and in Basra it engaged in a prolonged guerrilla war against the British Army which saw the Mehdi Army take control of the city. (more…)

The historic town of Byblos in Lebanon

بمطعم بيبلوس يا غصون ميلي

by George El-Hage
[This poem was delivered in the Byblos Restaurant in NY City during a Zajal debate between me and Youssef Abdel Samad and attended by a large audience including the Lebanese and Saudi Ambassadors. This was the opening poem and as usual, it is a love poem in the classical format addressed to the audience and describes a Lebanese beauty where the imagery is inspired by the country itself.]

بمطعم بيبلوس يا غصون ميلي
صوبي وعاحبابي سلميلي

قولي لن نشّف الدمع بعيوني
مرّ الهجر وسنينو طويلي

ويا سمرة عارفك انو حنوني
وما بتتكحلي الا بميلي

كحلة عينتينك يا عيوني
احلا عطور من احلى خميلي

عنقك مشقة الارزه المصوني
وصدرك طلعة بلادي الجميلي

عيونك لونها من بحر جوني
وشعرك نسمة جنوبي العليلي

زرعتك ورد احمر عا جفوني
بقلبي فتّح زهور الفضيلي

كوني وين ما بدّ ك تكوني
بتبقي خمرة الحب الاصيلي

انتِ للوحي بليلة جنوني
شعر وخمر… لا تكوني بخيلي

اعطيني من شفاف الحمر موني
شفافك للصلا افضل متيلي

وعنك بالجسد لو بيعدوني
بتبقى الروح ملكك عالقليلي

ومجد فقرا وروما لو عطوني
ومملكة العروش المستحيلي

وتحت الارض لولا بيدفنوني
لما شفافك تغرّد باسمي
ليكِ برجع وقلبي دليلي.

Lebanese House by J. Matar

Poem by George El-Hage

كنّا ابتدأنا

عادتْ لنا الرؤيا وأبكانا اللقاءْ
طفلان لا يشفيهما غير البكاءْ

عادت لنا الأيامُ مزهرةً
ما همّنا الحسّادُ إنْ حسدوا.. سواء

فأبكي.. ولا تخشَي.. على كتفي
أشتاقُ أن تبكي على كتفي سماء

ما أروعَ اللحظاتِ تجمعنا
طيران عن أشواقنا ضاق الفضاء

هذي يدي ذوبي براحتها
عطراً ولوناً بعض بهجته الضياء

وتساقطي سحباً على عطشي
السيف تواقٌ إلى لون الدماء

يا ديمتي يا الآه من وتري
يا البالَ مرسوما بأنفاس الصفاء

إني لأشعر إذ أضاجعكِ
أني أضاجع كل أجناس النساء

أشياؤك الكانت تراودني
ظلّت وعوداً دونها غصص اشتهاء

The artificial polarization of “communities of suffering”: when political violence paves the way to a common ground

by Estella Carpi

I still remember when the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, in the speech he held on occasion of the Martyr’s Day on 12th November 2012, used the term munafis (rival) to indicate the Lebanese opposition parties, instead of ‘adu (enemy), which is only used by the party to point to their enemy par excellence, the Zionist entity. This detail helps create a picture of the Lebanese political scenario of the last two years, in the constant attempt of local parties to maintain relative stability within the country’s boundaries, in spite of the aging bloodshed in neighbouring Syria.

In the currently increasing insecurity of life in Lebanon, community as an interpretation grid – and specifically the “belonging” to a given community – seems to be, again, a sine qua non of any understanding of local suffering, historical scars, and individual worldviews. Community, meant as a primordial notion, has always been used as a protective identity shelter in time of crisis: Lebanon constitutes the perfect historical case in point. As such, community is imagined by all of us as a comforting source for empathy and solidarity, particularly in the chronicity of a fragmented and flimsy state sovereignty. After the bombing in Dahiye – as the southern suburbs of Beirut are locally called – last 15th August, and in Tripoli, in North Lebanon, last 23rd August, all residents apparently have come to reshape two separate communities of suffering. (more…)

Blast at al-Taqwa Mosque in Tripoli, Lebanon

The mosque in Islam is known as a place of prayer. Since the very inception of Islam it has also been a place of death, indeed murder. It is reported that Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was killed as he was praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa in Iraq by a fellow Muslim. Today in Tripoli, Lebanon, explosions at two mosques killed at least 27 people and injured hundreds. One of the blasts occurred near the al-Taqwa Mosque, where a Salafi preacher was praying, in the Abu Ali Square as those attending were leaving following Friday afternoon prayers. Another blast hit the al-Salam Mosque in the center of Tripoli. The reason? Yet another repeat of the intra-Islamophobia of one group of Muslims politically opposed to another group of Muslims.

When Ali was hit with a poisonous sword blade, he urged his sons and followers not to seek revenge on the Kharijites, the group to which the man who attacked him belonged, but to the man himself. But Ali was a better man than his followers. It seems that the attack on the Sunni mosque was tit-for-tat for the blast earlier this month in southern Beirut in the stronghold of Hezbullah. And the cycle continues, not only here, but in Iraq where it is almost a daily occurrence this summer.

There is a twisted logic here, the notion that someone who is clearly of the same religion is also someone that can be mercilessly slaughtered at prayer. Is there no one who will pray for peace and who will set aside political partisanship to work for peace? (more…)

Rivoli Square, Beirut, Lebanon, ca. 1960

First Impressions of Lebanon in June 2013

By George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D., Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature

In 2002, I published my book, The Return of the Hero and the Resurrection of the City. In this poetry book about Lebanon, I borrowed the tragic image of Virgil’s Aeneas who had left his city of Troy in ashes burning behind him as he carried his father on his shoulder and held his son’s hand and marched forward to the new world where he was destined to build Rome and establish a new world order. My saga of self-imposed exile mirrors that of Aeneas’s in many ways with one major difference: I wanted to come back to my destroyed city, to Beirut, to my Troy, in spite of the temptations of my sweet exile abroad. The burning question was: When? How long will the war last and when will peace reign again? Was I really waiting for Godot?

To have experienced life in pre-war Lebanon in the sixties and early seventies, when Lebanon was the jewel of the Mediterranean, was a time that is unforgettable. Every moment remained deeply engraved in my memory during the 37 years that I spent in the United States. I kept insisting on staying away while Lebanon kept persisting in its suicidal lifestyle torn between nationalism , Arabism, Palestinianism, Islamism, Lebanization, Westernization, globalization and many other “isms” that went on bleeding it to death and dislocating its citizens and scattering them across the globe.

Thirty-seven years later it dawned on me, what am I waiting for? Am I waiting for Lebanon to become a powerful, strong country with a stable central government? Am I waiting for all of its numerous political parties to unify under one leadership or for all of its religious factions to denounce their allegiances and pray under one dome? Am I waiting for the rest of the world and for the friendly and neighboring countries, superpowers and faraway countries to denounce their claim on Lebanon and leave it alone, independent, free and self-governed? No, my friend, this shall not come to pass. After all, when was Lebanon ever in charge of its own destiny and master of its internal affairs or its foreign policy? (more…)

ebanese Hezbollah supporters hold a picture of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (L), Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and his late father President Hafez al-Assad (C) in Bint Jbeil on September 22, 2012 (AFP)

[This post was first written a month ago and recently published in Middle East Muddle on Anthropology News.]

The bullet and bomb-blast battle of the bullies is raging in Syria. The biggest bully is Bashar al-Asad, son of Hafez al-Asad who in February, 1982, sent his troops into the city of Homs and slaughtered between 10,000-40,000 civilians who dared to oppose his dictatorial rule. Hafez has slain his thousands, Bashar his tens of thousands. One estimate, reported by Reuters, estimates that between 94,000 and 120,000 Syrians have died in the wake of the Arab Spring that toppled other long-standing dictator regimes. Over a million and half Syrians are refugees who have fled the fighting to neighboring countries, where many do not find even the most basic humanitarian aid. Millions within Syria are in desperate shape, victimized by all sides. But the bully of Damascus hangs on, with Russian backing and Iranian duplicity.

There are other bullies in this fight, from a small faction of radical Muslims intent on reinstalling a caliphate where the Umayyads once ruled to seemingly secular-minded opponents of Asad’s brutal policies. And recently a new bully has arrived, the Hezbollah Hezbullies who control southern Lebanon and thrive as a thorn in the side of Israel. Israel, thus far, has mainly watched from the sidelines, no doubt content to see a bloodbath not directed at them. There was a sharp military response a couple of weeks ago to what appeared to be stockpiles of weapons from Iran on the Damascus road to Hezbollah. (more…)

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