January 2015

Check out the artwork of twenty-five year old Iranian artist, Maryam Sabbaghpour on Mouftah.

This is Ali Issa’s face. It deserves to become imprinted in our collective memory as a nation.

State of Mind, January 12, 2015

Two days ago, Tripoli got hit with death yet again as a terrorist attack took place in its Jabal Mohsen neighborhood.

The politics and intricacies of the attack are many, but there is one story of heroism springing out of the horror that took place on Saturday that no one is talking about. I figured I will, because this particular story about these kinds of people are the ones that make you see that faint silver lining in all the mayhem.

Many have wondered how come a café as crowded as the one attacked in Jabal Mohsen only amounted to less than 10 casualties. That’s because the suicide bombing attack didn’t go according to the two terrorists’ plans.

Among those was a brave, courageous, heroic man called Abou Ali Issa. He was a father of seven. When the first suicide bomber detonated himself, people started gathering at the site. Abou Ali Issa who wasn’t even at the café at the time rushed to the site to see what was happening. It was then that he saw the second suicide bomber approaching the premises to detonate himself and kill much more people than the first one did. The bomber shouted “Allahou Akbar.” Abou Ali Issa rushed at him and tackled him, preventing the bomber from reaching the café, killing the people inside. The bomber then detonated himself, killing them both.

He didn’t care about the sects of those in the cafe. He didn’t care if he was saving the lives of Sunnis, Shia, Alawites or Christians. Abou Ali Issa did not care about his own life as he was faced with a choice most of us would never face: save others or save yourself. He chose the former.

This man who saved hundreds of life will never become a viral sensation. His funeral was broadcast yesterday, along with that of the 7 other people that died with him, on a split-screen on Lebanese TVs, not even worthy of full screen treatment.

In a few days from now, no one will remember that there were two suicide bombers in Tripoli who targeted innocents, let alone the existence of a man who prevented those terrorists from doing so much more harm hadn’t he sacrificed his own life to save everyone else.

Today, there are hundreds of families in Tripoli and Jabal Mohsen who owe their wholeness to Abou Ali Issa. They owe him the presence of their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. They owe him the sheer relief they felt when their loved ones came back home that day.

Abou Ali Issa’s family, his wife and seven children, did not get that same sense of relief and happiness. Their family will never be whole again, and justice for their father and husband will probably never come.

This is my attempt to make the memory of their father and husband that of a national hero, as it should be, as he is the kind of people who deserve to be paraded around as national symbols, as household names who should never be forgotten, because people like him are rare to come by and they should always be cherished and honored and respected.

May he rest in peace. There are fewer people deserving of such peace.

Update: The Daily Star has covered the story here and here.

The recent flood of commentaries on the Paris bombing of Charlie Hebdo prompted another facile Facebook image change. All of a sudden people who had never read the satire magazine, or even knew it existed, were eager to empathize visually by posting je suis Charlie. I applaud empathy for victims of any horrific murder scenario, but the same day as the cartoonists and policemen were killed, about 40 Yemeni police cadets were killed in an al-Qaeda bombing and now we learn that Boko Haram has brutally murdered more than 2000 Nigerians. So should every one who was mourning the Parisians now switch over to the Yemenis or Nigerians? And if tomorrow there is, as there likely will be, yet more deaths somewhere else, do we just keep je suising along?

My problem with this digital outpouring of Western empathy is that it is relative. When one of “us” is harmed, it cuts deep. But why do we have such little deep seated sorrow over others who are not like “us”? Is a Nigerian life in the bush or a young Yemeni man standing in a line less valuable than a Parisian cartoonist? If it is the act that we abhor, and indeed should abhor, should we not shed tears for all the victims. The Nigerians killed were apparently mainly children. Do we care? I have yet to see a je suis Nigerian on Facebook, at least by those who were quick to identify with the satire magazine. (more…)

As the spate of commentary on the killing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and two policemen continues, there is a poignant response from Joe Sacco, the graphic artist. Check it out at The Guardian.

And for those Fox News viewers who think Muslims are not condemning this criminal act, check out http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/46-examples-of-muslim-outrage-about-paris-shooting-that-fox-news-cant-seem-to-find/.

In solidarity with the people killed in Paris, this illustration is accompanied by the caption, “Break one, thousand will rise,” as part of the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag. Many people and media outlets have been sharing this illustration by Lucille Clerc but incorrectly crediting Banksy.
Credit: Lucille Clerc License: All rights reserved..

by Omid Safi, Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, On-being, January 8, 2015

As a person of faith, times like these try my soul. Times like these are precisely when we need to turn to our faith. We turn inward, not because the answers are easy, but because not turning inward is unthinkable in moments of crisis.

So let us begin, not with the cartoons at the center of the shootings at the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, but with the human beings. Let it always be about the human beings:

• Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, 47 (editor)
• Bernard Maris, 68 (economist)
• Georges Wolinski, 80 (cartoonist)
• Jean “Cabu” Cabut, 78 (cartoonist)
• Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac, 57 (cartoonist)
• Philippe Honoré, 73 (cartoonist)
• Elsa Cayat (columnist)
• Michel Renaud (a guest)
• Frederic Boisseau (building maintenance worker)
• Franck Brinsolaro, 49 (a police officer)
• Moustapha Ourrad (copy editor)… It’s not Muslims vs. cartoonists, as long as there are Muslim cartoonists.
• Ahmed Merabet, 42, (police officer)… A Muslim who died protecting the cartoonists from Muslim terrorists. Muslim vs. Muslim.

And brothers Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, and Hamyd Mourad — the shooters, with a legacy of crime behind them.

I try to resist the urge to turn the victims into saintly beings, or the shooters into embodiments of evil. We are all imperfect beings, walking contradictions of selfishness and beauty. And sometimes, like the actions of the Kouachi brothers and Mourad, it results in acts of unspeakable atrocity.

So how do we process this horrific news? Let me suggest nine steps:

Muslim police officer Ahmed Merabet. He was shot in the head while lying on the ground begging for mercy on the streets near Charlie Hebdo’s office building.

1) Begin with grief.
We begin where we are, where our hearts are. Let us take the time to bury the dead, to mourn, and to grieve. Let us mourn that we have created a world in which such violence seems to be everyday. We mourn the eruption of violence. We mourn the fact that our children are growing up in a world where violence is so banal. (more…)

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

The horrific murder of the editor, cartoonists and other staff of the irreverent satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, along with two policemen, by terrorists in Paris was in my view a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public.

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination. (more…)

Dear Husni,
I had no idea you were so poor. Only 25 million stashed outside Egypt? What happened to all the millions you took in over the years? Was your wife like Imelda Marcos, buying way too many shoes? Of course I will be glad to help you get access to that money. After all, you stole it fair and square. And Sisi can siphon off as much as he wants, now that the Brothers are gone. I know how much you have suffered, so I will not charge you anything for helping you. Some of my best friends are Egyptian and I know they would help me if I ever needed someone to get 25 million out of the bank. By the way, your English has really improved. Did you take lessons in prison? Or did you use Google Translate? You did not mention which bank your funds are in. Someone told me it was in the same offshore bank as the savings of Mitt Romney, but I find that hard to believe. I am really honored that you chose me out of the millions of people getting spam emails to help you. I am sorry it has taken so long but your email went into my Junk folder. Can you imagine that. I am really glad I found it. Just send me you bank name, account number and password and I will sure do you justice.

Yours sincerely,

John Doe

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So begins the classic Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities, written over a century and a half ago. The two cities in question were revolutionary Paris and Dickens’ own squalor-laden London. As fiction it was an unpacking of black-and-white, good and evil, wealth and poverty, kindness and cruelty. But as Dickens wryly noted from the start, such a period of stark contrast “was so far like the present” that it cried out for comparison. When I came across the two images juxtaposed above, the title of Dickens’ novel raced into my mind. What can one say about these two images, the iconic “American” image of the pick-up in the current political maelstrom that plagues the Middle East. What is this tale of two trucks?

So what do we see in both these images? Young men out for a thrill, one group actively seeking to kill. The top image reflects the top of the economic ladder, these young men of the UAE in a country that boasts a GDP (in 2012) of 383.80 billion dollars, representing .62% of the world’s economy. The rock-hard bottom is apparent in the bottom image of ISIS fighters. As for ISIS between Syria and Iraq, the GDP for Syria in 2012 was 73.67 billion dollars, while war-torn Iraq is elevated to 223 billion in 2013. God bless the hands that pump the oil. What would the region be without its black baraka? (more…)

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