Friday, April 27, 2012

More on the Comic

 I received this question from a friend who has been receiving my emails on Lebanon: 

So I "liked" their group on FB and got the pictures of the protest. Were you there by any chance? I checked out everyone in the background. I found it surprising that they cAn have that FB page when they are so limited with free speech to be jailed for underwear\comedy. Very interesting to see how the comics case turns out.

Here is my one sided, slightly misinformed answer to SC.

You can like the group to support him on Facebook here:

Edmond was never arrested or asked to explain his situation, he was simply ordered to prison. He will saw the judge this past Wednesday. I'm not sure how common this is, but over the past couple months several artists have been arrested or charged and sent to jail. There is a recent crackdown on this community.

I didn't attend the protest unfortunately. I was planning on going but a lunch time glass of wine turned into being dropped off at Hussein's apartment at 4am by his good friends Sammi and Steve after he had gone home hours before, but Sammi did make it. No idea how that was possible. Obviously more use to this lifestyle than I am. I was out for about two days.

So there were 60 people that showed for a rally in front of the courthouse. They have gotten massive news coverage including French and British media. I think a couple things are happening here. One it has been only a decade or so since the civil war ended, with a string of political assassinations in the early 2000's. However when the civil war ended, the warlords took over the highest political positions. So really there was no change in power, simply the ending of violence. Second, the old guard remains in power with a underground group of religious leaders secretly calling the shots out of the public domain. That's what they think happened here. The judge was called by a cleric of some sort that holds power and was able to get Edmond summoned and sentenced outside of the rule of law using antiquated laws that are no longer enforced and really just need to swept from the books. On top of this, are the people who were very young during the war and have grown up exposed to the internet, social change in other countries, and who reject a more conservative government that cracks down on artists like in this case.

Lebanon has always been a very fashionable and liberal place, but regressed when the Muslims and Christians were fighting over boundaries and power for thirty years. So I think there is an internal struggle happening. Young artists embracing their history of freedom satirizing an aging power dynamic. The aging power dynamic unaware that its time has come.  Unfortunately, the country has a serious brain drain. The most educated are leaving for Europe and the States, frustrated and disheartened by how long it takes to make change.

I think one of the most interesting parts of what has come out of the civil war is the lengths those in power have taken to make it look like real change has happened. The Prime Minister can only be one religious sect, the President another, the heads of Ministries still different sects. On the outside it looks like they are working hard to equalize religious power, but I think instead this alienates people. No one in Hussein's family could ever Prime Minister, but not because of work ethic but because they are the wrong religion in the name of religious freedom. But its things like what is happening with the comic that pushes those boundaries eventually. I think the Occupy Movements and Arab Spring have encouraged many who were frustrated to speak out without as much fear as activists once had here when the violence was raging.

Last night Edmond, the comic, did a skype interview with MTV (not the music station, but it is a local CNN-type station). The interviewer asked him if he was afraid to go to prison. He said that when he first heard about it he was terrified, but at the rally so many people came out to support him including other artists who have been arrested recently. And now he isn't afraid, He feels supported and this event seems meaningful to him now. 

Ghallia helping Edmond get ready for his MTV interview via Skype

So because of the public outcry generated by my friends Ghallia and Ziad (who are former Greenpeace Ocean campaigners), the judge decided to continue the case until May 30. They are now willing to hear the full story of what happened that night, instead of just throwing him into prison as was first discussed. Public pressure works!

The next steps for this campaign is for folks around the Middle East to send in photos of how the culture has changed. Showing that though there are laws on the books about morality, they are not modern and need to be thrown out and the people can not be judged on outdated laws that no longer represent the culture. There are so many instances within Lebanon where you see two worlds collide. For example, down by the seaside there is a swimming pool where women go topless or in bikinis directly next to women swimming in full clothes and a women's only pool where women wear headscarfs. 

Reneé Claire

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