Friends, Canada and the Lebanese

When the topic of friendship comes up, I often end up telling people that I never made Lebanese friends in Canada because I couldn’t stand them. They were far too into their own lives and their own culture—like they were living in a mini-Beirut and they refused to get out of it. Whatever annoying traits they had while living in their own country was amplified tenfold outside of it, and they clung to what they believed was “their way” with an iron grip of hard-headedness.

I know. Harsh. Really damn harsh.

In fact, I’ve thought this way up until about…oh a week ago? Then, during a discussion in my Language and Identity class, I suddenly wondered why I thought Lebanese people abroad were so difficult for someone like me to befriend.

So a rewind is in order. I may be Lebanese and possess the right to be very critical of my people, but I can’t do it on a whim. Where did my afore-mentioned judgment come from?

Sadly, it seems that what I recite as seemingly personal experience is really very little of my own. It’s mostly secondhand discussion from people whose opinions matter to me. I would be the last person to call them exaggerators or liars, and I’m sure the way they see the Lebanese abroad is just as valid as the next person’s opinion…but it isn’t my experience.

All I personally saw in Canada were groups of Lebanese hanging out together, and specific areas where Lebanese communities resided. (It’s no secret that they like to stick together, and prefer the company of each other over others). However, I feel that saying Lebanese are stubborn and not easy to befriend when you aren’t like-minded is unsubstantiated at best.

(Come to think of it, I did have Lebanese high school classmates—all boys—and I definitely didn’t like them much. Still, what high school boy is a pleasant companion when you have nothing in common with him? I don’t believe that clouded my judgment either).

So, what’s the real reason behind my lack of buddies from my home country?

The answer, it turns out, is freakishly simple: It just didn’t happen to be the nationality of those I did happen to make friends with. No active avoidance. No particularly bad experiences. I just “clicked” with certain people and, coincidentally, they never happened to be Lebanese. (Or even Arab for that matter).

Rather anti-climactic and lacking in drama, eh?

For what it’s worth, I have a small but solid group of friends here in Beirut and all are Lebanese and we get along great. It only seems that I need to reconsider things more often as the years wear on, and make sure that my conceptions are my own. At my age, you think I’d have that down pat, but I guess it still needs work…


Feminism, Facebook and Bald-Headed Girls

A girl I know, a very politically active person and outspoken self-described feminist, posted this as her status earlier today:

So the three shaved-headed “girls” in my class are freaking me out, like really. You can be gay without looking like a boy

Several “likes” and a few comments in agreement followed. In spite of my rule against engaging in Facebook debates, I was very irritated at what I found to be an insensitive display of self-righteous judgement.  Still, I managed to keep my cursor off the comment box…until she said the girls were a sign of a deteriorating society.

So, screw it, I called her out:

They’re just expressing themselves…if you don’t like it, no one’s asking you to look at them. They’ll contribute as much to society whether they had hair or not, so I don’t get where all the judgement’s coming from.

I wasn’t sure what kind of answer to expect, but I was perfectly aware that I pushed my own damn self into a very touchy issue.

She replied back:

Hala, you dont have to imitate a male in order to express yourself. A female deliberately seeking to undergo certain procedures in order to appear as a male is in my view weak and intolerable. Since when do women need to adopt masculine characteristics to have a statement?? The very notion of being gay is being a female attracted to a female. If you jump into a male character and then declare your attraction to a female, it takes rather than gives to the very message you are trying to deliver. This is non-sense. I see no judgements in what I wrote Im merely expressing myself. Its funny how you come here attacking my opinion and then talk about freedom of expression. 

Well in my opinion they contribute as males and not females :-)  and I think the contributions of men in our society are more than enough thank you very much .

Okay. So, apparently, you’re “weak and intolerable” if you’re female (homosexual or not) and have “masculine” traits. Never mind that these “masculine” traits are really only what our culture deems “masculine”. I’m no sociologist and have limited knowledge of sex, gender, and culture…but even I knew everything she said came from an over-simplified understanding of the concepts. However, I figured I might as well contribute my two (or ten) cents:

Gender and identity and the expression thereof come in almost too many forms to count. It’s not as black-or-white as simply “gay”, “lesbian” and wanting to look like a boy or girl. There are several combinations, which is why it’s not surprising that the LGBTQ symbol is a rainbow…it really is that variable. (It’s utterly fascinating, really). I also don’t believe that they are “adopt[ing] masculine characteristics to have a statement”. It’s not a statement—it’s who they are. (And I’m not talking about these girls in particular: I don’t know them and, for all I know, they shaved their heads in solidarity with a friend who has cancer. I wouldn’t know). But I am talking about girls who have masculine traits in general and want to express them as such—this is who they are. To judge them as betraying their sex or orientation is telling them that who they deem themselves on the inside is wrong. And that is what I am against. In the end, I just prefer that women and men be able to show who they are without fear of being attacked or judged. Lebanon may have enough of a patriarchal system—cannot agree with you more there—but don’t you think we have enough judgement as well?

I also truly apologize if I came off as sounding like I was attacking your opinion, as that wasn’t my intention. I was only curious as to why there seemed to be negative judgement on something done by people that is only their own personal choice. [What they do] is not meant to be detrimental to anyone, which I hope I explained somewhat in that spiel up there.

That was the last thing I said because the majority of the comments that came later agreed with her, and I didn’t want to go any deeper into it because (as FB threads are wont to do) it would spiral out of control. I only had one friend agree with me, but he kept his comment count to one for the same reasons.

I later chatted a bit with her on WhatsApp and she said the main reason she didn’t support this kind of expression is because they aren’t helping the feminist cause. She said most people were against feminism because they continually pointed out how women were behaving like men and it reflected negatively on them.

Okay, but isn’t the point of feminism to unite women under the cause of equality between them and men? Not all women are going to want to have long flowy hair and perfectly applied eyeliner. Some are going to be tomboys, some are going to be “butch”, and others are going to be the girliest girls imaginable. Also? Some are going to be trans. In the end, feminists should not push away other women because they don’t fit under their “ideal” of what a woman should be like. If anything, you are taking away from the very message you’re trying to instill. If you’re going to be vocal about your cause, don’t step on other people who probably need your voice on their side—not against them.

I have a lot to say about this subject, and still more to read and research…but again, I didn’t deem it the right time to dive into the topic with her. We did leave off with a mutual declaration of a love of debate and no hard feelings, so at least there’s that. I genuinely look forward to picking the topic apart with her, because I think she can give me a deeper understanding of the mindset of the people in this country that intrigues, frustrates, and confuses me by the day.

Dear Lama: May Your Sperm-Donor Know Exactly How You Felt

I don’t understand.

I truly don’t understand.

I’m no stranger to Saudi Arabia’s rules and policies. It’s a first-degree misogynistic country that hides under the guise of being God-fearing and Islamic. (In the market for some BS? They’ve got it in spades). They twist the religion in every tortured way to make it a horrific, deformed, and malicious ideology that people can cling to under the guise of piety. 

ScumLet’s take Fayhan Al-Ghamdi: A Saudi “Muslim” preacher who has no shortage of airtime on TV. Oh he is a man of God, to be sure. According to a friend of mine, he thinks magicians are evil. So you already know he’s legit.

He also knew how to viciously beat, rape, and murder five-year-old Lama Al-Ghamdi. His own daughter.

Lama’s injuries were horrific: A crushed skull, a broken arm, a snapped back and fractured ribs. All this was topped with a generous helping of bruises and burns. He raped her so viciously that he tore her rectum and attempted to fix it by burning it shut.

I feel the need to reiterate that this isn’t some sadistic serial pedophile on the hunt for the children of strangers. This is his own flesh and blood, and he did all of this with no remorse.

His daughter died in the hospital from her injuries in October 2012 and he was arrested a month later. In Saudi Arabia, murderers are given the death penalty by means of a date with the chopping block.

So, is he dead? Nope. About to die? Well…not anytime soon.

Instead, he spent a whopping few months in jail and paid $50,000 in what is called “blood money” to compensate the girls’ relatives. (Because he is not a relative himself, apparently). The cherry on top of this crap-sundae? The fine’s half of what he would have had to cough up if Lama had been a boy. If I were to count how many things are wrong with this picture I wouldn’t get to three before giving myself a rage-aneurysm.

Saudi Arabia: Is this the example you want to give, you misshapen and loud “representative” of the Muslim world? That you will gladly cut off the hand of a thief but child rape and murder is a-okay?

Is this what Islam is? Is this what God wants? Do you not see how insane you people sound? In your own book, which you claim to know, it states that to leave a single mark on your child requires you to pay a sum to charity and sincerely seek forgiveness from God. Your actions speak for themselves.

I am Muslim, from a Muslim family and surrounded by Muslims in everyday life. You do not represent me or anyone I know. I hope that, when (and if) this story gets on the news in western media, that they don’t, once again, paint us all with the same brush. Even many in Saudi find this act absolutely reprehensible.

Whether the state chooses to truly punish this poor excuse for a human being, however, remains to be seen.

I hope they do what’s right. If not, I can only hope Fayhan and all those who set him free get the absolute worst that karma can offer.

RIP Lama Al-Ghamdi

RIP Lama Al-Ghamdi



This has also been mentioned on Hummus for Thought.


Location: Montreal, QC, Canada (Atwater Metro Station) Year: 2004

A snippet of a conversation an acquaintance of mine, Alex, and I had while waiting for the subway to make an appearance:

Alex: “Oh wait, you’ve only been in Canada for three years?”

Me: “Yep. I used to live in Lebanon and, before that, Saudi Arabia.”

Alex: (In surprised disbelief) “But…your accent though. It’s flawless!”

Me: Oh, hah. Yeah,  I went to an American international school in Saudi. Hell, I had classmates and teachers who couldn’t speak a lick of Arabic.

Alex: Really? That’s pretty cool.

That was the first of a good handful of occasions where my accent—or lack of one—was a topic of surprise. Although it didn’t strike me as odd at the time, it did make me wonder if people honestly thought all Arabs sounded like the marketplace merchants in Aladdin. (I do love that movie, but it’s so overrun with cultural misconceptions that it kinda ruins the experience).

In short, my incredulity stemmed from this notion: Globalization has enough of an impact that it should be taken for granted that there are going to be people who never touched US soil that could speak just as well as any born-and-raised American. I went so far as to believe I would never judge anyone by the way they spoke.

HAH! Life, you know how to humble a person.

Fast forward to 2008 – Doha, Qatar: I’m sitting on the roomy windowsill in the Student Representative Council office, chilling with friends. Three feet away, a student I’d never met before was speaking in an accent so perfectly American one could easily assume she’d lived there her entire life.

People: I can’t deny that I became a replica of Alex that night in the metro four years ago. Why?

She was dressed like this:

Talk about jumping to conclusions. In my (somewhat lame) defense, I had twelve years of life in Saudi Arabia and a year in Qatar by then. Up until that moment, every Qatari I met who dressed that way spoke with a visible Arabic accent at best. (Doha has excellent American and British international schools, but those who dress this traditionally don’t make a habit of roaming their halls).

I had to ask, “Did you used to live in the States? Or…??”

She smiled at me. (What face coverings, called a niqāb, have offered me is a way to discern smiles, frowns and general emotion just by focusing on someone’s eyes). I knew from her expression that she had received variations of this question a thousand times but was still good-natured about it. “Actually, my mother is American and my father is Qatari.”

I hadn’t thought of that. I laughed shyly and added, “That’s cool. I’m sorry for asking but I really wasn’t expecting that accent to come out of you.”

I felt hypocritical for being shocked that someone who chose to dress the way she did would be able to speak English so well. But it did open up a conversation, and later, I got to know more about her tough and inspiring history. I was on the verge of sharing it here, but decided that it isn’t my story to tell.

I have to admit, it was a humbling experience to know that I was not incapable of surprise in these situations. I also learned, again, that I had to work harder on erasing my preconceived notions on a people I thought I knew because I’d lived in their societies for years. You learn that whatever fault (for lack of a better word) you may find in someone, you have just as much a chance of finding it in yourself.