Does Lebanon Need The First Amendment?

By Mazen Kerbaj

Picture By Mazen Kerbaj

Jean Assy, a free patriotic movement activist, was arrested a couple of days ago for tweeting against the president. Should hate speech be protected or not by the freedom of speech? People can debate for hours and hours, and like Elie sums it up pretty well in his post,  Jean Assy has people to watch his back, Many other Lebanese – like you – do not.

Is It Freedom?

What is exactly the difference between the United States and Lebanon? Well, you got that right: Everything. But on the top of that everything, there’s the freedom of speech. With freedom of speech, comes the freedom to criticize, and with the freedom to criticize, comes democracy. And with democracy, comes everything else, be it good or bad.

Lebanon – compared to the United States – has no freedom of speech. And it’s not about the biased media, or the conspiracies, or the wasta, or whatever we tend to convince ourselves with. We do not have freedom of speech, because we do not have a constitution that guarantees us freedom of speech. Our constitution, unlike the American one, gives the parliament the right to issue laws that can regulate the freedom of speech. In the United States, the Congress shall make no law regulating the freedom of speech (First Amendment to the Constitution):

Congress Shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances

Meanwhile in Lebanon:

The freedom to express one’s opinion orally or in writing, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of association shall be guaranteed within the limits established by law.

You can clearly see the difference between the first amendment and article 13 of the Lebanese constitution: The fact that there’s a law regulating freedom of speech, and that there’s a boundary, really says it all. And according to the law that’s inspired by the constitution, the religious leaders and president are immune to the freedom of speech. I do not understand how we dare to speak of the freedom of press, while something called the Publication Court (محكمة المطبوعات) still regulates the press and censors it. Even social media will be under censorship if the Lebanese Internet Regulation Act (LIRA) passes in the parliament.

The world was shocked in June when Muhammad Al-Qatta, a 15 year old child, got executed by Syrian rebels for blasphemy. KFC Tripoli was burned in September because of an anti-Islam movie that wasn’t even produced in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah made a (very) rare live appearance in a demonstration against that same movie. Draw a caricature mocking a Maronite Patriarch in a Saudi Newspaper, and you become bad. Speak against – Or insult, depending on your political allegiance – the other Patriarch, and you become worse. A human decides to burn the Coran 11000 Km away from Lebanon, and Lebanon’s peaceful – beware, that’s sarcasm – coexistence is suddenly under an imminent threat.

The Two types of Drivers

Two types of drivers in Lebanon exist. And no, they are not classified by gender, but by the way they react to the insults they get while driving. There’s the driver that starts insulting the other driver, stops the car in the middle of the highway, gets out of the car, beats the other driver, threatens him, possibly shoots him, before finally spending the night together at the police station. And then there’s the other type of driver: The one that hears the insult, smiles back while knowing that his mom is not a whore and he is not an animal – specifically a dog – , continues driving and reaches home where he later celebrates father’s day.

La Morale

When Jean Assi insulted the President, did the president become what Jean Assi said about him? No. It only made Jean Assi’s argument weaker. When that  American said that the Coran contains satanic verses, did it make the Coran contain satanic verses? No. It only made him look like a bigot. When the Patriach was made similar to the Devil in the caricature, did that make him the devil? I guess that’s a no too.

My Two Cents

You do not censor what you don’t like. That is not and will never be freedom. If you don’t like it, or don’t agree with it – even if it’s hate speech – you move on and/or respond to it. When you censor it, you’re acting like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. To sum it up: You don’t fight an extremist bigot full of hate speech by putting him in jail because of his words. You fight him by letting him say what he wants, properly responding to him, and make him look like a fool.  Otherwise, the hate speech will spread faster, and there would not be any proper control over it. With the absolute Freedom of speech, you can at least know the impact of the thoughts and fight them. For Jon Stewart, a regime (Egypt) that is afraid of a Joke is not a regime. Can a regime afraid of an insult be considered one?

But Before wondering if the Lebanese need the first amendment and an absolute freedom of speech, we should start by wondering if they want an absolute freedom of speech. A right that includes with it the right to “blasphemy”, to write against the 18 sects, to draw comics about the prophet, -who knows- to side with the enemy publicly, to tweet against the president, to issue governmental and security leaks, while being simultaneously protected by the government.

Do the Lebanese really want freedom of speech?

Hariri’s Civil Marriage Stance: More Than An Approval

Saad Hariri (Grace Kassab/The Daily Star)

Saad Hariri (Grace Kassab/The Daily Star)

وفتشت على توقيع من زميل محمدي على هذا المشروع الموجود في درج مكتبي، ولم أجد هذا الزميل المحمدي لتوقيع هذا المشروع معي.
(ايدي بعض النواب ترتفع وتقول أنا أوقع).
 من؟ أنت؟ أنت؟ أنت؟ أريد واحداً سنياً

“And I searched for a fellow Muslim than is willing  to vote for this project [Civil Marriage], and I did not find this Muslim colleague to sign this project with me.

(Hands of some deputies rise and they say I sign)

Who ? You? You? You? I want a Sunni one.”

Raymond Edde didn’t live to see it, but apparently, Saad Hariri is the “Sunni one”. And this major step from the former PM  means a lot.

Going against the Mufti. The fatwa made any Muslim official voting for the law an apostate. Hariri, after making sure for the past two years that he was the representative of the Sunnis by his sectarian speeches, is now making sure that he takes down any official religious influence (like the one coming from the Grand Mufti) by opposing it since the very beginning. Also by saying no to the Mufti, It’s going to be harder from now on for M8 to call him a sectarian or a salafi supporter. Meet the newest Sunni moderate, Saad Hariri.

A National Stand. Mikati keeps describing himself as a centrist. He is always shown as a wise man, that is ready to give up anything “for the sake of Lebanon”. At first he accepts the premiership in June 2011 so that Lebanon doesn’t get destabilized, then he refuses to resign in October 2012 so that the country doesn’t sink into chaos. At both times, he goes against the majority of the Sunnis, “for the sake of Lebanon”. Meanwhile, Mikati adopts a self-dissociation policy from Syria to show himself as a neutral politician that only cares about Lebanon. Hariri understood that unless he shows himself as a Lebanese citizen, ready to sacrifice his ideals for the sake of Lebanon, he will not be able to make it as a prime minister. Hariri told Marcel Ghanem that he wouldn’t allow his children to have civil marriage, but that he would support civil marriage it because he represents the Lebanese. Hariri is now going against his sect (or at least the Grand Mufti) “for the sake of Lebanon”.

Hezbollah’s strategy against Hezbollah. Hariri understood what Hezbollah did during the electoral debate. Hezbollah knew from the beginning that Future Movement would go against the Orthodox Gathering law, so he supported it. Now Hariri is doing the same thing. He knows that Hezbollah wouldn’t accept civil marriage as a religious party, so he makes sure he’s the first to support civil marriage putting Michel Aoun’s Muslim allies in an embarrassing situation. It’s all about the timing. Notice Hezbollah’s silence.

It seems that Hariri is learning from his mistakes.

A President, a Prime Minister, a Mufti and Civil Marriage

Mufti Mohammed Rashid Qabbani (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

Mufti Mohammed Rashid Qabbani (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

ريمون اده – وسيأتي يوم، قريباً، اتمناه. نتخلص فيه نهائياً من الطائفية. واعتقد أنني بين زملائي أول من فكر بمشروع الزواج المدني وفتشت على توقيع من زميل محمدي على هذا المشروع الموجود في درج مكتبي، ولم أجد هذا الزميل المحمدي لتوقيع هذا المشروع معي.

(ايدي بعض النواب ترتفع وتقول أنا أوقع).

ريمون اده – من؟ أنت؟ أنت؟ أنت؟ أريد واحداً سنياً. إذا، أرأيت يا صبري بك أنه لا ضرر من الكلام لأن الكلام يفتح المجال أمام تبادل الآراء، وقد نكون مشينا خطوة كبيرة نحو الغاء الطائفية، طالما أن بعض الزملاء وافقوا على أن يوقعوا معي على مشروع الزواج المدني.

الرئيس كرامي – الزواج المدني ضد القرآن

ريمون اده – إذا كان هذا ضد القرآن فأنا لا أريد أن أعمل شيئاً ضد القرآن.

الرئيس كرامي – هذا ضد القرآن ولن يمشي.

ريمون اده – بعد كلام دولة الرئيس رشيد كرامي، سأبقي مشروعي في الدرج لأني لا أريد أن أعمل مشكلة.

أحمد اسبر – اسمح لي أن اصحح، الافتاء ليس وقفاً على الافندي ابن المفتي السابق، فالشرع ممكن أن يعرفه غيره من (more…)

Malikiya Battle And Lebanese Politics

Operation Hiram Map

In Lebanese politics, the Malikiya battle is something exceptional. Almost every politician used it at least once. Here’s two examples for the President  and for a Minister. Speaking of the battle that was fought between the army and the IDF makes you feel that Lebanon was the only winner of all Arab states in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. It shows a Republic dedicated to a Palestinian cause, a sovereign country, and a powerful army.

What Actually Happened

The Lebanese have the gift of distorting stories. A courageous stand almost became 60 years  later  a won war. Malikiyia was a disputed Lebanese Palestinian town. As you can notice, I did use the word “was”. (more…)

Football and Politics (Or How The Lebanese React The Same Everywhere)

Hassan is raised in celebration of Lebanon’s win over Iran. (Image Courtesy of the Daily Star).

If we’re to believe, Lebanon faces an uphill battle in Qatar on 14 November in their next outing, with victory potentially lift them into the section’s top two. I think everyone remembers the day we made it to the fourth round for the first time in our history last year. I also see that it’s noteworthy to highlight how the Lebanese react to Football in Lebanon and how – in a way or another – we react to politics the same way we react to sports.

Opportunist Media. Felix Baumgartner, the Fassouh Building and the Ashrafieh Explosion are only examples of times when the Lebanese Television Channels can boost their popularity. Last year they found in the Korean-Lebanese Match (That ended 2-1 in the favor of Lebanon) the perfect event to show that they support the National team. The “Mabrouk Lebnen” 5 min-advertisement for the following few days is a perfect investment of the human market that had just emerged: Lebanese National team fans. (more…)

Facebook, Campaigns, Pages…and Politicians

By the time I’m writing, there are 1524080 Facebook accounts in Lebanon. Out of these persons, 1101840 are 21 and older. By removing fake profiles, accounts with incorrect birthdays, accounts that are owned by Lebanese (and not foreigners), and accounts that are rarely used, we’ll probably get a number close to a million.

Back in 2009, the electoral body was made out of 3257407 voters. Let’s maximize the number for 2013 and make it four million eligible voters. Let’s also higher the percentage of people who will actually go and cast a ballot and make it 55%. That makes 2.2 million Lebanese voters in 2013. 1 out of 2.2 million is equal to 45%.

In a nutshell, 45% of the Lebanese who will vote in 2013 have Facebook accounts. I will make the assumption that 75% of the Lebanese on Facebook will log in at least once in the next 9 months. That makes 33% of the voting population. (more…)