Inscribing the political in the body: A tentative Lebanese case

Please read this article in full. It is just excellent. Every idea, every answer is just full of interesting cultural stereotypes and social urges. I am still trying to know who wrote it (it was published in the Daily Star and taken from Agence France Press) because the wit is good, although some questions are still left unanswered (why Geagea, and why Bashar? And why not Nasrallah?). It is an interesting mix of Christian-Sunni political culture with traditional bekaa-grounded divisions at stake that we probably have here. But still, the way the re-appropriation of ‘nationalist’ symbols is done can be sometimes so fascinating. My only open question is, how did it all add up in this father’s head? If one can find an answer to that, then he may have found the best ideologue for a Lebanese nationalism (although he still need to fit in a couple of Shi’a figures). And yet…

QABB ELIAS: Lebanese Christian leaders Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun may be at each other’s throats politically, but their namesakes in the Okla family get along like a house on fire.

Mazyad Ibrahim Okla, a farmer in the Bekaa village of Qabb Elias, 50 kilometers, east of Beirut has named his five sons Aoun, Geagea, Chirac, Lahoud and even Bashar after Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Now another baby is on the way, and Okla is impatient for the election of a new Lebanese president so he can give that name to the child if it is a boy.

Each child’s birth has coincided with a major political event.

“Aoun was born in 1990 at the end of the Civil War and general Aoun was a hero,” said 48-year-old Okla, who has also fathered four girls.

A visit by former French President Jacques Chirac to Lebanon in 1996 prompted him to name a son after the former French president, who does not remotely resemble the gap-toothed olive-skinned boy.

“France is our best friend, and Chirac was Hariri’s friend,” he said of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri whose assassination prompted this devoted loyalist to name a daughter “Irhab.” The word means terrorism in Arabic.

“My wife gave birth 10 days after the assassination. If it had been a boy I would have called him Hariri.”

Okla does not regret naming his plump-cheeked blond-haired 2-year-old “terrorism” even though it may raise the ire of feminists and women’s rights groups.

“I want everyone to ask her what her name means when she grows up, so she can tell them about dear Hariri,” the proud father said of the slain anti-Syrian five-time premier.

Of his sons, Lahoud – named after the incumbent President Emile Lahoud – is teased the most at school.

According to his sister Waad, the eldest child who cares for her siblings when their parents are working on the farm, Lahoud came home one day from school and was crying.

When she asked him what was wrong, he replied: “Everybody tells me my days are numbered. Why is something bad happening to me?”

As Waad tells the story, Geagea goes off to milk the cows in the barn and Aoun who is 2 years older goes to help him by holding the pump. Little Bashar hides behind milk churn, and shyly looks on.

Aoun says he wants to follow in the footsteps of the head of the Free Patriotic Movement and join the army or the police, while Geagea – who is the best student among them all – wants to become a fighter pilot.

With another baby due soon, the Okla family plans to name the new arrival after the next president. But the politically divided country has been unable to choose a new head of state because of ongoing disagreements between the anti-Syrian majority and the Hizbullah-led opposition. If the new arrival is a girl, therefore, she will be called “Salam” which means peace in Arabic.

Okla and his wife Hammama, Sunni Muslims, plan to have “as many kids as God wants” and say they will continue naming them after politicians.

With a Chirac and an Assad already in the family, another “foreigner” being accepted into the fold cannot be ruled out.

But asked whether they would name any new children after President George W. Bush or his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both shake their heads emphatically and shout “la, la!” – “no!” in Arabic.

“Only after the French, because they really like us,” Mazyad adds.


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