picaboo!

Look at this guy… Why does he need to look so ugly? the Islamist type is serving as template to symbolize militias! This is part of a campaign (surely Leo Burnet and the billboards provided by Picasso), to ‘build’ some kind of ‘awareness’ about the fact that the different Lebanese factions are arming themselves and are getting ready to play the civil war game again (le3bet el dama to refer to the famous sketch played by Ziad Rahbani and Jean Chamoun on Saout el Shaab Radio in the mid seventies right after the Syrian entered to help the Christian factions).

There is something completely surreal in the visual effect of this billboard. I’m still trying to work out the social dynamics of it, but one thing is sure advertising companies in Lebanon have for a while became a third (after the State and the Confesssional/sectarian) disciplinary institution, but in this case a very perverse one: As its moral program does not have any ‘practical’ implication (it does not change in any way the lives of people, their habits, dispositions, etc.) its materially empty discursive production can at best create schizophrenic attitudes among people (something to be observed in itself).

Here is the article from which this picture is taken from, a set of rumors and investigations on the different re-armings of the Lebanese population from loyalist and opposition side in the Iklim al Kharoub region. Basically, according to the various people the journalist interviewed in these villages, Hariri partisans are getting training through private security and organizations while Hizbullah is said to create a parallel military apparatus for internal conflict purposes.

By the way, talking of Rahbani and Chamoun’s sketches, please check this most funny passage illustrating a conversation taking place on a plane coming back to Beirut from the US (again mid-70s after the Syrian entry). So many things in this conversation… some things remain unchanged.

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.