Hi! First of all, if you haven’t heard the news about my retiring this blog and moving on, you can read it here.
I don’t usually talk about this stuff, and it’s been some time since the news of their engagement, but these reactions have been accumulating slowly and fallen under my social justice radar frequently enough to warrant a post.
So, here they are: A Lebanese expat’s thoughts on some of the Lebanese culturescape’s reactions to Amal Alamuddin’s engagement to George Clooney:
Thought No. 1: STAHP enabling a culture of honor violence:
According to my mom, there’s a running joke in Lebanon about George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin’s engagement, and it’s not what you think.
Remember the story last year about the Druze girl who broke cultural taboo by eloping with a non-Druze man, who then had his penis severed by her family?
Yeah, so Amal Alamuiddin comes from a Druze family, and there are jokes being made about Clooney losing his genitals. Because that is sooooo freaking hilarious. So goddamn hilarious that people face violence for marrying outside of their religions of birth, that people have to run away to another country to have interfaith ceremonies, and face ostracism, fear, and violence from their societies and families when they come home.
This is how you normalize a culture of honor violence. STAHP. There are a whole lot of things you can make silly jokes about that don’t make light of endemic cultural problems that hurt, damage, and traumatize people. Find a new niche.
Thought no. 2: STAHP fueling sectarian biases:
Because that’s what a lot of Lebanese people are doing in their discussions about Amal Alamuddin when they hash it in terms of where she’s from and what her religious background may or may not be. We can’t, as a collective culture, seem to transcend this uber obsession with everyone’s sect.
It’s not okay that in Lebanon it is the norm for strangers, taxi drivers, teachers, restaurant staff, cashiers, etc to randomly ask where you are from and what your last name is in attempt to find out what sect you are so they can stereotype you, try to evangelize you, set you up with their son, propose to you on the spot, or not-so-subtly critique the politics they assume you hold because of your religion of birth.
I’m tired of everyone’s family thinking it’s okay to similarly examine their friends, acquaintances, and co-workers, for that to be considered acceptable living room conversation.
The first question you should ask about your kid’s new friend should maybe not be about their sect, the first thing you wonder about a person you just met who has a religion-neutral name should maybe not be what their sect is, the first thing you think about a person named Jean or Ali should maybe not be oh they’re Christian or Shia, followed by a series of implicit judgments according to that info.
And I’m tired of the rush to claim affiliation to whatever Lebanese person or person of Lebanese ethnicity is being talked about next. I’m tired of how we use well-known people to fuel sectarian biases– because that is what you’re doing when you wonder where Amal Alamuddin’s family is from.
As a country we need to fucking stop this obsession with each other’s religions and family backgrounds. The way we do it casually, in our everyday lives, keeps sectarian culture thriving. Every Lebanese person under the age of 30 is probably sick of being told to remember the civil war, but there is wisdom to being e aware of what happens when we perpetuate a culture of sectarian bias. We don’t check IDs at checkpoints and kill people based on their religion of birth anymore, but sectarian culture is alive and well so long as our IDs must still proclaim our sects for some reason and we casually use sectarian belonging to judge and appraise people.
Thought no. 3: STAHP contributing to whitewashing and racism within your culture:
That’s what you’re doing by attributing value to people like Amal Alamuddin just because white people like them, or condemning them for the same.
The whole Francophone pride is one thing, but it’s a whole other level of problematic to elevate Lebanese people according to who the West is finding most desirable at the moment. There is, recurringly, huge uproar over whatever person Lebanese ethnicity the West is paying attention to next (from Shakira to Carlos Slim to Rima Fakih), with Lebanese people trying to find a connection between that person and their sect or family or neighborhood, trying to attribute that person’s success to being Lebanese, or, conversely, condemning them because of their sect within Lebanese culture; take your pick. All this when they wouldn’t have cared to begin with if white people didn’t give a shit about that person.
The way a faction of Lebanese society idolizes Westernized and West-connected people and emulates them is no small factor in contributing to the rampant racial oppression that occurs in Lebanon, the subpar living conditions and second-class status of Palestinian and Syrian refugees in our country, the practical slave trade that is the domestic workforce.
The way that another faction of Lebanese society views being Arab or being Shia, etc, as a literal holy God-given gift also contributes to the way they characterize people the consistently interact with according to their ethnicity or religion of origin.
The treatment of refugees and our imported workforce are some of the most egregious violations of human rights we Lebanese people are responsible for, and they occur in part because we look down upon other Arabs, because we look down upon our imported African and South Asian and Southeast Asian workers. Aggression and condescension towards them is so normalized that people tend to not even notice it is occurring. By creating and conforming to a hierarchy of value between the West and the East, in either direction, you are enabling our already cripplingly racist system.
And by extension,
Thought no. 4: STAHP contributing to a culture of misogyny.
This is what you’re doing by reducing an accomplished woman’s value to her relationship with a man.
If you didn’t give a shit about Amal Alamuddin before the West got excited over her, and now you like her because of her sense of style and her handsome, famous star fiance, you are contributing to a culture of misogyny. Especially when someone like Amal Alamuddin is ridiculously accomplished in public ways that would reasonably attract popularity, and much of that is overlooked or brushed aside by her own countrypeople in favor of defining her with respect to a man.
Because defining a woman’s role according to her relationship to the men around her isn’t a problem at all in Lebanese culture, and doesn’t impede viewing and treating women as autonomous human beings with their own value and stakes. /sarcasm/
As you’ve no doubt noticed, these aren’t problems specific to the Amal Alamuddin story at all, nor entirely about it. This is more of a commentary on prevalent cultural memes; ways of thinking and interacting with current events such as the Amal Alamuddin story that continue to perpetuate the culture surrounding many of our problems.
It’s striking, isn’t it, how we are so used to thinking and interacting in the above ways that we can bend even this seemingly benign bit of news in service of our bigotries.
Disclaimer: It should go without saying that I am not claiming that these attitudes are held by all Lebanese people, or that all Lebanese people are responsible for perpetuating the following. My statements about these phenomena are limited to when, how, and where the phenomena do occur.
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