Beirut Film Festival Defies the Odds and Censors

Dr. Khraish:

Forget Dubai and Doha, it’s only Beirut that can showcase truly boundary-pushing, issue-driven films!

Originally posted on Variety:

Modestly tucked away below a Dunkin’ Donuts in Beirut’s built-up Ain el-Rammaneh district, the Abraj multiplex does not often play host to international movie stars. Yet while gracing its linoleum-floored halls on Oct. 1 for the Middle Eastern premiere of her film “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Juliette Binoche seemed sufficiently overwhelmed by the reception to tear up visibly before leaving the stage, reappearing in a more jovial mood for the more elegantly appointed afterparty.

The occasion was the opening night of the Beirut Intl. Film Festival, and Binoche’s reaction seemed appropriate for an event that aims for a delicate balance of glamour and gravitas. Pushing liberal social ideals and freedom of expression in a vibrant country still culturally scarred by the Lebanese Civil War, it’s a more intimate affair than other fests in the region like Doha or Dubai, which is how festival director Colette Naufal likes it: Its bijou…

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What Arabs can learn from the Scots!

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Saint Andrew’s Cross, the Flag of Scotland

Israel has decided to officially recognize Arameans as a distinct nationality in the country’s population. It allows Arabic-speaking Christians of Israel to change their status from “Arab” to “Aramean.” This has created uproar among Palestinians, and other Arabs, accusing Israel of dividing its Arabic-speaking minority to rule them much easily. While I am not here to defend Israel’s motives for this move, it is important to point out that in 1957, the Druze, an off-shoot sect of Islam, also requested that the Israeli government designate them a distinct nationality from the general Arab population even though they are native-Arabic speakers. So, there is a precedent.

Critics of this move often accuse the Arab Christians who reclaim their Aramean heritage of denying their Arabic one. But, why should it be this way? Is a Scot less of a Brit than an Englishman just because he is proud of his Scottish nationality, history and heritage? Why can’t an Arab Christian be also Aramaic? An Armenian a Lebanese? A Kurd also a Syrian? An Amazigh a Morrocan?  Why is it considered wrong or unpatriotic for Maronites to learn Aramaic, the tongue of their Church and forefathers, as they are doing in the small town of Jish?

Feeling a belonging to more than one cultural identity, be it national, religious or ethnic, doesn’t necessary negate one’s citizenship. In America, for instance, people are capable of reconciling their national, religious, or ethnic heritage with their American citizenship. People are proud to be Italian-American, African-American, and Jewish-American. In America and elsewhere around the world, Arab immigrants want, insist and often fight to hold on to their heritage, language and religion. It is hypocritical of Arabs to deny this same right to the minorities living in the Arab world.

The world, especially Arabs themselves, need to remember that not all Arabs are Muslims. Not all Muslims Arabs are Sunnis. Not all the citizens of the Arab world are Arabs. Enough homogenization of 300 million people!

It is time that Arabs realize, as was evident in the partition of Sudan, that homogenization does not lead to unification of people. It is time for everyone to acknowledge and accept that the Arab world, especially the Levant, is a multiethnic, multi-relgious, and multi-linguistic region just like Europe is.  And like the EU’s European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which protects, preserves and promotes its minority languages, including Cypriot Maronite Arabic, the Levant needs a similar multinational treaty to protect, preserve and promote its historical, regional, and minority languages.

What unites the Scots and the English is not their common language or their common religion. What unites them as this week’s referendum demonstrate is their belief in freedom and democracy and their acceptance of a very important democratic value: the belief that one has the right to self-determination and to freely join or secede from a union. Something Arabs, especially the Sunni majority, has yet to learn.

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What the Municipality of Beirut Can learn from New York’s Times Square

If this could be done on the busiest intersection in one of the most populated cities in the world, then what excuse does the Municipality of Beirut have?  The fact is that the people administering the affairs of our capital are visionless!  

Snøhetta Rethinks the Future of Times Square

The Norwegian architects on how they’re transforming public spaces into “platforms for living”

Designing public space is a tricky thing. It is often a contradiction in terms, since the best ones tend to feel organic and, in some mysterious way, undesigned, even inevitable. When public space is reimagined, the danger is often the overweening tendency of architects and planners to want to control it—to create Master Plans rather than Passion Plans. But as we like to say at Snøhetta: The best-made plans never get laid. People will appropriate space in unforeseen and wholly unpredictable ways. We shouldn’t fight this human tendency; we should embrace it.  Read more…

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Happiness in Short Supply in Lebanon

This post is dedicated to all the politicians and clergy of Lebanon.  Thanks to them Lebanon is one of the unhappiest countries in the world.  Read more at the Gallup link below:

Happiness is in Short Supply in Lebanon


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The LA River

The Army Corps of Engineers will announce today that it’s changed its mind and will recommend $1-billion plan to make over the LA River—the most comprehensive and expensive plan studied— instead of a far less ambitious, far cheaper plan they backed last fall. (Mayor Garcetti had made it a personal crusade to change the Corps’ mind.) While this doesn’t exactly mean that the billion-dollar option will get funded, it does mean that it’s well on its way. Congress has the final decision, but is likely to listen to the expertise of the Corps.

Read more….

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Rescuing the Beirut River the Korean Way

A picturesque river once ran through a capital city, but as the city grew, the river was buried under tons of cement. Does that sound familiar? For Beirutis it should, but I’m not writing here about Beirut’s ancient river, but about Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon Stream.

Korea-Seoul-Cheonggyecheon-2008-01The Cheonggyecheon Stream, which was covered up with concrete, starting in 1958, was used as highway for many decades. In 2003, in an effort to re-introduce nature to Seoul, a decision was made to restore the stream as part of a vast urban renewal project. The highway was turned into a 5.8 km urban park, which has become popular with local residents and a major tourist attraction.

Many Lebanese urban designers, environmentalists and ecologists, like Sandra Frem, Carla Aramouny and Phillipe Skaff have proposed similar projects for Beirut, but our visionless political leaders have completely ignored the creative proposals.

Restoring the Beirut River would not only be good for the environment but for the social fabric of the city itself. The river park would unite the capital with its eastern suburbs. Turning the Beirut River into an urban park, with perhaps an underground high-speed electric train, would be a development project we can really get behind in Beirut. But, are any of the politicians listening? Of course not!

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“A Letter from Beirut” by John Keane

John Keane, Professor of Politics at University of Sydney on Lebanon, Syria and the failure of the democratic world…

“Does democracy have anything to do with the worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Syria? In recent days, in editorials and columns around the world, many observers have suggested it does. They cite the unusual refusal of Westminster to sanction air strikes against Syria. They point to the French parliament’s grilling of President Hollande for trying to side-step the United Nations. These same observers spotlight Obama’s surprise decision to consult Congress, and to win public support for military action through a specially-staged televised explanation of why America’s ‘constitutional democracy’ cannot tolerate violations of ‘the laws of war’.”

Read full article here.

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