Saturday, May 28, 2016

The law or the mentality - pathes to change in Lebanon

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Now that the electoral time has been upon us, the word "change" was uttered so many times it became almost meaningless. To say we need a change in Lebanon is an understatement. As a society we seem to be barely functioning, as institutions randomly so. Still, even without a president, and a parliament which convenes whimsically, there is a country, there is people, and for better or for worse, a state.
So what change do we speak of? Protecting women from horrendous marital brutality? Insuring little girls are not sold into marriage until a reasonably legal age? Rights for people of different sexual orientation than what is instructed to be as "norm"? The list is endless, not sure anyone who was voting for the municipal or mayoral lists had this in mind though.
But how does change happen?
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) seem to be taking the "law route" - change the law so that if anyone breaks it then plaintiffs would have grounds to complain on. Yes, theoretically it is a brilliant plan - but imagine the situation, a transsexual has been savagely beaten, he/she goes to the police to press charges as per the law. I shall let you imagine the rest of the dismal scenario from there. Because you see, not only a law is needed, but it should be applied - and not just selectively.
Lebanon has a code against "unnatural sex" (meaning sodomy), I do not see it applied against high profile people who are well-connected socially yet known for their homosexual behavior. But as you go down the socio-economic ladder, queer people do not have it so easy.
Same applies to battered women -  I have no statistics to know the correlation between social classes and marital abuse, but if a woman is well off, leaving her husband could technically be more feasible than a destitute one, and pressing charges for battery more believable than someone who could be told "you brought it on yourself" by some "authority" figure to whom the woman dared complain to.
So even if a law exists, unless a massive mentality shift happens there's no certification of making sure is uniformly applied to all the population, without favoritism or legal hum-drum.
Do note, I am not the only who has skepticism as to the enforcement of our laws, the recent debacle of the 60 Minutes progrm of Channel Nine from Australia (which commissioned a child-abduction team to retrieve two children from their Lebanese-Amercian father in Lebanon), and in an internal review within the channel found that: "“In this case, it led to 60 Minutes grossly underestimating a number of factors, not least being the power or willingness of a foreign government to enforce its laws." The undertalk of this sentence is that Lebanon has neither the "willingness" nor the "power" to enforce its own laws, in other words, seasoned and experienced journalists would not have taken such lengthy risks had they not assumed the enforcement of the rules and regulations was to be lax.
Which brings about the question: If we can't get change by the law, how does a mentality shift so as for change to happen?
In a society which is predominantly patriarchal, ruled by a mix of conservative values, religion, and social repressors; One where "honor crimes" happen (based on a suspicion a female went out/slept with a male but where autopsies prove such a paranoid behavior is untrue or unfounded), discrimination is rampant for anything "not within social/religious norms" (do note, the norms could be inherited rather than based on anything in a book or whatever. Fun fact: Jesus Christ never said anything against homosexuality in all four bibles), where boys are brought up knowing (and therefore acting) superior to girls, it seems almost impossible to bring a mentality to a collective shift so as for it to accept what was considered a "rule" or official/unofficial "law".
In both cases, be it law or mentality, there's a "long row to hoe" - but what do we do? I still maintain that leading by example could be the best way. Surely, I am in a privileged position as a university lecturer to at least try that - I am not saying it works all the time - but when you confront a student with logic, statistics, real examples and so on, you see their minds reeling to figure out how they got stuck to their prejudice for so long - it sort of validates my theory. Once more, this does not apply to everyone, but knowing it does at times gives a glimmer of hope. And as the poet Al Taghra'i did say "how restraint is living, had it not been for that spacing of hope".