Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Of opinions and sectarian strife in the Arab world

Paying The Last Supper Bill - Tarek Chemaly
As a blogger, I know one thing: My opinion is not needed. Specifically if it contradicts some official spin. As a matter of fact as part of my deposition in my court case, I was asked point blank "min kallafak ta3ti ra2yak?" (and who granted you permission to give your opinion?) when I said my blog was about advertising critique. Still, even I with my (sharp) tongue, withhold a little when it comes to religious issues.
My own faith or whatever my own religious stance, is irrelevant. However, I say it clearly: It is not the faith but the rituals that hold communities together. Which is why, trying to make light of other people's beliefs is not recommended.
Need I remind you of the public outcry over the prophet Mohammed caricatures published in the Danish Jyllands-Posten. In Beirut the manifestations were so violent yet actually ended up destroying the building and advertising agency (Intermarkets) which is in the building before the Danish embassy....
As a comparative note, the day after the caricatures were published and the outry started, a Swedish newspaper published a caricature with Jesus and God having breakfast and Jesus reading the Jylland-Posten then he says to God: "They have no sense of humor".
I am not saying one point of view is better than the other. I am simply the whole societal outlook is different. If I am writing about this today - on boxing day no less! - it is because an publisher and his editor were sent to jail in Jordan with the crime of "incetement of sectarian and religious hatred". They photoshopped a photo of Leonardo's Last Supper while inserting the image of a known Turkish chef in it (the man is nicknamed "salt bae" - photo is linked here). Jesus let it be known, is considered Issa, a prophet in Islam.
Lebanon's own Samandal Comics' editors were found guilty of the same crime mind you (again see the image here). Need I speak of the Big Sale shop which was closed over the suspicion that it was selling flip flops with a crucifix on them (image linked here)?  
Well of course "Big Sale" did not even anticipate the whole furore, it was just shipping things to sell them at steep discount (why is the shop named Big Sale you think?). Yet, when one has a publication with its own established audience, the barrier needs to be navigated more cautiously. Am I calling for self-censorship? In a way yes. Unless there is something that makes you want to talk about such issues, better not. In this perspective I totally defend the movie Tannoura Maxi (Maxi Skirt) which tells the real story of the director Joe Bou Eid parents and how his father left priesthood (he was about to be ordained) to basically marry his mother whom he met as a displaced girl during the war.
If I decided to share my own piece "Paying The Last Supper Bill" (the original piece dates to the year 2000 but I remixed it in a  new series a couple of years back), it is because the piece aims to stress of how materialism and religion became intermixed (Christmas shopping anyone?) and to say that one can still use religious imagery without denigrating anyone's thoughts or sensitivity. On all accounts, whether one shares the belief or not, better not go there for the sake of a cheap joke. This piece from National Geographic is a good indicator as to why!