My friend Abir seems to be a permanent fixture in my writings. There is so much of her in one of my characters in the Tales of the Phoenix City, she’s been featured in articles I wrote, and here she is again, her name intertwined in my words.

That’s because Abir and I have built and nurtured a feminist friendship that has spanned for over ten years now. A friendship built in the streets of Beirut, around late coffees and meetings at feminist collectives, evenings spent designing infographics on violence against women (she’s good as design I’m good with words we both have a profound contempt for patriarchal violence) a friendship made of love, of understanding, absence of judgement, knowledge that we are there for each other regardless of where we live. A friendship made of honesty, and laughter, and joy (presently mentally adorning these sentences with blue eyes and khamsas to ward off the evil eye, yes I’m superstitious, what can I say, I’m an old woman and unlikely to change).

Lately, Abir’s brain produced the wonderful idea of co-creating Hammam Radio, a participatory feminist radio open to women and girls in all their diversities. If you think Abir’s brain is some next level brilliance, wait till you see her heart. She invited me over to contribute and co-create, along with the multiple wonderfulness that are Rasha, Marwa and Jojo. So far we’ve uploaded a heroic amount of music, have hosted different shows, but mostly had about a ton of fun.

This morning Marwa told us ‘I’ve never heard so many brilliant women in under two weeks’. The brilliant women are everywhere, it’s just that mainstream media is too busy showcasing The Men.

To me, the initiative brought me so much hope and love and joy, scarce feelings in these surreal times. Emotions that I have come to strongly associate with feminist love.

Several disclaimers are needed. From here onward, I’ll be speaking about healthy relationships, bearing in mind that they require constant work and care, and that toxicity can happen in all relationships, romantic or otherwise.

I’ve never been a fan of the (patriarchal, heteronormative) cult around the One and Only Romantic Love Meant to Fulfill All Of Your Needs. First of all, I think it’s incredibly selfish to ask of just the one person to be everything to you all the time. No one can be, nor should be, everything to you all the time always. Secondly, what’s this hierarchy of loves we live in? Society greatly values romantic love, makes a ton of music and movies about it, has special holidays around it, and women and girls especially are raised with the belief that the most important love they’ll ever find is romantic love, and that everything else is just an add-on. Very seldom are we taught that sometimes the ‘home’ you create with a romantic partner can be the most dangerous place for your to be in. Very seldom do we hear the warning that ‘the family’ can be your place of despair, violence and torture.

I fucking hate that.

I believe that there is constellation of forms of love out there, and that they are all equal. That intensity can be felt in relationships that are not necessarily meant to become romantic, that we should tell the people we love that we love them, period, and not just your partners or your family or your dog, but also your friends, especially your friends, and your comrades. I think there should be societal recognition of how crucial and core these relationships are to us, to our mental health and well-being. Kiss your friends more (once we’re out of quarantine), hold on to them, show you trust them and show them that they are not accessories in a play where the main character is your romantic partner.

There are different types of love, the political love you build with comrades (solidarity in struggle is a thing of beauty), the friendships you cherish, the situations you don’t quite have a name for yet (you know the ones, the relationships you can’t and don’t want to categorize), the love you feel for your children, the love you feel for your siblings’ and friends’ children (I’m an auntie, and a proud quasi auntie to many children, and let me tell you, is there anything more delightful than giggling with the offspring of the people you love with very minimal responsibility?), there is an infinity of persons out there that will be tugging at your heart one way or another. Don’t box love to certain types of situations or link it exclusively to certain people. The heart expands to more you let people in.

Among these loves, lies feminist love. The kind of love you build with feminist comrades who become your backbone, like a chain of wonders who prop and hold you up and will break your fall if they need to.  Feminist love makes space for your anger and legitimizes it, but stops you from being consumed by it. Feminist love is fierce, and full, and sincere, and stoked by the logs of struggle, solidarity and recognition. Feminist love has kept my head above water at times where even breathing was painful. Feminist love has taught me how to process grief, it has kept silent so my emotions could roar, it has made noise to drown out the violence and awfulness, it has stood like a wall of steel against the assault of societies that didn’t want us there. Feminist love rejoices in difference, creates invisible indestructible links between the people who form this bond, and above all, feminist love teaches life and courage. The courage to exist as we are, the courage to live our truth, safe in the knowledge that we are surrounded by the love of our chosen family.

To love, and be loved with that kind of deliberate fierceness, is a gift and a privilege beyond measure.

To create a platform where women* raise their voice and share their thoughts and laughter is a gift and a privilege beyond measure.

To retain the ability to love beyond what is socially sanctioned, to make the conscious choice to remain soft in an environment that will do anything to harden you, to choose solidarity and openness and inclusivity, to put one’s trust in the immense power of collective action and struggle, are all gifts and privileges beyond measure, but are also necessities.

Feminist love is needed. I’m happy to extend it to you.

Bear with me…

Yes please, bear with me for yet another rant.

This time, it’s the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism that has annoyed me, and big time.

Have you seen this ad? (For some reason, the Ministry has required that comments and embedding are disabled, huummmm why I wonder)

So basically, the Ministry of Tourism is encouraging tourists to come to Lebanon based on the following message : “Come to Lebanon, we have beer, boobs and beaches” (no no, I haven’t written “bitches”, although that’s the idea yes)

Shocked, I posted this on Facebook, with the following message:

“The ad that sparked outrage. Beyond being demeaning, belittling and insulting to Lebanese women, it shows how little these people think of Lebanon: so the only good thing Lebanon has are (fake) boobs, parties and sex? Note to Ministry of Tourism: selling your country as the whorehouse of the Middle East (with all due respect to sex workers) is an insult to Gebran, the Cedars, the people, Saïd Akl, the Bekaa valley, and all the people who struggle under your harmful and pathetic rule. Now Apologize.”

Needless to say, the ad sparked outrage among many activists, bloggers and human beings, who expressed themselves on their blogs:

Beirut Spring:

Mich Café:

Global Voices:

However, among those outraged voices, came some comments which I would like to address here and not on my Facebook wall.

For example, when we said that walaw, the Ministry of Tourism did not find another angle to sell Lebanon to tourists, a country whose history, natural beauty and people are most renowned, some people came back to me saying that the Ministry of Tourism had already explored these areas, and that, Paola, stop being such a prude/party pooper, sex sells and that’s that. Apparently, I had to respect all kinds of tourists, the ones interested in Gebran’s museum and the one interested in tanning at the seaside.

I really don’t see how me being shocked at the message the Ministry is sending means that I don’t respect all kinds of tourists. Come to Lebanon and do whatever you want, but yes, I do have a problem with my government, a government that doesn’t grant me my rights to start with, selling my country as the brothel of the Middle East. I think the sordid stories we hear over the summer with Lebanese women abused by various tourists are enough, thanks very much.

Regarding the “sex sells”: yes, well it does. But is it the only thing that sells? Do we have to be as mediocre as everyone else ? (us, the Lebanese, who by the way drive people mad with all our talk about how the Lebanese are AWESOME and cultured and blah blah blah, don’t make me puke now)? What’s wrong with ecotourism (which by the way would empower economically villagers and not the Director of Casino du Liban, who, let’s face it, is not in need)? Concerts? Cultural life? and yes, even parties, but do you have to showcase parties showing women’s breasts? Is it the only way to party? I don’t know about you, personnally I do enjoy having my clothes about my person when I’m dancing.

Which brings me nicely to the main issue: the use of women in this ad. If someone tells me one more time that Lebanese are the prettiest/sexiest in the Arab world I will not take responsibility for my actions. The government is playing with this idiotic urban legend to bait young men to come to Lebanon. So let me get this straight: if I’m dressed in a mini skirt and I’m raped, it’s my fault and the laws are not there to protect me and make sure the perpetrator is behind bars (worse still, if he marries me, it’s ok), but I HAVE to wear a mini skirt to attract tourists? WTF?

I’ve heard and read Lebanese citizens (men and women) praying for God to get rid of feminists, telling us we’re overreacting, but now it’s my turn to be shocked. So you don’t mind seeing Lebanon portrayed like that? So you don’t mind that the average salary is 700 USD, with people working three jobs to make ends meet, and yet the government is happily showcasing Maameltein and slot machines as Lebanon main selling point?

Would you like your sister/mother/cousin/girlfriend’s breasts to be drooled over next time you go to the beach?

Government of Lebanon, we’re asking you that FOR ONCE IN YOUR USELESS EXISTENCE YOU PUT THE PEOPLE OF LEBANON FIRST. Imagine that most young Lebanese women ban the city centre from their route over the summer, so unbearable the harassment from some tourists is.

Advertise Lebanon, but advertise it in a way that rallies the people behind it, not in a way that alienates us (frankly, I don’t think we could sustain any more division)

As for me, I’ll follow closely the videos Nasawiya is currently brewing up, just to show that there’s an awful lot of things that are wrong in our country that we should work on, instead of nodding stupidly at anything that has our poor flag on it.