Adonis Diaries

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War is a million miles away when the Lebanese begin to party

By 18 July 2015

It was mid-afternoon and already the crowd had given itself over to wild abandon.

Standing on picnic tables, skinny girls in hot pants and crop-tops gyrated to thumping beats, upending bottles of vodka into the mouths of the bare-chested men dancing beside them.

Having worked out obsessively – though even in the gym they keep their make-up immaculate, their nails painted, and their hair perfectly straightened –

the ladies revelled in showing off their figures, in the unlikely setting of a hen party in the Lebanese mountains.

Lebanese supporters of the Christian Phalangist and Lebanese Forces parties celebrate their victory in the central Lebanese city of Zahleh in the Bekaa valley.

A Lebanese Christian woman partying after recent elections Photo: AFP

And what they hadn’t perfected with exercise, they had fixed with plastic surgery.

In the upper echelons of Lebanese society, the most important thing is to see and be seen.

Consumption is the ultimate good. An open-top car, Christian Louboutin shoes and a full-time, live-in maid to look after one’s children are all must-have accessories.

Beauty is paramount: parents are known to book nose jobs as a birthday presents for their teenage children, and the youngsters wear their stitches proudly, as badges of honour.

The average cost of a birthday party among this elite, one event organiser tells me, is $200,000. A wedding is $300,000.

It is a lifestyle that few can realistically afford.

So they rely on credit. It is said that most of the country’s big spenders sustain their lifestyles using bank loans they cannot obviously repay.

The phenomenon is often explained as a consequence of the civil war: after decades spent trying just to survive, there comes overcompensation – an attempt to prove to themselves, and to those around them, that they have conclusively moved on from its horrors. (That’s a load of crap rendition: Their parents share in the highway robbery of the public money)

Scratch below the surface, and it is clear that the gaping social wounds caused by the civil war are far from resolved.  (They don’t even recall the war: most of them were not born)

In Lebanese classrooms, history ends in 1943. Everything after that – the 15 years of sectarian violence that saw 200,000 people killed or disappeared, and the conflict with Israel – is deemed “too controversial” to teach.

Society remains divided. Most Lebanese put sect before country. (Not true. They don’t give a hoot about religion. And don’t care to know who are their representatives, their President or their PM…)

Beirut is a patchwork of separate cantons (in Christian Ashrafieh, the women wear miniskirts, while 10 minutes’ walk east, in the mostly Shia district of Basta, the prevailing fashion is the hijab).

The communities rarely interact.

Rushing through the city’s Armenian quarter one night, on my way to the chic downtown district, I was stopped by an elderly man who warned me not to go on. “There are Muslims there,” he cautioned.

With the government unable to settle on an agreed version of past events that can be taught in school, children turn instead to their relatives for information about the momentous events that have torn this country apart. But in so doing, they mostly hear a one-sided version.

(I read this repeat story, (supposedly a believable rational analysis) many times. Actually, no kid has ever asked his parents about the civil war. Nobody in the younger generation care to know))

The “us” and “them” of war transfers to the next generation, and empathy, so critical for the fostering of true and lasting peace, falls by the wayside.

A Lebanese businessman told me recently how he had struggled to persuade a British colleague to come to Beirut. For years she refused to visit, until it became a necessity for her work.

Convinced she was flying into a war zone, her hands shook with fear as she checked in at Heathrow. On the plane she broke into floods of tears.

Lebanon’s vital signs – the economy, the sectarian enmity, and the spillover from Syria – often yield news headlines that predict war and violence.

But the country has proven supremely resilient, and it remains, for the most part, a visitor’s dream.

Sure, there are daily power cuts, and the summers are passed in a sweaty mess when the water runs out. But rather than dodging flying bullets, day to day, the biggest risk to foreigners in Lebanon is a thick waistline and a stinking hangover.

For now, sadly, even at the magnificent Greco-Roman temples of Baalbek, the tourist touts sit together at a coffee table by the empty ticket hall.

A camel, dressed up to the nines, with an embroidered doily resting between its ears and an elaborately carved wooden saddle on his back, waits under a tree, desolately swatting flies with its tail.

The businessman’s friend may well have been their last customer.

Note: A few days ago, I revisited Baalbek after decades of absence. Baalbek is even more majestic and supreme and I wondered: If they had cranes in those days, instead of Baalbek we would have had stupid skyscrapers, built one floor per day.

Syrian girls in refugee camps ‘sold’ into forced marriages

Syrian women and girls, some as young as 14 years old, are being ‘sold’ into forced marriages or prostitution after becoming refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, aid workers and religious charities have said.

In Jordan, hundreds of Syrian females have been affected by an informal trade that has sprung up since the start of the war in Syria, where men use “agents” to source Syrian refugees to use for sex.

Carol Malouf reported from the Zataari refugee camp in Jordan and her article is currently nominated by Amnesty International for an award

 posted in The Telegraph on Jan. 23, 2013

Often this is done under the guise of “marriage”: The ‘dowry’, which in Muslim society is traditionally paid by the groom as a guarantee of the bride’s security has become a payment for sex.

And the “marriage” is an affair that lasts only a few days or even hours.

(“zawaj al mot3at” or “pleasure marriages” are contract for short duration in due form, are being practiced intensively, particularly by Moslem tourists in Moslem countries in order to conform to a peculiar chariaa)

“We realised these were Mut’ah or ‘pleasure marriages’,” said Ziyad Hamad, whose charity, Kitab al-Sunna, is one of the largest organisations working with Syrian refugees in Jordan. “It is a fake marriage; they use handwritten documents that are not registered by a Shiekh [religious leader].

Many of the young girls are sourced from refugee camps in Jordan that house more than 120,000 Syrian refugees

Men travelled from Saudi Arabia and other countries to marry girls in the camps. They would pay rent for a home outside the camp and tell the women they would support them. Then they would have sex with them and divorce them one week later.”

Mr Hamad said: “They would tell them: ‘we will marry you like this now and formalize it when we go to Saudi Arabia’. And they would leave and change their phone numbers. Many Syrian girls have been impregnated and abandoned in this way.”

Many of the young girls are sourced from refugee camps in Jordan that house more than 120,000 Syrian refugees.

Sexual violence and trafficking have become two grim realities of modern day warfare.

During the Iraq war thousands of Iraqi girls that fled to Syria ended up being pushed into the sex trade.

The International Rescue Committee recently published a report that found rape is now a “significant and disturbing” feature of the Syrian civil war, with women and girls citing this as a principle motive for escaping from the country.

Even once they have left Syria, they are not safe. Sitting in a flimsy dust covered tent in the crowded Zataari refugee camp, Zainab, an elderly mother of two daughters said: “Men are coming here to take young girls as second wives. It is under the pretext of being charitable, of helping us.”

One of Zainab’s nieces, a pretty slender young woman in her early twenties said she had received four marriage offers since arriving in the camp two months previously. Some were from Syrian families that she knew, but others were from complete strangers she said.

Guards at Zataari camp told The Daily Telegraph that they had frequently received requests by Arab men, mainly from Jordan or Saudi Arabia, to be given access to the camp so that they could find a “nice young bride“.

United Nations officials and aid agencies estimate that at least 500 under age Syrians have been married this year.

Sexual exploitation of women has become a sad reality that accompanies wars in the Middle East. Tens of thousands of young girls were funneled into the sex trade after they fled to Syria from Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

More overt prostitution is also common among Syrian refugees said Wissam, a Jordanian resident who knows people involved in the trade: “There is a women who acts like an agent, bringing the girls from the camps. The normal cost for one hour with a Syrian girl is 50JD, but if she only recently lost her virginity then you pay 100JD”.

One French aid worker inside Zataari camp said a woman in the camp regularly offers girls to the camp’s security guards.

The practice has caused outrage among the Syrian refugee community and in wider Jordanian society.

Mr Hamad’s charity has become one of the bodies connecting male suitors with Syrian brides, but he insists that the practice is not abusive because of the strict restrictions in place: “We initially issued a statement in newspapers and on websites saying we would not accept requests from Arab men to marry these girls. But that backfired; we became flooded with more requests! I then realized that many of these men have genuine intentions.”

The charity says it has married Syrian women to Muslim men from across the Arab world and from European countries, including Britain and France: “Most of our requests came from France. Sheikhs there called me and told me that I could not refuse to help with the marriages. They have good intentions and we only put them in contact with women if they abide by strict regulations that guarantee her well-being.”

Agencies have sprung up in Jordan and in countries as far away as Libya, to match men with their Syrian women.

“Men bargain a price for the girl, then the agency sends a woman employee into the camp and meet with the family of a girl to see if they will accept that price,” said a Syrian woman who did not want to be named, who works for a women’s rights’ organization.

Living in squalid conditions and deeply traumatized by their experiences in the Syrian civil war, many families see marrying their daughters to wealthy strangers as the best chance their daughters have at a normal life, an aid worker in Zataari camp who did not want to be named told the Daily Telegraph.

The Daily Telegraph followed Wissam as he posed as a client interested in marrying a girl: “I want a cheap Syrian girl,” said Wissam, with his phone on loudspeaker. “In Zarqa we have married 16 for a dowry cost of 2000JD,” came the reply. The men proceeded to bargain, with Wissam quoting lower figures than he said he had been offered in other camps.

“Before the revolution it cost several times that sum to marry a Syrian girl. Now it has become the running joke in Jordan that if you are running low on cash or finding it hard to get married, you should marry a Syrian girl,” said Wissam.

It has become a business transaction“.

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