Hanin Ghaddar

The cross, flip-flops and our worst fears

To demonstrate for human rights, that’s necessary. To protest against torture, injustice and discrimination, that’s exactly why most of us support the Arab Spring. To rally for freedom of speech and religious rights, that’s more than essential. However, to hold a protest and force a shop to close just because it sells flip-flops with tiny images of the cross on them is nothing close to civil engagement.

The flip-flops were Halloween-themed, and were decorated with an image of a Dracula mansion surrounded by graves that had crosses on top. The only thing anyone saw was the crosses, because that’s all they wanted to see. It was a huge opportunity to make a victory.

The store happened to be located in the Christian residential area of Furn al-Chebbek. The owner, Ali Fakih, happened to be a Shia. It looked to the mob that demonstrated in front of the store two weeks ago like Hezbollah was humiliating the Christian community and their religion right in the middle of their own neighborhood. Closing the store and forcing the owner to apologize was not enough. Fakih got arrested and is reportedly still being detained at the Baabda Justice Palace, along with the manager of the store, for “instigating sectarian strife.”

This is one of Lebanon’s scariest problems: We always want to blame others, to feel that we are superior and that Lebanon would be alright if it wasn’t for Hezbollah’s arms. But no. This ignorance has nothing to do with Hezbollah or its arms.

It is us, and only us. Our ignorance and fear of each other have given Hezbollah and others something to take advantage of and harness.

Back in 2006, when Islamists torched the Danish Embassy over cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammad, we all criticized them, calling them medieval extremists. But then we acted like extremists by arresting Fakih, who probably had no idea the flip-flops were even being sold in his store. Very few people called this what it really is: imprudence, backwardness and irrationality.

The Christians have valid fears, with Hezbollah buying up their land (and everyone else’s), with their numbers dwindling, and with their co-religionists elsewhere in the region being targeted. But thinking of themselves as an endangered minority will keep the Christians divided and weak.

Other than Hezbollah, no one wants to reduce the Christians’ political presence in the parliament or in state institutions. No one wants to marginalize them or devalue any of them. But their fears are growing beyond any reason, and it is being used by their leaders.

FPM leader Michel Aoun has long used the “fear of the Sunnis” to rally Christians around him, while the other Christians are most afraid of the Shia. As for the Shia, they’ve been either pulled in by Hezbollah or pushed by other sects into Hezbollah’s lap.

The Christians are so worried about their existence and their rights as a minority that they forgot about the rights and fears of others. What about my right as a secular non-Christian to feel secure and unthreatened in Christian areas in my own country? Will they only see me as a Shia, who, as long as she complies with everything, will be OK? What if I react differently?

It is not about the Christians, the Sunnis, the Shia or the Druze. It is about Lebanon. Do we belong here? Is this a country or a bunch of sectarian platforms where insults and revenge are the main things driving people to demonstrate?

No one asked if Ali Fakih was a Hezbollah supporter. No one bothered to look beyond his name. It doesn’t matter anyway, not for the mob that rallied against him or for Hezbollah, which did not jump to help him as it helped the party member who shot down a Lebanese army helicopter in August 2008, killing pilot Lieutenant Samer Hanna. He spent a few months in detention and was then released.

Ali Fakih is just a victim of petty sectarianism and fear. It doesn’t matter who he is or what his intentions were. He just happened to have been selling the wrong thing in the wrong place.

The funny thing is that Lebanon has always been considered a beacon of freedom of speech, modernity and liberal thought in the region. Today, the Arabs around us are progressing toward democracy, while we are obsessed with tiny crosses on cheap flip-flops. Shame on all of us.

Hanin Ghaddar is the Managing Editor of NOW Lebanon


  • Michelle To Ali

    ya jame3a where should I start, we are so adament about jumping the gun and giving our judgments without taking into consideration what constitutes our GREAT (in case you did not catch it this is called sarcasm) country. A great philosopher said once "You freedon ends where mine starts". I am not the biggest fan of religious figures and their intervention in politics, we HAVE to seperate religion from state. It will take some time to re-educate out next generations inside out, starting with the way we think suplemented with changes in our constitution and eventually the Taif accord. If I will be responsible for crossing the line and feeling of a certain sect, then I have to take that into consideration, eventhough it might seem like not a big deal from my point of view. As for the christian presence, I have to side with my political rival blogger Majd :) Hannin I have the right to put my own point of view on things, but your domain requires your credibility and accuaracy!

    September 28, 2011

  • shirin

    what would muslim do if they saw a muslim symbol on a shoe??? we have seen what they are capable of over and over again ... if i were to congratulate you hanin for one thing is for you manipulatory ability to use such an event to exacerbate the very issue you pretend you are speaking against. this article....... It is a shame to read it on NOWlebanon.

    September 28, 2011

  • OmarS

    "We always want to blame others, to feel that we are superior and that Lebanon would be alright if it wasn’t for Hezbollah’s arms" We? We? speak for yourself ma'am the above narrative sums up your mediocre "journalism" for the past 4 years. Mr Fakih is a victim of the sectarian flames you and NOW have been fanning so forgive us if we think its a little hypocritical of you to suddenly come to his aid. Finally, people have for once bothered to read and comment on what you write and it was only cause they were misled by the hint of impartiality in your intro had. Instead your usual HA bashing why didnt you at least lay some of the blame on the party whose "undercover investigation" was responsible for stirring the strife?

    September 28, 2011

  • Joyce

    Well i think that such incident would not be tolerated in catholic communities around the world that have strong beliefs such as mexico, spain, lebanon etc...Meanwhile in some other catholic european countries this would not bave created problems...but the world is not perfect and lebanon doesnt really have these "wierd special flaws that do not exist anywhere else" ...The only claim that should be made is how the STATE acts in response to such incidents and hopefully next time will act in accordance with the rule of law without causing injustice or unusually hard punishment for fakih or anyone else.

    September 27, 2011

  • mrv

    Beiruti- You said "jailing the guy though was too much ." I agree with you totally. But a commoner throwing his dirty shoes at a tyrant who deserves it, is a non violent way of expressing your opinion and should not be a crime. Also taking vengence on poor mr Fakih cause of what happen in the 80s is bringing down oneself to there level.

    September 27, 2011

  • Roger Bejjani

    Bravo Hanin; a solid write-up against ignorant mob behavior. I am sure that Raii does not share your point oif view though. (....)

    September 27, 2011

  • Emile

    are we not finished with all this crap, why always the matters that divide lenanese are highlighted.. grow up and do some work for christ sake and write about something constructive and brings lebanese together, if moussa sadr still alive, i am sure he will commit suicide on the second day of his return.

    September 27, 2011

  • kazan

    This incident tells the story of the Lebanese society; product of centuries divide and rules schemes by politicians and religious leaders. May be one day religion want be an issue anymore and schools will have a national educational program and system, that new generation will be brought up to think first Lebanon, and accept and respect that others may have different ideas and belief. I hope for the Lebanese that one day they will get a leader with vision, skills and luck to not be killed by other leaders who do not share his ideas.

    September 27, 2011

  • Beiruti

    someone here mentioned the shoe throwing incident in Baghdad. It is a cultural thing in the Middle East about shoes, right? A shoe is considered a "dirty thing" because it is on one's foot and it is not clean. To insult a person, you show them the bottom of your shoe. To show outrage at someone, you throw your shoe as opposed to any other garment or article of clothing. During the war, Moslems would demand that Christians step on the cross, that is put the bottom of their shoe on the symbol of their religion. It is blasphemy for the 7th Century rulers of Lebanon for Muhammad to be depicted in a cartoon, much less on the bottom of a shoe. So when Moslems sell shoes with Christian symbols, yes, the double standard argument is clear. And clearly if Moslems did not make an issue of abuse of religious symbols, then Christians would not be called upon to do the same, not to promote religion, but to defend it from any encroachment. Jailing the guy though was too much.

    September 26, 2011

  • ali daoud

    Hanin Ghaddar, i started reading your article and i honestly didn`t believe the fact that i am agreeing with you for the first time. Good news, however, it didn`t last for much, i was truly disappointed when you wrote " other than Hizbullah, no one wants to reduce the Christians presence in the Parliament,..." , where did you get your info from Hanin? where did you see or hear in your life that Hizbullah seeks to reduce the Christians presence in the palriament or elsewhere?!!!!!!!!!!! Hanin, is your hate for Hizbullah to the extent that you are willing to imagine things he never said and will never say nor seek?!!! Hizbullah is interested in preserving the Christians role in Lebanon much more than anyone else and please don`t put words in anybody`s mouth.

    September 26, 2011

  • citizen

    Thanks Hanin for this "outcry". Yes, we still have a long way to go to get our own educated minds rule our country. War after war, leader after leader, nonsense media after nonsense media, our senses of judgment and openness have eroded dramatically. I saw the flip-flop news at MTV, pity they never heard of "Halloween", they only mentioned the crosses and hinted to the Hizb; sensation news makes money! I was so sad to read that Mr. Fakih was arrested and is still in custody; I hope and pray that he will get out soon and that he may have the strength and openness to forgive us Christians for this infamy. Can you imagine how calm and peaceful our country would become if all our leaders were banned from the media for a whole year (or many more)? If the media played its role as it should? If religion was kept indoors and citizenship everywhere? Yes, it’s too much asking, but for some reason, I feel we’re getting there; your message is a step forward, and many are silently preparing f

    September 26, 2011

  • ralph

    Bravo, 1million bravos to Hanin and her great articles!!! It is about time that lebanese stop blaming the world for THEIR mess and start looking at themselves in the miror and see their hideous image. Enough Paris of the ME, enough the "most advanced country in the ME", or talks about "our education", really enough exaggerated pride based on illusions. Lebanon stands in the bottom of all lists ranking countries in all domains and yet with a disgusting attitude, every lebanese stands straight and gives lessons to the world of how things should be. Thank you Hanin! Thank you for saying the TRUTH!

    September 26, 2011

  • Beiruti

    My dear writer. It is a symptom of the cancerous tumor that has infected the Lebanese body politic. When one sect is armed and is intent on going backwards to the 7th Century then that party defines the playing field on which the others must contest for survival. Intolerance is not the Christian way. But when Christians feel threatened, as they do in Lebanon with this tumor that is growing, then not one inch of ground is given. Bounds must be set because of the nature of the threat that is posed. Rid your sect from its Hezbollah leadership and you will see Lebanon return to being Lebanon.

    September 26, 2011


    well you are right about the lebanese as well as other people living here in ME,we are nothing but tribes full of hatred and ready to express it in the worst fashion.Go back to may 2008 and back to the days of civil war.It is very shameful and embarrasing to be living in the 21 century while still behaving as if we are in the dark days of the middle ages.It is very shameful when other countries are contributing to the progress of humanity in many ways while we are nothing but disgrace to it.

    September 26, 2011

  • Charles G. Bedran

    If you are against Halloween themed flip flops. ...Simply do not wear them.

    September 26, 2011

  • mrv

    For some strange reaon this reminds me of the incident were the Iraqi threw his flip flops at Bush. If i remember correctly The Irakii administration wanted him locked up for a very long time. But it was the Bush admin that spoke of his defence and said he was expresing his opinion. Also when that Danish cartoonist mocked the prophet in them cartoons Arabs made a big roar about it but when monstrous atrocities which include ethnic cleansing, genocide, rape and terrorism are being commited next door in both Syria and Palestine Arabs just seem to go on with life. Funny people the ....

    September 26, 2011

  • Phil

    I am Christian, although not a believer, and I found this commotion utterly ridiculous and retarded. I almost feel ahsamed.. But Hanine, you have to ask yourself what Moslems would do if they saw a flip-flop with crescents on it being sold in Hadath for instance by a Christian shop-owner. (I chose Hadath because it is currently being invaded by Shiites who moved their houses there)

    September 26, 2011

  • Don Cox

    Lebanon is a microcosm of the whole world.

    September 26, 2011

  • Adam Neira

    These is the correct order of identity constructs. First we are... (a) A human being (b) Nationality (c) Religion Love of one's nation must come before love of one's religion as it is the nation which gives one shelter, food, work, sustenance and vigour. Lebanon has suffered enough through many decades of terrible sectarian strife. The next 38 years can see great progress for the good people of the Levant but they must come together and set aside their petty differences. The Lebanese men of power must decide to seek the general welfare of the people. The country needs strong cedar trees willing to protect, shelter and comfort the women and children of the country. This process must begin now.

    September 26, 2011