Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Uncomfortably Numb- Our attitude to Politics

The war’s in Lebanon over the years have had many effects on the Lebanese side of my family. Businesses lost, seeing death, having to drive through corpses whilst praying they didn’t get hit, close calls with bombs and assassinations. In fact my dad had been at a gathering for politicians and businessmen at the then Prime Minister Rafic Hariri’s residence the day he got assassinated.When the meeting finished he drove behind his car in convoy and decided to take a left instead of a right to head home rather than go to his office, a decision that ultimately saved his life, as five minutes later 1000 kilograms of TNT went off under The Prime Minister’s car. Tragically Hariri was killed along with 21 other people in his entourage.

My late and favourite Uncle Siab was in my dads office when the bomb went off, the windows smashed and a body flew in front of him, he grabbed the ‘man’ and started praying and crying only to find out it was a mannequin in Gucci from from the suit shop next door.We all had a laugh about that. There is a necessary dark humour in Lebanon.

The English side of my family is a little different Sunday for example at my lovely mums house in the UK revolves around a roast dinner with my Grandma and Auntie and the all important fourth party The Eastender’s Omnibus! We discuss the latest in the Queen Vic and chat about what Dot Cotton did to Nick. ‘Oooh wasn’t it good’ we say as we gossip about the latest goings on in the square. There may be an occasional comment about that wally ‘Farage’ over dinner but all in all it is fairly low key, safe, comfortable and light. I imagine that represents a lot of families typical Sundays in England.

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Mum, Grandma and My Auntie.

The scene in my dads place on a Sunday in Beirut is very different. The view is gorgeous a front-line ocean property with the sun sparkling on the water as a volleyball match happens on the beach below.

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Me, Dad and My Baby Brother in Beirut

Dad, my auntie’s, cousin’s , brother’s and I are all together on this beautiful day. But no one is sunbathing or looking at the view everyone is gathered around the TV watching the latest political discussion programme as government minister’s debate the situation in Lebanon, Syria and beyond.
When that programme finishes The News is put on, as everyone scans the latest information that may effect the economy or worse bring more troubles to the area. They just want peace , no one can fully relax and enjoy life so they are fully engaged in politics. After the news, a debate will usually start as my brother puts forward his opinion’s which often are opposite to my dad’s and then we get into a full swing discussion. Chaotic, passionate, conversations are had, sometime’s ending in a row!

The dream for a lot of my family is, not to save enough to book a holiday to the Costa Blanca but to have enough peace so that business can thrive, husbands that have been forced to work abroad can come home and most of all to not have the burgeoning worry about their children being safe.

I feel guilty on a Sunday like that. This is only my life for week’s at a time I only experienced the war when I was a kid and it is safely wrapped in the cotton wool of distant memories. I was lucky, my mum was British my dad became a British citizen. I didn’t have to stay when the war got very bad. I was Charlie in Willy Wonka but my ticket wasn’t a golden one it was red and had Her Majesty’s’ Royal Arms’ stamp emblazoned across the front.

So that’s the juxtaposition of my two lives.

Here’s the thing. There is nothing wrong with the Eastender’s omnibus or a bit of ‘Downtown’ if you are that way inclined (except the time they forgot a bottle of Evian was in the back of shot) but like my dear English Grandma said about her experience of The Blitz in London: ‘people cared about politics there was a sense of real community and you looked after your neighbours and supported your community.’

This sense of engagement is not unique to any country in the Middle East… rather it is a symptom of struggle.

So the question is do we really need to feel a sense of fear or discomfort to become truly engaged in politics? Do we want to be numb to what’s truly going on and get distracted by reports in mainstream tabloid media putting the blame on the overused and now farcical phrase and sentiment of:
‘it’s the immigrants coming over here and nicking our jobs’?

It’s not the immigrants , we all know that really right? It is because the system is just set up to benefit the wealthy. Money over morals is never a great subtext to base societal rules on.Which it seems the Greek people have concluded in their droves.

The recent election of Syrzia in Greece is an example of a country thrown into discomfort and standing up to austerity measures plus becoming resourceful and entrepreneurial in the interim.

Do we in Britain have to wait until we make the transition from uncomfortably numb to extremely uncomfortable?, Or as the result of our political actions which we have been distracted from or felt too dis-empowered to do anything about experience worse repercussions?
Although it is human nature to be active when threatened I would hope we can become more engaged and start creating alternatives before that point.

Here’s what I know though’ attitudes are changing and the internet has provided a platform to spread truth, petitions, events and ideas worldwide. The political system cannot remain the same. People are no longer reliant on press media and TV they have the world at their fingertips and the lines in the sand/green grass are becoming blurred

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Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category


I first came across Fox News in 2006 during the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah whilst in a state of panic I was seeking news about my family who live in Beirut .


I had been awake for 24hrs watching where the bombs were going off and beside myself with fear as I saw a helicopter fly over my dad’s building.


 I had become more than marginally obsessed with all the news channels. Flicking from channel to channel, trying to frantically guess the locations of  the Israeli aircraft.


It was during this adrenalin fuelled channel surfing that with heavy eyelids I became infatuated  in switching from the BBC to Fox News back and forth , back and forth (I have done this before…when I am on TV but it is more to marvel at my wrinkles on HDTV and delight at a 10 year younger version of myself on normal telly ).


But back to Fox…. glossy , coiffured, and as far as I could tell a satirical entertainment show. Surely this can’t be the News? You can’t say that?  Is this a joke?


Now I am not saying the BBC are perfect, Let’s face it all forms of media have their faults. 

In fact I always wonder why our News readers in general have to be so stiff and non-human.

When they say something funny or remotely out of the ‘Newsreader’ box they look at one another, indulgently shuffle their papers and curl their lips awkwardly into a macabre smile  as if one of them had secretly passed wind.


 But at least I suppose, there is an attitude of gravitas and implied impartiality that isn’t about grabbing big audience ratings and sensationalising public information to the ‘nth’ degree. Which as we have seen this week seems to the general public consensus of Fox ‘News’


When terrorism ‘expert’ Steven Emerson went on as a guest and described Birmingham as ‘Totally Muslim’ and ‘Non Muslims did not enter’ …Sigh.The world finally sat up and said What????


The hashtag #foxnewsfacts took off and started trending on twitter ,as people thought up the most ridiculous things they could to demonstrate the ridiculousness of a News channel broadcasting (and not for the first time…) laughable and bafflingly inaccurate statements. 


Here are a few of my favourite tweets.


A Muslim lady offers her protection for non-muslims considering a trip to Birmingham.


‘@rabeb_Othmani If you are a non-muslim and would like to visit Birmingham #illridewithyou #foxnewsfacts 


and Mr Sarfraz Manzoor 


@sarfrazmanzoor By the 1970s there were only a handful of white men left living in Birmingham. They were dubbed The Birmingham 6. #FoxNewsFacts


In fact I spent most of the evening toffing my hat to the brilliant hashtags on twitter. It was actually a real credit to the Britain I think we all are proud of, multicultural, tolerant and of course highly sarcastic. 


But on a more serious level how on earth is this shaping American society?


 We may laugh it off in the UK but this is News Channel, inconceivable isn’t it? And actually in my opinion a real worry.


 I spent six weeks working in America last month filming for ‘A Place in the Sun’ for C4 and I experienced isolated events of  Islamophobia to the point I was actually a bit scared to say half my family were Arabic and Muslim in case I got a negative reaction. Which is something I have never experienced to such a degree here in the UK . 


Whilst there, a local barman in Orlando told the production crew ‘You guy’s have a big problem with all those Muslims in England’ they promptly tried to explain they had no such problem and they loved the multiculturalism in the UK .They were met with bemused looks and silence.


I was told whilst having a lovely chat about travelling with an American man in his twenties that he ‘wouldn’t go back to Amsterdam as it was full of Mosque’s and Turkish people’ I didn’t know what to say, so simply moved my chair and started a conversation about the weather with the cameraman.


An estate agent who hailed from India, lived in the UK and had grown up around all types of different religions, told me that it was so bad that she had given up arguing at dinner parties about the difference between fundamentalists and Muslims, as it became too heated and awkward so she chose to remain silent. She said the media were to blame.


 I think the worst experience I had was in 2011 when I was in Cambodia chatting to a lovely American lady in her 30’s who came out with the clanger almost out of nowhere ‘we just need to kill all the Muslims’ Yikes. Is it legal to say that?


I obviously need to make it crystal clear it is obviously not all Americans that think in this way, the vast majority were wonderful ,kind, welcoming and far friendlier than us Londoner’s who gaze passively at the floor when on the tube to avoid eye contact, or god forbid a conversation with a stranger.

In fact  whilst doing a Yoga class in Siesta Keys in Florida I had a lovely chat with the teacher of the class about evolution and solutions to cultural problems and the like and she in fact brought up Fox News as a distributor of what she termed ‘biased information’  


But I don’t in fact blame the people who think in this way actually despite their views some of them were really quite nice, The question is if this is their public information service how else can they think after, being bombarded with information like as the Great ‘terror expert’ Steven Emerson told Fox News;


‘in parts of London’  “Muslim religious police” beat “anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire”. 




@saradamergi I think I best get my Hijab on before I walk the dog. #foxnewsfacts #LondonLife

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