Friday, September 28, 2012

Get family time with “A Day Offline”

Hamburger giant McDonald’s has called for “A Day Offline” to encourage families across the Gulf to turn off their mobiles, phones, computers and televisions today, Friday, and spend time together.
The Family Time forever campaign is excellent, but I know I won’t be participating because luckily I don’t have children and Friday is the only day I can catch up online with the rewards of connectivity, including news, research, human interaction and conversation.
Last year’s initiative reached thousands of families across the region. The 2012 edition is expected to generate even more awareness and bring attention to an issue that, according to the 2012 Regus Work-Life Balance Index, affects the majority of UAE business people. On the authority of the study, 57 percent of respondents believe they spend more time devoted to their work than to their families.
To help parents and children enjoy the day together, the brand’s fast food branches distributed phone vaults -- phone-sized containers with adhesive closures -- to help parents resist the temptation of checking mobile devices during family time.
To maintain interest and awareness throughout the remainder of the year, the chain launched its highly successful Family Fridays initiative, which features weekly in-store activities and entertainment for parents and children of all ages.
It will be interesting to find out how many people collected “phone vaults” and how many visited the establishments on September 28 to take up the “family time,” offers, albeit in fast food!
I hope “A Day Offline” is a McSuccess!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lebanon Cedars fight a “winter revolution”

“The Cedars know the history of the earth better than history itself”
Alphonse de Lamartine, French poet and historian (1790-1869)

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Cedar”?
Most probably the flag of Lebanon, its national carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA), the country’s currency, skiing, U2’s song
And what better name to give a “revolution” in Lebanon than “Cedar Revolution” -- triggered by the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005.
In my case, it always reminds me of a trunk that has been in my family for years, unfortunately made out of Cedar wood and still, some 70 years later, smelling wonderful when opened.
Throughout antiquity, the Cedars of Lebanon were prized above all other trees. Their fine wood is strong, straight and wonderfully scented. Cedar wood was the first choice for any temple or palace.
These magnificent trees helped give the Phoenicians a high place among other nations, and became the symbol by which they and their descendants were known. Revered and admired, they stand for prosperity and national pride.
Lebanon's Cedars at risk from global warming and insects
But the cherished Cedar Tree (Cedrus libani) is not well. It is fighting its own revolution against time. It is feeling the strains of centuries and is at risk from global warming and insects. It has now been added to the list of threatened species, although at the lowest level of threat, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization.
In the past, Lebanese mountains were covered with Cedars. Sadly, all that is left today is 18 scattered patches of protected Cedar land. In total, protected forests (both Cedar and other) make up approximately four to eight percent of the Lebanese territory.
A Guardian article earlier this month writes of Lebanon’s Cedar at risk from global warming causing shorter winters and more outbreaks of damaging insects. Alasdair Soussi writes: “The Cedars, some up to 3,000 years old and almost all of which are now protected, need a minimum amount of snow and rain for natural regeneration. But global warming has meant that Lebanon's Cedars are being subjected to shorter winters and less snow, and the Lebanese government estimates that snow cover could be cut by 40 percent by 2040.”
Soussi spoke to Nabil Nemer, head of the agricultural sciences department at Lebanon's Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, who says the lack of snow is not the only problem linked to climate change. “Insects, due to the changing climatic condition, become more active and their development rate is faster, thus causing more outbreaks, which weaken the Cedar tree, making them more susceptible to other diseases and/or insects, which will ultimately kill the trees. At least one insect has been studied, and the results showed that outbreaks of this insect are due to climate change, a low period of snow, and low humidity in summer. This insect, the Cephalcia tannourinensis, is a serious Cedar tree defoliator."
Famous French poet and historian Alphonse de Lamartine visited the “Cedars of the Lord,” or Arz al-Rab near Bcharre, back in 1832. Putting a memorabilia on the trunk of a very old Cedar tree commemorated his visit.
Rude Rahme's Lamartine Cedar
When it died, Lebanese Bcharre-born painter, sculptor and poet Rudy Rahme created the “Lamartine Cedar,” one of the most remarkable wooden and largest vegetal sculpture in the world.
It stands 39 meters high and contains 70 human figures representing the relationship between time and place. Among the figures are the birth, life and death of Jesus.
Rahme also transformed two other dead Cedar trees into pieces of art and there are still 11 Cedars waiting for their turn to complete the “human forest” in the Cedar Forest.
Will Lebanon get enough snow for its Cedars this year?
Arz al-Rab are the oldest Cedars in Lebanon and give an accurate idea of the stature and splendor these trees attained in antiquity. About 375 Cedars of great age stand in a sheltered glacial pocket of Mount Makmel. Four of them, many hundreds of years old, have reached a height of 35 meters and their trunks are between 12 and 14 meters around. They have straight trunks and strong branches that spread their regular horizontal boughs like fans.
Also among the inhabitants of the forests are some thousand young trees. Concern for this modern remnant of historic Cedars goes back to 1876, when the 102-hectare grove was surrounded by a high stone wall. Financed by Queen Victoria, the wall protects against one of the Cedar's natural enemies -- the goats who enjoy feasting on young saplings.
Over the centuries, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians made expeditions to Mount Lebanon for timber or extracted tributes of wood from the coastal cities of Canaan-Phoenicia.
The Phoenicians themselves made use of the Cedar, especially for their merchant fleets. Solomon requested large supplies of Cedar wood, along with architects and builders from King Hiram of Tyre to build his temple. Nebuchadnezzar boasted on a cuneiform inscription: "I brought for building, mighty Cedars, which I cut down with my pure hands on Mount Lebanon."
Its fragrance and durability, as well as the length of the great logs, made Cedar wood especially desirable.
The Egyptians used Cedar resin for mummification, and pitch was extracted from these trees for waterproofing and caulking.
In the second century A.D., the Roman Emperor Hadrian attempted to protect the Cedar forest with boundary markers, most carved into living rock, others in the form of separate engraved stones. Over 200 such markers have been recorded, allowing scholars to make an approximate reconstruction of the ancient forest boundaries. Two of these markers, carved in abbreviated Latin, can be seen at the American University of Beirut Museum.
Today too, only a few stands of these trees-of-kings are left, with the most impressive groves being near Bcharre in the northern Lebanon Mountains and the Chouf Reserve in the south.
Luckily, there is now an active program to conserve and regenerate the forests. The Lebanese approach has emphasized natural regeneration rather than planting, and this by creating the right conditions. Cedar and Nature Reserves created by the Lebanese state that contain Cedars include the Chouf Cedar Reserves, the Jaj Cedar Reserve, the Tannourine Reserve, the Ammouaa and Karm Shbat Reserves in the Akkar district, and Arz al-Rab forest.
The three-centuries-old Cedar of Lebanon in Highgate Cemetery
One of the famous Cedar trees outside Lebanon is in the UK. It is the most prominent landscaping feature in London's historic Highgate Cemetery. In the "Circle of Lebanon," a three-centuries-old Cedar of Lebanon towers in the middle of a circular trench cut into the ground and lined with mausoleums and magnificent family vaults influenced by Egyptian, Gothic and Classical styles.
Highgate Cemetery in north London opened in 1839 and is the final resting place of many famous names such as Karl Marx, Malcolm McLaren and Jeremy Beadle.
In 1998, the Cedars of God were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Much more needs to be done to restore and preserve these proud, tall, strong symbols of Lebanon and its people.
Lebanon’s Cedar is fighting its own Winter Revolution and it needs all the help it can get.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Syria regime now burning bloggers!

The late Abdelkareem al-Oqda

Syrian blogger and citizen journalist Abdelkareem al-Oqda, also known as Abu Hassan and Karmo, is yet another victim of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s war on truth, freedom and the Syrian people.
Oqda and three friends were killed and their bodies set alight in the Hama Province last Wednesday (September 19).
The 27-year-old was known as one of the bravest reporters for Shaam News Network.
SNN's Facebook page
SNN says Oqda never feared for his life when reporting in the most dangerous of situations. He always told his friends it was more important the world be shown the truth about happenings in Syria, now in the 18th month of a bloody revolution.
Oqda had uploaded on YouTube 1,252 videos exposing atrocities committed by the regime against citizens in the Hama Province,
Abu Hassan: "I will film until my last breath"
In one of the videos, Oqba explains why he left his job as a construction worker to take up filming. "I want to expose the crimes carried out by the regime... I will film until my last breath," he said.
His fellow-reporters often heard him saying, “God, let me die for the sake of truth and justice.” His wish has sadly been granted.
SNN has posted thousands of videos documenting the unrest in Syria since it was founded in February 2011, about a month before the outbreak of the revolution in mid-March last year. International news organizations use the network’s footage regularly.
The UK-based watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says an army attack on the Arba’een district of Hama -- one of the main arenas of Syria's anti-regime uprising -- left 16 people dead on the same day.
Oqda, killed and burned with his friends Nidal and Hamzah Bakour and Basel Kannan 
SNN says Oqda was at his home in Arba’een on Wednesday morning with friends Nidal and Hamzah Bakour and Basel Kannan. They were preparing to go filming when Assad forces ambushed the home, killed the four and then torched the house and their bodies.
Abu Hassan leaves behind a wife and brother, both of whom are currently detained by the Assad regime. His brother has been held since the summer of 2010.
Both Oqda’s home and his brother’s had been gutted by Assad forces once before. His sister’s children were stabbed to death in a massacre perpetrated by regime forces in rural Hama some months ago, according to SNN.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the brutal attack and called on all sides to stop targeting journalists.
"We condemn this brutal targeting and murder of Abdelkareem al-Oqda," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "Journalists are civilians, and the army must know that it will be held accountable for its actions against reporters."
At least 21 journalists have been killed covering the Syrian revolution since November, including one killed just over the border in Lebanon, making Syria the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research.
CPJ has documented resurgence in dangers facing the press in Syria over the past five weeks, including the disappearance of three foreign journalists.
Turkish cameraman Cüneyt Ünal and reporter Bashar Fahmi, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin, who work for the U.S. government-funded Al-Hurra TV news channel, were reported missing in the northwestern city of Aleppo on August 20. Six days later, Ünal appeared in a video saying he had been taken captive while reporting in Syria, but did not explicitly name his captors. But the video appeared on a pro-government television channel. The cameraman made no mention of Fahmi. No further information is known about the journalists' whereabouts or condition.
CPJ adds that U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice has not been heard from for over a month. At the end of August, the Czech ambassador who represents U.S. interests in Syria said the government had detained Tice, but Syrian authorities refused to confirm they were holding him, according to news reports.
"We call on the captors of Cüneyt Ünal, Bashar Fahmi, and Austin Tice to release them," said CPJ's Mahoney.
The Paris-based press watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said: "Syria's cities have become a 'Bermuda Triangle' for journalists."
As a blogger, believer in free speech and humanitarian, I mourn the killing of Abdelkareem al-Oqda. May he rest in peace.
More here:
Oqda’s YouTube Channel:
Oqda’s FaceBook page:
Al-Arabiya Arabic Television Report on His Death: 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Savage, Civilized Man & Mitt Romney

The subway ad

I tried hard to stay away from the controversy surrounding the YouTube trailer for the movie “Innocence of Muslims” insulting to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and triggering waves of violent protests in the Muslim world, often incited by fundamentalist regimes such as Iran’s.

And what vindicated my thinking was a Tweet I read this morning by Nadine Toukan (@nadinetukan). It said: “The biggest insult to Islam is calling a piece of utter rubbish an anti-Islam film. Stop injecting the kool-aid intravenously."
But then comes along news of more inflammatory material to be publicized in the New York subway system next week...
The advertisement will read:
In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man
Support Israel [wedged between two Stars of David]
Defeat Jihad
I deem the ad offensive. Although I do not call for censoring it, I am offended because I know, First Amendment notwithstanding, it would never have passed scrutiny or been allowed had it called Israel “savage.”
This adds insult to injury after revelations about Republican presidential hopeful (God forbid!) Mitt Romney.
The disclosures were made on Monday and Tuesday by Mother Jones, which published exclusive video footage of Romney speaking to donors at a May 17 fundraiser.
Among other dreadful clips, Romney is seen responding to a question about the "Palestine problem." Romney pontificated that peace in the Middle East is not possible and a Palestinian state is not feasible, telling donors Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish." Mother Jones also published a full transcript of the Romney secret video today, Wednesday that you can read here.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but all this brought to my mind former President George Bush’s famous 2001 catchphrase, “Why do they hate us?”
The New York Times article on Tuesday titled Ad Calling Jihad ‘Savage’ Is Set to Appear in Subway writes:
After rejecting the ads initially, then losing a federal court ruling on First Amendment grounds, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said on Tuesday that the ads were expected to appear next week at 10 subway stations.
“Our hands are tied,” Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority, said when asked about the timing of the ad…
The New York Times article continues:
Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, said in an e-mail Tuesday that transit officials in Washington were “kowtowing to the threat of jihad terrorism.” She added that recent events in the Middle East had not given her pause “for a second” about posting the ads in New York.
“I will never cower before violent intimidation, and stop telling the truth because doing so is dangerous,” she said. “Freedom must be vigorously defended.”
She added, “If someone commits violence, it is his responsibility and no one else’s.”
The transportation authority has said it did not try to block these ads because they did not meet the agency’s threshold for “demeaning” language, as the ad referring to a “savage” had.
Muneer Awad, the executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the ads were an attempt to “define Muslims” through hate speech.
“We’re encouraging American Muslims to go out there and define themselves,” he said.
Mr. Awad said the group had not called for the ads’ removal, though it has asked the transportation authority to redirect funds it receives for the ads to the city’s Human Rights Commission.
“It’s perfectly legal to be a bigot and to be a racist,” he said. “We want to make sure there’s a counter-voice.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

Film industry to Syria: Free Orwa Nyrabia

Missing Syrian filmmaker Orwa Nyrabia
International film stars and the Directors Guild of America have voiced concern and are demanding the release of Syria filmmaker Orwa Nyrabia who has been missing since August 23.
Robert de Niro, Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey, Charlotte Rampling and Danny Boyle, among others, are urging the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to release Nyrabia. But apart from Lebanese documentary filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour, Arab figures in the industry are keeping mum. But please correct me if I am wrong.
Mahmoud Kaabour's call to free Nyrabia

Kaabour, the documentary filmmaker behind Grandma, a Thousand Times and Being Osama, issued a video and has been active on social media platforms raising awareness and calling for Nyrabia’s release.
Taylor Hackford, president of the Los Angeles-based Directors Guild of America, made the following statement Thursday, September 6:
 “The Directors Guild of America joins together with the international film community in expressing our serious concern over the disappearance of filmmaker Orwa Nyrabia two weeks ago.
“A society or government that fails to protect an artist’s freedom to express his or her creative vision without fear of censorship, retribution or government reprisal is surely one in which respect for liberty, civil and human rights is similarly tenuous. We call for Nyrabia’s immediate and safe release along with any other filmmakers and other artists who have been detained and prohibited from full freedom of expression.”
Robert de Niro adds his voice for Nyrabia's freedom

Some 51 directors, producers, writers and actors from other parts of the world have also signed a letter demanding Nyrabia’s release. It says:
"We, the undersigned members of the UK film community and international friends, implore the Syrian authorities to release Orwa Nyrabia immediately.
"Orwa is a highly respected producer and festival promoter in Damascus who has been pivotal in starting a documentary renaissance in the Arab world.”
Among signatories to the letter are David Puttnam, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Colin Firth. Copies of the letter were forwarded to UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and distributed in France and the U.S.
Nyrabia’s last known movements are going to Damascus International Airport to fly to Cairo. He did not board the plane and has been missing since.
His father, Mouwaffaq Nyrabia, is a former political prisoner.
Nyrabiya is a graduate of the prestigious High Institute for Dramatic Arts in Damascus, where he studied acting and starred in several films before moving to film production.
In 2002, along with a Syrian fellow filmmaker and his wife, Diana el-Jeiroudi, he established Proaction Films, a Damascus-based production and distribution company that focuses on human rights, gender and social justice topics.
Recent credits include Diana el-Jeiroudi’s Dolls -- A Woman from Damascus, 2008 (IDFA, Nyon, Montpellier). Upcoming ones include Omar Amiralay’s theatrical documentary, Seduction. 
He is also the co-founder, with Diana el-Jeiroudi, and program director of Dox Box International Documentary Film Festival and editor–in-chief of Tafaseel, the newly launched documentary film quarterly in Arabic and English.
Founded in 2007, Dox Box has hosted documentary filmmakers such as Kim Longinotto, D. A. Pennebaker and Marc Issacs in Damascus. In March of 2012, Dox Box Global Day saw screenings of Syrian documentaries in Edinburgh and London in partnership with Reel Festivals and internationally in solidarity with the Syrian uprising.
In July, the Sarajevo Film Festival honored Nyrabia and Jeiroudi with the Katrin Cartlidge Foundation scholarship for "independence, singularity and integrity of spirit.”
In March, they were presented with the European Documentary Network (EDN) Award for initiating and running the documentary festival.
Diana el-Jeiroudi issued the following statement on his disappearance: “Syrian film producer Orwa Nyrabia disappeared on his way heading to Cairo at 5:00 p.m., on August 23, 2012. I lost contact with him soon after his arrival at Damascus International Airport. According to Egyptian Airlines, he did not board the plane, which indicates that he was arrested by the Syrian authorities at the airport.”
Nyrabia’s arrest is part of a crackdown by Assad’s regime on pro-democracy artists and intellectuals. "It seems it is a crime to establish an independent cinema movement in Syria," a fellow Syrian filmmaker, Ahmad Malus, said in a video statement recorded outside Syria, Reuters news agency reported.
Opposition activists say popular Syrian actor Mohammad Omar Oso has also been arrested. Oso was detained with several family members, according to a Syrian theater director.
Filmmaker killed in Aleppo
Just before publishing this post, I learned Syrian filmmaker Tamer al-Awam, 34, was killed by regime forces in the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday (September 8).

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said: “Syria lost one of its dear sons. Director and journalist Tamer al-Awam was martyred by the bullets of the murderous and treacherous regime on the front line of Aleppo.”

Awan was shooting a film for the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

"The Syrian regime is targeting now all groups of Syrian society without exception: workers, intellectuals, filmmakers," said the theater director, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Jameel, citing fear of reprisals. "The regime is becoming worse as it feels more surrounded."
My thoughts and solidarity are with Diana el-Jeirdoui and Orwa Nyrabia’s family and friends as well as with all those detained in Syrian jails.
To find out more, you can join the Facebook group set up by Nyrabia’s supporters: Freedom for Syrian Cinema, Freedom for Orwa Nyrabia.

Friday, September 7, 2012

“Song for Syria” from California

I was intrigued when I got an email with the subject “A song for Syria,” by Tony Rabbat, someone I had never heard of before. It must have been making the rounds.
Turns out, Rabbat is a singer/songwriter and producer. He is also the owner and teacher at Tony Rabbat Arabic Teaching in Los Angeles, California.
He was born in South America and raised in Syria, where it seems his heart still is.
From an early stage he started applying his moderate knowledge of the English into simple poems and songs. Little by little, he developed a passion for music and writing and he ended up studying English and world literature.
Rabbat couldn’t devote time to study music theory so he started learning as much as he could about music on his own and bought a guitar to expand his knowledge.
Growing up he had a passion for singing and was part of the church choir. He was the solo singer for almost 10 years at the Latin Church in Aleppo, before moving to the U.S. to follow his dream of becoming a music producer.
Introducing his “Song for Syria,” Tony Rabbat writes:
“The image of Syria has been associated with violence and blood the past year and a half.
“Every morning I wake up and run to my laptop to make sure nothing horrible has happened to my family and my friends. And because of the randomness of the killings and the unrest, my anxiousness doesn't calm down for more than a moment. I say no news is good news because the news is always negative.
“I wanted to create something positive and show the life I'd lived in Syria the past few decades. I wanted to share those images with you because Syria was never a place for terrorism or violence. It used to be a peaceful beautiful country, and I pray every day that it goes back to what it was.
“The video I made will show that beauty. I hope you enjoy watching it.”
It’s good to know that all the way out in California, someone is singing for the people of Syria.