Tag Archives: Lebanon

A hoodie isn’t a death sentence

I want to break with form a little bit today and talk about the controversy sparked by Geraldo Rivera’s comments regarding Trayvon Martin’s outerwear choices last week. On Twitter, he said:

@GeraldoRivera: Trayvon killed by a jerk w a gun but black & Latino parents have to drill into kids heads: a hoodie is like a sign: shoot or stop & frisk me
@GeraldoRivera: His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman.
@GeraldoRivera: Justice will come to Zimmerman the Fla shooter-but I’m trying to save lives like Trayvon’s-Parents Alert: hoodies can get your kid killed
@GeraldoRivera: My own son just wrote to say he’s ashamed of my position re hoodies-still I feel parents must do whatever they can to keep their kids safe
@GeraldoRivera: Its not blaming the victim Its common sense-look like a gangsta&some armed schmuck will take you at your word
@GeraldoRivera: Critics of my hoodie comments think they’re mad at me but they’re really mad at the undeniably unfair reality of young male black/brown life
@GeraldoRivera: It hurts to be assailed-but anger doesn’t change reality-a minority kid in a hoodie in a hood not his own is a 911 call waiting to happen-

And on Fox News, he said:

“Every time you see someone stickin’ up a 7-11, the kid’s wearing a hoodie,” he said. “Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a “gangsta”… well, people are going to perceive you as a menace.”

I understand where he’s coming from: he’s saying that minority kids might be safer if they don’t wear hoodies, entirely due to the public perception of these kids when they wear such garments. But if they got rid of the hoodies, what would it be then? The baggy jeans? The big sneakers? The puffy jackets? The baseball caps? The bandanas? The sports t-shirts? Do we want minorities to dress like “white kids,” when even white kids don’t dress “like white kids”?

However, the fault isn’t with the clothing. It’s with our culture’s enduring perception of minorities — even kids — as criminals, as threats. And Geraldo — himself a Latino — is doing nothing in these statements to protect vulnerable kids from that perception.

It’s no different from telling goths to stop wearing black clothing and makeup, or telling Middle Eastern metalheads to wear white button-down shirts, or telling Iraqi emos to give up the skinny jeans and eyeliner — because otherwise, they’ll be beaten, arrested, or killed.

Youths, and people who “dress young,” who embrace rebellious clothing styles, have a right to do so — and to pass freely in society without the fear of attack. To say otherwise is to blame them for all who might do them harm because of the way they look. That is not where the blame belongs. And there are many things about their appearance that young minorities can’t change — things that some still perceive as automatically suspect.

By now, I hope, most people know better than to listen to Geraldo Rivera. For those who don’t, I will remind you how he fanned the flames of the Satanic Panic, which in turn destroyed many families.

Worldwide TV goes on a witch hunt


Lebanese promoter Elia Mssawir talks with a religious leader on Malik Maktabi’s television show, where the host attempted to paint heavy-metal music as occult and Satanic.

Across the world right now, the crackdown on oogedy-boogedy Satanic/occult ideas continues. Maybe it’s because it’s the height of the holiday season, but this has not been a good time for minority faiths — or those who love heavy-metal music.

Earlier this month, Lebanese TV host Malik Maktabi — a personality in the Jerry Springer mold — arranged an hour-long program on the evils of heavy metal. The program featured religious leaders, metal fan Kamal Khoueiry, and Lebanese music agent/promoter Elia Mssawir. Since the program itself isn’t in English, I wasn’t able to make much sense of it. Fortunately, Elia shared some thoughts on the episode on his blog:

Going up on that show was for many reasons and few of them were simple: It’s either I go with my friend Kamal Khoueiry or they will choose some random kid that would claim he’s a metal head and screw up everything we have been trying to fix for ages. Another reason was to defend and fix the image of Metal Heads and that there is no link between metal music and Satanism, which is something many tried to do before us in the past 15 years.

Regular readers may recall that Lebanon is one of the countries that has repeatedly arrested heavy-metal fans — a fate that Mssawir narrowly escaped. For them to go on public television at all is a risk, but one he felt was worth taking. He writes:

We made our thoughts and ideas get delivered in a way for the people to understand that metal is not linked to any Satanic rituals or any fuck ups you might think of; You might disagree with me here but after the calls and messages that i got from parents to thank me in helping them understand what their kids are listening to.

That’s a relief — that, even in the effort to frighten parents, the message got through that heavy metal is safe for kids to hear. But in other countries, a crackdown on “occult” practices — particularly on television — continues.

In Britain, Ofcom, which regulates broadcast communications, has banned the sale of occult services on television. In addition, the new rules outline how everything from chicken bones to astrology may be used on the air.

The media regulator said personalised astrology, horoscopes and tarot card readings were only acceptable if they were clearly labelled as “entertainment” and must never predict specific events, such as births, deaths, marriages – or new jobs.

Oh, and bad news should never be delivered on such programs, Ofcom said.

Similarly, India has enacted an outright ban on “occult” programming: “Many civil society organizations and media critics have alleged that such programmes promote irrationality and hinder the development of a scientific temper.” Broadcasters who ignore the law will face penalties.

There is little evidence that all religious programs in the UK and India would be similarly restricted and, as Jason Pitzl-Waters points out over on Wild Hunt, it’s discomfiting that the language around the restrictions are so vague. What is an “occult practice?” (Why does the definition include Satanism, which isn’t an “occult practice?”) Will it wind up including other minority faiths? Will this equate to a clampdown on religious expression by some groups but not others?

Once again, legitimate faiths and practices that hold spiritual value for many people are the scapegoats — receiving plenty of media attention while their own voices are muted, if not silenced.

A new Satanic Panic comes alive in Lebanon


Bassem Deaibess, singer for the Lebanese metal band Blaakyum, has been arrested twice for his appearance and musical taste amid nationwide accusations of blasphemy and Satanism.

In Lebanon, a headhunt is on. In recent weeks, at least eight Lebanese residents have been arrested on charges of blasphemy. This is the third time since 1996 that so-called “Satanists” have been rounded up by Lebanese authorities. Most of the accused were heavy metal fans, known for their long hair, black clothing, and, occasionally, their menacing demeanor.

Technically speaking, Satanism itself is not illegal in Lebanon. Practicing Satanism in private won’t land you in jail. According to Nizar Saghieh, a Lebanese lawyer and human rights activist, blasphemy, insulting of religious symbols and rites in public is punishable by up to three years in prison. How many heavy metal bands use such imagery in their songs, stage performances, album art, and t-shirts? Bassem Deaibess, singer for the Lebanese metal band Blaakyum (pictured above), says he has been arrested twice by the authorities, though he escaped this time. Elia Mssawir, a Beirut-based rock concert organizer and agent for several Lebanese heavy metal bands, was nearly arrested earlier this month, but charges against him were dropped before he was taken into custody.

The moral panic began 15 years ago, as all good moral panics do, with a young person’s suicide. The son of a high-ranking military officer shot himself, leading officials to blame heavy metal and “Satanism.” According to Deaibess:

[Hard rock and metal music] were depicted as an epidemic, as the new pest. ‘If this music gets to your child’s ears, he/she will commit suicide.’ This was the message…The government benefited at the time, because Lebanon was under Syrian occupation, and by creating this ‘Satanism’ scare they diverted people’s attention from the real, important problems.

A second wave followed in 2002/2003, when some 50 people were arrested. Most were eventually let go.

There is some debate over whether young people actually practice Satanism in Lebanon. While Deaibess and Mssawir both cast doubt on the idea, the Lebanese Daily Star spoke with a former “devil worshipper,” who told them:

“Around 40 people used to gather in the underground church that I attended,” he said, adding that it was in the Kesrouan town of Bouar. “There were inverted pentagrams and other satanic signs,” he added, referring to the five- pointed star encircling the face of a goat, which is said to represent carnality…

“Sometimes [we listened to] gothic and classic music and at other times it was heavy metal or death metal,” the former worshipper said. “People also took drugs as they tried to boost their moods during the mass.” …

“It is a temporary phase someone passes through … many of today’s teenagers are wearing emo clothes, which has become the new phenomenon in the country,” he said, referring to a popular style of music and dress.

Whether it’s legitimate religious practice or the kind of symbolism that goes along with heavy-metal culture, these pursuits have come under attack in nations around the globe, from Catholics taking Polish metal singers to court to misfit teens in Arkansas blamed for crimes they didn’t commit. The Satanic Panic is always alive somewhere, it seems.

And the result, for those who love this music and who need to explore their spirituality freely, can be frightening and devastating. Acrassicauda, the Iraqi thrash-metal band, eventually fled their home country because their devotion to music attracted too many death threats — again, over their alleged “Satanism.” Likewise, an Afghani band, D.U., must hide their identities because of the numerous death threats they’ve received.

Prohibiting such music, or the “Satanism” and “blasphemy” that goes with it, doesn’t make it any less necessary to those who live in embattled nations. Many in the Middle East risk their lives to listen to heavy metal. And for them, as for any listener, metal is a lifeline. Take Hazem Abu Zeid, a 29-year-old rebel fighter in Libya, who recently told Al Jazeera about his love of Metallica and heavy metal:

“I mix war with music. Death metal gives the real part of humanity; most music talks about love, beaches, cars, but this talks about real things, brutality, poverty, the soul.” His Iron Maiden T-shirt denoting the slogan ‘matters of life and death’ made for the perfect war gear.

“I have to stay on the front line, I can’t go back to my home and wait for Gaddafi to come and kill my family. We win or we die.”