On Fairuz and Al Shira'a's Hasan Sabra

Al Shira'a's controversial cover story on Fairuz

Hasan Sabra whose Al Shira''a magazine broke the story that led to the Irangate saga
Images from the Palestinian camp Tel Zaater

An archiac Arabic word causes a Lebanese show to descend into name calling: Fairuz, Lebanese New TV and Al Shira’a

In Lebanese Al Shira’a magazine of December 14, 2015, publisher Hasan Sabra wrote an article critical of Lebanese icon Fairuz. Fairuz is the most famous Lebanese singer of all time and is seen by many as a national symbol that unites Lebanese of all backgrounds. Sabra said that he is not critical of Fairuz the singer but of Fairuz the person about whom the media should write honestly. Sabra said that people need to know celebrities for who they are- as human beings that have flaws. Sabra made five points in his magazine article:

1.   Fairuz loves money and is stingy
2.   Fairuz does not care for people/hates people
3.   Fairuz is a habitual alcohol drinker
4.   Fairuz is a co-conspirator of Syria’s Asad. During the 1970s siege of the Palestinian Tal el Za’atar refugee camp, Syrian military and intelligence officers met in her house plotting the attack on the camp that housed Palestinian refugees and poor Lebanese Muslims. This was previously revealed in 2012 by Fairuz’s son Zeiayd Rahbani in an interview with Ghassan Ben Jiddo of Al Mayadeen TV. Fairuz did not deny it.
5.   Faiurz has no friends and hates journalists.

The article upset many people in Lebanon. Many Lebanese were outraged that Sabra dared to speak ill of Fairuz. Interestingly, most of the objecting voices focused on the habitual- drinking claim.  Alshiraa, needless to say, is no stranger to controversy. Al Shira’a is the Lebanese magazine that broke the story that led to the Irangate scandal. The Irangate scandal involved Israeli weapons  sold to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran to be used against Iraq with the proceeds going to the Nicaraguan Contras in violation of American law. The scandal rocked the Reagan administration and shocked many in the Arab world that Iran was buying weapons from Israel to fight its war with Iraq, a war that was started by Iran, lasted 8 years, and was won by Iraq .

On December 14, Lebanese news show lilnasher, For Publication, with Rima Karaki invited Sabra to respond to questions regarding his controversial article on Fairuz.  The host and the two guests were against Sabra, prepared for a verbal lynching of the man. There was not even a semblance of balance from the host or her two guests- not unusual behavior from the TV station that many accuse of habitual incitement against Palestinians and others.  The two guests were media personalities, the controversial, and some say scandalous, Nidal Ahmadieh and a lesser known journalist, Pierre Abi Saab.

The show descended into a shameless mob attack on Sabra. As if that was not bad enough, it descended into the guests, knowingly or unknowingly, insulting Islam and Muslims as well. The two guests took issue with a word that Sabra used. Sabra said that Fairuz is a habitual alcohol drinker using an Arabic word used in classical Arabic, particularly Islamic commentary about alcohol- تعاقر.  The word simply means habitually use.  The Christian Lebanese Abi Saab seems not have understood the word, just taking it as negative, said the article belongs in the trash can and called the words low life/despicable. Abi Saab’s language caused Sabra, who realized he was invited to be verbally attacked and insulted, to get into verbal combat mode and the show descended into a shouting match. Ahmadieh said that the Arabic word is an ISIS word and that she is a Druze and the Druze drink alcohol. Ahmadieh also claimed that drinking is a “Lebanese tradition” and that it should not be considered shameful.   Ahmadieh, who wore a pin in solidarity with the Hizbullah TV station al Manar that was banned from Arabsat, oddly, stated that “all Lebanese” drink alcohol with their meals. She restated her point for emphasis stating that “Arabs should know that all Lebanese drink. Alcohol is on all Lebanese dining tables.” “This is our culture” she asserted.  This is an odd assertion from a woman wearing the Hizbullah- TV Al Manar station pin, logically then, either the Hizbullah station Al Manar employees drink alcohol or they are not real Lebanese. In addition, even for Ahmadieh’s Druze community, religious Druze do not drink alcohol, are the religious Druze not authentic Lebanese? In defending one Lebanese woman, Fairuz, Ahmadieh ended up insulting a major segment of the Lebanese population whose national identity became questionable because they simply do not drink alcohol. Ahmadieh’s criticism of Sabra is curious since she is even more controversial, way more controversial with scandalous coverage of entertainer and singers, than Sabra with a steady diet of scandalous news, many exaggerations if not outright lies, about celebrities.

Ahmadieh protested that the Arabic word is a word from “ISIS dictionary, from the killers of children.” Abi Saab said that Sabra should have just said she drinks alcohol. ISIS, even though Sabra himself is a secular Arab nationalist Shiite Muslim, strangely, became the center of the discussion for the two Shiites, one Christian and one Druze.  Ahmadieh, in a silly and bizarre exaggeration beyond all bounds, claimed that Fairuz is her goddess and that she has “no memory/existence without her.” Sabra, all of a sudden, turned out clearly to be the most rational person in the verbal milieu.

Abi Saab and Ahmadieh have the right to defend Fairuz and to disagree with Sabra. The trouble is that Abi Saab and Sabra, knowingly or unknowingly, also insulted Islam and Muslims. Islam forbids alcohol use for Muslims and does not mince words on alcohol usage. The word Sabra used is a negative word but is simply descriptive of a person who drinks habitually and regularly. Whether this is true or not as to Fairuz is another matter. The problem is that the word is in ordinary usage in the Muslim tradition and calling it a Daesh or ISIS word is an insult to the religious tradition and the religious community where the word is regularly used.

In Arab politics, it has become too easy to accuse political adversaries of being like Daesh or Daesh.  ISIS disapproves of alcohol use, but so do all Muslim traditions and some Christian traditions as well. This does not make them ISIS as well. ISIS uses imagery and verses from the Islamic tradition, does that make all the Islamic tradition a Daesh tradition?

I support Sabra's right to write freely about Fairuz and others. If he had defamed her, she could have sued him for defamation. It is much easier to win such a suit in Lebanon than in the US. My support of Sabra does not mean I dislike Fairuz. I grew up listening to Muslim Lebanese radio that started the day with Koran reading, Fairuz then the news. 
However, Fairuz is not an idol and the Tel Zaater part of the story is the most scandalous, not the alcohol part.

- The al Shiraa article:
-The New TV program:
-Interview with Zeiyad Rahbani on the issue of the Syrians in Fairuz’s apartment during the Tal el Zaatar siege:


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