07 January 2008

Lebanon youth gangs - new phenomenon

The L’Orient-Le Jour newspaper reported Saturday about a new phenomenon in Lebanon: a youth gang. The article tells the fascinating story behind a violent youth gang that has been terrorizing the posh ski resort of Farayah, in the mountains of Lebanon since summer. They call themselves The Outlaws and the gang has some 20 members who are aged between 15 and 17.

For anybody outside the Arab world, such gangs are nothing new. Violent behavior of youth is, unfortunately, a common event. Take e.g., the Netherlands where the head of the police in The Hague described the New Year’s Eve as ‘quiet’…despite the 128 cars that were set to fire (link in Dutch). Such aggressive and vandalistic behavior is hardly worth mentioning any longer in the western world.

How different the Arab world. Despite the general impression of Arabs as being bloodthirsty, crazy belligerents, it is actually one of the safest places in the world. Lebanon, e.g. is still a place where kids walk home alone at night from parties and where the theft of purses is diligently reported in the local newspapers. Besides the occasional war and the regular assassinations of high-profile targets, it truly is perfectly safe in this country.

Therefore, the news of The Outlaws as being the first youth gang in Lebanon is simply shocking. The article describes how the gang entered the chalet in Farayah of one of their classmates, beat him and his friend up and left them behind for dead. Luckily, the boy and his friend survived and charges were filed.

Given that one of the gang’s members is the son of an ex-minister and the others are also members of good (and above all rich) families, one could expect a cover-up, but the opposite is true. The assault took place on December 20 and already the state prosecutor is handling the case.

What’s interesting is that this gang has been operating since summer 2007, but that no one before has dared filing charges. A previous incident, which only now came to light, dealt with an attack of a boy who was stripped naked, tossed in the back of a car and tied up to one of the crosses on top of a mountain. The parents of the victim settled amicably (read: were paid off handsomely) with the parents of the perpetrators are charges were never filed.

As the author correctly points out, such behavior of parents only enforces kids to misbehave even more. It’s an utter lack of accountability that makes kids realize they can get away with anything. Once, I saw a girl in an expensive four wheel drive hitting another car in the parking lot in Downtown. Without blinking twice, she called her pappy and after listening to him for a bit simply walked away, leaving her driver to work out the insurance details.

Tie another kid naked to a cross, no worries, daddy will make any consequence go away. Parking tickets, traffic accidents, failing tests in school, not getting admitted into the school of choice, teacher wants to suspend you for aggressive behavior?…nothing’s too big a problem to be solved if you happen to have the money for it.

It is exactly this permissive non-accountability that ultimately has lead to the first youth gang ever in Lebanon. No surprise either that it happened in Farayah. It is one of the most up-scale ski resorts in Lebanon and consists mostly of people who visit the place only to ski or pass the summer. It therefore hardly has a village-feel and as a result, lacks social controls. Throw in a bunch of kids left alone by their parents for the weekend, the necessary alcohol and the feeling of being untouchable…the perfect recipe for disaster.

It has an eerie similarity with the raid of Crystal. In both cases, the reason seemed to be young, rich kids believing they can do anything they damn well please. In both cases, also, charges were filed and investigations were launched. Now let’s hope both cases will end with justice being served.-(lebanonupdate)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.