NICOLE SABA WRITES – How could a skit lead to violent protests? Just ask the Lebanese!

According to the Daily Star, a recent episode of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International’s (LBCI) show, “Basmat Watan” included impersonations of Hezbollah’s Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah, as well as the Prophet Jonah, causing much unrest and chaos in the country.

“Basmat Watan,” is meant to be purely satirical, as even the name of the show serves two opposing meanings in Arabic, both “smiles of a nation” and “death of a nation.” Following the most recent episode, Al Arabiya reported that supporters of Hezbollah took to the streets, blocking roads, including the international highway in Tripoli, and burning tires. Members of the Association of Muslim Scholars, as well as the Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya party, even called for the cancellation of the show, claiming that it aims to incite, “sectarian strife in the country.”

The producer of the show, Charbel Khalil, refuses to apologize, however, stating that, “apologizing is not possible because what would I be apologizing for?” As Khalil understands it, any objective media outlet has the freedom and right to “criticize and satirize any political and religious figure,” and his view is backed by the chairman of LBCI, Pierre al-Daher. Even so, many are calling for Khalil to apologize, with a delegation of media professionals having already presented the head of the Audiovisual Media Council, Abdul-Hadi Mahfoud, with a petition that calls to end this program, and any others like it.

According to Ya Libnan, this is not the first time that Khalil’s show has impersonated Nasrallah, as he was first satirized in 2006, resulting in similar reactions. At that time, however, the producer apologized for doing so, as, “it was different then, there were injuries during the protests, and there was a war going on. I will not apologize now.” This time, protestors did not only lash out in the streets, but social media was used as a medium to portray their anger, with Facebook group names ranging from “Stop Charbel Khalil” to “Death to Charbel Khalil.”

Though the impersonation was clearly legitimate, as many other religious and political figures had been previously mocked on “Basmat Watan,” the overall response to the issue was blown out of proportion. The paradox here, however, is that these protests have received so much attention that they actually increased the program’s ratings and number of viewers.