The Bershka Skull T-Shirt Controversy in Lebanon!

The following image has been published on Facebook in the last two days, representing a Bershka skull T-Shirt, followed by massive online protests by Lebanese – mostly Christians. Comments like ‘This is humiliating’, ‘a shame’, ‘this is crazy’, ‘people are evil’, etc. accompany the image depicting, as all are stating, the Virgin Mary as the Lady of Skulls!

 Bershka Skull Tshirt

In fact, this Bershka image could either be a blend between Mexican Santa Muerte and Lady of Guadalupe, or simply Santa Muerte.

Santa Muerte or Saint Death, is a sacred figure and feminine skeletal folk saint venerated primarily in Mexico and the United States. As a figure made holy by popular belief, the saint of death developed through syncretism between Mesoamerican indigenous and Spanish Catholic beliefs and practices. Since the pre-Columbian era Mexican culture has maintained a certain reverence towards death, which can be seen in the widespread commemoration of the syncretic Day of the Dead. Elements of that celebration include the use of skeletons to remind people of their mortality.

 

Santa Muerte

Where Santa Muerte comes from isn’t clear, but a parallel can be drawn to La Parca, a feminine form of the Grim Reaper whom the Spaniards who evangelized Latin America used in their imagery. She was likely combined with Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec goddess of death who along with her husband Mictlantecuhtli, ruled over the underworld, Mictlan. Like the Bony Lady, the deathly couple was traditionally represented as human skeletons or carnal bodies with skulls for heads. Aztecs believed that those who died of natural causes ended up in Mictlan, and they also invoked the gods’ supernatural powers for earthly causes. With its persecution of indigenous religion, the Spanish Conquest drove this devotion underground and into syncretism with Catholicism. Spanish clergy employed the Grim Reapress in didactic fashion among the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Drawing on traditions of sacred ancestral bones and interpreting Christianity through their own cultural lens, some indigenous groups took the church’s skeletal figure of death for a saint in its own right.

Other Latin American cultures have skeleton saints, but they are male, and generally based on real people, if only loosely – San La Muerte of Argentina and Rey (King) Pascual of Guatemala. Santa Muerte seems to be a figure of Mexican folk religion, and many of the devotions to her include invocations of Jesus, the Trinity and God the Father. Many of the prescribed novenas include traditional Catholic prayers as well, including the Our Father.

Santa Muerte has many familiar nicknames. She is known variously as the Skinny Lady, White Sister, Godmother, co-Godmother, Powerful Lady, White Girl, and Pretty Girl, among others. As godmother and sister, the saint becomes a supernatural family member, approached with the same type of intimacy Mexicans would typically accord their relatives.

Much more than an object of contemplation, the Bony Lady is a saint of action. Santa Muerte’s popularity as a folk saint also derives from her unique control over life and death. Her reputation as the most powerful and fastest acting saint is above all what attracts results-oriented believers to her altar. Most devotees perceive her as ranking higher than other saints, martyrs, and even the Virgin Mary in the celestial hierachy. Saint Death is conceived of as an archangel (of death) who only takes orders from God himself. Those familiar with Catholic theology will recognize the role of Archangel Michael, God’s angel of death who guards and judges souls, weighing their merit with a set of scales. One Mexican woman explains her devotion to Santa Muerte in this way: “I believe in God but I trust in her.”

Lady of Guadalupe

The appearance of the Lady of Guadalupe to the Aztec Indian Juan Diego in December of 1531 generated the conversion of Mexico, Central and South America to Catholicism. Indeed, the Blessed Virgin Mary entered the very life stream of Central America and became an inextricable part of Mexican life and a central figure to the history of Mexico itself. The three most important religious celebrations in Central and South America are Christmas, Easter, and December 12, the feast-day of the Lady of Guadalupe. Her appearance in the center of the American continents has contributed to the Virgin of Guadalupe being given the title “Mother of America“.

Often, Santa Muerte stands near statues of Catholic images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin of Guadalupe, St. Peter, St. Jude, or St. Lazarus.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have not spoken about Santa Muerte – probably respecting freedom of thought and expression, and for political reasons (internal Mexican struggle) -, but the Mexican bishops have, condemning this worship as invalid. Still, it is firmly entrenched among Mexico’s lower working classes and various elements of society deemed as “outcasts”. It has been estimated that five million Mexicans venerate the angel of death. Santa Muerte occupies more shelf and floor space than any other saint in dozens of shops and market stalls specializing in the sale of religious and devotional items throughout Mexico. Votive candles are the best selling of all the Santa Muerte products. For the past five years the Bony Lady has been accompanying her devotees in their crossings into the United States, establishing herself along the two-thousand-mile-long border and in U.S. cities with Mexican immigrant communities. It is in border towns such as El Paso, Brownsville, and Laredo where evidence of her cult is strongest. However, devotion to Santa Muerte has spread to cities and towns deeper within the U.S., as indicated by the increasing availability of her devotional paraphernalia.

Santa Muerte’s transformation from object of occult devotion to protagonist of a public cult has involved a concomitant development in her identity. With the eruption of drug related violence in the 1990s, the black colored Santa Muerte of dark deeds stepped into the limelight as she appeared at the altars of notorious narcos. And it is the amoral Grim Reapress of the black devotional candle who continues to command media attention on both sides of the border and dominate public perception of her. Black candles, however, are slow sellers and are the least common at public altars in both Mexico and the United States. Despite her media image, Saint Death isn’t so much the guardian angel of narcos as she is the patroness of the drug war. In other words, her devotion among the police, soldiers, and prison guards on the front lines of the war against the cartels seems as widespread as it is among the traffickers.

The Bershka representation most probably represents the struggle between social/economical classes… I – and other experts in Religions such as R. Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies and a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Read “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint”, Oxford University Press – don’t think that suppressing those representations is a winning strategy for the Catholic Church, especially in areas where the rise of devotion can be attributed at least in part to a lack of attention to teaching the people about their faith in the first place. One of the things that have attracted people to Santa Muerte is that death is evenhanded, coming just the same for the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak. The Church too often in Mexico is seen as being on the side of the rich and the powerful, and Santa Muerte seems to be using her scythe to bring it down a few pegs — just as her followers believe she can do to their enemies. In some ways adherents view her as a supernatural version of themselves. One of the main attractions of folk saints is their similarities with devotees. For example, they typically share the same nationality and social class with their adherents. Indeed, many devotees are attracted by the leveling effect of Santa Muerte’s scythe, which obliterates divisions of race, class and gender. One of the most oft-repeated acclamation is that the Bony Lady “doesn’t discriminate.”

As a Sciences of Religions’ Scholar and University Professor, I urge my fellow citizens to conduct researches before judging, be less ignorant of religious symbolism and rituals in their country and around the world, and more open to religious/political diversity and freedom of expression. My goal is not to defend beliefs or practices – I don’t believe in Santa Muerte !! -, but to scientifically study religious phenomenon. I urge my students and my fellow citizens to be less judgmental and sentimental and adopt a more scientific/objective point of view, while trying to respect the reality of what seems to be ‘opposing sets of cultural values’.

I respect the diversity of opinions concerning this matter and this article shows this diversity, as well as the controversy; for I am fully aware of the urgent need in Lebanon to do more than communicating scientific and historical evidences. We need to create spaces of healthy debates and dialogue on several issues, including controversial religious issues, and to create a climate of deliberations in which no group perceives that accepting any piece of evidence is akin to betrayal of their cultural/religious group.

SANTA MUERTE TIMELINE

1375 Aztecs establish their capital at Tenochtitlan (the site of modern Mexico City). Their empire dominates central Mexico culturally and politically until 1519. The Aztec belief system includes Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec goddess of death traditionally represented as a human skeleton or carnal body with a skull for a head.

1519-1521 Spanish conquest of the Aztecs drives traditional Indigenous beliefs and devotions underground as the colonial era commences.

1700’s Spanish Iniquisition documents reflect localized devotion to the Santa Muerte, though the practice remains occult.

1800-1900 Virtually no mention of Santa Muerte in the traditional written historical record.

1940’s Santa Muerte reappears in documents produced by Mexican and North American anthropologists, primarily as a folk saint whose divine intervention is sought for matters of the heart.

2001 On All Saints Day, Enriqueta Romero Romero brings Santa Muerte into the open, establishing the first public shrine dedicated to the devotion in the downtown Mexico City neighborhood of Tepito.

2003 Self-declared “Archbishop” David Romo’s temple, the Traditional Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, Mex-USA is granted official recognition by the Mexican government. On August 15, the feast day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the church celebrates the inclusion of Santa Muerte in its set of beliefs and practices.

2003 The Santuario Universal de Santa Muerte (Universal Sanctuary of Santa Muerte) is founded by “Professor” Santiago Guadalupe, a Mexican immigrant from the state of Veracruz.

2004 One of Romo’s disgruntled priests files a formal complaint of the church’s inclusion of the Santa Muerte in its devotional paradigm.

2005 The Mexican government strips the Traditional Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, Mex-USA of its official recognition. However, Mexican law does not require such sanctions, and the incident provoked political controversy.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION SOURCES

Aridjis, Eva, dir. 2008. La Santa Muerte. Navarre, 2008.

Aridjis, Homero. 2004. La Santa Muerte: Sexteto del amor, las mujeres, los perros y la muerte. Mexico City: Conaculta.

Bernal S., María de la Luz. 1982. Mitos y magos mexicanos. 2nd ed. Colonia Juárez, Mexico: Grupo Editorial Gaceta.

Chesnut, R. Andrew. 2012. Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, The Skeleton Saint. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chesnut, R. Andrew. 2012. “Santa Muerte: Mexico’s Devotion to the Saint of Death.” Huffington Post Online, January 7. Accessed from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/r-andrew-chesnut/santa-muerte-saint-of-death_b_1189557.html

Chesnut, R. Andrew. 2003. Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chesnut, R. Andrew. 1997. Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Cortes, Fernando, dir. 1976. El miedo no anda en burro. Diana Films.

Del Toro, Paco, dir. 2007. La Santa Muerte. Armagedon Producciones.

Graziano, Frank. 2007. Cultures of Devotion: Folk Saints of Spanish America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. 1974. “Godfather Death.” Tale 44 in The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. New York: Pantheon. Accessed from http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm044.html on February 20, 2012..

Holman, E. Bryant. 2007. The Santisima Muerte: A Mexican Folk Saint. Self-published.

Kelly, Isabel. 1965. Folk Practices in North Mexico: Birth Customs, Folk Medicine, and Spiritualism in the Laguna Zone. Austin: University of Texas Press.

La Biblia de la Santa Muerte . 2008. Mexico City: Editores Mexicanos Unidos.

Lewis, Oscar. 1961. The Children of Sánchez: Autobiography of a Mexican Family. New York: Random House.

Lomnitz, Claudio. 2008. Death and the Idea of Mexico. New York: Zone Books.

Martínez Gil, Fernando. 1993. Muerte y sociedad en la España de los Austrias. Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores.

Navarrete, Carlos. 1982. San Pascualito Rey y el culto a la muerte en Chiapas. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas.

Olavarrieta Marenco, Marcela. 1977. Magia en los Tuxtlas, Veracruz. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional Indigenista.

Perdigón Castañeda, J. Katia. 2008. La Santa Muerte: Protectora de los hombres. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2008.

Thompson, John. 1998. “Santísima Muerte: On the Origin and Development of a Mexican Occult Image.” Journal of the Southwest40 (Winter). Accessed from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6474/is_4_40/ai_n28721107/?tag=content;col1 on February 20, 2012.

Toor , Frances . 1947. A Treasury of Mexican Folkways. New York: Crown.

Villarreal, Mario. “Mexican Elections: The Candidates.” American Enterprise Institute. Accessed fromhttp://www.aei.org/docLib/20060503_VillarrealMexicanElections.pdf. on February 20, 2012.

About Dr. Pamela Chrabieh

Lebanese-Canadian Doctor of Sciences of Religions (University of Montreal, QC, Canada). Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies (American University in Dubai). Artist, Author, Blogger, Activist, and Mother of one daughter. Founder of the 'Red Lips High Heels' movement.

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51 Responses to The Bershka Skull T-Shirt Controversy in Lebanon!

  1. Amina Haitham April 9, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Thank you Dr. for this important article! Especially in a country where propaganda and ignorance fill minds and spirits!

  2. Roula Farhat April 9, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    I have been following the protests on Facebook. I’m sure nobody tried to think of what you wrote here, Thank you!

  3. anonymous April 9, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    I’ve seen many on Facebook today criticizing Bershka’s Lady of skulls shirt that disrespects Virgin Mary. While such a shirt may be considered as an insult to some Christians in Lebanon, I don’t think we need to make a big deal out of it. In fact, I am sure there are tons of other similar shirts (in terms of disrespecting religions) in the Lebanese Market that no one has discovered yet. If we were to point out all the items and products that are disrespectful to religions in the market, we will need to come up with a special ministry for that.
    http://blogbaladi.com/bershkas-lady-of-skulls-shirt/comment-page-1/

  4. anonymous April 9, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Everyone is attacking Bershka’s T-shirt design, saying it is offensive and it is insulting Virgin Mary. But if you are a bit familiar with Mexican culture you will directly recognize the design as being the famous Santa Muerte.

    Santa Muerte is Spanish for Saint Death, is a sacred figure and feminine skeletal folk saint veneratedprimarily in Mexico and the United States. As a figure made holy by popular belief, the saint of death developed through syncretism between Mesoamerican indigenous and Spanish Catholic beliefs and practices. Santa Muerte, the name in Spanish, literally translates to “Saint Death” or “Holy Death”.

    This summer fashion trend if you check all the shops is mexican, so it is only normal to have mexican designs and patterns on it.

    So please people don’t pull another Ahmad al Assir scene, no one is attacking Virgin Mary and there are way more important stuff to be offended by in this country than a t-shirt design.

    Ps: Santa Muerte is not approved by the Catholic church but again if you are familiar with the Mexican culture you will know that in remote villages they practice in an unorthodox way their religion. I mean people break the neck of a chicken in the church when praying.

    http://abirghattas.com/on-bershkas-t-shirt-it-is-not-virgin-mary-it-is-santa-muerte/

  5. Marc Andraos April 9, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    Thank you Dr. for this important article. I am ashamed of my fellow citizens’ ignorance and, even more, when shown facts, they still deny the complexity of truth about particular beliefs and practices. It is a courageous step the one you just did by writing this post in a country known for its ‘liberty of expression’ but is in fact full of taboos and prejudices.

  6. Marc Andraos April 9, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    and I just found this:
    “Anyways, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen anger over religious images. In 2011, The Daily Star reported that a Shiaa store owner was forced to close his store because he was selling Halloween-like flip-flops with crosses on them, which ignited a massive online debate.

    In a western society, stuff like this would be considered normal. Which begs the question, are we too sensitive when it comes to religion? Or are they just used to it?”

    http://www.beirut.com/l/23566

  7. Marc Andraos April 9, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    and also, according to R. Andrew Chesnut: Santa Muerte: A Familiar Death:
    Having lived, studied and traveled in Mexico for almost 30 years, I can personally attest to the intimate and familiar nature of death in popular culture. Long before Saint Death’s public outing 11 years ago today, images of death personified abounded.

  8. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 9, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Thank you all!

    I read articles by Andrew Chestnut, one of the best experts on this issue. He clearly says that since media coverage in the US overwhelmingly portrayed Santa Muerte as a sinister narco-saint, many Americans perceive her as a malicious figure at best and satanic at worst.

    “In my recent book, “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skelton Saint,” I portray the saint of death in her complex totality, acknowledging and exploring her appropriation by narcos and other malefactors, while pointing out that she also is believed to heal devotees of illness and mend broken hearts, among other things. In fact her top- selling votive candle in Mexico is the red one of love and passion! However given the depiction of the folk saint by the media, at times reinforced by my fellow academics, it is not surprising that the presence of her Grim Reapress image in the cemetery quickly ignited a firestorm of controversy. For those in San Benito who already viewed the Bony Lady (one of her common monikers) as malevolent the unsubstantiated allegation of murderous sorcery made by a well-known anthropologist in the region simply reinforced their opinion and apparently emboldened at least one to deliver a mortal blow to Saint Death in the graveyard”.

    • Staos April 12, 2013 at 2:45 am #

      So u are PhD ? And what university are u affiliated with?

      Did u search the net to see if this shirt is really a bershka shirt?
      Just go to google ( not the Lebanese server) and search bershka skull t-shirt, u wont find this shirt, i am sure cause i did the search.

      This leave 2 option,
      1. Pure propaganda
      2. Some one doing it on purpose

      Although u think that u job is searching religious phenomenon
      I think ur job is to be objective and make sure before attaking the open society that is producing pepole like u, to find the truth.

      Thank you

      • Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 13, 2013 at 8:31 am #

        Staos, you clearly misunderstood my writings… For I am not attacking Bershka, nor do I stand for it. I simply explain the phenomenon of Santa Muerte from a Sciences of Religions’ perspective (which you clearly are not familiar with) and I am backed by the most prominent American experts on this subject. So, according to you, presenting the diversity of opinions on this matter and an wide array of references = not to be objective ??? !! Missing a point here!!

        As for my C.V., you just have to do your own research – just google my name.

        Affiliated? Yes, to the Faculty of Theology of USEK – Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, as well as the Faculty of Theology and Sciences of Religions at the University of Montreal (Canada).

        Next time you feel ‘offended’, try not to attack people on the basis of assumptions and misunderstanding. This is a platform of debate on ideas, not a place to ask each others’ C.V.s.. so I won’t ask yours…

        As for Bershka, I have my inside information + they issued a statement concerning the T-Shirt, just read it on Gino’s blog, and their Facebook Page (in Lebanon).

        And by the way, the T-SHIRT was never found in Lebanon, and I clearly criticize those who raised the issue anyways, instead of focusing on more important subjects to deal with in this country.

  9. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 9, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    I also recommend the following book for Chestnut: Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy

    Summary: For over four centuries the Catholic Church enjoyed a religious monopoly in Latin America in which potential rivals were repressed or outlawed. Latin Americans were born Catholic and the only real choice they had was whether to actively practice the faith. Taking advantage of the legal disestablishment of the Catholic Church between the late 1800s and the early 1900s, Pentecostals almost single-handedly built a new pluralist religious economy. By the 1950s, many Latin Americans were free to choose from among the hundreds of available religious “products,” a dizzying array of religious options that range from the African-Brazilian religion of Umbanda to the New Age group known as the Vegetable Union.
    R. Andrew Chesnut shows how the development of religious pluralism over the past half-century has radically transformed the “spiritual economy” of Latin America. In order to thrive in this new religious economy, says Chesnut, Latin American spiritual “firms” must develop an attractive product and know how to market it to popular consumers. Three religious groups, he demonstrates, have proven to be the most skilled competitors in the new unregulated religious economy. Protestant Pentecostalism, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and African diaspora religions such as Brazilian Candomble and Haitian Vodou have emerged as the most profitable religious producers. Chesnut explores the general effects of a free market, such as introduction of consumer taste and product specialization, and shows how they have played out in the Latin American context. He notes, for example, that women make up the majority of the religious consumer market, and explores how the three groups have developed to satisfy women’s tastes and preferences. Moving beyond the Pentecostal boom and the rise and fall of liberation theology, Chesnut provides a fascinating portrait of the Latin American religious landscape.

  10. Nicole El Mssan April 9, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Mexico’s Catholic Church has accused Santa Muerte devotees of mixing Christianity with devil-worshiping cultism, the Catholic Church there has linked Santa Muerte to Satanist practices, saying she is being used to mislead desperate people, stop defending this shit.
    People should have knowledge about their christianity. even if she is Santa Muerte it s not allowed to design her icon on a stylish i shirt, “haram”.

  11. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    Again, as a University Professor and expert in Sciences of Religions, my goal isn’t to defend beliefs or practices – I don’t believe in Santa Muerte !! -, but to scientifically study religious phenomenon. And i urge my students and my fellow citizens to be less judgmental and sentimental and adopt a more scientific/objective point of view, while trying to respect the reality of what seems to be ‘opposing sets of cultural values’.

    I respect the diversity of opinions concerning this matter and my article shows this diversity, as well as the controversy; for I am fully aware of the urgent need in Lebanon to do more than communicating scientific and historical evidences. We need to create spaces of healthy debates and dialogue on several issues, including controversial religious issues, and to create a climate of deliberations in which no group perceives that accepting any piece of evidence is akin to betrayal of their cultural/religious group.

  12. rola April 9, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    SHAME ON YOU bershka. WE SHOUL BOYCOTT bershka.
    tfeh 3laykoun woskhinnn

  13. Anais Abdul Rahman April 9, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Thank you Dr. for this precious historical, sociological and theological information you provide in this article. I wish all could share their opinions and studies in a healthy and civilized manner, for I read so many nasty words on Facebook and other online forums on this subject. I don’t defend Bershka but I defend the sacred right of freedom of thought and belief. If we continue to act as uncivilized people – as Lebanese – who can’t control their emotions and can’t think and investigate fully an event or a case without ‘murdering’ each other, we are doomed! I welcome as you are calling for, healthy debates and dialogues on sensitive and taboo subjects.

  14. Ammar April 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    It reminds me of the Prophet Muhammad Cartoons’ controversy !!! and its serious consequences in Lebanon. We have to stop hatred, discrimination – i.e. discriminating other cultures’ values and beliefs – and censorship. Everybody is free to give his or her own opinion, as long as it is based on solid grounds and in a respectful atmosphere.

  15. Carole Chebli April 9, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    Thank you Dr. and i salute your courage in a country full of sectarian attitude.

    I remind also my friends and Lebanese citizens of the following article 18 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights – which Lebanon ratified:

    “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

    NOTES:
    Countries are made of many different kinds of people from many different places. But sometimes countries have an official religion, or a national political party. If you are different from the majority, you still have the right to your own religion and your own opinions, and have the right to practice your religion and express your opinions in public and in private.

    DEFINITIONS:
    tolerance is acceptance of others with mutual respect and understanding. The UN’s Declaration of Principles on Tolerance defines tolerance as “an active attitude” and a “responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law”. It commits the member States to “support and implement programmes of social science research and education for tolerance, human rights and non-violence” and to “educating caring and responsible citizens open to other cultures, able to appreciate the value of freedom, respectful of human dignity and differences, and able to prevent conflicts or resolve them by non-violent means”.

    MORE:
    Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (UN General Assembly Resolution 36/55 of 25 November 1981)
    Report from the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, appointed by the Commission on Human Rights in 1986

  16. Night Shadow April 9, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Enlightening! Thank you!

    And I must say, Dr. Chrabieh, that you are indeed contributing to what the UN states – referring to Carole Chebli comment -: supporting and implementing social science research and education for tolerance, human rights and non-violence.

    You are after all calling us all to use our minds and to become educated caring and responsible citizens open to other cultures, able to appreciate the value of freedom, respectful of human dignity and differences, and able to prevent conflicts or resolve them by non-violent means.

    Non-violent means include of course AWARENESS, EDUCATION, RESEARCH, SELF-CRITICISM, CONSTRUCTIVE POSITIVE CRITICISM, …

    Unfortunately, many Lebanese did not learn the lessons of wars, nor are they doing anything to build a culture of Peace.

    So, thank you again and God bless you!

  17. Karim Chalfoun April 9, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    Nice platform and blog! Nice Facebook Page too! First time I visit when I clicked on the link to this article while searching in Google for the Bershka skull T-shirt problem. I watched a reportage on MTV and read comments on Facebook. I’m for freedom of expression and belief. One may buy and wear this T-shirt, and one doesn’t have to do it. We honestly don’t need to fuel hatred. We need peaceful speeches and tolerant attitudes. Just look at what is happening around us: extremism everywhere: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria … And Christians became an nearly ‘extinct specie’. The solution isn’t to become a ghetto and start using censorship and freedom repression. But to open to dialogue and look for non-violent ways of dealing with diversity of thoughts and ways of life.

  18. Marie Chartouni April 9, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Merci Docteure Pamela Chrabieh. Un article fort intéressant et une approche scientifique que j’admire.

    Félicitations et bon courage pour la suite de votre lutte.

  19. Anne-Marie Haddad April 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Thank you Dr. Chrabieh for your article.

    I found this that might interest everybody.. It’s about censorship in Lebanon:

    “Concerning censorship of material on religion or which contains religious content, General Security exercises strict prior censorship and allows religious authorities (mainly Dar Al Iftaa and the Catholic Media Center) a fundamental role in decision-making. This is in contrast to court rulings which reflect a high degree of tolerance and respect of a citizen’s right to free expression (e.g. The acquittals of singer Marcel Khalifeh for charges related to singing Qur’anic verses and writer Joseph Haddad for an article entitled “Kidnapped God”).
    In this respect, the censor classifies material according to three categories, each with its own legal status:
    - Category 1: topics or scenes that are not damaging to religion or religious beliefs, but question the ability of religion to counter evil (restricted to adults)
    - Category 2: certain scenes, but not the entire contents of a film or play, considered offensive to religion (offensive scenes removed, screening is restricted to adults, or import is permitted but screening or copying the film is prohibited).
    - Category 3 includes films or plays considered to be offensive to religion (films are confiscated).
    Furthermore, a recent statement by the information minister indicates a trend towards further tightening of censorship of material which contains religious content, following the suspension of an Iranian-produced series about Jesus Christ on Al-Manar and NBN TV stations. The statement read: “Each believer has the right to interpret his own faith, and others must respect this interpretation of faith and ideology… We should not discuss other religions in a way that leads other believers not to recognize their faith, history and interpretation of ideology”.

    Source: http://www.lb.boell.org/web/52-744.html

  20. anonymous April 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    SHAME ON BERSHKA!

    stop utilizing religious symbols!

  21. Mirna Mallat April 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Thank you Dr. I found the following:

    “Intellectually and artistically, Beirut has long been freer than other places in the Middle East; some now fear that that is under threat as never before. With the rise of the Shiite Islamists of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims — traditionally moderate — have been increasingly challenged by extremists, including Salafi mullahs in Sidon and Al Qaeda in the northern city of Tripoli. All of them have been pushing back against secular license.

    “Why freer? Why an -er on that word?” asked Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, a group dedicated to freedom of expression, and named in honor of a journalist and critic of Syria who was assassinated after Mr. Hariri. Most of the rest of the region has little or no bragging rights when it comes to freedom of expression.

    Christian groups have also been joining the call for censorship. “The majority of complaints are initiated by the churches,” Mr. Mhanna said. It is perhaps the only thing religious parties on all sides seem to agree on. “When it comes to censorship, they’re all perfectly O.K. with that.”

    For more, read: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/04/world/middleeast/lebanon-artists-confront-rise-in-censorship.html?_r=2&

  22. anonymousjina April 9, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    Nice to know that there are religions’ experts such as you Dr. Chrabieh, Lebanese and living in Lebanon, a woman of head and belief. Nice to know that there are also NGOs and individuals working for freedom of thought and expression in this country.
    I am referring to SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom for example. SKeyes developed the web series “Mamnou3” (forbidden in Arabic). The series consists of ten episodes and is a satirical look at the daily workings of the censorship bureau.
    Also MARCH, which runs an online museum of censorship, and successful online campaigns that have recently helped to combat censorship in Lebanon.
    Still, there is much more needing to be done!

  23. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 9, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Please find below an example of the heated debates on my Facebook Pages – both personal and Red Lips High Heels’ page:

    Myra Saade Moarbes:
    DR. Chrabieh I really respect ur scientific perception of the issue and ur study is of great value when it comes to history and culture and knowledge. But what we really were focusing on is the fact that Santa Muerte was represented instead of our Lady of Guadalupe and that’s what raised the whole debate. Had Santa Muerte been represented in its initial or known figure all this debate would have been senseless and ur study about Santa Muerte would have been of great value to initiate us on this controversial Santa Muerte. Our question is the following and it has nothing to do with ur valuable study: why is it that religious icons and perceptions are not respected anymore? Why do people need to mock other people’s beliefs, values and affiliations to promote products, jokes, magazines, movies, books etc… Yes there’s a freedom of speech and act but limits should not be drawn when it comes to mocking other people’s beliefs? Y did Bershka need to draw Santa Muerte in Lady Guadalupe’s image? What’s the real stance behind this? That’s our question and that’s what in this case Shame is

    Pamela Chrabieh: Well, you should ask Bershka… But as far as I know, there was no intention to offend; on the contrary, their Mexican collection was designed to value Mexican cultural diversity and Santa Muerte is part of it. “If” – and I meant “if” in my article – there is the possibility of an iconography blend with the Lady of Guadalupe, again, I don’t think the intention was to offend Christianity, but to represent the struggle of classes. Now, there is also the possibility of the designer not knowing what the result of the blend would be … And there is the possibility which is the most probable one: representing Santa Muerte as seen by millions of Mexicans i.e. more important than the Virgin Mary. In that sense, this is their belief… And they are free to express it, and those who don’t like it are free to say it. When the liberty to freely express oneself is at odds with another’s right to freedom of religion, we are confronted with the classic dilemma of choosing between two equally fundamental, constitutionally and internationally protected rights. The contours of the said two rights however, are far from clear. Whilst freedom of expression is not an absolute right, its limits are controversial. Equally, while it is undisputed that freedom of religion is an internationally protected human right enshrined in various international instruments, there is no comprehensive international treaty which addresses as its subject the content and extent of the right of freedom of religion, thus it is uncertain whether it entails the right to have one’s religious faith and symbols protected from insult.
    7 minutes ago · Like

    Pamela Chrabieh The unsettled boundaries of dispute arising from the clash between two fundamental rights have led to bitter tensions between freedom of expression and concerns to protect and respect religious sentiments. Religious communities feel outraged that their religious beliefs and sacred symbols are mocked, insulted, attacked or vilified. Aggrieved believers argue that “respect” for religious beliefs and symbols is fundamental to and part and parcel of the right of freedom of religion and that freedom of expression, although equally fundamental, is not without its limits.
    7 minutes ago · Like

    Pamela Chrabieh On the far right, the United States endows the freedom of expression with sacrosanct status, which can be limited only where there is a risk of imminent danger or physical harm to third parties or a threat of an imminent outbreak of violence. In marked contrast is the German model, where an individual’s religious sentiments, dignity and identity are protected from scurrility and ridicule and any form of degrading speech against any religion is outlawed. Lying between these two extremes are the European Court of Human Rights and the Australian systems which have endeavoured to strike a delicate balance between respect for religious sentiments and free speech.
    7 minutes ago · Like

    Pamela Chrabieh As for Lebanon… Well, we definitely need a public debate and to reform our laws concerning this matter!

    • khalil morkos April 10, 2013 at 4:22 am #

      Come on.. Always in the name of freedom , in the name of science everything has an explanation and everything is permitted to offend God, to offend Jesus, to offend Virgin Mary and even to offend the Holy Spirit…. Yes of course Madona’s show in Dubai is pure Art… Wow… Come on let us be realistic. you are not realizing what is happening in the world….I am really sorry for that….

  24. Roy April 9, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    “I am offended!”

    I am also offended.
    I am offended by Lebanese society.
    I am offended by intolerance to other cultures and ideas.
    I am offended by Lebanese aggressively attacking others.
    I am offended by insults and disrespect.
    I am offended by illiterate ignorant religious fanatics.
    I am offended by people stepping on my right to be different.

  25. Bach Nick April 10, 2013 at 2:20 am #

    1- “Mexico’s Catholic Church has accused Santa Muerte devotees of mixing Christianity with devil-worshiping cultism” a simple wiki search would show it is devil-worshiping cultism banning them here in Lebanon is valid.

    2- This is Our lady of Guadalupe defiled and not Santa Muerte who has a different picture altogether, i can’t put a skull on the face of Saydet Bechwet and call her lady of Skull!

    3- To all “freedom fighters” and “Modern 21st century people” offending is not free speech, portraying mothers publicly in a demeaning way is not freedom. This is the mother of all Christians.

    4- This T-shirt might have entered Lebanon and might not, but in any case nobody and absolutely nobody should glorify death and be proud of it, not even in fashion. Death deprives us of the ones we love, it is a painful experience, and when someone wears “death glorifying” clothing, if this is not insulting or a bad omen, then i don’t know what is!!

    PS: I am an artist in my early thirties who works in design and animation industry.

    • Lolo April 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

      As a Christian, you should not be afraid of death, as Christ trampled down death with his death. We all die. It’s just a t-shirt. Don’t buy it

      • Bach Nick April 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

        Christians believe in afterlife and don’t fear death, but we never enjoy it or glorify it.

        • Hamid April 11, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

          Well, the Mexicans who believe in Santa Muerte don’t glorify or enjoy death !!! I read many articles on this subject including Dr. Chrabieh’s and it’s clear that Santa Muerte gives to many Mexicans, especially the poor, an assurance that ALL HUMANS die, meaning, whether you a rich or poor, both are equal in front of Death! As for the judgement of their deeds in the afterlife, that’s another story… By the way, they are Catholics!!
          And if you don’t like their beliefs, so be it, you’re free.. and they are free too to believe in whatever they believe!!!

  26. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 10, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    From one of my Facebook Pages:

    Raphaël Paul Koupaly-Bidawid: Puisque ” The problem is few are those who read in this country, analyze, and have a sense of self-criticism” Le Bershka T-Shirt (Esthétiquement Immonde) Et Autre Stupidités Du Genre Qui Touchent Au Sacré (Films, Publicités, Habillement, Etc…) Et Créent Des Polémiques Socio-Religieuses Inutiles Coté Chrétien Ou Coté Musulman Ne Devraient Plus Etre Admis Ni Tolérés Dans Un Pays Comme Le Liban Ou Le “Religieux” Est Un “Fait Social” … Nous Avons Bon Dire Que Nous Voulons La Liberté D’Expression Mais Il Ne Faut Pas Oublier Que Cette Liberté Peut Aussi Etre Nuisible Au Tissu Social Local Qui Compte Des Strates De Pensées Très Diverses …

    Red Lips High Heels: Alors il ne manquait plus qu’un bureau supplémentaire à ceux qui existent déjà pour la censure !! Je ne crois pas que ce soit la solution. Une solution, même si à long terme, serait l’éducation, tant dans les écoles et les universités qu’à l’adresse du grand public. La diversité des pensées n’est pas le problème, mais ce qui pose problème c’est l’absence à grande échelle d’une véritable culture de respect, de dialogue, ainsi qu’une culture commune nationale au-delà des dissenssions confessionnelles et confessantes!

  27. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 10, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Thank you all for your contributions!

    This subject is indeed highly sensitive in Lebanon: freedom of thought and expression versus religious identities’ feelings and perceptions of being offended.

    We already have a heavy system of censorship – State censorship and religious institutions’ censorship. I don’t think the solution is to reinforce censorship, on the contrary. Still, education and awareness are a must !!! Implementing a culture of respect and dialogue is a must too !!

    My view is that there is much confusion, and that the overall debate must deepen and continue; this is only the tip of the iceberg!

    I suggest the reading of Dr. Andrew Chestnut publications as well as other academic articles and books related to this particular subject, such as on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/r-andrew-chesnut/

  28. Rayan Saliba April 10, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    Thank you Dr for this excellent article and the heated debate! It’s good to know that we can still do it. In other countries, even debating isn’t allowed. This is for example the meaning and importance of freedom of thought and expression. Shall I remind also those who are against it that their Christian brothers and sisters are suffering all around the Middle East? Shall I remind them that because there is no freedom of thought and belief in other countries surrounding us, Christians can no longer freely pray, drink wine, ring their churches’ bells, dress as they wish, find a decent work well paid for their qualifications, and live in a secure environment? Please… Just READ and be aware of what is going on around us (Coptic Church, Assyrian and Chaldean, Syriac, etc…) and not that far away! Can you freely do whatever you want in most villages and cities outside Beirut? Like in the North, the South and the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon?
    I am a Christian and will never compromise my faith, but I just can’t understand those who fight against it !!! Freedom and religious freedom are fundamentals in Christianity, before being integrated in the UN Declarations . READ the New Testament please, as well as the Popes’ Exhortations (1997 and 2012)!

  29. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 10, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    Thank you Rayan!

    I would like to add to this debate the following opinion by Gino (gino’s blog):

    Forgive Them Father, For They Know Not What Google Is and Trust Facebook Blindly
    April 9, 2013

    1- It never got into Lebanon
    So, I’m not sure why you’re demanding “all authorities in Lebanon” and the government to intervene when that specific design never actually got into Lebanon, but featured on Bershka’s website only. Here, I also wanna tell Bershka, bravo for caving into pressure from clueless conservatives instead of standing by your brand and you know, logic and reality since nothing was offensive except the reaction by some Lebanese to another country’s religious symbol.

    2- It’s Santa Muerte, a sacred icon for millions of Christians
    In Lebanon, channels like MTV and Al Jadeed are famous for not knowing about the invention we call “Google”. They think the Monster Energy Drink logo is a “satanic symbol”, so you can’t really blame them for completely missing the point here. The “satanism” sensationalism that swept Lebanon a few years back, still lingers, and people are afraid when they see skulls or kids with long hair and a Metallica t-shirt. This though, was simply ignorant and 0.02 seconds on Google could’ve resolved that issue.
    Santa Muerte generally appears as a female skeletal figure, clad in a long robe and holding one or more objects, usually a scytheand a globe.[5] Her robe can be of any color, as more specific images of the figure vary widely from devotee to devotee and according to the rite being performed or the petition being made.[6] As the worship of Santa Muerte was clandestine until the 20th century, most prayers and other rites have been traditionally performed privately in the home. However, for the past ten years or so, worship has become more public, especially in Mexico City after Enriqueta Romero initiated her famous Mexico City shrine in 2001.[4][7][8] The number of believers in Santa Muerte has grown over the past ten to twenty years, to several million followers in Mexico, the United States, and parts of Central America. Santa Muerte has similar male counterparts in the Americas, such as the skeletal folk saints San La Muerte of Argentina and Rey (King) Pascual of Guatemala.[8]
    source: Wikipedia

    The sad part was, that when the bigots were made aware of this bit of information, instead of admitting their misinformed mistake, they poked fun at people for actually knowing or caring to look up Santa Muerte. As for Santa Muerte being looked down upon by the Catholic Church, so are condoms and contraceptives, but I’m sure most of you look past that, no?
    So, being offended and organizing a Crusade against this is both un-Christian and also incredibly humiliating to the Christian faith. It’s also racist and elitist since we went down that way.

    3- Freedom of Speech and Expression
    Religion is like any other topic. If it’s sacred to you, it’s sacred to you. No need to force other people to have the same respect and reverence to whatever your worship. You can criticize and disagree, but calling for it’s ban and government intervention, is backwards and more fitting for countries like Iran or Saudi, so please move there.

    4- Christian Values?
    I was raised a Christian all my life. All I was taught is love, forgiveness, tolerance, not to persecute others, to be meek, to be kind, that pride was the cardinal sin, etc. Yet, I see all the people jumping up and down proclaiming to be the standard bearers of the Christian faith, doing the complete opposite of what Jesus said. Seriously, if Jesus came back right now, I’d hate to see how awkward everyone complaining about the tshirt would be in his presence.
    As for the example of Jesus getting mad in the Temple (which all machoman Christians adore), he got mad because people were using religion to make money, which is every single clergy member today. He didn’t tell his followers “attack everyone who insults me now!” he said “turn the other cheek” and “wipe the dust off your sandals and move on” and got lashed and humiliated and crucified, instead of leading a rebellion on the authorities.

    5- Stubbornness beyond the reasonable
    Yet, despite everything, some people still insist this is something they need to fight, despite its nonexistence and their failed grasp of the situation. Personally, I think this is utterly humiliating to the Christian faith, which often prides itself on being the more progressive one in the region where chopping heads off and burning the wrong embassy over cartoons is still a thing in 2013.

    In Conclusion
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Thank you for the laughs everyone! As if the fact this wasn’t even being sold here was embarrassing enough, you went on to show the intolerant, racist sides of you that even in the face of insurmountable evidence, stick to the hatred and bigotry that is supposed to be the very opposite of what your faith promotes.
    And for all the devout Christians out there, remember what St. Augustine said “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” (that’s if you want to be good Christians, and not sectarian Lebanese)

  30. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 10, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    And this is the link to Gino’s blog for those who would like to read more:

    http://ginosblog.com/2013/04/09/forgive-them-father-for-they-know-not-what-google-is-and-trust-facebook-blindly/

  31. Roy April 10, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    I cant even find the Tshirt on Bershka website
    anyone got a link?

    • Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 13, 2013 at 8:19 am #

      They probably removed it … Anyways, not in Lebanese shops. And Bershka issued a statement. Visit Gino’s blog to read the statement!

  32. Suz April 11, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    We do respect mexican’s beleive in this lady of skulls IN MEXICO. So why dont u respect, if u please shat we beleive in, in OUR COUNTRY and remove this disgusting shirts from our market and take thestock to Mexico and sell it their. Is’nt better for everyone Dr. Chrabieh. It tooks u more then 2 pages triing to explain this mistake by inlighting us and adding to our education some informations about that lady they call lady of skulls. U didnt consider that mabe because someone, ELSE BUT YOU OF COURSE, knew about it and about it’s origin that’s why we had such a reaction?
    You are asking us to respect other’s beleives and religion? Why dont u start by respecting our’s in OUR COUNTRY.
    Doctor you are wild knoledged, so why dont u try using your inteligence for the good of all your country poeple with all theire diferent religions not for the FISCAL PROFIT of one company.
    Thank u for your respect.

  33. roula April 11, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    Grow up Suz! The T-shirt isn’t available in Lebanon. And anyways, nobody asked you to buy it!
    As for RESPECT, Dr. Chrabieh is far more respectful than all those, like you, are stating their HATE of others in the name of their religious beliefs.
    If you ever heard Dr. Chrabieh in her conferences, read her books and articles, been in one of her courses, and followed her in her many fights for Middle Eastern Christians, and for religious pluralism and for dialogue and for RESPECT and for human rights etc. you would have known better and RESPECTED her position, her experiences, and the courageous and tremendous work she is doing in a hostile environment where nobody RESPECTS anyone and anything anymore.
    And by the way, I was one of her many students. We all cherish her and RESPECT her and ADMIRE HER.
    So, please, spare us this DISRESPECTFUL opinion and next time, try to say whatever you want to say but in an academic way, scientific way, or at least, RESPECTFUL way.
    Oh! and i am Christian too and will never compromise my faith !!!

  34. marina sarkis April 11, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    I am ashamed of the reaction of so many fellow Christians in Lebanon on a T-shirt, and Christians are suffering and dying all around the Middle East. Wake up! We are a nearly extinct specie, and Christians in Lebanon will soon disappear if many of us continue to be that much intolerant. We just can’t use the same logic fanatics are using, especially that we criticize their logic !! More censorship? Less freedom of thought and belief? Is this really what is being asked?
    And by the way, thank you Dr. Chrabieh for this excellent post. I’m sure most of those who are attacking it haven’t even read your article with its details, not even the timeline, not even took the time to read all the references you identified. You article clearly presents a scientific perspective and 100% doesn’t ask anyone to believe in Santa Muerte !! So, if Science = DISRESPECT, well… what about allowing women to be beaten and raped by their husbands and not even have a law to criminalize those actions and the perpetrators in Lebanon? Why the hell wasn’t there and still isn’t a massive movement of protests on the internet such as on this T-shirt? And this is only one of the many examples worth fighting for !!
    and please don’t tell me that in order to face Fanatics, we should become Fanatics too !! this is the most absurd think I ever heard !! the cycle of fanaticism will destroy us all !! haven’t you learned anything of more than 15 years of war???

  35. Hamid April 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Thank you Dr. for this excellent post!
    When I knew that Azadea company is held by Shia Muslims and that Azadea has Bershka in Lebanon… I understood this fierce battle coming from a part of Christians – not all of course – who are entrenched in Sectarianism and think that staying in a ghetto and attacking others will help them survive!
    Wake up people! Our country is a volcano ready to explode and all you think of is T-shirt that was never displayed in stores in Lebanon???
    And even if it was displayed, is it worth Facebook Campaigns and huge activism?
    We are on a verge of a new war and this is all you can think of?

  36. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh April 13, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    Thank you all for this intense and heated debate, whatever your opinion may be! It is always a pleasure to be part of this free thinking process.

  37. Anthony Maine April 23, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    This is the precise blog for anybody who wants to find out about this topic. You understand a lot its nearly laborious to argue with you (not that I actually would want…HaHa). You positively put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, simply great!

  38. baidu June 11, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    Baidu http://news.baidu.com

  39. boocat August 4, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Where can I buy that tank-top? I love it

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