jeudi 28 mars 2019

Does “Radio Beirut” deserve a public lynching and death sentence? Exclusive investigation into the inconsistencies of the Dayna Asyah case (Art. 600-Eng)

Everyone salutes her courage. She broke the silence to speak on behalf of all women on this taboo subject. On March 7, a girl named Dayna Asyah was in the headlines in Beirut with a Facebook post about the sexual assault she was allegedly subjected to at a well-known radio pub in the capital, Radio Beirut. Usually I'm not very focused on miscellaneous facts. But this one shows a certain drift of Lebanese society that I see myself obliged to denounce, notwithstanding the discontentment of the small circle of neo-liberal thinkers in the Lebanese capital.

The reactions to the event, based on allegations with no evidence, took on disproportionate magnitudes: calls for a boycott, insults and assaults (verbal and physical). One should no longer remain silent, at the risk of being complicit in the consequences, dragging the reputation of certain people through the mud and causing the arbitrary closure of an establishment that is part of Beirut's cultural and musical heritage and that supports at least a dozen families.

 1  Dayna Asyah preferred to make her claim on social media, rather than through the appropriate legal channels and protocols

What is immediately disturbing in this case is the abusive use of Facebook by Dayna Asyah to over-mediatize the incident that concerns her and to stir up an online frenzy, encouraging her friends to turn social-media into a courtroom.

As a result, an online lynch mob has seized the power to try the alleged perpetrators summarily and convict without evidence and without any other form of investigation or trial. This drift, which is not usual to Lebanon, must be condemned with great vigor because it constitutes a serious perversion of the healthy functioning of contemporary societies.

 2  Radio Beirut: neither artsy-fartsy, nor snob or bobo

Radio Beirut is a live music venue and pub founded and managed by Jihad Samhat. It is a unique place of entertainment in Beirut, with a concept of broadcasting live shows via the Internet through its website and mobile app. Since 2012, it has been part of a special category in the Mar Mikhaël district. Neither artsy fartsy, nor snob or bobo, it has become known to be a down to earth space, pop without frills, the kind we see in Paris, London and San Francisco. Among the week's programs are the Open Jam Sessions, presented by Dayna Asyah and Jihad Samhat on Tuesday nights, where the stage is shared by new faces, professional resident musicians and a live in-house and online audience. During this show Radio Beirut offers everyone the opportunity to perform on stage improvisations by local and international musicians.

 3  “Out of nowhere, (he) forced his fingers into my vagina”

In our time, it is customary and rightly so, not to question the testimony of a woman who presents herself as a victim. It is not an enviable situation. Nevertheless, some elements of this particular case are troubling.

Here are the words used by Dayna Asyah to announce her claim urbi and orbi to the city and the world, regarding her alleged sexual assault: “I was in the radio booth hosting the Jam Sessions with the owner [Jihad] and 2 sound engineers. One of the Radio Beirut house band members (an employee) out of nowhere forced his fingers into my vagina, to 'get me in the mood to perform with him'”.  “His fingers” and “forced into my vagina”, sorry to start with these graphic details, but it is what triggered collective emotion and the chain reaction for the last 96 hours. Contrary to what the host said, the “out of nowhere” is not an employee of the bar, but a committed resident artist, as she was herself.

 4  We are either dealing with a pervert or a mytho

“I was so shocked and frightened that I simply turned red and asked him to never impede on my personal space again”. According to her he proceeded to mock her, accusing her as being “too radical for his freedom of artistic expression”. Since we have a horrible vaginal assault, how come it is only a question of “impediment on personal space” on the one hand, and “censorship of freedom of artistic expression” on the other. Strange! A little further on, change of tone. The alleged victim wishes to make it clear that she did not ask for “consequences to the harasser”, although at one point in her own account it was about the place where “I was violated”. Anyway: either we’re dealing with a big pervert or a mytho! Finally, in both cases, the terms used by Dayna Asyah to describe her misadventure - far from being chosen by chance - are not judicious.

 5  Many unanswered questions

The second element that is surprising in this news item is fourfold. Four questions: How come so much public unpacking of a serious and sensitive allegation, how come choosing social media (Facebook) to raise a sensitive issue, why out publicly one month after the incident and how come no criminal charges to date? Dayna Asyah's post does not answer any of these questions. Worse yet, there are many other questions that give doubt regarding the sincerity of her approach.

 6  Why all this focus against the founder of Radio Beirut and not the alleged harasser?

Reading Radio Beirut ex-host’s initial statement on Facebook, one will experience three types of feelings: sympathy for Dayna Asyah, antipathy for the founder of the space and indifference for the alleged perpetrator. If the first feeling can be justified and the accuser’s testimony taken as the gospel, then we can only be stunned by the second and third.

While Dayna Asyah presents herself as a victim of Mr. XY (not named), then why is all her energy focused on Radio Beirut's founder, Jihad Samhat. Weird, though! But there's something even weirder. According to a well-informed source, as soon as he became aware of the incident, Radio Beirut's founder called a meeting with his staff to warn them that he would not tolerate any sexual harassment in his establishment and that the accused should disappear until light was shed regarding the incident.

 7  Jihad Samhat, former deminer in Darfur, Kosovo and South Lebanon

Jihad Samhat is a Lebanese/American dual-national. He was born in Los Angeles to Lebanese parents. His father had emigrated illegally to the United States in the 1940’s at the age of 14 and would later become a “war hero” a decade later. It's another adaptation of the so-called American Dream. Engaged in the US Marine Corps, he participated in the decisive battle of Incheon (1950), during which the US military under the aegis of the UN forces put an end to the advance of communist troops of what would later become North Korea. Allowing for the liberation of Seoul.

Following in his father's footsteps, the son also joined the US Military as an active member in the US Army. After four years of honorable service, he decided to move to Lebanon and discover the country of his origins. To apply his technical skills and experience to good use, he joined the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) an agency that operates in conflict zones and post-war environments throughout the world to clear and reduce the socio-economic impact on populations who face the hazards of land mines and unexploded ordnance. This not only gave him the opportunity to discover the land of his roots [Lebanon] but also travel the region for 15 years, risking his life every day - in Darfur, Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kenya, Ethiopia and Cyprus - so that the citizens of these affected countries who have suffered violence and wars can regain peace and security. Mission accomplished! He resigned from the UN and returned to Lebanon to settle permanently in Beirut and launch Radio Beirut a concept pub - live music venue and online radio station, all in one.

The opinion of those who know this man personally see him as a friendly, positive, sensitive, idealistic, devoted, generous, sincere man with a heart of gold. If I took the liberty of dwelling on his biography, it is precisely to draw attention to the fact that Jihad Samhat is anything but a “salon impostor”. He's not the type who would make a sexual assault claim look like children’s game. Unless it really was!

 8  Dayna Ayash's categorical refusal to confront the alleged harasser

Let us now turn to the key element in this case. According to Dayna Asyah's own confession, Jihad Samhat tried several times to ensure that the two protagonists could meet and provide an explanation of the alleged incident, in order to confront their versions of the facts. “Let's meet with all of the accused before this goes farther than it should. I'm not a God and can only do so much to resolve the problem. This cannot be done unless we all meet and speak”. Niet! Dayna Asyah didn't want to hear about it. This is what led Radio Beirut's founder to express frankly what he thinks of the woman's reactionary behavior: “Btw, this is starting to feel orchestrated”. It’s not that the elements are missing that lead him to support his hypothesis of orchestration - not in relation to the alleged incident of assault in particular - but rather everything else, especially the exploitation of the incident. There are several inconsistencies to take note of.

 9  Incident reported on the 7th day, knowing that CCTV video surveillance is only saved automatically for 6 days

The incident took place on the night of February 5-6 and not on February 6 as the alleged victim claimed via Facebook. However, Dayna Asyah did not raise the case with Jihad Samhat until the evening of February 11, seven whole days after the alleged assault took place. A week of reflection and consultations perhaps? Knowing that the site is under CCTV video surveillance 24/7, indoors and outdoors, including the radio/DJ booth (where this incident is alleged to have taken place), and that the video is archived automatically only for a period of 6 days. Had she informed him a day earlier on February 10, the case would have been closed, the harasser kicked out with a big foot up his ass. But no, she only informed him on the 11 with no more recorded images or evidence as if only by chance.

And also if by chance, according to the same sources no one in the radio booth that night noticed anything unusual!

Sources also mention another relevant fact. The recent theft of cash at the establishment from a female customer’s purse two months prior on Dec 27. An incident that led Radio Beirut's founder to remind all his staff to come forward within 6 days of the slightest problem or incident, in order to recover and exploit the CCTV video surveillance images. Thus, Dayna Asyah was fully aware of the time limit for storing evidence. If she would have deliberately decided to go beyond it, then she shouldn’t be surprised that many doubt her version of the facts!

 10  Dayna Asyah’s several inconsistencies

As if by magic, a personal matter suddenly became a collective matter: “What I, and other women harassed at your establishment are demanding is simple: A public apology to all women who have faced similar sexual harassment situations at your establishment”. But wait! She started her media offensive with: “I was an employee of Radio Beirut for 3 years, I invited all members of my community (LGBT) to the space considering it safe since I worked there”. It seems that Dayna Asyah is not only at one contradiction except that the thread of lies is short, it does not exceed the size of a Facebook post.

 11  The curious meeting between Dayna and Jihad on February 11

It is interesting to look back at the events of February 11. On that day, Dayna Asyah notified Jihad Samhat via WhatsApp that she wanted to speak to him. The meeting was held as usual at the bar. The discussion took place in three stages. The protagonist began by announcing her resignation from continuing as MC/Radio Host for the two weekly shows she co-hosts. Her first motive she explained: Her other work as PM of an NGO she founded, Haven for Artists (an artistic platform, which also hosts live music and now a newly planned jam sessions!), which will no longer allow her the time to properly fulfill her commitment as a live radio-show host with Radio Beirut. She then went on to say that she was ready and willing to continue the program during the one-month transition phase and train her replacement. It was only after mentioning this antidote that the second reason for her departure was mentioned: the alleged incident on the night of February 5. This sequence of reasoning is perplexing to say the least. It cannot be that of someone “so shocked and frightened” by what has happened to them one week prior.

 12  “What if he raped your daughter?”

On the evening of February 26, three weeks after the incident, Radio Beirut staff and clients witnessed a loud verbal altercation between Dayna Asyah and Jihad Samhat. The reason: the return that evening of the alleged harasser, three weeks after the incident was alleged to have taken place. The alleged victim according to many witnesses had shouted loud enough for many inside the venue to hear: “What if he had raped your daughter?”. Sincere reaction or staging? One thing is certain, the comparison still refers to rape. In all cases, the details of her post relating to the meeting do not match the facts. I left calmly and without a scene, no yelling, no crying, nothing that can be referred to in the misogynistic terms as a hysterical woman”. And yet, there are many witnesses to contradict this account.

 13  Public announcement of the incident on the eve of International Women's day

It should also be noted that the urbi and orbi announcement of the harassment didn’t happen until March 7 at 7:08 p.m., the eve of March 8, International Women's Day, almost a month after the incident, as if by chance, knowing that such an event could only amplify such an accusation.

 14  Radio Beirut: a safe place at the beginning of the post, not safe at the end of the post

Dayna Asyah said she wanted to “leave with dignity”, she simply asked that “the establishment to not hire this man for 2 more nights”. She demanded that Radio Beirut “reform” and conduct “staff training” to protect both “employees and female clients... from having to face such violations with no consequences to the aggressors”. That is very honorable of her, but there is obviously a strong desire to present Radio Beirut as a dubious place. In any case, her allegations are in total contradiction with what she said at the beginning of her post: Radio Beirut is “a safe space” to invite her friends.

 15  Dayna Asyah does not hesitate to involve the LGBT community. Although this alleged incident is not considered a hate crime

This last allegation is both dishonest and ungrateful. And for good reason. Two years ago, in May 2017, the LGBT community in Lebanon wanted to organize the first ever Beirut Gay Pride and celebrate the event appropriately. Who dared offer them a venue for this? Jihad Samhat. Oh, but it wasn’t all fun. He subsequently had to face questioning from the authorities. The very next year, in 2018 after the first Beirut Pride rebellion the year prior it was thanks again to the intervention and contacts of Jihad Samhat, that the LGBT community and local bars celebrated the lead up to the event and escaped police troubles, although the final day celebrations that were to be held throughout the city were cancelled by the organizers after pressure from authorities. In this post, to stir up the crowd against Radio Beirut, Dayna Asyah does not hesitate to involve the LGBT community twice: by addressing “everyone out there”, and especially “my community” and “our community”.

 16  The alleged harasser and harassed knew each other well! Worse, the victim has already had inappropriate gestures with the musicians

According to the source close to the case it’s an open secret, Dayna Asyah allowed herself to make inappropriate gestures and in a perfectly similar fashion, witnessed time and time again over several years with the resident musicians of Radio Beirut, her friends as well as the alleged harasser! The alleged abuser and the abused victim have known each other very well and for a very long time, long before Radio Beirut was launched over 7 years ago in 2012 and even outside of these work environments. Worse yet, the so-called “pervert”, whom Dayna could no longer see even in a painting, has already played at Haven for Artists performance events on a number of occasions on her own request. Ah, but wait! Lest we forget that not only do they know each other so well socially, but they also performed alongside one another, when they were both part of the same local music band, Ovid.

This does not justify that of course. It is rather dishonest not to publicly mention such a detail of this magnitude and to concentrate attacks on Jihad Samhat's supposedly failures to manage an allegation of “sexual harassment” within his establishment. Many of the 2,600 people who “liked”, the 558 who commented and of the 881 who shared her famed Facebook post would not have done so had they known these factual details. Because the devil hid himself so well within all of these overlooked details, I wouldn’t imagine that L'Orient-Le Jour would have gone so far as to headline “Online solidarity movement after rape attempt revealed by a young Lebanese woman” … or blogger Gino Raidy would have dared to call for a boycott of Radio Beirut, “Pub threatens survivor after sexual abuse on its premises”.

 17  “See you on the dance floor”, the sentence that set the powder keg alight

All these elements explain why Jihad Samhat believed for a long time that this was just a bad joke gone wrong amongst two very close long-time friends, that the protagonists were adult enough to agree and explain themselves face-to-face. This lead to his confidence of announcing on Radio Beirut’s Facebook page that the show will go on with, “see you on the dance floor”, a somewhat clumsy sentence which caused strong reactions.

 18  “Sexual harassment or an opportunity to take a piss in the age of ultra-feminism?”

It was clear the former Radio Beirut cohost did not accept Jihad Samhat's perplexity on the matter in the face of her obstinacy, refusing any confrontation with the one she accused. Whereas for him it became increasingly clear over the weeks that these two people know each other well enough and he felt serious doubt about what happened precisely on the infamous night of February 5: This is becoming childish and I'm unable to determine now whether this is actually sexual harassment or just taking a piss in the day and age of ultra-feminism”. Needless to say, this led to his crucifixion. It is true that most people did not know all these details and everyone had quickly forgotten that Radio Beirut has always supported and organized charity events for orphans and child victims of war, as well as defending the struggle of the LGBT movement, the cause of domestic workers and women's rights.

 19  All that is disturbing in the Dayna Asyah case

In the substance of her claims, what disturbs us most in the Dayna Asyah case is first of all the countless inconsistencies in her thoughtful and rewritten narrative, which weakens the spontaneous testimony of an alleged victim. What is equally disturbing is the exploitation, by the interested party, of a hypothetical event, which occurred with a musician occasionally hired by the establishment, for personal purposes by publicly attacking a renowned culturally iconic venue, Radio Beirut and its respected founder, Jihad Samhat. Finally, what is most concerning is the consequences and chain reactions, which are displaced and disproportionate and which take forms condemned by the laws in force in Lebanon: lynching on social-media networks, popular vindictiveness, calls for boycotts, verbal aggression (several instigators have come to the pub, shouting and insulting those who work there) and the physical aggression of one of the employees possibly mistaken for Jihad Samhat. Violence that should be unambiguously condemned.

 20  The audio recording that weakens the testimony of Dayna Asyah *Updated March 25

Dayna Asyah claims in her post that she was not only “so shocked” and “frightened”, that she also “turned red”, “was shaking”, and that she “went home early” on the night of February 5. However, these five elements do not stand up to scrutiny of the simple facts. New information out, the audio recording of that evening posted online three days ago. From it we learn the following: first, Dayna Asyah appears cheerful as usual that evening; second, the former host provided 3:06 hours of airtime as usual, she did not leave Radio Beirut until after 1:00am, she hosted the show until the very end; third, the alleged victim insisted on mentioning the first name of her alleged harasser in her thanks at the end of the evening’s performances. If Dayna Asyah's version is true, “his fingers /out of nowhere / into my vagina”, such gratitude in such a context to such a pervert, is a world first. Sadly, this recording further weakens her testimony and highlights the several inconsistencies in her story.

Dayna Asyah, co-host, and Jihad Samhat, founder and manager of Radio Beirut

 21  Popular vindictiveness, without a judicial approach, reveals an immature and violent society

This is what leads us to draw the first conclusion in the Dayna Asyah case. A human being does not have to impose anything on another human being. The freedom to dispose of one's body is non-negotiable, even within a married couple. As a result, any sexual harassment or assault is heinous and despicable, regardless of the context. Because this is a serious violation of the law, only the courts have the power to confirm it and impose an appropriate sentence on the perpetrators, in accordance with the laws in force.

In retrospect, within the current #metoo era in general and the Dayna Asyah case in particular, it is clearly not up to a conditioned mob, which can be easily manipulated to pass judgment. As a matter of ethics all concerned and any looking for justice must do so in an honest and civilized way through the appropriate legal mechanisms and not through social-media.

From an alleged sexual harassment of the radio host Dayna Asyah, we have moved on to blatant social harassment of Radio Beirut and its founder, Jihad Samhat. A so-called justice that turns out to be summary, expeditious and corrupt is not but an injustice. Popular revenge, without a judicial approach, reveals an immature and violent society. In a civilized environment, disputes are settled in court according to the laws in force, and nowhere else in any form whatsoever.

 22  Report sexual abuse to the Lebanese authorities

The second conclusion concerns women victims of male ignominy. We are here for them and we will support them in court, more than on social-media. Of course, it will always be difficult to substantiate. But if sexual abuse in Lebanon is not reported and recorded in a systematic and official way, how can we hope to effectively change the laws and morals in the land of the Cedars? On social-media, it’s only an ephemeral fashion and self-centered comfort that one will reap, no more and no less and without real justice. As we have witnessed with the waves of #metoo and #balancetonporc.

 23  Why does Dayna Asyah prefer Facebook allegations to legal charges?

The third conclusion concerns Dayna Asyah herself. I will ask it in the form of a question: Why did the alleged victim not want to file an official complaint, so that a thorough investigation can be carried out by the authorities. So that the facts can be presented in a court-room and THE truth can be revealed? The question arises all the more so since according to the same source close to the incident, the accused did not touch her but simply showed her his middle finger after sucking on it. Indeed, an obscene gesture which could be considered harassment, but it has nothing to do with sexual assault - not even sexual harassment, let alone rape - where he would have “forced his fingers into [her] vagina” unless she was hallucinating. And if this is true, there is indeed defamation against him.

Now that the case is public and the damage is serious, we are waiting for explanations from Dayna Asyah. Better late than never, otherwise, I fear that she may no longer be able to completely rule out one certainty: She would have favored superficial allegations without evidence on Facebook, which are so much more convenient and effective in achieving her objectives. She probably feared and still fears that an official complaint would lead investigators to discover the truth.

Dayna Asyah spoke again this afternoon. Still no answer to all the questions and doubts raised in this article with more attacks against the venue and its founder. The only real announcement concerns the alleged abuser: “In my case, the harasser had NO intention of raping me nor was there ANY attempt of rape”, NO and ANY in capital letters, to indicate how sure she is of this. Four days ago at the launch of this scandal and to stir up the crowd, we had the story of “One of the radio Beirut house band members (an employee) out of nowhere forced his fingers into my vagina”.

If we believed Dayna Asyah in her first Facebook statement, it is clearly an accusation of rape, a crime punishable by a court of law with the abuser facing up to 15 years in prison. But now, if we believe Dayna Asyah in her second Facebook statement, which is consistent with the revelations of my investigation described here, the man only sucked his finger which is not even considered sexual harassment. An accusation that would be inadmissible in court. And then we are surprised that the testimony of some women is not taken seriously! The future will tell us how much Dayna Asyah, her friends and the crowd who gave her blind support, have harmed the cause of harassed women in Lebanon, with these grotesque contradictions.

 24  From Jihad Samhat, we expect a major debate on the subject at Radio Beirut

The last conclusion concerns the head of Radio Beirut. From Jihad Samhat, we expect a major debate on the subject, which coincides with the spirit of the times. But we must be aware, however, that he cannot apply - alone in his corner - a Swedish code of morals between men and women, in a country where everyone touches each other at every second word, while we live in the exuberance of the Mediterranean, in the warmth of the East and in the country of the “hayeteh”, “habibteh”, “albeh”, “3ayneh”, which fuse before the 36th second of a conversation, even with a customs officer.

In Lebanon, no one really knows where to place the red line on human interactions, what is permissible and what is not, in the street and/or in the workplace, on the walls of social media or in inbox. It is important to take advantage of this case and to go beyond the obvious by understanding what constitutes a heavy joke and flirting and what constitutes sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. Crimes that are condemned by the current laws in force in Lebanon. So Rendez-vous at Radio Beirut. Cheers to all!


Updated on March 25 

The article was originally published in French (March 11)
Est-ce que « Radio Beirut » mérite ce lynchage et cette mise à mort ? Enquête exclusive sur les incohérences de l’affaire Dayna Asyah (Art.600-Fr)

Article related to the subject (April 5)

“Mr. One-Dollar Blogger”, Gino Raidy, vs “M. Molière Le Snob”, Bakhos Baalbaki (Art.605-Eng)