Name: Ninar Keyrouz
Occupation: Film producer; media and PR specialist
How did you get your first name? Does it mean anything? My father was an architect passionate about history. He gave me the name of the Sumerian goddess of the moon. Needless to say he was married to an Assyrian woman, so Mesopotamia won over the Levant on this one!
What made you want to be a producer? I've always wanted to be in the world of movies — to tell a story audio-visually, to entertain people, to allow them and myself to escape reality — while embracing it in an aesthetic way.
Why did you decide to work for In Defense of Christians? It felt like the right thing to do — to be able to put to use both your professional and cultural background at the service of a good cause, why not? A voice to the voiceless — try to make a change and we did, somehow!
It is said that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world. Why is this? Statistically speaking it is, at least today. There are many reasons for that though, and many factors to be carefully examined.
Personally speaking, I think that Christianity, which started in the Near East, has been wrongfully branded by the West over the course of time. It has been presented as the faith of the weak and of victims — which is wrong. Jesus Christ wasn't crucified because He was weak or because He was a criminal. He was a rebel and as a Christian who believes in Him being the Son of God, He wanted to end all slavery of men and have people communicate to God directly. He wanted to let us know that no matter what we did, He loved and forgave us. If you have that, humans in control lose power. It's really simple.
Christianity in the Middle East specifically got more victimized when crusaders came to the region. But the people who are persecuted in the Middle East are not only persecuted for their faith, but also for their culture, like the Assyrians for example. This is very important to know.
The Lebanese too, their identity has been lost and they are only referred to as Arabs only because they speak Arabic. Recent research has shown that the Lebanese dialect [of Arabic] is actually derived from the Assyrian language in both its Western and Eastern dialects. In the middle of the conflict of civilizations and over the course of time, these wars got labeled as religious, but they are really more cultural and ethnic, just different names!
You recently visited Lebanon. Can you tell us about your time there? Crazy! As usual. It was nice seeing family, being preached by every single human being there! But it was sad seeing Lebanon badly impacted by the Syrian refugee crisis, hosting around 2 million refugees. That’s half the size of its population!
How are Assyrian refugees in Lebanon treated? Are they able to find work? Can students attend school? Do they want to one-day return to Syria or Iraq? Assyrians are loved in Lebanon. The Assyrian refugees from Syria and Iraq are very welcomed in that sense, but they are struggling just like the rest of the Lebanese and of course more. Not all of them can find jobs to support themselves. Kids go to special classes provided by churches, but it's not the entire curriculum, so they are behind.
Lebanon's public schools welcomed thousands of Syrian students, creating night shifts for them and translating the program from French to Arabic. But the Assyrian refugees [from Syria] have not registered with the U.N, out of fear of getting drafted to the military in Syria; therefore they do not get any aid from the U.N. Most of them want to go to Europe, Australia, or any other country. They would only return to their homes if security was established, if their community returned and if they got help rebuilding the homes and businesses they lost — otherwise they are feeling alone.
You produced the film Our Last Stand. How was it to work on such a topic that is so personal? It was indirectly personal. Christians were never persecuted in that manner in Lebanon, so I honestly don't know what it feels like to be a persecuted Christian from Syria or Iraq. That being said, it was a very rewarding experience to be able to work on such a subject, raising awareness about Assyrians in the context of a film! And I have to say we did pretty well! Four EU parliaments' screenings, and many others all over Europe and the U.S.! And we are on Amazon now!
Among safeguarding the presence of Christians in the Middle East, standing up for women’s rights is also important to you. Can you tell us about women’s issues in Lebanon? Is discussing the topic openly taboo? I can't answer without starting by saying the most important thing to me, which is that I am not a feminist. And that is important to say because feminism has become a label hijacked by men-haters. If you really wanted to empower women, which I would love too and [we should] rather use this word: empowerment. Get to the heart of the issue: how are mothers raising violent men? And how and why are they raising weak victimized women? In Lebanon, domestic violence is on the rise; in the last year alone over 15 women were killed by their husbands or family members.
Our laws [in Lebanon offer] no protection against marital rape. The situation of child marriages as a solution to minors' rape is still vague.
In a country of five women to one man, there is no proper representation for women in the parliament or the ministry. But I don't blame it all on men. [Lebanese] women have been raised by their mothers to want to be nothing and do nothing except for dating a rich man, married or not, get married even if she was to divorce, or become a celebrity. They have been raised to say, "yes" to everything a man says or does, including disrespecting them. When young men and women are raised without any morals and ethics, what do you expect?
Do you have any projects in the works you can tell us about? I am currently trying to create some time to complete an old screenplay I had started — a docu-fiction about Lebanon. But I have other existing writings that are leading me to consider the path of a book rather than a film. So we'll see.
Now for some quick questions ...
Name an Assyrian who inspires you, past or present. Why? My grandfather Dr. Louka Zodo. He did a lot for his community.
Favorite cafe in Lebanon? How did you know I love cafes in Lebanon? It has to be Lina's in Kaslik, or any other cafe in the ABC mall!
Favorite restaurant? That's torture! So many, Al-Halabi, any fish restaurant by the Mediterranean ... any other one in the mountains.
Favorite Assyrian singer? I don't listen to Assyrian music much, but I love Juliana Jendo’s voice and Ashur Bet Sargis.
Favorite Lebanese singer? Feyrouz! Feyrouz! Feyrouz!
Favorite word in Assyrian? Nawsi
Portions of this interview have been edited.