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In Lebanon, Mile-Long Artwork Is A Sign Of Peace


In Lebanon, twin brothers welcomed the new year with a work of art nearly a mile long. Mohamed and Omar Kabbani are 34-year-old graffiti artists. They painted the rooftops of more than 80 buildings lime green. Seen from above, the green roofs spell out salam, which means peace in Arabic. The brothers hope it will help change how people think of their home.

OMAR KABBANI: Whenever they talk about the Middle East or Lebanon, all they think about is extremism and terrorism. By painting a big word, salam, we want to show people that we're creative and positive things coming out from the Middle East. I think we made our goal happen.

SHAPIRO: Omar Kabbani joined us from Lebanon on Skype to explain how he and his brother Mohamed put this project together.

KABBANI: We had this idea almost three years ago, and we wanted to paint a big word that can be seen from space. We chose the northern part of Lebanon, an area - a region called Tripoli. It's the second biggest city in Lebanon.

There was, like, two fighting militias fighting a small civil war between two areas, and we decided to go up and paint the word salam above this area in particular. We recruited 62 ex-militiamen or ex-fighters.


KABBANI: So basically they dropped their guns and they started helping us with painting their own rooftops.

SHAPIRO: And I understand some of these buildings had bullet holes. Some of them were uninhabitable. You could really see the signs of the violence in this neighborhood.

KABBANI: Yeah. It was a battle zone. There's plenty of bullets. The buildings were on fire. So it was funny but sad at the same moment. Like, when we used to go up to scout, they used to tell us, yeah, I used to sit here and point my sniper rifle. So...


KABBANI: It was like a really true story. Like, people who lived violence and lived, like, war started going up to their rooftop without the fear of being shot.

SHAPIRO: I imagine that for some of these fighters who had sat on these rooftops with guns, to come back to those rooftops and paint them bright green to spell out the word peace must have been a very emotional experience.

KABBANI: It was very challenging for us. And it was challenging for them. We stayed there for three weeks. Every day, we go up. And you can hear their stories. And you know, like, they are in rock bottom, complete poverty. So whenever someone gives them, like - I don't know - a small amount of money, they would go and hold the gun and start shooting.

But if the people give them an opportunity to work, they will work. There are, like, really good-hearted people. They want to do something positive. And we used not just bright green paint - regular paint. We used, like - it's anti-leakage, and it prevents from - anti-UV also.

SHAPIRO: Oh, like waterproof and reflecting the sun, so it cools the houses and keeps them dry.

KABBANI: Yeah. So it has - so people were really happy that we're in a way fixing the rooftops, you know?

SHAPIRO: Has the crew actually seen the finished work of art - because you can really only see it from a drone. There are photographs, but you could be standing on one of these rooftops and not know that it's spelling out the word salam.

KABBANI: Yeah, of course. When we first briefed them about the project, we showed them what we were painting. And, like, every two days, we flew a drone to show them and for us to see the progress of the work. And of course, we showed them the end results.

SHAPIRO: Omar Kabbani, thanks a lot.

KABBANI: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: Omar Kabbani, his brother Mohamed and their crew painted more than 80 rooftops in the Lebanese city of Tripoli to say salam - peace in Arabic. He's looking forward to Google updating its map images so everyone who searches for the city can see the artwork.


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