Soon the space will be too small: the total normalization of racism in Lebanon
It is becoming really hard to breathe in Lebanon. To just stand up and try to take a deep breath. And it is not because of the heat. I feel claustrophobic everywhere I go, and it is not just in my head. Lebanese places and spaces are literally closing in on me. I belong to no place. I am losing ground (Physically). I feel like a stranger when I walk in the streets, share a taxi with people. I feel insane when I talk to other Lebanese… Little by little, the places I occupy, and that occupy me,relational places of identification and of camaraderie, of talk and intersection, spaces of friendship, conversation, are disappearing and fading away.
I have no more ground to stand on.
And I find myself silenced. It is not the oppressive slap-on-face-shut-up-dumb-woman kind of a silencing. It is a much more dangerous form of silencing, and a completely terrifying and isolating one. It is the fact that I have no space in which I can stand, talk and “make sense”, and “relate”. It is not that I cannot talk, I can, but when I do, I do not make any meaning.
When Spaces of identifications disappear, they rupture your subjectivity quite violently. Suddenly, I do not make (common) sense anywhere in Lebanon.
Lebanon these days resemble nothing I have known and experienced. And no, it is not “the violence”. It is not the random rockets or explosions. It is this rupture with the Lebanese community in a sociolinguistic sense, this “arrachement” from the community.
These days I find myself thinking a lot the famous statement that Martin-Niemöller said regarding the Nazis, but also totalitarianism in general.
First they came for the communists
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
It is a bit of a run-down overly used statement, but I find it completely haunting these days. And I am thinking to myself, maybe when one is in a world-field that has (slowly or rapidly, does it matter?) turned totalitarian, maybe one keeps silent not because she chooses to, or she’s afraid to be caught and arrested etc. Maybe it is more complex than that. Maybe people get stripped of their spaces of meaning and identification and become incomprehensible to others. Maybe their silencing is not an act of liberal choice or fear, but is a projection of the breaking of their social and public subjectivity. Maybe we disappear with these spaces of identification, because as much as talk, we are meaningless. Because if one “just says something and oppose evil/racism”, as this statement suggests, her talk does not register anywhere meaningful anymore.
But what can one say to be heard? to make sense and defy something when everything she says is un-registerable?
When racism and classicist hatred of the other becomes “common sense” in Lebanon, a normalized relaxing routine of daily relations, a funny TV show, a delightful sob7iyeh chitchat over coffee, a concerned policy implemented nationally to protect Lebanese , a deep and meaningful conversation over “what’s wrong with this country” in the service car, nice and sweet nurses laughing hysterically at a black worker who cut his finger, old sweet people warning you of Syrians on the street and in taxis, a daily “kill them all” or “I don’t care” or “long live totalitarianism” chants over a nice family lunch (I am not looking forward to Eid), a love letter to the army, when racism is adopted throughout the whole national Lebanese discourse in its totality, I myself disappear.
It’s really hard to breathe in Lebanon these days. Soon the space will be too small, as Lhasa says, and I’ll go outside…