the interrogations of shamshouma

Archive for the category “Racism”

The unbearable suffering of Syrians in Lebanon: Competing economies of compassion


We might now be beyond the point of wondering why there is no real political, economic and social solidarity with the Syrians in Lebanon, not even a solidarity of sympathy towards the suffering they were exposed to both in Syria and Lebanon. A compassion that is at a level which, arguably, does not reckon a strong political affiliation of some sort or even intellectual work, but more of a human ability, impulse or emotion to recognize, acknowledge and show solidarity with the other’s suffering.

Not only that there is no solidarity, which the national discourse justifies by providing the economic situation as an excuse (and yes, even with the absence of the state, we still manage to produce and solidify a hegemonic racist discourse against the Syrians that everyone buys into, sometimes to the extent of uttering idiotic statements like “It’s appalling how the Syrians break the traffic law all the time!” which makes me want to punch someone in the face), there is a daily structural minute forms of discrimination against and scapegoating of “the Syrian” as responsible for all the historical and existing Lebanese problems.

This hegemonic discourse erases all violent Lebanese state policies against workers and public state institutions, and provides the frame through which animosity, rather than solidarity, is produced. the Syrian presence in itself poses a threat to the Lebanese identity (which now everyone seems to know what it is) defined in complete opposition to what the other, the Syrian, is in the Lebanese imaginary; to Lebanese institutions, which now everyone seems eager to salvage and preserve their “efficiency”, from education (for an important article on racist educational policies against “non Lebanese” see this), economic rights, up to traffic laws violated everyday by the Syrians.The Lebanese “culture” itself is now under attack, from the influx of foreigners with a completely different cultural traditions, norms and ways of bieng. It seems that the Lebanese define themselves in relation to their “other”, the ever so essentially different creature called the Syrian.

But still, what is most striking, at least to me, is the overgrowing discourse of de-legitimizing the suffering of Syrians, especially Syrian refugees, and sometimes even failing to see this suffering at all. This, I believe, is also tied to, and disruptive of, a certain political economy of suffering that exists in Lebanon, which makes even the ‘Syrian suffering’ a threat to the national discourse around violence and suffering in Lebanon.

I will convey two recurrent stories here to make my point clearer:

We have suffered too/We have suffered more

The first story is quite a recurrent one. It is the story of a Lebanese encountering a Syrian. The Syrian is usually in this story silent, quiet and does not want to speak of what she has witnessed, what she has gone through, what she has seen. The Lebanese, by the mere fact of encountering a Syrian, say in a service car or in the lobby of a clinic, etc. , starts telling the Syrian about how and what she has seen is nothing compared to what he has gone through during the civil war. Story after story after story, from staying long hours in line to get bread, to hiding and running from shelling, to seeing dead bodies in the streets, to random massacres and losing loved ones, the Lebanese purges stories of his own suffering, stories that would probably not have been shared otherwise. Frantically, he recites his long and maybe hidden or forgotten stories, one story after the other, while the Syrian sits quietly, maybe not knowing what to answer, or maybe just appalled by the distastefulness of this recounting of the Lebanese suffering that gives it much more value and intensity than her own untold, but more imminent experience. I have heard this recurrent story numerous times. It ends with the Lebanese telling the Syrian that her suffering is nothing compared to his and what he has gone through.

Syrian refugee gives his e-card to the supermarket manager. photo by Dalia Khamissy

Syrian refugee gives his e-card to the supermarket manager. photo by Dalia Khamissy

No one ever gave us a stipend! : Economies of compassion and global recognition of suffering

The second story is a recurrent commentary on the stipends that the Syrian refugees get because of their suffering. These commentaries range from signaling that the refugees have money and keep exploiting the Lebanese economy to discussing in details what they are allowed to buy with this money. One person in particular was quite angry at the fact that a liquor store he saw had a sticker that says “we can accept refugee cards” (he is probably referring here to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)’s e-card system for Syrian refugees in Lebanon). “Do they get to also buy alcohol with their stipend”?! He says, in an angry tone, appalled that the stipend might cover something more than the refugees’ basic vital needs. Then he says: “no one ever gave us anything for our suffering in the civil war!..and we suffered so much more than them, but we got nothing in return”.

This “suffering envy”, or this jealousy over basically everything a Syrian possess from a story of suffering to a monthly stipend, is appalling, yes. But the point is that it also reveals a whole economy of suffering set by global humanitarian organizations that make suffering into a commodity that refugees have to perform, possess and show in order to get asylum and recognition. But also, this suffering envy reveals how unbearable the other’s pain is, and how it shakes and disrupts the Lebanese’s own narrative of violence and suffering.

Disrupting the Lebanese politics of suffering: The unbearable suffering of Syrians in Lebanon

The suffering of the Syrians is unbearable. It is a sudden reminder of the multiple layers of violence that the Lebanese have themselves gone through and that they have no national discourse or frame through which they are allowed to express, formally and to the world, how much they have and still suffer from injuries of violence. This absence of suffering has many reasons that I am still trying to understand. One of it is the dominant representation of Lebanon and the Lebanese as “naturally resilient to wars and violence”. These representations describe the Lebanese as indifferent to violence and war, tanning in a bikini while Beirut is bombed, where the geopolitical nature of Lebanon makes it “naturally susceptible to war and violence” (as if Lebanon naturally attracts violence and war which has genetically equipped Lebanese to become resilient and almost indifferent to war). Other reasons are of course post-civil war state ideologies of erasures through “reconstruction”, erasing all physical and semiotic presence of civil war violence form Lebanon, and with it any possible national discourse of suffering.

It is through these representations that the suffering of the Syrian is read. It is of course interpreted and appropriated by the Lebanese’s own narrative of suffering. This is how, I think, Syrian suffering loses any meaning in Lebanon, and does not register any kind of collective solidarity or compassion (of course people and individual sympathize but I am speaking her of a collective and political solidarity. Rather, it automatically signals the Lebanese’s own form of suffering, or to be more specific, its absence.

 The Syrian does not appear to be suffering in Lebanon. It is incredible how big a threat is this Syrian. Her suffering signals and threatens the Lebanese’s politics of suffering; her need for labor and work threatens to damage the whole Lebanese economic structure.

Stuck between humanitarian global market of suffering, manifested in trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that UNHCR and hosting countries need to see and recognize in order to give a refugee status, and the Lebanese own privileged suffering, Syrians’ own experience of loss, violence and pain is left unrecognized, unaccounted for and forbidden to emerge in certain cases. If we think about it, the Lebanese and Syrian has gone through a lot of common experiences and have shared a lot of ordeals. It is quite sad to see that  suffering both shared and experienced by the Lebanese and the Syrian does not produce any kind of political solidarity or a political community that identifies this suffering as one.

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the semiotic logic of Gebran Bassil’s politics for dummies.


Ceci n’est pas une pipe. non..

pipe

Ceci n’est pas une pomme.

pomme

Ceci n’est pas Sherihan

sherihan

Ceci n’est pas du racisme

باسيل: النازحون يأخذون مكاننا  ويجب بحث ترحيلهم أكد وزير الطاقة والمياه جبران باسيل "اننا سنحافظ على كل شبر من ارضنا"، وأضاف: "عندما نقول لا نريد نازحين سوريين وفلسطينيين يأخذون مكاننا، هو أمر يجب تكريسه بالفعل وليس بالقول فبوجودهم وبعملهم وبعيشهم يأخذون مكان اللبناني". وتساءل باسيل خلال إطلاقه بصفته وزير الزراعة بالوكالة، فعاليات يوم النبيذ اللبناني الذي سينظم في فرنسا في 16 أيار 2013، في حفل أقيم في جمعية "بترونيات" في البترون، "كيف يمكن ان يتم تعليم المنهج السوري في لبنان في بعض المدارس؟ أين سيادتنا وكرامتنا من هذا الامر؟ وهل هناك اي بلد في العالم يعلم منهج بلد آخر على أرضه؟ ألا يكفينا الفلسطينيين في لبنان لتأتي بقية المخيمات إلى لبنان أيضا؟". وشدد باسيل على أن "هذا التفكير ليس عنصرياً أبداً، بل انه تفكير وطني ونفتخر به ويكفينا هجرة من ارضنا، فشبابنا يهاجر ولا يجوز إعطاء مكاننا لغيرنا"، مشيراً إلى أننا "لم نقل اننا نريد ان نقفل حدودنا، لكن الحدود هي لنصدر منها أموراً جيدة للخارج وكي نحمي أنفسنا وبلدنا لبنان من كل ما هو سيء، كي لا يدخل، هذا هو مفهوم الحدود وليس فتحها للافكار الغريبة والشريرة كي تأكلنا، لذلك يجب ان نميز بين قوافل النازحين عندما لم يعد بإمكان لبنان الاستيعاب وقافلة تحمل التجارة والصناعة والمواد، وما قلناه هو وقف استقبال أناس لا قدرة لدينا على استقبالهم، وهذا ما فعلته تركيا الاردن والعراق حين اوقفوا تدفق النازحين، فلماذا يبقى لبنان ارضا سائبة؟". واستطرد قائلاً: "نحن ندعو اكثر من ذلك، الحكومة اللبنانية التي نحن فيها وطلبنا عقد جلسة خاصة لهذا الموضوع، ان تبحث جديا بترحيل النازحين الى ارضها، ومن يريد مساعدتنا ليس بإرسال الاموال بل يدفعوا ما عليهم اولا نتيجة الاعتداءات الاسرائيلية او ان تدفع الاونروا مبلغ مئتين ومليار مستحقة عليها فاتورة كهرباء للمخيمات الفلسطينية، ومن يريد ان يساعد فان البلاد من حولنا شاسعة واسعة ويمكنها ان تستوعبهم من تركيا الى الاردن الى العراق الى قبرص التركية، فيضعونهم هناك الى حين ان تحل الازمة، وفي سوريا هناك اراض في أيادي الثوار والمعارضة والجيش الحر كما يقولون، وواسعة فليضعونهم فيها"، وأضاف "لماذا لا يأتون إلا الى لبنان؟ وان من يدفع الفاتورة هم اللبنانيون وهي فاتورة لا ندفعها اليوم فقط بل في المستقبل ايضا سندفعها وقد عشنا التجربة في السابق مع الفلسطينيين ولا زلنا حتى اليوم نقول "حق العودة"، وقد اصبحوا مواطنين بواقع الامر، اذ لم يأت احد الى لبنان وتركه الا غصبا عنه، فهي ارض خلقها الله مميزة مع كل المصاعب الموجودة التي نعيشها"

  (http://www.aljadeed.tv/MenuAr/news/DetailNews/DetailNews.html?id=45797)

باسيل: النازحون يأخذون مكاننا ويجب بحث ترحيلهم

أكد وزير الطاقة والمياه جبران باسيل “اننا سنحافظ على كل شبر من ارضنا”، وأضاف: “عندما نقول لا نريد نازحين سوريين وفلسطينيين يأخذون مكاننا، هو أمر يجب تكريسه بالفعل وليس بالقول فبوجودهم وبعملهم وبعيشهم يأخذون مكان اللبناني”. وتساءل باسيل خلال إطلاقه بصفته وزير الزراعة بالوكالة، فعاليات يوم النبيذ اللبناني الذي سينظم في فرنسا في 16 أيار 2013، في حفل أقيم في جمعية “بترونيات” في البترون، كيف يمكن ان يتم تعليم المنهج السوري في لبنان في بعض المدارس؟ أين سيادتنا وكرامتنا من هذا الامر؟ وهل هناك اي بلد في العالم يعلم منهج بلد آخر على أرضه؟ ألا يكفينا الفلسطينيين في لبنان لتأتي بقية المخيمات إلى لبنان أيضا؟”.

وشدد باسيل على أن “هذا التفكير ليس عنصرياً أبداً، بل انه تفكير وطني ونفتخر به ويكفينا هجرة من ارضنا، فشبابنا يهاجر ولا يجوز إعطاء مكاننا لغيرنا”، مشيراً إلى أننا “لم نقل اننا نريد ان نقفل حدودنا، لكن الحدود هي لنصدر منها أموراً جيدة للخارج وكي نحمي أنفسنا وبلدنا لبنان من كل ما هو سيء، كي لا يدخل، هذا هو مفهوم الحدود وليس فتحها للافكار الغريبة والشريرة كي تأكلنا، لذلك يجب ان نميز بين قوافل النازحين عندما لم يعد بإمكان لبنان الاستيعاب وقافلة تحمل التجارة والصناعة والمواد، وما قلناه هو وقف استقبال أناس لا قدرة لدينا على استقبالهم، وهذا ما فعلته تركيا الاردن والعراق حين اوقفوا تدفق النازحين، فلماذا يبقى لبنان ارضا سائبة؟”.

واستطرد قائلاً: “نحن ندعو اكثر من ذلك، الحكومة اللبنانية التي نحن فيها وطلبنا عقد جلسة خاصة لهذا الموضوع، ان تبحث جديا بترحيل النازحين الى ارضها، ومن يريد مساعدتنا ليس بإرسال الاموال بل يدفعوا ما عليهم اولا نتيجة الاعتداءات الاسرائيلية او ان تدفع الاونروا مبلغ مئتين ومليار مستحقة عليها فاتورة كهرباء للمخيمات الفلسطينية، ومن يريد ان يساعد فان البلاد من حولنا شاسعة واسعة ويمكنها ان تستوعبهم من تركيا الى الاردن الى العراق الى قبرص التركية، فيضعونهم هناك الى حين ان تحل الازمة، وفي سوريا هناك اراض في أيادي الثوار والمعارضة والجيش الحر كما يقولون، وواسعة فليضعونهم فيها”، وأضاف “لماذا لا يأتون إلا الى لبنان؟ وان من يدفع الفاتورة هم اللبنانيون وهي فاتورة لا ندفعها اليوم فقط بل في المستقبل ايضا سندفعها وقد عشنا التجربة في السابق مع الفلسطينيين ولا زلنا حتى اليوم نقول “حق العودة”، وقد اصبحوا مواطنين بواقع الامر، اذ لم يأت احد الى لبنان وتركه الا غصبا عنه، فهي ارض خلقها الله مميزة مع كل المصاعب الموجودة التي نعيشها”

Sudanese Asylum seekers in Lebanon: a battle for visibility and human rights


There are many ways in anthropology and cultural studies to describe an un-human, a person who does not fit into our category of humanity, someone that somehow is not visible to us socially as a human. My friend once told me a story that I never fully believed. It was about a man he used to bully. One day, his friends and him decided to treat this man as if he was invisible. When he called them, they would ignore him. If he came up to them, they would act as if he was not there. They acted as if he did not exist for around two weeks until the guy was crying so hard they had to stop. “He almost went insane”, said my friend.

It is hard to “talk” about and represent people who exist but don’t “really” exist, the invisible ones, those we ignore everyday and act as if they are not there. Beirut is full of these invisibles. When I was walking in Hamra the other day, there was, in the middle of the sidewalk, a woman talking to a man: “kifak, shoo akhbarak? Kif el madame? Kifak be hal shawbeit?” and between them, a man with his back twisted all the way to the floor, spreading his arm and hand between them, looking at them both and listening to their conversation. An invisible man, I thought.

We do that all the time, ignore certain people, try not to have eye contact with them, etc. On a more structural and institutional level, however, this is somewhat what the UNHCR is doing with the Sudanese asylum seekers in Lebanon, by acting as if they don’t exist as humans with rights and dignity.

These Sudanese communities are not refugees yet. Lebanon works as a transitional country between the refugee-to-be and the host country (in this case USA). However, in the waiting time between abandoning the Sudanese nationality and seeking refugee status in the States, Sudanese refugees-to-be become invisible, and are treated as such by both the Lebanese State and by the very institution that is supposed to help and protect them.

The story of the Sudanese asylum seekers, the invisibles, is both appalling and telling of the paradoxes and gaps in what is consider “human” and “human” rights by the international community.

(A spoiler alert: it should go as no surprise, unless you are a silly idealist and humanist (whatever that means these days) to you that structural racism plays a big deal in producing what is human and what is not in this story, and also what is “sexy” in terms of refugees right now, ie what does the dear donor himself acknowledges as refugee, as war, conflict and suffering.)

The Sudanese community in Lebanon who are seeking refugee status in the US (because, unlike other communities seeking refugee status, for some reason, Sudanese will only be received in the US and not Europe and have no choice in the matter) are claiming that they have been waiting for too long for their refugee status to become valid.

Although the reason for the delay is a “security check” that is required by the American State, the waiting period is unjustifiable and leaves these communities in a very exploitative position in Lebanon. In this liminal space, sudanese asylum seekers become incredibly vulnerable and invisible socially. They are exploited both by the UNHCR staff and by Lebanese society and state, who treat them both as non-humans, as less than humans, by depriving them of their basic human rights.

Living in Lebanon without any form of social protection or support, without any way to work except to rely on an unsystematic delivery of services from UNHCR, is only producing more exploitation and racism towards these communities:

“My landlord kicks me out of my house once every other week…He knows I have no papers so he takes advantage of that. When I get home I find my stuff thrown outside and I talk to him and he says: “I want you to pay 100.000L.L. more. I tell him I don’t have that much money. He tells me, go ask the UNHCR for more money” this is one of dozen stories of abuse and exploitation that these communities undergo without any protection from the UNHCR or the Lebanese state.

Many of these Sudanese communities agreed that they are being treated “like children” by the UNHCR. When they come to ask about their refugee status, or when they come and ask for aid, the staff laughs at their accent and talk to them “as if we are kids”. One of them said that “I went to ask for food and money, but one  staff asked me to get a job: “Why wont you get a job, he said, smiling. You look fit and healthy, go work and make a living . “You know I cannot work in Lebanon” I told him, why wont you give me what I am entitled to?”

Stateless and invisible to the International community, Sudanese asylum seeks decided to use their only available and last human trait to protest: their bodies. They went on hunger strike to become visible as humans in distress. Like Khader Adnan’s hunger strike, Sudanese refugees are asking for recognition that they are humans and that they deserve dignity. By their hunger strike, they are signaling the failure of UNHCR in protecting them in Lebanon and their distress over what goes on inside this institution.

some Sudanese asylum seekers talked about how they were ridiculed and mocked “like children” when they started their sit-in outside of the UNHCR building. “They will walk and laugh at us in our face. When they finally allowed us to meet them, they promised us all these unrealistic promises and gave us nothing concrete. Then they did not do anything. We tried to explain to them what our demands were and why we were protesting, but they seemed not to listen”

On August 4th, after 50 days of hunger strike, UNHCR seems to have had enough of this “childish” game. Sudanese strikers were arrested and detained in the Adlieh prison for daring to be too visible. 23 days later, 14 of them are still in detention. Ironically enough, one the Sudanese Asylum seekers  had said before that the only way to become visible enough to get a refugee status is for them to go in prison. He told the story of an asylum seeker who was beaten up by a Lebanese man and went to the police station to complain. When they asked for their papers, he didn’t have any so he was arrested and put into prison. Shortly enough, his refugee papers magically arrived and he left to the US. This Sudanese trouble maker made enough trouble to become a refugee.

However, the detainees will not receive any refugee papers. This time they became more visible. The arrested Sudanese Asylum seekers are apparently bullied and threatened by the UNHCR to sign a commitment not to protest outside of the UNHCR doors. Their very release is conditioned onto signing this commitment.

If this turns out to be right, UNHCR would be violating the basic right of any human being,  the right to protest for dignity and recognition of his or her humanity. This situation seems shocking and surprising. How can an institution that draws its authority from the International community and whose function is to protect and serve asylum and refugee communities end up exploiting them and endangering their very own human rights? Who supervises the international community and the United Nations, that supervises us all?

It is very crucial to show support for these Sudanese Asylums seekers and help them become more visible as humans with un-debatable rights to protest and complain. Join the solidarity protest this Wednesday for the immediate release of the detainees by the very own institution that claims to protect human right values and principles.

The demands of the Sudanese asylum seekers are the following:

-The immediate and unconditional release of the detained strikers/asylum seekers.

-The cessation of the UNHCR’s abuse of their power and position to violate the asylum seekers and refugees’ basic rights when they should be protecting and supporting them.

-A new memorandum of understanding between the UNHCR and the ministry of Interior stipulating mainly that asylum seekers or applicants to refugee status should not be arrested and/or detained under any circumstance; particularly and especially because they don’t have residence permits or legal papers (pending the UNHCR processing).

 “Refugees like Syrians and Iraqis are not treated like that, why are we?” good question, I thought. Have I heard other refugees complain? No, I thought to myself, as i sat listening to the Sudanese Asylum seekers tell us about their strike a few weeks before they were arrested.  But in the future, I will. I will witness other forms of structural exploitation of refugees and displaced communities from different communities in Lebanon, which will lead me to realize that there is something essentially flawed with what we refer to as “international committee” itself and its apparatuses.

But that is a story for another day. Our story today is about invisible ones.

Support the Sudanese Asylum seekers’ search for their humanity. We all seem to be losing our humanities very quickly these days..

Civilization and its discontents (A comment on the article: “Lebanon cannot be ‘civilized’ while domestic workers are abused”)


Following the abuse and suicide of Alem Achasa in Lebanon, an article was published by Nesrine Malik  in the Guardian entitled Lebanon cannot be ‘civilized’ while domestic workers are abused.  The article addresses the racism and abuse that resulted in the suicide of Alem. In the third paragraph however, Malik embarks on a description of Lebanon’s “status” via-a-vis other Arab countries:

“No country in the Arab world is free from racial discrimination. But there is a perception, encouraged by the eagerness with which people in other countries, particularly Gulf ones, devour Beirut’s cultural exports and standards of beauty, that the Lebanese are somehow superior to other Arabs in that they are more liberal, more occidental in inclination and above all else, much lighter-skinned and therefore more “attractive”. The last 20 years has witnessed an invasion by Lebanese music and entertainment. After many painful years of civil war that crippled the country, Beirut emerged, unencumbered by the conservatism of the majority of Middle Eastern countries, more “modern” and “civilised”. But it surprises few in the region that the worst discrimination occurs in Lebanon, and that it is inflicted on only certain races and nationalities.”

the rest of the article addresses the recorded abuse of different domestic migrants in Lebanon then ends with this remark:

 “Farah Salka from the Lebanese Anti-Racism Movement says that it is time for a redefining of the word “racist” in Lebanon. Hopefully across the region we can also begin to redefine the meaning of “civilised”, making it not only about dress, physical beauty and liberal lifestyle, but empathy with other human beings whatever their race or nationality.”

What I want to address here is Malik’s use of “civility” as an indicator of anti-racism or the absence of racism.

Malik’s argument can be summarized as the following: Lebanon is seen as superior to other countries because of its “culture” (ie music, clothes), “light skin” (apparently we are all light skinned but let’s humor Malik for a while) beauty and liberalism. But the mark and indicator of civility is not all of the above, but the ability to respect and empathy with all human beings regardless of their race and nationality. 

Malik’s framing of the whole article in terms of civility is useless at best and problematic at worse because this sort of framing refers the cause of racism to an ethical and individual form of acquired civility that requires “empathy with other human beings regardless of their ethnicity and nationality”.

By framing the racism committed against Alem Dechasa and other migrant workers in Lebanon as “uncivilized”, Malik is first assuming that the problem of racism in Lebanon is a  problem of uncivilized Lebanese individuals who lack “real”  moral attributes of humanism against the other.

Second, and most important, framing Lebanese racism as an uncivilized individual form of humanist morality completely overshadows and neglects the form of systemic and structural racism that migrant workers suffer from on a daily basis. While migrant workers are directly maltreated and abused by Lebanese individuals themselves, there is however a whole institutional  system of labour, trafficking, migration, poverty and marginalization that not only made this form of racism possible but produced it. Racism in Lebanon is a product of a an institutional system of exploitation that renders migrant workers vulnerable to racist abuse and violence.

This form of institutional and systemic racism is not only found in wanna be “civilized” Lebanon, or in the “barbaric” and uncivilized Gulf, as Malik is suggesting and describing. Structural racism in Lebanon is connected to global and universal  processes of exploitation that manifest in capitalist labour, migration and human trafficking.

Also, framing the problem of racism in terms of civility because it occurs in a country like Lebanon works to reify the civilized/uncivilized dichotomy between the “really civilized” West and the “uncivilized” other parts. But let’s not fool ourselves, racism is a universal issue and  problem, as the latest events in the USA for example have shown us with the murder of both Trayvon Martin and  Shaima Alawadi. Framing racism in terms of civility, just because it happened in a country like Lebanon, only serves to reify the “West’s” own civility and render it absent of discrimination.

Instead of framing events of violence and abuse in terms of civility/uncivility, it would be more useful for Malik to present us with an inquisitive and analytical framework of the systemic form of racism that is producing racist individuals and employers in Lebanon. Using the “civilized” argument is getting pretty old and is really useless to everyone.

On madness, violence and suicide


Shortly after the LBC video ,showing a Lebanese man beating up am Ethiopian woman outside of her embassy in Lebanon, was shared, a few people asked on facebook whoever was watching the video to wait and watch the LBC news because “there is a story behind it that will explain why the woman was treated this way”.

The story turned out to be that the woman, Alem Dechasa, is insane, and therefore Ali Mahfouz, the man who was beating her up, was only trying to help her by controlling her “mad behaviors”. This is why her suicide a few days later came to actually reinforce Mahfouz’s story of her madness. Even though a lot of people dismissed this narrative of madness and called Alem’s suicide  murder , the “madness argument” seems to be quite successful in depoliticizing actions and events of violence that reveal the madness of the empire and society itself.  Such framings of violence as “madness”, be it a violence performed on others or onto oneself like a suicide, should be deciphered as a way for the system to cover up the gaps and holes that violent actions produce within it . Arguments of madness are a way for the system to re-cover its own unveiled “madness” and “violence”. After all, and to be very clear, madness as a thing of the real, as a real thing, does not exist.

If we look a bit closer, we will realize that we are and have been surrounded by madness narratives for quite some time. One recent “act of madness” is the killing spree conducted by an American soldier on 16 Afghani civilians, including 9 children. Memorable others include the attacks and killings of Egyptian Copts by a “deranged” egyptian man in 2006 in Egypt, school shootings in the US, and the Ford Hood shooting. These acts of violence were considered “deranged” and “a product of mad individuals” by both Egyptian and American governments and by no means rational, intentional forms of violence. Somehow madness arguments make stories of violence, racism, and terror less shocking and more acceptable. They (acts of violence) become not the product of a violent military and social system but an act of a deranged soldier.

The picture shows a Coptic woman in 2006 carrying a banner saying “The killers of al-Kosheh martyrs were acquitted by the government’s justice system. What can we expect them to do with Alexandria’s deranged man?” The Kosheh bloody attacks in Upper Egypt on the eve of 2000 claimed the lives of 20 Copts

The madness argument works to sustain the status quo of institutional violence, to reinforce the state’s sole right to use violence, while others who use it without following the “proper channels” do not produce violence but madness. For the exception of course of Muslim Arabs whose action of violence vis-a-vis the West is always an act of terrorism and never ever an act of madness.

The madness argument therefore serves to regulate disobedient subjects’ actions, to show them not as political, defiant and violent, but as outside of the realm of what is acceptable “as violence”, as an act of violence that does not need a solution or a project. Acts of violence that are framed as “mad” need only medical and psychiatric attention. There is nothing wrong with the American army, with United States’ presence in Afghanistan, there is nothing wrong with the troops, with Egypt,  with the racist Lebanese society, with the systematic and formal state violence and how it is used and channeled.

The act of suicide on the other hand is an act of violence turned onto oneself that is easily dismissed as an act of madness, or at the very least, a consequence of substance or drug use and, in many cases as we all know,  of Satan worshiping  Through the madness narrative, Alem Achasa’s suicide becomes devoid of any form of political protest against a racist system and becomes an irrational act, devoid of political meaning and of  the capacity to signal violence and racism of the state. It turns the act of suicide, directed towards the state, back again onto Alem’s own body and soul. It’s amazing how Alem’s body and soul is and will always remain  the problem here. Racism and madness are very much intertwined sometimes.

We seem to be living in a time of suicide.  Some suicides have, amazingly enough, stopped being articulated as mad. Acts of burning oneself, and committing suicide outside of ministries, police stations, one’s job in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and many other Arab and Muslim states by mainly Arab youth have been both shocking and undecipherable within the madness narrative. One can hardly frame these suicides as acts of madness because of their abundance and their very visible forms of protest. These suicides, including Alem Achasa’s suicide, threaten the very legitimacy of the state and powers of regulations because they should be  be read as a  form of politics that punches a hole in the System’s wall to show us the structural racism and violence quite visibly.

Last Sunday I took the bus #15 to Rawcheh to find a nice place to write this blog post. I sat down next to a middle aged woman, listening to my music. I could tell that the woman was glancing nervously at me. When I looked at her she frighteningly looked away. I thought that she might be annoyed by my music so I turned down the volume. But she kept looking at me. Somehow her glances communicated fear to me. She was whispering something so I decided to turn off my MP3 player.

She finally asked me for 250 L.L. to complete her bus fare “I thought it was 2000L.L. on Sundays” , I said as I gave her the 250L.L. “no, it’s not, they tried to do it but everyone protested…so they couldn’t do it..no one would take the bus anymore if they do that…I take this bus everyday from Dawra to come here…. I bring food and leftovers to feed the cats, they wait for me..look, here is my bag of food…I feed them at Rawcheh and make them feel better….I found this cat the other day, he was covered with Mazout and he couldn’t breathe. I wiped the mazout off his stomach and fed him…He always hides in the same corner, look…here…he always hides in the bushes next to the bank…I take care of him…he almost died, you know, he was covered with mazout…”

Suddenly I could feel the whole bus staring at us, thinking “this woman is insane”. One woman kept looking at her, and some people turned and stared. She never looked any of them, or me. She talked as if she was talking to herself, looking forward at her seat. “I am originally from Tebnin, I used to go there a lot but they told me not to come back. They told me not to take the bus or service because it is not safe. They will kidnap me…It is not safe anymore, they kidnap a lot of people these days…it is not safe”

this picture is stolen from the internet.

She helplessly tried to avoid the gazing in the bus. She tried to look at the sea, fix her hair, any meaningless behavior to make them stop looking. People glanced at each other and smiled when she got off the bus. They looked at me, waiting for me to become complicit in this little game of “naming the mad”. Is this what madness look like, I thought, someone’s unveiled vulnerability, humanity and loneliness? A painful yearning to communicate and an inability to relate and make sense of a harsh, devastating and threatening world that drowns cats in mazout and is constantly gazing at you? I wanted to sob.

As for me, the story of Nietzsche going mad one day at the sight of a man abusing a horse keeps hunting me, and I wonder what my breaking point will be. As I was going back home today in the Service, three non-white non-Lebanese looking women were crossing the road when two men on a motorcycle started screaming things at them and laughing, and the two other women in the service started laughing as well “shoo 2alla? Shoo 2alla? hahahaha” Is that funny, I thought. Is everyone going mad or am I the crazy one here?

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