the interrogations of shamshouma

Archive for the tag “Lebanon”

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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Lebanese suffering on STL stage: narrating violence for the international community


One can criticize many things about the special Tribunal for Lebanon’s, about it being politicized, somewhat meaningless and absurd in the light of the  weekly explosions that have become a matter of mundane occurrences in Lebanon. But what  undeniably interesting about this tribunal is that it offers Lebanese a humanitarian and international  recognition of their suffering by turning them into witnesses of violence.

For the first time in the history of Lebanon, Lebanese (granted, a selected few) are invited to sit and talk in a court of law, whether in person or through video teleconference, to an international and Lebanese audience about their suffering and loss from the 2005 explosion. While acting as witnesses of violence itself, and of their own suffering, the Lebanese are asked questions by both the prosecutor and the defense lawyers. This act of witnessing and narrating suffering invites Lebanese to frame their encounter with violence in an international discourse that (re)defines what it means to be human, what it means to suffer, how to prove your suffering physically and psychologically and how to speak about violence.

Not only that, the Lebanese, for the first time  (Although I vaguely remember a quite similar international “Remy Bandali” moment in the 80s), are getting a taste of what it means to have the international community, our Alma mater,  recognize, register and record, sometimes quite specifically and scientifically, their suffering, for the purpose, we are told, of attaining justice and retribution from violence.

Nazih Abou Rjeily  providing testimony via video teleconference about the death of his brother

Nazih Abou Rjeily providing testimony via video teleconference about the death of his brother in the 2005 explosion in Beirut

By narrating their suffering on the international stage of law, those few and selected Lebanese communicate the most intimate details of the loved ones they lost from the explosion. Whether they suffered unfathomably before they died, how their sudden death affected their family and kins, how long it took for the family to find the body, the types of psychosomatic diseases that afflicted them after their loss, صhow did they broke the news to their parents, how hard it was to grieve for them, etc… Watching one witness after another, I do not feel like I am intruding on their lives or that I am being a peeping shamshoumah, snooping around for dirt about their suffering. Their heartbreaking stories are familiar and close to home.  I listen to their stories and cry sometimes.  I look at them on their international “stage”, sitting between two STL flags, with their headphones on their heads, trying very hard to deliver “the truth” and answering the questions of both lawyers and judges.

These suffering narratives very quickly became quite uncanny. They were both simultaneously familiar and quite disturbing and unfathomable. Suddenly, I feel jealous of their cathartic speech . Why do they get to act out their suffering? I can’t shake this overwhelming feeling of jealousy. I start thinking about the other families from recent explosions, families who lost loved ones during the street fights of 2008, the 2006 war, or the series of explosions that hit Lebanon after the 2005 explosion. I think about the civil war and all the people who lost loved ones, all the injured, the mutilated, the trembling ones, and all the innumerable  horrid stories left untold and unrecognized . I am sure they are jealous too, I think..

It seems to me that in Lebanon, there is this unspoken cultural convention: talking about and narrative your own suffering from violence is not celebrated. It might be tolerated if one is going to admit that “everyone else has suffered as well”. Everyone has suffered in Lebanon because violence, although does not equally hit all social strata, is so entangled in our everyday life, is so constantly anticipated , expected and awaited, that we seem to constantly suffer with each other in silence.

While watching the witnesses talk about their brothers and fathers, and describe their mutilated bodies in the explosion scene, I could not remember how life continued after this explosion, I could not imagine how people picked up the pieces, literally and figuratively, and went on living. I could not remember how we all survived at the edge of life. But then again, we have been doing that for a long time. When the country is on the palm of the demon, its people must remain very very quiet. Their bodies must remain still, they must function the same way everyday. Everything must keep very still so that not to upset the demon. So we keep waking up and going to work, then go back home. We keep walking, taking services, eating, drinking coffee, drinking whiskey and chatting. As if nothing is the matter. We slowly forget previous explosions. there are so many now anyway. We must forget and anticipate  future ones.

it is the smart thing to do, when you’re on the palm of a demon.

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”

The vagina, the anus, the mouth and the breast: ‘uncivil’ and ‘civil’ anatomical politics in Lebanon


In the last few years, and quite visibly in this last year, Lebanese people have been, unusually, under a lot of pressure to regulate and control their body parts through drastically different types of techniques and institutions. Four main body parts emerged as the main new sites for Lebanese governance, some of them more imminent and problematic than others: The vagina and the anus, regulated through the infamous homosexuality and virginity tests that the police and intelligence state apparatuses are conducting on certain Lebanese subjects; the mouth through the smoking ban, and the breast through the national breastfeeding campaign that the ministry of health and World Vision launched this year. While some of these bodily regulations have not yet become a regular form of governance, others are implemented routinely in hiding.

Yes, I know what you are thinking.  Is it a coincidence that the state police, state institutions, lobbyists, middle class activists and international humanitarian organizations are choosing to regulate body parts that are deeply associated with sexual pleasure? Of course it is not a coincidence! If there is any true conspiracy theory, it is this one!
I call ‘uncivil’ the vagina and anus regulations, and ‘civil’ the mouth and breast ones, not to put a moral judgment on these kinds of regulations but to highlight that the former is seen as an non-modern way to regulate a subject’s sexuality. Let us not be mistaken though, everybody’s vaginas and anuses are under scrutiny by institutional power everywhere. There is just a biopolitical way of regulating and controlling, through medicine, public health and psychology, and an ‘uncivil’ one, through the state’ police and intelligence apparatus. Arguably, one is less creepy than the other, but both gaze upon our sexual body parts to ensure a normal masculinity/femininity.

Why the Lebanese state would choose such an ‘uncivil’ way of “checking up” on our vaginas and anuses, and not a safe, public healthy, NGO-run campaign way, is, I think, something to register and analyze.
Let’s start with the ‘civil’ regulations since we all like health so much.

Banning smoking in Lebanon (or, how to govern the citizen “by the butt”)

On the first day of the smoking ban, I asked the “service” driver about it, do the taxis also get affected?
“They fine us the same amount they do for restaurants, 135000L.L. if they catch us smoking. If you smoke in my car, it is I who will be fined as well” .What did you think of the ban, I asked: “…I don’t know miss…it’s like…, I am sorry to be rude…but it’s like they are holding us by the ass. The state is holding us by the ass. I inhale fumes from cars all the time, the fumes that come from the Saida garbage mountain,  I inhale that also everyday… you know?”
Holding us by the ass? Another body part?! I don’t think this post can handle any more!

But what the service driver is saying is really insightful. He is talking about the different kinds of regulations that the state administer. He is less against “regulation” per say than against the way the state has suddenly[1] decided to govern us, ”by the ass”, by us upside down, and governing certain body parts that have no direct impact on structural forms of violence and oppression, like  the Saida’s garbage mountain that is directly affecting people’s lives.
This is what biopolitics does sometimes. It puts the responsibility of life and health onto individual citizens by inviting them to govern their own behavior, to be responsible for their own health. By relocating the responsibility of health from the state to that of the citizen, other more structural forms of oppression are left unaddressed.

I get off the service and head to T-Marbouta in Hamra. Outside in the square, a concert is being prepared by AUB students and staff to celebrate the beginning of the smoking ban. A guitarist walks in the square with his cigarette in his mouth. Two people jump on him and plead him to walk away from the square and finish his cigarette then come back. Other AUB students are roaming the streets of Hamra giving out brochures about the ban “If you see anyone smoking in a public space, it’s your responsibility to report him/her”. Holy shit, I think to myself, as many terrified smokers were panicking at that time.

Smoking in public spaces has been a long-term cause for many activists, AUB academics and public health professionals in Lebanon. The fact that their lobbying worked in a country like Lebanon is  really commendable. But it is important to also look at and think about the new spaces that were re-appropriated because of the ban, the “shared public spaces” that the ban created in bars, restaurants and “public” transportation (which are not really public). What kind of a public space is that? Who inhabits these spaces and who does not anymore? Do these spaces reveal structural forms of violence or do these structures become hidden and unnoticed in them?

The ban also created interesting and new spaces for smokers, like smoking on sidewalks in groups while drinking, and getting to know other people. The other night, smokers were given a “5 minute cigarette break” during a concert and head outside to smoke, with their drinks. I guess there was too many of us so the police stopped by and asked what was going on, “That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?! Now you deal with it!” screamed some people (well it was actually one person…and it might have been just me, and I might have just whispered it to myself). But there was this feeling of solidarity about it all. One guy came up to my friend, who is not a smoker, and started comforting him “don’t panic, it will only take a month, then everything we’ll be back to normal…this can’t go on like this!”.
People were genuinely surprised about the ban. Sometimes we over-exaggerate the failure and weakness of the state and its power to regulate us. But hey, strangers are getting together and talking during  5 minutes cigarette breaks, so, state you better watch out!

The national breastfeeding campaign: turning the breast into a natural right”
It seemed to have gone unnoticed, but the breastfeeding campaign ad that the ministry of health, “partnering” with World Vision (or is it the other way around?), broadcasted on national television is really telling of how much the breast is a crucial site for regulating women’s bodies in Lebanon.
The ad caught my attention because it is charged with gendered and moralist images of what a Lebanese woman should be. I screamed the first time I saw it really. I also keep my eye out for breast campaigns (be it for cancer, esthetic surgeries, or breastfeeding) because they can tell us a lot about how women are thought of and imagined by the state ( or Lebanese state/World Vision in this case).
If you have missed it, here is the ad

The ad, published on World Vision’s site, configures breastfeeding as a child’s right. “Support children’s right- choose breastfeeding”.  The classical “you’re a horrible mother if you don’t breastfeed” message. As a good faith-based organization, World Vision understands breastfeeding as “pure goodness”. A woman who does not breastfeed is not only a horrible mother, but she is also “bad” and non-religious.
Let’s move on to analyzing the ad now. Different looking women, all middle class and pretty looking, are shot talking (more like lecturing) about breastfeeding. Playing with her children, playing a business woman, going to the beauty salon, playing a doctor, or being a good wife to her husband, all these  scenarios  were chosen through which the state/World Vision addressed breastfeeding through a one-sentence message each.
The message does not need a lot of deciphering: “if you love your child, no matter how busy you are, you should breastfeed him/her because the milk is good, natural and healthy. Breastfeeding also makes you skinnier and does not make your breasts fall down, so you don’t have to break any of the esthetic norms dictated by society and you can always remain beautiful and even skinnier than you are already are! You can’t ever say that you have no milk, because the woman playing a doctor in the ad says that of course you will have milk! Breastfeeding makes your kid smarter and healthier. Your mother did it, so you should do it too. And to top it all, your husband approves and has personally thought about the whole issue and figured out that breastfeeding is a “right” for you and a “right” for your child. Your husband has always your rights and that of your child on his mind.”
It is quite fascinating that the ad’s conclusive statement is pronounced by the husband/man. But then again, it is not really that surprising, is it?
This breastfeeding campaign seems to corner women from every possible cheesy way. Moralist arguments about breastfeeding and the pressure that women find themselves in, to breastfeed, is universal I am sure. And again, these kinds of biopolitical regulations completely undermine and forget structural forms of violence that Lebanese women find themselves in, especially in terms of always looking pretty and ageless.
By transferring all the responsibility of breastfeeding onto the woman, these kinds of campaigns abstract the breastfeeding activity from its social and cultural meaning and its effect on the woman worker, or the woman whose whole value relies in her perky breasts and looks. Suddenly, to breastfeed or not to breastfeed becomes an issue that individual women need to handle on their own, without challenging social rules and norms that pressure her not to breastfeed or without allying with women to negotiate these norms and fight them. Through campaigns like these, these fights become individual ones and are rarely talked about as a social problem.
If you’re into breast campaigns like me, you should compare our national campaign to regulate the breast with the Saudi’s national campaign for breast cancer where King Abdullah himself appears in person to talk to Saudi women citizens.

and read about it here
And now for the uncivil.
Gazing at the vagina and the anus (or, where did the state’s masculine power go?)
Let us not be fooled. All of our vaginas and anuses are penetrated by the state’s gaze. The difference is that “in Europe and developed countries”, gazing at the vaginas and the anuses becomes the work of the medical apparatus, and also of psychology and psychoanalysis. The medical gaze of vaginas and anuses is mainly focused on “health”, “hygiene” and “disorders”, which ends up regulating sexual practices and behaviors in the way medicine and psychology thinks of as “normal”.
Virginity and homosexuality tests on the other hand, require quite a different gaze than one that is regulating health and prolonging life. It has nothing to do with the life of the subjects, and more to do with creating and maintaining specific forms of bodies, those with un-penetrated vaginas and anuses.  These tests done by the police seems to happen as a way for the state’s muscle apparatus to check up on its own masculine power.

Lebanese demonstrators hold signs against anal “tests” on men suspected of homosexuality during a protest in Beirut on August 11, 2012.

It’s really incredible that the state chooses to gaze at the subject and govern him/her through the anus and vagina. But it actually makes a lot of sense. The only form of state power and governance left in Lebanon is its hyper-masculine apparatus of police and intelligence; and even this form of power is being castrated on a daily basis by different social and political agents in and outside Lebanon.  What’s left for this apparatus is to check for the masculinity of its subjects, manifested in sexual relations, as a way to check for its own masculine power

It remains to think about who is threatening enough to get these “tests” and who does not. Who is a good subject for the police and Lebanese intelligence and how is a scary one. The recent sexual harassment and beatings targeting peaceful protesters of civil marriage outside of the state’s own legitimatizing institution, the parliament, is in need for both legal action and social analysis to understand the workings of state power. You can read about the testimonies of the protesters here.
PS. Lebanese governance?!
I started this piece by assuming that it is the Lebanese state that is producing all these different forms of anatomical politics. However, it has become quite difficult to draw any kind of argument pertaining to the “state” in Lebanon. As many other countries, Lebanon government is influenced and sometimes run by international Non-governmental organizations, international aid money, be it through a country or a private donor. State institutions, municipalities and local organizations depend on their international humanitarian “partners”.

The ministry of social welfare, called MOSA in the NGO circle (it took me a whole to figure that one out!), seems to be a “partner” to all of the international humanitarian organizations residing in Lebanon! It is therefore difficult and problematic to talk about state biopolitics and/or non-governmental biopolitics, since the presence of a non-governmental organizations assumes the presence of a governmental one. All in all, the boundaries between an NGO and a state institution have been blurred in Lebanon, as in many other countries. What we have here is an NGO-State or a State-NGO form of governance, for the lack of a better and more theoretically enticing word .
This further complicates the analysis of current anatomical regulations. After all, power does work in mysterious ways, chez nous au Liban.

The social exchange of violence and bodies in Lebanon: bomb as routine


Bombs are not shocking in Lebanon. They are only so for the people who were walking from schools, from work or are hanging out in their neighborhood at the time of the explosion.

But it is very clear that “the bomb” has become a regular actor in Lebanese politics, even a shaker of otherwise quite stagnant and unproductive politics. Lebanese politics seem to rely on a thin line, balanced by multiple foreign policies and a local game that turns viciously onto itself  in an endless form of tormented politics. Lebanon is one big chessboard, the only way to move forward is to take down the chess pieces, by a bomb.

Regardless of appalled and shocked statements by politicians and journalists, there is an established and normalized routine of handling, talking about, analyzing and describing the bomb. The bomb is not a destabilizing object, it does not create chaos, emptiness, hysterical outbursts. It only does in the community that hits it, in the neighborhood where it explodes. But who gives a fuck about the community? What the bomb “really” creates is predictable and calculated steps that are very much linked to what the bomb is saying and to whom.

What is the bomb saying? The social exchange of violence

The bomb does not create scattered bodies. It does not kill and create destruction, well maybe for a few minutes on NewTv. The bomb is a message. It is a global and political language exchanged between parties in Lebanon and their foreign sugar daddies. This is why many politicians’ only statements after the explosion were “the message has been received”.

The bomb is not random, it is not traumatizing and destabilizing. It is not an undecipherable ruptured event that disrupts the everyday. It sure did disrupt the hell out of Achrafieh and the neighborhood itself, but again, who gives a fuck? The bomb is a registered linguistic code that transfers political messages on scattered bodies and blood of Lebanese people.

What kind of bomb is this? Asks the NewTv correspondent, as the bodies and remains of people quickly turn into numbers and statistics and are re-appropriated by the bomb to show its strength.

“I am a strong and big bomb” says the bomb.

Bodies, remains, broken glass, people’s everyday walk, neighborhood spirit, cars, shops, people’s lifesaving, old women alone in their apartments, sons and daughters, all these actors are reassembled to be the bomb’s message itself. So they quickly disappear from politics and only the bomb remains.

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..

تضامنا مع العمال المياوميين


رائعة هي المباني العامة للدولة. في ساحة شركة الكهرباء مثلا, بركة ماء او مسبح (فارغ من الماء طبعا) ضخمة لا تجدها الا في مباني الدولة. كأن المبنى بذاته يعكس ضخامة وعظمة الدولة. عندما تدخل الى مبنى عام, تعرف انك في مؤسسة للدولة.  لذلك بدت لي شركة الكهرباء الامس كأنها آخر مؤسسة عامة في لبنان. حتى أنها محتلة من قبل عمّالها! أين تستطيع ان تجد مكانا عاما آخرا في لبنان محتلا من قبل العمال الذين قضوا عمرهم في خدمته؟

  تبدو معركة عمال المياومين أيضا كآخر معركة عمالية في لبنان. على واجهة شركة الكهرباء, يافطات عديدة تعبر عن إستياء العمال و مطالبهم. صور للجرحى الذين سقطوا عند هجوم انصار التيار الوطني الحرعليهم. “أنا شفت سياراتهم, إجو صفّوها و تطلعت بصندوق السيارة و كان معهم سلل. كيف سلل الخضرة؟ بس مليانة حجار”. بجانب البركة  المؤسساتية الفارغة من الماء,  شيّدت خيمة  اعتصام

 داخل الشركة, احتلال عمّالي. تحت “متأخرات” يقوم اربعة او خمسة رجال بمناقشة الوضعوالخطوات المقبلة :”قولكم نازلين الزعران اليوم؟ حيهجموا علينا؟ حتمنعهم قوات الدرع؟” مقالات صحافية تناولت مطالب العمال معلّقة على العواميد, والدرج يستعمل للخطابات, لمشاركة الاخبار,التطورات وللاجتماعات العامة. في الزاوية, نصب مؤسساتي حفرعليه اسماء كل العمّال الذين قتلوا خلال مزاولة عملهم والاعوام التي قتلوا في. النصب كبير والاسماء كثيرة. لم يضعه العمّال المياومون هناك. هو جزء من المبنى, جزء من المشهد المؤسساتي

احسست بالحيرة, هل عمّال الكهرباء جزء من الجيش اللبناني؟ هل يستشهدون هم أيضا في سبيل الوطن؟  أم هم  يصعقون بالكهرباء و يقتلون لأن لا حماية وظيفية لهم؟ كتب تحت النصب “أبهى معاني الشهادة, عندما يمتزج العرق بالدم”

أنا ضد آلية الدولة الاعلامية  (التي في هذه الحالة  تتلخص بالتيار الوطني الحر و “انصاره” الاصلاحيين) التي تحوّل و بكثير من السهولة العمّال المياومين الى “زعران” غير حضاريين (ومفهوم الحضارة لدى “الدولة” والعونيين هو منطق طبقي بامتياز) بلا مطالب و لا حقوق.  أنا ضد الخصخصة التي تهبط على رؤوسنا مثل البرق فجأة, لتقدّم لنا مفاهيم المهنية            في العمل, التخصص والتوحيد الوظيفي, محوّلة العمّال الذين قضوا عمرهم في شركة الكهرباء مستغليّن من دون أي     تدريب مهني او تطوير لمهاراتهم الوظائفية و الانسانية, الى السبب الاساسي لفساد مؤسسة الكهرباء في لبنان

هناك العديد من القضايا الاجتماعية و السياسية المعقدة  حاليل في لبنان, حيث يصعب أحياناعلينا التحرك باتجاه أو بآخر. ليس ذلك حال قضية العمال المياومين و مطالبهم

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?

20 things more terrifying than a new civil war in Lebanon


20- hipsters (in general)

19- The dinosaurs in the government and Parliament that do not seem to be dying anytime soon

18- the state of Lebanese newspapers

17- The discreet disappearance of sidewalks in Beirut

16- AUB cats

15-Dany’s alley in Hamra

14- The tazer guns and dogs that Solidere bodyguards have in downtown (for their defense though, they seem to have turned tazers into toys and dogs into spoiled animals, as far as i have noticed)

13- the Lebanese universitieS

12-the price of everything you like to buy or thought that you could once afford.

11- the president of Beirut’s municipality (this one is ro3ob total)

10- Lebanese men who are always in need of an audience to talk about themselves, their theories, their accomplishments in life and their (always) revolutionary politics

09- defining political action as having  a strong opinion about everything, and expressing that opinion on facebook and twitter everyday.

08- the “new generation” and their “Lebanese memes”

07- the Lebanese Labor Union

06-the shitty situation of workers in Sukleen and migrant workers in Lebanon (redundant)

05- the amount of women I know who have done plastic surgery

04- The amount of women I know who have been sexually abused (redundant)

03- the old old man who sits opposite from main gate asking you if you need a shoe shine

02-  the amount of activism and activists in Lebanon, correlated with the absence of any form of social change.

01-  the suicide of Zahed zogheib, and his father before him

The Emptying of the Political in Lebanon: Lara Fabian and consumable revolutions.


Recently, a concert by Lara Fabian scheduled in Lebanon brought upon a storm of actions by the “Campaign to boycott supporters of Israel in Lebanon” who protested the pop singer’s recent involvement with and support of Israel and called for a boycott that eventually led to the cancellation of the concert.

This brought upon a counter campaign from Lebanese businesses and the pop singer’s fans who accused the boycotting campaign of censorship and of threatening the singer. A picture of the Lara Fabian’s concert was published on the Facebook page “stop cultural terrorism in Lebanon” accusing the campaign of cultural terrorism and of mixing politics with art and music. These events were all preceded by the state censorship of “Hotel Beirut” , a Lebanese movie prevented from showing in Lebanon because it contains scenes that “threatens national security”. The counter campaign grew strong enough for Lara Fabian to re-establish her concert in Lebanon, which will be again held on February 14th.

Abundant debates over Lara Fabian’s concert in social media like Facebook, and newspapers like Al-Akhbar, that recently published around four articles in their Culture section on the topic, has clearly brought upon two main and opposing arguments: 1) boycotting Lara Fabian’s concert and any other cultural event in support of Zionism is a way to resist against Israel’s apartheid system and its unlawful policies against Palestinians, and 2) leaving people to decide for themselves which cultural event to attend and why, is a human right that should never be censored or politicized under any circumstance.

Somewhere in these debates, the act of boycotting Israeli commodities, or commodities dangerously linked to Israel, was equated with the act of cultural terrorism and censorship.

These forms of identification, arguments and debates are strong examples of how the political is emptied in Lebanon, in the midst of the “Arab spring” and revolutionary changes in the Middle East. 

Boycotting vs. cultural terrorism: signaling the terror in commodities of the global

Boycotting and cultural censorship are both forms of politics that reflect an anxiety over certain forms of commodities, whether because of their attachment to Israel, as is the case with Lara Fabian, or whether they are deemed to be culturally inappropriate, commodities that might shake the social and political system, like “Beirut hotel”. While the act of boycotting assumes a personal or collective choice to abstain from consuming certain commodities, state censorship is a more institutionally implemented “abstinence”, where citizens have no say in the matter.

What is at stake here is a visibility/censorship dichotomy that reflects the current state of global politics. Both the act of boycotting and censorship are a reflection of a generalized anxiety over the consumption of certain global commodities. The act of boycotting however marks the commodity as dangerous and bad by localizing it in history. Lara Fabian’s concert, when boycotted, stops being “just art” and becomes visible in the political arena as holding marks of Zionism and oppression.

Through the act of boycotting, certain local and dangerous characteristics emerge onto the surface and become unveiled, which threatens the globality of the commodities themselves. The act of censorship on the other hand, works by removing the commodity all together from the reach of the public, marking it as dangerous as a whole, by removing it entirely, thereby rendering it invisible and unreachable.

Therefore, boycotting marks and signals the terror in commodities, thereby making them political, while censorship signals them entirely as terrorizing and remove them all together from the political field and from consumption. So, why did boycotting Lara Fabian’s concert become so rapidly equated with censorship and “cultural terrorism”?

The global politics of human rights

In order to understand why and how boycotting became equated with cultural terrorism, we need to locate Lebanese social actions within global politics. In the Lara Fabian debates, the boycotters centered their argument on the importance of being conscious of the forms of commodities consumed within the current global order, while the other group evoked freedom of expression as the primary and most essential human values that should never be compromised.

While the boycotters framed their argument around the right to abstain from consuming certain commodities, the pro-concert group evoked a clear discourse of human rights that mainly revolved around freedom of expression anywhere and anytime, regardless of history and context.

Through these human rights values, commodities like music and clothes (etc.) become global in a sense that they can hold similar meaning and consumptive function anywhere without being challenged. Their locality must always be hidden. After all, art is just art, music and fashion has nothing to do with politics and should be enjoyed by everyone regardless of who made them and for what purpose. To mention for example that Coco Chanel worked as a Nazi agent from the occupation of Paris to the aftermath of the world war II , should not be mixed with fashion line that modernized and revolutionized clothing. By not respecting this politics/art dichotomy, the boycotters threatened the very globality of commodities of art and were accused of censoring and interrupting their global flow.

The emptying of the political in Lebanon

The Lara Fabian’s debates are one example of how the political is emptied in Lebanon through the subscription to a global discourse of human rights, whose politics of life assumes a universal way of being that disregards and makes hidden the locality of the human. In the midst of the “Arab spring” revolutions and social movements, Lebanon appears to have been emptied of the political at the expense of moral discourses of human rights and of the globality of consumption.

Much like dominant arguments that called against the incorporation of the political into domains like art and consumption, the current state of the art in Lebanese politics brings into the present past narratives and stories of rebellion and resistance and re-introduce them into the political discourse as “revolutions”. Recently produced movies like “Rue Huvelin” (2011)  revoke and combine post-civil war youth demonstrations, protests and sit-ins in Lebanon between 1990 and 2005, into a solid revolutionary narrative under the new light of “the Arab spring”. Conferences like “Lebanon on the margins of the Arab Spring” held in Washington DC on the current state of Lebanese politics   strive to bring into the present past demonstrations and protests like the “Cedar revolution”.

These narrative forms are also strong examples of how the political, or practice politics, in Lebanon, is easily replaced with apolitical narratives of consumptive revolutions. In this sense, “Lebanese revolutions” become commodities themselves that are consumed to satisfy the need for political and social action.

 

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