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Archive for the tag “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.

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”

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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