North Africa, West Asia

Lebanon's foreign minister shouldn't celebrate Trump. Here's why

Lebanon should not celebrate any foreign president or leader who espouses “poisonous rhetoric” that affects a large portion of its population.

Halim Shebaya
10 November 2016
Bilal Hussein/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

A supporter of Lebanon's newly elected president, Michel Aoun, dances at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, 6 Nov. 2016, to celebrate Aoun's election. Aoun has vowed to uproot corruption and strive for nation-building in the deeply divided country.Bilal Hussein/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

A number of supporters of newly elected Lebanese President Michel Aoun have welcomed the victory of Donald Trump. His senior advisor, current Foreign Minister and president of the Free Patriotic Movement, Mr. Gebran Bassil, tweeted the following with a reference to two national tragedies and victories for both Lebanon and the US.

Two dates America will never forget: 11/9 & 9/11... Two dates Lebanon will never forget : 13/10 & 31/10 — Gebran Bassil (@Gebran_Bassil) November 9, 2016

‘9/11’ (September 9, 2001) represents the tragic terrorist attack in New York whereas ‘11/9’ (November 9, 2016) represents a victory for the American people in Donald Trump.

In contrast, ‘13/10’ (October 13, 1990) represents a national tragedy in Lebanon with the onset of the military occupation of Syria and Aoun’s defeat, whereas ‘31/10’ (October 31, 2016) represents a victory for the Lebanese people in the election of Michel Aoun as President.

Another FPM member of parliament also tweeted what appeared to be a celebration of both victories with the caption: “within two weeks, two non-traditional presidential candidates with opposition from the establishment become presidents through the popular will.”

خلال أسبوعين، مرشحيّن رئاسييّن غير تقليديّن تعارضهما الطبقة السياسية الكلاسيكية وتأتي بهما الإرادة الشعبية! — Alain Aoun (@Alain_Aoun) November 9, 2016

Alain Aoun quickly retweeted a clarification that he was not likening the two persons or systems but was just pointing out Aoun’s popularity (the picture below shows the crowds celebrating Aoun’s election on Sunday November 6, 2016). He noted that the two cannot be likened. This clarification may have been spurred by negative receptions to these tweets, especially on social media, as Aoun’s opponents have regularly likened him to Trump in attempts to criticize both.

التغريدة السابقة من باب الشبه وليس التشبيه: فلا الشخص ولا النظام للمقارنة. أما من لا يزال يتنكّر للصفة التمثيلية للرئيس فلا حول ولا قوة.... — Alain Aoun (@Alain_Aoun) November 9, 2016

Lebanon is a country founded on the principle of Christian-Muslim coexistence, and more generally on the principle of fair representation and treatment of the country’s eighteen religious communities. Political and religious leaders alike cite John Paul II’s statement in the 1980s, “Lebanon is a message,” to confirm Lebanon’s unique culture of religious freedom and somewhat peaceful coexistence. The former Pope had said more clearly:

“Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West.”

In light of the above, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister should not appear to be celebrating Trump’s victory. My point relates to unity, social cohesion, and a sense of shared interests and citizenship, especially as it touches upon an issue (non-discrimination) of fundamental importance to Christians themselves living in Lebanon and the Middle East.

Lebanon’s Preamble to the Constitution mentions that there is “no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the ‘pact of mutual existence.” This has been understood as referring to the importance of inclusion of all Lebanese religious communities and as a measure against the exclusion of any group that would render an authority that contradicts it unconstitutional.

Bassil himself had said at the beginning of his term as Foreign Minister that “we will carry Lebanon’s true image in our faces and in our minds and hearts... and we will not be saved except through our unity... this is our policy: unity domestically, and unity externally, and anything that is against such a unity is not welcomed in our policies.”

In such a spirit of unity, and building upon the constitution and Pope John Paul II’s words, my contention is that Gebran Bassil, as Foreign Minister, should not celebrate Trump’s victory because his words against Muslims (and other groups) run counter to everything that the ‘Lebanese model’ - discussions about its validity and worth aside - stands for. Stated differently, Trump is the antithesis of Lebanon if Lebanon is “a message” of pluralism.

In other words, how can a Lebanese citizen not feel concerned if Trump has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the US? How would a Lebanese Christian or non-believer feel if he/she had been told that all Christians or non-believers should be looked at with suspicion simply by virtue of their membership in a particular social or religious group?

Trump’s words were part of a xenophobic anti-Muslim mood that has led to a spike in hate crimes against Muslims living in the west.

This issue is one that goes beyond mere rhetoric and election campaign language. Trump’s words were part of a xenophobic anti-Muslim mood that has led to a spike in hate crimes against Muslims living in the west.

In the context of the US, Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding issued an important report under the framework of their ‘Bridge Initiative: Protecting Pluralism. Ending Islamophobia’ titled “When Islamophobia Turns Violent: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections”.

It is worth quoting the following bits from its executive summary as it relates directly to Trump’s campaign and his well-documented and reported anti-Muslim remarks throughout the election season:

“- Donald Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner at the time of publication, escalated anti-Muslim vitriol in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, France in November 2015 rather than urge calm or international unity. The attacks signify an international event that triggered a second surge in Islamophobic rhetoric in addition to the uptick in bias attacks.

  • - Mr. Trump made many anti-Muslim statements during televised appearances on mainstream news media outlets, impacting millions of viewers across the U.S. and around the world.
  • -As Mr. Trump called for shutting down mosques in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and the mass shootings in San Bernardino, California in December 2015, anti- Muslim attacks initially tripled with nearly half of those attacks directed against mosques.
  • - Anti-Muslim attacks surged once more in December 2015. There were 53 total attacks that month, 17 of which targeted mosques and Islamic schools and 5 of which targeted Muslim homes. By comparison, when the presidential election season began just 9 months earlier, there were only 2 anti-Muslim attacks. Attacks on Muslims during this month constitute approximately 1/3 of all attacks last year. In fact, in December 2015, anti-Muslim attacks occurred almost daily and often multiple times a day.
  • - At least three separate incidents of violence involved perpetrators who were public supporters of presidential candidate Donald Trump. There was otherwise a strong perception among American Muslim leaders that political rhetoric created fertile ground for threats and acts of anti-Muslim violence.”

Right after Trump’s victory, Amnesty International issued a statement in which they warned about the dangers of the rhetoric witnessed in the lead up to this week’s election.

Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, said: “the United States has witnessed disturbing and, at times, poisonous rhetoric from President-elect Trump and others. This rhetoric cannot and must not become government policy. The xenophobic, sexist and other hateful remarks made by Trump have no place in government.”

For these reasons (among others not discussed here), Lebanon should not celebrate any foreign president or leader who espouses such “poisonous rhetoric” that affects a large portion of its population.

If we cannot agree on countering discrimination against Muslims as a matter of principle, it will be impossible to build a strong state that respects its citizens and its constitution, as is the stated goal of the ‘new-era’ of President Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Lebanon “the message” is the antithesis of poisonous rhetoric that discriminates against any individual or group. As Hanna Arendt eloquently put it: “we actually live in a world in which human beings as such have ceased to exist for quite a while; since society has discovered discrimination as the great social weapon by which one may kill men without any bloodshed.”

Lebanon should not condone such discrimination against anyone, let alone against its own citizens.

This piece was first published on The Huffington Post on 9 November 2016.

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