North Africa, West Asia

There is a rotten stench coming from Lebanon

Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gebran Bassil tweeted as he usually does, yet another series of racist tweets.

Walid el Houri
13 June 2019
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Photo (croped): Marwan Naamani/dpa. PA images. All rights reserved.

It is not the smell of tons of dumped waste that the Lebanese state has yet to find a solution for. It is not the burned garbage releasing yet more toxic substances into the slowly decaying nature and the lungs of the people living in the country.

It is not the stench of incompetence and corruption of the still ruling, ruling class. It is not the stench of the banks who have been draining the economy for decades, racking massive profits while people's economic conditions deteriorate.

Nor is it the stench of the useless dam project approved in the Bisri valley despite the ecological catastrophe that it will undoubtedly bring, and the potential destructive earthquakes it could trigger.

That rotten stench is coming from the fascism festering between the country's populists and large sectors of the population who support them. It is not an unfamiliar stench, we smell it vividly in Europe, the US, Brazil, India, the Philippines and elsewhere. It is a stench that often reeks in Lebanon.

Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of president Michel Aoun, tweeted as he usually does, yet another series of racist tweets. Like Donald Trump, Bassil is a devout tweeter of repulsive nonsensical racist statements or at best empty nationalistic fallacies.

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“They scare you by telling you that the Lebanese passport is not good for you, and will bring with it sanctions. This is not true, as Lebanon and its message and name is still a necessity for the world and all that it is suffering.”

The Lebanese passport ranks 84 out of 94 in the passport index making it one of the least desirable in the world.

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“The Lebanese people have more humanity than all those who boast it as they [the Lebanese people] did not shot their doors to the hungry, persecuted, displaced, and refugees. With pride they refused to ask for help when they were in the darkness of hunger and displacement. It was enough for them to believe in God to stand up once again, so they never knew defeat or despair, and today they will not submit to an economic difficulty.”

Interestingly this statement comes before and after other tweets and statements specifically calling for Lebanon to shot those doors precisely to those people. But the President’s son-in-law needs no logical sequence let alone consistency when stating as well that the Lebanese refuse to ask for help, when the country’s main economic strategy for almost three decades has been to ask for money from foreign states and donors.

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“We have established the concept for our Lebanese belonging which is above any other belonging. We said that it was genetic and that is the only explanation for our similarity and distinction, for our ability to sustain and accommodate together, for our flexibility and strength, our ability to integrate and be integrated, and the refusal to be displaced and seeking refuge together.”

Of course the genetic composition of the Lebanese is a mystery to many, but not to the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. One particular genetic feat it seems is the ability to list contradictions to come up with a meaningless tweet that still manages to sound like it was coming from a 19th century eugenicist.

Bassil’s call to arms resulted in a campaign by the youths of his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) who descended on shops and businesses who employ Syrian labour. Subsequently, hoards of Lebanese fascists went on filming, humiliating, bullying and terrorising one of the most vulnerable segments of the Lebanese labour force.

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“You love Lebanon… hire a Lebanese. The Youth Faction of the Free Patriotic Movement”

FPM supporters boasted their pride in Lebanese racism, spouting hate speech and coining one of the most laughable and absurd concepts: Lebanity.

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“Our belonging is what brings us together, and one of the aspects of our belonging is the nationality and the “lebanity” which we consider to be the highest belonging, over everything else, and this is the real common factor between us”

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“We succeeded in passing the law for getting back the citizenship and in giving it to hundreds of Lebanese who never expected to ever get it. But we need you as Lebanity soldiers so that we can reach thousands more.”

Using much of the lexicon of traditional racism, such as genetic superiority, racial purity and the like, the Lebanese support was unsurprising given the country's normalisation of racist discrimination be it towards Palestinians and Syrians or any migrant workers with darker skins who make up the bulk of the labour force in the country and who often work in conditions that amount to outright slavery.

Ironically, the notions of 'rule of law', 'Lebanese laws' and even 'anti discrimination’ were brought to the fight against the 'threat of the Syrians' in a country plagued by corruption, lawlessness and discrimination.

Lebanon is by and large a failed state and has been one for decades. The reality is also that it is precisely those vulnerable and exploited labourers who are the ones supporting the country’s economy and have prevented it from collapse.

The failure of the ruling parties to come up with a way that their corruption can continue to flourish without the fast destruction of the economy and people's livelihood, means that the only solution is to find a scapegoat. And what better scapegoat is there than refugees? After all, refugees are one of the world’s most loved scapegoats: from the US to Europe, growing fascist movements have climbed the ladders of democracy on the backs of migrants and refugees.

There is unemployment: it is the refugees.

The economy is in crisis: it is the refugees.

Garbage and pollution are slowly killing the environment: it is the refugees.

There are traffic accidents: it is the refugees.

There is no electricity: it is the refugees.

There is no water: it is the refugees.

The summer is too hot: it is the refugees.

On the empirical side of things however, the fact is that the Lebanese economy has benefited from the influx of Syrians to the country.

Billions of dollars have been sent to Lebanon because of the refugees. Billions that have been pumped into the local economy and part of which paid as wages for countless Lebanese working in various sectors involved directly or indirectly in relief work.

The Syrian community in Lebanon also constitutes a very large part of the Lebanese economy, paying rents, consuming goods, producing goods, providing a needed labour force, and pumping money into the stagnant Lebanese economy. Many sectors have grew massively due to the increase in potential and actual consumers generating profit for the state as well as for local businesses. The telecommunication sector, one of the few profitable cash cows of the Lebanese state is a good example of such profit with the number of mobile phone lines growing massively since the influx of Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugees have not only grew the Lebanese economy (after Syrian workers had rebuilt the country in the wake of the 15 years civil war), but have provided an increasing number of job opportunities to a country that has failed to generate any prospects for its citizens who for decades have looked and still look at immigration as the ultimate goal.

After all, Lebanon is a country whose economy is largely dependent on migration: Lebanese citizens migrate abroad to find work and send money to their families, while the local economy survives by exploiting cheap labour from poorer countries who migrate to Lebanon.

There should be no need to boast the economic benefits of refugees and migrants in order to argue against fascism and outright racism. In an ideal world it should be simply common decency not to bully the vulnerable and not to spread hatred. But the world is far from ideal.

While this fascist hate campaign continues, another campaign is also underway with an alarming rise of repression aimed at anyone who speaks out against the new Lebanese regime: journalists, activists, and artists are targeted, interrogated and even assaulted by the state and its thugs.

In an ironic twist, a day after the Lebanese fascist youth descended on the country's foreign workers, the Ministry of Environment announced that an 'international expert' was hired to locate the source of the garbage stench that has surrounded Beirut since the inauguration of the massive coastal dumps. Unsurprisingly, the international expert deduced that it must be the garbage dumps that are the source of that smell. A more astute expert might have located the source of another stench coming from the president’s son-in-law.

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