Mahmoud Mroueh cached version 14/02/2019 02:50:53 en (Syrian) black skin, (Lebanese) white masks <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Refugees in Lebanon face a violent troika: the state, the Lebanese bourgeoisie, and the weather.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Al-Marj refugee camp, Beqaa, Lebanon 9/1/2015. At least 3 refugees have been killed by the storm so far. Photo by Syrian Eyes." title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Al-Marj refugee camp, Beqaa, Lebanon 9/1/2015. At least 3 refugees have been killed by the storm so far. Photo by Syrian Eyes.</span></span></span>Life in Lebanon has become more grueling for Syrian refugees since<a href=""> I wrote on the proliferation of anti-Syrian sentiment amongst the Lebanese</a> back in September. </p><p dir="ltr">Hostile attitudes towards our Syrian ‘guests’, while already prevalent, have steadily become more dominant and more pronounced. A<a href=""> particularly shameful article</a> (Arabic) titled “Hamra [Street] is no longer Lebanese…Syrian expansion has altered its identity” caused an uproar when it was published in <em>An-Nahar</em>’s print and online editions on January 6, 2015. <em>An-Nahar </em>is Lebanon’s most widely-circulated newspaper and one of its oldest and most prestigious. The article deserves to be examined, not for its merit, but because it contains a damning caricature - that unintentionally borders on the satirical - of the specifically bourgeois variant of Lebanese anti-Syrian bigotry. </p><p dir="ltr">In addition to having to deal with a hostile population and vitriolic media, new entry policies put in place by the Lebanese government have severely restricted access into Lebanon for Syrian refugees fleeing the war back home. Finally, an<a href=""> exceptionally harsh winter</a> spent in dismal, ill-equipped shelters (if any) coupled with the temporary<a href=""> suspension of the World Food Programme’s much-needed aid</a> distribution programs have made life unbearable for many of Lebanon’s Syrian refugees.</p><h2>Borders</h2><p dir="ltr">The flow of refugees into Lebanon has, until recently, continued unabated. According to a recent<a href=""> UNHCR report</a>, there are 257 Syrian refugees per 1,000 inhabitants inside Lebanon today, making Lebanon the country with the highest refugee density in the world. The Lebanese government took its first concrete step towards limiting the influx of Syrian refugees into the country in October of 2014, when entry procedures for Syrian nationals were tightened. Syrians classified as ‘displaced’, as opposed to visitors who would eventually return, could be refused entry on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of Lebanon’s General Security apparatus.&nbsp;<span>These</span><a href=""> procedures were formalized and finally put into effect</a><span> on January 5. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>Syrian and Lebanese nationals have historically enjoyed the right to cross into either country without the need for a visa, ever since Syria and Lebanon came to exist as independent nation states following independence from French colonialism in the 1940s. But this has now changed. Syrian nationals who wish to cross into Lebanon must now apply for one of</span><a href=""> six visa types</a><span> at the border and have their applications approved by General Security.</span></p><p dir="ltr">Category I visas include tourism visas, business visas, and visas for real estate owners. Tourism visas are granted for a period equal to the duration of the applicant’s hotel reservation, business visas are granted for a maximum of one month, and real estate owner visas are granted for a maximum of six months. Category II visas are student visas, and they are initially granted for a duration of one week and then extended when proof of enrollment in an educational institution is provided. Category III visas are transit visas, granted to those who wish to enter Lebanon in order to travel through one of the country’s seaports or airport. These visas are granted for a duration of 48 hours for air travelers and 24 hours for those who wish to travel by sea. </p><p dir="ltr">Medical visas are category IV visas, and they are granted for an initial duration of 72 hours and can later be renewed, only once, for another 72 hours. Category V visas are granted for a duration of 48 hours to Syrian nationals who wish to visit a foreign embassy on Lebanese soil. Finally, category VI visas are reserved for those Syrian nationals who do not fall under any of the above-mentioned categories. Syrian nationals who apply for this visa category must obtain an ‘oath of liability’ from a Lebanese citizen who is willing to vouch for them, and take full responsibility for their ‘stay and their actions’. This visa is granted for a duration of five days, and it can be renewed twice after this 5 day period for a maximum of 6 months. </p><p dir="ltr">It is worth noting that Lebanese citizens are still allowed to enter Syria without applying for a visa, and the Lebanese government’s decision prompted<a href=""> a strong response</a> from the Syrian government, delivered by Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, who went so far as to threaten closing the Syrian border to Lebanese exports. “Lebanon would be harmed more than Syria”, he said. It is immediately evident that the new visa system was designed to compartmentalise Syrian nationals based on class; if you have money and assets you are allowed to stay, and if you are poor you are unwelcome, which brings us back to Hussein Hazouri’s horrid piece in <em>An-Nahar.&nbsp;</em><span class="pullquote-right">It is immediately evident that the new visa system was designed to compartmentalise Syrian nationals based on class; if you have money and assets you are allowed to stay, and if you are poor you are unwelcome, which brings us back to Hussein Hazouri’s horrid piece in&nbsp;<em>An-Nahar.</em></span></p><h2>The Lebanese 'white mask'</h2><p dir="ltr"><span>Hazouri begins by stating that Beirut’s</span><a href=""> Hamra Street</a><span>, a historically cultural and intellectual hub and one of Beirut’s busiest streets, has turned “black” – an allusion to the Syrian skin tone, which Hazouri believes is darker than that of the Lebanese. He later says, “[Hamra is full of] people who have that dark skin that the Lebanese very well know is Syrian”. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>Not only is Hazouri making the claim that Syrians have darker skin than do the Lebanese, he also repeatedly insinuates that dark skin is somehow inferior to lighter skin. I personally cannot tell a Syrian apart from a Lebanese. The borders that divide the Levant today were imposed through colonialism and are less than a century old. At the risk of stating the obvious, almost no correlation exists between modern national identities - in the context of centuries of free movement and intermarriage (which back then was just marriage) in such a small region, in addition to other factors, too numerous to count, that are unique to the Levant &nbsp;- and physical attributes. So why does Hazouri believe Syrians have darker skin than the Lebanese? Lebanese anthropologist and social worker Lamia Moghnieh answered the question quite nicely in</span><a href=""> this excellent blog post</a><span>: &nbsp;</span></p><blockquote><p dir="ltr">“While Lebanese spend an incredible amount of time everyday trying to shape their bodies, skin, postures, accents and clothes to resemble and pass as the coveted European and American body, the Syrian body, a constant reminder of what they actually resemble, becomes so threatening to their modern and civilized aspirations that it needs to be recreated and reproduced as essentially different from the Lebanese body.”</p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">The Lebanese fashion the Syrian body in such a way so that they may forge an identity from the imagined contradistinction that exists between how they perceive the Syrian body, and thus the Syrian, and how they perceive themselves. This dark skin that all Syrians are supposedly characterized with is perceived as being inferior to lighter skin, because it is associated with poverty and uncleanliness. </p><p dir="ltr">As I’ve argued before, the stereotype was partly inspired by the sunburned skin of Syrian migrant workers who comprise the largest part of the labor force in construction and agriculture, and who toil under the sun from dawn till dusk in every part of the country in return for meager wages. These are the Syrians who the Lebanese most often encountered. Economists disagree on the number of Syrian workers present in Lebanon before 2011, with numbers ranging from anywhere between 250,000 to 1,200,000 in the 1990s.The real figure hovered between 300,000 and 500,000 throughout the first decade of the 21st century.</p><p dir="ltr">Syrian workers comprised the bulk of Lebanon’s Syrian population, but they were also more visible than the rest of the (more affluent) Syrian population, who cannot be distinguished from wealthy Lebanese. It is important to mention that colonialism and imperialism are also responsible for the internalised racism and reverence for everything western and ‘white’ that dominates Lebanese society and other parts of the developing world. After the article was published, Syrians and Lebanese<a href=""> took to social media websites to mock the article</a> with memes that satirically highlighted the supposed differences in skin tones that exist between the Lebanese and the Syrians as per Hazouri, and<a href=""> businesses in Hamra issued a joint-statement</a> condemning the article as racist, and denying the claims made by Hazouri with regards to how Syrian refugees are ‘bad for business’.</p><p dir="ltr">Hazouri’s article is as abhorrently classist as it is racist, which is to be expected – it always boils down to class. What seems to bother Hazouri most is having to deal with the unwelcome intrusion of homeless Syrian refugees on his little bourgeois bubble of joie de vivre. Hazouri included a rather indicative quote in his article, from a 22 year old restaurant employee who works on Hamra. “The Syrians have occupied the country, which pushes many Lebanese to avoid the area because of all the beggars and the vulgar, low class scenes (of poor Syrian refugees) that dominate this area of Beirut.” This kind of rhetoric is regularly spewed by Lebanon’s upper classes, as was showcased by<a href=""> this brilliant satirical piece</a>, which actually contains a terrifyingly accurate portrayal of reality. Lebanon’s wealthy very loudly and continuously voice their complaints about the Syrian refugee situation, when they are in fact the least-affected by it, if at all. </p><p dir="ltr">This is in no way unique to Lebanon’s elite of course, but to the wealthy everywhere, for “the philosophy of enjoyment was never anything but the clever language of certain social circles who had the privilege of enjoyment.” Some of Lebanon’s poorer agricultural regions are close to breaking point, this cannot be denied, and yet the residents of these areas -<a href=""> who have suffered the most as a result of this crisis</a> - have consistently been the most compassionate towards Syrian refugees. </p><p dir="ltr">One Lebanese family I personally know of in the south is housing a Syrian family of 11 in its cramped and extremely modest house. Stories of solidarity like this one are all too common, and the sacrifices these people make are real, as opposed to the feel-good activism (what they call giving money that they do not need) of Lebanon’s upper classes. They whine when it is in fact the poor, both Syrian and Lebanese, who bear the brunt of this crisis.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mahmoud-mroueh/antisyrian-sentiment-in-lebanon">Anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/cathrine-thorleifsson/coping-with-displacement-syrian-refugees-in-lebanon">Coping with displacement - Syrian refugees in Lebanon</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/matthaios-tsimitakis/syrian-refugees-in-athens-and-consequences-of-fortress-europ">Syrian refugees in Athens and the consequences of Fortress Europe</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Lebanon </div> <div class="field-item even"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Lebanon refugees racism Xenophobia Mahmoud Mroueh You tell us Through Syrian eyes Fri, 09 Jan 2015 19:44:45 +0000 Mahmoud Mroueh 89435 at Anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Lebanese nationalism has historically been exclusionary - as are all nationalisms - and isolationist, in that it accentuates differences between the Lebanese and other Levantines or other Arabs while downplaying shared attributes and characteristics.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="blockquote-new"><em>“Beirut kills one of us everyday, and everyday looks for a new victim. Beirut is narrowing around us…”</em></p> <p>— Nizar Qabbani,&nbsp;<em>Balqis – A Poem</em></p> <p>According to the&nbsp;Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),&nbsp;as of September 11, 2014 close to 9.5 million Syrians <a href="">have been forced</a> to leave their homes since the uprising began in March of 2011. Of those who were forced to move, 6.5 million are internally displaced; the remaining three million left the country as refugees. </p><p>Forty percent of those who left Syria (1.2 million people) headed into neighbouring Lebanon. In Lebanon they were met with endemic racism manifesting itself through chauvinistic rhetoric, discrimination, curfews,&nbsp;<a href="">evacuation notices</a>, and increasingly frequent racial attacks against their person and their livelihood. The Lebanese laud themselves for their sense of hospitality and exceptional generosity, but these claims are now being tested by what has been <a href="">described</a> as the&nbsp;‘worst refugee crisis in recent history’, and Lebanon has been failing miserably.</p> <p>Violence against refugees has been steadily becoming more common and more gruesome, most notably after the<a href="">&nbsp;conflagration in Arsal</a>.&nbsp;<a href="">‘Revenge’ attacks</a>&nbsp;for the actions of groups like the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra, or&nbsp;for isolated <a href="">crimes</a> by Syrian individuals, that target refugees, their homes, and their property are becoming increasingly frequent. It is worth noting that the Islamic State militant responsible for the beheadings of two Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers, an act that spurred a large part of these ‘revenge attacks’&nbsp;<a href="">was Lebanese, not Syrian</a>. Reports of refugee camps being set alight, drive-by shootings, and attacks against refugees by racist mobs are now a daily feature of Lebanese news broadcasts,&nbsp;and some have begun to (accurately) <a href="">describe these events</a> as ‘pogroms’.</p> <p>In addition to these so-called revenge attacks against refugees, some aggressions seem to be carried out for sport. The dehumanisation of the Syrian refugee in the minds of most Lebanese has resulted in acts of immeasurable cruelty. Two particular incidents made headlines after videos taken by the perpetrators spread on social media. The&nbsp;<a href="">first video</a>&nbsp;showed Lebanese parents prodding their toddler to beat a cowering Syrian child with a wooden stick. The&nbsp;<a href="">second video</a>&nbsp;shows a knife-wielding Lebanese man threatening to behead three sobbing Syrian children, while accusing them of belonging to the Islamic State. </p><p>Drawing upon these two incidents one can conceptualise the nature of the disease that ails Lebanese society, of which these are only two of many symptoms. In addition to that,&nbsp;<a href="">a depressing study</a>&nbsp;carried out by Dr. Charles Harb and Dr. Reem Saab of the American University of Beirut showed high levels of explicit support for violence against Syrian refugees among the local Lebanese populations in Akkar and the Bekaa valley.&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to collective punishment, misdirected rage, and dehumanisation, these attacks are also motivated by the widely held belief that Syrian refugees are largely responsible for most of Lebanon’s ailments. The Lebanese have traditionally been masters at projecting and diverting blame onto others. Syrian refugees are being scapegoated for a plethora of issues including, but not limited to, electricity and water shortages, the uptick in crime, traffic jams and accidents, inflation, and terrorist attacks. </p><p>A few days ago the owner of a bakery by my house in Beirut lectured me on how splendid life in Lebanon was before Syrian refugees. “We were all living in plenty, no one was unhappy. Do you remember those days?” Not only does this amnesiac rhetoric blame Syrian refugees for Lebanon’s current predicaments, it also creates and invokes a fictional (not-so-distant) past that isn’t even remotely rooted in reality. Living conditions in Lebanon have been terrible for decades. As would be expected, Lebanon’s nefarious politicians and government officials are taking advantage of the situation&nbsp;by <a href="">blaming</a> their shortcomings&nbsp;(and the effects of their corruption) on Syrian refugees.</p> <p>What’s most worrying about this upsurge in violence against Syrian nationals is how it is being normalised. Racially motivated attacks receive almost no condemnation from government officials or the public. Instead, many will explicitly express their approval. A number of Lebanese politicians and government officials have made thinly veiled racist statements regarding Syrian refugees. Member of parliament for the Kataeb Party Samy Gemayel&nbsp;<a href=";index=95&amp;list=UU_hLGfe08IrSWxeWahJhClQ">told parliament</a>&nbsp;that “the Lebanese Army is capable of closing down and controlling our borders, all the army needs is 10-20 drones”. He continued to say, “Lebanon is bleeding, the refugees are bleeding, Lebanon is getting destroyed, its [sectarian and national] identity is changing, as is its nature”. He concluded his remarks on Syrian refugees by saying, “Syrian refugees are responsible for 50% of all crimes committed on Lebanese soil”. </p><p>Then Minister of Energy (now Minister of Foreign Affairs) and MP for the Free Patriotic Movement Gibran Bassil, made a similar point in 2013 when&nbsp;he <a href="">said</a> of the influx of Syrian refugees, "what is happening is organised crime carried out by Lebanese and foreign officials to change the country's demography". This fixation on sectarian and demographic balance and on national identity has been a feature of right-wing rhetoric since before the Lebanese Civil War, when it was directed against Palestinian, rather than Syrian refugees.</p> <p>Racism against Syrian nationals in Lebanon cannot be understood outside of its historic and economic context. The proliferation of anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanese society already was a cause for concern and condemnation well before the beginning of the Syrian uprising and the subsequent influx of refugees. For decades, the demonym ‘Syrian’ has been employed to insult, denoting vulgarity, low social and economic status, bad taste, poor hygiene, etc… Racially motivated attacks against Syrian nationals aren’t without precedent either. In 2005, Syrian workers in Lebanon&nbsp;were the victims of (often fatal) <a href="">attacks</a>&nbsp;motivated by the suspected culpability of the Syrian government in former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri’s assassination. </p><p>It is imperative to expound the underlying class dynamics of Lebanese racism against Syrian refugees as this racism is fundamentally and typically classist. Syrian migrant workers have dominated construction and other labour-intensive sectors of the Lebanese economy since colonial times.&nbsp;Syrian workers <a href="">can be credited</a> with building Lebanon, before and after the Lebanese Civil War.</p> <p>Before the Syrian uprising began in 2011, <a href="">an estimated&nbsp;300,000</a> Syrian migrants worked in Lebanon. ‘Syrian’ came to signify an unskilled, uneducated labourer in the Lebanese psyche, as the vast majority of Syrians with which the Lebanese regularly interacted were of the working class (an excellent read on this topic&nbsp;<a href="">here</a>). The massive influx of refugees into Lebanon with the start of the Syrian uprising simultaneously challenged, but to a greater extent reinforced, this bigoted and classist notion of the Syrian people. Not all those who fled Syria for Lebanon are impoverished, but many are, and they are considerably more visible than those who are not (on the streets, in refugee camps) and their presence helped solidify previously mentioned notions of race and class held by the Lebanese.</p> <p>On the other hand, affluent Syrians who fled the war back home into Lebanon have been frequenting the country’s top restaurants, clubs, and other social venues. Their interactions with similarly wealthy Lebanese have led some to abandon their preconceived notions, but not entirely. Well-off and wealthy Syrians are perceived as entirely distinct from lower middle class and working class Syrians, as if the two hail from different parts of the planet. Rather than perceive well-off Syrians as&nbsp;<em>Syrian</em>&nbsp;and abandoning their generalisations in the process, the Lebanese bourgeoisie, vindicating Marx, resorted to sundering the Syrian people into two distinct and oppositional groups along economic lines. Upper class and upper middle class Syrians constantly hear statements (and I myself have been privy to these conversations dozens of times) of the “but you’re not&nbsp;<em>Syrian</em>&nbsp;Syrian”, or “I know you’re Syrian but you’re different” variety. Needless to say, the vast majority (if not all) racially motivated attacks against Syrian nationals in Lebanon have targeted lower middle class or working class Syrian refugees.</p> <p>Of course not all racism against Syrian nationals and Syrian refugees is rooted in class. A tiny part stems from archaic notions of Lebanese exceptionalism, rooted in different forms of (sometimes violent) Lebanese nationalism that is antithetical to pan-Arabism or even the Arab label. Lebanese nationalism has historically been exclusionary - as are all nationalisms - and isolationist, in that it accentuates differences between the Lebanese and other Levantines or other Arabs while downplaying shared attributes and characteristics, and it is an unfortunate fact of our time that basic human empathy and solidarity is strongly dependent upon notions of shared identity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Resistance to this widespread racism and racial violence on the part of Lebanese activists has been weak and mostly&nbsp;confined to <a href="">symbolic gestures</a> and social media. The Lebanese State is at worst complicit and at best uninterested in putting an end to these attacks and transgressions. Further exacerbation of the situation will inevitably lead to resistance on the part of the refugees themselves, which in the absence of an impartial state is justified in all its forms</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/lana-asfour/lebanon-and-syrian-refugee-crisis">Lebanon and the Syrian refugee crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/helen-mackreath/lebanon-year-which-promises-little-but-foreboding">Lebanon: a year which promises little but foreboding?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cathrine-thorleifsson/lebanon-at-breaking-point">Lebanon at breaking point</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Lebanon </div> <div class="field-item even"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Lebanon Conflict Culture Democracy and government Mahmoud Mroueh You tell us Violent transitions Through Syrian eyes Mon, 15 Sep 2014 21:24:03 +0000 Mahmoud Mroueh 85992 at Mahmoud Mroueh <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Mahmoud Mroueh </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-country"> <div class="field-label">Country:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Lebanon </div> </div> </div> <p>Mahmoud Mroueh is a Lebanese economist, blogger, and graduate of Boston University and the American University of Beirut. He tweets at @MahmoudRamsey</p> Mahmoud Mroueh Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:26:05 +0000 Mahmoud Mroueh 85993 at