The Day I Disappeared: Remembering The Lebanese Who Have Been Missing For Decades

Photo via ICRC.

Photo via ICRC.

Yesterday, August 29th 2016, I disappeared for a day. It was part of a campaign by the International Committee of the Red Cross that I felt compelled to be part of, almost no questions asked.

It started with one simple picture, on a white background on which the hashtag – both in Arabic and English – was emblazoned: #TheDayIDisappeared or #يوم_اختفيت. I shared that picture on my various social media platforms (example) then went radio silent for the most part of the day. 

A couple of hours later, my friends and family members began to get worried. What was that image I had posted? Why wasn’t I replying to their messages? Why wasn’t I chastising that Aounist video all over social media over the past two days?

The calls started pouring in. Is there anything wrong? They’d ask. We’re worried, they’d tell me. In that moment, it’s really beautiful to feel loved. But the fact of the matter is that I wasn’t in any danger. I was just going offline for a day – something that many people do frequently – trying to erase any trace of me from how people expect your behavior to be modeled in 2016.

I was not missing or disappeared. I was pretty much around. I was accessible. I was not an entity with an unknown fate. I was sitting in my office, working, willfully pretending not to exist for a day.

This simplification of what it is to be missing is a gross understatement of the lives of thousands of Lebanese families over the past few decades.

At a time when our war is over, theirs continues. They are at war every day: at war with their beings that long for their family members about whom they’ve heard nothing for tens of years, at war with the semblance of hope that rejuvenates in their souls every single morning, at war with a government that doesn’t care, at war with a country that more than readily wants to let go.

Over the weekend, I spoke extensively with a thirty two year old man named Jalal Kobtan whose father went missing at the same age Jalal is now thirty years ago. You can read Jalal’s story in my article for Al-Jazeera at the link (here).

There are many things we take for granted when our loved ones are around, the least of which is how they shape us. Jalal, for instance, never had his father teach him how to drive, or ride a bike or even swim. He told me how longing he was when he saw all the other kids with their fathers learn all of the things he had to rely on himself to learn.

Sometimes, you don’t know how big of a rock some people are to you until they’re gone. Thousands of Lebanese families haven’t only lost their rocks, but their entire pillars. Today is the day to tell them that we are here, that we care, and that their lives are more than just a hashtag and a Facebook profile picture.

There are fewer things in life that hurt more than the pain of not knowing, which I dubbed the pain of ambiguity. This is the daily life of all those families whose loved ones went missing without a trace all those decades ago. To wake up every single day not knowing what your father or son or daughter or mother’s fate is, to realize there’s nothing you can do but pray to whichever entity is listening, to have your soul torn apart by the fact there’s just so much you can do. There’s nothing worse than this. This is life to many of these people.

In the coming years, many of the parents of the Lebanese who went missing will be no more without finding any semblance of closure. Today is the day to remember those parents, those mothers who have kept their sons’ rooms as they are all these years, those fathers who long for the day when they can hug their flesh and blood and tell them that everything will be okay, even if everything isn’t. Hemostasis, however, is not in sight.

To Lebanon’s families of missing people, today we share your pain. May it not be ambiguous anymore.

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To The Lebanese & Arabs Mocking The Siege On Madaya And Its Starving People

Huddled in the Anti-Lebanon mountains, Madaya is a Syrian village housing tens of thousands of innocent people who are being starved to death at the hand of a siege enforced by the Lebanese allies of the Syrian regime. Their strife is not new. They’ve been going through hell for months, eating whatever they can get: leaves, dirt, cats, dogs. International aid groups are calling the famine there the tip of the iceberg of the crisis taking place in that village of 40,000 people, and no one has been able as of now to fully grasp the picture of the human tragedy taking place there.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Forgive the shock value of the following pictures, but the victims in Madaya deserve to have their voices heard on top of those belittling them for being forced to protractedly die.

Today, some Lebanese and other Arabs are pioneering once again.

I didn’t think that there was potential for some aspects of my country to sink any lower, but color me surprised because not only have we done that, no, we have set the standards on how low you can go. Starting now, I beseech the entire world to consider us as a standard for being despicable, inhumane and revolting because it can’t get worse than this, because there can’t be people who are worse than those about whom I’m writing now.

As the news about Madaya’s humanity crisis broke, some people in my country and the region had the audacity not only to stand with the siege, but to mock the dying people of Madaya. Behold a few samples:

 

I don’t know if these creatures are people, because people cannot be so lacking of compassion, of humanity and of any ounce of civility to actually think that their own political agenda is worth advancing by useless social media posts over the frail, cachectic bodies of men, women and children.

I don’t know if these creatures are of the required intellect to be aware of the horror of watching your child die in front of you because you are not able to feed them.

I don’t know if these creatures grasp how horrifying it is to watch your parents waste away in front of you, and you in front of them, because all of you are not allowed to eat.

These creatures are savages whose existence is an abomination, who are not worthy of the air they breathe, the food they eat, the space their bodies are wasting by merely existing.

Ladies and gentlemen, we share the country with entities who cannot rise above their demented, twisted politics even when it’s as clear as the dying body of a child who has lost all color in their face and all the life out of their cheeks. They cannot grasp the notion that there are things in life far worthier than defending what you know at all costs.

Ladies and gentlemen, we live with beings who can fathom making fun of people who are being starved to death just for the sake of being funny.

It’s one thing to be apathetic to the plight of the people in Madaya, but to actively wish them further harm, to actively make fun of them is something beyond words.

I want to never wish them the hunger that the people of Madaya are feeling. I want to never wish them seeing their loved ones waste away in front of them not because of disease, but because of lack of food. I want to never wish them to see their pets being turned to stew. I want to never wish them what they are wishing to the people of Madaya. But I can’t, so here are their names, and their faces.

Do with them as you please. I may not believe, but I believe those people will one day face their reckoning: اللَّهُ يَسْتَهْزِئُ بِهِمْ وَيَمُدُّهُمْ فِي طُغْيَانِهِمْ يَعْمَهُونَ.

 

 

To Aylan Kurdi & Syria’s Children, I Am Sorry

Aylan Kurdi -

The most heartwarming story of recent days was when Abdul-Halim Attar had his entire future changed because of one picture. He was carrying his sleeping daughter on his back across the streets of Beirut as he tried to provide to her by selling BIC pens. His picture caught the world’s attention, but it was fleeting and momentary, like everything that catches the world’s attention these days.

Why Abdul-Halim Attar needed to go viral to make ends meet was never the issue. Viral pictures should not be how the Syrian refugee crisis gets handled, but this is how it’s becoming.

Abdul-Halim Attar Syrian Refugee BuyPens -

To Syria’s children, I’m terribly sorry it has come to this. I’m terribly sorry you need to be photographed in pictures sleeping on your fathers’ shoulders for someone to care. I’m terribly sorry you need to be photographed dead at a beach for people to feel sorry.

Aylan Kurdi f

I’m sorry you were born Arab.

I’m sorry that you were born into a region that doesn’t remotely care about you outside of the necessary formalities, where countries chastise others for not taking you in as their quota of you is still a big round zero.

I’m sorry that you have to die because of the hypocrisy of those Muslims who cry in the name of Islam at useless cartoons but fail to apply their own religion when it’s absolutely needed, when you are dying at the shores of Libya, of Turkey, of Greece.

I’m sorry you were born in a sea of leaders who care more about having their vacation in the South of France cut short because their once-public-turned-private beach wasn’t available anymore, and who care more about their shopping in SoHo, than about you having food once a week, or sleeping one night not to the sounds of bombs, or having a smile on your face that is not because your parents gave you the illusion of safety.

I’m sorry you are born to a leader who’d rather see you dead than to abdicate his inherited throne, and that you were born at times where your lives don’t geopolitically matter and where this very same statement will have people shake their heads in disapproval.

AYlan Kurdi  Syria Refugees Arabs

I’m sorry Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pre-occupied with always building bigger, brighter, flashier, but never in doing something actually worthwhile.

I’m sorry you are not financially important enough for Arabs to care.

I’m sorry little Aylan that there are Arabs who think your death is warranted because you’re Kurdi.

I’m sorry for Europe.

I’m sorry Europe views you as lesser than animals as it barricades its borders in walls to keep you at bay, in lands torn apart by war, where you await your turn to die, like lambs waiting to be slaughtered.

I’m sorry Europe is so xenophobic that that it doesn’t see you as innocent beings trying to live, but as social burdens who should be stopped at whatever cost.

I’m sorry Europe is so Islamophobic it sees you as nothing more than a growing infestation of a religious following that they deem foreign to their land, a presence that should be contained.

I’m sorry Europe’s own politicians and their policies that got you to where you are today are the same people making sure you die.

I’m sorry Europe doesn’t see you as people fighting for a life that is worth living.

I’m sorry that your skin just so happens not to be white enough to matter.

I’m sorry for the world.

I’m sorry you are not as important as Cecil the Lion or some whale stranded on a beach somewhere.

I’m sorry that news of Apple’s upcoming iPhone are more important than your death.

I’m sorry that Donald Trump’s racism is more relevant than our drowning.

I’m sorry for my country.

I’m sorry that we can’t do more.

I’m sorry that my country is so messed up that we can’t remotely provide the basics that any person should have. I’m sorry that my country can’t even provide for its own people.

I’m sorry for the racism, for the curfews, for the xenophobia, for the Islamophobia even at the hands of my country’s Muslims.

I’m sorry for my country’s politicians using you as fuel to spark sectarian hate, and then use the pictures of your dying children to spread fear on what could have been hadn’t they been in power.

Aylan Kurdi

I’m sorry that we can’t fully let go of how your political establishment treated us, that we can’t separate person and politics and that we can’t just see you as people trying to live.

I’m sorry that I can only be sorry, that I can only write a few words that verge on sentimentalism, trespass on sensationalism be it in empathy or in utter horror, words that are not actually meant to you but to those who can read them and who can understand them and who can hopefully do something so you don’t end up drowning, face down, in the sands of a beach in Turkey, so you can end up more than just a viral picture.

People are more than internet sensations. Humanitarian crises are worth more than viral pictures.

This is because people need to see themselves in those parents’ shoes and because those children, drowning on beaches and forever lost under water, can be their children too.

 

 

The Uncontrolled Influx of Syrian Refugees to Lebanon Must Stop

It’s very easy to be taken by enticing principles about humanitarian needs to keep allowing Syrian refugees uncontrolled entry to Lebanon.

It’s very easy to get angry at anyone asking that the influx of Syrian refugees into the country be stopped or controlled. How could you? The Syrians helped us in 2006. The Syrians are being murdered by their own regime in the thousands.

As if we don’t know.

This is not about Gebran Bassil’s recent “remarks.” This is about the people.

In the region of Bab el Tebbaneh in Northern Lebanon, a few tens of thousands of Lebanese live in stinking conditions – even worse than the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s 12 camps. Are those Lebanese not living in non-humanitarian conditions as well? Shouldn’t those Lebanese be more important to us than anyone else, especially if we were to allocate non-existent resources to better life conditions?

Further north from Bab el Tebbaneh is Akkar, a region that few of us want to even include in Lebanon. Akkar has a lot of Syrian refugees living in horrible conditions. It also has many more Lebanese living in worse conditions. When the Lebanese state has washed its hands of its own people, what can we expect regarding people whose strife the Lebanese government has also washed its hands of?

The most recent numbers regarding Syrian refugees are troubling – 190,000 that include 15,000 Palestinian, adding to Lebanon’s existent population of almost 500,000 Palestinian refugees. I won’t go on and on about demographic changes and naturalization talk because they are 1) irrelevant and 2) not going to happen. Ever.

What needs to be talked about is our ability as a country which can’t take care of its own people to handle almost 700,000 refugees, 190,000 of which are very recent.

The answer is a succinct and quite honest: no way.

Lebanon’s ruling class either talks about closing off an undemarcated border – good luck with that – or about keeping our non-controlled borders in their regular state. They talk about the refugee situation ruining our elections and our society fabric. Frankly, I don’t think they have a clue what they’re talking about. My point of view is not that of Lebanon’s current ruling class which exudes racism with every single word spoken, it is that of one who thinks the families of those refugees deserve better.

Lebanon does not have the ability to handle the Syrian refugees entering its land. We don’t have the ability to give them a better life than the one in their country. We don’t have the ability to keep them safe against families that would kidnap them for negotiation purposes. We don’t have the ability to keep them safe from impeding storms and blizzards that are about to hit our country. We don’t have the ability to ensure their humanitarian rights in any way whatsoever.

So what’s the point?

Do we keep bringing in Syrian refugees into the country to let them die of the cold here? To let them die of thirst here? To let them die of hunger here?

Why are we the only country in the region where the regulation of refugees has to be an obscenely shocking manner while Jordan and Iraq have either shut off their borders completely or regulated the influx into their land? It seems we are the only country who must have everything turn into a controversy.

The Syrian refugees need to stop coming into Lebanon for their own good because we, as a country, will slowly kill them. The solution for the Syrian refugees is for other countries in the region that have no problem shoving Arabism down our throats to man up and host refugees as well – countries which have the resources to build camps and compounds, provide the refugees with shelter and food. I’m looking at the countries of the Gulf, those countries which can’t wait but “stand by their Muslim brothers and sisters” by speech only.

This is not a utopia as some of Lebanon’s politicians want you to believe. We don’t live in a country that can swell to accommodate whichever numbers you throw into it. We are a country that can’t take care of its own people. We are a country that can’t apply the basic laws that should be there to regulate our own lives. We are a country that can’t possibly host refugees. We are a country that’s slowly killing the refugees in it because there’s really nothing else we can do. Do you really want to bring more people in need to our toxic environment?

It is here that I remember the Syrian woman and her two children who died of the cold in Hamra, one of Beirut’s classier districts, a couple of months ago. May they – and all the Syrian refugees dying like them – rest in peace.