When Gebran Bassil’s Goons Don’t Understand Freedom of Speech

Breaking news: Gebran Bassil turned out to be yet another racist Lebanese politician. I have no idea how this piece of news was in any way a surprise, but over the past few days it’s almost the only thing people are talking about, apart from the fact that our phones now need Maps updates in order to skip the roads where garbage bags have started to take up lanes.

The details are as follows:

A few days ago, Gebran Bassil’s twitter account was quoting a speech he was giving in the United States to an audience of Lebanese expats ($10 says they’re voting for Trump in 49 days). In that speech, Bassil dropped the following:

The speech excerpts translate to:

  • I support giving Lebanese women who marry foreigners the right to pass on their nationality to their children but our constitution and societal fabrics don’t allow to give the Lebanese nationality to 400,000 Palestinians.
  • I support the law that allows Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their children, with the exception of Syrians and Palestinians to maintain our land.

Of course, it has probably escaped Bassil in that moment that St. Maroun, after whom his sect was named, was Syrian and Jesus, after whom he prays, was Palestinian, but that’s besides the point. Certainly, however, Bassil wouldn’t have had a problem if those Syrians and Palestinians weren’t mostly Muslim. I wonder, how different would his statement have been had those refugees been mostly Christian like him? I can imagine him now, à la Oprah, distributing nationalities left and right: YOU ARE LEBANESE, YOU ARE LEBANESE, YOU AAAAAALL ARE LEBANESE!

Context to Bassil’s tweets, however, remains important. His statements do not come from void. They emanate from a public sentiment that has only managed to gain popularity over the past few years with around 2 million Syrians seeking refuge in Lebanon. Of course, as is the case with Lebanon’s statistics, numbers do not exist. But it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that Bassil’s speech is not at odds with what the prevalent majority of Christians believes to be true, and a sizable portion of Lebanon’s Muslim community.

Yet again, the sentiment in the aforementioned denominations arise from their incessant need for self-sectarian preservation and are devoid from any national affinity towards a more global Lebanese state. Either way, I digress.

The uproar towards Bassil’s statements has been deafening. Human Rights Watch issued a statement whereby they found what he said to be abhorrent, in contradiction to the international treaties that Lebanon has signed in regards to women rights, and shameful to come from the minister of foreign affairs who is, whether we like it or not, the face of Lebanon to the world. Sorry #LiveLoveBeirut, you’re not it.

A slew of tweets and Facebook posts criticizing Bassil were also widely circulated, of which the satirical Facebook page Adeela led the forefront with a bunch of posts addressing Bassil’s tweets:

Lebanese blogger Mahmoud Ghazayel had a tweet (now deleted) in which he corrected Bassil’s statement to this:

fullsizerender-4

So far so good, right? Except this didn’t remain as just a manifestation of Lebanese online degrees of freedom because before you knew it, the situation – thanks to massive reports by Bassil’s online henchmen – became as follows:

Every single post that criticized Bassil about his racist tweets was removed because of Facebook reports, while the social media platform never bothered to check for the background upon which those reports were being filed in the first place, or the statements being criticized to begin with.

As a result, if you try and say something negative about Bassil’s statements, thousands will end up putting you in Facebook jail for at least 24 hours because you somehow violated the terms of being on that website, by simply expressing an opinion.

Maybe it’s fear of  exposing how ridiculous Bassil’s proposition – even if echoed by many – is. Maybe it’s wanting to keep his image pristine in their eyes, albeit it being irrevocably damaged in the minds of many others. Maybe it’s them wanting to keep a semblance of pride.

What Bassil’s goons seem to fail to grasp is that with every post they manage to bring down, ten more will spring up in their place. As it is their right to believe and want to defend what Bassil said, it is the right of every other Lebanese who categorically and irrevocably disagrees to not only criticize but mock those statements until kingdom come, whether they like it or not.

As the stench of garbage and filth overtakes their nares in every cubic meter of air in Beirut, as they spend countless hours without electricity, as they pray for the heavens for internet to be fast enough to load the images in this post, as they debate whether to flush or not because water is scarce, let them have all of that pride and the politicians whose image they want to keep. Let them have their “holy” land, their “better-than-thou” attitude towards anyone and anything they deem lesser. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many Facebook reports are issued, common sense will prevail.

PS: Dear Facebook, re-assess yourself, why don’t you? 

Advertisements

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.