Lebanon’s Government Is Using Syrian Refugees and Fear To Kill Democracy and Pass Its Agenda

Tensions in Lebanon are at an all-time high as political rhetoric against the refugees seems to have found its way to a union the like of which we haven’t seen before, bolstered by public support that’s near-unanimous, fueled by pro-Army rhetoric that’s become so intense it’s bordering on worrying.

The Lebanese Army has been engaged in a courageous fight against ISIS militants who have embedded themselves in refugee camps in the Beqaai border town of Arsal. The details of the fight, which is still ongoing, have become known for most. The gist of which, however, is that despite Lebanon’s army advancing against the militants, some transgressions against civilian refugees have taken place, with some of them dying during captivity prompting questions of torture.

As it is in Lebanon, of course, even mildly thinking about criticizing our army’s practices, or wanting an investigation to take place in the death of those civilians, is equal to high treason. It seems that everyone is supposed to accept that the army does what the army wants, without any repercussions. Except that that is how dictatorships are made, and last time I checked the country was not as such.

The moment we start compromising on basic human rights, regardless to whom those rights belong, we are beginning to give a blank check to authorities to extend the same treatment to us at a later point in time. What’s to stop Lebanon’s armed forces, army or otherwise, from – eventually – doing the same to Lebanese citizens who may or may not be suspects in something that people are unanimous in opposing?

The army is not to be above reproach or criticism. The more we put our army or our security forces on pedestals, the more we’re giving them way to break our necks, and whatever they want, just because we’ve let them. It’s a slippery slope between being thankful to being blindly adoring and, consequently, approving of anything and everything someone with a military title does.

Yes, it’s beautiful to be thankful for their efforts and sacrifices in fighting for our safety. But that doesn’t make them holy. And it doesn’t make the mere possibility of civilians, regardless of nationality, being killed under torture or suspicious conditions okay.

Naturally, and because trolls on Facebook are quite rare to find, a pro-Syrian refugee and anti-Lebanese army page sprung up on Facebook. It was started by a 24 year old Syrian residing in Ain El Helwe who was just arrested for enticing violence and hatred against the Lebanese Army. That Facebook page soon became the medium through which many Syrians, and some Lebanese I dare say, expressed their undying hate to Lebanon, its people and its army.

The reply to that was in a surge of anti-refugee rhetoric, with a political discourse that’s unanimous in wanting to send all the refugees to Syria’s safe spaces. The culmination of the social media wars translated through calls for two protests: one pro-refugees, organized by a Lebanese socialist club, which was later branded as anti-Army, prompting hundreds of Lebanese to change their Facebook pictures ones with army support frames, and calling for a protest to oppose the previous one.

Naturally, our Ministry of Interior affairs banned all protests as a result. Keep in mind that parliament is planning a tax hike coming later in the week, and banning all protests in the country under the guise of “security” is a mere ploy to silence people against such governmental steps in taking away more of our money, stripping us of our constitutionally given right of expression and making sure they create the illusion that the country is in turmoil.

It seems odd that, after more than 6 years of the Syrian War, today is the time that all of our politicians seem united in the way they want to deal with the Syrian refugees. Add that to the list of massive short-sightedness that’s become synonymous with the way they handle things.

We’re a tiny country, that’s 1/10 the size of Syria with about 1/5 of the population. And yet, over the course of the past 6 years, we’ve received about two million refugees, the impact of which over the country could not be brushed under the rug. We have no functioning infrastructure, no social structure to support them and – simply – no decent means to support them. Our borders, however, remained open. We had next to no regulation of the influx, near non-existent regulation of the border. The problems at hand could have been prevented had we been slightly more aware of the impact of suddenly adding two million people to your population, which feels like quite the normal realization to get to. Unless you’re a Lebanese politician of course.

Not all refugees are bad people, however, and using some of them to put the entirety of them in the same box in non-sensical. The majority of Syrian refugees in the country don’t agree with the posts of Facebook page that’s causing all the outrage against them. The majority just want to live and let live, make ends meet, provide for their families and count the days until they can return home – their actual home, not safe spaces inside what was once their country. And yes, many are thankful for being given homes in our country, the same way you’ve been demanding them to be grateful as if our government has provided anything for them other than allowing them to build tents in fields no one uses.

What’s mind numbing is the hypocrisy of it all. Picture this: you, as a Lebanese, being labeled as a terrorist because one Lebanese was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Or you as a Lebanese being targeted systematically by police in countries you’re an immigrant in because some segments of your country’s nationals are drug dealers or criminals. Imagine Lebanese Australians or Lebanese in Dearborn, Michigan being cracked down on by authorities in the United States or Australia for reasons as silly as them being “guilty” by virtue of them having Lebanese in ethnicity. Wouldn’t you be outraged? Wouldn’t you be up in a fit, cry racism and xenophobia?

Today you’re left with a country where manifestations of free speech are banned, where people do not allow you to even think about criticizing the army, where sympathizing with refugees is beginning to get closer to becoming treason, where our politicians are literally using those refugees to fuel hate and fear in order for them to pass all of the agendas they want, under the radar, in plain sight of everyone.

The safety of Lebanese and the dignity of Syrian refugees are not two mutually exclusive entities. We have been led to believe they are by politicians who are using us in order for them to be allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and put it under the guise of the country’s best interest.

A banana republic? It’s time to find a new fruit. Everyone needs to sit back, take a deep breath, stop jumping to conclusions every thirty two seconds and realize that this path is exactly where they want you to be.

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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.

 

 

How Lebanon Kissed Salma Hayek’s Ass Like No Ass Has Been Kissed Before

Overwhelming refugee crisis? Nope.

The fact that it has been over a year that our parliament convened in session to vote for a president? Nope.

All other issues worth discussing about the country? Nope.

Salma Hayek visiting? YES, YES, YES.

In order to stay up to date, little as I want to, with what’s happening in my very beloved country, I usually turn to my social media feeds. As it goes: if it’s important enough to become a twitter thing, then you should be aware of it.

Salma Hayek was a Twitter thing. A Facebook thing. An Instagram thing. A get out of my face thing. A don’t we have other things to worry about thing. An everything kind of thing. A “are we seriously still talking about this” thing. A “awwww Lebanese pride, bitches” thing.

It had been a while since I saw my country, even if from afar, kiss ass in such a glorious way. Not only was the nation all over Salma Hayek’s Mexican-American ass, we were also salivating all over it, begging her for the minimal and most mundane of acknowledgment. We are here, we matter, recognize us please, breathe our air please, share our sewage system we beg you.

1 – We Gave Her A Freaking Citizenship

Salma Hayek Lebanese citizenship

Salma Hayek’s grandfather was Lebanese. Sure, she has “legal” right to get the citizenship, but so do a whole lot of other people of Lebanese origins who have been blessed by the Almighty Lord to have the semen-given part of their genome be Lebanese. Salma Hayek lands in the country and not only do we run to give her a citizenship, I bet we also gave her a very nice “golden” civil registry number. I’m also sure her national ID card number was golden. Her passport number? Platinum, I bet!

Never mind that it actually takes presidential decrees to nationalize. Never mind that the country doesn’t really have a path of citizenship to begin with. Never mind that there are hundreds of people of Lebanese-origins who have been trying to get our very precious citizenship for years to no avail. Never mind that our country won’t even let Salma Hayek pass her citizenship to her daughter, like the so many Lebanese mothers who have been struggling for years and whose children are more Lebanese than Hayek.

Certainly, Salma Hayek should get our citizenship. Because being Mexican, and American and being married to a French guy are definitely not enough. Lebanon trumps them all.

2 – We Hosted Her On Kalam Ennas:

Kalam Ennas Marcel Ghanem

I usually associate Kalam Ennas’ special episodes with matters of national crisis that require the country to halt all programming in order to accommodate the necessary political diarrhea to be spewed. Not this time.

Salma Hayek was in the country. How could we not host her? How could we not flaunt to the entire world that she was giving Lebanon its very first movie premiere EVER. How could Marcel Ghanem miss the opportunity to boost his interviewing record by interviewing…. just some B-list actress who happened to grace the country with her presence?

What’s your name, Marcel would ask. Salma would answer. He’d sit dumbfounded. She was proud of having Lebanese heritage, as if it was a multiple choice question with more than one option. She forgot her purse at the terminal because she was pre-occupied with the Cedar she was given. They ran after her. She didn’t care, mostly because she has 46342753851371357 other purses, because that Cedar was her whole country.

Jmade, wli. 

3 – Sethrida Geagea Joined Twitter

Sethrida Geagea Twitter Salma Hayek

In order to capitalize on the buzz that was generated by Salma Hayek visiting Bsharre and the subsequent fashion showdown, Sethrida Geagea decided to join twitter. She has tweeted 4 times so far. 3 of those 4 tweets are about Salma Hayek and her visit to Bsharre. Of course, Lebanese media did not see it from this perspective because they were pre-occupied with the fact that Sethrida Geagea was better looking than Salma Hayek.

How is that possible? A Lebanese is better looking than a Hollywood star? How could that be? Is it even remotely possible that Salma Hayek could be human and not the God she was made out to be? What does Samir think about all of this? Next time, on Lebanese Serial.

4 – We Suddenly Cared About Syrian Refugees

It took Salma Hayek visiting the Syrian Refugee camps for those refugees to become news again. Were they important enough during Lebanon’s relatively harsh winter? Nope. Are they important in absolute value? No. But we can’t let Salma Hayek know we don’t care. So for the few days she was here, of course we’d show how much we cared for those refugees… as long as we capture that perfect Kodak Moment in order to show how much we care to the whole wide world.

Don’t you see those poor babies? That huggable little girl? All those miserable people in subpar conditions? Don’t let anyone tell you we’re not helping them… We made sure Salma Hayek visited!

5 – The Prophet Is Now Everyone’s Favorite Book. Ever.

In between all the mania surrounding her visit, I bet Salma Hayek almost forgot why she was here in the first place: to promote her upcoming movie to the country that made it.

Yes, it technically premiered at Cannes last year. Yes, there was also technically a premiere at Doha earlier this year. Yes, the book on which the movie is based was written in the United States and in English. Yes, Salma Hayek probably came here because part of the funding of the movie was via a Lebanese bank.

But goddammit, no. She’s here to show how proud she is of her Lebanese heritage, which is clearly exemplified in The Prophet, a book about how the wonderful stringing of words together can be and how easy it is to repeat them at funerals, weddings, graduations and other miscellaneous occasions.

Subsequently, The Prophet has now become Lebanon’s official favorite book, even possibly beating The Bible and the Quran. Don’t let priests and sheikhs know, though. “Your children are not your children” has been quoted so many times I’m beginning to search for children that may not be mine.

I bet the movie will be the movie of the year too!

Bonus: Elissa Was Fangirling

A picture is worth several hundred words. How about a bunch?

Lebanon, Now RefugeeStan: Enough With The Humanity Talk?

Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

I was going from my hometown to Batroun a while back when I saw two hitchhikers asking for a ride. I’m not the type to worry about such things – transportation between my hometown and Batroun, if you don’t have a car, happens through that method. So I picked them up and off to Batroun we went.

They were both men. The one sitting in the back was very quiet. The one sitting in front was pretty chatty. We were talking in Lebanese. I would have never thought there was anything odd about his dialect until I asked him where he was from and he replied: Homs.

He was worried about his reply so I tried to defuse the tension by saying that I visited his city back when it actually existed and it’s a nice place. The Syrian man, however, felt it was adamant to tell me that they were both Christians who want nothing to do with the war in Syria and who think everyone is at fault.

As I dropped them both off and went about to finish my errands, I started thinking: how bad must it have been for that Syrian for him to decide that telling random people that he was Christian whilst giving them the most diplomatic version of any person’s stance over what’s going in Syria is what everyone wanted to hear? I figured he must have gone to hell and back with him being Syrian in Lebanon lately. And I felt terribly sorry for him back then.

I’ve spoken about the issue of Lebanon’s Syrian refugees before. They’ve become so many that they turned into a source of jokes, though those have also become extremely redundant as well.  However, the issue of those refugees has never really been tackled. Municipalities and some Lebanese ministers spew racist speech that only works to boost their popular basis. The government is as comatose as it has ever been. I guess they’re more worried about the potential ramifications of Ania Lisewska’s sexual escapades. Moreover, the entire rhetoric has been about how we simply couldn’t humanely stop those refugees from seeking help here while acknowledging that the problem was slipping out of control.

The question today is the following: is it the time to draw the humanitarian line on the issue of Lebanon’s refugees as our country quickly but surely turns into some form of refugeeland for the troubled people of the region?

Recent economic studies have revealed the following data about the Syrian refugee situation in the country:

  • Our GDP will decrease by 2.85% per year between 2012 and 2014,
  • Our debt will increase by $2.6 billion,
  • Unemployment will double,
  • By 2014, the number of Syrian refugees in the country would equal about 40% of the country’s pre-Syrian war population,
  • Lebanon’s cumulative loss because of the refugee crisis will be approximately $7.5 billion,
  • More than half of students enrolling at our public schools will be Syrian refugees,
  • More than 40% of primary healthcare visits are of Syrian refugees,
  • Another 170,000 Lebanese will be pushed into poverty because of the immediate ramifications of the refugee crisis. By definition, that is living under $4 per day.

Our refugee problems are not only Syrian. We keep forgetting about Palestinians because their problem is more universally acknowledged, but they have their share of woes that they are bringing on our communities:

  • The number of Palestinian refugees in the country has increased by 16% lately, according to UNRWA,
  • Lebanon already has over 400,000 Palestinian refugees residing in it,
  • Most of those refugees live in refugee camps,
  • Those camps are outside state control and have a self-security system going on,
  • Their self-security system has caused security trouble with Lebanese for a long time, the most recent of which is the altercation with Hezbollah.

Lebanon, the smallest of Syria’s neighbors, is taking the biggest load because:

  1. Many of us believe that the problems of those refugees are not as severe as the numbers say they are,
  2. Many Lebanese refuse to address the issue of the refugees due to political reasons or because they see no problem in those refugees being here,
  3. Some Lebanese parties had decided once upon a time that there was nothing happening in Syria and that those people are here for tourism, while parties on the other side of the spectrum stood by as they waited for ways to use those “tourists” politically,
  4. Our country is simply not capable, neither financially nor logistically nor influentially, of handling such a load – but is the solution simply letting the load pile up while we stand idly looking around?

Most Lebanese were more worried about the situation of the refugees with the most recent rainstorm to hit the country than of other Lebanese who are living in similar, if not worse, conditions. During a recent session with Medecins Sans Frontières, I asked: how does the living situation of people in Bab el Tebbaneh, Jabal Mohsen or Akkar compare to what you’ve seen of Syrian refugees? The spokesperson answered: it’s worse.

But their effect on our lives, even though many refuse to see it, is not only related to the way they live.

For the Lebanese who don’t need to seek out an apartment for rent, the housing market is the same it has always been. But renting fees have risen sharply over the past year or so. Even shabby apartments in my hometown, which many would say are not that well-equipped, are going for rates that might rival Beirut due to the extremely high demand imposed by the refugees. If one can’t pay, they get kicked out and the other refugee on the waiting list takes his place. Lebanese people, living off our country’s dismal salaries, have to abide with landlord demands that come out of the blue and blindside them into eviction. A friend of mine will soon leave her Achrafieh apartment because her landlord decided, just as the new school year was starting, to ask for a rent increase. Lebanese are anything but lousy traders.

Another friend of mine lost his job recently. He never figured he’d still be out of a job almost 5 months later  – he worked in architecture. How rare could those jobs be in the country? It turns out the job market has also drastically changed since he last tried his luck in it. His former job was taken by a well-qualified Syrian who’s getting paid half his salary. Can that Syrian complain? Of course not. Employers now prefer to hire Syrians over Lebanese because they’ll do a similar job for much, much less salaries. How are we supposed to compete with that? Is it plausible for a Lebanese with an engineering degree to accept a $900 per month salary in order to say they’re not unemployed?

You’d think that with this influx of people into the country, business would somehow either stay the same or improve. Well, guess again. Even though goods prices have not drastically increased lately, as they somehow find their way to do whenever something happens in Lebanon, the growingly terrible security situation in Lebanon is deterring people from doing what Lebanese do best: joie de vivre and all. A well known Lebanese restaurant has witnessed a 20% decrease of business per year, over the past two years with this number reaching 40% at some of its branches. Weekend walks around some of Lebanon’s bar streets reveal a drastically different scene from the one that was present a while back: how many times have you seen Gemmayzé near-empty on a Friday night? Many food chains around the country are closing due to the recent instability: Hard Rock, Krispy Kreme, etc…. And I’m sure common sense dictates that smaller businesses are taking it harder. At one point, I’d have said the refugees had nothing to do with this. But the aforementioned World Bank study seems to indicate that they are playing a major role in the stagnation this country has reached, harsh as that realization might be.

What To Do With All Those Refugees?

I’m not turning into a Gebran Bassil-esque character who bashes the refugees one day, calls to get them kicked out of the country, but would have no problem bringing in the people from Maaloula just because they’re Christian and can be milked politically over here. I don’t think what municipalities are doing is acceptable in the context with which it’s being carried out but they are legally free to do whatever they want. What I can do regarding those regulations is not vote for the people who enforced them come next election time, which in my hometown should be soon. But what we also cannot do – and Angelina Jolie would certainly not approve – is stand by while the country is over-run.

How are we supposed to deal with the refugees? Well, for starters regulations that ban any Lebanese employer from hiring them in select jobs where our country has a surplus of people who are willing to work but can’t find the opportunity to should be enforced. Instead of municipalities settling for curfews on the foreigners they don’t like, they should start up regulations that lead to the organization of the refugees in their jurisdiction instead of limiting their liberties. Instead of panicking about an increasing number of refugees in the country, we should enforce regulations on how many refugees we can accept through border regulation. Instead of letting the refugees roam around the country, sleeping under bridges and whatnot, we should set up refugee camps in the Bekaa that can agglomerate them somewhere where their basic necessities can be addressed.

The humanitarian thing to do is not to make it harder for our parents to get by, it’s not to leave ourselves without jobs and it’s not to get our businesses out of business. The humanitarian thing to do is not to call for humanity just because it pleases our conscience while the country burns and we sit by blindly, not seeing the effect of our humanitarian action-less actions. It’s difficult sure. They don’t want to be here, definitely. But it’s time we think about the country that we want to have for ourselves because, by the looks of it, nobody cares about us.

 

What Lebanese People Think of the Syrian Refugees

We’ve discussed the matter of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon over and over and over again. And then some.
Every aspect of the issue has been exposed. Racism, realism, illusionism – all forms of arguments have been used.

And yet, in the midst of the 1,000,000 plus refugees that our country has received, very few polls have taken it to the Lebanese who are not on social media, who do not have blogs and who do not tweet the day away.

A recent study published by Fafo attempted to see what the Lebanese population thought of the increasing Syrian presence. You can check the study here. Some of the findings are as follows:

  • 52% believe Syrian refugees pose a threat to national security. This number rises to 80% in responders from North Lebanon.
  • 71% of responders believe sectarian clashes will erupt soon. The number is high among Sunnis and low among Shiites, expressing the ongoing divide in the country (and strengthening the study, perhaps?)
  • 67% of Lebanese believe the conflict in Syria will drive Lebanon to a new civil war.
  • 82% of Lebanese find Syrian refugees are taking away their jobs. 75% believe they are the cause of decreasing wages across the country.
  • 50% believe the Syrian refugees are receiving too much money. This number rises to 74% in the North.
  • 61% of Lebanese are not comfortable having Syrian neighbors. This number is higher among young people and among Christians as well.
  • A lot of the information revealed in the study is old news to most of us who are living among the people who fall into those many percentages. But are all the woes invalid?

    A recent lecture I attended at medical school with Doctors Without Borders revealed to us that the situation of the Lebanese citizens in Bab el Tebbane, Jabal Mohsen and Akkar is far, far worse than the worst conditions they’ve seen with the Syrian refugees, which is echoed in the disparities that responders from North Lebanon exhibited in the study at hand.
    This prompted me to ask the head of the MSF envoy to Lebanon about what was expected of Lebanon regarding the Syrian refugees given the state of many of its citizens?

    He couldn’t answer.

    What the study shows, at least to some extent, is what many of us had doubted for long: Lebanese people always want to blame others for their problems but never themselves. And the Syrian refugees are our go-to blame with the current events unfolding. Is the blame unfounded? Perhaps so. But what’s to be expected when the political rhetoric being used to command people’s mentalities uses those refugees as ammo in anyway possible?

    What’s even more disappointing is how the youth view the matter of the refugees. I thought my age group would be at least more aware. I guess not.

    What is certain, however, is that the matter of the refugees has to be regulated. By the end of 2013 the country will have 20% of its population as Syrian refugees. In other terms, that’s more Syrians than Maronites. And you know things will only go downhill from there.

    Taxing The Syrian Refugees

    Self-imposed curfews were not enough for some municipalities in Lebanon when it comes to the growing presence of Syrians in the country and within their bounds.

    Some are now considering the possibility of taxing those Syrians as well with amounts that are simply nonsensical for a poor refugee who can barely afford his or her rent: 100,000LL for just seeking residence inside the town.

    The rationale behind these taxes is that these Syrians are treated like Lebanese citizens in those municipalities, by which they probably mean their garbage being collected occasionally. Except that those Syrians cannot even take out their garbage after 9 pm or a policeman would force them back to whichever door they came out from because they’re definitely up to no good if they’re walking the streets past their imposed “bedtime.”

    I’m not against foreigners paying municipal taxes if municipalities are providing those foreigners, regardless of their nationalities, with the basic rights it’s providing to its voting citizens. I hardly think my and the potential tax money of Syrian refugees is going to any development. Municipalities are, more often than none, only a tool for political parties to flex their muscles every six years and for people not to get over it until the next election cycle rolls by.

    However, are the Syrian foreigners – refugees or not – being treated the same as Lebanese citizens? I can already hear the laughter. At least I can make plans and go out past 9 pm. And isn’t the timing of said-taxes highly inappropriate, inhumane and downright despicable?

    Municipalities, starting with mine, keep on coming up with ways to make the lives of people who don’t want to even be here a living hell. What’s their limit in tightening the noose on the Syrians who live within their jurisdiction when the perceived security threat of those Syrians is exaggerated to say the least? As long as mayors feel like they’re flexing their muscles and their citizens get a sense of fake-safety, anything goes.

     

    The Lebanese Anti-Syrian “Racism”

    “I am apprehensive about the situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.”

    The aforementioned sentence is enough to get a baggage of racism be thrown on your shoulder by people who believe you are not allowed to address the refugee issue in any way whatsoever unless it is to say they are more than welcome here without anything affixed to that.

    The recent surge against all those racist Lebanese comes after an online Annahar video which you can watch here:

    The report is very poorly done. Are they seriously filming a ten year old and asking him what he thinks of the Syrian refugees in the country and taking what he said as relevant enough to actually be included?

    The way many of the people in the above video formulated their opinion regarding the refugees is unacceptable. But what is also unacceptable is for others to say that the concerns these people tried to convey are 1) racist and 2) invalid. Because, you know, Lebanon is very new to refugees. Those Syrians are obviously the first people we host and their problems are so new we cannot even begin to think dealing with them because of their novelty factor.

    It is not only normal to have concerns regarding the refugee situation in Lebanon, it is, in my opinion, the sane thing to do. We cannot keep pretending that 1,000,000 Syrians in the country (Or 300,000 according to UN) is a walk in the park, with no prospective effects and no current effects in any way.

    If you mention the Lebanese people who lost their rented homes because their landlords got better offers from Syrians, you are racist. If you mention the jobs that skillful Syrian physicians, accountants, architects and whatnot took out of Lebanese people, you are racist. The list goes on. It is obviously not the Syrians’ fault but it is an effect that some people don’t want to allow us to discuss. Because racism, racism everywhere.

    When does this categorization of Lebanese who are critical of the current situation stop?

    On the other hand, the categorization against the Syrians is unacceptable as well. Our country’s problems are not dependent on them and them alone. Not feeling safe while walking on a street is not because of the Syrians but because Lebanon is not a safe country with or without them. You can read this story that a friend of mine had to go through while walking in Gemmayze (link). The economical situation in the country is less the fault of the refugees and more the fault of politicians who are perpetuating the current political instability.

    The borders should not and will not be closed for they are non existent and it would be grossly inhumane. The Syrians don’t want to come here. They are forced to come here. There is no way to regulate their influx as I had said before (link). They are here knocking at our doors with a riffle in their backs. If we don’t let them in, they get shot. There is no Syrian civilian entry to Lebanon that is not an emergency. The only thing that we, as Lebanese, can do regarding the refugees is have discussions.

    The Syrians hosted some of our people in 2006. Of course they did. And we are thankful. But them hosting us back then is akin to a billionaire giving a poor person $100 and asking him to be eternally grateful for that. They were able to handle the thousands of Lebanese that entered their territory for a period of about three weeks.

    Lebanon, a country that can’t even handle someone like Ahmad el Assir or even the poverty of people in places like Bab el Tebbane and Akkar and the South, cannot handle one million extra person who need help.

    It is a Lebanese’s right to be wary and worried and apprehensive. The way that worried Lebanese formulates his or her worry and apprehension may differ and it may be unacceptable but those who don’t feel this way are similar to an ostrich with its head so far down the sand it can’t even manage to get it out anymore.

    Now cue in those will call me racist. They wish….