Three Questions and One Plea

A message to friends regarding Syrian refugees.

Oh friends we are worried,

Perhaps what worries and fears us most was not the decision to ban protests nor the racist rhetoric of politicians, nor Municipality of Beirut’s leaking of the names of the organizers of the solidarity sit-in, nor the torrent of threats coming in against our comrades in the Socialist Forum, those people who have always stood up for rights and justice.

The campaign against only organizing a humble sit-in in solidarity with Syrian refugees in Lebanon was very harsh, which – in a political game – manipulated the facts to force the Lebanese to take a stance on a question that was never asked in the first place: “Are you with ISIS or with the Lebanese Armed Forces?” Or to choose between a false choice: “Are you with the Syrians or with the Lebanese?”

 Despite the harshness of that vicious counter-campaign, the greatest threat that alarmed us was your quick response with this old political trap which opened the doors of hatred and malice wide open, flooding social media sites with threats and accusations and assertiveness and inflexibility.

We will not add further to what the Socialist Forum stated in its statement of clarification which condemned what occurred. However out of our keenness to preserve the values of humanity and democracy and rationality in this society, we come to you with three questions and one plea, hoping we preserve a small, brave space in this country to take the difficult and unpopular stance and find those who may listen and debate in a calm and constructive manner.

Firstly: Will we allow this tactic to succeed today, to allow an electoral year charged with hatred and violence to prevail?

If we know that the narrative of hatred and racism does not come from the people but from the politicians, then why do we always fall into their trap? The leaders lied to us. They spent years (moreover decades since the Palestinian refugees arrived) repeating the same accusation: that Syrian refugees in Lebanon are the cause of the high unemployment rates and trash buildup and electricity cuts and traffic jams and summer water shortages and winter road floodings. Ignore the socio-economic situation which we indeed needed and still need to discuss in a practical manner that offers solutions (and there are many) and drown it in a sea of racism without any attention to the real work required to solve it – except attracting aid and more aid in the billions from continents and countries that prefer not to receive refugees.

They repeatedly said that refugees are enemies in order to use them as a scapegoat to divert accusations from them. It is an electoral card that almost always succeeds: when rulers strive to divide people and create hatred and animosity, we forget to hold the rulers accountable.. How do you hold those who allege to be nationalist and anti-terror accountable? Is this their strategy for this electoral year? Is this how they avoid the accountability of the constituents? Is this how they buy forget and guarantee success? On the backs of refugees?

Secondly: Do we agree to quell expressions of solidarity with refugees?

Did the sectarian media of the region blind us so much it has become impossible for us to see the Syrian human stuck between Bashar and ISIS? Those fleeing Russian aircraft and American weaponary? Are we in such a situation that we hang all of our crises on individuals who do no hold our citizenship, do not vote, do not nominate, and do not lay out the country’s policies? Did we reach such a level of denial and desperation that we blame those who had no choice but to flee their country and request security in our country? The resources are not enough for all, that is true, but it was never enough for all, are refugees the company owners buying state facilities that are mismanaged at a horrifying degree of neglect?

Are the refugees the ones who insist on impoverishing Lebanese University and the public schools? Are the refugees passing on and inheriting positions and parliamentary and electoral seats? Do refugees protect killers and human traffickers? Are we in such a situation to close the mouths of those who feel dissatisfied with the policies that put on refugees what they cannot carry? Did we lose our humanity because rulers never treated us as people? Freedom of expression is all we have in a country that has been robbed of its resources, its money, and its public beaches, let us defend it because it is our salvation.

Thirdly: Is the Lebanese Armed Forces above the law?

Even the minister of the interior announced the necessity to investigate the deaths of Syrians that occurred under the auspices of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Is the army not subject to the rule of law and to accountability? Even military operations are not subject to international laws that prevent them from targeting civilians and imposes investigating deaths and bans torture. Is it treasonous to mention this?

The Lebanese judiciary should either be independent, investigating the stabbing of a man in the street after a traffic accident, and holds accountable a man who killed his wife after years of domestic violence, and holds accountable a man who exploited a foreign worker because he knows she would not file a complaint in fear of deportation, the judiciary should either be trusted and relied on, or it should not be at all.

Courage is contagious, just like accountability, and both lead to a dream many Lebanese yearn for, which is for a fair state able to rule ethically and fairly. That is how countries are built, and how rulers learn rationality, and how we may regain our right to an active citizenry.

Armies are a reflection of their countries, so do we demand to much if we wanted our reflection to be loving of humans and their rights? Is it too much to ask in a country where it has become optimistic to hope we are not killed by a stray bullet and by the widespread weapons ownership? Accountability is the opposite of treason, because it aims for us to practice our roles as citizens, and to build a common ground for us all: that law is above all. And that it be the right of every person regardless of color or religion or race – and regardless of crime – to have access to a lawyer to defend him/her, so do we accept the smearing of a lawyer who stood up to protect the law when she was given the case of those who were killed under suspicious circumstances?

Do not let them take our consciousnesses as well!

For all these past years, the country’s situation has deteriorated and politicians have taken from us rights and hopes and public spaces and even sidewalks and beaches and trees and heritage – will we allow them to take away humanity and conscious as well?

May the voices demanding human dignity – for all people, raise above the drums beating for war – any war.

Translated by Omar Abbas

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July 19, 2017