On adoption, corporate media, and matters of “life and death”.

"Fear in Western Europe".*

“Fear in Western Europe”.*

With each post I make, I promise myself: “This is the last one for awhile”.

So, perhaps this will be the last.

I’d love more than anything to no longer write on the subject.

But unfortunately it doesn’t really seem to be up to me.

A lifelong friend sent me a link the other day.

She said: “Don’t flip out about the source, just get the app”.

I read the article which was, yet again, published by NPR [link].

I know she meant well in sending me the article, and in expressing her worry about the situation here.

I’m not really pleased with the way I reacted.

I think that personally speaking, I should come with a warning that reads: “I have no filters left”.

Or I should just preface everything I say with an apology with what is about to come out of my mouth.

I replied rather angrily, I am sorry to say.

This anger is more directed at NPR than at my friend.

I mean, did they think this was cute, this article of theirs?

It is just one in a dismally long and pathetic list of such mediations concerning Lebanon.

You know, basically pointing out “violence here [in Lebanon]” in an effort to ignore “violence there”.

Such mediation, this article, NPR’s publishing of it, and my friend’s linking it with my life here all require a great amount of parsing.

I will attempt that now.

But first, some context.

There was an explosion the other day in Hermel, in northeast Lebanon, along the Syrian border.

The “Western” media love to justify such death and destruction by claiming that they take place in “Hezbollah strongholds” [link].

I wait patiently for the day when Ras Beirut is spoken of as an “American stronghold”, or Ashrafieh is referred to as a “French fiefdom”.

Just to reveal the power differential and bias at work here.

It is one of many such explosions that have happened in recent weeks.

Months and years, I should say.

Decades, rather.

They are a function of the post-colonial creation of this so-called cesspool of a “country”.

Frankly, treating them as symptoms does nothing to cure the “disease”.

Kind of like adoption.

This particular explosion, a suicide bombing, took place at a gas station named: muhatta al-aytam, or: “Station of the Orphans”.

The profits from this gas station go to fund a system of orphanages founded by Sayyed Muhammad Fadlullah (may he rest in peace) [link].

The orphanages are examples of a community taking care of its children.

They belie the received wisdom of the orphanage as dumping ground for “the infants of sin”.

They stand as a testament to valid societal behavior concerning children who are, temporarily or permanently, without extended family.

They are representative of those who put the commonweal first.

As such, the give the lie to adoption.

And as such, they will be targeted, in one way or another.

I reacted quite viscerally to this most recent attack.

I feel no small emotional attachment to the work of Sayyed Fadlullah.

His life in Lebanon started in the small neighborhood outside of Beirut called Nabaa.

Outside of the Palestinian camps, it is probably the poorest square kilometer in the country.

From what I have come to understand, he started his orphanage system in response to the disappearance of children from the Shi‘a community [link].

I was adopted in 1963; his orphanages started in 1966.

I often think of what a difference three years might have made.

If I triangulate the locations mentioned in the police report of my “abandonment”, they point to Nabaa as a likely source of procurement.

Not so long ago I found an article that discussed the current state of the neighborhood.

It mentioned the Syrian refugees that predominate there now.

This resonates with me because the majority of friends in my neighborhood are from this other marginalized population.

Walking the razor’s edge between these groups makes for a treacherous state of existence.

Kind of like adoption.

The article I found features a young man discussing the current political situation.

Those who know me personally understand why his photograph might give me great pause [link].

Of such frayed threads have I managed to weave a fragile narrative.

My gut instinct has yet to prove me wrong as far as this kind of thing goes.

Which petrifies me on many levels.

But back to the subject at hand.

We were talking about the marginalized populations of this country.

Cue the woman from this NPR report who developed an app to inform her friends and family via her telephone that she is “still alive” [link].

The outside world, which has done much to make sure that Lebanon doesn’t function, revels in the symptoms of this dysfunction.

This makes most foreign mediation of Lebanon laughable.

Except for the fact that there are repercussions.

There is so much in this particular article that is left unsaid, it is rather unbearable.

I just want to go on the record as saying that this mediated focus on “life” has a particularly noisome history which comes at the expense of other “lives” here that never receive mention [link].

I am speaking in terms of class, outside of other local identity markers.

I am speaking of the state of the world as we know it today.

As such, the inventor of this app is of the minority that discounts the majority, consciously or otherwise.

For better and for worse, this now includes me, if I give it any thought whatsoever.

Which I do, endlessly.

I can remember walking around the campus of the American University where I used to teach and thinking how ironic it was for me to be there.

I would say to myself that I was a child destined for the zbayle—the garbage—and I somehow managed to return.

This was not a statement of triumph.

It was a warning to myself, because like any mafia, those in power here do not forget.

And I knew my day of reckoning would be forthcoming.

As witnessed by my orchestrated dismissal after eight years of work.

It intrigued me later to hear that my former so-called colleagues were obsessed with whether I was staying in the country, or whether I had obtained my nationality.

As adoptees returned, we remain a thorn in their side; a fly in their ointment.

We are a reminder of their place and role in a system that would have preferred we never come back.

Or never have been born in the first place.

This is the same class of people which, during the 2006 July War, retired to their mountain retreats, moved their discos and cocktails out of Beirut, and watched the destruction of the southern suburbs from a scenic vantage point [link].

This is the same class of people who see certain groups of people here as usurpers, or worse [link].

The mediation of Beirut and Lebanon in the world press reflects this in no small way.

I have written many letters on the subject to other media outlets [link].

In this second letter, I refer to those funding this current crop of suicide bombers [link].

“I told you so” comes to mind.

All the same, during the war I remember naively thinking that my connection via friends to CNN might get some “truth” on the air concerning those days of bombs, of drones, of destruction.

I made myself available to be interviewed, which required movement around the city that more or less put me in greater-than-normal jeopardy.

CNN conducted a few “pre-interviews” with me.

The focus for CNN was on me, “American”, and my reasons for staying and “helping with the relief effort”.

I tried to explain that the “story” was not about me, but about those being killed; about the million-plus displaced; about the entirety of the national infrastructure destroyed.

They projected onto me a “belonging” (as an American) that was not afforded to me growing up.

And they distanced me from a local population that I had given everything up in the seemingly impossible hope of integrating myself with.

Most disturbing was the implication in their focus that what I was doing was different than anything I considered “normal life”.

The offense here should not go unremarked.

This is the trope of pyromaniac firefighters, I might add.

It was impossible to overcome the sheer gravity of this “status quo” designed to placate a listening audience uncomfortable with the wars waged in its name.

It didn’t matter in any case; I was bypassed for the “breaking news” of the Tour de France.

I wrote a letter to CNN in protest [link].

That and a thousand Lebanese pounds will get me a bus ride in Beirut.

To understand is that our “voice” is only used in terms of how much it serves a particular purpose.

And we should not confuse “inclusion” with “co-optation”.

So, I know from corporate media, and what they consider to be “valid news”.

Read: “Valid lives”.

NPR, in focusing on this woman and her “I’m alive!” app, has determined who is of the class that is valid and therefore worth saving, and who is not.

To support NPR is thus to make similar determinations.

These are not idle opinions, but life-and-death decisions.

And I have to react to those who, in such support and thus such decision-making, might wish such ill will on others, consciously or otherwise.

This is the exact same ill will that is represented by the original assault against our families and communities that came from the system of adoption.

Let me say that again: Siding with NPR, in advocating for NPR or CNN, in searching to be “heard” via these channels, with the resulting endless re-establishment of our status quo and acceptance of our class status, and with what that means for those whose voices go unheard, is, in no small way, equivalent to the destruction wrought on family and community as represented by our original adoptions.

I don’t think there is any logical way to counter this.

Though many try.

I should not neglect to point out that the United States, in 1985, saw fit to target Sayyed Fadlullah at his home in the southern suburbs.

The ensuing explosion killed approximately 80 people.

To note is that in fact, the use of the “car bomb” is an American import [link].

Let it not be said that Empire has anything other than time on its side.

Or endless means to reach its nefarious ends.

And mafias don’t forget; they just formalize their tactics.

When they couldn’t kill the Sayyed, they tried to bribe him.

He rejected their offer.

In the name of his community.

A very inspiring man.

Bill Clinton “officially” labeled him a terrorist.

Which is about as close to a perfect example of Orwellian inversion as I can imagine.

I previously worried about expressing myself along these lines, given the Empire’s penchant for deporting, marginalizing, imprisoning, placing in internment camps, or otherwise showing its disdain for such counter-tactical expressions [link].

This from a place that proudly claims such freedoms [link].

Which is nothing if not a sad and ludicrous joke [link].

That “speaking out” on NPR will do nothing to fix or change.

I hate to have to be the one to break it down like this.

There is another aspect to this story that distresses me greatly.

This would be the fact that in great contrast, al-basha’ir, the radio station of Sayyed Fadlullah’s charitable organizations, is an oasis of hope and peace in a broadcast abyss of mediated racism, sectarianism, and class hatred; of endless pretension and cynicism.

It is also one of the few places which mediates economic critiques of what is happening locally and globally.

If I were an atheist, I would still listen to the station just for this [link].

The very opposite of NPR, of CNN, of RFI, etc.

But we listen to what re-inforces our sense of self I guess.

And so we make our choices.

And so we live with the consequences of our actions.

It would be nice to think that such decisions affect only ourselves.

We go to great pains to maintain a belief that the system that gave us our current status quo is somehow the same system that will change it; that will improve our lot.

Corporate media and their mediocrity that do nothing other than uphold the dominant mode of things have proven time and time again the exact opposite.

And so we trade in one flavor of Kool-Aid for another.

I’ve been guilty of this myself.

So it is not my place to tell anyone to not pursue such mediation.

Or self-promotion, or self-absorption.

But I can remind them of the secondary effects of such pursuits.

Which, in a court of law, I believe might fall under the category of “aiding and abetting”.

It is, I’ll say it again, a matter of life and death.

And our concern in this regard defines us in no small way.

Especially when we have the luxury and privilege to not be concerned with the after-effects of our actions.

Such life-and-death matters are, for many on both sides of this equation, just another part of day-to-day living.

As lived on this side, they are, in fact, no different from the violences great and small experienced by those in the places of my acculturation.

They are, perhaps, just a bit more dramatic.

Or they seem to be more consistent if not persistent.

Or perhaps the difference is that they are much harder to hide from.

I think it is this last one.

Violence is for the poor to live with; to experience.

This is what it all boils down to.

This app cries out: “I’m not poor!”

My friends say to me: “You’re not of them!”

Let me be clear: I greatly appreciate the concern expressed about my safety here.

But there’s one thing that I do know.

And I’ve said this many times.

I don’t mean to be dramatic.

But let’s imagine that this is my last post, literally speaking.

I’m more than ready for such a possibility, meaning I’ve made my peace should such an eventuality come to pass.

Were this my last post, literally speaking, I would just like to state for the record, that if such an end should come by bullet, or bomb, or any other vagary of criminal warfare that haunts this current world if not my current locale, I can guarantee I will know whence came the dollars that fabricated it, bought it, trained people to use it, and deployed it.

This irony is not lost on me.

For mafias don’t forget.

They also outsource their dirty work.

To cohorts of all stripes, who act in their name, consciously or otherwise.

Kind of like adoption.

The success of their actions relies on our tacit acceptance.

And we have the agency to determine where we fit into this literal scheme of things.

The 107th surat of the Qur’an is entitled: “Assistance”. The Arabic comes from a word which more means “small kindnesses of daily living”, for example, a small tool you might lend to someone to help them out; a given of the day-to-day, not to be confused with outright charity.

It reads:

Hast thou ever considered [the kind of man] who gives the lie to all moral law? | Behold, it is this [kind of man] that thrusts the orphan away, | and feels no urge to feed the needy. | Woe, then, unto those praying ones | whose hearts from their prayer are remote | those who want only to be seen and praised | and withal, deny all assistance [to their fellow-men]! [link]

Whether one believes or not, still some food for thought.

And some advice for living, and for the living.

* Note on the illustration: As an undergrad illustration major in Paris, we were given the assignment to illustrate “fear on the streets of Western Europe”. Ronald Reagan had just bombed Tripoli, Libya, and there was heightened security in all European capitals. I remember teargas in the metro; bomb scares at the university; but also my constantly being profiled by police, asked to prove my existence, up to five times a day, every day. My ironic defense was that I was “American”. Which “violence” made me most ill at ease? I felt much more “insecure” in Paris, feel much more insecure in New York, than I do in Beirut. For that matter, when friends and family tell me to “be careful” I usually reply, “You too! You live in [name of city here]!”. Nothing compares to the day-to-day violence of the United States, though we are loathe to admit this. Looking at the illustration now, it more defines for me the one to be fearful of. I’ve crossed through the mirror, and I now stare back at who I used to be….


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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7 Responses to On adoption, corporate media, and matters of “life and death”.

  1. Pingback: On adoption, corporate media, and matters of “life and death”. | Heather Rainbow

  2. Mirren says:

    I appreciate your thoughts immensely. I see the violence done by poverty every day, in the bodies of adults and infants. The lack of resources in Oakland for health; the institutionalized inequalities. Denied, though. Roundly. The hospital I work for doesn’t care that we are understaffed, unsafe, unstocked. Most of our patients are MediCal. They would rather massage the rich patients and provide boutique care at their flagship hospital in SF, one of the most expensive in the country. They have lied and cheated our union RNs while pretending they are not. Greed and falsehoods and dollars are the day. As you say, parts of Oakland are probably less safe than your neighborhood! The xenophobia and fear-mongering and finger-pointing towards certain parts of the globe are stupefying, and yet so many don’t see the scaffolding of the puppeteers.

    I am not at all surprised, although deeply sad, to hear of a good man being labeled a terrorist in the name of money and politics. The destruction of orphanages meant to protect and strengthen a community, rather than tear it apart, is disgusting. Again, WHO judges the “better life”? Self-anointed, self-involved people. The adoption machine is powerful and nasty and dovetails well with the military. Your metaphor of the pyromaniac firefighter is so very apt.

    The idea of trying to work within the media is troubled, as you say. So heavily buttressed and paid for by hidden ghosts, guarded by Cerberus. I regret my own recent foray immensely. What power and agency did I truly have? None. My story was made to fit what *they* wanted it to say. Period.

    I am with you.

    • I regret my forays into this realm as well. And if regrets were dollar bills, I’d be a very rich man right now. It is really hard to steer out of this rut. Every time I decry the fact that neighborhoods here in Beirut are retrenching themselves along sectarian lines, I need only think of how this is a factor of American life. At its worst, Beirut is still nothing like Oakland, or Camden; Newark, or Detroit; East St. Louis or New Orleans….

      Unfortunately, this ends up sounding condemnatory. I mean the exact opposite. I mean to condemn the society that allows such destruction to manifest itself. It is not undesired; quite the contrary. It serves a very particular purpose. And the minimum amount of salve applied to these “symptomatic” places is known to be just that.

      It reminds me of the Butterbox Babies, given sugar water, knowing they would not survive, just so society can say, “look! We did our best….”

      “Scaffolding of the puppeteers”—such a great analogy! Thanks for posting.

  3. Robyn says:

    The world is full of inequality, and we all fight in our own little corners daily.

    To reject a technology because of the provenance of the inventor (because the technology is itself neutral) is … perhaps misguided? True that not all have access to it, but is that a valid reason to not use it? What about the concept that the more that use it, the more will have access to it? That it can grow and expand and be used in different ways that will be more accessible to more people?

    Just thinkin’.

    • This is where it gets tricky. I sense from the articles I’ve read that the author of the app is taken aback by the reaction to it; kind of like an inside joke that was taken seriously, and she is having second thoughts. And technology is not neutral; but this is a whole other discussion….

      ….but if we are talking about the technology, then we need examine the thinking behind turning Lebanese class/sect differentiation into “it didn’t happen to me”. Map it onto something that might happen in the States.

      #GotOutOfNewOrleans #NoRiotsNearMyHouse #WasntInTheShootOut

      Does what I’m saying make more sense now?

  4. Robyn says:

    I understood what you meant – but for those looking for loved ones after Katrina, the ability to see that someone is alive would have meant the world. On 9/11, any information that could have been posted for those who couldn’t get through to us would have been a relief.

    This points out how it’s even more important to make technology – and access to it – a critical part of social change.

    • This last part is the key. I remember my final project at NYU overlooked because it wasn’t “sponsor-able”—meaning, it wouldn’t bring in corporate money for being too “popular”. I also know that there is no true desire to make the technology accessible. Think about a television or radio signal. Whether 1, or 100, or 1,000,000 “tune in” and there is no degradation of service. I find it mind-boggling that there is no future for broadcast media in the States. The digital “pipe” is preferable only because it is individually billable. Take any technology and ask yourself: “Can this be scaled up to universal access?” You quickly realize that the tech “powers that be” don’t desire universal access; they desire “payment from those who have”.

      It’s funny, because I most remember the failures of technology. This “theoretical” be in touch is fine, but the reality is different. You remember! Cell phones overloaded; during the blackouts people lined up at pay phones. I remember plugging in the old rotary phone I had during the black out because the “wireless” was obviously useless.

      Here in Lebanon, cell phones were useless during any time of emergency. So much so that I don’t even think of the technology this way. I prefer to rely on human networks rather than technological ones. I also don’t feel the immediate need to “broadcast” my state of existence. My timeframe for such things expands into days if not weeks. Which is something else to discuss perhaps; the need for “immediate” gratification via tech.

      This “app”, that relies on a 3G or 4G network extraneous to what the rest of us are using? Sorry, but it’s offensive. But it’s a desired offense; it’s not naive in this regard.

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