How to read the Syrian body: Lebanese racist ideologies and politics of difference

I remember when the local “intelligentsia” had a “vigil” downtown for the Syrians suffering for the war in that country; to note was a) the English of their flyers and leaflets and b) the absence of Syrians at the vigil, despite the fact that a barren downtown is largely populated by the slave labor brought in to build it. When I asked my friends in my neighborhood about what they thought of the vigil, they laughed and said: “We are invisible; they march in a city built on our backs”. This is a brilliant piece and a must read.

the interrogations of shamshouma

The story of the Syrian body as seen by Lebanese eyes is not a new one, it dates back to the time when Syrian workers migrated to Lebanon and became cheap labor, around the country’s largest institutional and urban development in the 1950s.And cheap labor, with time, cheapens the body itself and disciplines it. People then would speak of the Syrian worker as someone coming from dark places of Syria, unknown barbaric villages that manufacturepeople who were completely different from Lebanese. “Not all Syrians are backward”, the story went, “but these people who come to Lebanon and work in construction and other cheap form of labor, come “men wara al ba2ar”, they are dirty, ignorant and stupid”. Somehow labor exploitation disappears onto the Syrian worker’s body, thereby making it as ontologically different and alien, not just for middle and upper class Lebanese but for their fellow Lebanese…

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About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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2 Responses to How to read the Syrian body: Lebanese racist ideologies and politics of difference

  1. nancy rodgers says:

    As in adoption make the group different and it becomes acceptable to exploit them. Thank you for posting this.

    • Thank you for reading. The mapping you make carries through, in that my friends from this group inherently “get” my feelings about adoption. It makes for a shared “unsaid” that is a great relief.

      I asked the author about the extent of neighborhoods in the country that effectively ban Syrians from walking around after sundown; this reflects mostly class markers, so in my neighborhood we are thankfully spared this indignity.

      Most upsetting to me is the Lebanese bourgeoisie, willing to activate but only on behalf of their class-similar compatriots in Syria, and against this class of people. Meaning “the war in Syria” is a problem seemingly only for displacing the Damascus bourgeoisie; the fact that much of that neighboring country has been effectively displaced for many more years due to economic injustices that afford this bourgeoisie their class status here goes ignored.

      But the last word belongs to these workers; they joke that in two years, given their and the refugee population (now one-third of the total Lebanese population), they will without effort “flip” the country. The fear of this locally has, it should be pointed out, historically driven the antagonism toward the Palestinian and Shi‘a populations.

      I remember one day they were discussing rather calmly everyone they collectively knew who had been killed on construction sites. At one point I got really angry and I said, “if you all stopped working, you would shut this country down!” One of them looked at me and replied: “when the day comes, we’ll know to put our tools down”. I have great faith in them; they have an awareness of their economic and political situation that goes ignored among similar populations in, say, the States.

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