Adoption in the Lebanese Context: A Proposal

I am posting here a small excerpt from my proposal to the Asfari Institute entitled: Adoption in the Lebanese Context: 
Practices of Extirpation and Their Impact 
on Kinship, Community, Citizenship, and Identity. I’ve already expanded it into a full research proposal, and the Legal Agenda translated an abridged version which appeared in the newspaper supplement to As-Safir newspaper [link: التبني كأحد مظاهر الإختفاء القسري].

Proposed is work toward a book that would consolidate my research as well as my activism within adoption/adoptee circles these past 11 years. The fellowship would be used toward completing my research in this regard and working toward finalizing the writing of this tome. The framework would stem from a discussion of class relationships in society, extended to concepts of political embodiment. It will elaborate the political and economic machinations that deprive segments of the population from attaining such citizenship but also a sense of belonging and sheer existence. It would expand on efforts within this group to attain voice in terms of resistance and activism. It will propose active avenues of theoretical engagement, community dialogue, as well as praxis that can be used with other groups similarly disembodied within society.

Societal divide: Those embodied by the nation-state vs. the “disembodied”
Lebanon, like many other source countries, is seeing a rise in adopted persons who have come of age and who seek answers concerning their origins. Unfortunately, their research turns up mostly dead ends. These take the form of falsified documents, intransigent government and religious officials, unhelpful lawyers and doctors, monetary shakedowns, closed doors, unanswered phone calls, and even physical threats to their safety. This is the turning point of understanding for many, who cannot fathom this decidedly unaccommodating reaction. The adoption was a legal process, and adoptees trust that they legally belong to their adoptive family and place of acculturation. They expect that this affords them the rights and legal recourse shared by their family, co-citizens, and attained class.

The contradictory reception upon return reveals this to be a false projection on their part. An adoptee’s formal identity is, on the contrary, based wholly in terms of the needs of the adoptive family and acculturating nation-state. It fails to maintain in terms of the individual and her right to know “where she comes from” beyond a purely superficial conception. Thus, adoptees who focus their searches on their individual “selves”—as they exist within the confines of their adoptive family and country—are seen to be following a quest for “self-actualization”. This search is actively condoned, since it does not upset the status quo, or the dynamics of their procurance. A much different fate awaits adoptees who seek to find the communal truth concerning their narratives as well as the stories of those they source from. Attempts to determine how these stories overlap and intersect with other societal injustices are met with solid resistance.

An examination of the history of adoption and its function in terms of economic and political policies toward the poor and marginalized helps to explain this disparity. Such an examination foregrounds the legal weight afforded to some and denied to others. It elucidates the resulting cognitive dissonance that adoptees feel concerning differences between their families, cultures, and communities. The logical conclusion of this examination places adoptees closer to those who are not fully incorporated within society. To fully understand this requires a shift in focus, from the class position adoptees arrive to, to that of those they source from.

This difference in perspective defines two sides of a global divide. On the one hand exists a dominant cosmopolitan class: the polis. This class maintains sovereignty, as compared, on the other hand, to those without such agency: the zoë. These terms derive from Aristotelean conceptions of class, gender, and patrilineal demarcations of citizenship (Agamben, 1998). They serve as the inherently unequal basis for “Western” liberal democracy as understood today. They bypass the former primarily geographic conceptions of “East” and “West”, “First World” and “Third World”, etc., yet reveal no less divisive demarcations. They define the extirpating practices these societies evolved to deal with those deemed outside of the realm of valid existence.

These formal and informal practices sought and continue to seek the removal of the unwanted, unfit, and undesirable figuratively from the body politic, and more literally from geographic place. The notions of polis and zoë become hegemonic in terms of how the strata of society understand, seek, ascribe, and/or deny citizenship and belonging to those within the purview of their incorporating nation-states. With time, these conceptions are mythologized, and are further inverted theoretically by post-modern and neo-liberal redefinitions of terms such as “nomad”, “hybrid”, “border-crosser”, etc. (Lloyd & Wolfe, 2015). World events show this difference to be the current fault line resulting in activist if not revolutionary insurrections worldwide, as well as cataclysmic migratory shifts in populations.

The Lebanese zoë inclusive of adoptees
Lebanon becomes a primary locus and departure point for expanded study of the historical underpinnings of this practice (Allouche, 2014; Stoughton, 2013). As a case study, Lebanese history provides extensive examples of the vagaries of citizenship as a function of political and economic incentives and intrigues. More importantly, it reveals adoption practice as relating to, being informed by, as well as being a by-product of such processes. Adoption is not put forth first as a charitable act, but only secondarily in light of social ills that are reneged upon by the nation-state. The failure of society to care for those within its borders results in children viewed as disposable. As such, adoption is functional to processes and practices that target marginalized populations. It relies on the historical networks of missionary-based and foreign-state supported charities and NGOs to aid and abet adoption practice. It avails itself of foreign-funded mediation to propagandize its “salvational” aspects (Harmacinski, 2006; Yunis, 1975).

Some pertinent examples of the historical derivations of adoption in Lebanon would include the presence of refugees and migratory populations; practices of political erasure, kidnapping, disappearance, and imprisonment; foreign-supported moves against activist attempts to construct a more equitable superstructure; networks of adoption coercion and trafficking targeting single mothers, the poor, and the indigent; ideologies of “pure” bloodline and ancestry; etc. Such reactionary politics have their basis in the beliefs that gave rise to adoption in Anglo-Saxon societies in the 19th and 20th centuries, namely eugenics, racial superiority, Calvinist ideas concerning the poor and needy, etc. This mirroring is not coincidental, but is instead functional of and vestigial to colonial and missionary incursions.

These beliefs find themselves manifested in a variety of scandals surrounding adoption, such as the niñ@s robad@s of Franco’s fascist regime in Spain, the disappeared children of Argentina, the stolen children of Yemeni Jews returning to Israel, the mass graves of mother and baby homes in Ireland, the kidnapping of children from Haiti and Chad, etc. These are not aberrations from the norm. These represent the norm of adoption as it should be economically, politically, and historically understood. In this light, Lebanon’s “orphans” were not “saved” from the wars on Lebanese soil, but were, in many cases, actively targeted for removal. This targeting, whether decidedly individual or obliquely communal, still maintains as contrary to any notion of human rights, dignity, citizenship, identity, or belonging.

Failed attempts to address these issues in Lebanon similarly are based in economic and political necessities. These include the affording of citizenship to some groups over others to maintain power balances within the nation-state, the abdication of the government in matters of social welfare, the imposition of foreign bases of legal practice, etc. Similarities between Lebanon and other source countries include the situation of proxy-driven wars; the establishment of a comprador class beholden to neo-liberal political and economic policies; notions of ethnic cleansing that form the basis of dominant ideologies; emigrant and diaspora populations that act as brokers in adoptive countries; the use of adoption as a hedge against abortion; as well as local missionary, political, and economic practices that favor/disfavor particular segments of society.

Agamben, G. (1998). Homo sacer: Sovereign power and bare life. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Allouche, Z. (2014, January 20). Illegal Adoption in Lebanon: Mechanisms and Consequences. Legal Agenda. Retrieved from

Harmacinski, J. (2006, July 20). Adoptive mother on her way out of Lebanon with child. Eagle Tribune. Retrieved from

Lloyd, D. & P. Wolfe (2015): Settler colonial logics and the neoliberal regime. Settler Colonial Studies, DOI: 10.1080/2201473X.2015.1035361

Stoughton, I. (2013). Closed adoption system helping traffickers. The Daily Star. Retrieved from:

Yunis, M. (1975, January 12). Child Lib! Monday Morning. Beirut, Lebanon.

Just a small note here to remark that the Legal Agenda supplement to As-Safir newspaper is critical in many ways. Primarily because it was a special edition on the subject of the “disappeared” of Lebanon. To have adoptees categorized in this way is of no small import. I’ve long maintained that a purely “adoptee-centric” outlook remains self-defeating, and history would seem to bear this out. Common cause with those who share adoption’s historical, political, and economic derivations remains the only hope. Of this I am convinced.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
This entry was posted in Adoption activism, Adoption resistance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Adoption in the Lebanese Context: A Proposal

  1. Joan Joyce says:

    Hi Daniel. It has seemed obvious to me for a while that in the US, the objections to release of OBCs and other records are attempts to cover up crimes and dodge institutional accountability, nothing more. I doubt whether anyone at Catholic Charities, state officials, hospital officials, doctors, lawyers, etc; give a single shining fuck whether any adoptee reunites with birth family or not. Continually framing the issue as one of individual rights, I believe will always fall on deaf ears. The non-adopted will always outnumber the adopted and I don’t have to tell you how limited the empathy is for the adopted and the families they are harvested from. If this issue were framed as “investigating the crimes of the Catholic Church” or “investigating legal corruption” I believe it would gain much more traction.

    • Hi Joan, thanks for your comment! I would agree with you on all counts. One of the more disturbing “finds” in my research is how much foreign adoption was pushed in the source country as an answer to pressures to allow women access to abortion. As an arm of foreign policy, it is the precursor to other variations on humanitarian imperialism.

      More and more I feel as if we are dealing with a situation in which there is a idealized concept of a “pure child”—preferably unborn, even purer—and the farther removed we are from that ideal, the more pressure is applied on us to shoehorn us into what is, at the end of the day, a beyond-faulty construct and an impossible fit.

      That we’re still discussing adoption as if it concerns children and family creation is completely mind-boggling to me, as is the endless waiting for legislatures to open up birth certificate access. We definitely need a great reframing of the argument, the audience we tend to address, and our notions as to what makes for activism.

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