White Savior Syndrome™

(or: “The Journalistic Stunt of Trafficking Syrian Children”)

In a recent article written for Information Clearing House [link], Franklin Lamb states: “I confess to having purchased four children near Ramlet el Baida beach recently from a stressed-out Syrian woman.” The article goes on to describe the illegal practices of brokering, bartering, purchasing, and trafficking children. The eventual goal seems to be a “re-homing” of these young ones, with the side benefit of a journalistic coup in terms of self-promotion. In this light, Franklin Lamb represents the very worst of “white savior syndrome”, and reveals a complete inability to understand his privilege as a foreigner in this region. Most of all, his own “shock” belies decades of adoption/trafficking practice that has taken place here and elsewhere in the region and world, and only exposes his own distance from this reality.

As one of the earliest of children adopted via Lebanon (we are not all “Lebanese”), I am myself shocked that so-called progressives still consider the purchasing of children to be a viable act of charity or beneficence. Furthermore, their ignorance of the history of this trafficking—the connections of adoption/trafficking to indentured servitude, the population of foreign colonies, the eradication of Indigenous peoples—indeed, the very connection between rampant anti-human capitalism and the trade of flesh/DNA no matter how formalized and mythologized, puts them in the same league as fascistic societies which do not bother with such niceties and formalities, much less myths of “forever families”. Whereas Spain, Chile, Argentina, Lebanon, and Israel (among others) have historically elevated the targeting of internally seen-as enemy populations via adoption to a state priority, progressives in the so-called West continue to uphold the mythology of this trafficking/adoption as having “saved” children. This must come to an end.

Like Mr. Lamb, I, too, arrived in Lebanon as an “American”, and have spent 12 years attempting to undo that acculturation. Unlike other ex-pats here, I categorically refuse to hire slave labor (in the form of, for example, Ethiopian women, whose children are also targeted for dispossession and disinheritance), much less brag about it. I have come to know as friends and brothers many Syrian workers in this country, and they are the first ones to tell me that what happened to me was “haram“—”wrong”, in the sense of unjust but also forbidden. That Mr. Lamb cannot fathom the impossibility of how difficult it will be to integrate these children into Lebanese society reflects his distance from the street, and his ignorance of the racism and sectarianism that rules the lives of anyone unfortunate enough to not be seen as valid by the Lebanese nation-state and its elites. That this holds true for adoptees from this country should give us great pause.

Mr. Lamb has committed not just a grave error but a heinous crime as well. And it is a violent crime at that. I have often described adoption in the following terms:

Adoption is a violence based in inequality. It is candy-coated, marketed, and packaged to seemingly concern families and children, but it is an economically and politically incentivized crime. It stems culturally and historically from the “peculiar institution” of Anglo-Saxon indentured servitude and not family creation. It is not universal and is not considered valid by most communal cultures. It is a treating of symptoms and not of disease. It is a negation of families and an annihilation of communities not imbued with any notion of humanity due to the adoptive culture’s inscribed bias concerning race, class, and human relevancy.

Mr. Lamb imagines perhaps that he has “done good” by these kids; I guarantee on all fronts that he has done exactly the opposite.

The Angelina Jolies, Salma Hayeks, and Franklin Lambs of the world need to understand the lasting damage of their “interventions” as putative “white saviors” in this region. The long history and day-to-day of dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance—whether from war, or from migrant job-seeking, or from adoption/trafficking—does not change for their Noah’s Ark notions of “saving a few and damning the rest”. The symptoms of centuries of dystopian economic and political systems laying waste to this region much less the planet will not be staunched by self-promotional public relations efforts that involve innocent children—this is a lesson that Joan Crawford taught us half a century ago. That a communal culture such as that of these Syrians should break down to such an extent that their children become expendable in this manner only exposes the depths of destruction that the country has suffered. In pretending to “save” children on the “symptom” side, traffickers and adopters only reveal themselves to be the worst kind of pyromaniac firefighters.

Addendum of sorts: I received an email asking me if I had “under-read” Mr. Lamb’s story, and describing his action as “reaching out in kindness”. I replied, and I thought it might be useful to update the post here as well.

“Reaching out in kindness”? I take issue with this statement.

I spend a good part of every day with Syrian workers. For the past 12 years, I have gotten to know most every building super, every delivery boy, every construction worker in my neighborhood. I think I know something of their outlook, and the complexity of their worldviews. I’ve shared many harrowing moments with them as they’ve attempted to survive Lebanese racism, as well as journeys to their local neighborhoods, faraway towns, and now Europe. I would let them speak on this issue, for it’s not for me to say. But I’m pretty sure I know what their response would be to this “reaching out” as you call it. This is what I go with. And this is what Mr. Lamb lacks, this sense of the street. If he had it, he would not be “shocked”. The very fact that he looked for a police car as if the local police are of any use to anyone reveals how much he still lives within an American paradigm, likewise revealed by his cooking skills.

The very presence of foreign NGOs and their humanitarian imperialism (1 for every 500 citizens), the foreigners here who staff them, as well as those who pretend to write about local issues when they don’t know the languages spoken locally, is beyond offensive—it’s colonialist, imperialist, racist, and Orientalist. The social fabric bends to their needs and whims, and they are immune to the effect this has on those who don’t have the option, luxury, or privilege to leave; they have no inkling of the day to day nightmare that is Lebanon to the majority of people unlucky enough to have to stay here; they cannot fathom such people who would trade in an instant their lives for the very passport that brought Mr. Lamb to this ungodly place.

Was he “reaching out in kindness” when he had the children pose for a picture? Or was he thinking about the journalistic “coup” this would give him? No one locally gives him any credibility, except political parties that need a stamp of approval from the White Man. I don’t think I’ve “under-read”. I know all too well what people like Lamb represent here. That he be ignorant to what his presence has wrought here is the issue; that he can’t understand the immensity of his “footprint”; that he is without any kind of framework that would prevent him, say, from owning a slave (etc.)—this is the issue I have with him, above and beyond the crime of child trafficking.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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9 Responses to White Savior Syndrome™

  1. I respect your point of view Daniel. This “charity” approach should be subject to critical thinking as in many instances it shadows severe right’s violations. Time will come.

  2. ghareeb alghareeb says:

    We need your email me Franklin so we can contact you for this issue
    my email: [redacted]

    • [ Why do I sense a propaganda campaign from the country a) responsible for much destruction/migration in the region and b) which itself refuses to accept refugees? ]

  3. via @annahar a declaration from Badael/Alternatives [link]: “اشتريت 4 أطفال بـ600 دولار”… “بدائل” تؤكد أنّ ما حصل اتجار بالأولاد

  4. via @annahar a followup [link] describing how much trafficking is taking place, and how this particular case is being investigated by authorities:

  5. A caveat: The En-Nahar reporting is politically motivated, since Mr. Lamb actively sides with the Hezb and the Assad regime.This perhaps explains the above reaching out from a Saudi national, as well as the email I received yesterday from an Emirati news station. Left by the wayside will be any true effort to combat trafficking in Lebanon or Syria; we should not kid ourselves.

    This place is really beyond hope.

  6. @AsSafir publishes press release [link]:
    بدائل” تستنكر الاتجار بالأطفال السوريين”

  7. @Badael_Alternat ‘s Zeina Allouche on Sky News Arabia [link].

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