To my students…

"Daniel, Ibn Bahijeh". Calligraphy by Salwa Faour.

“Daniel, Ibn Bahijeh”. Calligraphy by Salwa Faour.


Last night I had the pleasure and honor of hanging out with some former students of mine. Over the years, whenever someone would ask me why I did not have children, or else would compel me to have children, I would answer: “I have many children; hundreds of them.” I was, of course, referring to my students over the years working at AUB and AUST here in Beirut. Whereas the university structure here demands a certain hierarchy and distance between students and faculty, I have never seen pedagogy as working this way. My office was open to all, and many used it as a workspace, some as a drop-in therapy center, some to take refuge from the drastic “weeding out” process that was designed to make sure that not all succeeded in their studies.

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Daniel, Ibn Bahija.

Looking out from my balcony; Ras En-Nebaa.

Looking out from my balcony; Ras En-Nebaa. (Photo by Mayda Freije Makdessi)

Seest thou one who denies the Reckoning? Then such is he who harshly repulses the orphan…. —The Small Kindnesses, 107:1–3

We are as splinters, expelled from the body. The corpus surrounds us, englobes us, and drives us out; it then returns to a state of “as if” we had never existed. Should we attempt return, we do not notice that the immune response starts yet again. Only at this point we are incapable of understanding its reasonings and explanations. Ô Lebanon! Shall I be sorry that I wished not to return to you as an “American”? Had I done so, I know I would have been embraced with open arms, as the colonized always greet their oppressors. There is no comfort here. No, I sought something more from you: an origin, a sense of source, an acknowledgement of belonging, a claim to place—a wish shared by many also discounted as not being “of” this place. None of which you deemed worthy of offering. In this regard, I was naive to an extreme, no doubt. But things have changed. Following my latest visit to what I understand now is a neighboring familial village, my story was revealed to me by my cousin Jamal. Two weeks ago we met with the father of my top DNA match, as well as a family friend who saw my BBC interview years ago. Like a frozen river come springtime, a great unblocking took place as word got round, as the who and the what and the why made the rounds. And an elderly man plagued by his memories of a child absconded with half a century ago came forward, and revealed a secret to the only man he says he trusts with such information, Jamal’s father. And with that the Sisyphean task, twelve long years later, is accomplished.

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On orphans, adoption, and Islam.

Many thanks to Asma Uddin and @AltMuslimah for allowing me the space to reply to the previous article I cited a few days ago. An excerpt:

To conclude, in 1948 the United Nations defined an aspect of genocide to include “forcibly transferring children of [one] group to another group”[1]. In current academic discourse, the concept of genocide has evolved to incorporate the idea of genocidal intent that might not be overtly homicidal, but which is designed to lead to the same end[2]. Adoption practices both historically and in terms of the current day fit this notion rather disturbingly. Even if we firmly believe in adoption and its possible reform, these roots of the practice and their current manifestations must be brought to light and deliberated. Furthermore, overlaps in current practice with the historically targeted use of adoption against those seen as not politically embodied, as well as its profitable nature and its legal origins within slavery and indentured servitude, all must give us great pause. To believe that adoption has corrected itself, that it has been reformed or is reformable, is to deceive ourselves in a most solipsistic way.

[1] Card, C. Genocide and social death. Hypatia, 18(1):63–79, Winter 2003.
[2] Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG)

Full article:

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Fellowship Lecture: Citizen, Denizen, Alien

Adoption via Lebanon: Practices of Extirpation and Their Impact on Kinship, Community, Identity, and Citizenship

Presented under the gracious auspices of The Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut

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SAVE THE DATE: The Sixth Biennial Conference of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC)

Theme: Building Communities, Changing Discourses

Date: October 27–29, 2016

Location: Minneapolis

I will be presenting a paper entitled: “Citizenship and Statelessness: The Adoptee as Citizen, Denizen, Alien”.

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@AltMuslimah : A reply.

In the article Placing Muslim Orphans Into Real Homes, a member of the board of an adoptive agency makes the astonishing claim that Muslims should adopt children, ideally, of course, through the author’s agency. I believe this is referred to as a “conflict of interest” if not a “profit motive”. I replied on the site to the article, but it has not made its way through the approval filter. Here it is in its (short) entirety.

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Citizen, Denizen, Alien: Lecture • Film Screening

The Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at AUB presents:

A fellowship lecture on the topic of adoption via Lebanon by Daniel Drennan, followed by a screening of the film Memory: Unknown, which documents those adopted via Lebanon to Scandinavia and their search for roots, identity, and family.
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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.

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Clinton, Reagan, AIDS, and Hell

I saw this revisionist history on MSNBC:

Hillary Clinton: The Reagans, particularly Nancy, helped start “a national conversation” about HIV and AIDS. [link]

Given the fact that at the time of the Reagans’ reign, the majority of those dying from AIDS were minority women, and that major activist groups split along racial lines in order not to deal with this reality, this was a stupefyingly obscene thing to say. It brought to mind a prose poem I wrote on June 5, 2004 when Ronald Reagan died:

A eulogy for Ronald Reagan: May he rot in hell

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The 9th Biennial Adoption Initiative Conference

Theme: Myth and Reality in Adoption: Transforming Practice Through Lessons Learned

Date: June 9–11, 2016

Location: Montclair State University, New Jersey

I will be presenting a paper entitled: “Citizenship and Statelessness: The Adoptee as Citizen, Denizen, Alien”; schedule to be announced. Registration, keynote speakers, and theme can be found at the web site; speakers and presentations coming shortly.

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