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Alex Rowell

From Beirut to Britain, bigots are on the march

Whether it’s Lebanon’s Gebran Bassil, America’s Donald Trump, or Europe’s ascendant far-right, an intensifying climate of hate threatens lives worldwide

A parody image shared on social media depicts Lebanon’s Gebran Bassil with Donald Trump’s hair, with (unseen) caption: “I want to build a wall and make Syrian refugees pay for it” (Source: ‘@khasenews’ Facebook page)

In one sense, you have to hand it to Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement. Long before Britain’s fruitcake xenophobe Nigel Farage grew powerful enough to initiate the breakup of the European Union, and many years prior to Donald Trump dreaming up his Muslim bans and Mexico walls, the party of General Michel Aoun was pioneering the kind of scaremongering and demonization of refugees that, until really only very recently, would have condemned a politician in a Western democracy to an inglorious life in the electoral wilderness. Now that the tactic of blaming war-ravaged women and children for the corrupt misrule of the elite has gained worldwide currency, the FPM’s years of innovation ahead of the curve deserve acknowledgment.

 

The efforts, in particular, of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law and nominal head of the Movement, warrant special mention. As far back as 2012, when refugees were still just arriving from the uprising-turned-civil-war next door, Bassil was calling for denying them entry at the border, which among other things would have entailed the violation of international law. This he followed up with periodic outbursts about the “danger” of the defenseless exiles, who were agents of a “pre-planned” conspiracy to “transform the political and demographic reality” of Lebanon. By September 2013, he was demanding they “be deported” back to Syria outright – this just one month after the Assad regime committed mass murder with chemical weapons on the outskirts of its capital city.

 

So it almost wasn’t surprising to see Bassil raise (or lower) the bar yet further on Sunday in his address to the FPM’s municipal officials, even if the complete shamelessness with which he did it still draws a whistle. Warming to his favorite theme, and almost literally pounding the pulpit, he instructed all Free Patriotic mayors to cleanse their territory of the “existence” of Syrians. “The existence of camps and gatherings of Syrian refugees in the hearts of our towns is forbidden,” he intoned, to applause. Also “forbidden” in “our towns” was the opening of shops by Syrian refugees. Should any prohibited “gatherings” of Syrians be discovered, they must be “searched” by the municipal police, he added.

 

It’s not every day Al-Akhbar, the Pravda of the FPM’s ally Hezbollah, has a chance to occupy the moral high ground. But even it found Bassil’s casual decreeing of 21st-century Jim Crow laws beyond the pale, saying it “approached the racism of the new fascist parties on the rise in Europe.” (That those same fascist parties share Al-Akhbar’s enthusiasm for the dictatorship in Damascus is of course the sort of Molotov-Ribbentrop contradiction on which its writers prefer not to dwell.)

 

This is not necessarily overstating it. The climate of hate fostered by Bassil and his cohorts has already led to habitual pogroms against refugees in recent years – some of them fatal – and it was inevitable the same would happen after Monday’s suicide bombings in Al-Qaa. By the time the interior minister announced Tuesday afternoon that the culprits had actually entered from outside Lebanese territory, and had “no link” whatsoever to Syrian refugee camps, it was already too late. Marauding thugs had left random Syrians bleeding in the streets, to the indifference of local police forces. The army, meanwhile, had stormed camps across the country, arresting over 200 refugees by way of ‘response’ to the bombings with which they had nothing to do. The FPM, in its parallel universe, issued a statement congratulating Bassil for having “anticipated the threats” and demanding authorities do yet more to “confront the threat of the Syrian refugee influx.”

 

Now, if such irrationality and cruelty might once have seemed unthinkable in post-Berlin-Wall Europe, recent history has put paid to that. No longer is it uncommon to read of refugees being tear-gassed or even shot with rubber bullets on European soil, and the deportation of asylum seekers to Turkey, an increasingly unsafe country sharing an 800km-long border with Syria, today forms part of official EU policy. So poisonous and hysterical has hostility to immigration grown that two weeks ago the UK saw its first assassination of a politician in 26 years. “Britain first!” is what the Nazi enthusiast Thomas Mair is said to have cried out before he shot and repeatedly stabbed MP Jo Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two.

 

That Cox was not only a tenacious defender of immigration and advocate of Britain remaining in the EU, but also Westminster’s most principled and eloquent opponent of the Assad regime, feels tragically fitting. Across continents today, a war both political and physical is being waged against those who still believe in internationalism, in solidarity, in a common lot shared with one’s fellows of all colors and languages and birthplaces. The urgency of preventing the small-minded mediocrities leading this war from emerging victorious simply cannot be overemphasized.

A parody image shared on social media depicts Lebanon’s Gebran Bassil with Donald Trump’s hair, with (unseen) caption: “I want to build a wall and make Syrian refugees pay for it” (Source: ‘@khasenews’ Facebook page)

The climate of hate fostered by Bassil and his cohorts has already led to habitual pogroms against refugees in recent years – some of them fatal – and it was inevitable the same would happen after Monday’s suicide bombings in Al-Qaa

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Funny how you mention Bassil and Al-Akhbar by name, but you do not dare mention the Great Wizard behind the Syrian refugee problem itself and the anti-Syrian refugee sentiment in the country, namely Hassan Nasrallah. Just like the saying that "Haters and bullies are always cowards. They like to pick on little guys.” In fact, Oscar Wilde clarifies bigotry, “Conscience and cowardice are really the same things.... Conscience is the trade-name of the firm. That is all.”

    July 4, 2016

  • Beiruti

    Things are not so black and white when it comes to the refugees. At the outset let me say that I am no apologist for Thibran Bassil. He is, indeed the personification of all descriptions made of him in this article. But let us be clear eyed about the Refugee situation. There are many people in Lebanon and outside of Lebanon taking advantage of the refugee flow. Many of the people fleeing Syria are, indeed war refugees, who have fled because their homes and/or lives have been destroyed by the war and particularly by the Assad Regime and its Iranian/Russian/Hezbollah allies. Amazingly the Daagh is not creating much of the refugee flow but it is the fighting in the north around Aleppo and in the western parts of the country where the Assad Regime's forces are most active that is creating the massive refugee problem. However, having said that, there are many economic refugees. Syrians who have always wanted to go somewhere else and who are taking advantage of the war as their opportunity to go to Europe or somewhere other than Syria are taking advantage of their fellow Syrians who are truly suffering and giving them all a bad name. And in Lebanon itself, because war refugees receive benefits from the UN, we have some Syrians who were in Lebanon anyway as workers taking advantage and obtaining benefits. We even have some Lebanese forging Syrian identity papers, and posing as Syrian refugees to get benefits. So its a tragedy for these people, then then there are these others who would take advantage of any situation for themselves.

    June 30, 2016