Hanin Ghaddar

Racism and indifference; Bassil as an example

Syrian refugees in Lebanon demonstrate outside a UN office in Sidon.

It is not surprising that FPM Minister of Energy Gebran Bassil made a xenophobic statement against the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Bassil has never indicated, ever, that he is a man of integrity or decency. What is not surprising is that he is not only going to avoid accountability, but he will be cheered among many Lebanese who share his chauvinism. What is shocking is that no major civil society or human rights groups reacted. Have we become that indifferent?


It all started when the Lebanese government approved a series of measures last week to keep its border with Syria open to refugees, but to seek aid from other Arab states and the international community to cover nearly $180 million for the asylum seekers that Lebanon is unable to provide. Bassil rejected the proposal, along with other Free Patriotic Movement ministers, suggesting instead the closure of Lebanon’s border with Syria to stem the flow of refugees—already totaling 125,000 according to the UN, and 200,000 according to the Lebanese government.


“It's the responsibility of the state to control the border. The refugees could head to other Syrian cities rather than entering Lebanon,” the minister said. "When we refuse to allow Syrian and Palestinian refugees to replace us, we must devote our refusal by actions and not only by words," he said. "Lebanon should [not] be the garbage dump for the world's problems."


Assorted Lebanese and Syrian activists started a huge reaction campaign on Facebook and Twitter, criticizing Bassil's and the FPM's racism, but outside the virtual world, nothing really happened. Bassil is a minister; a public official who represents the Lebanese government and the people. When someone in his position boldly disregards a humanitarian issue as big as the Syrian refugee crisis, referring it as "the world's problem" that should not be dumped in Lebanon, this only means that Lebanon has officially become a garbage dump that deserves no sympathy from anyone.


In comparison, can we Lebanese afford to look down on refugees when we are a people that has no home? We are strangers in our own country; non-citizens pretending to have a state. Bassil insinuates that the Syrians are coming to Lebanon in order to take our jobs and resources. What jobs and what resources? The ironic part is that this minister, his political party and camp, have done everything needed to push the young people out of this country. Our brain drain did not happen because of the influx of the poor and scared Syrian and Palestinian refugees; it is the result of the dirty politics of people like Bassil himself.


Just a small reminder to Bassil: his master Michel Aoun was a refugee in Paris once. Was France supposed to send him and his gang back home when it was dangerous for them? Or is it because they wore ties and had a lot of money – God knows where from – that they were not scum? What about the Lebanese Shiites who fled the South and the Beqaa back in 2006 and took refuge in Syria? Were they supposed to be considered dangerous to the Syrian people who welcomed them in their homes? Or are they not garbage simply because they belong to a community that falls under the control of Hezbollah, Aoun's ally?


The hypocrisy and double standards are unbelievable.


Of course Bassil knows all this and doesn't care. He made this xenophobic statement knowing that it will find positive feedback among many Lebanese who tend to look down on the underprivileged. Lebanon is famous for its unfair labor law when it comes to migrant workers who cannot be protected from the violence and maltreatment practiced daily by their Lebanese bosses against them, only because they're less fortunate.

Racism is our game, and it is no surprise that many agreed with Bassil on his stance against the Syrian refugees. He did it for electoral reasons, and he knew he was going to find a listening audience. But Bassil, like all his allies in Lebanon and elsewhere, are not looking forward. When Syrian President Assad gets deposed – or killed – how is his statement going to reflect on future Lebanese-Syrian relations? He, and many in the Lebanese government and political scene, will be reminded of it and other cruel behavior toward the Syrian refugees and activists who dared to flee to Lebanon.


The Syrian crisis, Mr. Bassil, is no more a Syrian issue. Lebanon is part of it whether we like it or not, and politically – of course we cannot talk humanitarian issues with someone who does not understand the meaning of the word – it is unwise to create enemies of the people who will go back to Syria as soon as this is over and participate in building their country on all levels, including foreign relations with its neighbors.


But Bassil cannot wait. He doesn't think that the Syrians will go back. He is concerned that Lebanon is so good that they would want to stay here forever, even under such harsh conditions. He wants to send the refugees back to the "safe areas inside Syria." If anything, this ridiculous plan – who can determine a safe area in Syria? – should be held against Bassil as an attempt to send the refugees to their deaths. His friend Bashar al-Assad wouldn't mind killing every one of them. How do we legally define this attempt, especially since it is coming from a governmental figure who has the authority to implement it?

Bassil's statement should not pass without real action. This time, Lebanese have the opportunity to tell the Syrian people that they are not alone here. The monsters who want to send them back to their deaths should be held accountable, and this is the responsibility of all of us: the president, the government, the media and civil society. If we only talk and not do anything to strip Bassil of his ability to hurt the Syrian refugees who had no choice but to come and suffer in Lebanon, then we will all be partners in a serious violation of human rights.


If we do not reassure the Syrian refugees in Lebanon that Bassil does not really represent us, then Lebanon truly deserves to be a garbage dump for people like him.


Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr

Lebanese Minister Gebran Bassil wants to seal Lebanon off from Syrian refugees. (AFP photo)

Racism is our game, and it is no surprise that many agreed with Bassil on his stance against the Syrian refugees.

  • M14trash

    Thank you Hanin, for showing us your touching humanism. no doubt you are happy now with nearly 2 million syrians settled in Lebanon and illegally taking our work opportunities, forcing more brain drain and immigration. I hope your meaningless humanitarian urges are now satisfied.

    July 7, 2014


    Bassil represents the worst what lebanon has to offer . Lebanese have to admit that they are ruled by a mafia clique who is driving the country to the abyss , but they will be always some who will blame others for this disaster....

    January 10, 2013

  • majd el Arabi

    it`s always the weak who bears the major burden in times of crisis or wars, Jordan is doing its best interest, Turkey wants to topple Bashar without harboring the refugees, Iraq is doing its best interest, however, the weak divided non-free Lebanon cannot take one serious decision, and the irony is when some M14ers shed tears about those refugees at time we all know their feelings toward the Palestinian refugees, hypocrites at best.

    January 8, 2013

  • majd el Arabi

    it just happened yesterday in Borj Chemali, South Lebanon, two Syrians raped a Lebanese woman and threw her on the side of the road, fortunately they were arrested in few hours, but unfortunately the Woman Victim is in a serious condition in hospital. so, we sure are not against helping the needy, but fact is once those syrians came to lebanon we will lose control, that is true 1st because our state is weak and 2nd because our system is a sectarian one, meaning the state cannot touch those refugees because most of them are Sunnis and the Lebanese Sunnis will defend them. last, let us think what will happen if those refugees stay in lebanon for five, or ten, or 20 more years???

    January 8, 2013

  • Fatima Awada

    Bassil's manner of speaking his mind is extremely horrible.. he speaks of refugees as if he was speaking of a cattle... but his point is valid... he definitely has a point! we do not want the Palestinian refugees experience to be cloned... we really need to look at this from both humanitarian AND patriotic (and security) perspectives.

    January 8, 2013

  • Steve Carter

    unfortunately, bassil is just saying what most lebanese christians feel. nothing based in reality.

    January 8, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Ghadar that we, as Lebanese, are generally very racist and xenophobic. I did not need to hear Bassil spewing the venom to know this: Just look at how we treat all these foreign maids who for the most part are much better human beings than we are. But, I ask Ms. Ghadar: What guarantees do we, as a sovereign nation, have against the permanent settlement of these refugees in Lebanon? Should we not learn from the lessons of the past? Should we ask our "fellow Arabs" to do their share just as we do ours? Regardless of the hostility I may harbor against Mr. Bassil, I think the fundamental question he raised so uneloquently remains valid.

    January 7, 2013