Tareq Al-Sham (The Road to Damascus)

Syrian Refugees, Lebanese Society, and Unsettled Problems

in Contention

This article departs from standard academic style to address the implications of the Syrian refugee crisis for Lebanon’s civil society, particularly with regard for solidarity across difference and the always-troubled Syria/Lebanon relationship. I adopt this style because the consequences and unfolding changes to Lebanese civil society and political practice driven by the Syrian crisis are still in progress, have uncertain outcomes, and are in a state of constant flux. The same must be said of my own knowledge and understanding of this situation, as I continue to engage in fieldwork and dialogue with actors on the ground. This article is the product of my particular place as an ethnographer at the beginning of what is likely to be years of study, as an outsider entering into a new country and city, as a policy actor with a higher education initiative for Syrian refugees and host community members in Beirut, and as an American-Canadian binational uninterested in sharpening distinctions between ‘there’ and ‘here’, neither in my own understanding nor in my scholarship. Because of the unsettled nature of the analysis in this piece, I have chosen not to arrange it as an argument supporting a single thesis. Instead, I have interwoven sections from my fieldnotes, particularly those from my trip to Beirut in May 2015, with sections that lay out, in a less personal format, the context, and elements that collectively helped shape the situation as it stands. My goal is to both document the dynamics of anxiety and rejection that surround the refugee crisis in Lebanon—where refugees are demonized in the press, targeted through bylaws aimed at ‘foreigners,’ and by denying access to basic services. My aim is to understand how the intertwined elements of Lebanese and Syrian history and politics have are creating this moment. At a time when societies around the world are gripped with fear and panic, how can the microcosm of the crisis in Lebanon give us insight into the development of xenophobic anxieties in our own societies? How does Lebanon’s proximity to the Syrian crisis make its experience reflective of global responses to uncivil times?

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Contention

The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest

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