We live in a state of perpetual fear that outside forces – most recently, perhaps, terrorists from the Islamic State – could potentially tear the country apart and wreak havoc on our very existence. But it’s what’s happening from within the country itself that is the real threat.
How else could you explain the aftermath of MP Nicolas Fattoush’s actions this week at the Baabda Judicial Palace? Allegations surfaced on Monday he punched a female office worker in the neck because she wouldn’t give him preferential treatment while he was waiting in line. When a legislator has blanket immunity to assault a public servant – who then turns around and apologizes to her aggressor for the incident – it’s not Islamic militants you should be worried about, but the people who maintain this corrupt, criminal system.
A savage is a savage. No amount of fancy hats, finely tailored suits or fat pocketbooks should ever cover up the fact that a person was able to sucker-punch a woman with no consequence. A government that allows a grown man – a politician, no less – to act like a feral beast is a government plagued by vicious creatures who prey on the desperate, vulnerable and weak.
There is something so inherently perverse about Fattoush swinging a punch at Manal Daou’s throat. The gesture epitomizes the way in which people in power believe they have the right to silence their victims and eliminate their ability to speak.
The government believes it has the right to do (and refrain from doing) a lot of things. It has voted to keep itself in office well past its constitutional mandate. Fattoush is the very politician behind the most recent proposal to extend parliament’s term, not by the people’s vote, but by the politician’s themselves, for an additional 17 months. That’s on top of the 18 months parliament has already kept itself in power. They claim actions like this are in the interest of maintaining peace and order. There is no peace. And what order? Parliament has failed to elect a president for five months because it can’t reach a quorum. Two citizens were arrested and charged with libel and slander earlier this month for holding up a sign during a protest that dubbed our 128 MPs “thieves.” The government has failed for three years to approve a wage hike for overworked and underpaid teachers and civil sector workers.
Meanwhile, neighborhood vigilantes are rounding up Syrians and beating them if they are out past municipality-imposed curfews. What of the unabashed racism that has taken over the national psyche? We live in a time when ordinary Lebanese are faced with a multitude of fears: they fear being jobless; they fear not being able to provide for their families; they fear being robbed and attacked; they fear all kinds of things that can serve to explain some of the degradation and instability that surrounds us. Amid all the confusion, it’s only natural for people to replace a multitude of fears with one singular figure who can be blamed for it all: the outsider. And if it’s not the Islamic State, it’s the Syrian refugee. It’s in this way that we consolidate all of the complexities of our reality – and the fears that go along with it – into one viable enemy.
And so almost instantly, all the evils of society are embodied in this one figure. We can say there is violence because of Syrians. We can say there is an increase in crime because of Syrians. We can say that nothing is properly functioning in this society because of Syrians. And we can say that the way to restore the health of our social body is to eliminate the Syrians.
The fantasy of fear is that groups like Daesh will invade Lebanon and take away our so-called freedoms. The real fear is felt by Syrian refugees who can’t walk the streets at night because assumptions are made about the fabric of their character in relation to the color of their skin, clothing, accent and country of origin.
Enforcing policies, such as an evening curfew on foreigners – and beating them if they happen to disobey, only serves to oppress and demonize these people. We have twisted our imaginations into believing they represent what’s wrong with the country when it’s the the fat and happy lawmakers who’ve made entire careers, for themselves and their sons, out of raping and trampling over the needs of the public in an utterly reckless and vile manner.
Who is to blame for our moral, social and economic bankruptcy? The real answer, of course, is ourselves. The system was dysfunctional long before Syrian refugees began spilling over the border. Now, they’re just a convenient excuse for the inadequacies of the system. Now, all of our anger and tension can be directed toward them – the outsiders, the Daesh, the Syrians – anyone, but ourselves.
And that’s the real kicker. We all claim to hate politicians and talk about voting them out, but come election day (if there ever is one) we vote for the same guy because at least he’s not the other guy. We’ll disparage the political body as a whole, but nobody wants to blame their own elected representative for its faults. It is one big delusion perpetuating an even bigger delusion. We bear a huge chunk of the blame. Put on your best well-fitted suit and start swinging punches, we are no better than Fattoush, and we certainly have more to fear than terrorists knocking at the door.