What is happening in Lebanon? As the country falls deeper into chaos, there is a political and media clampdown on public debate over sensitive issues. Raids carried out by the Lebanese army in Syrian refugee camps in Arsal almost two weeks ago have had shocking consequences — including the deaths of four Syrian prisoners, attributed, in an army statement, to weather conditions. That explanation convinced no one. Leaked photos of the detainees clearly showed they had been beaten and tortured.
Has Lebanon, then, entered that group of countries where prisons are strongly associated with torture? In Lebanon, we have always believed that we stand apart from the autocratic environment that surrounds us, that despite the obvious deterioration and the all-too-vivid memory of war and atrocities, we could still rely on a minimum of discipline from our security forces.
Yes, there have been violations and breaches of that discipline documented in the past, but this latest incident, in Arsal — with pressure put on lawyers for the burial of dead prisoners, and to hand over body samples before they could be properly analyzed and recorded — has made it clear that certain factions in politics and the media no longer see such offenses as serious, or worth covering. In Lebanon today, there is a rabid fervor among those who claim they are the “new nationalists,” demanding that we ignore these violations and join together to “support the troops.”
These campaigns to defend the army play into the idea that torture and violence can be justified in such cases. The logic runs something like this: Some terrorists are refugees, so all refugees are potentially terrorists; therefore, we need to torture and expel all refugees. Of course, no one is suggesting that we should not oppose terrorism and murder, but we should certainly oppose these generalizations and recognize that brutality can only bring more violence and actually increase the threat of terrorism.
Politicians led by the Aounist movement have spread their message publicly, and Hezbollah has seconded it more subtly. Finally, a weak and malicious media has propagated this twisted idea that there is a link between terrorism and refugees, an idea that is now firmly embedded in the minds of large portions of the Lebanese population.
A sick form of nationalism is used to justify the torture and killing of refugees under the pretext of ‘security.’
There are some pertinent facts that should be raised at this point. For example, the vast majority of those involved in violence and suicide bombings in Lebanon are Lebanese. The facts suggest that the sectarian violence that we Lebanese consistently practice deeply affects the way we view each other, and that this easy willingness to see our neighbors as enemies also applies to Syrian refugees. The facts also suggest that the Lebanese army is used as a political tool — one that violates the rights of Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees alike — as documented by international human rights reports. And the facts say that politicians, media, and Lebanese citizens lie about the number of Syrian refugees and their impact.
Yes, there are security risks surrounding Lebanon.
Yes, the large number of refugees entering Lebanon has caused a serious problem.
But those who are pushing the refugees as the cause of all our ills do not want to acknowledge that Bashar Assad bears the initial responsibility for forcing his people to escape from certain death. Nor do they want to face the responsibility borne by Hezbollah for the destruction of Syrian towns and the displacement of Syrian people.
Lebanese nationalism, today, is clearly very sick. This is how we justify the torture and killing of civilians under the pretext of “security.” This sick nationalism is how we can justify the burning of refugees’ tents, and how we can justify “coordinating” with a regime as sick as Syria’s to “repatriate” those whom it has expelled.
This sick nationalism is an insult to the homeland — which turns it into a slaughterhouse — and an insult to the minds and the dignity of the Lebanese people. Lebanon must not be allowed to fall victim to it.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. She can be reached on Twitter @dianamoukalled.