Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 2nd, 2012

Lebanese kidnapped in Syria: What kinds of retaliations?

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. Syrian workers are the backbone of Lebanon Real Estates development: When they have to flee back to Syria or go on vacation for the Eid of Adha or Ramadan or…, construction simply stops, and the Lebanese engaged in civil works also take the opportunity to take a vacation…

For example, Egyptian workers mane the gas stations and the health care in hospital and private homes for the elderly

On May 22, news broke of the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese men in Aleppo , of the Moslem Shia sect returning from pilgrimage in Iraq, by a Syrian opposition group. Scores of angry Lebanese men took to the streets, intent on revenge, and they were looking for handy simple Syrian workers in the vicinity.

Fortunately, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah intervened with a speech saying, “The Syrian nationals in Lebanon are our people and attacking them is an offense.” Nasrallah’s words hold much sway among followers and fans, and he saved many from being beaten, or worse.

Moe Ali Nayel published on July 29, 2012 under “Syrian Workers in Lebanon: No Time is Safe...”


One of the Syrian workers (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

That incident of mutual kidnapping activities and retaliations is not unique in Lebanon’s history with its Syrian labor force. Whenever Syria-related political unrest threatens Lebanon, the Syrian workers are the first to suffer. As if they were official representatives of the Syrian regime, the workers are an easy first target.

“It’s becoming dangerous for Syrians working in Lebanon,” Jihad, a 29 year-old Syrian worker from Daraa told me.

“My friends were stopped in Ouzai [Beirut suburbs] by thugs who erected a checkpoint in the middle of the street.” Jihad expressed relief at Nasrallah’s appeal: “I was relieved when Nasrallah came out and asked the masses to leave us alone. His call saved us.”

Jihad, who has worked in Beirut for many years, does menial jobs that many Lebanese consider beneath them. This attitude holds true for the vast number of foreign workers in Lebanon — many of them Syrians, Egyptians, Ethiopians,… — who come to work as cleaners, domestic help, construction and agricultural workers.

Lebanon’s labor laws provide a further incentive for Syrians to emigrate here. The interpretation of these laws make it easy for businesses to import foreign labor, thereby avoiding minimum wage regulations and calls by local workers to improve working conditions.

Itani says he would rather have ten Syrian workers than five Lebanese. 

Jihad the foreign workers like him have a continuing sense of instability. For example:

Following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — in which Syria was accused of involvement — there were violent attacks on Syrians throughout Lebanon and many were forced to flee. Today, Jihad explains, “It’s ironic, I’ve been working here in Ras Beirut for 20 years. When Hariri was killed we were attacked by the residents… We had to flee back to Syria. We returned after the hate against us lessened and the Lebanese realized that they need us to get things done.”

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. There has been much focus on the safety of Syrian activists taking refuge in Lebanon, while the safety of Syrian workers has been overlooked. Activists have made their stories heard while a multitude of workers’ stories have gone unnoticed.

Ali Atiyeh a 34-year-old Syrian who has worked in Lebanon for 15 years as an electrician, has experienced daily racism. “Any interaction with the Lebanese people always brings the possibility of a racist encounter. It’s all good until they ask me where I’m from, and when I say I’m from Syria their faces change.”

Atiyeh who speaks the Lebanese dialect adds that he feels slightly different from most Syrian workers. “I have been integrated into the Lebanese way of life. I spend money, go out, and always buy new clothes”. But even with his integration he never feels totally safe. “For example if I’m coming back home from work late at night and there is a police checkpoint and I get stopped, I’m automatically a suspect because I’m Syrian.”

“The latest trend is men driving around at night stopping Syrian workers. The men claim that they are security forces. They mug the worker and drive away,” Atiyeh says.

Racism doesn’t stop there either. According to Atiyeh, “Now that the Syrian revolution is fashionable it has become cool for some Lebanese girls to go out with Syrian activists, while two years ago this was out of the question. I once loved a Lebanese girl and we went out in secret. I knew her family and they treated me as one of them. I decided to propose and asked her father if he agreed to us getting married. After that I was outcast from the family — the mother told me that she would never let her daughter marry a Syrian.”

Many Syrian workers live in extreme poverty; several may share small apartments while others live in tents, shacks, or outdoors on the construction sites where they work. They are therefore visible and an easy target for attacks by Lebanese.

Raed, 17, a Syrian shoe shiner and freelance worker in Beirut — his many other jobs include washing stairs in apartment buildings and delivering food and gas — is scared of being attacked. “Now, since the news about the kidnapped Lebanese, people have warned me not leave this neighborhood because they fear for my safety.”

He speaks about an incident in a stronghold of the Amal Movement. “The other day I was in Hay al-Lija and felt that I was not welcome…A man marched up to me and asked me where I’m from in Syria. I told him Aleppo. I did not dare say I’m from Daraa. Then men gathered and showered me with insults about my sister and mother. I was getting scared and a slap to my face came from nowhere. I pushed them and ran away.”

Raed’s story is not unusual, he says: “Workers can never feel secure in Lebanon. Here, where I live now, our burden is a bit easier than before the Syrian revolution. Now people in this area are seeing us as the sons of one sect. They see us now as Sunnis more than Syrians.” The area that Raed is talking about is traditionally a Sunni neighborhood.

Attacks against Syrians have always crossed sectarian lines. All Lebanese sects have at times been hostile towards Syrians. However, the recent uprising has made old enemies into new comrades.

Supporters of Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik, support the Syrian opposition. “Now,” Jihad says, “these same Lebanese greet us, smile and seem to be fond of us. It makes one wonder what this sudden love for the Syrians is — from the same Lebanese who just a few years ago insulted and looked down on us, as if we were not human.”

Presidential Debates Silent On Climate Change: A first Since 1988?

The past 17 years have been hotter than 1988 — the hottest year ever recorded at the time. Crushing impacts like drought, wildfires, flooding, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are now hitting American communities… Remember Storm Sandy? And all the previous female mad hurricanes?

The US presidential debates needed badly a Sandy to discuss climate change: She came a week late! An climate was thrown out of the window from the organized debates by the polluter multinationals…

In solidarity with the climate activists marching in the streets in Florida, and those blockading the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Texas, leading climate activists from Bill McKibben to Jane Fleming Kleeb have added the CLIMATE SILENCE twibbon before the final presidential debate.

Brad Johnson published on Oct 22, 2012:

1988. That was the year of James Hansen’s now famous congressional testimony on climate change.

And it was also the first year that climate change came up in the presidential debate cycle.

On October 5, 1988, Chicago Tribune reporter Jon Margolis asked Vice Presidential candidates Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle about climate change and fossil fuels:

We’ve all just finished – most America has just finished one of the hottest summers it can remember. And apparently this year will be the fifth out of the last nine that are among the hottest on record. No one knows, but most scientists think, that something we’re doing, human beings are doing, are exacerbating this problem, and that this could, in a couple of generations, threaten our descendants’ comfort and health and perhaps even their existence.

The follow-up Question was: “As Vice President what would you urge our government to do to deal with this problem? And specifically as a Texan, could you support a substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels which might be necessary down the road?”

Both agreed that it was time to act. 

In 1992, vice presidential candidate Al Gore shamed Dan Quayle and James Stockdale with an impassioned call to action on climate change as they promoted myths of scientific uncertainty;

In 1996, Jack Kemp attacked Gore for sowing “fear on climate”;

In 2000, Gore made an even stronger case for action as Bush questioned the science;

In 2004, Kerry blasted Bush’s anti-scientific record;

In 2008, even Sarah Palin described how climate change was damaging Alaska

In a debate with John McCain, Barack Obama blasted McCain’s efforts on climate change for their insufficiency:

So it’s easy to talk about this stuff during a campaign, but it’s important for us to understand that it requires a sustained effort from the next president.

Watch a compilation: youtube

Today, the science of climate change is incontrovertible.  Instead of a substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels, consumption and pollution have grown exponentially.

And, yet, if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney don’t discuss climate change tonight, it will be the first time since 1988 that the issue was ignored during a presidential debate cycle.

In 2012, however, the candidates and the moderators are locked in a conspiracy of silence.

The moderators think only “you climate change people” care that the candidates talk energy, the economy, and national security without mentioning the greatest threat to civilization.

The Obama campaign hopes environmentalist voters will be satisfied with targeted messages and offhand mentions in campaign rallies, while the president focuses swing-state attention on a drill-baby-drill, Mr. Coal, all-of-the-above message.

Romney’s silence on climate change allows him to maintain the support of the carbon barons that rule the Republican Party, while still being able to act on the national stage like something other than a pro-pollution conspiracy theorist.

In short, both candidates are more concerned with the political strength of the fossil-funded Tea Party than either the outrage of environmentalists or the immorality of treating climate catastrophe like a fringe concern.

The refusal of the candidates for president and vice president to confront climate change is a clarion call for anyone who cares about the fate of humanity. We shall be represented by two of the four men for the next four years — their choice of silence in the face of calamity renders us mute as a nation.

We have no choice but to redouble our efforts in demanding that our politicians, corporate leaders, and the media recognize that global carbon pollution is the single greatest threat to our economic well being, our health, our national security.

For the past two months, members of Forecast the Facts, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, Energy Action Coalition, and other groups have been protesting the climate silence of both candidates.

We will continue that protest today.

In Florida, young people are marching to the debate location to demand that Romney and Obama break their silence. Across the internet, people are covering their profile pictures with duct tape, symbolizing how the men who call themselves leaders have taken away our voice.

While we can’t guarantee that those in power will respond, one thing we can guarantee today, tomorrow, and every day hence: we will be heard. Please take a moment to join us.

Brad Johnson is the campaign manager of Climate Silence.




November 2012

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