A cruel Lebanese sense of humour

A cruel Lebanese sense of humour
It is time to deal with the racist ‘jokes’ that have become a part of our culture.
4 min read
20 Sep, 2014
Syrian refugees in Lebanoon face growing racism [Getty]

Scene one: A father directs his four-year-old son to beat a young Syrian refugee’s head with a club while the child’s mother and siblings cheer him on.


The YouTube video sparked a social media fury, and Lebanese police moved to prosecute those who posted it online. But the media flurry quickly came to an end. It was all just “a joke”. At least, that is how the man who posted the video explained the incident to the media, arm-in-arm with the father of the beaten child. And so ended the story; no one followed up on the Syrian family that had been living in Beirut, nor did anyone follow up on the welfare of the child in the video. Life went on as normal.


Scene two: Three Syrian children curled up in a corner of a house resembling a cave appear in a video, again posted on social media. A knife appears, and a voice threatens to slaughter the children. The threat was made after the beheading of two Lebanese soldiers by a terrorist group. And even though no one knew the identity of the killers, the people blamed for carrying out this act were displaced Syrians, since it took place in Syria. The voice in the video addressing the children yells: “You are Islamic State!”


Once more, the video sparked fury on social media, but things soon calmed down. Again, the Lebanese media defended its citizens against accusations of racism. It was just a joke; the perpetrator appeared on television screens laughing and telling his story, and none of the people who watched the video were touched by the children’s tears. The question is: how are these little children, who are not used to the cruel Lebanese sense of humour, ever going to forget this incident?


     The question is: how are these little children, who are not used to the cruel Lebanese sense of humour, ever going to forget this incident?

A complex superiority


This “Lebanese humour” did not start with Syrian refugees; it has been here for years. The Lebanese are not ashamed of practicing their racism under the illusion of “superiority and leadership”. It is a general attitude towards the “other,” even if this “other” is absent.


The “other” here doesn’t even need to be an outsider to the “unique formula” that comprises the Lebanese state, even though the presence of such an outsider unites the Lebanese people in their racism. It started with Palestinians being blamed for the long Lebanese civil war. They act as if an outsider had ruined this unique Lebanese formula, as if the happy life in Lebanon would not have been ruined if it wasn’t for that pesky outsider from beyond the border.


Even though this formula is often mentioned as a joke, some are completely convinced of its reason. There is always an “other” responsible for disasters in Lebanon. After the Palestinians, who are still suffering from Lebanese “superiority”, it is now the Syrians’ turn - and it is all a great big “joke”. However, even in the absence of “outsiders”, the Lebanese people would still not be able to contain their racism. If they cannot deploy it against other nationalities, they use it against other sects.


Dividing rules


The years of war and what came after were full of racism, directed against rival communities. The sense of personal superiority upon which this was based was not exclusive to nationality, but became associated with both nationality and sect. The “most honorable people”, “quantity and quality” and “herds” were all expressions Lebanese leaders used against each other at various times. It resulted in wars, deaths, displaced and missing people. But it always ended with a kiss-and-make-up session and the deception of the country’s citizens. After all, it was all just a joke.


Lebanese matters are managed with this simplicity and inconstancy, at least in public. But in secret, matters are very different - especially as the wind fuelling the fire of racism never stops blowing, whether this fire rages against an outsider or someone closer, as long as they are somehow “different”. Racism was left to grow into a beast waiting to pounce on its prey. The presence of the outsider unites this racism into a predatory beast, even if temporarily, before it turns inward to consume itself. And it’s all a “cruel joke” - the price of which is being paid today by vulnerable Syrian refugees.


This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Al Araby Al Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.