Monday, March 12, 2012

Class in Lebanese

Lebanon is one country I consider myself quite familiar with; I’ve been visiting Lebanon every summer since I was a kid. But, this year was the first time I actually visited Lebanon by myself, for the sole purpose of discovering it on my own, not just to visit family. I grew up in a culture that is very politically involved and knew quite a lot about the political situations in the Arab world, which means that I was quite aware of the different political and religious sects in Lebanon. But of course, it’s very different when you realized all these things for yourself.

Lebanon has been under a very shaky government for a while now, and has been through many, many different wars, all related to the different sects within the country. Even though there are numerous political parties in Lebanon, most of the parties play very small roles in the government itself. However, whether you were a Sunni Muslim, Shiaa Muslim, Christian, Palestinian or Syrian, all these parties play a big role in your involvement and interactions within the country.

Being a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon, I always realized how racist many Lebanese are against Palestinians. Like I mentioned in one of my previous post, "Will they ever belong?", Palestinians cannot work outside refugee camps and suffer from many unequal treatments in Lebanon.

Well, in this trip to Lebanon I realized that this society wasn’t only considered racist to Palestinians, but any person of color, African, Indian or Nepalese, was automatically listed under the lower working class minority. This makes them one of the minority groups in Lebanon, being singled out for unequal treatment and collective discrimination.

During my trip, I bumped into a Sudanese friend of mine who brought this subject to my attention. This was her third visit to Lebanon and she stated that most people automatically thought she was a maid or a worker. “I've been to so many countries and never in my life have I ever been subjected to so much ignorance and discrimination,” she said. She also said that everyone, including maids and workers, only spoke to her in English and were so shocked that she could speak Arabic.

I witnessed this myself when I walked into a mobile shop with the same friend. As we tried to enter the store, one guy stood at the door of the shop and gave my friend very cruel stares as if she wasn’t supposed to enter the store. It took him some time to finally move out of our way and let us in. When she asked the guy in the shop for a sim card, he didn’t seem to understand what she was saying, even though she spoke very clearly. However, when I asked, he seemed to understand exactly what I wanted and helped us right away.

This isn’t a topic that people really speak of, however many organizations and groups have been trying to make people more aware of this. IndyACT launched the “Anti Racism Movement” in Lebanon in 2010. They started this movement in 2010 and one of their reasons was that many people were being discriminated against and “prevented from entering [shops] because of skin color or prejudice and definitely because of the weakness and/or indifference of civil society actors in dealing with these phenomena and the absence of a criminalizing and binding law that affects these racist practices in Lebanon.”

In nearly every country in the world, there is always a connection between race/ethnicity and class. People in Lebanon are definitely stratified according to achieved characteristics, like their incomes. Class plays a huge role in a person’s social stratification and socialization into the society. In Lebanon, a person of lower class could be discriminated against and treated unfairly. If I was to talk about the Asian and black workers in Lebanon, I would say that they are stratified into both caste and class systems, where their race and their achieved characteristics definitely play a part in their lifestyle. Since the society in Lebanon has its ways of categorizing by race, and because of an Asian or black worker’s expected income and obvious race and ethnicity, it is pretty hard for one of those workers to move up the class system and be assimilated into the Lebanese culture.

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