When I first moved to the United States, I expected to face hostility and animosity due to my Arab features. Fortunately, my English language skills and pronunciation has kept me on the low radar and less of a target for those looking for trouble, although I cannot say the same about my thick dark beard that acts like a magnet for suspicion.
The first stereotype I faced when I moved here was:
Arab = Muslim = Suspicious(not to use the terrorist word)
Many Lebanese try to explain that they are not the typical Arabs that the Western world knows about. The camel-riding, desert-dwelling, filthy rich, jilbab-wearing type of arabs who pronounce the “P” as a “B”. While some travelers might related to that, to the average American, an Arab is an Arab. Some Lebanese might even go as far as to deny their Arab identity and relate themselves to the Phoenicians.
I am obviously biased here, but with the most objectivity that I can commit to, I can say that Lebanese, for the most part, do have a good reputation of education, language skills, business and work ethic. Yes, some of them do spread the negative image of gangsters and drug dealers, but for the most part, Lebanese work really hard in countries of immigration and do leave a good impression in their communities. In the end, every tree produces some bad apples among its best.
Post 9/11, things have become harder for the Lebanese diaspora in their new host countries, juts like other Arab nationalities. As always though, the Lebanese shall always be jinxed by the actions of their politicians at home.
For those of you who may not have heard, Hezbollah has been accused of the tourist bus bombing in Bulgaria. I will not dwell into the politics behind such accusations, for what matters to me is how the Lebanese diaspora will be affected by such accusations.
Two of the accused bombers were linked to Hezbollah, one carrying a Canadian passport and the other an Australian passport . They are both said to have departed to Sofia, Bulgaria from the Lebanese International (and only) airport.
Only one day after such accusations, various countries started tightening their surveillance over Lebanese residing at home. While Europe studies a proposal to list Hezbollah under a terrorist organization, Canada is already considering revoking citizenship of dual nationals tied to terror. Ironically, even Libya kicked off an “undeclared” campaign to expel Lebanese suspected to be tied to Hezbollah.
I remember returning to Lebanon in December 2009, with a layover in Frankfurt. Travelling on my Lebanese passport, I had to apply for a visa simply to pass through the airport. Due to weather conditions, our flight to Beirut was cancelled (not delayed). The airlines was generous to offer hotel accommodation for its passengers, but only for Europeans and North Americans. I remember walking with a Lebanese family I met towards the immigration officer booth to be denied entry while they continued because they had dual citizenship. I also clearly remember how it felt to spend the night on the wooden benches of that restaurant, with a pregnant women crying all night right across from me. Talk about human rights, huh!!!
Here is a recent story of a Lebanese business woman who was denied entry to a European country, jailed for 24 hours without food or water, despite having a valid visa.
It seems that Lebanese politics seem to follow us wherever we go.
Isn’t it enough that they have kicked us out of OUR country, separated us from our family and friends?
Isn’t it enough they deny us of our basic human rights, such as freedom of speech, electricity, proper education and basic civil rights such as civil marriage and gender equality?
They continue to cast the shadows of their corrupt methods on our lives abroad.
Where shall we go, move to another planet?