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It’s Season Defamation in Lebanon!

It’s Season Defamation in Lebanon!

Wednesday, 1 January, 2020 - 12:30

Jurist and former ambassador Nawaf Salam. Academic and writer Gilbert Achkar. Economist and activist Charbel Nahhas. Publisher and activists Luqman Salim. Academic and activist Makram Rabah… Names that have only two things in common: They are Lebanese nationals and are public figures because of their opinions, positions, roles and work. The differences between them are vast, but they are all honest in what they do and say.

The last few weeks have added a third mutual link among them: They have all been subjected to ugly defamation campaigns over what they have said or believed. This defamation reached its peak with Salam, who did not say a thing in the first place, but after some mistakenly claimed that he was nominated for the Lebanese premiership, he was subject to fierce defamation.

Traitor. Spy. Agent. Racist. These are some of the words used to describe him.

Naturally, diving deep into this swamp of adjectives will not be useful. Any discussion of the insults gives them credibility. Abstaining from getting our hand dirty in this swamp, however, does not mean that we should not reflect on the accumulation of mud.

In Lebanon and elsewhere as well, transitional phases that follow public unrest and revolutions bring out both the best and the worst in people. The first group declares their desire for change for the better, change that serves the public interest. They declare their readiness to sacrifice for the sake of a better reality. They prove that their morality disregards restrictions and censorship.

The second group, if those among them who are among the revolutionaries, publicly declare the difficulty they face in reconciling with themselves and adapting to a broader surrounding. Their tendency to blame others for inconvenient circumstances is exacerbated. They demonstrate that they have internalized the restrictions and validation of censorship and behave like representatives of the regime in their rejection the other. Whoever commits this kind of character assassination without giving it a second thought, would not hesitate, if he or she were to reach power, to commit literal murder.

If a situation like this is accompanied by financial and economic collapse, as is the case in Lebanon, things are made even worse. Anxiety produces fear, and fear produces sharp and untamed emotions to the front, which are malice and hatred. The search for easy targets - easy only because they are unarmed - flourishes, along with conspiracy theories that explain everything. The need for enemies grows and more and more alleged enemies are found.

This kind of behavior, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere, draws its material from trendy conceptions of social struggles: "We are two people," "Either us or them," "Kill or be killed." These are populist simplifications of complicated struggles, simplifications that intoxicate national unity and redeem its advocates all of their responsibility for this toxicity: Defamation of whoever we consider to be among "the other people" becomes acceptable; in fact, it becomes needed and encouraged. Whoever defames becomes a brave soldier aiming their guns at the enemy. It gets to the point where these populist fantasies are sanctified and considered facts, allowing them to defame whoever they believe to be standing in the way of the great salvation an enemy. Defaming these people appears, according to this narrative, equivalent to capturing a spy or removing a harmful parasite standing in the way of justice and hindering the movement of a glorious history.

Moving in the last few years from a weak public discussion and its traditions to a flood of social media strengthens this orientation and gives it claws. The least difference becomes a reason for defamation as the only available means for discussion.

In the wider surroundings, in the region and the world, another intoxicating wind is blowing: a populist language that has dominated political discourse in many countries, including the oldest democracies, and by leaders and people of opinion, including the President of the United States or the British Prime Minister. A country like Russia has become a factory of lies, and this is more important than its actual industries. This trend of fake news and post-truth is well on its way.

Returning to Lebanon, it is worth noting that the majority of defamation cases come from the same place as bullets, i.e. where there are weapons. Since those who have weapons have sanctified their weapons, this sanctity has been extended to their defamation in defense of those weapons, or whatever they consider being in defense of those weapons. This alleged party of God, the arrogant Hezbollah, finds its support in the Aounist: Fragile obscenity on TV, the media, and the tongues of some politicians…

However, when we look at it, defamation commits two crimes: Moral murder that could turn in any second into actual murder justified by a supposedly sacred political position. As for the victims, they are victim to a crime that is couched on lies and characterized by intolerance to a different perspective. We owe our solidarity to those who have been targeted or may be targeted by defamation, especially those we disagree with. The first thing we owe them is salutations.‏ ‏ ‏

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