Inflammation and stories on Lebanon

abortions-lebanon
Despite Lebanon’s location in the Middle East, the nation is considered relatively liberal in terms of a woman’s ability to dress how she wants, receive an education and make decisions that affect her own body. Lebanon has strict laws against abortions, but regardless it has become a hot spot for women from many different countries wishing to have abortions.

Lebanon takes relationship statuses from religion, meaning that children born out of wedlock are given very little rights. This causes many women to feel the need to choose between having a child without rights or having an abortion.

In 2012, morning-after pills were legal in the country, but were taken off of shelves in over 20 pharmacies for reasons on which pharmacists would not comment.

Sandrine Atallah, the first sexologist in Lebanon, believes that if there were sexual education programs then there would be fewer abortions. In fact, there have been improvements in a woman’s ability to receive a general education in Lebanon, and with this, women are becoming exponentially more valuable in the workforce. However, many single and unmarried women, like Youmna (name changed), feel the only option they have when they get pregnant is to get an abortion.

According to Youmna, her abortion cost upwards of $500 and she was forced to ask her friends to lend her money. “The clinic was located in a poor neighborhood of Beirut. The only way you could tell it was a clinic was by the paper sign on the door,” said Youmna. Her friend told her after the operation that the doctor put the fetus in a Chivas bottle and then proceeded to toss it in the sink. He later hit on her through phone calls.

In Lebanon women are only allowed to have abortions to keep a woman from dying. One Beirut gynecologist stated that approximately 40% of his patients seeking abortions are traveling from other Middle Eastern countries.

The lack of options for women in these situations is creating a reliance upon desperate measures. Many women are resorting to dangerous drugs that may have the side effect of inducing miscarriages, and many are resorting to risky abortions in order to take back control of their bodies.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Deutsche Welle, Women and Education in Lebanon, Lebanon Daily News, Executive Magazine
Photo: Now

lebanon-library-faiths
Tripoli, Lebanon, a city that prides itself as an intellectual hub of the world, suffered devastating losses in early January when unknown arsonists set fire to a valued library, destroying two thirds of its contents. Saeh Library, translated as “Travelers Library,” contained over 80,000 rare religious and philosophical texts, which some speculate may have been the motivation behind the attacks.

Tripoli has a starkly divided demographic of Christian, Sunni, and Shi’ite inhabitants among several other religions prominent in the area. Father Ibrahim Sarouja, the Greek Orthodox priest who is the library’s founder, is well known and loved in the community for preaching religious tolerance and harmony between neighbors.

An unknown security source reported to authorities that the fire was started in direct response to an anti-Islamic pamphlet found in one of the library’s book, which allegedly took a derogatory stance towards the prophet Muhammad. This would make the fire another tragic instance of sectarian violence that already plagues Lebanon.

The book burning has received significant outreach from Tripoli’s Muslim community, however. Salafist cleric Sheik Salem Rafei stated, “Islam denounces any unjust act against anyone,” and was highly critical of the attack. Many other Muslim leaders in the city, who have also spoken against the attack, share his opinion and are willing to do whatever political measure is necessary to make amends.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, also condemned the arson, exclaiming, “We denounce the burning of the library and reject any harm being done to Tripoli and its people, as it has been, and will remain, the city of the world and of intellectuals.”

Sarouja has found the communal response to the fire overwhelmingly up-lifting. Hundreds have come out to assist with clean up efforts and donate books to refurbish the library. Since January, $25,000 has been raised through online crowd-funding. The expected amount required to repair and replace what has been lost is $35,000.

To quote the priest, “(It was) a great source of joy for me that the burning of this library brought together Muslims and Christians, and especially clergy and Muslim sheiks.”

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Los Angeles Times, NPR, Huffington Post
Photo: CNN

us_response_to_syrian_refugee_crisis
CNN reports that the U.S. only accepted 30,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year. Over the past three years, civil war has claimed the lives of 50,000 Syrians and produced 2.3 million refugees, half of them children.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees wants to settle 30,000 of these people this year.

Yet, in the past, the United States has led the world in resettlement and humanitarian efforts.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said that the United States’ overly broad immigration bars are preventing Syrian refugees from taking asylum here — approximately 135,000 refugees have applied for asylum in the U.S.

The small nations surrounding Syria have welcomed refugees. Lebanon and Jordan began accepting refugees early on with individual families taking friends, family members and even strangers into their homes. Refugee camps were later built to house Syrians.

Lebanon has taken in more than 860,000 asylum seekers, more than 20% of its entire population. The town of Arsal, with a population of only 35,000, had taken in 19,000 refugees when it received an additional 20,000 in November.

Some 700,000 Syrian refugees are residing in Turkey. While 200,000 of these are being housed in 21 refugee camps, the remainder have found shelter in towns and cities.

While these countries have been generous, they do not have the space or resources to house this number of refugees and are beginning to see a rise in social and economic tensions. Schools and hospitals are running out of space and incomes have been dropping as residents compete for work.

The U.S. Department of State and USAID have been major sources of funding for humanitarian programs, providing basic necessities such as food, water, tents and medical supplies.

The United States has provided $300 million to Jordan since 2012. It has helped the country to expand its social services to be able to house Syrian refugees, for example 5 schools were built and 62 others were expanded.

However the U.S. is still lagging behind other countries in resettlement. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war only 90 Syrians have found asylum in the United States. In contrast, Sweden has accepted 14,700 refugees and Germany has accepted 18,000.

Both Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Lindsay Graham are pushing for immigration reform that will allow for the acceptance of more Syrian refugees into the U.S.

– Elizabeth Brown

Sources: CNN, U.S. Department of State, U.S. News, Think Progress
Photo: UN News Centre

syria war
There are now over two million Syrians registered as refugees with the UNHCR. The vast majority of the refugees have fled to neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. The massive influx of people has caused tensions between the residents of the countries and refugees trying to escape conflict. Many Syrian refugees are fleeing their war torn country with little to no items, hoping to start over in a new country. Citizens in many countries have been less than welcoming to refugees due to overstretched resources and inadequate aid from other countries.

The locals have grown wary of being outnumbered by so many refugees. They are not eager to let them establish roots in an area that cannot accommodate more people staying there permanently. In addition to limited resources, there are political and ethnic sensitivities that add to the strain between residents and refugees.

Lebanon has received over 800,000 refugees as of December. Lebanon is a small country west of Syria that is roughly the size of Delaware. Resources were already stretched providing for Lebanon’s four million citizens and the past two years have brought a 20% population increase from refugees alone. In November 2013, the first refugee camp was opened on the border of Syria and Lebanon to accommodate the influx of refugees pushed out of Syria by increased fighting in the area. In the area surrounding the camp, refugees greatly outnumber the locals living in the area. In one case, an informal camp that housed seasonal Syrian migrant workers for years before the civil war, was burned to the ground.

Tensions rose when the landlords who owned the land the camp was built on, ordered the occupants to leave and gave them a 24-hour deadline. The villagers claimed refugees staying in the camp assaulted a local disabled man and returned before the 24 hours were up with Molotov cocktails, quickly igniting the camp. The mayor of the village claimed the fire started due to infighting between the residents in the camp. A local doctor concluded there was no evidence of an assault and the Syrian Opposition Coalition, working to remove Assad from office, called the eviction of the camp “inhumane and unethical.”

Jordan borders Syria to the south. Six million people live in Jordan and approximately 500,000 Syrians refugees have entered the country. Like Lebanon, resources in Jordan are already stretched thin and the massive influx of refugees is causing further strain and tension. In an interview with the New York Times, Syrian refugee Noman Sarhan said Jordanians tend to lump Syrians together into one group and blame them for many of the country’s issues. Sarhan came to Jordan 2012 and started a business in the city of Mafraq, but is still looked at as a refugee.

Many Syrian refugees entering Jordan have opted to move into cities rather than stay in camps. Moving into cities allows newcomers a better chance to get a job or establish a business similar to one they had in Syria. Syrians moving in and getting jobs starting business sometimes comes at the expense of a Jordanian, causing discord between the hosts and the refugees. Refugees and government officials fear that unless conditions drastically improve, they will continue to face hostility from residents in their host country.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: New York Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Post
Photo: Giphy.com

lebanon_homophobia_protest
In 2006, The Pew Global Attitudes Project poll revealed that 79 percent of Lebanese people thought that homosexuality “should be rejected.” Such a high percentage can be considered as quite high by some western and more liberal regional standards (Israel and Turkey were in the 50 percent rejection range.) Compared to more conservative Middle Eastern countries, however, Lebanon is considered to be more progressive concerning the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens.

In Egypt’s Pew research poll only one percent of people said that homosexuality should be accepted. On the other hand, however, in other countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, a gay person can be jailed, lashed, or put to death.

More liberal attitudes on homosexuality are largely associated with Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, where there is an underground, but lively gay culture.

It is in Beirut that Helem became the Arab world’s first LGBT advocacy group in 2001 and continues to this day, to be a powerful force against homophobia and abuse. Their stated primary goal is to rid Lebanon of Article 534, which outlaws “unnatural sexual intercourse.”

Though the law is not commonly used against homosexuals (a landmark 2009 ruling stated that Article 534 did not pertain to them), the wording of the law still provides justification for action to be taken against LGBT individuals within the safety of a vague legal framework.

Police took such action in July 2012, raiding a movie theater after a television show called it a “gay house.” They arrested 36 people, who were subsequently subjected to anal exams to allegedly confirm or deny their homosexuality. Even a doctor who performed the exams bluntly stated, “These tests prove absolutely nothing.”

Following the 2012 cinema raid, Lebanon’s Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi told the British Broadcasting Corporation, “From a humanitarian point of view, this is totally unacceptable.” He said he asked the Prosecutor General for clarification on laws concerning homosexuality and anal tests. All that resulted, however, was a memorandum calling for “restraint.”

In April 2013, the police force raided a LGBT bar in Dekwaneh, a conservative town near Beirut, and arrested several patrons. Those taken into custody were stripped and photographed, reportedly so the police could accurately identify their sex.

The Interior Minister of Lebanon’s interim government lauded the 2013 bar raid, and reiterated, “Lebanon is opposed to homosexuality.”

Calling anal exams “acts of shame,” Human Rights Watch reported the story of “Nadim,” who was initially arrested for suspicion that his brother sold drugs. However, when officers found phone numbers of known gay men in his phone, they physically and emotionally tortured him, forced him to sign a confession of his homosexuality, and subjected him to an anal exam.

At the same time, the Lebanese Psychological Association was the first in the Arab world to declare in July 2013 that homosexuality is not a disease. It stated, “Homosexuality in itself does not cause any defect in judgment, stability, reliability or social and professional abilities.” The association also criticized the practice of gay conversion therapy as scientifically baseless.

The Lebanese Broadcast Company reported a scathing criticism of the 2012 cinema raid, calling Lebanon “the republic of shame.” Citizens also took to social media to express their outrage—on both sides—about a topic not typically discussed openly.

With reports from October 2013, concerning the Beirut International Film Festival, banned the French gay love story “Stranger by the Lake” due to “obscene scenes of kissing between gay men…naked men, and sexual intercourse between men,” it is unclear what the future is for LGBT rights in Lebanon.

When asked by the BBC about Article 534, Justice Minister Qortbawi stated, “The law is a mirror of a society. And I think we need a lot of time before we get that far.”

– Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: Bekhsoos, Irin, BBC: End to Anal Exams, Huffington Post, The Daily Star, Y Net News, Raw Story, Reuters, BBC: Gay-Friendly Reputation Challenged, The Guardian