❊ Crime, Outsiders and Economics

A question worth pondering in the wake of the Myriam Achkar crime is this: Why did the church of Sahel Alma employ a poor Syrian man with a military background to be a janitor? There must a lot of unemployed people in Sahel Alma and the nearby villages, but would any one of them consider doing that job for the same amount of money?

The purpose of the question is not to pin the blame for the hideous crime on the church, but to remember that in the world we live in, we all need “outsiders” to do the jobs the locals are refusing to do. The story is the same for Syrian janitors in Sahel Alma, Egyptian gas station workers in Burj hammoud, Morrocan burger flippers in Paris and Mexican nannies in Texas.

We in Lebanon are so caught up with the sectarian explanation of social ills that we are forgetting that this is a global economic and social issue that many countries are trying to deal with.

The not-so-comfortable truth is that outsiders, especially poor ones, commit more crimes. They do it because they lack the restraining effect of shame and belonging to a community. Think of it this way: Anonymous commentators on blogs write more vicious things than people who use their real names. They do it because their anonymity protects them from shame.

But that doesn’t mean that we should vilify all outsiders, whether in Burj Hammoud, Ketermaya or Sahel Alma, and constantly remind them that they’re outsiders. Perhaps by doing so we are alienating them more and making them even more dangerous.

The small, homogeneous town where everyone knows everyone is becoming a thing of the past. We should find new and creative ways to fight crime, which should include a law enforcement aspect (better policing and monitoring) , but also a social aspect relating to awareness and communicating with outsiders.

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  • CopyCat

    Mr. Mustafa, give it up. Lebanon will never change. Everything has to be a conspiracy. If the perp was, say, her uncle (happened many times before), it would all be hush-hush and no one would have said a word afterwards. But when it is an opportunity for racism and lynching (especially Syrians and Palestinians) then who’d want to miss that in Lebanon? It’s never our fault, always the gharib’s fault (gharib may actually include Lebanese people who are not Christian or who are Shiite for example, because their culture is “alien” to the enlightened Lebanese, you see). The civil war? the Gharib’s fault. But in 1860, who was the gharib when the Lebanese butchered one another, as the legend goes, over a game of marbles?
    What you say is true. But did you hear about MTV’s racist report about the foreign workers in Burj Hammoud? there is a whole trend of fascist anti-immigrant sentiment being fueled, and this is but the latest episode of it. Even Aoun’s christians who claim to be closer to the other are allying themselves with the syrian regime over a racist mantra, i.e. supporting a rule by a minority over a majority of muslims, to protect Syrian christians and Lebanese christians not far behind. The Christians, i dare generalize, are lurching further to the right, for both justified and irrational reasons, but what they don’t realize is that this is in the end self-destructive. they need to build bridges with the “other”, because demographics are not on their side, and in an Arab Spring where Islamists are empowered, they have only two choices: Become partners or emigrate to Canada.

  • gk

    I am wondering myself too! When Lebanese unemployment is high why non-Lebanese are being hired instead of Lebanese?

  • CopyCat

    because they accept less money, duh?

    • Gabriel

      Correct. In addition to that, they are willing to accept lowly jobs that many Lebanese now consider beneath them (trashmen, gas station workers, janitors). It’s the same as with Mexican immigrants in the US and North Africans in Western Europe.

      • Craig

        Gabriel: In addition to that, they are willing to accept lowly jobs that many Lebanese now consider beneath them (trashmen, gas station workers, janitors). It’s the same as with Mexican immigrants in the US and North Africans in Western Europe.

        But these aren’t immigrants, are they? Aren’t they guest workers who will never be allowed Lebanese nationality? Anyway, immigrants have always tended to take the unskilled labor jobs when they first arrive. Most of them eventually move on to something better. It’s not really accurate to say that citizens consider such jobs “beneath them”. When I was in high school a lot of my friends did those jobs to earn extra money. A lot of high school dropouts and people who just have trouble holding down a job tend to do that kind of work as well. The problem we have in the US is we have so MANY (illegal) immigrants now that they’ve completely taken over that job market which means Americans who can’t get anything better than “janitor” or “burger flipper at McDonald’s” are permanently unemployed.

        Sorry for the interruption but that’s been a pet peeve of mine since I first heard my gramps (who retired pretty well off after a long career in business) first say that the US needed all those illegals because Americans wouldn’t do that kind of work. Meanwhile, I was sharing classrooms with kids who came from families who’d been on welfare for two or three generations. As if the US doesn’t have enough Americans who have no skills but need work, right? My gramps didn’t (and doesn’t) know any better because America was different when he was a kid and his only interactions with people who weren’t at least middle-class amounted to telling them what to do.

  • G-man

    I just have one small question, since I’m reading a lot here that “if this was a christian raping a woman in Da7ieh”, or “when muslims blow up alcohol shops in the South”, etc…, so is this guy a Sunni or a Shi3e or what?

  • Peter


    You should run for President of Ghana.

    I wonder how you are capable of running a business in black Africa maintaing your blog as you do?

    You obviously are treating and paying your Ghanian employees more than Syrians to maintain your blogging habits and your family over there :)

    • fatsamurai

      “black” Africa?

      • Peter

        Yes, Fatso. Ghana is in Black Africa!

        Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunis and Morocco are NOT in “Black” Africa.

        Get yourself an African education.

      • Samer Nasser

        Peter, it’s you who should get an education, and update your terminology. The contemporary, and yes more politically correct, way to describe what you’re talking about is: SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA (which means ‘Africa below the Sahara [desert]’)!

        And yes, North Africa is considered part of the Arab World (which often receives the alternate designation of ‘MENA’, which stands for ‘Middle East North Africa’). Its geographically separated from the rest of the African continent by the massive and extremely harsh Sahara Desert (which gets its name from the Arabic word for ‘desert’, which is ‘Sa7ra2’).

  • http://blog.libnanews.com/frenchy frenchy

    The employer is not Sahel Alma Church but it s a private monestry belonging to Al Khazen Family !
    I live in Sahel Alma to know some stuff about how things are working out here and your logic have some weaknesses.
    I know some relatives of Myriam Ashkar, some of their cousins are orphans, their parents were killed when a Syrian Bomb killed both their parents in 88.
    I can tell you more but I guess silence is better is better to respect this family as they already suffered a lot.

    • Dude

      so what is your point??

  • Jihad

    First, you’re resorting to sociological fallacies that are not supported by any scientific study. And your “theory” about anonymity does not hold: Those racists that were shown on LBC did not shy away from putting their filthy inner sentiments upfront, taking into account the loss of life.

    Second, your use of the word “outsiders” plays into the hands of those racists in Lebanon that vomit disgusting commentaries on a daily basis in newspapers (al-Mustaqbal, an-Nahar, al-Joumhouria) and on TV (LBC, MTV, OTV).

    These workers are neither outsiders, nor foreigners. This right-wing Maronite xenophobic discourse should be fought and not mimicked under the guise of “sociological” fantasies. These workers are treated like shit and never let to feel that they belong to the place they live in even if they’ve been working there for years if not decades.

    Is the life of a 28-year old “virgin” far superior to the 11 lives that were taken recently by lunatics affiliated with the Zionist (called Lebanese) Forces?

    They bring them to Lebanon and try to give them Lebanonese citizenship to tip the sectarian balance, but when things go wrong, they are called Syrians, Kurds, Palestinians.

    • Charbel

      You are disgusting

  • http://beirutspring.com Mustapha

    Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the term “black africa”. There’s nothing derogatory about the word black and even Africans themselves describe themselves thus with pride. Herman Cain doesn’t like the term “African American” and prefers to call himself a black American..
    Perhaps sub-Saharan africa is more technically correct (after all, there’s a lot of whites in south africa), but black africa is just fine..

  • Samer Nasser

    Mus, I told myself I shouldn’t comment on this blog post, but I guess my urges are getting the better of me right now.

    I just want to tell you that from where I sit here in the USA, your statement, repeated below, would be considered factually incorrect and politically abhorrent:

    “The not-so-comfortable truth is that outsiders, especially poor ones, commit more crimes.”

    To begin with, I don’t know what you mean by “outsider”, a term you use throughout the post. I assume you mean “immigrant”. “Outsider” is a word that is used when describing small cliques, but I never see it used in a broader economic context.

    What you did in this statement was “bait” poor immigrants. Again, I realize that things are very different in Lebanon than here in the US, but I want to tell you that in the US, your statement oftens gets made by the occasional ultra-right commentator or politician, but is quickly debunked by economists and activists as more an embarrassing projection of conservative, xenophobic prejudice than an astute grasp of economic reality. To the last man, these politicians and commentators face storms of criticism and are eventually forced to apologize and backtrack on their statements.

    The nuance, from what I understand, is that the immigrant poor is economically different from the “native” poor. Yes, the picture often depicted of poor neighbourhoods in the US is that they are blighted and ridden with crime (I have no idea how accurate this picture is and whether the statistics corroborate it or not). But poor “foreign” immigrants who have unobstructed upward mobility and fair prospects for eventual full naturalization and equal citizenship have been shown to be safe, remarkably industrious and a net boon to the economy.

    The rest of your dubious commentary about “shame”, “community” and “anonymity” would similarly be considered bunk, if not also downright strange, in the US. America is all about having the opportunity to build your own community and make your own name for yourself, not necessarily being handed down either. Immigrants both rich and poor get it, and given the opportunity they move fast and display steadfast initiative in arriving at a state of full social, cultural and economic normalization.

    In fact, if anything immigrants as a group have been shown to perform better than “native” Americans in a whole variety of ways, but I’ll stop here on elaborating since I am no expert on the subject and don’t have the statistics to back me up.

    Again, I realize that one simply cannot compare a massive, practically continental country like the USA to a small enclave like Lebanon. In my opinion, Lebanon will continue to be plagued with social, economic and political problems as long as it’s constrained to such a small geographical size, and will always be considered a special, extenuating case until, if ever, it can join the ranks of more normal, larger countries.

    In any case, you should never make statements of the above referenced sort without citing a source from a credible academic authority, with a specific mandate to study things like this, like a researcher at a university or a published paper in a journal.

    Let’s fact it, this type of commentary is way beyond your intellectual authority as a mere community blogger, and making unsubstantiated and potentially denigrative statements about others is simply irresponsible.

    • Peter

      Sammy Boy,

      I’d recommend you get yourself an “African” education walking the streets of Ghana, Gabon, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast, Congo to name a few … before you ask anyone to update your “American” terminology of who is what and where around the world.

      Sub-Saharan who ?

      Spare me the BS of those that segregated White from Black and who are trying to turn the world into grey in order to “whitewash” their crimes by being “politically” correct to get away for their forefathers treatment of what has and remains proud “BLACK” Africans!

      • Mustapha

        Even our football team in Ghana is called “black stars”. Blackness indeed is a term of pride in many African countries..

    • Mustapha

      As to your commentary on my post,

      perhaps I should have done a better job explaining what I mean by “outsider”. This was in the context of the Myriam Achkar murder, where a Syrian worker lived amongst a tight-knit community in a small town. He was an outsider. He doesn’t join social events in the community, doesn’t marry from that community and his kids wouldn’t play with that community’s kids.

      Minority races in metropolitan areas do not qualify as outsiders (in my definition). That said, in the Lebanese context, the small-town mentality persists even in urban boroughs like Burj Hammoud, and foreigners are generally treated like outsiders (heck even Lebanese from different religions can be treated as outsiders)

      I know where you’re coming from (I follow more American politics than I’d like to), and I’m aware that minorities in the US (especially asians) are richer and more educated than average americans.

      But I don’t especially enjoy your projection of American talking points and politics onto a Lebanese environment, which is very different by your own admission (America, after all, is a land of immigrants). If we must compare, I would say that Lebanon is witnessing a resurgence similar to the rise of the right wing in Europe.

      Anyway, I suggest you read Karl’s very good post on Lebanon’s “multiculturalism”, because I think Karl speaks for me on this matter..