Rand El Zein
Arab Television Celebrating Resilience and Survival in the Syrian Conflict
Resilience represents the ability of an individual to recover in certain violent and/or unjust situations, and to regain the ‘freedom’ of acting and deciding. It is an individual’s attempt to make daily life bearable by adjusting to disruptions. Granted, resilience is something, we, as human beings, naturally acquire in order to survive. More importantly, resilience is a trait that the impoverished have already taken possession of as their only road towards survival.
Throughout the Syrian conflict, the Lebanese regime employed different measures designed to make living conditions intolerable for the displaced Syrian communities, as a way to pressure them to leave the country. These include policing strategies to control the mobility of the displaced population and other measures to create unwelcome spaces (Sanyal 2018) – e.g., forcing the displaced Syrian communities to “dismantle their own shelters’ concrete walls and roofs and replace them with less protective materials, or face army demolition of their homes” (Human Rights Watch 2019). Modes of resilience appeared as the Lebanese regime heightened subjugation, while the displaced Syrian communities aimed to maintain a ‘normal’ life by remaining in place and adjusting to the failures of infrastructure.
In the mainstream Arab television news, that I have analyzed in the context of a discourse analysis, the images of the displaced Syrian women practicing ‘self-resilience’ were widely perpetuated. The displaced Syrian women were shown taking part in vocational and cash-for-work programs, which are poverty-alleviation programs aimed to teach the participants the practice of ‘self-resilience’. The news heavily focused on the programs and the humanitarian initiatives behind them, while engaging very little with the participants. The displaced Syrian women were represented as poor, passive, and apolitical. Hence their acts of self-resilience were turned away from their states of vulnerability and impoverishment, and by that the news depoliticized the displaced Syrian women’s plight.
Assuredly, these images at the same time became a form of celebration to the displaced Syrian communities’ survival. Their survival was branded as an object of fascination for the television viewers, and as an inspiration to other vulnerable groups in society who are also struggling to make a living. Furthermore, the perpetrators of violence, who forced the Syrian communities to seek exile in the first place, and forced the displaced Syrian communities to dismantle their own shelters, were rarely mentioned in the television news narratives.
In these contexts, the term self-resilience became part of a wider neoliberal discourse, in which the good subjects constantly respond to any situation in resilient ways. Their ability to bounce back, hence became the norm. Sara Mourad (2020), a researcher in communications and gender studies, writes:
“Resilience is a marketing stunt for a political and economic system that runs on crises, that manufactures crises in order to sustain itself. Resilience celebrates survival at the expense of justice. It is the rhetorical and symbolic symptom of the normalization of injustice.”
Given all that, the question I want to raise here is: How can the resilient subjects as well as the media, draw the line between the type of resilience that romanticizes losses and dispossessions and becomes a commodity of neoliberal citizenship, and the other type which comes, for instance, in forms of humor, laughter, and silliness, as a positive personality trait that helps heal wounds, as a way to achieve more positive outcomes?
Mourad, S. (2020, August 16). Aftershock. Retrieved August 31, 2020 from www.rustedradishes.com/aftershock/?fbclid=IwAR3sKPe_S5ESA1pM3z0G-cy_Gmy4fjpvpwsmVWaulDWrGvk0gnJuGmjMcZk
Sanyal, R. (2018). Managing through ad hoc measures: Syrian refugees and the politics of waiting in Lebanon. Political Geography, 66, 67–75. doi: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2018.08.015
Human Rights Watch. (2019). Lebanon: Syrian Refugee Shelters Demolished. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/05/lebanon-syrian-refugee-shelters-demolished
Rand El Zein is a researcher from Beirut, Lebanon. She obtained her Doctorate in Communication Studies from the University of Salzburg in Austria, where she wrote her monograph: „Between Violence, Vulnerability, Resilience and Resistance: Arab Television News on the Experiences of Syrian Women during the Syrian Conflict“.