Keeping the Faith? Examining the Roles of Faith and Secularism in Syrian Diaspora Organizations in Lebanon (February 2020)

The “Diaspora Organisations in International Affairs” book, edited by Dennis Dijkzeul and Margit Falser is now out! Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and I contributed with the chapter Keeping the Faith? Examining the Roles of Faith and Secularism in Syrian Diaspora Organizations in Lebanon. Here below our abstract.

For more details on the other contributions: https://www.routledge.com/Diaspora-Organizations-in-International-Affairs-1st-Edition/Dijkzeul-Fauser/p/book/9781138589131

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Syrian diaspora organisations (Dos) in Lebanon have been providing diverse forms of support, relief and assistance to Syrian refugees. Whether in areas which are difficult for international providers to access, or in major towns and cities where international actors including the UN, INGOs and state actors have been providing assistance, Syrian Diaspora Organisations (DO)s have played a vital role in providing support and relief to their Syrian fellows. At times, these DO initiatives have been actively funded by international donors or developed in formal partnership with UN agencies and INGOs, while in other contexts they take place on the margins of (or at times in ways that directly challenge) formal humanitarian aid structures.

Against this backdrop, and based on long-standing research vis-à-vis local, national and international responses to displacement from Syria within Lebanon, this chapter examines the diverse roles that faith and secularism play in the initiatives developed by Syrian diaspora organisations based in Lebanon, exploring how and with what effect faith, religion, secularism (and secularist frameworks) relate to Syrian DOs’ relationships with different local, national and international actors, including Syrian refugees, members of host populations and diverse UN Agencies, NGOs and INGOs.

Syrian DOs in Lebanon include organisations established and led by activists, ex-protesters, established Syrian migrant workers, and religious leaders who have ‘become’ relief providers since the crisis broke out. On the one hand, by drawing on interviews with members of a range of Syrian DOs in Lebanon, this chapter explores the personal and collective reasons behind the act of establishing these organisations. On the other hand, it will investigate the social roles played by secular and faith-based DO members who engage in relief work, and their contextual relationship with their international and secular counterparts. This is particularly important in light of the strong financial and political support that a core group of popular secular(ist) Syrian DOs have received from international donors/agencies. In contrast, faith-based diaspora organisations have often been viewed by members of the international community (both in the context of Syria and more broadly) as exiled communities that do not fulfil key international humanitarian principles such as neutrality, impartiality or universality as they are assumed to prioritise political or sectarian dimensions through providing assistance (only or primarily) to their co-nationals/co-ethnics. This secular-centric interpretation of the partialist nature of faith-motivated assistance remains particularly biased towards diaspora groups that mobilise within the global South, where the source of crisis supposedly lies.

By providing examples from Beirut and from northern Lebanon, this chapter will show how DOs’ configuration and engagement with specific international and local communities have been changing since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria in 2011. By analysing the organisational configuration (including partnership models) and the forms of provision of these secular and faith-based DOs, we are particularly interested in examining how intra-community solidarity is (or is not) built within southern host societies through Syrian DOs’ initiatives – this is a dynamic that has received hardly any attention from scholars examining diaspora transnational endeavours.

With the purpose of investigating the human and social geographies of such secular and faith-based DOs, our chapter aims to draw on lessons from anthropological, sociological, and IR studies, in a bid to construct a deeper understanding of secular and faith-based DO-led aid provision and their social impacts in settings of the global South which geographically (and geopolitically) neighbour new and ongoing crises.

Categories: Lebanon, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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