“Leave to Remain” by Abbas El-Zein is a memoir that reflects on war torn Lebanon to present day discrimination, racism and identity. El-Zein is obsessed with his own self identity and acceptance in Lebanon growing up to the forced perception of who he was seen to be when he migrated to Europe, America and Australia.
In a country where sectarianism is grossly apparent he reflects on the attributes of each of the sects of Islam with raw appreciation and satire. El-Zein displays to the reader that discussion of the sects within Islam are imperative to the peace needed for society to function. He covers the aspects of the Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Aluyeea and Druz elements that make Lebanon such a unique Arab nation.
Sectarianism is a growing concern within Australia and Lebanon with social groups unable to accept the differences within the sects. El-Zein provides the perfect example of how to react to discrimination within your race and how to see the beauty in others beliefs. This issue is significant with all Muslims as these issues are not spoken about freely.
“Leave to Remain” holds a mirror up to society to show what happens when these issues are not spoken about freely. El-Zein leads his life completely driven by non-discrimination no matter what he and his friends are subjected to.
El-Zein covers his family genesis through the struggles of the Ottoman Empire, the Syrian occupation and the invasion and destruction of Lebanon at the hands of Israeli forces. El-Zein acknowledges that each of these major changes in Lebanon has severely impacted his identity but the need to be himself overrides any war crime or oppression.
From a young age he gravitated toward the English language and popular culture of America while as he grew older he became torn to his loyalty of his Lebanese Islamic culture while being the brunt of jokes in movies and racism when he began to travel. He succeeded in receiving his PHD in Civil Engineering while by chance missing car bombs and the South of Beirut being captured by militants while pioneering with his social group the fantastic attributes of modern Islam.
Through the gripes of war in Lebanon, Iraq had now been invaded by forces being led by the US. The majority of people began seeing gross hypocrisy with the reasoning, “the Turks killed more Kurds than Saddam had ever dreamed of. The Israelis had enough nuclear bombs to kill all the Arabs and Jews of the Middle East … The Americans would liberate the Iraqis whether they liked it or not.” Through such social upheaval and fear, the Lebanese continued to rebuild their country where in 2001 the Lebanese pound was worth more than the Australian dollar.
In 2006 El-Zein found himself again torn between Lebanon where the Israeli forces and Hezbollah fought for ground and humanity and Australia where his family lived and his future was to be. As he watched the events unfold through television and the internet he was thrown back to his childhood punctured by war crimes and constant fear that his beloved heartland would become again destitute stomping ground for Israeli boots and defending freedom fighters.
El-Zein accepts yet ignores the stigma of being Lebanese Muslim in Australia. The perception being he is “lucky to be here”, confused by this statement he explores within himself why this could be. A well educated, well skilled man paying high taxes to live in a country of his choice, why should he be lucky when the entire foundation of Australia as a new nation was built on immigration. Yet El-Zein reacts to such discrimination with diplomacy, with no need for anger he acknowledges his self worth and the worth of the people around him who strive to work together to build a cohesive community.
An inspiring and amazing insight into all of our culture and a lesson on acceptance. 5 out of 5.
Book review by Nora – Leave to Remain