The confessional system in Lebanon was designed in response to the diversity of cultures and religions in Lebanon’s sectarian society. However, Lebanese immigrant communities are commonly understood through their shared national identity. In Australia, the majority of Lebanese migrants emigrated from Northern Lebanon and settled in Western Sydney. This has resulted in the dominant image of Lebanese living in Australia constructed academically and discursively in the national imaginary through the experiences of Western Sydney Lebanese who emigrated from Northern Lebanon. Drawing on 38 semi-structured interviews from four generations of Lebanese migrants from Marj el-Zhour living in Wollongong, this study explores how Lebanese Muslim migrants living in Wollongong maintain the social relations of their transnational diaspora village, navigate questions surrounding their citizenship and political loyalty, and form their own localised ethnic and religious identities in the contemporary globalised multicultural nation-state.
Like many high immigrant intake Western nations, Australia’s immigration policy in the 1970s and 1980s was one which asked unskilled migrants to assimilate and succumb to their proletarianization. However, a fundamental morality of social reciprocity fostered in the village of Marj el-Zhour, challenged the process of individuation and independence promoted by an individualist Australian capitalism. I draw on Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical framework of field, habitus, capital, and illusio to understand how the social relations of reciprocity that are fostered in Marj el-Zhour continue to orient and guide the migrants when navigating the new social, political, and economic environments they entered in the migration process.
Migration studies documents the ways multicultural societies are comprised through the formation of ethnic communities. Drawing on the theoretical framework of Renato Rosaldo, I chart the increasing visibility of Lebanese ethnicity as marking one culturally visible and therefore signifying their distance from the dominant Anglo-Celtic culture of Australian society. Following the events of the 9/11 Islamist terrorist attacks in New York, international migration was increasingly framed as a security problem in the West and debate about Muslim difference in Australia and throughout the western world shifted from a discussion about cultural compatibility to a politics of loyalty. The marrying of a “security threat” and “politics of loyalty” symbolised through a transnationalised Muslim Other marks Lebanese Muslim citizens as visible through an essentialised cultural difference. In this environment, there is a conditionality of Muslim citizenship on the basis Muslim citizens continuously demonstrate their loyalty to the nation-state. This loyalty is signified by their commitment to achieving cultural invisibility. Therefore, I explore the various strategies Lebanese Muslims adopt to reduce their distance from the dominant Anglo-Celtic culture and overcome the conditionality of the citizenship in Australian society. However, Lebanese Muslim migrants living in Wollongong are not merely victims who endure, lacking agency in a social field which internationalises the conditionality of their citizenship. Rather, by understanding their experiences through the enduring influence of a culture of moral reciprocity and the generative properties of the habitus, I illustrate the ways Lebanese Muslim migrants in Wollongong actively engage with and affect social change in Australian society.