Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Lebanese Racism, Activism, and Crappy Journalism…

IPS carried an article by Mona Alami a few weeks entitled "Lebanon: Racism Legitimized by Law (I believe it was also featured in the Daily Star). I had starred the article to comment on it but got distracted and never did. From the flashy title one would expect reading that Lebanon enacted new laws intended to institutionalize the already rampant racism existing in Lebanese society or at least to provide a better understanding of the existing laws legitimizing racism. But no; Mona has other designs. She starts by making a general statement:

Lebanon has a reputation for openness because of the relative freedom enjoyed by women in comparison to other Middle Eastern countries. But many women face rampant discrimination.

I’m not entirely sure who she is referring to when she says “many women” – she probably means “women of color” or “domestic workers”; I’m not sure as both references are about “women” in general while the article is supposedly about “Legitimized racism”. The confusion does not dissipate when one reads further where the subject turns to “women of color”. Mona declares in the opening paragraph:

“Women driving luxury vehicles with an Asian or African woman relegated to the back seat is a common sight around Beirut. Most domestic workers come from places like the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia”.

Now, Mona, why the classist distinction? Asian or African women relegated to the back seat is a common sight in Beirut be it in luxury and/or non-luxury vehicles. It is also a normal sight in cars driven by women, men, or teenagers. Racism in Lebanon is not specific to a certain class of Beiruti women driving luxury vehicles now is it?

Then the subject is further generalized and now it is “People of color”. Just a reminder, we started with women, moved to women of color, and now to people of color and there is no logical link or explanation; only successive statements totally dissociated from each other.

“People of colour are not only mistreated by employers -- who take away their passports and force them to work seven days a week -- they also face discrimination outside the workplace. At beaches around town, nannies are seen sitting fully clothed by the pool in the scorching heat, while their charges happily play in the water.”

I like the semantics. Is “Nanny” now the new politically correct term for abject slavery? Nanny sounds cute, doesn’t it? Are we still talking about domestic workers? women of color? or now everything is clubbed under “People of Colour”? Anyway, the beach argument is the most unimportant, minor, and stupid aspect of the whole enslavement process to focus on. A couple of activists shot a movie of a domestic worker being denied entry to a posh beach and now everybody is screaming foul totally skirting the real issue. The real issue is the enslavement industry not the beach resorts. The real issue is that most of these workers can’t go out of their employers’ houses let alone go to beaches. Why are people surprised by the resorts’ denial of entry? Show me one Lebanese who would have no objection to swimming in the same waters as a Sri Lanki or Ethiopian?

Then, Mona informs us of the plight of the Nanny of Nayla’s daughter.

"I booked a room for my daughter's nanny last year at one of the beach resorts in northern Lebanon. In spite of the fact that I paid full price for her room, I was outraged when I discovered she was not allowed to swim with us," says Nayla Saab, who employs a Filipino domestic worker.”

Oh, poor Nayla was outraged? Let’s ask Nayla again, how much does she pay her daughter’s nanny? How many hours does her daughter’s nanny work a day? Where is her daughter’s nanny’s passport? Is the nanny allowed out? Does she lock her in the house? Is she beaten if she slacks off on the job? Does she take out her marital frustrations on the nanny? Is she allowed to have a boyfriend? Nayla is the real culprit, not the beach resorts. Nayla, and those like her are the enablers of this practice. They keep the enslavement industry afloat and flourishing and perpetuate the racist prejudices these women are subjected to. Of course, not all employers are alike and not all women are subjected to the same hardships in the homes they work at; but most are. Also, people like Nayla probably believe that they are treating their ‘nanny’ well by treating her slightly better than her counterparts in other homes. Yes, but we give her 1 hour of rest a day. Yes, but we do not lock her in when we leave the house. Yes, but we would give her her passport if she decides to leave. Yes, but we give her money and gifts every now and a while so she can call her parents and feel good. Yes, but she takes Sunday off and goes out with her friends. Really, how nice and considerate of you.

Mona sites a statistic by IndyAct whose activists must have had quite a blast visiting beach resorts. All of the 20 beaches surveyed discriminate against people of color. Wow, what a revelation? I’m impressed. Of course they do, duh! Beach resorts just reflect the prevalent culture and the fact of the matter is the Lebanese are a racist people point blank.

Mona continues with her stories citing a group of Asian businessmen who were only allowed in the country to attend a conference after signing papers declaring that they will not work illegally in Lebanon. Then there is a story of an African American denied entry to a night club. Then another story of crackdown by Internal Security Forces on Sudanese illegal aliens mistreating them in the process. Also, in the midst of all the confusion, Mona introduces the concept of what she calls “Class oriented and sectarian” racism citing a veiled woman denied entry to a music concert because of her attire. In summary the article is a mishmash of stories with different subjects and totally devoid of any references to the legal structural framework that supports racism as the title suggests. The only reference to an actual law supporting discriminatory practices is the land ownership law that caps the amount of land foreigners can own and discriminates against Palestinians for sectarian/religious/geopolitical reasons rather than racist ones.

So where does this leave us? Well, we have IndyAct wasting its time documenting beach resort policies while domestic workers are throwing themselves off of balconies at a rate of 1 per week. That’s what I call focused and efficient – read stupid – activism.

Alright, for the sake of fairness I visited IndyAct’s website just to ensure my criticisms were well placed. The organization has a press release from the 13th of July titled “IndyAct launches “Anti Racism Movement” in Lebanon”. I clicked on the pompous title expecting a detailed framework on how to eliminate the structural racism existent in Lebanese society and better the conditions of migrant workers; the least one would expected is a project plan, a proposal for a legal framework, a draft law, or some shit that activists are supposed to do. Guess what? The launch of the “Anti Racism Movement” in Lebanon consisted of monitoring more than 15 beach resorts and visiting the ones identified with the most racist policies accompanied by a Madagascar national.

Okay, if that ain’t activism at its best I don’t know what is.  

This only highlights the point I made in the previous post about Zeitgeist’s alternative vision; Man’s social evolution is still light years away from breaking off with established institutions; family, tribe, sect, religion, ethnicity, race, and nation-state are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.


  1. Nayla Saab3:15 AM

    You seem like a pitiful bitter person, who takes pleasure in insulting and criticizing.
    Your comments are degrading and offensive, and I am sure you would gain much more respect by stating your opinions in a respectful manner. You do not seem too stupid to me, but you are obviously frustrated and miserable.

    I am the Nayla cited in this article, and just for your information, I pay my daughter's "nanny" a very decent salary, her passport is in her room, she goes out every sunday (and often on saturdays too),and ironically, she does have a boyfriend!! She works as many hours as I do, is treated as a member of the family (has her meals on the same table, eats whatever and whenever she wants, buys whatever she wants from the supermarket, uses the phone whenever she wants, has the house keys, invites her friends over whenever she wants, has air conditioning and a tv and dvd player in her room, etc.). I definitely don't take out my marital frustrations at her (I actually don't have any, as I am certain you wouldn't believe), and she is CERTAINLY not beaten for any reason whatsoever!!
    Do you really think that you are the only person in the world who believes in human rights??! Some people are genuinely outraged with the slave driving that is taking place in our part of the world. Some people do fight for this issue!

    I am sure you would benefit by having some faith in people.

    You talk about respect but there is nothing the least bit respectful or constructive in your smart but oh so offensive reflections..

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment Nayla.

    Most maid employers - my relatives and friends included - are decent, good-hearted, and well-meaning people who treat their maids "Relatively" well. They seem to believe that there is nothing wrong with the foreign maid ownership practice just because they allow their maids a few additional privileges - such as not confiscating their passports or giving them adequate rest hours. But a privilege that can be withdrawn at the employer's whim as quickly as it was granted is very different from a protected right; and what these foreign workers lack is rights that are protected by statutes and laws not privileges.

    For the record, my motivation for writing the post has nothing to do with my beliefs or lack thereof. If you noticed, the true object of my criticism is hypocrisy; the hypocrisy of a writer who fails to adequately treat her subject, the hypocrisy of employers who hide behind their granted privileges to escape having to deal with the moral consequences of engaging in what can be termed at the very least as "benign slavery", and the hypocrisy of activists who are more interested in performing publicity stunts than in pursuing their stated missions/objectives.

    Nayla, I apologize if you were offended by what I wrote. It was not you that I was criticizing but rather a mindset that seems to be shared by a lot of well-meaning people and that effectively shields them from having to ponder about the moral implications of this sort of employment.