Lebanese Media and the “Scourge of the Foreigners”

By: Ahmed Mohsen

Published Friday, October 21, 2011

MTV, a Lebanese television station has regularly broadcast racist and incendiary ‘reports’ on migrant workers. But their latest ‘expose’ goes too far, revealing a disturbing xenophobia in Lebanon.

Anchorman Majed Bou Hadir from Lebanon’s MTV introduced a “special report” on Lebanon’s migrant workforce that aired October 16. The Lebanese station has a history of airing reports that supposedly reveal the excesses of migrant workers, or “the foreigners,” as the anchors call them. But in the latest report, Raquel Mubarak speaks of how these foreigners ‘went too far.’ In her report “Bourj Hammoud... A neighborhood in danger,” the reporter takes us on a walk through the Dawra/Bourj Hammoud area in northern Beirut, to witness the “catastrophe” taking place there.

From the outset, the tour is clearly a slur against Lebanon’s migrant community. “You may think you’re not in Lebanon,” she says alarmingly, “like you are in Sudan, or a country with Kurds, or a country in Asia!” Her diatribe is accompanied by a panning camera shot of the faces of migrant workers who either live or gather to socialize in this area on the weekends.

Despite the racist nature of her ‘report,’ one cannot but laugh at the last part of her opening commentary; for her worry that Lebanon may become part of Asia has been a geographic reality for many, many years. Lebanon is not in the EU, nor does it border the US. The reporter and the producer need to come to grips with this “bitter” reality, as harsh as it may seem.

To be fair, perhaps they made a geographical error? Of course not, geography is clearly not the issue here. What is more important, according to the report, is that the mostly female immigrant workers attract young, non-Lebanese men who are responsible for “pickpocketing and other deviant behavior” in the area. The report does not bother to mention minor details, like the fact that working conditions for these workers are so bad that one of them commits suicide every week.

As the camera pans across this poor neighborhood looking for female and male workers, a Lebanese resident accuses foreign female workers of turning the area into a “prostitution market.” Another person waves his hand nonchalantly calling them “those Ethiopians,” even though migrant workers come from a wide range of countries stretching from the Philippines to Madagascar.

The reporter surprises a number of workers by approaching them from behind. They do not understand why the camera is chasing them; they are shy and keep on their way. But a young, blond Lebanese woman doesn’t hesitate to give her opinion on this “foreign invasion of the area,” saying: “A guy who cannot pick up a Filippina stops here.”

The report has many weaknesses, perhaps most prominent among them is the absence of expert opinion by security forces and others. When approached for comment, the reporter said she worked on the weekend, which made it difficult to contact security forces; but she promised to follow-up on the issue. Mubarak said she also cut out a lot of what residents said so her report would not seem antagonistic to a specific race or country.

The report is quite revealing, though perhaps unintentionally. After watching the inflammatory report objectively, one understands why foreign workers, and specifically female foreign workers, are subject to attacks and harassment. The editing is also very offensive. One clip takes advantage of female workers’ giggles and bashfulness before the camera, juxtaposing their images as they pass through the “ghetto,” with clear sexist undertones.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Xenophobia in Lebanon unfortunately seems to the norm rather than the exception. If you're white and from the west, you're a spy. If you're brown and from a poorer country, you're treated as less than human. One would think that a people with so many international links, and expats and immigrants among its population, would be a bit more open minded.

Thank you for pointing this out. It's hard to believe a reporter could come up with so many negative and clearly racialized quotes about a group of "strangers" without giving a voice to even one, to hear 'their' side of the story. Perhaps MTV defines "Lebanese news" as a forum for the views of "Lebanese faces" only, which the reporter notes, are "different" from those of such "strangers".

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