Racism in Lebanon? Commenters Respond to Ethiopian Airline 409 Tragedy

UPDATE (1/31/10): Comments are closed on this post, due to general commenter insanity.

Emotions have run hot in the aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, and this has resulted in some visceral exchanges between Ethiopians and Lebanese. If it wasn’t already evident, this episode has made clear that there is a great deal of anger on both sides, but especially on behalf of Ethiopians, who feel deeply mistreated and abused by the Lebanese. Rather than opine more on this, I thought I’d just pull a few of the more evocative comments I received from my earlier blog post (in which I challenged the easy assessment of all Lebanese as racist).

Firstly, daCaptain provides links to the Ethiopian Facebook memorials: two of them.

D. Asad wrote:

Racism has always been an issue in Lebanon; in particular the abuse of its domestic workers. What would not be ethical reporting would be for this discrimination to be covered up yet again. Remember, it was not just Lebanese nationals on the plane. For non-Lebanese to not only have lost their loved ones, but to also be denied the same access to information and compassion that is being showed to the Lebanese victims makes the tragedy even worse.

All effected families and friends are watching the news and reading the papers for information on this tragedy; not just the Lebanese. If coverage, support, and compassion are not shown equally to all then racism is obvious, and it is the duty of any honest and ethical reporter to share this information.

Ras Mitat counters the notion that the treatment of Ethiopians in Lebanon has any parallel in Western countries:

Are you kidding?

Ethiopian Airlines was at one point flying out of Beirut with 2 bodies each week of young Ethiopian housemaids. Lebanese authorities do nothing. Walk to the Ethiopian Consulate in Beirut and you’ll see escaped housemaids looking for shelter, after years of physical and sexual abuse. Check women’s prison and see how many housemaids were picked up homeless after running away from abuse.

Dr. Nayla Moukarbel offers an academic perspective:

You are right, it is not merely a question of racism; things are indeed more complex (and grey)than commonly portrayed. The ‘dehumanization’ as you mention of these women renders them invisible (and this, paradoxically, despite their high visibility since they are for most women of colour). The domestic worker is limited to her ‘serving position’, her personality, identity and even being are erased.

I talk about the complex dynamics involved in the Madame/housemaid relationship and the rules that govern it in my book: ‘Sri Lankan Housemaids in Lebanon: A Case of ‘Symbolic Violence’ and ‘Everyday Forms of Resistance’.

And the feeling of mistreatment runs deep — irredeemably, it would seem — for Ethiopian Girl:

I would not be surprised if the plane was rocketed, the Arab people have no mercy when it comes to human life they think every one has an Arab life (cheap human life).low life bastards hope they rot in hell R.I.P to the Ethiopian brother and sisters.

It’s clear this is not an issue that can be ignored, or go away easily. The sense of righteous outrage is powerful.

Joshua Hersh is a writer who lives in Beirut. He was previously a fact-checker at the New Yorker, and his work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New Republic, the National (Abu Dhabi), and the New Y ...read more


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