An unusual op-ed in Middle East Eye by Mat Nashed lifts the veil of Arab racism, a topic that is rarely addressed in the media. Excerpts:
Racism is a problem in the Arab world, yet too many people in the region deny it. Last week, an Ethiopian domestic worker fell from the balcony of her employer’s home in Kuwait. It was caught on camera, and though the woman survived, she later revealed that her employer was trying to kill her.
“The lady put me in the bathroom and was about to kill me in the bathroom without anybody finding out,” the worker said.
“She would have thrown my body out like rubbish, so instead of staying there I went to save myself and then I fell.”
This isn’t an isolated incident. Many Arab countries have maintained the kafala – or sponsorship system – which ties the legal status of low-wage migrant workers directly to their employer, giving the latter power to take away workers’ passports, withhold their salaries, and subject them to harrowing abuse.
In Arab countries where kafala isn’t applied, refugees and non-Western migrants are routinely abused by the state, their host community, and even aid organisations that were founded to help them.
In places, such as Qatar and Kuwait, more than 90 percent of the labour force is imported from South and Southeast Asia and Africa.
Recruiters do their part to lure workers by propagating false promises of a fair wage and a day off each week. It’s not until many workers arrive that they realise they’ve been trafficked into performing slave-like labour which they would have never consented to.
The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that more than 4,000 low wage workers will die while building infrastructure for Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Domestic migrant workers – generally women – are even more vulnerable. In Lebanon, they are excluded from basic protections under the labour law. And like elsewhere in the region, many are locked indoors and routinely subjected to starvation, rape and death.
In 2008, Human Rights Watch found that at least one domestic migrant worker in Lebanon was dying each week as a result of “unnatural causes” such as alleged suicide or after suspiciously falling from tall buildings. Activists suspect that the rate of deaths remains just as high today.
Elsewhere in the region, racism exposes itself in more subtle ways. Members of Egypt’s Nubian community, for instance, are often portrayed as servants in the media and scapegoated for street violence.
And yet, Nubian activists say that they are still treated better than sub-Saharan migrants and refugees. In Egypt, the darker you are, the harsher the discrimination.
That was obvious after a senior Egyptian official allegedly called sub-Saharan Africans “dogs and slaves” during a diplomatic visit to Kenya last year.
The Arabic word for “slave” is often colloquially used to address black Africans in the Middle East.
As with antisemitism, the West doesn’t want to talk about Arab racism because the media wants to put people in one of two convenient buckets: “oppressors” and “victims.” White people (which naturally include Jews in their minds) are generally always the oppressors and everyone else the oppressed.
One reason why the Western media ignores these stories is because any reporting that makes Arabs or Muslims the oppressors is perceived as oppression itself.
The secondary reason is because of the (frankly bigoted) expectation that news consumers will become racists if exposed to the full story. Sanitizing the news is meant to make the world a better, more ignorant place..
What the news editors haven’r figured out yet is that in the Internet age, stories like this are spreading faster and reaching more people. The media still plays a game of letting the New York Times or the wire services set the agenda and then slavishly following their slanted ideas.
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