Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Saja kindly translated my article on Sri Lankan maids which was published in Arabic in Al-Akhbar two months ago. (Saja tells me that she had a hard time translating the word "wawa" so she kept it as it is):
"To a Sri Lankan Maid, on Her Day

I see you upset. What’s the matter? Mother’s Day is your day. It has passed, but they didn’t honor you. Shame on them for their short-sightedness. The holiday is for them only because of their genetic supremacy which obsesses them and decays their minds. You’re standing alone on the balcony. Why? Did they impose deadly isolation on you? This holiday is for you. You left your family and children and came to land of cedars and trifles to make a living. Sri Lankan Maid in Lebanon, how great your suffering, and how unfair your oppressors. Undoubtedly the contradiction between their slogans and their practice disgusts you. Do you sense anguish when you listen to their speeches? March 14 talks about freedom, but they know not what freedom is and they’re hostile to it in actual practice. Why do you approach the edge of the balcony? Do the depths beckon you? I fear for your destiny and the destiny of all foreign maids in Lebanon.
Every week we hear about a Sri Lankan or Ethiopian maid throwing herself off a balcony. We hear about maids hanging themselves with sheets or blankets or ropes. The news passes casually, without condemnation or demand for investigation. In some newspapers, these events are reason for jesting and joking, as Egyptians say. The Security Council is held for “he who supposes that his wealth makes him immortal,” not for you. You do not have private jets to impress the petty or to show to the Counsel General of the Arab League or Terje Roed-Larsen. You’re modest but not inferior.
Sri Lankan maid in Lebanon, how great your suffering and how heavy your worries. Do you hear those in 8 and 14 March speak about the advantages and disadvantages of skin color with blatant racism? The leaders and the educated in 8 and 14 March easily say: “we’re not Somalia,” or “we’re not Kenya.” Samir Frenja, who we’re told is to the left of 14 March, constantly boasts of a Lebanon distinguished from African “unenlightenment.” They don’t know they’re of African-Asian descent, even if they do the impossible to appease the white man. They believe they’re of the white race and nothing obsesses them more than flattering the white man politically and socially. This explains why they allow the American ambassador in Lebanon to issue opinions about the Parliament and the constitution without objection from any party. They think the white man’s concern for them, which is classic colonial concern, is evidence of their sophistication. This explains why both sides allowed Terje Roed-Larsen (Israel and the United States’ envoy to the United Nations) to discuss issues related to electoral rules and ticket structure. If he were Black, he would’ve been deported from their country.
What goes on in your mind while you listen to their blatant, unmistakable racism? They fearlessly and shamelessly insult ethnicities, the poor and Blacks. They don’t even try to mask their racism. On the contrary, they display it because they think it morally enhances them. Do you see them avoiding touching you? Of course, they think you’re sexually available for their sons’ or fathers’ desires. They rape you regularly and your self-defense angers them. Is this why we periodically read about Sri Lankan and Ethiopian maids’ suicide in Lebanon? If Sri Lankan maids’ periodic suicides were investigated, the facts would become clear and those deemed respectable in society would be exposed as rapists and harrassers and batterers. Didn’t they desecrate you? They desecrate you in the homeland of hollow slogans. To whom can you complain? To whom can you unload your burdens? To police stations which share society’s racism and classism? To the Ministry of Interior which has become a branch of a militia owned by a rich family the House of Saud implanted in Lebanon?
I will never forget Sushar Roxi. Do you remember her? That poor Sri Lankan maid who died by hanging in front of spectators and cameras. Do you remember when the city of Sidon’s people woke up to find her dangling from the balcony, after she’d hanged herself with linens? Do you wonder why she hanged herself? Do you wish you could ask her? She dangled from the balcony for hours and nobody noticed or cared. Why did Sushar hang from the balcony and why do we never hear of investigations? She committed suicide in the morning’s early hours and nobody investigated what happened to her the previous night. Every time, the police arrives and the family opines that the victim missed her family and hence committed suicide. The case is closed, assuming one had been opened in the first place. Police arrive to pay lip service. The Lebanese gentleman and lady – do you notice how concerned they are with titles? – do with you whatever they want? Everyone obtains a title and you sometimes find those who don’t respond if addressed without a title. They’re gentlemen, ladies, beyks and complexes who walk the earth. The police reiterate that you’re depressed due to homesickness. And you hang from the balcony for hours without anyone of conscience caring. The three large communities’ congresses convene every month and discuss all subjects, even the border conflict between Ecuador and Columbia, but they don’t talk about you. Even the Communist Party doesn’t talk about you in its statements. Perhaps they’re influenced by Karl Marx’s classist divisions, as he probably viewed you as the “lumpen proteriat” (we have read in Marx’s biography by Francis Wayne that his record of treating his family’s housemaid wasn’t exactly taintless).
Sri Lankan maid in Lebanon, how abominable your fate in your deadly homesickness. You made a grave mistake by coming to our country. This is a country obsessed with pleasing the white man and you occupy the country’s lowermost rung of the class and ethnic totem pole. They disallow you from sitting at their dining tables. They’ve never heard of the emancipation of slaves. They buy slaves and concubines by bringing a foreign maid to their houses. The maid is necessary in order to teach children the principles of racism, classicism and hatred. You’re necessary for the Lebanese notion. I see you indifferent about contests between 8 and 14 March. They’re equally racist against you.
Absent Media
Do you dream of going home? Does the earth collapse beneath your feet? What’s the harm if you leave our land? Your pursuit of income brought you to this openly racist and classist country. If they could have it their way, they never would’ve enacted a law against slavery. They’re slave masters because they think it brings them closer to the white man. I see you sullen on your holiday. It’s your holiday. You crossed oceans to bring income for your family in Sri Lanka. You deserve two Mother’s Days, not one. You care for your own children in Sri Lanka and also the children of the middle and bourgeois classes. Don’t you cringe when some families insist that you wear servants’ uniform? In Lebanon they’re influenced by the western movies they’re watched about the era of colonialism and slavery, so forgive them. Or don’t. They feel their social status would skyrocket if the neighbors saw you wearing your distinct uniform. These are traditional Lebanese methods of climbing the class and social ladder.
Sri Lankan maid in Lebanon, you’re so absent from the media. Only Carol Mansour in her film “Worker/Industry in Lebanon” sought to tell your story to an audience that doesn’t care. If the movie were about pursuing the “wa-wa” (a popular song by Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe) or the Saudi Janadriyah festival, the entire country would’ve watched it and bestowed awards. But the film’s discourse was addressed to a western audience as if the west would care and arrive in a Cole battleship to liberate you. The west doesn’t care about you in spite of its slogans and freedom from class and ethnic repression and sexual enslavement. The skillful Nancy Al-Sab’ recently investigated your political opinions and did so with immense respect. But the media hardly mentions foreign maids’ suicide in Lebanon. Western human rights organizations are too busy attending to the rockets that have poured on Israel during its aggression towards Lebanon and liberal organizations in Lebanon are excused. They don’t see any human rights violations besides the arrest of Michel Kilo. Racism against the Syrian people, the Palestinian people and Lebanon’s Shia has a history of providing housemaids that predates the war. The Lebanese do not understand how they could be equated with those who provide them with housemaids. They’re the most ardent believers of rigid ethnic and class hierarchy. That’s why they order you to stand while they loiter in cafes. They order you to walk behind them while they walk smugly in their streets. Didn’t employment offices in Sri Lanka warn you about this country’s racism?
When the Lebanese gather in the sectarian expression plaza in Beirut for sectarian protests, doesn’t their speech of freedom bother you? Doesn’t their hypocrisy anger you as they steadfastly praise freedom during the day only to return to their houses to exercise repression and violence against you? Even the feminists of the society that considers itself sophisticated, don’t you hear their talk about their festivities only to return home to scold you for the silliest reasons? They talk about women’s rights and they only mean bourgeois women’s rights just like the American feminist movement is limited to white educated women.
Superiority Complex
Sri Lankan woman in Lebanon, you’re enslaved in Lebanon. You come to a country that imagines itself advanced while it is behind your homeland. What occurs to you as you listen to Said Aql and May Al-Murr (who both expressed joy when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982) as they lie about Lebanese superiority and alleged Phoenician civilization? What if you were to read Nabil Abu Munsif’s writing – expert on local news and Lebanese genius simultaneously – about worldwide Lebanese genius? Don’t you wish you could scream in their faces? Don’t you wish you could expose their claims? If only you could protect yourself, you would’ve told them that Sri Lanka also has scientists and artists, and Lebanon even shows off its criminals, tricksters, thieves and embezzlers as long as they were of Lebanese descent. They even boast about the non-Lebanese as part of Lebanese global genius if their name appears Lebanese such as Elia Kazan, the American director of Lebanese descent, whom the LBC celebrated only because it thought he was from the Qazan family. Don’t you feel a strong urge to inform them that their claims stem from centuries of colonization and racism built on theories of some races’ superiority over others?
This is your holiday, Sri Lankan woman in Lebanon, and they forget that you’re a woman. To them you are only a housemaid. They even use the Sri Lankan nationality as a derogatory term, just like they use “Kurdish” for degradation. In March 8 and 14, they accuse of each other of being “Sri Lankans” for “the Syrian” or the United States. How did you end up in the capitol of public racism, Sri Lankan guest? Of course, your sisters in other countries also face humiliation and abuse, such that the Philippines prohibited its Filipino servants from traveling to Jordan due to her dire suffering. Our guest from Sri Lanka, you’re welcome to immensely despise this country and to never return. But it is poverty, and poverty conflicts with freedom. Ali bin Abi Talib said “poverty in one’s own homeland is exile” so you suffer two levels of exile: in your own homeland and in this disfigured homeland. You’re a woman, guest from Sri Lanka, but they do not remember that you’re a woman except for the few minutes when they sexually harass you or the house’s boys rape you.
They import servants to exercise authority over a human of lesser race in their opinion. It is the Lebanese creed which they ingest and inherit generation to generation. They want maids so they could feel class-wise and ethnically superior, which is why they allow you only to address them using titles they borrow from the white man’s movies. He thinks he’s a gentleman and she thinks she’s a lady and that is only because they pay you $100 or less per month. They have no shame in demeaning you publicly. It’s a tradition, just like sectarianism is a tradition in the land of tabbouleh. When a lady demeans you and screams in your face or when an employer beats you, don’t you wish you could scream in their faces? If you could only say to them: I just saw you on television chanting and preaching about freedom and human rights, and this exposes your truth; enemies of freedom who know of freedom only what Bush uses to market his never-ending wars. If they didn’t own you and forcefully confiscate your passport, you would’ve screamed in their faces and objected to their hypocrisy.
Then there is that picture. That woman from Ashrafiyya who supports the Lebanese Forces who dragged a Sri Lankan maid to the sectarian plaza and dumped flags and colors on her. That picture surfaced on the BBC’s website and on websites around the world. That woman repeated her act, thinking it was cute, as if dragging her maid to sectarian wars was a humorous expression. If only you could drag that very woman to a protest in Sri Lanka to show her the hideousness of her act.
What do you think about this self-praise about beauty by women of the society that describes itself as velvet when it is roughter than the sack of potato? Aren’t you disgusted by this self-praise? Aren’t you irritated by their beauty standards that sanctify white skin while they descend from mixed African and Asian lineage? Each thinks she descended from the Borboun family. They don’t think you’re beautiful and they call you the vilest and filthiest names. But you’re more beautiful than those who measure beauty with the number of plastic surgeries, the amount of make-up on their faces, and the ability to mimic white western women on the screens of indecency and vulgarity. Don’t believe them; they’re prisoners of the standards they absorbed from their colonizer. Look in the mirror and remember that you’re not encumbered with their complexes and beliefs. They not only demean you, but they also demean people of the Arabian Gulf in spite of their flattery and deception. Were it not for the dinar, they would’ve treated the people of the Persian Gulf the same way they treat you, true lady of Lebanon. They want to resemble Barbie dolls even if those dolls were more real and natural than them. You don’t suffer their existential complexes or countless self-doubts.
You watch the screen and notice that you’re absent from Lebanon’s popular culture. You do not exist, in spite of your large numbers in proportion to their populace of this deformed homeland, with the exception of the jokes say about you in their programs. There’s an untalented artist who sang a despicable song about you. They mock and make fun thinking they are superior. They don’t realize how small their country really is, both in size and role. They believe lies fabricated for them by the likes of Fouad Ifram Al-Bustani, Said Aql, May Al-Murr and Jesuit Orientalism. They told them they were the manufacturers of a great civilization, and all they actually built was toilets for bathrooms. They think their country is the only one with cedar trees, even though Morocco’s cedar trees far outnumber theirs. The world knows about them only because of the monstrosity of their civil wars. Monstrosity is the only true claim to fame for Lebanon. Their homeland is the prototype for ferocity of civil war but they still address the world in the barren language of Amin Al-Gemayyel who said during the peak of his country’s civil war, with Israeli support, that he’d “amaze” the world. He amazed the world during his reign only by corruption, repression and relying on outsiders; Israel one day and Syria the next.

Why do I see you walking on the streets of Beirut with your head hanging low? Hold your head high. I want you to walk proudly in spite of them. You’re entitled to belittle their belittlement towards you. You’re the lady, not those who glow with the possession of diamonds and foreign maids. They talk about principles and modernism but they see no fault in your imprisonment, our Sri Lankan guests, in kitchens and bathrooms. Were it not for poverty, you would’ve addressed them with the castigation they deserve. Were it not for poverty, the Sri Lankan maids would’ve demonstrated in the arbitrarily-named “Freedom” Plaza. Were it not for poverty, our Sri Lankan guests would’ve shouted demanding their liberation from slavery. But I won’t lie to you. If you were to demonstrate demanding your rights, we would fire on you without hesitation, and the opposition and the ruling group would’ve united against you. On your holiday, you’re entitled to curse this homeland and its inhabitants."