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LONDON: In Lebanon, people have often resorted to humor and worldly jokes to overcome the various hardships they have endured in recent years. However, in many cases, this humor has crossed moral and ethical lines.

A Lebanese outlet, the Al-Sharq newspaper, was criticized last week for its misogynistic coverage of the Ukrainian-Russian war, which objectified Ukrainian women in false attempts to evoke sympathy.

Lebanese newspaper Al-Sharq featured a Russian model in half-dress who the newspaper claims is a Ukrainian. (Twitter)

Misogynistic images have also circulated on Lebanese WhatsApp groups objectifying Russian and Ukrainian women under the guise of humor.

Images objectifying Ukrainian women circulated on Lebanese WhatsApp groups with the caption: “Ukrainian refugees”. (Twitter)

“These are not innocent jokes; it’s misogyny and sexism hidden in humor. They are instruments of propaganda and control that propagate and sustain misogynistic discourse in society,” Lina Zhaim, media, communication and development expert, told Arab News.

On its eighth page in the Variety segment, Al-Sharq posted a photo of a curvy half-dressed blonde woman, who the newspaper claims is Ukrainian.

The image was accompanied by a Photoshopped overlay logo of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a caption in Spanish that read “Adopta una Ucraniana” (adopt a Ukrainian).

Beneath the logo, the newspaper included a deeply insulting Arabic caption, probably intended to be humorous, which read: “Humanitarian act, adopt a Ukrainian woman to protect her from Russian occupation.”

Images objectifying Russian and Ukrainian women circulated on Lebanese WhatsApp groups with the caption: “God knows who we should side with, Russia or Ukraine.” (Twitter)

“These types of jokes stereotype women and normalize the sexual objectification of women under the guise of humor. The image as well as the language of the joke is offensive to women everywhere; they devalue women and reduce them to sex objects for men’s gaze and reinforce gender stereotypes of women,” Zhaim added.

The fact that Al-Sharq editor-in-chief Awni Kaaki is also the head of the Lebanese Press Syndicate makes matters worse.

“The media does not become sexist; it was always like that. It reflects institutionalized misogyny, toxic masculinity and condescending attitudes towards women,” Zhaim explained.

“Lebanese media is still dominated by misogynistic and sexist cultures and ideologies, and is still run by misogynistic men like Kaaki who control the agency narrative of women in our culture: they have created and continue to cement the image of women as nothing more. as sexual objects to exhibit, exploit and oppress.

Images objectifying Russian and Ukrainian women have been circulating on Lebanese WhatsApp groups with the caption: “For the love of God Putin, dare not hurt them”. (Twitter)

Journalists and media pundits in Lebanon criticized Al-Sharq and Kaaki for the level of misogyny seemingly disguised as humor.

Veteran journalist Magda Abu Fadil detailed Kaaki’s response to the accusations in a blog post. After receiving strong backlash, Kaaki claimed that newspaper editors don’t always micromanage a publication.

“First of all, she’s a beautiful girl; it’s on social media and my diary guys posted it,” Kaaki said in response to the post.

“This is Al-Sharq newspaper, the newspaper of Press Syndicate chairman Awni Kaaki, president of the misogynistic press, accused in Kuwait of trafficking prostitutes,” Zhaim tweeted.

“It is Awni Kaaki who accuses freelance women journalists of impersonating journalists because they have refused to recognize him and the macho syndicate he presides over like a rooster.”

“Al-Sharq newspaper is hardly representative of the Lebanese press and population,” Mohanad Hage Ali, director of communications and fellow at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, told Arab News.

Ali added that “the newspaper is known for light reporting, often posting jokes on WhatsApp without any fact checking.”

However, whether or not the feature was designed to be taken seriously, this type of content is familiar territory in Lebanon. Indeed, racism is an endemic and common form of discrimination in the country’s politics and media and targets many nationalities, including those from Syria, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and many others.

Migrant workers, especially those from Southeast Asian and African countries, have suffered for decades in Lebanon under the Kafala system where they are treated with abuse, exploitation and denial of basic human rights.

Following Lebanon’s devastating economic crisis, many were evicted from the homes where they had worked for years and left on the streets to fend for themselves.

In 2015, thousands of people in Lebanon were the subject of an advertisement that said: “For Mother’s Day, spoil Ur Maman and offer her a cleaning lady. Special offers on Kenyan and Ethiopian nationalities for a duration of 10 days.

An SMS was sent to thousands of Lebanese numbers. (Twitter)

More recently, Beirut’s Sporting Beach club sparked controversy online after their racist policies made headlines.

It all started when a regular at the beach club uploaded a Facebook post featuring a new policy form – targeting migrant domestic workers – which management distributed to its customers.

The form, which customers were asked to sign, is titled “Helper Dress Policy” and features an image illustrating what a domestic worker should wear to be allowed into the beach club.

The form adds that those who break the dress code will be asked to leave the premises without a refund.

Visitors were given this form to fill out upon entering the beach club. (advance in stages)

The incident coincided with heavy criticism of the club when management refused entry to an Indian woman and her daughter. The woman in question was a lecturer who frequented the club with other scholars.

It’s not the first time the club has been criticized for racist policies. Indeed, an undercover video taken at its lavish premises revealed that a cashier repeatedly refusing to grant entry to an African woman from Madagascar went viral online in 2010.

More recently, a Sudanese television presenter received heaps of misogynistic and racist tweets following a report on her show that criticized the Lebanese government.

The hateful comments targeting Dalia Ahmad, a presenter for the Lebanese news channel Al-Jadeed, ranged from calling her a “female dog” to tweets suggesting she should be “offered for sale on the slave market, with its ilk, by ISIS”, another term for the terrorist group Daesh.

Another tweet said: “By God, by God, whoever wants to attack the Al-Sayyed (Nasrallah), I want to wipe the ground with them and curse those who gave birth to them”, alongside an image of Ahmad with a dog’s face photographed over his own.

Often described as a progressive country, Lebanon actually suffers from deep racism and misogyny. Targeting migrant domestic workers and those with darker skin does not appear to be the only form of discrimination.

Following the Syrian conflict, a similar scourge of racist treatment was felt by Syrian refugees who had fled the atrocities of the civil war to neighboring Lebanon.

Lebanese politicians have actively scapegoated Syrian refugees and blamed them for the country’s economic, social and security failures. In some villages in Lebanon, local authorities have even imposed curfews on Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugees were often accused of “stealing jobs” and many were labeled as construction workers or janitors.

The mainstream Lebanese media have not been innocent bystanders to this xenophobic targeting. A video went viral on social media in 2016 after Lebanese students were asked if they would date a Syrian. Almost all respondents said no.

Explaining their position, the Lebanese interviewed replied: “No, because he is from another culture” or “no, because he does not speak the language”.

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