OTV's Cartoon on Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Sparks Racism Controversy

September, 2019

The caricature was a response to a statement by Education Minister Akram Chehayeb supporting the right of non-Lebanese students to enroll in school.

In a statement posted on Twitter Friday, Chehayeb wrote: "Despite all the challenges, we will not allow any student to remain outside of school in Lebanon, whatever his nationality, and we will endeavor to ensure a comprehensive and just education for all. The human right to education is a sacred right guaranteed by all international conventions and laws."

The video quoted Chehayeb's statement and included an image of two Lebanese students approaching a school. They are greeted by a banner reading, “We apologize, the school is full of Syrians, Palestinians, Indians, (an offensive word for black people), Ethiopians, Bangladeshis.”

It concluded with, “Have you ever seen Lebanon more generous than this?” a play on words, as Akram's name means "more generous."

As of Monday, the cartoon had been removed from OTV's website. Representatives of the station did not respond to requests for comment. The video drew an outcry, particularly after civil society activist and former parliamentary candidate Joumana Haddad reposted it on social media. Haddad decried the video as racist against Syrian refugees.

"The community is understanding the story upside down – with the Baathist regime and against its people," she wrote. "Push the criminal around, not the victim, you racists."

Others pointed to the video's use of a word that is the equivalent of the English "n word" for black people, with some claiming that the cartoon may have violated the law.

Human rights attorney Diala Shehadeh noted that the term "zunji," which was used in the caricature, was historically a term for African tribes in eastern South Africa but has been used in the "Arabic cultural language" as a racial slur, leading her to conclude "that this cartoon does indeed suggest a discriminative, racist content."

Shehadeh also noted that Lebanese public schools have received substantial international funding to educate Syrian students since the beginning of the refugee crisis, with most of the Syrian student being enrolled in separate, afternoon classes.

"These foreign students in particular, Syrian refugee students – are offered night shift classes at the expense of the international community," she said. "Thus, they would in no way affect the Lebanese students' benefits."

The My Nationality is a Right for Me and My Family campaign, which is pushing for Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men to be given the right to pass on their citizenship to their children, noted in a statement that Article 317 of Lebanon’s criminal code bans incitement of racial or sectarian strife. The campaign described the OTV cartoon as "the worst possible hate speech and degradation towards the other."

Representatives of the campaign had met with Chehayeb earlier this month to address the fact that some children of Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers were being refused registration at public schools. Afterwards, the minister issued a circular directing schools to register those children as they would children with Lebanese citizenship.

Since then, campaign coordinator Karima Chebbo told The Daily Star, "The majority of them, just about all of them, registered their children, and there was no longer this problem that had been present."

However, issues have remained with Syrian and Palestinian children being denied registration in public schools, with schools citing a lack of space. Historically, the majority of Lebanese families have sent their children to private schools.

The country's economic woes have led an increasing number of Lebanese parents to register their children in public schools, leading to more competition for spaces. Last week, Chehayeb announced that the registration period for public schools would be extended until Oct. 10.

Source: albawaba