by Rosie Alfatlawi
After a female British diplomat was murdered in Lebanon, it sparked debate about women’s safety in the Middle Eastern nation.
Beirut-based expats were keen to counter ill-informed narratives framing the Arab nation as inherently dangerous for Western women.
Lebanese commentators, however, emphasized the need to discuss the problem gender-based violence (GBV) in their country. Some even blamed the international media for underreporting an increase in rapes and murders with the aim of glamorizing it as a destination.
The body of Rebecca Dykes was found at the side of a motorway in Beirut early on Saturday. A taxi driver was arrested Monday over her killing, which Lebanese officials said was not politically motivated.
Reports suggested that she may have been subject to sexual assault prior to being strangled to death.
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In the U.K., some responses attempted to frame Dykes’ murder as somehow a symptom of Lebanese culture.
One comment suggested that Western women should not be included in diplomatic missions to Muslim countries because of the intrinsic “misogyny” there. Another said that such an incident was to be expected with “third world savages.”
Lebanon is a dangerous country run by terrorists. It's insane to let single women walk around unguarded. They should have SAS operators guarding everyone.— Bryan Mills (@Bryan_Mills_) December 17, 2017
Such claims, accompanied by calls to “bomb them,” take their basis from ill-informed Islamophobic prejudice.
Western women who had lived, or were currently living, in the Lebanese capital quickly refuted the suggestions. Rape and murder are problems faced by women across the world, they said.
“Very sad for the family but before everyone goes Beirut bashing,” wrote @claireindubai. “It's no more dangerous than a Brit going to Magaluf [Spanish party resort].”
Beirut-based journalist for the Telegraph, Josie Ensor, described the incident as “a very rare and shocking thing to happen in this city.”
Academic Dr. Claire Launchbury tweeted that she had herself, like Dykes, walked home alone from the Gemmayze bar and restaurant district of Beirut, but had felt safe.
This is “not about that,” she said.
I've partied late into the night in Gemmayze in Beirut and walked home by myself in the early hours and never felt safer. The tragic case of #RebeccaDykes is not about that.— Dr Claire Louise Launchbury (@launchburycla) December 17, 2017
@SaraFregonese responded to say that “fear of rape for me has always scored quite low in #Lebanon, but I can probably say I have felt safer.”
For foreigners in Beirut, disputing suggestions that Lebanon is unsafe for women forms part of countering Islamophobic and prejudiced attitudes back home.
According to some Lebanese commentators, however, violence against women in Lebanon is an important local issue that should not be ignored.
In a blog post addressed to Dykes, “half-Lebanese” and “present-day Beiruti” Lina Abirafeh wrote that “we like to believe that we are free to exist in any space just like anyone else.”
“Your tragic death is a reminder that we’re not.”
“Lebanon needs to have a rethink. Are we developed? Progressive? Open? Safe?!” She asked.
Abirafeh concluded that she was “angry at Lebanon” and “scared for women.”
Her piece struck a very different tone to the expat tweets.
Rather than attempting to brush off the tragic murder as a “rare” incident, she questioned instead how Lebanese society should be countering GBV.
Journalist Kareen Chehayebk, meanwhile, claimed international media had “downplayed” an “increase in reported rape, murders” as part of the “PR-esque coverage of Lebanon.”
“Lebanon is not safe,” he tweeted, adding that it “has a significant patriarchy issue.”
Multiple campaigns in Lebanon have acknowledged the need to combat misogynistic violence.
"It's painful to see that one in four women experiences sexual abuse,” director of NGO ABAAD, Ghida Anani, told The Daily Star last month.
“It's painful to see that every month, a woman is killed. We are demanding our full citizenship rights.”
Zoya Rouhana, director of Lebanon-based NGO KAFA (Enough) Violence and Exploitation, meanwhile suggested to Arab News that there was a “huge amount to be done to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence and exploitation and achieve gender equality.”
While disputing prejudiced claims that violence against women, including the rape and murder of Rebecca Dykes, is somehow innate to “backward” Middle Eastern societies, it seems that is also important to find ways to talk about how to combat GBV in countries like Lebanon.
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