Maya Mikdashi in Jadaliyya:
In the past few months sex panics and moral panics, centered on gendered bodies and abuses, have rocked Lebanon. In this article I want to revisit three of these panics: photos of a semi-nude Lebanese Olympic Skier’s body and reactions to it; the impunity of wife murderers and wife abusers; and the razing of a Syrian makeshift refugee camp after (ultimately false) accusations of sex abuse by a camp resident of a mentally disabled Lebanese man. I bring these three cases together in order to think about the political work that the moral/sex panicdoes in making and remaking Lebanese national identity and in articulating its gendered architecture. I do so in order to avoid thinking each separately under the rubrics of sexual discrimination or abuse in Lebanon.
Jackie Chamoun is a skier representing Lebanon at the Winter 2014 Olympics. Her qualification for the premier international sporting event is itself a success, given the lack of training infrastructures and support for athletes (particularly females) in Lebanon. Recently, photos a friend of Chamoun’s took for a calendar, featured the athlete in various poses (though not full frontal) and topless. The photos spread through the Internet like wildfire. In response, the Caretaker Lebanese minister for Youth and Sports, Faisal Karami, ordered an investigation into the photos. He stated that they, and by extension Chamoun, were damaging to the country’s image. In a country with chronic youth unemployment and a widely corrupt professional sports system, as well as the lack of support for sports and youth more broadly, it was these photos that were just too much for the good minister. Almost immediately, people reacted, both positively and negatively, to Karami’s announcement. But what was the image of Lebanon that Karami wanted to protect, and why was the site of a female athletic body—and athletes, given that their bodies are their work, are rightly proud and confident in them— so threatening to that image?