In case you haven’t noticed, we are witnessing a kind of a backlash against Abed’s successful online campaign against Middle East Airlines. There are increasingly comments, facebook posts and tweets about how the MEA woman, the one who got fired for making racist remarks, was scapegoated for a sin that we are all guilty as a society of.
The nasty ones are criticizing online activists for holier-than-thou hypocrisy, and the big hearts are asking us to start from home and from schools and things like this will stop happening. Those are fine and fair arguments, but they are beside the point.
The media’s (and now social media) role is not to reform society, it is to expose and shame those who break the rules that we have promised ourselves as a society to uphold. If Lebanese politicians, businessmen, intellectuals, celebrities and institutions all declare publicly that we should fight racism, then people have the right to be outraged when someone representing that elite is “caught”. Activists and the media should not by any mean take part of the conspiracy of “everybody does it, therefore we should not talk about it”, it defeats their raison-d’etre.
Let’s all point fingers
There are still many Nazi sympathizers in Germany. There are also many American racists who call black people –including their president– “nigger”. But we don’t hear much from them in American and German media, movies, and public spaces. That’s because a culture of shame and deterrence was built to prevent such people from airing their view in public. Some people call that the “tyranny of political correctness”, a tyranny that was built by the collective effort of people who are publicly naming and shaming the transgressors.
I am not saying that virtue shouldn’t start at home. I’m just underlining the importance of individual acts like those of Abed, and saying that the more such acts we have, the less blatant our social ills become. In Egypt, sexual harassment can very well be reduced by having better education at home and in schools. But it could also be reduced when predators are afraid that they will get caught on camera and shamed on YouTube. People greatly underestimate the deterrence effect of public shame, and as tyrannies go, this is a wonderful one to have..