The tragic murder of Alem today should be a call to action. While her death is being called a "suicide" in the press, the conditions that led to it mark it as homicide. Alem is only the latest in a long line of migrant workers who travel across thousands of miles in search of a livelihood that will support their families. That same desire is what propels thousands of Lebanese to migrate to Europe or North America each year. Just as we do not condone the racism that Lebanese people experience abroad, racism that often leads to vicious attacks, imprisonment, and sometimes torture, we do not condone that behavior here.
By labeling Alem's death a "suicide" we remove our culpability in her murder. Everyone who stands by watching her brutally beaten and attacked by her sponsor is an accomplice in this murder. To call it "suicide" or to let Ali Mahfouz off the hook, the man seen in LBCI's video footage, for beating her in front of the Ethiopian embassy is to be complicit in her murder. The conditions that brought her to this point do not make Alem's case an anomaly. The fact that one migrant domestic worker dies every week in Lebanon illustrates that this is a pattern. It is a pattern based on racism, exploitation, and oppression. It is a system in which Lebanese people know that they can get away with these crimes against people who are darker than them, who they believe are inferior to them.
In an interview with LBCI TV, Mahfouz rationalized his savage beating of Alem by stating she was "mentally ill," citing a previous suicide attempt as evidence. He further justified his brutal attack by stating she refused deportation (http://www.lbcgroup.tv/news/23390/lbci-identifies-the-man-who-abused-the-ethiopian-d). The International Labor Organization (ILO) cites several factors that contribute to identifying domestic work as forced labor, including: debt bondage, confiscation of identity papers, non-payment of wages to worker; physical confinement; threat of denunciation or deportation; lack of freedom to change employers; and deception and false promises concerning conditions of work (http://www.kafa.org.lb/StudiesPublicationPDF/PRpdf37.pdf). These conditions would be enough to make any one of us mentally unstable or suicidal. While we do not yet know the specific conditions to which Alem was subjected to, we do know that the fact that there is a system of abuse of migrant workers and a refusal to abide by treaties Lebanon is a party to such as the UN Trafficking Protocol.
There are approximately 250,000 migrant workers in Lebanon at present, half of whom are undocumented. How many more of them will have to suffer the brutality of modern slavery before we do something? How many videos will we watch on Facebook or Youtube before we say enough? How long will it be before we challenge the racism that leads to the exploitation of those we hire to do the jobs that we are unwilling to do? How much blood are we willing to have on our hands as we sit by and watch yet another laborer's murder get labeled a "suicide"?