When art history professor Lisa Clayton posted a sarcastic rant Friday about Qatari youth on a popular online forum for expatriates in the country, she was not expecting to spark a national cultural war.
"It is Qatar National Day and what should be a time of celebration and pride, presented this country and Qataris in a terrible light of lawlessness, arrogance and disrespect for others, as well as property," Clayton, who has lived in Qatar for over a decade, wrote on qatarliving.com. "One idiot was running around in an Osama bin Laden mask running up to expatriates in their car and trying to scare them. Ya Qatar, you really did yourself proud today... :-((("
Professor Clayton, writing under the pseudonym 'PM', continued to describe a scene in which young Qataris were driving through the streets steering with their feet or sitting on the front windshield, spraying cars with shaving cream, blasting music and roaming the streets with traditional swords, with no police in sight and siren-wailing ambulances unable to get through.
The comments were not appreciated by many local Qataris, who called on advertisers to boycott Qatar Living and successfully began trolling the site for further evidence of 'Qatar-bashing', finding numerous examples including a revived old post titled "Qatar Sucks."
"Here are my reasons why I think Qatar is the worst, most boring place to be," wrote a Canadian expat, prefacing a list of things to dislike about Qatar, from the "Lack of culture" and hot weather to there being "no beauty in the landscape nor in the architecture."
"It didn't take me long before I realized what a horrible place it really is," she warned. "DO NOT even consider the idea of moving to Qatar. It's BORING, DISAPPOINTING and DISGUSTING!"
"My biggest problem about Qatar is how they allow all these labours [sic] to come and work here like dogs," she added. "They should at least be allowed to bring their wives here with them, so that they don't' fucking stare at women like hungry animals. They disgust me and I find them subhuman in the way they act towards non-Qatari women."
Administrators of the site have removed the post on Qatar National Day and asked for it to kept in perspective.
"Like everywhere on the Internet, there are bound to be a small number of people who make comments that are offensive," the company said in a statement. "The objectionable comments by a number of individuals should not be seen as indicative of most of the Qataris and Expatriates who make up the Qatar Living community."
Professor Clayton, now banned from the site, has also apologized for her post.
"I am deeply sorry for criticizing anything related to the celebration of your special day and using such a thoughtless choice o...f words and tone," she said in a statement. "I am a destroyed woman who is afraid to leave her home and humiliated by being at the root of this terrible firestorm in my adopted home... I don't know what more you want from me, but let me say again that I am deeply regretful of having hurt any Qataris and shattered at what this has done to so many lives."
But calls for calm have not placated Qatari bloggers, and the issue has caused a scandal in the local press.
"We are all for freedom of expression but that does not mean you cross boundaries and heap insults on us," Al Jufairi, a local civil engineer, told a Qatari paper, describing the comments as racist and in bad taste.
"These people have no appreciation of what this country has given them and we will not let them get away with all of this," wrote Amal Al-Sulaiti on a 200 member-strong Facebook group set up to bring down the 'offending' website. "They have called us names such as pigs, uncivilized, racist barbarians... They say that we cannot survive without them and that we cannot handle or manage our country... Our aim is to have this website closed for good and teach whoever is attacking our Qatari identity that Qataris should not be underestimated and underrated and we want all of them to see how vicious we are whenever anyone goes beyond their limits while talking about Qatar."
"We do not want expatriates to leave the country," she added. "But we surly demand respect and will never accept being described as savages... for those who are not willing to be appreciative of all the benefits they are getting by working in Qatar, they surly are not welcomed to stay in Qatar."
Shabina S. Khatri, a Qatar commentator for the non-profit blog aggregation site Global Voices, said the expression of such comments on an influential local site had released a wave of pent up anger.
"This is a website that hundreds of thousands of people use, it's extremely popular," she told The Media Line. "Also National Day is such a happy day for Qataris and for someone to be complaining about it just became a catalyst for anger that has been building up."
"Now some see the website as just a forum for people to come to Qatar and bash Qataris," she said. 'They are saying we are just so sick of everyone insulting our culture and saying we are uncivilized.'
Dr Fadwa El Guindi, the head of the Department of Social Sciences at Qatar University, argued that historically-based Western notions of superiority lead to cultural tensions between Qatari nationals and skilled foreign workers.
"I don't observe any open direct confrontations but there is a hidden tension here," she told The Media Line. "Westerners who come here are generally better trained and often an air of racial superiority, but the Qataris say 'wait a minute we are the ones who are wealthy and hiring here.'"
"There are special privileges for Qatari nationals in pay, promotions and job security and that can easily translate to bitterness on the other side," Dr El Guindi added. "With the background of colonialism, Westerners are used to having it the other way around, in which it is the Westerners that have the skills and the Westerners that have the money. So the tensions grow because those who are economically dominant are not the ones who are dominant in skills."
But some expatriates have joined the backlash against 'Qatar-bashing'.
"We are visitors here," wrote one Qatar Living user in response to the 'Qatar Sucks' post. "We respect Qatar, those who don't, know where the airport is."
"If you don't like it here, then the question is why they are here?" Ganesh Seshan, a visiting professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar told The Media Line. "If you don't like it here and you want to see a change, then do something constructive to help address the issues that need to be dealt with in this society."
"Sometimes you need an honest discussion but not a nasty, provocative, insensitive manner," he said. "But complaining is the easiest thing to do and you can't draw conclusions based on a few anecdotal experiences."
"We wouldn't be here if it were not for the Qataris giving us the opportunity to be here," Seshan said. "So I don't think we should be able to criticize them whenever we feel like it. It's like biting the hand that feeds you."
Seshan said it was an overreaction to call for the closure of the English-language forum.
"Qatar Living is a very valuable resource and serves a larger community than this small number of people who want to vent," he said. "Maybe they need to get smarter about posts, but shutting it down is not the right approach, and you also don't want to get into censorship issues. This is what happens in open forums."
But after four days of press coverage, many Qataris have started to tire of the issue.
Others are already sick of the local press coverage of the issue.
"[What] the hell is wrong with them?" wrote Hanadi Hassan on Twitter. "Will everybody just let it go?"
Source: The Media Line Staff via Gantdaily.com