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May 26, 2011

Some More Thoughts on Tourism's Blind Eye

Being a tourist for me was always one of the worst forms of self-inflicted "exclusion". Why would I go somewhere to purposely feel like an outsider? How much can you really know about a place when looking at it from an "outsider's perspective"? And how honest can a tour be, when its based on the premises that you are an ignorant outsider and you will believe anything you're told? 
I also hate being a tourist from a social standpoint… what on God's green earth can be worse than visiting a developing country, riddled with social inequalities and poverty, and stay at a five-star resort, secluded from the local communities in a way that deliberately shields you from the painful realities of their country?
I'll tell you what can be worse than 5-star isolation… visiting this country with the sole purpose of touring its slums and impoverished cities. Yes, there is such a thing and its called "slum tourism"; some people deliberatly target world-famous impoverished areas such as the favelas of Rio di Janeiro, Mumbai, and Cairo to see the images, previously trasmitted through BBC and CNN, physically, live! A lot of the celebrities we love often use 'slum tourism' as a publicity stunt. Of course they don't call it that. And to be fair,  maybe these people don't travel the world's slums just to "take a look"; it could be that they'll join a community cleaning project here, do some research there, and perhaps adopt a native baby on the way out.. but regardless, the very idea that human suffering is being put on a pedestal for onlookers to tour is truly repulsive. And on a side note, we all know that the only reason anyone would decide to "Save Africa" over the summer is because this person is affluent enough to seek a "life-changing" experience that will help them appreciate their empty lives back home a lot better. Side-note over.
Personally I haven't heard of any slum tourism activity in and around Beirut. But then again maybe some of the foreign exchange students at AUB can correct me on that one. I have, however, heard of another form of alternative tourism happening in Lebanon: war tourism.    
War tourism is a term the media uses to describe the idea of recreational travel to war zones for purposes of sightseeing and superficial voyeurism. (
Here's an example of war tourism in Lebanon, brought to you by our second unofficial army:  

Normally, artefacts and relics that are placed in museums for display are objects that are obsolete and no longer in use. Hence, the idea of putting them 'away',  for preservation and display of their scientific and/or cultural value as heritage, a thing of the past. In light of the current reality of the resistance however, this museum feels more like a show of military might than a cultural attraction.
With or without national consensus, the reality is that a portion of the Lebanese population up until the year 2000 were living under a foreign occupation; today they have war stunts and spoils to offer to flocking tourists, rather than fusion restaurants and seaside promenades. Now the question is, is this portion of the population entitled to touristic representation, and if so to what extent are they granted their right to this entitlement? Are we going to acknowledge this face of Lebanon and include it in the Ministry of Tourism's "welcome aboard" videos?


  1. Many lovely insights here, and though I may have a slightly different POV on the value of being "an outsider" (see for example), I like where you're going with this. You heard of ?

  2. "In light of the current reality of the resistance however, this museum feels more like a show of military might than a cultural attraction."

    I think it's important for any society that was living under occupation, and that, through resistance, toppled quite a mighty opponent, to keep these spoils of war, as a reminder for themselves and for others, that being under occupation doesn't mean that you have to submit, and that you CAN take your life into your own hands and make a change. And most importantly, that history is written with the blood of the heroes who sacrifice themselves for the collective good. So yeah, I think it *is* a cultural attraction in that respect. It just depends how you look at it.

    Think of it as a sort of equivalent for holocaust museums, if you may..

  3. Thanks Jad,yes I'v read about it and there's more... Add medical tourism to Lebanon's profile as well.

  4. I agree with you Joanna that it is necessary to nationally commemorate this epoch in Lebanese history, and acknowledge the hardship and sacrifice withstood. I also believe that developing tourism strategies targeting the south must take into account the influences that have shaped the local identity. That said, I think the resistance museum was a missed opportunity to engage the entire Lebanese population in memorializing and rationalizing this era. For me, a museum is the end product of a national debate.. there has been no national debate, the resistance is still there, and by virtue of their continued existence, that "conflict-ridden era" has not ended. But its an extremely interesting practice, kind of bordering on absurd..'a museum about the conflict, during the conflict'