Arts & Culture

What’s So Funny About Sex, Pop & Understanding?

For a while now, it's been a half-joking and half-serious suggestion on my part: fight terror by making female Muslim pop stars the next J.Lo and Beyonce. Right off the bat, seeing a Lebanese Shi'a who looks like this will … Read More

By / July 17, 2007

For a while now, it's been a half-joking and half-serious suggestion on my part: fight terror by making female Muslim pop stars the next J.Lo and Beyonce. Right off the bat, seeing a Lebanese Shi'a who looks like this will cast cultures where radicalism thrives in a different light and pose some interesting questions. Does Nasrallah like Haifa or does he want to kill her? Given the choice between international superstardom or Hezbollah's defeat of Israel, what would she choose? Given the choice between martyrdom and smooching Haifa (who, unfortunately for them is now married), how many of Hezbollah's men would still raise the yellow flag?

Courtney C. Radsch, a columnist for a magazine called Arabisto recently wondered whether or not Haifa Wehbe could help Bush develop a more nuanced understanding of Lebanese politics. Why does somebody like Wehbe support Hezbollah? Radsch says:

…ordinary and sexy people around the world (not just extremists) believe that if somebody attacks you in your own homeland, as the Israelis did beginning with the Hula massacre in 1948, and subsequent incursions and attacks in 1968, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2006, you have the right to defend yourself against aggression.

Yadda, yadda, yadda. Of course this line about resistance and social services and Lebanon's complex political milieu couldn't be more worn-out. It's generally offered up by folks whose understanding of ethics runs something like this:

I assure you, the "battle" simply isn't as black and white as Bush wants us to believe: freedom vs. radicalism, violence vs. peace, extremists vs. moderates. It's much more nuanced than that.

These aren't political statements–they are philosophical ones. Radsch should notice, however, that most political struggles are won because a clear and unmistakable distinction is made between the doers of wrong and the seekers of justice. Take one of the most successful non-violent struggles in recent history–who is willing to say that the battle between African Americans and their oppressors couldn't or shouldn't have been seen as a battle between the hateful and the hated? Certainly when the Brimingham campaign began, some Alabama business owners were hurt. Maybe some of their families suffered. Some of the shopkeepers blamed the protesters and harbored hatred for them based partly on their economic difficulty which may likely have become mixed up with some notion of racial superiority–not just on pure unadulterated racial hate. They didn't only hate the civil rights activists because they were black–the shopkeepers felt the activists were in the wrong for breaking the law and blocking the free flow of commerce–which they were. These things are always complex. Congratulations to all who think they are being revelatory by stating the obvious.

Complex though situations may be however, no names of violent civil rights activists come immediately to mind because history does not remember their struggle with great approval. The point here is not to suggest that the struggle in this region should take up the non-violent tactics of the American Civil Rights Movement. It is only to point out that ironically it is those who take for granted these complexities that seem more able to make reasonable ethical judgments. It is also to point out–yet again–that a group's methods and intentions matter to any discussion of whether or not they are a friend or a foe. After all isn't the argument here for nuance? Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Big effin' deal–that isn't news. It's after we agree on this that the meaty questions must be asked.

A more interesting way Haifa might help would be this: the West generally sees Muslims chanting frantically, wielding machine guns, or beheading journalists. Disciples of Edward Said will hate me for saying so, but the Western world sorely lacks an image of Muslims as sensual, beautiful, or erotic people. But there's nothing Orientalist about bringing this up unless one suggests that sensuality flows essentially from Muslimness. The West is overfamiliar with Islam's Thanatos facade.

Islam requests modesty of dress, but it does not require the radical desexualization of its adherents. To the contrary, it was originally meant to be a system of life designed for maximizing the joys of conjugal relationship. Unfortunately, the western media has been one hundred percent complicit in jihadists' attempts at radically desexualizing Islam.

If my readers were to remind me that what Britney, Christina, J.Lo and Beyonce have come to represent isn't anything worth wishing on anyone else, I'd agree. But here is where a bit of recolonization could do the west a world of good. Paris Hilton is a watermark in poor taste for women in commercial pop culture and her friend Nicole does for good body image what Paris did for healthy sexuality. Each cranked it up to an extreme that's both condemnable and embarrassing. Compared to them, Haifa Wehbe represents a female sexuality and body-type that isn't characterized by XXX hotel room cumshots and fashion magazine-induced anorexia.

Her politics when it comes to Hezbollah suck. Her political power is symbolic–sex symbolic, to be precise. As a titan among Middle Eastern sex symbols, she defies certain elements of western degeneracy while simultaneously proving to the mass of misinformed people that Muslims aren't part of some inherently medieval war-prone desert species that keeps itself wrapped up in rags.


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