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February 15, 2012

Jasad Magazine (The Arab porno literature)

February 15, 2012

February 15, 2012


By As'ad AbuKhalil*

The release of porn or semi-porn magazines in the US is not treated as a literary affair. Foreign media are not expected to treat the publishing of such magazines as an indication of feminist progress or of creativity. Yet, the Lebanese magazine Jasad was treated in the Western press as both: a literary event and feminist trend in the Arab world.
The problem is that those who are covering Arab culture in the Western press are people who are not fluent in Arabic. Take for example the American journalist, Lee Smith, who labels himself as an expert in “Arab culture” although he admitted that he does not know Arabic. He went on to write a book on Arab culture inspired by Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind.
Writers on Arab media and culture are people who can`t read articles and books in Arabic and cannot watch Arabic TV. To be sure, some Western journalists and academics hire translators during their journeys to Arab lands (and some of those translators have interesting stories to tell – if you ask).
The founder of Jasad is, for example, known to be an anti-feminist (and someone who does not really know what feminism is). Yet Western media insists on treating her as an Arab feminist icon. She edits the cultural section of An-Nahar, and that section (along with the paper) is only famous for its steep decline and cultural insignificance.
Jasad was met in Lebanon and beyond with a yawn. International porn is now available in Beirut and the Internet opens many doors for the pornographically curious. But the magazine did sell in Gulf countries where royal sheikhs and princes were eager for Arabic pornography (one of the two most sexually explicit Arabic movies ever, Dhiab La Takul Al-Lahm, was shot in Kuwait).
To market her magazine (the idea of which was stolen, according to the literary magazine, Al-Ghawun), she knew which buttons to hit. She falsely claimed to Western media (including intelligent publications such as The Guardian newspaper) that Jasad was a victim of a campaign by Islamic fundamentalists, including by Hezbollah. She even claimed that Hezbollah targeted a stand dedicated to her magazine at Beirut Book Fair. But no one has heard of such campaigns in Lebanon, and such news was never printed in the Arabic press.
Nevertheless, the media in the West could not resist the temptation: long articles were written to promote a magazine that they had not read and to lionize her founder as a courageous feminist who defied the taboos of Islam.
Recently, I was at As-Saqi bookshop in London. I asked to see the most recent issue of Jasad. The director told me that this was the last issue and that the magazine was going under. Not enough sales. As I read into the issue, it was clear that it mimicked the old Playboy magazine and the cartoons were even more tasteless. It was clearly intended to titillate and the nude pictures were more out of place than a belly dance scene in old Egyptian movies.
So Jasad failed. But the failure was not due to Islamist intimidation or threats. In fact, the Arab media never took the magazine seriously as it was seen for it was: yet, another sleazy publication in a market that caters to royal sleaze appetites in Gulf countries. This story should count as yet another failure for the Western media.
* This article was originally published in Al-Akhbar's blog, and was republished with a permission from the author.

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