Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Which way you gonna go?

The Middle East, and maybe the world, suffers from a kind of schizophrenia. This picture below epitomizes two major visions driving people in the region.

On the left side you have icons of modern Arab pop culture, such as Amr Diab, Tamer Hosny and Nancy Ajram. On the right you have Nasrallah and the symbols of Hizbollah. The thing is that these symbols and icons are often not contradictory, in that people frequently incorporate both into their beliefs and identity.

In many ways these icons are polar opposites. The pop music and video industry trades in images of a life most people can never live, of fast cars, big houses, sexy women and stylish men. The videos and stars are often accused of corrupting the minds of the society, much like the Christian right in the US says. The Nasrallah and Hizbollah images trade in the culture of resistance, pride and violence. It probably respresents a reality that people here experience much more directly, because even those who don't live under occupation, feel profoundly and directly affected by it. Christians in Lebanon will praise Nasrallah. Secular Sunni women in Syria will have Hizbollah key chains clipped on their purses.

It is much like the modern form of hijab, or the head scarf, that predominates much of the Middle East. So many girls who cover their heads, then also wear as much make-up as Tammy Fae Baker with pants, shirts or skirts as tight as you could imagine. They are doing the absolute minimum society expects of "good girls", while wearing as little or as tight as they can get away with. They want to live and look like Nancy Ajram, but still be respected by Nasrallah.

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