August 09, 2003
HI....Here's the cover of the State Department's new Arabic language "lifestyle" magazine, now on sale throughout the Middle East:
premiere issue of the glossy, full-color 72-page monthly appeared in
July with a cover story on the experiences of Arab students in American
colleges and shorter articles on yoga, sandboarding, singer Norah Jones,
Arab American actor Tony Shalhoub and marriage counseling -- the latter
story illustrated with a photo of Dr. Phil McGraw, the Oprah-spawned TV
It doesn't contain a word about the American invasion of Iraq, the
Arab-Israeli conflict, Afghanistan or al Qaeda. Nor will future issues.
The magazine's editors and its State Department funders plan a
resolutely apolitical magazine.
"This is a lifestyle magazine," says Fadel Lamen, Hi's Libyan
American managing editor. "It's a new phenomenon in the Arab world to do
a lifestyle magazine that doesn't touch on the political."
I guess this is a good idea, although somehow I just know
that it won't be long before the magazine commits some inadvertant but
huge gaffe that requires Colin Powell to undertake a month of shuttle
diplomacy to settle down. My prediction: it will be a single sentence
buried in a seemingly innocuous blurb about some celebrity who turns out
to have said some nice things about the IDF five years ago.
One thing that does strike me, however, is that America's problem in
the Middle East (at least among young people) isn't really with American
lifestyle or culture. I've seen numerous surveys to that effect,
anyway, so I wonder if this is really addressing a major problem.
Still, marketing is all about campaigns. There's no single thing that
does the trick, and I imagine this magazine should be a perfectly
servicable component of a larger PR offensive.
One question, though: isn't $2 a little pricey for Damascus and Baghdad?
Posted by Kevin Drum at August 9, 2003 11:16 AM
When I was in Damascus, meals in the lower rung of nice sit-down
restaurants ran about $2. In Jordan, the Norton Anthology of English
Literature ran $6. McDonald's prices were a little lower than they were
in the U.S., and it was really a special treat place where families
might eat once every six months.
The U.S. is mistaking Arab youth for American ones. American culture
is cool, there: The main university drag at Yarmouk University has
random American names in front of whatever-it-was. However, Arabs are
very interested in politics...its to be discussed in everything from
cafes to mosque sermons. These discussions, while laced with a certain
amount of conspiracy theory at times, are highly substantive, and the
U.S. will need substance to affect them.
Kevin's absolutely right. The Arab world is already in love with
American pop culture and takes pride in the accomplishments of
high-profile Arab Americans. It's our policies that get them pissed.
Now if the State Department wanted to let the Arab and Muslim world how
(for example) the United States fought Christian Serbia in defense of
Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims, that might go a lot farther toward
convincing them that we don't care about Muslim suffering.
This seems to be yet another example (like Wolfowitz's interpretation
of kids making an obscene gesture at him as a congratulatory "thumbs
up") of American government being sadly, and wildly, out of touch with
what people elsewhere are about.
I'm going to argue that there's not a lot of room for a "non
political" magainze in the middle east. It's clear that the State
Department is trying to promote an "apolitical pop culture" in these
countries, but it bespeaks a lack of understanding of how the place
Ironically, because the middle east (and other parts of the
mediterranean) have inefficient governments that cannot fairly
distribute services and citizens can't directly participate in, the
countries are obsessed with politics. It may seem counter-intuitive, at
first, but think about it-- in a country where "the system" works
sporatically and unfairly, your political connections, ties with public
officials, and political ideology is going to be of primary importance
when trying to get jobs, get admission to the right school, get the
proper permits processed, etc. Politics is infused into the pop culture
because politics MATTERS in a way that it doesn't matter in the USA.
I like the picture of Phoebe Cates on the cover.
Can we assume that the magazine comes with a free (but presumably
arab-world-region coded) DVD of the uncensored version of _Fast Times at
Isn't this cover more brazen than many Arabs will consider
appropriate? I think something so frankly sexual will generate more ill
will among the religious than good will among the secular.
so, this magazine is being targeted to the demographic that is
currently being deported in large numbers from the US? and the cover
story is about another group (arab students in the US) who in large
number are currently being watched closely by agents of the US
i understand the rationale for this sort of thing but don't you think
there are mixed messages being sent here that these prople are too
smart to overlook?
I guess this is a good idea, although somehow I just know that it
won't be long before the magazine commits some inadvertant but huge
gaffe that requires Colin Powell to undertake a month of shuttle
diplomacy to settle down.
Hilarious, Kevin. I can't tell if you were trying to be funny or if it's just me. (And I do mean that in a good way.)
Yeah, that cover is gonna piss off Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.
I like it. The Iranian government should really like it, too.
I'm curious how the Family Circus cartoon inside Hi! will be taken by our Middle Eastern brothers.That brazen Dolly with her short little skirts...
If I were Foggy Bottom, I wouldn't worry about how OBL or the
Mullah's take this. I'd worry about how pissed Tony Soprano is gonna be
when he sees Meadow on the cover.
I don't think it matters much what the fundamentalists think. They're going to be pissed off no matter what.
Michael: a bit of both. It was a joke, but on the other hand
something like this is bound to happen. Especially since the magazine
is actually published by an outside conglomerate.
There is already the American run Radio Sawa in the ME. They do a
lot of popular music to attract the young and then they do hourly news
bulletins with a distinct pro-US bias (obviously). A journalist in the
Danish newspaper I usually read, told how a taxi driver in Amman heard
that radio, but as soon as the news came on, he switched channel. When
asked why, he said he liked the music, but resented the US propaganda.
So, the magazine might find an audience, but it probably wont change
anything politically. Nobody there trusts the US to do any good anyway,
besides the music and the glamour. They see every day in TV how
American produced and American paid arms operated by Israelis are
killing palestinians, and they are quite unlikely to forget that just
because of a glossy magazine.
I'd be interested in Salam Pax's take on this new magazine. I'm
challenged enough as it is to know what's hip with American youth these
days, let alone Iraqi youth.
They see every day in TV how American produced and American paid
arms operated by Israelis are killing palestinians, and they are quite
unlikely to forget that just because of a glossy magazine.
Too bad they don't see on TV how Saudi/Iranian/Syrian funded
terrorists are killing Israelis. Most Arab claims of media bias are
more than a bit difficult to take seriously, at least unless they're
coupled with an enormous dose of skepticism about the fairness of the
coverage they're getting.
The cover probably will be considered provocative in the Arab world.
Good. They need to see women not in beekeeper suits. The women need
to see that. American culture might be the one thing that can beat the
mullahs. They wont be able to enforce sharia law with American music
and standards, even muted like in this magazine, all around them.
Staying off politics makes it more likely to be seen just as that taxi
driver mentioned above turns off the American propaganda on the news but
listens to the American cultural propaganda with the music.
I believe one key to winning the war on terror is getting more
freedom for women in the Arab world. Men make all the decisions now and
always have. The more women participate the more likely we'll see a
softening of the most extreme forms of Islam, at least as part of the
normal lifestyle. If Iraqi women finally get a level of freedom better
than in Iran, it will help turn things around there, at least in the
Maybe it will be a big flop. But this at least sounds better than some of the lame-brain things they've been doing.
"The cover probably will be considered provocative in the Arab world. Good."
Preaching to the converted is one thing, trying to change
fundamentalist beliefs by provocation is another. You might as well
spread copies of "Gay Bears" in the Bible Belt in an attempt to raise
acceptance of homosexual marriage there. I'm sure the makers of "Hi" are
aware of that.
The cover doesn't look particularly provocating to me: the smiling,
wholesome, but modest (see how both girls cover their breasts) scene
reminds me very much of illustrations from the Jehovah's Witness rag
"Watchtower", of which I have seen a fair number in my lifetime (without
being converted, needless to say).
"I believe one key to winning the war on terror is getting more freedom for women in the Arab world. "
While I consider more freedom for women to be a very laudable goal, a
worthy one in and of itself, I do not see what it has to do with the
"war on terror". The women of Iraq had more freedom under Saddam than
they are likely to get in post-war Iraq. The recent resurgence of
attacks in Indonesia and the Phillipines, havens of liberalism in
comparison with the Middle East, happen in spite of the relative freedom
of women there.
The *perpetrators of the 9-11 attack* had all lived several years in
both Europe and the US, and were better-educated, better-travelled, and
better exposed to Western culture, than almost every other denizen on
this planet. Nor are the terror suspects, guilty or not, being picked up
in the US, any stranger to Western culture.
It ain't "they hate our freedom". Sorry, it's not that simple. Never
has been. And the war on terror will not be won by avoiding
confrontation with unpleasant questions.
Don't underestimate the social reasons for this conflict. The west
(not just the US...) are busy exporting our culture, and the youth are
buying. This of course offends the elders (as these things are apt to
do), creating more resentment.
Mind you, in this way lies "victory"..eventually..if the
fundimentalists eventually lose the support, then the threat will be
greatly reduced. It's just a matter of time.
And by the way. The idea of isolating them from our culture, frankly is impossible, so forget about that.
This looks like about par for the course. Back during the Cold War
(ah, nostalgia . . .) we had an agreement with the Soviets that USIA could distribute there a glossy, but nonpolitical mag called America while we would allow the distbution of Soviet Life which wasn't too impressive (our high school got it). So much for cultural exchange.
This looks more like what we can expect, now that we have privatized
chunks of our foreign policy. This should have a sponsor's blurb on the
cover within the year.
I do not think this magazine will have much effect, positive or
negative. People tend to overemphasize the importance of "converting"
people to US-friendly stances through cultural assimilation. After all,
many Americans enjoy middle eastern food, music, and clothing styles
without agreeing with the policies of near east governments.
Karmakin is right to point out that, in many respects, the "culture war"
in the Middle East is a generational conflict. However, this can mean
two different things...
1)It is a battle between the past and the future, as Karmakin asserts.
In this case, it would be kind of like the split between homophobe
parents and their progressively more tolerant children in the US. (When
these children grow up, they do not revert to being homophobe)
2)It is a battle between the "young", and the "older", in which as
people grow up (get out of college and have to face social and political
reality) they tend to become more conservative or at least less
entranced by western cultural products. In this case, the "future" might
look rather more similar to the "past".
I guess all I'm saying is that many social movements have had youth
on their side without neccesarily being the "wave of the future". I
obviously don't know on which side of the fence the current generational
conflict in middle eastern countries sits, but at least we should
consider an alternative interpretation of events such as the student
demonstrations in Iran.
What's up with Keanu talking up that blond anglo chick there in the background?
The Iranian government should really like it, too.
The Iranian government... does not speak Arabic. And could really
care less about Arab pop culture (unless Shiites are involved).
First off, I don't think this magazine is going to be of major
consequence. I agree with the poster there. I think that it is a
nominally positive idea vs. some pretty bad ones the administration has
I've also heard this about how free women were in Saddam's Iraq. Is
anyone really going to hold Saddam up as a paragon of feminisim? Saying
"well, compared to Saudi Arabia, they're pretty free" isn't exactly
glowing praise. As for now, there is a fight over whether a female can
be a judge in Iraq. I maintain that part of the process of turning the
Middle East from a region that exports terror to one that can at least
refrain from same depends in part on women playing a larger role in
society. Seeing women act as judges, political representatives, and
having jobs across the spectrum, along with little things like American
culture showing women not wearing burkas and pursuing educational and
career goals, will help bring about (probably slow) change on Arab
attitudes about women. Right now men have rights over women over there
that would be unthinkable in a free society. If we really are for
freedom and democracy we must also be for those principles for women, or
the terms lose their meaning.
Elliot, I wasn't suggesting that we send copies of Hustler and
airdrop them on Iraq. But even the rather demure picture of women on
the cover of this magazine is pretty risque to what Iraqis and others in
the Middle East are used to. That picture in itself is provocative in
that it shows a woman not covering her hair and not being escorted by a
male relative. These kind of gradual changes can at least acclimatize
the Arab world into accepting some small changes in freedom for women. I
think it essential to moderate the male agenda to keep women dominated
and submissive. I believe winning more freedom for women will moderate
those who want to enact sharia law as the law for Iraq; in fact I don't
see Americans leaving Iraq if sharia law would become the justice system
Those of you that think this magazine's cover is provocative are
ignorant about MidEastern magazines. Cripes, there is an Egyptian
version of People, which doesn't quite get as racy as Cosmo and the ilk,
is more provocative than this magazine. My mom brought a few over when
she was visiting from there and one of my friends was commenting on "all
the hot babes" in the magazine.
I don't want to say you guys are just as bad as the right-wingers
when making cultural generalizations, but you are. I'm gonna see if I
can dredge one up, scan it and send it to Kevin. Granted Egypt is
relatively liberal for an Arab country, but it is also the major
cultural exporter of the MidEast, so it wouldn't be surprising if the
magazines I know of make rounds through the region.
Though I did find the "women dressed like beekepers" line amusing.
Monsoor Moaddel, a sociologist from Eastern Michigan University, has
done some survey work in just this area. From the notes I took when I
saw him give a talk last fall: Although the data is largely descriptive
at this point, it has some interesting suggestions: Moaddel and his
colleagues find both that postitive Egyptian attitudes toward democracy
and negative attitudes toward Western "cultural invasion" have
increased. A problematic aspect of the finding regarding cultural
invasion, as one questioner pointed out, is that the term is
ill-defined: Does it mean free markets? Pop music? Fashion? Language?
Moaddel's response was that the term is itself used in just such a vague
fashion, in the region. That is, the broad idea of "Western cultural
invasion" is a salient, and increasingly so, problem in Egypt (the
comparative data from Iran and Jordan was not yet available).
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