Critics are assailing the new movie "Sex and the City 2" for its portrayal of liberated American women visiting the uptight Middle East. The movie's depiction of superficial Westerners violating the region's cultural taboos is allegedly so off-color it has been described as racist, offensive and a potential al Qaeda recruiting tool.
Despite denouncing such films as symbols of Western cultural decadence, many in the Middle East would love to emulate what they see on the silver screen - and a fair portion of the educated classes secretly do. Punishment can be harsh for conduct the West would consider youthful exuberance. Last year, for example, Mazen Abdul-Jawad, bragged about his sexual exploits on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation program "Bold Red Line" and was sentenced to five years in prison plus a thousand lashes.
A recent episode of an MTV reality show, "True Life - Resist the Power, Saudi Arabia," told the story of several young Saudi cultural rebels, including members of the heavy-metal group called "Breeze of the Dying." Aziz, one of the profiled youths, summarized their problem saying, "We are not free to live as we like." Playing rock music can lead to prison, and sure enough, following the broadcast, charges were filed against the troubadours in a Shariah court for "openly declaring sin."
Five female journalists at Qatar-based Al Jazeera quit their jobs last month, charging "harassment and criticism of dress and claims of immodesty" from their superiors. By Western standards, the on-air personalities dressed professionally, but their failure to wear veils ran afoul of Al Jazeera's increasingly hard-line standards. The work environment became so hostile that they had to leave. It remains to be seen if Al Jazeera will require its female newscasters to don the veil, or if they will dispense with showing women on the air altogether.
"Sex and the City" character Charlotte York Goldenblatt changed her faith for the man she loved, but good thing she wasn't a Muslim. This week, Afghan parliamentarian Abdul Sattar Khawasi called for the execution of converts from Islam. Afghan TV had shown footage of Muslims being baptized into the Christian faith, and Mr. Khawasi declared that they "should be executed in public." Former Afghan citizen and Christian convert Abdul Rahman was arrested in 2006 and threatened with death but managed to flee to asylum in Italy. Egyptian convert Maher el-Gohary, whose daughter Dina made a personal appeal last year to President Obama (as yet unanswered), said they would not revert to being Muslims "even if we have to live on the streets. We love our Lord Jesus, and we have left Islam for good." In March, advocates for the religion of peace threw acid on Dina as she and her father ventured into the open seeking water.
Charlotte converted to Judaism, which in some quarters is enough to mark her for death. In February, Palestinian state television broadcast a sermon in which a cleric said that Jews are "the enemies of Allah and of His Messenger [and] enemies of humanity in general." He called on Muslims to kill them where they found them. The reason for this genocidal hostility? "The Jews are the Jews," he explained. "The Jews are the Jews."
While "Sex and the City 2" is certainly not America's finest cultural export, it may be our most useful. As Muslims criticize it publicly, women in the Middle East will watch the pirated DVD in their homes with the blinds drawn, dreaming of expensive shoes, designer handbags and freedom.
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