I’ve been under the weather for a few days, and resurface to find the world spinning out of control. North Korea, the boy-king with nukes. Syria now filled with foreign fighters, many from Europe, and Damascus University under mortar fire. And what, for instance, do people think about these photos ? (Nudity, NSFW, and all that.) They do get one’s attention.
I’m curious about the instigators, who are these generally attractive young, white for the most part, women? How many—if any—are former Muslims, rebel/apostates in the Ayaan Hirsi Ali sense? How many are more typical young Western feminists, appalled as everyone is by the misogony resurgent during the Arab spring, and wanting to protest it. How many are hipsters hoping to stir the pot, in the same spirit of young women I’ve heard of trying to “provoke” the Hassidim in Brooklyn by dressing provocatively? While the targets of the protest certainly make it seem compatible with a purely Islamophobic or neoconservative agenda, it’s beyond my imagination that anyone Pam Geller-inspired could organize anything like this. But then who?
One of the appealing things in modern Islam—which I’ve seen in Cairo and in Damascus seven years ago (certainly not now)—is the blend of symbols of piety and communal belonging with a studied sex appeal: the headscarf with tight jeans and good eye make-up look. It seems to connote a lot of good things, a sort of modernism within the tradition, a sensuality compatible with marriage and family, reverence for learning and education.
I can’t imagine that these protests, which I suspect will be the most widely viewed photographs from Morocco to Pakistan in the days ahead, will convey to men and women in those societies anything beyond antinomianism and anarchy and a sense that the West is hopelessly corrupt and doomed. And I can’t see them doing any good at all for Amina Tyler, the Tunisian nude body artist in whose name they are held. Still, I’m curious about the mentality and agenda of those who planned and instigated this. Unlike many political phenomena, it’s far from obvious.