Let the Funky Arabs Turn you On!

by Guest Contributor Ethar El-Katatney, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch.

Sexy Girls. Arab Beauty that’ll rock your world. Sea, sex and sun. Let the funky Arabs turn you on!

 The new “Funky Arabs” single by Jad Choueiri, the Lebanese singer known for crooning love ballads, has had over 150,000 views on YouTube in one month.

Choueiri spends four and a half minutes singing about how Arabs are not the evil figures typically portrayed in Western media. “We’re not what you see on CNN and the BBC. […] Ain’t no bombers, we’ve got the guts,” starts off the track. So far, so good. But then the main message of the video really unfolds, which, when translated from pop star-speak, can be summarized:

“Arabs aren’t terrorists! We’re just like you, the all-wonderful West. We too have sexy blond girls with silicone boobs dancing in next-to-nothing clothes in smoky nightclubs, gyrating their hips and filing their nails. Our guys are all cut, and walk around wearing bling. We love to smoke, drink, and take drugs. We party all night and we are oh-so-cool.’

A disclaimer at the beginning announces that everyone who participated in the music video is an Arab, just in case you can’t possibly believe that such beauty, sexiness, and botox addiction exists in our countries.

The women in this music video, are, to put it simply, nothing more than  half-naked eye candy. As Choueiri announces, “We’ve got sexy girls / Arab beauty that’ll rock your world.” The first woman we see is blond in a blue strapless dress and red heels, and her silicone implants are visible when she stands in front of an x-ray machine. Another is dressed in what looks like a pink ice-skating outfit, straddling a huge wine bottle in a martini glass. Another pours wine down her throat and then, on her hands and knees in a bikini, dances.

The men, unfortunately, don’t fare much better. Plucked to within an inch of their lives, they could not look more metrosexual if they tried. Ripped abs and humongous biceps seem to be the criteria that need to be fulfilled to be one of the “loaded guys” who “you gotta see when they get their highs.”

Strangely enough, there isn’t any “funny” stuff between men and women. The video basically goes as follows: Jad singing in his awful-looking shirt, sexy girls, Jad singing, sexy girls, guys and girls sitting in a group, Jad singing, guys and girls dancing stiltedly at the beach with a whole lot of water. For all this talk of getting freaky with Arabs, no one in the video actually gets freaky with anyone else.

With its over-the-top scenes, such as Choueiri arriving at a nightclub red carpet on a camel, and women injecting themselves with botox in the bathroom, Choueiri’s music video seems to be the poster child for parody. The singer’s handlers insist he is quite serious—inasmuch as pop can be taken seriously.

The idea behind Funky Arabs is to show a different point of view of a segment of the Arabic society,” reads an email from Jad Choueiri’s management to me. “It doesn’t have the pretension to represent the real face of the Arabs like some media has suggested. In a pop song, which is meant to be entertaining and fun, it would be probably inappropriate to display the cultural and social achievements of the Arabs in different fields. So the side that was chosen to be represented is the side that has to do with partying and fashion which is adequate when you are a member of the pop culture community. Although it may sound superficial to some, it is supposed to make us look more appealing to the West by showing that we endorse that type of ‘culture.’ You cannot follow these trends and be a terrorist or a close minded person because they are a representation of a deeper matter, the one of tolerance and openness.  (emphasis mine)

Umm, make us seem more appealing? But who said “they” are all like ‘that?’

My biggest problem with this music video is not the gratuitous amounts of flesh on show by the scantily clad women–which let’s face it, has become the norm in many similar Arabic music videos–but the political implications of Choueiri’s message. Because if not a parody, then the video is certainly a textbook case of cultural appropriation. Listening between the lines, you could well take home the message: the only way we can prove we are not evil is if we try to erase our identities and emulate selective (read: the most materialistic) aspects of Western culture.

Choueiri’s only concessions to Arab culture: bellydancing and shisha smoking, of course! Nothing else we have “over here” is worth anything anyway. The orientalist image is complete once an x-ray machine shows us that a woman is carrying on her person handcuffs, a mask, and a whip. Arabs are all hypersexual, doncha know?

Some people have applauded Choueiri for trying to highlight different types of Arabs. Others have blasted him for portraying Arabs this way. Others shoot him down for the lukewarm lyrics and music—there’s even a dreadlock-sporting rapper who pops up throughout the track, perhaps aimed at upping Choueiri’s street cred.

I agree with the message of the music video: Arabs are not all terrorists. Duh. It’s a message we have to constantly emphasis and a stereotype we have to dispel. But the substitute image Choueiri is hawking is perhaps just as a bad–substituting one extreme for another is never a good thing. As a friend of mine said:

The benevolent Jad is dispelling the bomber stereotype by replacing it with the harem stereotype, the rich-Arab-with-money-to-burn stereotype, and the inferior-Arab-grovelling-for-western-approval stereotype. Right on, Jad.

This is an edited version of the original article which appeared in Egypt Today.