I lived through a revolution. I saw my 21-year-old brother holding a gun. I slept with a knife under my pillow. I have a close friend who was shot and is now blind in one eye. I was lucky. I didn’t have thugs break into my house. I wasn’t tear-gassed. I wasn’t shot at. But I have friends who were. I have friends who have friends who died. And compared to the revolutions going on in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and Libya, Egypt was lucky.
Today I heard a new song by Sijal Hachem, a Lebanese singer I’d never heard of before.The lyrics are a man complaining about his nagging, materialistic wife, who wants pearls and cars while he only has flowers to give her—nothing new. Here’s a sample: (Arabic lyrics here)
You nag and nag (Raise your voice)
My heart and soul [are tired] of your nagging (Raise your voice)
If people were able to build the Great Wall of China
Then I can shut you up and not hear criticism
Enough. Enough nagging. Enough
Your nagging makes my livelihood disappear
I’m killing myself
I work day and night
I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if I’d heard it on the radio. But I was watching the music video, which features women as sexy riot police standing in formation behind barbed wire as men charge them:
For a while after, all I could do was sit there with my jaw hanging open.
“No,” I thought. “I must have misunderstood. Surely the song isn’t equating men standing up to their nagging wives with people revolting against dictatorships? Surely it isn’t sexualizing state security and torture? Surely is isn’t capitalizing on the revolutions in such a demeaning and infuriating way?”
I’m still in shock that out of the dozens of people who must have worked on this music video, not one person thought that it was perhaps a bad idea. Not one person thought it was insulting to the memory of the thousands of people who died and are still dying around the Arab world? To the thousands upon thousands of people who are tortured in state prisons?
The imagery in the music video is disturbing on so many levels. To see scenes we witnessed in real life paralleled in a music video—of barbed wire, billowing smoke and burning tires and paper; of groups of men wearing masks to protect themselves from tear gas while holding sticks and rocks; and of state security standing in rows and hosing protesters standing peacefully with gallons of water—makes me shiver involuntarily. It was real, it was horrible, and it was traumatic.
Before the revolution, before I saw burned out trucks in front of my eyes, a similar image on television wouldn’t have provoked a blink; we’ve become desensitized to imagery of war, of human suffering.
The video associates the imagery of war with sexy women in short shorts and stockings, gyrating, stripping, and pouting. Let’s sexualize torture. Let’s replace the imagery of men beaten by state security until they no longer resemble human beings with the idea of sexy state security rubbing against prisoners to get them to talk.
And let’s degrade the calls of the revolution. Let’s have the men in the music video shout what all the youth in the Arab world are shouting now: “Enough, Enough!” Let’s have the scene in 3:06 look exactly like it did in real life. Let’s throw in the Palestinian scarf for good measure. All the better. Because, you know, men revolting against their wives is serious business.
This video was not produced a long time ago. It was released last month, right in the middle of the Arab Spring. But, hey. The revolution has been televised. Why not merchandized and sexualized?
Ethar El-Katatney is an award-winning journalist, a blogger, and an author. This article was previously published at Muslimah Media Watch.