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February 28, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1482

On Valentine's Day and the TV Show ‘Star Academy’ as Harbingers of Change in Arab Society

February 28, 2007
Special Dispatch No. 1482

In two articles posted on reformist websites, Jordanian-American reformist Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi discussed how Western cultural phenomena, such as Valentine's Day and the Lebanese TV show "StarAcademy" (the local version of American Idol) are manifested in Arab culture. In the first article, titled "Happy Valentine's Day," he criticizes the fundamentalist Islamist prohibition against celebrating the holiday and called on the Muslims to take part in it. In the second article, he says that watching "StarAcademy" is an uplifting experience for anyone who has lost hope regarding the future of the Arab world.

The following are excerpts from the articles:

Let's Forget about Terrorism and Celebrate Valentine's Day

In "Happy Valentine's Day," which was posted on the reformist website www.metransparent.com, Al-Nabulsi wrote: "Today is Valentine's Day, [and we are] in the midst of a period of terrorism in the Arab world. Let's forget about terrorism, if only for one day, and celebrate this holiday… Let's forget, if only for one day, the preachers of death and the enemies of life, who want us to be hostile towards [the notion of] a happy life and to constantly taint our lives with shameful acts.

"Today, the [Arab] nation is forbidden to love, or so the benighted fundamentalists tell us. Love is forbidden according to the fatwas of the religious scholars, according to their sermons in the mosques, and according to [their] books, tapes and videos. In place of love we have terrorism, which is all we hear about day and night, in gatherings and in schools, on stone benches [in public places] and in offices. The entire world - which is celebrating Valentine's Day today with red roses, red dresses, and red kisses - is in error; we are the only ones in the world who are right.

"We are a nation whose men and women have loved as no other nation in history has loved. We are the nation that gave birth to the world's greatest love poets, to the extent that 70% of Arabic poetry consists of love poems. And in spite of this, our nation is forbidden to love, Valentine's Day is [considered] impure, love roses are cursed, and kisses of love are despised.

"The hostility towards love in the Arab world has grown so intense that it is forbidden to import red roses for this holiday, and [it is forbidden] to wear a red dress or kafiyeh, or to drive a red car on this day. The color red is despised on [Valentine's Day], even more than it was despised as the symbol of communism and the Soviet Union.

"Our religious scholars have forbidden us to celebrate this cursed day so that we will not be like the infidels. [According to these scholars], there is no need to be wary of emulating [the infidels] in clothing, food, transportation, education institutions, science, medicine, and so on. [But] we must not, by any means, emulate them in merriment and love.

"The extremist religious scholars in the Arab world… regard [Valentine's Day] as a relic of an ancient pagan festival. But why do they forget - or pretend to forget - that most Islamic rituals, and most notably the rituals of the Hajj [i.e. the pilgrimage to Mecca], also date back to the pagan pre-Islamic period? Islam divested them of their pagan character and invested them with monotheistic significance… True, Valentine's Day was [originally] a pagan Roman festival. Later it became a Christian holiday, associated with Saint Valentine, who preached love and peace…

"The fundamentalists fight this holiday because it belongs to others. They reject the other, reject his culture and his celebrations, though they rejoice at his agonies and disasters. They recited the shahada [declaration of Islamic faith] and cried 'Allah Akbar' on the morning of the September 11, 2001 disaster. After the bombings in Madrid, they celebrated and chortled with joy.

"From a human and social perspective, this holiday is seen as an opportunity to express happiness and joy: [People] exchange red roses as signs of love and give each other cards, some of them decorated with images of Cupid and bearing messages of love. [There are] parties by day and dances at night, and many [people] send gifts of roses or chocolates to their spouses, friends, and loved ones. This is what the fundamentalist [Islamist] manifestos say about the rituals of Valentine's Day. Is there anything [in these customs], or in some of them, to anger Allah, who is the God of all mankind, not just the God of the fundamentalists?" [1]

"Star Academy" Symbolizes the Modernization of the Arab World

In the second article, posted on the reformist website www.elaph.com, Al-Nabulsi wrote: "The TV show 'Star Academy,' aired on a Lebanese TV channel, is one of the shows that symbolize the fast-approaching modernization of the Arab world. More than that, [the show] itself is the beginning of this modernization in [the field of performing] arts...

"My main reason for being impressed with this show is that it brings together boys and girls in order to introduce new faces into the [music] and dance scene. In addition, it prevents [these boys and girls] from… joining the death groups, the religious parties and the processions of martyrs in Iraq, Palestine, and the Gulf states. [The show] spreads the love of life among them rather than [the culture of] seeking death. It encourages them to sing about life and hope, rather than about suicide and massacre. The boys see the virgins of Paradise here on earth, and not as an ephemeral promise [in Heaven]. They win these pretty girls not by blowing themselves up among dozens of innocent people every day, but through creativity, excellence, and giving in this life [not in the hereafter]."

"Star Academy" is the Only Place Where Arabs Practice Democracy

"I watch 'Star Academy' every Friday night, and I prefer it to all the booby-trapped political talk shows, which are carefully planned and concocted to serve a specific ideology, regime, or political orientation... I prefer it to any speech by Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, Hassan Nasrallah, [Sunni Clerics Association in Iraq chairman] Hareth Al-Dhari, or Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Mahdi 'Akef. They and all the other 'Masters of Religion' have hijacked politics and religion, exploiting them to their own advantage in order to realize their political aspirations. The boys and girls on 'Star Academy,' on the other hand, have not stolen and lied. They appear on the show to display their talents honestly, without [relying on] favoritism, bias, bribery, status or power, in complete freedom and full democracy. 'Star Academy' is the only place where the Arabs exercise democracy and freedom of choice without deceit, bribery and fear of the leader's [iron] fist.

"If the entire Arab world was 'Star Academy,' and the Arab people, including their young men and women, danced and sang in the streets on holidays and public occasions, terrorism would find no place among us. If the Arab world became a 'Star Academy' stage, there would be security and peace everywhere, and the Arab world would be rid of those who rob and terrorize the homeland and murderer free people. If the spirit of the boys and girls on 'Star Academy' prevailed among the citizens of all Arab countries, our situation would be a thousand times better than it is… and we would have no bin Ladens, no Al-Zawahiris and no Al-Zarqawis…"

When You Watch "Star Academy," You Don't Feel You're in the Arab World"

"'Star Academy' is a life affirming show… When you watch it, you do not feel that you are in the Arab world - the world of bloody bombings, the world of [sectarian] murders, the world of car bombs exploding by the dozen every day, the world of lies and deceit, the world of media controlled by the clerics, the world of 'lawful' and 'prohibited,' [2] the world of financial and political corruption, the world of the hijab, the world of fear of 'the tortures of the grave,' the world of poverty, backwardness and illiteracy - which, according to 2005 ALECSO [3] report, is twice as prevalent [in the Arab region] than anywhere else in the world.

"Shows [like 'Star Academy']… are produced only by advanced, prosperous, life-loving and peace-loving peoples. Do we [Arabs] really have these wonderful traits? Yes, we do, but we are waiting for some magician of amazing cleverness and talent to liberate [these traits from the prison of] anxiety, alarm, oppression and fear of the tortures of hell…

"'Star Academy' is a cure for those who have lost hope for tomorrow; it is a remedy to help [us] forget [our] daily Arab distress. Watching it helps you forget that you are living in a world where the prevailing life style is religious, reactionary, conservative, and shuttered. [This show] brings joy to viewers of all ages. I am convinced that 99% of television viewers - including the clerics, tribal leaders, grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers - watch it, either openly or in secret, and each of them wishes he was one of those boys and girls [on the show]. This, despite the hideous and untruthful attacks on this show, and on other shows of its kind, [that are heard] from the pulpits of the mosques, in religious circles, in benighted [religion] classes, within the walls of [our] schools, and in deceitful newspaper columns that come out against enlightenment."

"Star Academy" Represents the True Face of Lebanon"

"'Star Academy,' and many other shows like it on other channels, represents the true face of Lebanon, and cannot be produced in any other Arab country. Lebanon is the land of art, beauty and bright colors, not the land of thieving and plundering politicians… Lebanon is the land of music and ideals, not the land of black, green and white turbans. Lebanon is the land of modernity, secularism, freedom and democracy, and that it why the Arabs - all Arabs - wish to capture and kill this strange bird [flying around] in the leaden Arab skies. Lebanon is the land of greenery, flowers, and folk songs, and not the land of bloodshed, bombings, and Arab killings by the light of day… When I watch 'Star Academy' every Friday night, my old heart becomes a green [meadow] filled with [flowers], and I the breathe fragrance of Lebanon." [4]


Endnotes:

[1] http://www.metransparent.com/texts/shaker_nabulsi/shaker_nabulsi_happay_valentine_s_day.htm, February 13, 2007.

[2] This is an allusion to Yousef Al-Qaradhawi's book The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (The Holy Koran Publishing House, Beirut, 1984).

[3] ALESCO is the Arab League Education, Culture and Science Organization.

[4] http://www.elaph.com/ElaphWeb/ElaphWriter/2007/2/209618.htm, February 7, 2007.

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