Alo Again: News Lifestyle Magazine is More of the Same

Last summer saw the launch of ALO Hayati, “America’s Top Middle Eastern Lifestyle Magazine.” Thanks to a gracious donor, I finally got my hands on a copy of the July 2008 issue.

All lifestyle magazines have an aspirational feel to them, and this one was no different. Chock full of advertisements for Dubai hotels and Swiss watches, ALO wasn’t particularly different than any other lifestyle magazine. Considering the economic situation of magazines, it doesn’t seem like an incredibly auspicious time to launch one aimed at a materialistic lifestyle. I wasn’t able to find any updates about the magazine’s publication on the website, and as far as I’m aware, this is the only edition.

As someone who enjoys a good glossy every now and then, I delighted over advertisements with Kim Kardashian, and interview with exclusive designer Bijan, and a fluffy piece on intercultural relationships (though I did not care for the cover teaser: “Shocking Intercultural Stories”). But the longer I flipped through the magazine, the more irritated I became.

Image via ALO's website.

Image via ALO's website.

My first point of irritation was a brief section on the headscarf, which consisted of a few anecdotes about “Why I Cover” and an interview of Leila Ahmed given by Krista Tippet. The anecdotal section was a total of four women’s opinions: these women, who spanned the globe, each gave a different perspective on veiling. But not a single one of them mentioned that they covered as a requirement of Islam.

I admit, it was refreshing to see women admit to wearing headscarves for several different reasons: this is the reality that often gets glossed over in sound bites like, “it’s a requirement of my religion.” Yet, at the same time, I found it strange that the single biggest reason that most women wear headscarves wasn’t mentioned at all in this section or in the interview with Leila Ahmed. This helps build up the idea of the headscarf as a cultural object (something that doesn’t get much play these days0, but denies the significance that some women hold for it as a religious object.

The interview with Leila Ahmed was a great one, likening the current western media representation of Muslim women to the same patronizing Orientalism that played out in the first wave of colonialism in Middle East. Her interview shed lots of light on the history and future of the headscarf. Despite the educational qualities of her interview, I kept thinking, “Who is this educating?”

While not every Middle Eastern person is going to be familiar with the history behind the headscarf, it seems sort of odd to have an educational feature about hijab in a magazine aimed at a demographic that has a fairly lengthy history with headscarves, even if many of them aren’t Muslim. I know I’m generalizing, and I definitely know that ethnicity doesn’t equal knowledge, but something about this piece tugged at me. It almost felt as if it was aimed at people who were not Middle Eastern.

Image via ALO's website.

Image via ALO's website.

Other pieces confirmed my suspicions. A photography section, entitled “Faraway Faces” (cue Aladdin soundtrack!), featured lots of “natives.” Lots of women wrapped up with only their eyes showing, lots of traditional attire, wizened old men, and even a camel. And the website isn’t any better. There are tons of shots of women wrapped up to look mysterious in glammy scarves.

This wasn’t even the worst part. This issue featured a special section on weddings, complete with all the typical wedding stuff (dresses, rings, honeymoon destinations). But it also contained coverage of an actual wedding. Neither the bride nor groom had Middle Eastern heritage. I assume that if they had, the magazine would have mentioned it, because otherwise, why would they be in a magazine about Middle Eastern lifestyles?

Because their wedding was entirely Ancient Egyptian themed.

(sigh)

Now, I don’t want to go dogging anyone’s special day. I know people who’ve had themed weddings of other time periods. And I can even dig that they have a lot of interest in Ancient Egypt (when I was in sixth grade, I would devour anything and everything related to the time period. It was interesting.)

But this? In a Middle Eastern lifestyle magazine? I mean, they did their homework and everything (the article mentions that the bride wore custom-made accoutrements modeled on those of ancient Egyptian queens), but the cake was in the shape of a step pyramid. Come on. It’s like attempting to have a traditional Mexican wedding with a cake in the shape of a sombrero. It just plays up the stereotypes that they’re (hopefully) trying to avoid.

The article conjured up not only some major Orientalist vibes, but reminded me of a similar craze in the Gulf: Arab brides dressing up in saris for their wedding celebrations. The dynamic is further complicated by the fact that many of them have South Asian maids, lots of whom aren’t treated well. It’s called cultural appropriation, people.

Fuckery aside, I did like a lot of the articles in the magazine. They profile not only rich designer Bijan, but also civil rights activist and author Jack Shaheen. They interviewed not only Jordanian princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, but also Lebanese chef Viviane Chamieh.

I like the aim of the magazine: peace, regional association (despite the region being an ambiguous Western-defined term), and intercultural and interfaith collaboration. I liked the emphasis on “Middle Eastern” rather than religion or lineage (profiling those who are both born/raised in the Middle East as well as those born in the U.S. with Middle Eastern heritage on either side of their family). I liked a piece on double standards when it comes to sex that I found on the website (yes, admittedly fluffy, but we already covered that). I liked the fact that the wedding section had designs by Middle Eastern designers (more of that, please! There are plenty of them!). I liked that ALO uses Middle Eastern Americans as their cover models.

If ALO can cut down on the exoticizing and play up the actual Middle Eastern angle of things (wouldn’t hurt to incorporate more Middle Eastern writers on staff, would it? Or cover things actually happening in Middle Eastern countries rather than covering countries themselves as tour destinations? And profiling more Middle Eastern Americans, like you did in your interview with director Mark David?), it can fully live up to its name.

Muslimah Media Watch would like to thank Jon Beaupre for donating a copy of ALO Hayati.

  • http://jamericanmuslimah.wordpress.com Jamerican Muslimah

    Great analysis Fatemeh. Did you really say “fuckery?” Ooh, you’re gonna get it! *runs away giggling*

  • s.c.

    lol @ fuckery.

    i had never heard the sari’s thing before. although i’ve heard countless stories about the exact opposite reaction to sari’s as a “Hindu dress”…definite class issue there, and maybe even one of cultural appropriation.

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  • luckyfatima

    You know, ppl tend to pick on Gulf Arabs a lot. Don’t hate!

    I have been to dozens of Gulf weddings in Oman and in the UAE…and yes…there is often an Indian themed dress night in which the bride wears a gharara or sharara (NOT a sari) and the guests wear the same or sometimes even saris. This is done on the henna party, not the actual wedding. Let me just say that the presence of Indian housemaids is not the only Indian connection to the Gulf (and by the way, affluent Indians who have servants are not particularly nicer than Gulf Arabs to their co-patriot maids!)…the Arabian Peninsula has been trading for centuries with India. Traditionally rice and clothing material and many other goods were imported from India. A generation ago, people sent their children to Indian schools for a good education. Gulf Arabic dialects are FULL of Hindustani words, and many many Gulf Arabs can speak Hindustani fairly well. Most Gulf Arabs watch and love Hindi film songs and Hindi movies (all Gulf wedding bands know Hindi cover songs!). The average people can sing along to all of the songs and know all of the actors. Also, there are several large and prominent communities here who have GCC nationalities by passport, but their roots are in Sindh and Balochistan (like Lawatis, Zidjalis, and of course, the Al Baloosh who are Baloch). There is another strong Indian connection that isn’t so rosy…for a long time Gulf men have gone to India to find brides, especially in Hyderabad. (I am not referring to a form of sex tourism that you may have read about in the media in which the man immediately divorces his bride after consumation) —these brides are legitimate…this is something sort of like privileged white Western men finding brides by special match makers from South East Asia, Latin America, or the former USSR, only the social situation is a lot different. But this was so common at one point that there are so many people here with Indian grandmothers, mothers, aunts, etc…lots of Gulf Arabs are part Indian!

    What I am trying to say here is that there are rich and historical cultural connections to India, and it isn’t the same thing as hipster whites who have nothing to do with India suddenly dressing up in saris for an Indian themed wedding.

    I am not saying that GCC nationals aren’t in a position of privilege above Indian GCC residents, nor I am denying the massive racism problem against South Asians here (I could write pages and pages on that)…but it isn’t as simple as blatant cultural misappropriation because Gulf Arab culture IS very Indianized …the traditional clothes of women resemble shalwar qameez, their foods resemble certain Indo-Pak foods, etc…not by coincidence but because of cultural connections. And that Indian lailatul henna trend is most popular among Balooshi families who are honoring their own traditions.

    Anyway, it is a complex issue and there are lots of layers here. It just struck me that you would compare whites having an Egyptian wedding to the situation here because it really isn’t a parallel.

  • Ex Taciturn

    Great post, and I went to see the magazine website as well because of you. Those headings like “See how The Ruler of Dubai, Tiger Woods and Angelina Jolie made our “It” List!” and another travel around Egypt to see the same tourist images behind someone else – I guess it is clear who their audience is. In today’s economy, I doubt there will ever be a print-publication that would address the real audiences out there, without the Orientalist-leftovers supporting advertising fantasy.

    What would be interesting to understand more about is the reality of current generations, for example, how common it is for Lebanese to not follow their family traditions, especially regarding religion, and have to go to another country to get married with a civil ceremony as it doesn’t exist in Lebanon. Away from the innocent, a-historical photo-layouts of the Gulf regions, and get to the younger generation everywhere, that is more complex and dealing with major issues, the women certainly so. That deserves more coverage than following more empty rich people who look to Angelina Jolie and Tiger Woods as their spiritual mentors.

    There are so many realities that each region or national definition has which aren’t just about the hijab (that truly Western fascination and rule of what is SUPPOSED to be the priority of conversation)

    Like the racialicious site as well!

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