The Sexy Business of Political Uprisings: Sijal Hachem’s “Khalas”

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?

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    Nagging women equated with riot police? Bad bad idea! As if women aren’t stereotyped enough already as being “emotional villains” out to “torture” men with their histrionics. What happened to Muslim men behaving like the Prophet and the Sahaba did with their wives? I remember reading once how Umar ibn Khattab remained calm and collected all throughout a time when his wife was upset at him over something. Another sahaba was surprised to see this reaction from a man described by the Rasoul (SAWS) as someone whom Shaitan didn’t even mess with (according to the hadith,”Shaitan crossed the road every time he saw Umar approach”)! Umar replied that since his wife is the mother of his children the least he could do is listen to her every demand and opinion.

    And I find it interesting that the video encompassed a light hearted mood towards the Arab Spring. This is in contrast to how American media often portrays American misadventures in Iraq/Afghanistan in a somber mood (one such music video I can think of doing that is Green Day’s “September”). I think it would be interesting to compare and contrast the different approaches to political/military situations by different sets of media around the world…

  • Noha El Agrab

    Great one, a lot of the media pieces out there are just feasting on the revolutions. However, I think it’s just unfair to bring this clip and the revolution into comparison…it’s unfair to both, degrading the events of the Arab revolutions to such a clip and also portray or even think that the clip would marry up or even slightly represent what is happening to our part of the world…true they are using images of what have happened recently, but I don’t seem to be connected to them at any level.

  • changeiscomeing

    …wow i cant belive this, thats rely fucked up….

  • Zeina Awaydate

    Very well expressed ya Ethar , it’s so sad on all levels . Let’s consider that it has nothing to do with revolutions , it’s so disgusting to see women portrayed as such , the very stereotype that is being spread more and more .

    And what if it’s associated to big revolutions that we were all dreaming of ! NOw that they’re here , is this is how we make use of them ! I am a lebanese and i know that this video is such a shame for us , well but very predictable for our media :( !

    All i pray for is Arabs who would carry on after the revolutions , not what so called arabs who turn them into businesses or worse , sexual material !

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