Offensive article on Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe from the BBC

Offensive article on Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe from the BBC May 6, 2008

This was written by Susan, and was originally published at Humble Musing.

Apparently being a pop singer in the Arab world is enough to tag you with the adjective “raunchy” (Also here, and again here). Haifa Wehbe is supposed to perform in Bahrain around Labor Day, and the Parliament is considering whether to forbid her from doing so. Her dress and dancing is “sexually provocative” and a violation of Bahrain’s traditions. But there is a mitigating circumstance, according to the BBC:

Ms Wehbe’s reputation for revealing clothes and sexy performances have not endeared her to Bahrain’s Islamist-dominated parliament.

But she did well in a list of the most desirable women compiled by the website,, and she has featured in People Magazine’s most beautiful list.

Oh … so no big deal that she’s being DEFAMED by the Bahraini Parliament. She was voted one of the most desirable women by!! (The idea that being featured in those forums is in any way a compliment is one with which I take issue).

There are two things (well, way more than that, but I will restrict myself to two) that really grate me about this. One, is that the writer (named Frances Harrison, from the BBC) adopts the standards that she attributes to Bahraini society in discussing Haifa. Would Britney Spears, whose career has been significantly more, uh, colorful than Haifa’s get tagged with a word like raunchy in the BBC? No. (in US weekly, maybe, but not the BBC!) Would Christina Aguilera? No. But since Haifa is Arab she is expected to be modest, even by British men and women. And since Al Arabiya used the word raunchy, it’s appropriate for the BBC to pick it up. This is a brand of cultural relativism that makes me very uncomfortable.

Second, the fact that she’s sexy (which is soooo weird for a female pop singer, right?) takes away from the real issue: that in Bahrain, the Parliament gets to vote on whether a concert can take place. Which is a clear restriction of civil liberties and free expression. However, that did not come up. The coverage became entirely focused on Haifa’s body and what other people think of it. It became entertainment news – given the choice between covering this incident as a political issue of censorship and viewing it through the lens of judging a woman for her behavior, the media chose the latter. So, in addition to mistreating Haifa, the reporters that covered this story distracted their readers from the political importance of this sort of behavior by a government.*

Haifa did in fact get to perform, and naturally what she wore was the focus of the AP’s article.

*Editorial emphasis.

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