Monday, April 02, 2007

Fundamentalists Impede Progress

I'm sure by now you've all heard or read about Shatha Hassoun, the Iraqi Moroccan contestant on Star Academy. All the Iraqis I know are happy for Shadha and happy for Iraq. But not all Iraqis are pleased. Some of the reactions out of Iraq are predictable, and yet still bizarre:

The Voice of Iraq Radio website ran a scathing editorial attacking the Sharqiya satellite channel without naming it for its repeated ads for Shada Hassoun, the Iraqi contestant on the Star Academy show. The radio station, which covers central Iraq and is owned by the clerical Shirazi family in Karbala, described the Shada frenzy as a “media attempt to misrepresent Iraq and the Iraqi identity, which is not reflected by Shada Hassoun’s behavior.” Iraqi women are not honored to be represented by an ambassador such as this woman, who lacks the most basic criteria of honorable Iraqi women, the editorial said.

Al-Najaf News reported that several citizens in the holy city of Najaf demanded that Shada Hassoun and her father be stripped of their Iraqi citizenship for taking part in a dubious program that “aims to destroy Islamic morals and spread indecency because of its segments that include mingling and touching between the sexes and semi-nudity.” Callers to Radio Najaf FM called for suing the Lebanese LBC satellite channel that runs the show and Al-Arabiya TV for airing a short video of Iraqis in Najaf celebrating Shada’s victory. A source close to the Marja’iya refused to comment, but he described the news as a “farce.”

The Iraqi Rabita website, on the other hand, featured a mock voting campaign for “the ideal Iraqi woman,” with Shada Hassoun running against Um Qasim, an Iraqi woman from Fallujah, shrouded in black, who refused to leave her house during the U.S. military campaign so that she could bake bread for the Mujahideen. Voting results on the website so far are 960 votes for Um Qasim and 199 for Shada.

Iraq will need many years, maybe generations, to become a truly free and secular society where women are allowed to wear what they want, hold hands with their boyfriends/husbands in public without being threatened. Iraq will naturally become more secular as it becomes more prosperous and as Iraqis experience different cultures, and this is assuming that Iraq will not be controlled by fundamentalist groups like the Mehdi Army, SCIRI, or the Da'wa party. I expect that Néjéf and Kérbéla, being the Meccas of Shia Islam, will always be fundamentalist in nature, but I hope that secularism will be the norm in Baghdad, just like it was when my family lived there.

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