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Media and Representation

How to Write about Arabia

A post from a Jordanian blog, lost now within the vast internet abyss..

Some tips: Sheikhs and suicide bombings are good.

Always use the word ‘Sand’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Whispers’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Islam’, ‘Jihad’, ‘Desert’, ‘Dawn’, ‘Struggle’, ‘Oil’, ‘Orient’, ‘Arabia’, ‘Calling’, ‘Veil’, ‘Allah’ or ‘Anger’. Also useful are words such as ‘Terrorists’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Fundamentalism’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that you must always refer to Arab people as the “Arab Street”.

Under no circumstances should you have a picture of a well-adjusted Arab on the cover of your book, or in it; sometimes you may make mention of certain well-rounded Arabs, but only to highlight their differences with the West. An AK-47, a mosque, and the desert: use these. If you must include an Arab, make sure you get one in a veil or burning an American or Israeli flag.

In your text, treat the Middle East as if it were one country, and constantly refer to it as ‘Arabia’. It is hot and dusty with rolling sand dunes and huge herds of camels, because they are the only animals that are strong enough to live in such a harsh climate. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. The Middle East is big: twenty-two countries, 300 million people who are too busy fighting and dying and warring and bombing themselves to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions mysterious and exotic and unparticular. Also, make sure that you mention that Turkey, Iran or Afghanistan are not Arab countries, but then continue to refer to them as if they were. Because, although you are worldly and realize the differences, they all sort of look the same so it doesn’t matter.

Make sure you show how Arabs are completely different from the West, and do things no other humans do. Do not mention music, television or bars; the mosque is an Arab’s entertainment of choice, along with jihad, war, tribal meetings, gutting sheep, cutting off limbs, and having arguments about the inferiority of women. Make sure you show that you are able to partake in such acts without flinching, and describe how you learn to understand this perspective—because you care.

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Arabs (unless honor killing is involved), references to Arabs having fun, references to Arabs not hating the US, mention of school-going children who have no intention of blowing themselves up. Make no mention of Christian Arabs, Jewish Arabs, black Arabs, or blond Arabs. All Arabs are Muslim, and all Arabs are dark (but not too dark).

You may show Arabs partaking in everyday life, but always sound slightly astonished at how they can cook, clean, and sometimes (but rarely) laugh, given their strict Islamic tradition. Make sure to mention that despite partaking in everyday actions, they do so under “the watchful eyes of the oppressive regime/father/mullah”. Also, any mention of school should also be accompanied with the topic of “madressas”. This is when you show the clip of faceless young Arabs banging their head on the ground.

Throughout the book, adopt a bad Arabic accent, in conspiracy with the reader, and an angry, helpless tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you understand why all Arabs hate the US, how you sympathize with the repressed “Arab street”, despite their backwards nature. If you are a man, take it upon yourself to save the beautiful veiled woman from her oppressive society. If you are a woman, treat Arabia as a man who is oppressive, traditional, and yet strangely kind and caring. Arabia is to be pitied, feared or liberated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, the “Arab Street” is doomed.

Your Arab characters may include young fundamentalist men, highly sexualized yet repressed females, and devout Muslims who are against jihad. Or corrupt leaders, poor Bedouins, rich sheikhs, and harem prostitutes you have slept with. The devout Muslim’s goal must always be to reclaim Islam from the Fundamentalists, and makes constant references to the fact that ‘radical Islam is the exception not the rule’, so that your readers are clear that, like them, you are not anti-Islam. The Modern Arab is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Arabia. He is an enemy of change, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Women Shelters. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in an Armani suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich and unveiled businesswoman who runs a harem.

Among your characters you must always include The Hysterical Mother, who can’t speak any English and wanders the refugee camp slapping herself and screaming and cursing at the West. Her children are young fundamentalists, and she is shown weeping for fear that her sons will turn out to be suicide bombers. She must look utterly helpless, and snot must run down her nose. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and beautiful veiled woman who has a shy laugh and who is concerned for her country. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who has converted to Islam (if fiction).

Bad Western characters may include the Bush administration, Western expats who molest women, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the US and the word “imperialism” repeatedly. Blame the West for Arabia’s situation. But do not be too specific.

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the Arab characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in the Middle East. Arab characters should be mysterious, exotic, and traditional—but all must hate the US. It is the good Arabs that do not act on these feelings. Don’t try too hard to explain to your audience why they hate the US, because doing so would be racist towards their “Islamic civilization”. Accept the fact that you will be hated, and try and work through these feelings—but only with the good Arabs. A soundtrack of quick Arabic gibberish, and the azzan sound should accompany the bad Arabs while they speak.

Make sure to impress upon your readers how Arabia was nothing before oil, and will be nothing again when oil runs out. Don’t mention education, or technology (mobiles will destroy the sense of endless rolling desert). These things are not relevant when discussing the Land of Arabia, only oil is. Every Arab must be described in national dress, with the phrase: “flowing white robes” or “immaculate white robes”. Don’t forget to impress upon your reader how immaculate and how dazzling white those robes are. Muse repeatedly on the amazing ability of the peoples of Arabia to keep their flowing white robes so dazzlingly white. The women of Arabia must always be described as “black veiled women” and always in the plural. Never “wife”; always “wives”. Every airport must have a scene where an Arabian man in flowing white robes is accompanied by several black-veiled wives.

Describe, in detail, the call to prayer (azzan, loud, haunting, conservative, bombed) or smelly, dirty markets. Also, sex is very important, so go into detail about the differences in the ways Arabs have and think about sex. And naked bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially blown up naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable and angry will be referred to as the ‘real Arabia’, and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them be understood by the West. Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. This should be easy, as camels are the only animals that exist in the Middle East, other than scarabs and cockroaches.

Readers will be put off if you don’t mention the markets in Arabia. They are always loud and dirty. There is always someone who is spitting phlegm. Small, winding alleys and bazaars are critical—Arabia is the Land of Mystery and Exoticisim. Talk about the beauty of the rolling sand dunes and the geographical landscape, that continues to be beautiful despite the type of people that inhabit it. When your main character is in a desert living with indigenous peoples (anybody short and/or dirty) it is okay to mention that Arabia has been severely depopulated by War and Jihad (use caps).

You’ll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Arabs and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book or movie with the azzan resonating through an abandoned market place during sunset, calling everyone to prayer. Seriously, don’t forget the haunting wail of the azzan. Repeatedly. Because you care.

[tarboush tip: omar]

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Discussion

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