Lebanese poet and provocateuse Joumana Haddad's eroto-anatomical-literary magazine, whose focus is the human body, has been making waves since before it launched, prompting charges of "blatant vulgarity and obscenity." As the Washington Post's update tells us, since the magazine's launch, blogger reactions have run the gamut from "God bless her, there must be some angels protecting her," to the chilling, "She is the perfect model of a person who has to be stoned to death."
But the proof, as anyone at 4 Times Square can tell you, is in the sales. Now in its second issue, the quarterly is selling like gangbusters, not just in secular Lebanon - a traditional center of liberal thought with relatively loose censorship laws - but in surrounding regions, especially Saudi Arabia. Haddad has always cited the venerable tradition of erotic writing as an impetus for launching Jasad, and is proud that her magazine doesn't have a Western equivalent - although she acknowledges that it's less needed in more sexually open societies. Of course, one could easily argue that the publication wouldn't exactly hack it here, especially in such a challenging print marketplace. The current issue contains "themes" like "The Penis - between His and Hers," "The ABC of plucking pussy hair," and an essay titled "My First Time" as well as regular features "Eros in the Kitchen" and "The Voyeur's Corner." Art ranges from (naked) Egon Schiele portraits to (naked) 18th century tableaux. Truthfully, it feels more like an enthusiastically-executed, Anais-Nin-worshiping, vaguely-conceived college publication than a ready-for-prime-time glossy.
But as reaction shows, the stakes are much higher, and whatever one thinks of the content, the magazine's existence shows a lot of courage on Haddad's part. But does the publication's obvious desire to shock and enrage do its purpose a disservice? Haddad must be aware that a good part of her readership isn't exactly reading it for the articles - although, like Playboy, I guess it's got that pretext on its side. But in a region where, just a border away, some women are disenfranchised, can such blatant provocation really do anything other than strengthen walls, rather than make hairline cracks? Haddad would say yes.