A new Lebanese magazine, Jasad, or "Body," may be causing controversy in the Arab world by promising to "deal with the forbidden," but is that in itself enough?
The magazine, while centered on the idea of "the body," deals with arts, literature, society and spirituality. As the magazine's mission statement puts it,
Jasad aims to reflect the body in all its representations, symbols and projections in our culture, time and societies, and hopes, by doing so, to contribute in breaking the obscurantist taboos. [It] consists of different sections and columns, ranging from reportages, testimonies and articles, to essays, translations and creative writings, all covering the fields of cinema, literature, arts, theater, science, etc. And, of course, a wide variety of photos, illustrations and paintings that revolve around the axis of the body. Each issue will feature on its cover, as well as inside, the works of a controversial [Arabic] artist.
Thirty-eight-year-old Joumanna Haddad, the poet, translator, and journalist who founded the magazine and serves as its controversial pinup, explains her imperative thus in an interview with Muslimah Media Watch:
For me it's outrageous that the body is something that we can't talk about because if you go back to our cultural and literary heritage you'll see that we have Arabic writers who go back to 10th century who speak about these topics in a beautiful free way. On a more recent level in our contemporary time it's become taboo to say things freely. When we come to say a word we say it in Arabic or French because it seems vulgar in Arabic but normal in English or French.
Haddad, who is pictured extensively in the magazine, has faced criticism from family and friends - and, not shockingly, from more powerful critics. Hizbullah officials attempted to shut down the magazine's stand at at the Beirut book fair and vigilantes have defaced posters and been vocally critical online. Still other critics condemn the magazine for playing on easy ideas of eroticized Orientalism rather than exploring intellectual freedom in a meaningful way. However, the commercial response has been encouraging: the debut issue sold out its 3,000 copy run in ten days. Even if some of this interest was purely prurient, Haddad could argue that all these readers got the magazine's message. Is eroticism in this case a powerful tool, or a distraction from the issues? Probably both. But it's a time-honored way of drawing attention, and, even if you choose to put the most critical interpretation on the magazine's content, as PETA would probably argue, sometimes the ends justify the means.
Jasad: Sex, Fetishes, and the Erotic in a new Arabic Glossy [Muslimah Media Watch]
New Lebanese magazine warns "for adults only" [Menassat]
Lebanese Editor Defies Norms With Magazine Glorifying the Body [Huffington Post]
Jasad Magazine [Official Site]