Saturday, October 16, 2010

Behind the Veil of Vice: The Business and Culture of Sex in the Middle East by John R. Bradley

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"Behind the Veil of Vice: The Business and Culture of Sex in the Middle East" is not a salacious examination of the sexual hypocrisies of the Islamic World, but rather a  first person exploration o the topic by an author who has spent many years in the Arab and Asian Islamic communities.

Author John R. Bradley offers a context for the book detailing a history of sexual activity in the Arab World from the prophet Mohammed's many wives, to the Ottoman Empire which pushed non-Muslims in to sexual service (prostitution) to help confront political upheaval in their society. A fascinating observation in that history comes from an Arab dictator who once told local mullahs who demanded an end to all entertainment (night clubs, dance halls and bars) as a means of ending all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage that creating Heaven on Earth would make the promise by God of the reward of Heaven irrelevant.

Bradley takes us through his real-time experience traveling through Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran and more as he talks with selected individuals about the taboo topic.

The irony is that prostitution has been a part of Arab and Islamic life, despite the public claims to the contrary. Not just the Kings and the wealthy, but the common people also engaged in prostitution when it suited their needs. The contradictions in Islamic society notwithstanding did not prevent anything.

Bradley also touches on common practices including the temporary marriage of young women by usually older men purely for the purpose of having sex, and on the marriage by older men with young children, where sex is delayed until the child reaches puberty. The entire topic is disgusting, but Bradley doesn't engage in that details nor does he offer any personal experiences in the realm of his book, only the interviews with subjects of knowledge he encounters and seeks out.

Everyone knows that the Islamic World is replete with hypocrisy, but then, so is the Western World. Human beings will always create excuses to separate their own failings from the failings of those they judge. It's a Middle East where you can hate Israel or the West and even debate dicy issues publicly as long as you never criticize the powers that be. Don't criticize the King, the dictator, the president-for-life, and your opinion has a modest level of free speech protections. Is that any different than in the West? Of course not. The only difference is that you are allowed to hate Muslims instead of Israelis in the West without being punished or subjected to hate crimes laws.

It's impossible for any Arab or Muslim to read Bradley's book without sensing a subterranean view that the Muslim and Arab Worlds are hypocritical. But you must read past the speed bumps of "hot button issues," something very few Arabs and Muslims are willing to do in order to accurately understand complex issues like freedoms, sex and political hypocrisies.

The book is a good basis to begin to understand some of the mondernday realities of the Arab and Islamic Worlds, but doesn't engage in out right judgmentalism. Bradley is not casting any judgments about the countries or peoples he explores in his casual travels through the region. It offers a good understanding of what most of us already know that the Arab World and Islamic World have their vices and people are willing to live with them rather than expose them and themselves as hypocrites on the subject. But it also puts it in a needed historical context that challenges the popular myths that women are free anywhere in this world be it in the confines of the West or Islam.

It is an easy read. And you just might learn something about a topic that is too often throw around in debates with little knowledge and too much stereotyping and political biases or racial or religious prejudices.

Behind the Veil of Vice: The Business and Culture of Sex in the Middle East.
John R. Bradley
Palgrave, MacMillan publishing
278 pages

-- Ray Hanania

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