New Lebanese magazine warns "for adults only"

A new Lebanese magazine called "Jasad" or "Body" in Arabic, purports to break taboos in the Arab world by dealing with the human body through discussions of culture, life, sex, politics and art. But is there something else behind the skin of this new magazine or is it just another tabloid?
Jasad or Body Magazine purports to explore the forbidden "relentlessly" - in this case the Arab world's perception of the body. © Jasad

(MENASSAT) - The new Lebanese magazine "Jasad,” or "Body," is in the very least, confusing. 

The magazine purports to deal with “the literature, science, and arts of the body,” and the first issue published in December 2008 appeared on newsstands with the unmistakable warning on its transparent wrapping: “for adults only.”

Admittedly, the warning might be a legal consideration, but in the end, what I saw was this aura of temptation - sexual and otherwise - that makes you wonder what kind of magazine you're really dealing with.

It's helped by the fact that the editor-in-chief explains in the opening editorial that Jasad wants to explore the forbidden, "relentlessly."

In the end, looking at the magazine on the newsstand with its "warning" stickers invoked childhood memories of being curious about other "body" oriented magazines - the kinds that actually are forbidden in the Arab world.

Bodies as 'holy temples'

Jasad is published by Joumana Haddad through her company, Joumana for Publishing and Translations, and on the face of it, Jasad's intent of creating a discourse that addresses issues of the body in the Arab world is something to be praised.

On the cover of the magazine we read the body is "between its independence and the authority of advertising," and that the ultimate authority exercised on our "Arab" bodies comes from religion, the magazine purports.

Ironically, the endless 193 pages of Jasad are void of any "contemplation, thinking, research, challenge or revolt," as the Haddad's opening editorial promises - towards the lashes of religion on our living bodies.     

The magazine fails to divine any concrete understanding of the relationship Arabs are meant to have with their bodies, and Jasad falls short of declaring ownership of what we should or should not be allowed to do to our own bodies.

In Jasad's case, the magazine sees our bodies as "holy temples" alone, or mere tools for worship.

But the magazine misses the point because it is unconscious of the influence the advertising world has over consumer society - a pervasive power that shapes any "revolt" against that power, as the magazine says it hopes to do.

Taboo topics at safe distance

Between the covers, the pages reveal a huge variety of material, although not entirely coherent.

This first issue for example, presents three thematic topics. The one about homosexuality, titled "I am gay, thus I exist" fails to present an authentic gay voice.

Authenticity here is in the sense of truly belonging to a movement, which actually exists, that is very active in defending and promoting gay rights, exposing real discrimination and the prosecution gay people have to endure in Lebanon.

Since the nineties, this topic has found its way to the mainstream media in the Arab world, framed as talking about a taboo subject rather than talking about doing something really taboo, such as openly calling for changing the laws that incriminate homosexual acts.

Fidel Sbeiti for example, writes an elaborate text in Jasad that is supposed to be the story of a pained gay man, but it is condescending to the gay community because it masks the topic - by discussing it as "over there" so we can talk about it safely.

Foreign influence

Towards the end of her opening editorial, editor in chief Joumana Haddad thanks all the writers who "honored" the magazine with their contributions, arguing "Jasad" magazine had no past, or experience so writers have felt safe to contribute.

Other topics in the inaugural issue included contributions focusing on cannibalism and fetishisms. Jasad's fetishism of choice for the first edition was about feet.

One contribution by a writer called Ibrahim Farghali, is nothing but a flirtation directed at the editor in chief herself quoting a paragraph from one of Haddad's books in which she describes a delicious set of toes decorated with red nail polish. The writer goes on and on about his foot fetish, all the while not admitting he actually has a fetish at all.

The magazine does provide some interesting moments, but most are translated works into Arabic.

Junishiro Tanisaki's "Fomiku's foot" makes its way in selected translations into Arabic.

On the issues featured topics, we find recommended readings, in small highlighted tables at the edges of the pages. Surprisingly again, they are all in foreign languages.

A magazine in Arabic about the issues of the body is expected to harvest from the rich tradition of Arabic writings on the body. Still, it is telling in terms of where, as supposed Arab intellectuals, we derive our concepts and ideas about issues that are in fact taboo in our culture, or thought to still be taboo.

Haddad herself offers the readers an interview with French literary critic Catherine Millet along with selected translations from her book, "The Sexual Life of catherine m."

Arab writers wanted here

Other notable contributions come from Muhammad Sweid and Hovik Habashyan, both about sex on the big screen. Sweid has previously written on the topic, including a short novel, that tells his history with the sexual icons of early Egyptian cinema. His contribution discusses themes of sexuality in pioneer porn recordings, recently collected and released.

While Habashyan provides what I can call a sort of porn history-101 tracing the major porn icons of the 20th century. Amusingly, the writer does not shy away from introducing his favorites among these stars, in separate little frames scattered across the pages.

While analyzing our fantasies and their manifestations might contribute esthetically to our understanding of the body, this is hardly the taboo, or the forbidden for a magazine that promises to address all unventured areas of how we understand our bodies, or express them.

It is exactly on this point that the magazine fails. The taboo now is not writing about orgasms in Arabic, or in English in pieces by Arab writers. There is plenty out there on the shelves.

Understanding the body "for real"

Revolting and confronting, in the words of Joumana Haddad, again, means preparing for a long costly battle. The body stands at the intersection where several mechanisms of oppression meet, varying from state to market to religion to society all the way to cultural traditions and conceptions, all protected by an elaborate matrix of rooted establishments and institutions. Coming near there interests is not without consequences.

Because revolutionizing our perception of the body as the magazine strongly wants us to believe, means talking about prostitution and the need to legalize this trade, in order to protect all women and men who are involved in it from abuse, violence and illness.

Addressing the taboo means condemning wide-scale inhumane practices against domestic workers, the imprisoned bodies in our houses, and campaigning for protective regulations.

To talk about abortion is taboo. But to call for regulations that only admit the facts that take places in dark rented apartments, in order to insure correct medical treatment for those who in all cases chose to decide for their body, is really a taboo.

The list is long, honor crimes still receive leniency in courts, and victims are neglected. Even sexual education in our schools is still dubbed "productive education".

Cohabitation is still illegal, a common practice in Beirut for anyone who admits the reality on the ground.

Civil marriage means many things, but in a way, it means I am having sex with another person, without the permission of any holy authority. And children born out of a marriage bond, are doomed "bastards", these are the battles of a body in revolt, today, in Beirut.

The first issue of this magazine, is now its past. We will wait future issues, to see if they will walk the road they promised - to the end.