It doesn’t often happen that I choose to write about ‘celebrities’, however one may wish to define that term by what exactly we should celebrate about them. It certainly does not happen that I would wish to focus on someone employed by the adult movie industry, simply because I am not a big fan of it. Personally, I prefer spending 10 hours straight watching the Lord of the Rings marathon. I must make it clear that I am not an extremely ‘progressive’ person when it comes to ‘sexual liberty’ presented by this individual, nor do I plan to become more ‘progressive’ any time soon both in foreseeable and unforeseeable future. I come from a very conservative background and certain things are just unheard of. I have nonetheless decided to use Miss Khalifa’s profile and present it in the light of the social media controversy, which her choice of career evokes. On the one hand, she has been subjected to public scrutiny and enormous contempt from the Middle East and the Muslim world, and on the other hand she’s received cheer and support from the Western world supporting Western values.
There isn’t really that much information available about Miss Khalifa that would spare a person watching her performance. She was born on 10 February 1993, which makes her now almost 22 years old. She says that her family is Catholic, though she doesn’t consider herself practicing, and she is of Lebanese descent. She did her BA in History at the University of Texas and according to Wikipedia, it looks like she has only started performing in October 2014. According to available resources, she was approached by a customer when she worked in a fast food chain restaurant and offered work in the adult movie industry. I really force myself not to put words in inverted comas when I write about ‘work’, because clearly at the end of the day she does, presumably, receive monthly salary, possibly payslips, which I am quite confident are considerably higher than any of my salaries combined. Working on one’s feet seems to be a more arduous task, especially with the end-of-the-month, make-ends-meet problems. She is clearly a very charismatic, if I can put it this way, person, who was voted the number one performer on 28 December 2014, replacing the ‘veteran’ Lisa Ann. I understand that by the term ‘veteran’ Wikipedia meant that she starred in 499 adult movies. By the means of comparison, Miss Khalifa, has so far made her appearance in 12 adult movies, since the day she started. Regardless my lack of support for the industry, I must admit that appearing in 499 movies featuring increased physical activity is a hell of a job and carries considerable health and safety risks. What I mean is – it requires a lot of commitment.
The Muslim community branded her conduct as shameful and disgraceful, clearly because of her Lebanese origin. Her family, according to Miss Khalifa, refrains from any modes of communication with her. Miss Khalifa has been also married to an American since the age of 18. I should probably stop calling her a ‘Miss’ at this point, but I am not sure if her stage name is her family name, assumed name or a married name, therefore I will just continue with addressing her as such.
An obvious question for a layman is: why has she evoked so much controversy? After all the girl is American and anything is allowed in the United States of America, she is married and she chose her ‘passion’, and a line of work, which obviously is a comfortable choice both for her and her spouse. I agree wholeheartedly until this point. I wouldn’t tell someone to stop producing pork, only because I don’t eat it. My choice is not to indulge in it, but other people may find it enjoyable. In the same way it does not affect me whether Miss Khalifa performs in adult movies, because it has simply nothing to do with me. It does however bring this uneasy feeling when I read that she was involved in an arranged sexual act with a man and another woman wearing a hijab, which is a traditional female head covering for Muslim women. What is wrong with performing such nine-to-five work duties wearing a hijab? Obviously something went wrong when she started receiving death threats (nothing unusual here) calling her actions as despicable in the eyes of Islam and depicting Muslim women in the unfavourable light. As I mentioned before her parents refused to communicate with her releasing a short statement that her ‘actions are a result of living in a foreign country with different morals and they do not represent her upbringing’. In return, Miss Khalifa said that ‘women’s rights in Lebanon are a long way from being taken seriously, if a Lebanese-American porn start that no longer resides there can cause such uproar. What I once boasted to people as being the most Westernised nation in the Middle East, I now see as devastatingly archaic and oppressed’. Again, I will refrain from commenting, what exactly she boasted about with regards to liberties in Lebanon, as this is not the issue here.
There seems to be a staggering divorce from any reason on both sides. One is convinced that selling sexual acts on camera should not be allowed at all and being involved in such activity deserves death, and the other side believes strongly that she should be allowed to do so even if she plastered all religious symbols on her and shouted, G-d, Mohammed and Jesus at the same time.
I refuse to agree with either of these. Why? Because Miss Khalifa can’t be possibly that stupid to think that wearing a hijab while performing a sexual activity while being filmed would not offend Muslims, just as extremists can’t expect to be excused from threatening everyone that they feel offended by with death. Miss Khalifa’s statement that she was surprised by the negative attention she has received from that part of the world surprises me. Did she not expect it? People got chased down and killed for much less. My personal opinion is that this was the opportunity she used to separate herself from other performers, create a niche, become visible and controversial enough and thus accelerate her career. The only thing I would advise here is a little more sensitivity. I’m sure every other religious group would be offended, if she wore a huge cross with Jesus on it, or a gigantic Star of David in place of thongs… Only none of these groups would be that likely to threaten her with death. This is certainly the risk she took, but it’s ‘ok’ to admit it. She made her statement that she did not want to be like all other stars, she wanted to be different. She associated herself with religion she was not brought up to abide by and thus had no connection with it, but certainly used this turmoil to ensure that she secured her place as one of the most controversial adult movie performers thus far (I may be wrong of course, but I have a very small sample to play with). On the other hand, however offended the Muslim world may be, here is a news flash – you can’t sort all the problems you have with other people by murdering them. The moment you do that, there will be more people in their place, rightly so, to make their statement, that it is not up to you to decide who lives and who dies. I also think it is vital to mention here that, again according to Wikipedia, out of 1.5 million downloads of Miss Khalifa’s performance a quarter came from Lebanon and neighbouring Arab countries. How about chasing the ‘demand’ first?
The same principle was applied to the cartoonists from Charlie Habdo. They printed something controversial, therefore they deserved to die. What kind of a world people live in? If we executed every person that offended us then I doubt anyone would be left alive. I agree that a certain level of sensitivity should be applied, but I also strongly believe that there is a critical difference between a drawing and an actual ‘live’ publicised human involvement in a sexual activity wearing a hijab. Miss Khalifa is still alive, despite the threats (and I certainly hope she stays this way), but obviously she’s a ‘celebrity’ and therefore enjoys a greater level of security, whereas the magazine most likely could not afford such standard of protection… The only right I am defending here is the right to expression, with a level of sensitivity. I do, however strongly believe that people should not at all be afraid to express their opinion out of the fear that someone is going to shoot them as an example. For some reason extremists think that that attitude is helping their cause. I see no way in which it helps anyone here. It certainly increases the international bias as more and more people stop believing that only the ‘insignificant minority of extremists’ is involved in these attacks. Enough about politics. There is a sea of words and tears that one can say and cry and still nothing can be achieved here unless a dialog, instead of brute force executed upon those that are innocent, is employed.
I can’t possibly imagine what Miss Khalifa’s family has to say about her work. Again, I am really not trying to judge, however I can’t not express my opinion especially since I have two considerably younger siblings, where my sister is 12 years younger than I am. I did help my mum taking care of them, changing their diapers (yes, I did it), feeding them, I even involved my little brother in an unintended accident, out of which he, thank G-d, came out alive… and I, as a sibling, would very much struggle, if my sister made that kind of a choice, knowing what kind of home she has brought up in, what kind of values and morals she was fed with from the time when she was breastfed (obviously not by me) and the general perception of that kind of line of work. Neither the parents, nor I would be particularly happy seeing her in that capacity, in other words, less beautiful; I would personally beat the living soul out of her sooner than I would allow her to get involved in such activity. Therefore having a daughter that goes against the family values must be terribly difficult to accept for her parents. Everyone rebels, let’s face it. No child is perfect, apart from my mum and dad according to them obviously. I had my time when I rebelled, which was quite late in my life, because the rules at home were so restrictive that they did not even give me time and space to think too much about a way in which I could have messed up my life.
In between two primary schools (one regular and one musical), language lessons, ballroom dancing lessons, swimming lessons and compulsory literature reading at home in addition to homework, I hardly had time for myself. Then the educational system had changed and I spent three years preparing from exams that would determine which 6th Form school (high-school) I would go to, and then spending another three years more or less, with ups and downs, preparing for my A-levels that would determine which university I would go to, with extracurricular language lessons (English and German) of course, civics lessons, history lessons, math lessons… I can’t even remember – I really did not have much time to think. Therefore when I moved to London to continue further education and had slightly more time on my hands the problems really started. Luckily they were only as big as I could create them, which with the amazing, conservative upbringing of mine, were not that detrimental and I recovered reasonably quickly successfully finishing with the second degree and some additional things (simply because I like achieving), got into excellent line of work, the actual nine-to-five and then decided that it was time to pursue my dreams, and so I moved to Israel.
Not all the time of course my parents agreed with my choices, but I dare to say that my choices were not those that were likely to destroy my future, dishonour the family and restrict me from pursuing any of my dreams, whatever they were.
I can therefore understand that Miss Khalifa’s family couldn’t simply take the pressure. If I suddenly had all neighbours, members of my family and more knocking at my door and telling me that my daughter became a porn star, I would probably do what I can imagine my parents would do – they would physically come, grabbed me by my hair and section me thinking that I have simply lost my mind. In my case, rightly so – I would probably have to be schizophrenic.
It is certainly not simple to become an example, whether good or bad, whatever choices we make, whether we should, shouldn’t, whether we are chased for them or left to our own devices, but I think in all our ways it’s important to ask ourselves a question, if, from the long-term perspective, the juice is just worth squeezing. Not everyone, like me, should have to write a hundred and fifty times ‘I will never bring dishonour to my family’ when they are kids, but I think everyone should take their families, as their initial units, into consideration when making life-changing choices.