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Playboy and Islamic Fundamentalism


The WSJ has a great OpEd today by Sadanand Dhume on Erwin Arnada, the editor of the Indonesian edition of Playboy.  Arnada is facing a two year jail sentence for violating Indonesia’s indecency laws in connection with the sale of Playboy in Indonesia.  The WSJ OpEd is subscriber only, but here’s an excerpt:

The Playboy affair captures the world’s most populous Muslim country’s steady slide toward intolerance. But the silence with which it has been greeted in the U.S. — no press releases from the Committee to Protect Journalists clog my inbox — also underscores the cringe of bien pensant America toward the export of popular culture, especially to Muslim lands. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an NGO head or professional pundit eager to stand up for Playboy, or for that matter for Baywatch or Desperate Housewives. For the most part, such fare is seen as a provocation. Why give the permanently angry Muslim street another excuse to seethe?

In reality, the problem is not Playboy’s predilection for the scantily clad, but Islamists’ tendency to fly into a rage over a flash of thigh or a bare midriff. (There’s no nudity in the Indonesian edition.) American popular culture ought to be celebrated rather than derided. In its crass commercialism and blithe disregard for Islamist sensibilities lie the greatest hopes of bringing Muslim societies to terms with modernity.


In practical terms, Islamist movements around the world — from Hamas in the Palestinian territories to the Jamaat-e-Islami in the Indian subcontinent to Indonesia’s Justice and Prosperity Party — follow a two-pronged strategy. They seek to emulate the West’s science and technology while walling off their societies from the taint of Western culture. These groups see the path to an Islamist state through the creation of a fundamentalist society. This requires shutting down anything that gets in the way.

NRO needs a new mug:  Pop culture is our secret weapon in the war on terror!


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