MUHAJABABES by Allegra Stratton


Meet the New Middle East--Young, Sexy, and Devout
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BBC producer Stratton looks at demographic and cultural trends in the Arab world, and by her account things are just going to get stranger.

Throughout the Middle East, writes the author, are legions of young unemployed men who pass the day, it seems, kicking pebbles around in the dirt. Called hayateen, “men who lean against walls,” they have little else to do. Given that there are a quarter-billion young Arabs, and given that major civil unrest seems always to accompany a large number of young people in any given society (think of the ’60s), and given that American policymakers seem not to have studied this demographic fact before invading Iraq—well, the future looks bright for anyone who knows how to wire an IED. Meanwhile, young Arab women are increasingly fashion-conscious and media-savvy, even as they retain most of the traditional pieties. By Stratton’s account, these shining youth haunt the tonier nightclubs of Beirut and Cairo, listen to underground rock bands in Damascus, work in advertising and television and spend a lot of time discussing how to accessorize with a veil, since veiling, as one young woman tells her, “is now—how you say?—trendy.” Many of these young people have no conceptual difficulty voting for or otherwise supporting fundamentalist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan or Hezbollah in Lebanon—one says to Stratton, “I mean, the thing is, really, maybe it is religion that’s going to save this region.” He does not elaborate what the region is to be saved from, and Stratton doesn’t really press the point. While her report is eye-catching, it has the depth of a TV spot. There’s lots of colorful description here, but not much analysis, making this good background for someone inclined to think a little more pointedly about what these trends mean for the rest of the world.

Still, there’s plenty to ponder here in the matter of how youngsters reconcile devoutness and the sowing of wild oats.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-933633-50-3
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Melville House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2008


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