The Misguided Lebanese Debate over Mia Khalifa and Porn / by Nasri Atallah

The Lebanese proclivity towards double standards and instant moral indignation is staggering. Case in point: the absolute shitstorm caused by the sudden awareness that a woman of Lebanese origins enjoys sex and has chosen to make a profession of acting in pornographic films.

The moral indignation about Mia Khalifa, presumably the first Lebanese pornstar, is wrong for two reasons. First and foremost, as a woman, she is free to do as she pleases with her body. Secondly, as a sentient human being with agency, who lives halfway across the world, she is in charge of her own life and owes absolutely nothing to the country where she happened to be born. There is this odd perception that being Lebanese is a vocation and a duty first and that your personal life comes second.

The lack of appreciation of her success is odd given that the Lebanese are famous for latching onto the successes of anyone who has ever come close to a Cedar tree. We claim fourth generation Mexicans as our own just because they’re successful. Why aren’t we proud of this woman skyrocketing to the top of her chosen profession. Why are we proud of Carlos Ghosn or Shakira? Is sex really that terrifying? Lebanese pop culture is one of the most highly pornographic I have ever come across. While there might not be any actual nudity or penetration, every hyper-suggestive pop video, every glistening TV host, every drama filmed in a producer’s porn-set-like home: the aesthetic is pure porn. We’re just comfortable with it as long as the sex is left out of it. As for the double standards, if the top male pornstar on Pornhub was Lebanese and had the world’s most prolific dick, everyone would be sharing stories about it with pride.

For the record, I don’t think we should be particularly proud of Mia Khalifa, we should just be indifferent. She’s doing a job she chose, in a regulated industry, no different to banking. Actually, it’s probably more regulated than banking. I certainly don’t think she’s our last frontier against ISIS as some have suggested. She is a 21-year old in Florida who has made a decision for herself, with absolutely no wider implications.

However, the conversation we should be having is one about the increasing place of porn in mainstream sex lives. There have been a barrage of think pieces on the issue, TED talks, and even a spate of films, such as Don Jon and Shame, about sex and porn addiction. When I was in school in the 90s in London, we had a porn dealer, who’d steal tattered copies of Hustler from his dad’s collection and flog them for 50p on the playground. Today increasingly younger boys and girls are growing up with increasingly hardcore representations of what sex can be. That’s what we should be focussing on, not one actress who is absolutely not the problem in the hyper-masculine environment she operates in.

If you want to steer your indignation at something, look at the increasingly omni-present porn industry. Pornhub is one of the most visited sites on the internet, well ahead of the BBC and CNN. One of the biggest porn production houses on earth, Brazzers, is co-founded by a Lebanese guy living in Montreal, who went to Concordia, a university every Lebanese mom is proud to boast her son went to. Why aren’t you angry at him?