[ View the story "Who are #FreeArabs?" on Storify] Who are #FreeArabs? Satirical site spurs debate about secularism and progressivism in the Middle East.
The Stream· Mon, Mar 04 2013 11:48:30
The Stream spoke with Benchemsi about the work behind the site:
Ahmed Benchamsi on the Free Arabs launch and teamajstream
Following the launch, co-founder Nasser Weddady shared:
For too long, we've been told what to think, and what to say. Tired of foreign & domestic diktats of what an "arab" should be. #FreeArabsweddady
Contributor Amanda Rogers wrote of her participation in the project:
Honored to be a part of #FreeArabs because new paradigms of thought from art, politics, and satire can change social consciousness.Ms. Entropy
One reader lauded the effort:
I like the concept of "secularism from within" #FreeArabsBint Talal
However, there has been immediate backlash to the initiative. Some mocked the general tone of the site, which marketed itself as the "Arab Spring 2.0" in a letter-from-the-editor
on launch day.
#FreeArabs are a "new generation of Arab citizens: young,democratic,secular, & Internet-savvy activists" who "led the Arab Spring"! #ShootMELeil-Zahra Mortada
If I am not a free Arab by the time the #FreeArabs page has launched I will be extremely disappointedRoqayah Chamseddine
Inspired by the #FreeArabs, Egyptian revolutionaries will now demand "democracy, secularism and fun."Lara
Next phase of #FreeArabs is probably #FreePersians because what we want is "Democracy, Secularism, Fun" and only in English.Queer Iranian
@IranLGBT and @DarthNader were some of many to address the issue of language, since the site publishes primarily in English.
Time for secular Arabs to make their voices heard & appeal to everyday Arabs...by writing in a language they don't understand. #FreeArabsNader
@hocinedim They even have some writers I like alot but I can't comprehend why almost none of the site is translated into Arabic #freearabsElla Wind
@Makdousa Ella, we have almost no resources for the project, our strategy is to increase the Arabic content progressively.weddady
@weddady it takes away the claim of #freearabs as self-critique because it makes it seem there is a disconnect between your target (1/2)Ella Wind
@weddady (namely Arabs) and #freearabs ' intended audience (non-Arabs, presumably Westerners) (2/2)Ella Wind
Sean Lee quipped:
Ironic that so many of the complaints about #freearabs being mostly in English are mostly in English and French.Sean Lee
At the brunt of many other complaints were satire pieces by the site, including this recitation of a fatwa (religious decree) issued in Saudi Arabia:
The Fatwa Show : Woman's Body HairFreeArabsChannel
Accepting the concept that Arabs who are religious are somehow not "free" is another colonial & orientalist construct. #FreeArabsHocine Dimerdji
Making fun of the way Islamists look is policing people's bodies within dominant racist and patriarchal beauty standards. #freearabsJamil جميل
Just like there are religious fundamentalists (everywhere), there are also secular fundamentalists. i.e. ppl like Richard Dawkins #freearabsJamil جميل
Several asked if the e-publication would feature writers often berated for their handling of topics in the Middle East.
Thomas Friedman can interview random cab-driver in MENA country while Nick Kristof and Mona Eltahawy lecture oppressed Arab women #FreeArabsRoqayah Chamseddine
Looking at the #FreeArabs website, I feel like i'm looking at a mash-up of Pam Gellar & Mona El-Tahawy bullshit.Danya دانيا
@LeilZahra I hope they get foreign policy magazine to design the cover ;) #FreeArabsSamah Hadid
Another satire series on the site titled "
The Horrific 4
" features columns from characters sold as "Satan's personal envoys to the holy Ummah", or Muslim community.
Many argue against the brand of secularism promoted by the site.
#FreeArabs strongly endorses "secularism," but nowhere do they make clear whether they're talking the Anglo-US kind or the French kind.Shadi Hamid
#FreeArabs who support French invasion of Mali, occupation of Palestine, imperialist adventures in MENA. ما شاء الله علي العرب الاحرارRoqayah Chamseddine
#FreeArabs because yay orientalism. We're oppressed, we're backwards, we're uncivilized, we need to be exactly like the West to be free.Lara
Free Arabs contributor Sara Labib fired back:
It would be refreshing to see some criticism on #FreeArabs without the words: orientalist, imperialist, Western funding etc. #yawnSara لاbib
The site's editor Ahmed Benchemsi responded to the criticisms shared over the weekend:
Ahmed Benchemsi on Free Arabs criticismajstream
Onslaught of hostility towards #FreeArabs before folks even know its (WIDE) ideological diversity. I guess it proves there's a need for it.Ms. Entropy
Deal with the fact that I'll be writing for #FreeArabs. I will associate myself with it. I'm proud of our work. And I won't back down. 3/nJosh Shahryar شهريار