When will the NY Times get sick of writing stories on Arabs and camels?

March 19, 2008 § 1 Comment

(Image from the NY Times.)

In order to portray a society as “foreign” or an individual as an “other,” you must cast their customs, rituals, or even daily activities as something exotic or peculiar. This entry in the “Riyadh Journal” from the NY Times typifies the practice of creating an other.

This time of year, when the weather here is still cool and comfortable and the flowering plants and shrubs are everywhere, how better to spend a day than to be out in the desert with beautiful camels?

To be sure, the untrained eye [read: Western, –ed] might find it hard to appreciate such beauty. But here, camel aesthetics can be evaluated according to a series of precise and exacting standards.

“It’s just like judging a beautiful girl,” said Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder from the Kharj region southeast of Riyadh. “You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck — maybe 39 or 40 inches.”

As he spoke, Mr. Madr was surveying the offerings at Saudi Arabia’s largest camel market, on the outskirts of Riyadh. The souq al-jamal, as the market is called in Arabic, sprawls over the open desert for so many acres that it is handy to have a car to drive from pen to pen.

The article labels camel contests as “camel beauty pageants” (a term which I am sure is not directly translated from Arabic). The author has chosen to portray a camel contest as something bizarre by elaborating on the comparisons between females and camels — perhaps the author is also trying to imply that Arabs treat their camels better than women.

Either way, if the author had visited the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo — which has several contests that judge steers, goats, and pigs based on their appearance — I doubt that the coverage would’ve been so suggestive.

“See this one?” he asked, pointing to a white female camel with long eyelashes and a calm gaze. “She isn’t married yet, this one. She’s still a virgin. Look at the black eyes, the soft fur. The fur is trimmed so it’s short and clean, just like a girl going to a party.”

Suddenly, Mr. Shammari grabbed the white camel’s chin and kissed it square on the mouth. “When you get to know the camels, you feel love for them. My camels are like my children, my family.”

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