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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lebanon Debates Online Olympian’s Racy Photo Shoot

A report from LBC in Beirut on the threat to ban one of Lebanon’s two Olympians, the skier Jackie Chamoun, from future games for her semi-nude modeling work.

Lebanon’s fractured sense of national identity was on full display this week, as bloggers rallied online to defend the honor of a female Olympian, the skier Jackie Chamoun, accused by the country’s sports minister of tarnishing the nation’s image by posing for seminude photographs on the slopes outside Beirut.

As the blogger Abir Ghattas explained, the photographs of the young skier and a colleague, and a risqué promotional video for the calendar they were used in, were unknown in Lebanon until a television channel, Al Jadeed, published them on Monday under the headline, “Scandal â€" Lebanese Skiing Champions Are Nude Starlets!”

The next day, a Beirut night life magazine on the opposite end of the cultural spectrum posted a copy of the R-rated promotional video on its website, where it drew hundreds of thousands of views.

After Lebanon’s acting sports minister, Faisal Karami, responded to the reports by calling on the nation’s Olympic committee to investigate Ms. Chamoun for bringing Lebanon’s reputation into low regard, liberals in Beirut and elsewhere rushed to defend the skier, suggesting that the country faced far more serious threats to its image.

Messages attacking Ms. Chamoun, including some that included death threats, were also posted online, but most of what was written by Lebanon’s English-speaking elite was supportive.

Although Ms. Chamoun tried to defuse the controversy with an apology posted on Facebook from Sochi, the debate over the issues exposed by the fracas â€" including anger at the local media’s role in creating the scandal and the relative lack of attention paid to more serious issues, like terrorism and the physical abuse of women â€" ensured that it continued.

Post by Jackie Chamoun.

As Nadine Kanaan observed in a column for the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar on Wednesday, it occurred to many Lebanese women that the plethora of local media reports damning, but showing, topless images of the young skier contrasted sharply with the relative silence in the some outlets over the case of another woman, Manal al-Assi, who was beaten to death recently in a domestic violence assault.

The media’s approach to Jackie’s story, the winds of chastity that suddenly blew and the frequent use of phrases like “tarnishing Lebanon’s image” reveal one thing. Jackie did not undress herself, she undressed a troubled society that slept undisturbed after the scandal of Manal al-Assi - who was beaten to death by her husband last week - but suddenly woke up to cast stones at Jackie.

What began as a series of outraged, sardonic reactions to the news online soon morphed into a social media campaign urging supporters of the skier to post seminude images of themselves on Twitter and Facebook, tagged #StripForJackie.

An Arabic-language video report on the social media campaign in support of the Lebanese skier Jackie Chamoun from LBC in Beirut.

As that subject began to trend locally, it even led a Lebanese beer company to spot an opportunity for some viral marketing, by posting an image of its product with its label removed.

Political opponents of the sport minister, including Samy Gemayel, who represents the Maronite Christian Phalange party, Kataeb, in Parliament, joined the bandwagon on Wednesday, posting messages of support for Ms. Chamoun on social networks.

In an interview with NBC just two weeks ago, Ms. Chamoun was clearly unaware of just what she had let herself in for when she agreed to pose for the photographer Hubertus von Hohenlohe â€" a Mexican-born scion of German royals who is also skiing in this year’s Olympics.

She said the photo shoot, on a slope in Faraya, outside Beirut, was a little “weird:” “I knew everybody at the ski resort. I knew all the skiers who were passing. I could see other skiers. I could see the parents of other skiers. I could see my coaches, everyone.” But she said she was happy with the result: “I don’t really care, though. I really enjoyed it and I don’t regret it. I like these photos. I have no problem with it.”

She also explained that not everyone in her home country would have been so understanding:

If we were somewhere else in Lebanon, in a public place, maybe they would have shot us. But we were on the slope in Faraya and it is an open space. The people who go there are people from Beirut who are open-minded, more international in their thinking, and also the jet-set of Lebanon, so it wasn’t a problem there. It’s really open there, like in Europe. In other places we could have been in really big trouble.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.