The premiere issue of the glossy, full-color 72-page monthly appeared in July with a cover story on the experiences of Arab students in American colleges and shorter articles on yoga, sandboarding, singer Norah Jones, Arab American actor Tony Shalhoub and marriage counseling — the latter story illustrated with a photo of Dr. Phil McGraw, the Oprah-spawned TV tough-love guru.
It doesn’t contain a word about the American invasion of Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Afghanistan or al Qaeda. Nor will future issues. The magazine’s editors and its State Department funders plan a resolutely apolitical magazine.
“This is a lifestyle magazine,” says Fadel Lamen, Hi’s Libyan American managing editor. “It’s a new phenomenon in the Arab world to do a lifestyle magazine that doesn’t touch on the political.”
I guess this is a good idea, although somehow I just know that it won’t be long before the magazine commits some inadvertant but huge gaffe that requires Colin Powell to undertake a month of shuttle diplomacy to settle down. My prediction: it will be a single sentence buried in a seemingly innocuous blurb about some celebrity who turns out to have said some nice things about the IDF five years ago.
One thing that does strike me, however, is that America’s problem in the Middle East (at least among young people) isn’t really with American lifestyle or culture. I’ve seen numerous surveys to that effect, anyway, so I wonder if this is really addressing a major problem. Still, marketing is all about campaigns. There’s no single thing that does the trick, and I imagine this magazine should be a perfectly servicable component of a larger PR offensive.
One question, though: isn’t $2 a little pricey for Damascus and Baghdad?