Islam, the Media and the Globalization of Nose Jobs

Cairo, March 2012


The man was in his mid-forties maybe. He was a Member of Parliament and part of the Islamist party that forms the second most important bloc in the House of Representatives. A few days ago he appeared in the media claiming he had been attacked, beaten in the face, and robbed of a large amount of money he had locked up in his car. Not long afterwards, a call came into the radio from a surgeon who works for a fancy local hospital that is too expensive for most people. He reported that he met this Member of Parliament a few days before – but not to rescue him from injuries he sustained in an attack. Rather, it was to perform plastic surgery on the parliamentarian’s nose. The latter was immediately removed from Parliament and ejected from his party. He was made to apologize for disgracing the House, violating democracy and rules of transparency, and lying to the nation at large.


Apart from pitying this behavior of a supposedly respectable man, what can one make of this story? What does it say about the Islamic tradition this man was supposed to represent and its promotion by the media as a fount of high morals? What does the incident tell us about the society in which this man, his party, his parliament, and the tradition that shaped him live and operate? Are these independent of each other? What is their relationship to the overarching moral economy at work not just within political Islam, but other ideological positions taken by Egypt’s current crop of political parties? Can we draw any lines between the behavior of this public figure and the tacit coercion practiced by the dominant media? In particular, what kind of body politics is at work in contemporary globalized society? What led this man to cut his nose and then lie about it? And what does that say about politics as performance or rather theatre today?


A couple of preliminary thoughts come to mind. The first concerns a recent trend to present Islam as a homogenizing political-moral force implementing correct politics that will “cleanse” society, including all forms of corrupt governance. This tendency is part of a larger one that singles out Muslims -- or Islamists as they are normally called -- as being responsible cleansing politics of which they are an integral part. Muslims are human beings with ordinary desires, habits and aspirations, as the MP’s case shows. Conflating Islam with some Muslims in particular identifies a diverse tradition of widely varying potential with particular political groups who come out of a social context long characterized by different forms of oppression and perceived deprivation. The MP and his party represent groups who suffered in this way most brutally. In brief, equating a historical tradition with local, even marginalized groups is problematic. The individuals who won seats in parliament are just ordinary citizens.


The second point concerns the overwhelming influence of the media which are global as much as national. The images circulated through this powerful machine must have helped form the subjectivity of millions of consumers, including the man who wanted to reduce the size and change the shape of his nose. What interests me is not the MP’s desire to look “better” or “different.” I have long been intrigued by the specific character of these nose jobs. What did he want his nose to look like? If you check out the celebrities who have obviously undergone similar operations, the resulting nose jobs look remarkably similar. This suggests that plastic surgeons have only a limited repertoire of desired shapes when they “model” the noses of their customers. Most if not all the new noses are smaller and pointy. Some are little button noses. They are noses commonly found in North West Europe and North America, the former and current colonial powers in other words. They also own most of the international media corporations. In sum, they own the machine that shapes the taste of the masses that watches men like this MP on their TV screens. He might be a politician, but he is above all a public performer.


No doubt the incident I have narrated is trivial and will soon be forgotten. But it offers a window on Egyptian society today and especially on the historical moment its people are living through. It reminds of the global power structures that have long shaped their lives and will continue to for some time to come. Islam and Islamism may offer a dream of emancipation from these structures, but they are very much part of them.

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Comment by Mohammed Tabishat on March 9, 2012 at 10:43pm

True Keith. There is a general state of collusion here regarding corruption. That is true among the political elite. No one asks anyone where did you get your money from? The MP too sounds like weird too. He may have hoped to be compensated for the money he paid for the operation? I really don't know but it occurred to me more than once. It sounded possible given how easy those in power can get away with lies that are even bigger and more obvious that that of the MP. He sounds like a novice and poorly connected. Well, his class background testifies to that. His surgeon too called in :)

Comment by Keith Hart on March 9, 2012 at 9:54pm

There is one twist in this story that I don't get. Why did he claim to have been robbed? This implies that he was not worried about explaining where the money came from (corruption), but needed to explain how it had disappeared (the nose job).

Comment by Mohammed Tabishat on March 9, 2012 at 7:35pm
yes indeed, the nose job could have passed unnoticed or reworked into something funny or silly. the issue that some man who is supposed to be extraordinary because he belongs to this idealized salafi (kind of puritanism) party happened to be no more than just one of us, and even less, because he lies and willing to take money this is not his own ... corrupt!! oh god, we just thought we got rid of 'em!! is the major cause of shock.
Comment by John McCreery on March 9, 2012 at 6:53pm

Mohammed, you make two good points, one about the fallacy of treating Islam as "a homogenizing political-moral force," the other about the power of the global media. Could you tell us a bit more about the local response to the incident? Was it the parliamentarian's nose-job, his lying about a robbery to explain what happened to his face, or both that led to his condemnation and resignation from parliament? I speculate that the answer is "both"; but in terms of local value, would the condemnation have been the same if only the nose job were the issue?

Comment by Keith Hart on March 8, 2012 at 11:15pm

This reminds me of one of my Dad's jokes when I was a kid. His jokes were awful, but some of them stick in my memory, so perhaps they weren't so bad after all. This one has an anti-semitic tone that I didn't register at the time.

A man decided to invite his boss home for dinner with his family. He agreed. The days before were very tense. The man kept stressing to his wife that the kids should on no account refer to his boss's nose. The day arrived and everything went remarkably well. The wife was on tenterhooks, but the kids were superb. She began to relax by the time it came for serving the desert. "Would you like custard with your nose, Mr. Abraham?", she asked.

One more thing. American Jewish women of the middle class have been having nose jobs for generations. I suspect that is where the model for plastic surgery came from.


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