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Satan”s Academy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Satan”s Academy

Satan''s Academy

Satan”s Academy

Ever since its launch, French reality TV show “Star Academy” has had many nicknames attached to it because of the fact that the format has been very popular all over the world. The Brits call it “Fame Academy” while the Arab/Lebanese version has been dubbed “Al Akademiah” (The Academy), however the hip and trendy among us simply call it “Starac&#34.

Nevertheless, to many people in Saudi Arabia, this show has only one name, “Academiat Al Shaytan(Satan”s Academy)! Why… you may ask? Well, so that it would be named after its founders, the “evil devils in our world” as one Islamic ”awareness recording” suggests.

As in most countries around the world, reality shows have been the topic of major debates and have received a lot of criticism within Saudi Arabia, where these television programs have become the focus of many talks and recordings of the “Mashayekh Al Sahwa” (the Awakening Clergy). These cassettes, which are sold at one Saudi Riyal each, urge the boycott of such shows, which help “an alliance of infidels and promoters of lust” in their mission to “target the nation”.

Many believe in such arguments, despite the fact that such claims are not accompanied by any form of evidence, yet proof is not relevant because “because the clergy are always right”, argued one teenager as he played “Academiat Al Shaytan” in his American made 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis.

The same person is convinced that “Star Academy” is “part of a huge plot planned many years ago to strip away all virtue from the Arab youth”. The 18-year-old proceeds to explain that this scheme is also “proven” in a website, where he read that it is “part of Zionist plan which goes back to the year 1935”. But the Saudi teenager does not know who owns or runs this “debate” website which he visits regularly, in contrast to the official French “Star Academy” website which was unavailable to Saudi internet users for some reason, (the “Internet Services unit”, is part of the ”King Abdulaziz city of Science and Technology” monitors and the net and censors websites that “contradict religious teachings and national laws”).

Yet, not all clerics believe in that level of conspiracy. Saudi columnist Shiekh Gazi Al Maglooth for example believes that “Star Academy” is “just a product” which employs all engaging marketing gimmicks to get to the viewer… his instincts in particular”. With reference to why the religious dialogue is always so “conspiracy-driven”, he talks about a deep concern of

“Changing the culture”… “What is happening now is that these TV programs are killing our etiquette and traditions by westernizing our societies”, Maglooth politely argues.

However, “Westernizing the society” is just the tip of the iceberg in some of these recordings, as “Star Academy” faces much more serious charges, such as the claim that the show is the “reason behind terrorism and extremism that society has faced recently”. One of the preachers recorded his intention of “whispering a word into the ears of those responsible and in charge”.

In this whisper, the preacher explains, “airing such shows on these uncivilized channels without being condemned, but rather encouraged by some Muslims is one of the reasons we are now facing these acts of radicalism… because extremism breeds extremism”. Another recording demands boycott of the country, businessmen and companies that fund and sponsor such shows, and of course urges all clerics, big or small, to do something about it, “because silence is a sin”.

Most Arab reality TV shows are produced in Lebanon and aired on Lebanese channels such as LBC and Future. The only exception was the Arabic version of &#34Big Brother&#34 which was being produced in Bahrain, where huge protests forced MBC to discard the project 2 years ago. Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal owns a 50% stake in LBC, whereas MBC is a major Saudi broadcast group, which also is the mother company for the region”s leading news channel, Al Arabiya.

Psychiatric consultant, Dr. Samira Al Ghamdi, thinks that the content of these tapes contain “an invitation to violence” and she describes their producers as “insensible”. She asks “why would we plant a seed of violence into our kids that will transform them into terrorists?” Al Ghamdi also sees a pattern and asks “aren’t today’s terrorists a result of those who generously labeled people as infidels in the past?”

It does not take much logic to realize that these recordings do have a “violent tone” which is condemned by many due to the long list of insults and swear words that they contain usually aimed at prostitutes and homosexuals. But Shiekh Ali Al Shahrani, who produced “SARS Academy”, a cassette criticizing all reality shows, sees no problem and feels no embarrassment in using such terminology.

“If some people don’t like these words, perhaps that is because they haven’t heard them before… or maybe they are living on a different planet,” says the Shiekh. He argues that the term “Moukhanath” (a man with both male and female reproductive organs) which he has used to describe the male participants of ”Star Academy” &#34has been used for a very long time&#34 and that IBN TAYMIA has used the same word to describe “he who shaves his moustache”.

Gazi Al Maglooth disagrees with this argument and does not like the idea of clerics using such vocabulary. He explains that the ”Shari”a” is very clear about this and he then reads a verse, which roughly translates to “… and say it to him nicely so that he might apprehend”. Al Maglooth claims, “Anything apart from that is a personal adaptation that may not be successful&#34.

What is also interesting is that Al Shahrani’s recording makes use of military sound effects, for example shell and laser blasts. Al Shahrani denies using such special effects, labeling such claims as “degrading and unacceptable”. Yet those who buy the tape can clearly hear the bombardment, for example he tells the story of a little girl who was “innocent” until she watched “Star Academy” and decided that she wanted to become a pop star and BOOM, goes the bomb.

Upon hearing this, Dr. Ghamdi takes a deep breathe and says “what a disgrace”. She then asks with deep sorrow “Haven”t we had enough bombing?” The psychiatric consultant seemed shocked at the fact that such recordings are available on the market, and wishes for them all to be removed. These kinds of ”awareness” recordings are available to all ages and do not bear any warning label about their content.

On his part, Shiekh Al Shahrani says his tape was cleared by the Ministry of Information, as were the other tapes that were referred to in this article (they all bear the Ministry’s clearance sticker).

According to Al Sharani, his tape has sold 7000 copies, while “Satan”s Academy” has sold over a million copies in one week, said a webmaster in the “Nabd Al Wafaa” group, which is a voluntary group that works as “Vice- Busters”. The group has advertised the cassette on its website and claims that it has also been distributed in Lebanon , Morocco , Palestine , Jordan ,Libya, Egypt and other Gulf countries.