Saturday, September 29, 2007

“Bushra is Madeline...because she’s blonde!”

was how Alarabiya headlined a report on the hullaballo over the cropped, blown up out of all proportion photo of the ‘Moroccan Maddie’.

The channel interviewed the Ben3isas, who said the first journalist didn’t even bother telling them anything. They were just asked to pose with their daughter because they looked like ‘such a nice local family’.

Then the media circus descended on their village, and now that they know what all the fuss is about the parents are worried about their daughter’s safety.

This is obviously an understandable reaction to what they’ve been exposed to. Although Alarabiya seemed to participate in the media hysteria when they suggested the Moroccan government should do something to ‘protect Bushra’.

Anyway Alarabiya’s headline sort of sums up underlying assumptions that lead to so many Madeline ‘sightings’ in North Africa. As the Daily Mail has it, the Berbers, “unusual among African people for having a strong blonde gene”, are responsible.

It’s sort of weird how it works. Because it’s not just about colouring. It’s about props. The parents and siblings were on Alarabiya, and there just isn’t the startling contrast of skin colour inevitably mentioned as the reason for suspicion. The (in?)famous photo by the Spanish tourist would not have made the Ben3isa‘s seem like a gang of malicious Muslim Gypsies if they were dressed differently. As Bushra’s mother told Alarabiya, they were walking to the bus stop…what could be more common-ordinary?

But the headscarves, as one sharp-eyed blogger points out, marked them off as ‘Muslim Moroccan slave-traders’. The post goes on to identify the wisp of hair and fraction of a face in the photo as Madeline...supernatural powers? Exactly: “ I have long had an uncanny knack for identifying people beneath even Hollywood makeup or from afar” Wonder if his skills are being utilised properly in the ‘war on terror’?

Back in May The Times had a piece on the contemporary version of fairy changelings and Gypsy child-snatchers surfacing in coverage of Madeline’s disappearance: the idea that there are “organised bands of evil, swarthy foreigners grabbing our babies to flog in their vile markets”.

It’s amazing how in tune with capitalism urban mythology is, everything is about supply and demand:

In Southern Europe tourist tots are kidnapped and sold to rich childless local couples who’ll pay extra for blue-eyed blondes.

And as for North Africans…someone at yahoo answers has it from “a reliable source that in such places (arab type countries) that blonde hair/blue eyes/ white kids generally are seen as very beautiful and men go nuts for western women! but of course western women arent generally muslim or respect the ways of muslims so a western child would be sought after as it can be made muslim - so in that - there is high demand for such kids! ie there is a market for it!”