Unpleasant body language

The Middle Eastern spa experience offers a choice between comedy and hypocrisy

By Julie Burchill, September 28, 2010

Apparently, the journalist India "Muslims-are-the-new-Jews" Knight has turned down a spa trip to Israel.

"Devoted as I am to the pedicure, I do think one ought to be mindful of context," she tweets. Interestingly, India's former partner is the hack Andrew O'Hagan, who in 2006 in the the Daily Telegraph offered his thoughts on Mel Gibson and antisemitism. "Dangerously worded as it was," O'Hagan wrote, "Gibson's drunken comment was, it could reasonably be argued, a statement against the arrogance of the Israeli military: 'They started all the wars in the world.' Isn't it that which is making America call for his head?

"Of course it isn't even remotely true that Jews are behind most wars, but it is true that they are behind most movies, and pundits are saying that Gibson may never work again in Hollywood. But their response is overbearing and slightly hysterical."

What a pair of charmers! And what a shame they split. I would have paid good money to hear that pillow talk.

Anyway, as a woman of principle - and a respecter of context - I am sure Knight will apply the same rigorous standards to any offers of "pampering" freebies that come her way from Muslim countries. Most of which, to some extent, practise a form of gender apartheid that is a cross between the way the Tsars treated the Jews and the way Scrooge treated money.

Spas pretend to celebrate women while implying that their bodies are revolting

Is that a too-fanciful notion? It isn't hypocritical enough of nations such as Dubai to invite westerners to drink alcohol and romp in bikinis when their own people have no such freedom? And then throw said westerners haphazardly into the clink for snogging each other on beaches, as tends to happen when alcohol and bikinis are combined?

Well, now, for a sizeable fee, you too can experience another level of Middle Eastern hypocrisy, sorry, hospitality and be pawed nearly naked by strangers, from Egypt to the UAE. What sort of woman would be tempted by this? One who saw too many Turkish Delight adverts as a girl, perhaps.

I find it quite comical that Israel is also pushing the spa experience so enthusiastically. The people there are generally so fit, active and impatient that I can hardly imagine them wallowing in mud. But, always mindful of over-idealising the Promised Land, I asked an Israeli friend of mine living in Brighton for her opinion. "A couple of years ago," she told me, "when my family wanted to spend a weekend in the beautiful Galilee/Golan areas and were looking for a place to stay, I was amused and then a little irritated to find that, in practically all website descriptions of the B&Bs that I was looking at, the word mefanek was used. Mefanek means "pampers, treats, spoils" and the websites boasted of a mefanek ambience: luxurious, pampering, relaxing and healthy with - of course- holistic treatments…

"I agree", she added, "that it is also a little comical. I watched a very funny sketch on Israeli TV about a group of friends who go on a spa weekend and nearly have a nervous breakdown when they realise that the relaxing, mefanek weekend does not include a TV in the room, the food is strictly vegetarian and that quiet, peaceful conduct is expected of the guests…"

I suppose one reason why I find the idea of Israeli spas odd is that Israeli women are generally so confident and assured of their worth, whereas the spa experience, while pretending to celebrate women, in fact expresses distaste for them, implying that their bodies are so revolting that even their so-called "me-time" must be dedicated to beautification if potential suitors are to be prevented from running for the hills.

Hmm, puritanical and misogynistic; maybe the idea of an Islamic spa does make sense, after all.

Last updated: 11:15am, September 28 2010