2. Behind the Veil of Vice (2010)

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Bradley takes on Western prejudices and misconceptions in this sweeping exposé of Arabic sexual mores. Written in response to Western writers and pundits who view Muslim sexual repression and shame as the underlying engine of terrorism and Islamist fervor, the author takes a panoramic look at sexual behavior in the region. Emphasizing the profound differences between—and within—various Muslim and Arab communities, he definitively dispels the notion of any single dominant Muslim sexuality or moral norm. Instead, Bradley argues, the prurient concerns of the West are mostly distractions from real social, political, and economic problems faced in the Middle East—many of which the West plays a major role in perpetuating—which drive Muslim unrest. Drawing on extensive research as well as the author’s own substantial firsthand knowledge of the region, the book offers an essential corrective to the fantasies and misinformation about Middle Eastern cultures.—Publishers Weekly

For those who want to know everything about sex in the Middle East, this is the book.”–Welingelichte Kringen (Holland)

Recommended… for its accessibility, wealth of detailed content, and its potential appeal for scholars working in the fields of sex work and Middle East studies…. Bradley succeeds in his aim to effectively uncover the mysteries surrounding the business and culture of sex in the Middle East. He presents a very nuanced account of the realities of prostitution in various Middle Eastern countries, supplemented statistically and anecdotally. Bradley identifies a range of existent liberal cultural identities and attitudes towards sex in the countries he has visited, accompanied by an underground culture of sex that is often not as shrouded in mystery as western media so commonly depicts.–LSE Review of Books

Bradley’s book seeks to avoid the usual cultural myopia and self-righteousness. He travels to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Morocco and Yemen, to examine the sex-trade in urban centers, from the Shia practice of temporary marriages in Iran, to child brides and casual (though covert) homosexuality across the region.—The Independent

The book is a good basis to begin to understand some of the modern-day realities of the Arab and Islamic worlds, but doesn’t engage in outright judgmentalism. Bradley is not casting any judgments about the countries or peoples he explores in his casual travels through the region. It offers a good understanding of what most of us already know: that the Arab World and Islamic world have their vices and people are willing to live with them rather than expose them and themselves as hypocrites on the subject. But it also puts it in a needed historical context that challenges the popular myths that women are free anywhere in this world be it in the confines of the West or Islam. It is an easy read. And you just might learn something about a topic that is too often throw around in debates with little knowledge and too much stereotyping and political biases or racial or religious prejudices.–RAY HANNIA, www.RadioChicagoland.com

Far from a clash of sexual civilisations, Bradley finds East and West united in adherence to an ecumenical creed of “Do as I say, not as I do”. Not that there aren’t differences in the lies we tell ourselves or the ethical workarounds we’ve found: hence the institution of misyar – temporary marriages, which enable a society like Iran to work around its own self-denying strictures; or the freedom of relations between men and adolescent boys in Morocco (as long as no one comes out or calls it gay). Bradley finds both sleazy secrets and what he (a bit contentiously) calls higher hypocrisies in this revelatory and thought-provoking book.—The Scotsman

In the Middle East, compromise has been the object of compromise. For Bradley, in the Middle East, especially the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the events of the siege of Mecca, historical events have played a large part in explaining what has led to a wave of Islamic fundamentalism. These pressures — as well as the birth of Islamic feminism, temporary marriages, child brides, the brothels of the Persian Gulf, and the sex industry in the small island of Bahrain — inform us about what is a relatively unknown, ignored or a taboo subject in the region.
–RADIKAL (Turkey)

Turkish edition of Behind the Veil of Vice

After ten years writing and traveling through the Middle East, John R. Bradley decided to tackle the subject that everyone talks about without saying much: sex. Bradley reveals the many different ways countries across the region talk about and regulate sex. [He covers] legal prostitution in Tunisia, hour-long marriages in Saudi Arabia, and what West and East have in common when it comes to sex.—Zócalo Public Square

Bradley crushes the popular perception of the Middle East as erotically stifled, and the West as the land of sexual expression and freedom. The more nuanced truth, he says, is that these seemingly oppositional cultures have far more in common than we often admit: Both “live under rulers who, under different pretexts and with varying degrees of severity, seek to curb the unruly sex urge as a way of maintaining social control.” There is also a shared “gap between propaganda and reality” and “a vast gulf between public and private morality,” he argues. This fascinating and comprehensive book guides readers through the seedy underbelly of the Middle East — from prostitution in Bahrain to temporary marriages in Iran — but it is just as much a reflection on Western sexual mores.—Salon

The West’s view of sexuality’s role in the Middle East is marked by prejudice and misconceptions. In Behind the Veil of Vice, John R. Bradley tries to undermine the image of sexually rigid Muslim societies. He gives a more nuanced picture of the sex lives of the Arabs. He also believes that the newly awakened discussion of sex and Islam is largely just another building block in the construction of Western prejudice about “Muslims”. These arguments are practical, he argues, because the responsibility for the conflict between the West and the Arab world end up being “their” responsibility. They cannot help being jealous that our civilization has advanced so much further than theirs in relation to views on sex. It is also striking how invisible women are in these arguments. The Arab woman is nothing but a part of the equation we use to understand the Arab man. In herself, she is just a burqa-clad object; and it is inconceivable that she could, for example, have an independent sexuality.Ottar, Sweden’s largest sexual politics themed magazine