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What’s the Big Deal About Lebanese Porn Star Mia Khalifa?

What’s the Big Deal About Lebanese Porn Star Mia Khalifa?:

Meet Mia Khalifa. Three months ago, the Instagram star was a young, unknown, Lebanese-American woman, who’d been raised in the Middle East and moved to America as a teen with her family so she could enroll in college. They settled in Maryland. She eventually picked the University of Texas at El Paso. She later moved to Florida, making a life for herself in Miami, where she enthusiastically supports the Florida State Seminoles each football season, and began dabbling in porn on the side.

Now, three months after she turned pro, the 21-year-old is the most searched-for porn star in the world, according to PornHub. How 2015 is that?

instagram/miakhalifa1

instagram/miakhalifa1

Porn preferences change quickly, but still it’s surprising to see an upstart so quickly depose a veteran like Lisa Ann as the reigning queen of porn. Plenty of girls are just as hot and good at having sex on camera as Khalifa, right? So what is it about Khalifa that’s enabled her to fire up the passions of so many? Unlike Ann, who fucked her way to the top over the course of a twenty-one-year career, Khalifa has risen to the top much more effortlessly—simply by fucking with everyone.

Her most popular video on PornHub (with 9 million views) makes her appeal incredibly obvious. In it, Khalifa brings home her boyfriend, a blond biker-dude, to get some while mom’s out. Problem: mom’s home and she surprises the forbidden lovers. Solution: mom and daughter tag-team the dude. That’s a familiar porn scenario—the only innovation? Both ladies are hijab-clad Muslims, gleefully servicing an all-American stud. That’s all kinds of forbidden for everyone involved. There is nothing about this bizarre online performance that won’t offend or titillate someone.

Mia Khalifa at work

Does this explain her sudden rise to fame? Not really. Khalifa is far from the first to toy with religious imagery in porn, and the internet is full of women having sex in hijabs. Indeed, Khalifa’s porn identity is only one piece of the equation. On Instagram— where she boasts 167,000 follower—her identity is that of a sugar-coated silicone-stuffed sorority girl and “unofficial FSU mascot” (where she doesn’t necessarily even go to school). She’s both an unruly Muslim woman and a liberated horny American co-ed at the same time. She’s taking a page from the playbook of Duke porn star Belle Knox—who savvily inserted herself into conversations about student debt, Libertarian feminism, and the ethics of representing rough sex to jumpstart her career—but the issues Khalifa plays with—ie, the domination and repression women of Arab and Muslim women—are more heated and volatile.

Far too many women who are deemed “sluts” by men on the internet receive rape and death threats. But Khalifa is challenging violent men who occasionally deliver on their threats—as today’s tragic attack on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo by Islamic extremists devastatingly reminds. Already, the backlash against Khalifa is fierce and violent. Twitter trolls and haters have posted death threats with images of her photo-shopped into an ISIS-inspired beheading. Religious and non-religious Lebanese have equally expressed outrage to local newspapers that their country’s most-discussed woman is a porn star.

But many other Arabs are supporting Khalifa, likely behind closed doors. PornHub is the 71st most-visited website in the world, but only 21.4% of its traffic comes from inside of the US. That means the vast majority of Mia Khalifa’s fans are from around the world, including viewers living in the Muslim world, where Lebanese viewers were among her earliest and biggest fans, almost single-handedly boosting her status on PornHub, and eventually making her international news. Anger and death threats have only fueled further interest in Khalifa, who is now wearing her hijab all the way to the bank.

The reality is that sexual repression in the Middle East is why Mia Khalifa is famous. The same men who are decrying her in public and online, are likely the same ones jerking off to her, the ultimate virgin-whore, American-Arab hybrid.

instagram/miakhalifa1

instagram/miakhalifa1

Mia Khalifa is not without her defenders in the Arab world. Writing in support of her use of her personal power to get paid, the British-Lebanese author Nasri Atallah took to Facebook:

“The moral indignation… is wrong for two reasons. First and foremost, as a woman, she is free to do as she pleases with her body.

"Secondly, as a sentient human being with agency, who lives halfway across the world, she is in charge of her own life and owes absolutely nothing to the country where she happened to be born.

"For the record, I don’t think we should be particularly proud of Mia Khalifa, we should just be indifferent.”

He’s right. She has agency and can use it however she sees fit.

Yet, we’d be naive and tone deaf if we ignore the fact the video that made her famous was designed to play into Western fantasies of sexual dominance, specifically, over Muslim women.

Limited by the inherent sexism of both her cultures, constrained by their expectations and fantasies about women, when Mia does her job, naked in her hijab, she uses men’s fantasies to grab real economic power for herself. Her tool is a taboo. Just a woman and a headscarf. And now, the whole world is typing her name into web browsers. She seized hold of a symbol some see as repression and leveraged the iconography as pornography to gain herself a hell of a lot of attention. Dancing with that much danger, it’s no wonder she’s the new queen of porn.

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