Ah, it was only a matter of time. Once PLO keffiyehs broke onto the streets of Paris in 2003, then New York in 2005, and MIA sold out headlining shows in 2007 it was obvious that terrorism was chic. Those who wore the shroud of suspicion got sexy in the popular pyche in the 9/11 aftermath.
Then, in the winter of 2006/7, I noticed something while at some Lower East Side bar with a friend from work. A bunch of her friends were fawning over this vaguely ethnic guy who was, as is typical for those over whom girls swoon, somewhat condescending and coyly unavailable. They pined over his mussed hair and went on about his light brown eyes, but as I sat silently in the corner in a cheesy button down from H&M I saw what this cat was really all about. Around his neck he wore a keffiyeh, but this time with a red print, not the typical black one I had seen everywhere around that time.
As someone from a NE India state, just East of Bangladesh, I recognized the print as something very similar to the “gamosas” or scarves/headwraps popular in my parents’ part of the world. I thought maybe this dude was a fellow tribesman from the fiercely autonomous part of India my extended family calls home.
“Excuse me,” I said, jumping into the conversation he was single-handedly orchestrating with the 4 girls I was sitting with.
“Yes,” he said in that I need to placate this dude who’s going to compensate for his shortcomings by aggressively questioning the other male who challenges his propriety over this gaggle of bitches kind of way.
“Where’d you get that scarf,” I asked, “Its pattern is really similar to a popular textile weave in my family’s part of India.”
“I got it from my Grandfather,” he said, pulling the ultimate fashion trump card of authenticity, “In Pakistan.”
Damn. Dude won. I shut up and let him turn casually back to the ladies who had fallen further under the allure of his charms, asking with their batting eyelashes to be wooed away on an intelligible cloud of Urdu.
It was okay, though, because I had larger things to contemplate alone on that corner of the couch. It was finally happening ,the moment I had been waiting for my whole life, sexiness was creeping toward the subcontinent. If Pakistan was getting sexy now, I thought to myself in November 2006, then it’s only a matter of time before it moves East and reaches India.
Because that’s how sexiness has worked over the past several years as America has slowly moved East toward Asia turning people, protected class by protected class, into the “Sexy Other.” African Americans enjoyed this cultural phenomenon in the 20th century, now it appeared it was time for America’s masculine threats from abroad to experience the benefits of exoticization, an objectification once restricted to the women of colonial subjects.
Eventually, as the war in Afghanistan began to stall and Al Queda members withdrew into the foothills of its neighbor to the West, it became clear that Pakistan posed a serious geopolitical threat to the United States. As well all know, danger’s just another word for everything to lose and “dangerous” is not just a Michael Jackson album, but a prelude to sexiness.
Dude sporting the Pakistani scarf on the corner of Rivington and Stanton in 2006, slaying chicks with his whispy beard, was on to something key. Sexiness moves East in this age of terror, and the more threatening the country to global stability, the more attractive be its nefarious men.
Despite the success of Slumdog Millionaire, I’m pretty convinced sexiness will pass-up India even though its due east of Pakistan and next in line for this theoretical fall of dominos, for two reasons specifically. First, India’s a democracy; ain’t nothing sexy nor threatening about that.
Second, India’s just too brown and Asian. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan – these countries have the “good-fortune” of documenting the “Aryan Invasion” of Alexander the Great as part of their history. The Hellenistic influences carried by Alexander from Greece, through Persia and into the heart of the Mughal empires of northwest India, brought not only elements of western culture but also the phenotype of western men. As Alexander’s troops raped and pillaged, fairer skin, lighter eyes and softer hair seeped into the bloodstream of defeated civilizations, which today have given rise to lighter, more vaguely European looking people. The rest of India, with its Dravidian and Mongol makeup, is generally just too coolie for the world to find sexy. As children in the slums we’re adorable, but as rikshaw wallahs with mustaches and oiled up pompadours we’re not.
If the element of “dangerously” doesn’t sit well with India, it may find a home in the next nation to the East, Bangladesh. Once known as East Pakistan following the partition of India in 1947 after the end of British colonial rule, Bangladesh shares certain elements with its former sibling to the West, traits that could prove to be sexy in due time.
First, as shown by Lower East Side dude’s red-patterned scarf, which is similar in print to the “gamosa” of Assam, which shares a border with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Bangladesh might very well have certain textile patterns in common, an important first step in making yourself attractive to the West. If cool kids can’t sling your prints across their neck, wear your hand-woven totes across their shoulders or walk down St. Marks Street with sandals patterned with your indigindous designs, you ain’t going nowhere in this North American culture matrix.
Second, Bangladesh is a muslim nation. Whereas India must wrestle with a pluralist tolerance for all religions, predominantly Hindu but substantially Muslim and somewhat other, Bangladesh has as its own perhaps the most defining characteristic of a sexy soveriegn in the past 10 years: it’s uniquely Muslim, which in the eyes of the West is synomous with danger, and therefore sexiness.
Third, and most important, Bangladesh has the massive potential to become a failed state. For decades it’s been the lowest ranking country on UN reports of wealth, and no one’s really sure of the structure of its government. Its borders are porous, its people are poor and its population is exploding. A generation getting younger with fewer opportunities for employment are the basic ingredients of radicalization. Factor in the absence of an Al Queda safe-haven now that the US is all up in Pak- ghanifstan TM, the relative weakness of Indian federal power in the far East corners of the country already prone to secessionism, terror and violence and you very well might have a situation not seen since Afghanistan in the early ’90s.
I bring this up now, after a few years of patiently waiting for it all slowly to come true, because today’s news may be the Lower East Side Dude of 2009 and break the story of Bangladesh’s sexy future. The Bangladeshi Rifles, a name that’s sexy in itself, the country’s border security force has mutineed against the government. Domestic instability is surely a precursor to Draconion despotism, just ask the Taliban after the civil skirmishes that overtook Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Russians.
So as the US War on Terror continues on to its 7th year, first in Iraq, then in Aghanistan, then into Pakistan, let us count the days until sexy’s back in Bangladesh. It can’t be long now.