The limits of religious belieb
April 18, 2013 8:15 AM   Subscribe

A Norwegian television comedy show recently staged a stunt where a street stall in Oslo offered Justin Bieber tickets to teenagers in return for ostensibly converting to Islam on camera.

The participants had to remove make-up, don a hijab and recite what the producers claimed was an Islamic creed in Arabic. There is video of the segment (in Norwegian) here.

The stunt was run by the show Anne-Kat, on TVNorge. The host, Anne-Kat Hærland, said that the aim was to “to find out how far Norwegian beliebers are willing to go for tickets to one of the concerts”. Norway's state Lutheran church, however, criticised the show, claiming that it showed lack of respect for religious faith.
posted by acb (76 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can anyone translate the Arabic statements the girls recite in the video? My Arabic is not that good...
posted by acb at 8:17 AM on April 18, 2013


If they are reciting the creed, it will be the shahada. The other bit is indicated in the article:

They also had to read out loud an Arabic text about «Justin Bieber being unclean and probably gay».
posted by jquinby at 8:21 AM on April 18, 2013


I thought the going rate was a pair of hoverbikes.
posted by Longtime Listener at 8:22 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:23 AM on April 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


claiming that it showed lack of respect for religious faith.

It seems to me that it's getting just about as much respect as it deserves.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:23 AM on April 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


Of course The Lutheran Church is appalled: they have been spending countless of millions on attracting this demographic when all they needed to do was to give away a concert ticket or two.

Something tells me that what we're dealing with is a case of crypto bieberism because are you really going to abandon the deity you know actually exists AND gives performances?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:23 AM on April 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


But was it the shahada, or some other random piece of Arabic which doesn't actually result in conversion to Islam?
posted by acb at 8:23 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


...also, it's worth pointing out that the creed must be professed sincerely. I doubt very seriously that anyone expects these 'conversions' to be worth anything.
posted by jquinby at 8:24 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shahada? Looks more like a shanda to me.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:25 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


> claiming that it showed lack of respect for religious faith.

It seems to me that it's getting just about as much respect as it deserves.


...Can you explain what you mean by that, 1adam12?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 AM on April 18, 2013


No, don't, please.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:27 AM on April 18, 2013 [34 favorites]


I'm all for "speak your mind and deal with the consequences later", and am pretty much a hardcore agnostic, but there's something to be said about the wisdom of going on mass media and pretty much shouting "hate me!" to a very numerous and troubled part of the world population.
posted by Iosephus at 8:29 AM on April 18, 2013


jquinby: “If they are reciting the creed, it will be the shahada.”

But it emphatically wasn't, which is odd. It was something about "inshallah" (God willing) and other stuff, and unfortunately it's been a while since I looked at transliterations of important Koranic texts (and I certainly don't know Arabic) so I couldn't tell you what it was.

It is really weird that they would concoct a sham conversion that has nothing to do with actual conversion to Islam when actual conversion to Islam is easier than they make it out to be. (Of course, it's also harder, because as jquinby says you have to actually intend the words.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:30 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Justin Bieber is god and teen girls are his profits.
posted by Jehan at 8:31 AM on April 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


It is really weird that they would concoct a sham conversion that has nothing to do with actual conversion to Islam when actual conversion to Islam is easier than they make it out to be. (Of course, it's also harder, because as jquinby says you have to actually intend the words.)

I'm guessing that providing some fake, vaguely Arabic-sounding, text was a case of CYA, making it less likely that someone would decide that the girls did convert and later were apostates.
posted by acb at 8:32 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


acb: “Norway's state Lutheran church, however, criticised the show, claiming that it showed lack of respect for religious faith.”

It sort of does, I guess. If I put up a street stall where I had people spin around in a circle and chant the words "I LIKE DONUTS" three times slowly, and then I claimed that they'd performed the authentic ritual to convert to Catholicism, would that be disrespectful toward Catholicism? I think it'd be more just stupid.

And since the ritual here had absolutely nothing to do with conversion to Islam, well... it's more just dumb.
posted by koeselitz at 8:32 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of course The Lutheran Church is appalled: they have been spending countless of millions on attracting this demographic when all they needed to do was to give away a concert ticket or two.

I may be mistaken, but I was under the impression that Norway's state church is financially supported by the government and that about 77% of the country are members.
posted by ILuvMath at 8:34 AM on April 18, 2013


acb: “I'm guessing that providing some fake, vaguely Arabic-sounding, text was a case of CYA, making it less likely that someone would decide that the girls did convert and later were apostates.”

Yeah, that does kind of give them plausible deniability, in a way. It defeats the whole apparent purpose of the thing, which (I guess?) is to make light of conversion to Islam. But then, I get the feeling this wasn't really driven by any real goal beyond entertainment or something like that.
posted by koeselitz at 8:34 AM on April 18, 2013


Yeah, thankfully they didn't do the "real" conversion else somebody would have to chop their heads off when it turns out they don't really want to the Muslim. Believing in god is serious business, yo.
posted by Jehan at 8:36 AM on April 18, 2013


Speaking of Justin Bieber, though, holy jeebus, you heard what he wrote in the guest book the other day at the Anne Frank house?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:36 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


...Can you explain what you mean by that, 1adam12?

Seems pretty clear. You can scalp Bieber tickets. Religious faith and $1.50 will get you a coffee.
posted by DU at 8:37 AM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Making light of actual conversion to Islam may not be such a good idea; all it takes is one hothead to take umbrage. (Isn't the woman who organised Draw Mohammed Day still in the FBI Witness Protection Programme?)
posted by acb at 8:38 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Religious faith and $1.50 will get you a coffee.

Religious institutions generally have mediocre coffee, though.

Except for the Church of England, who don't do coffee; they're all about tea.
posted by acb at 8:39 AM on April 18, 2013


acb: “I'm guessing that providing some fake, vaguely Arabic-sounding, text was a case of CYA, making it less likely that someone would decide that the girls did convert and later were apostates.”

Actually, I should say that I don't think this would happen. People who mouth the words of the Shahada without knowing or meaning the words are not converting to Islam; so they can never be apostates.

But, yes, some people may not understand that, and it could cause some outrage.
posted by koeselitz at 8:40 AM on April 18, 2013


acb: “Religious institutions generally have mediocre coffee, though.”

Not strictly true. Dunkin' Donuts has excellent coffee.
posted by koeselitz at 8:41 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Except for the Church of England, who don't do coffee; they're all about tea.

And cake.
posted by yoink at 8:42 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


People who mouth the words of the Shahada without knowing or meaning the words are not converting to Islam; so they can never be apostates.

Show a carefully edited section of the video on the right websites, and you could manufacture another Danish cartoon-level outrage. All it'd take is one person who wanted to be a big man and do something like that, and then someone else who wanted to give their life some meaning by striking against the apostates (which could mean the girls in the show, or Norway in general, or even some randomly chosen European country).
posted by acb at 8:43 AM on April 18, 2013


[Don't turn this thread into another "Let me just complain about/defend religion generally" thread that makes everyone mad and wastes everyone's time.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:50 AM on April 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Show a carefully edited section of the video on the right websites

AKA the ACORN scandal - works extremely well.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:54 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of that awful experiment where they approached random opposite-sex strangers and asked "Will you have sex with me?" and all the men said "yes" and all the women said "no." And the conclusion was supposed to be, you know, Mars and Venus and inherent gender differences and evo psych blah blah blah — but really, the most plausible explanation was that the men all assumed it was a fun prank and wanted to see where it was going (and the women didn't have the luxury of making that assumption).

If someone had come up to me with a TV camera when I was a teenager and asked me to convert to Islam, I'd have done it for free, no concert tickets necessary — thinking "Gee, this is clearly a prank. The worst they could do is try to embarrass me with it. And all my friends would think it was hilarious, so it wouldn't work. Let's see where it goes...."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:56 AM on April 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


A Norwegian television comedy show recently staged a stunt where a street stall in Oslo offered Justin Bieber tickets to teenagers in return for ostensibly converting to Islam on camera.

2010 called. It wants its unfunny pseudo-edgy comedy tropes back.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:57 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]



╔Ennui═══════╗
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Warning: critical levels of ennui reached
Administering morphine
posted by hellojed at 9:01 AM on April 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


I ♥ this post's title. Thanks, acb.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:03 AM on April 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hahah, stupid teen heartthrobs, stupid religion practised by immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:14 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Highway 61 by Bruce MacDonald features a Satan running around collecting hundreds of Polaroids of people who sell their souls to him for reasons. I'll always remember it for a great bit where the Satan, running out of cash, goes into a bingo hall and cleans up. On his way out he responds to a man who says "You sure are lucky" with "I'm not lucky, you're just a town full of losers".
posted by srboisvert at 9:30 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The thing that infuriates me about this "prank" is that it exposes the prankers' view of Islam more than it does the girls' view. The joke isn't funny if it's converting to a religion that is "normal" and "respected" - if they had to convert to Catholicism for tickets, so what? But we're supposed to gasp and say "But how could they convert to Islam?" as if that's just the worst thing anyone could ever imagine.

I'm less concerned about this being insulting to Muslims - on the scale of 1 to drone, this isn't quite drone - and more concerned that we live in a place where converting to Islam is considered like "Oh wow look what a crazy horrible thing teenage girls will do."
posted by incessant at 9:30 AM on April 18, 2013 [14 favorites]


I do wonder how the kids in the video perceive the hijab.

I mean, for an analogy, when a goy wears a yarmulke, sometimes it's a genuine show of respect — the synagogue equivalent of "take off your hat, this is a church," where even if you don't belong to the religion yourself, you're expected to follow the basic norms when you attend services — and sometimes it's a really ill-advised antisemitic Halloween costume. You know?

So I'm curious if it's the same with the hijab, if there are contexts where non-Muslim women are expected to wear it as a show of respect. But beyond that, I'm wondering what these kids saw themselves as doing — whether they thought of themselves as dressing respectfully or as putting on a funny ethnic costume.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:31 AM on April 18, 2013


(Right, never mind, incessant nailed it. It's not even about the girls' intent. It's about the cultural presuppositions that would be needed needed in order to make this funny-ha-ha rather than huh-that's-weird.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:44 AM on April 18, 2013


The level of fear-mongering in the Nordic countries about Islam has been my regular reminder that there's no such thing as a paradise land of perfect tolerance.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:47 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


So I'm curious if it's the same with the hijab, if there are contexts where non-Muslim women are expected to wear it as a show of respect.

I'm not sure if I parsed your comment correctly, and I apologize if I'm stating the obvious, but there are a lot of folks who practice Islam in the world, and a lot of different sects and denominations, and not all Muslim women have to wear the hijab. I think in many cases it may even be an individual choice on the part of the woman.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 AM on April 18, 2013


It must be a pretty big dick move when Justin Bieber's guest book note at Anne Frank's house isn't the biggest dick move involving Justin Bieber for the week.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:49 AM on April 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Nordhaug is critical of the episode, which he believes creates an impression that Justin Bieber is more important than faith, and that people are willing to change religion for a concert ticket."

He's assuming they have a religious belief in the first place. Just because you recite a sentence doesn't mean you magically become a INSERT RELIGIOUS FOLLOWER HERE.
posted by prepmonkey at 9:51 AM on April 18, 2013


Why hasn't B's fifteen minutes of fame passed? Surely there's an expiry date for unremarkable interchangeable teen pop singers. Enough of this classless fool! Time for someone new!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:00 AM on April 18, 2013


It defeats the whole apparent purpose of the thing, which (I guess?) is to make light of conversion to Islam.

Seems to me the purpose is to make fun of Bieber fans, and Islam is just a prop.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:08 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure if I parsed your comment correctly, and I apologize if I'm stating the obvious, but there are a lot of folks who practice Islam in the world, and a lot of different sects and denominations, and not all Muslim women have to wear the hijab. I think in many cases it may even be an individual choice on the part of the woman.

Oh, of course! (Though I don't mind at all that you pointed it out.) And for that matter the same is true for the whole keeping-your-head-covered bit within Judaism: different rules and different social meanings for different people in different communities.

I guess I just meant... look, growing up as a gentile in a town with a big Jewish population, I'd been to a bunch of bar mitzvahs and a couple Jewish weddings and so on by the time I was a teenager. So because of that experience, putting on a yarmulke felt to me like "This is a nice way to show respect. If I thought it might rub someone the wrong way, I wouldn't do it, but because I know it's a gesture of respect in this context, it's okay."

On the other hand, I also met raging antisemites who would never have put on a yarmulke unless they had a set of Groucho Marx big-nose glasses and a cartoony burlap sack covered in dollar signs to go with it. And that sure as shit wouldn't have been a gesture of respect.

So I wasn't asking for the Universal Pan-Muslim Rules about the hijab — because, yeah, there aren't any. More just speculating about what personal associations these girls might have had with the act of wearing one — whether it was more likely to be "This is nice, it reminds me of that one time my friend took me to services with her" or "Oh shit, this reminds me of that awful racist skit that so-and-so did at summer camp" or just "Gee, this is completely foreign to me and I have no idea what to think."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:08 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I once accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and personal savior cuz the dude was trying to save me while my train was pulling into the station. I wanted to get on the train and I also didn't want to be rude to the nice old man. On the plus side, I'm saved now so I can check that off the bucket list.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:10 AM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Paris Beiber is worth a mass.
posted by Pseudology at 10:16 AM on April 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Isn't Justin Bieber's demographic more pre-teen than teen? Unless he's changed his image lately, he certainly seems to fit the non-threatening-boy" archetype to a tee. His global fan base might be completely different, of course. And, of course, I am profoundly ignorant of what's going on in pop music other that Psy and Macklemore.
posted by stet at 10:21 AM on April 18, 2013


There's something that feels mean spirited about this, more like harsh mockery than good natured fooling around. If I was a Muslim and saw people pretending to convert to my religion for the most shallow of reasons it would probably make me mad. (The teenagers involved are no doubt immune to mockery - at least for now, but this video might be deeply embarrassing later in their lives.)

Religion should never be off-limits to parody, and Islam shouldn't be treated any differently than Christianity when it comes to humor. But it's better and more fun to joke about something that Islam actually does, instead of making fun of how little teenagers know or care about it.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:38 AM on April 18, 2013


But it's better and more fun to joke about something that Islam actually does, instead of making fun of how little teenagers know or care about it.

Aren't they, instead, pointing out how relatively little those teenagers care about their Christianity?
posted by fredludd at 10:46 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seems to me the purpose is to make fun of Bieber fans, and Islam is just a prop.

The only way the (incredibly stupid) joke works at all is if the "prop" is something profoundly abhorrent to tweener girls -- say, eating a cup of lard. Are young Norwegian girls, like, generally super religiously earnest in a non/anti-Muslim manner?

If the joke is just "squealing pre-teen Bieber fans are so crazed that he's more important to them than stuff their parents take seriously, such as religion," well no shit Sherlock. When I was 13 in the Jurassic Period, I would have blithely sold my entire family into chattel slavery for 15 minutes of face time with David Bowie.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:47 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this much different from the sort of thing The Register occasionally did -- approaching people in the streets and tube stations, and finding that a majority would trade their personal password (to their work computer) for a pen or a bit of candy?
posted by fredludd at 10:54 AM on April 18, 2013


"Aren't they, instead, pointing out how relatively little those teenagers care about their Christianity?"

If they're like like teenagers in other western countries, most of them probably wouldn't classify themselves as "Christian" to begin with.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:56 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


If they're like like teenagers in other western countries, most of them probably wouldn't classify themselves as "Christian" to begin with.

From what I understand about religion in Norway (most of which, admittedly, comes from Lords Of Chaos, a book about the Norwegian Satanic black metal scene), most people are nominally Lutheran but see the inside of a church about three times in their lives. And the state Lutheran churches are a lot less fiery than the Wisconsin Synod and such, and more like the Church of England in their milkwaterness.
posted by acb at 11:06 AM on April 18, 2013


There are religious organizations in the US who will give you a meal and shelter, but only after you attend their services.

While I know this Bieber ticket thing is a stunt, it seems to be in the same part of the decision tree about ways to treat fellow humans, differing not as much by actions as by intent and sincerity.
posted by zippy at 11:09 AM on April 18, 2013


Seems to me the purpose is to make fun of Bieber fans, and Islam is just a prop.

Except the Bieber fans almost certainly know they're not really converting to Islam. So at worst they're treating Islam with the exact same disrespect as the TV people, except they're at least getting free concert tickets for it.

I can't see how the fans are the target of the humor here unless you're dumb enough to think they really think they're converting.
posted by straight at 11:28 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I'm curious if it's the same with the hijab, if there are contexts where non-Muslim women are expected to wear it as a show of respect.

If you're a non-believer (or even a believer who doesn't otherwise veil), it's expected that you will cover your head in a mosque, or say, at a Muslim funeral. I'm sure practices vary, but the majority of the women in my family don't wear hijab, and we all cover our heads and wear modest clothes in a mosque or at other religious events. It is indeed a respect thing.

Also, fyi, the shahada is not some magic phrase where the mere utterance of it has (surprise!) converted the speaker to Islam. Like, you can say it in an educational or instructive context or whatever without finding yourself suddenly Muslim. Saying the shahada is basically between you and God, since it's not like other people can truly judge your sincerity. Other than that, the only things that make you a Muslim are adherence to the five pillars of Islam, and there are plenty of Muslims who never really get around to adhering to all of those either.

I wonder how people would feel about this if instead of some fake conversion to Islam ritual, it was a fake baptism. I for one feel both are equally stupid and disrespectful, but I can't get too worked up about it, not being especially observant myself. It's a stupid prank.
posted by yasaman at 11:38 AM on April 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I thought the Church of England had soup?
posted by Brocktoon at 12:32 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...also, it's worth pointing out that the creed must be professed sincerely."

"...making it less likely that someone would decide that the girls did convert and later were apostates."

"People who mouth the words of the Shahada without knowing or meaning the words are not converting to Islam"

..."fyi, the shahada is not some magic phrase where the mere utterance of it has (surprise!) converted the speaker to Islam."


I know a/anti/non/theists, agnostics make up a large part of the the Metafilter community, may have limited exposure to basic religious practice, and might benefit from some background information. But are you fucking kidding me?
posted by klarck at 1:01 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why hasn't B's fifteen minutes of fame passed? Surely there's an expiry date for unremarkable interchangeable teen pop singers. Enough of this classless fool! Time for someone new!

"Andy Warhol got it right/Everybody gets the limelight/Andy Warhol got it wrong/15 Minutes is too long" - TISM
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:16 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Except for the Church of England, who don't do coffee; they're all about tea.

We totally do coffee after the service, as well as tea. Sometimes cake, but always biscuits. But only instant coffee. If that's stopping you coming to my church, I will totally buy you a cafetiere. Jesus would approve.
posted by alasdair at 2:18 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: a case of crypto bieberism.
posted by zardoz at 2:37 PM on April 18, 2013


We need some religious scholars, philsophers, and media-aware entertainers to hash this out.

Bieber, Buber. Buber, Luther. Luther, Bieber.
posted by zippy at 2:51 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bieber, Luther. Luther, Buber. Buber, Bieber is more fun to say
posted by zippy at 2:57 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd convert to anything on camera to get good Springsteen tickets, and I'm not ashamed. I don't get the joke.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:07 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]




Just as an aside, that website/newspaper the main link goes to is a non-mainstream right wing Christian daily. Its main news sections (in the top level menu) are "Society", "Christian life", "Israel", "Culture" and "Opinion", there's a front page opinion piece on "Why can't we call unborn children what they are: Namely human beings" on there right now, a story with the headline "Are God and Allah the same divinity? Jesus Christ tells us who God is", and so on.

It seems these are the only people in Norway actually upset about this, and they're also happy that they're getting publicity about being upset, since a story near the top of the front page is "'Bieber-conversion' travels around the world".
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:18 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]




I'll see your Blblblblblblblblbl and raise you a blblblbl.
posted by zippy at 4:43 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not strictly true. Dunkin' Donuts has excellent coffee.

You poor bastard. I'll get my barista to do a novena for you.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:00 PM on April 18, 2013


That won't be enough. Pack yer bags for Lourdes.
posted by jquinby at 5:55 PM on April 18, 2013


Faith, as a concept, deserves only contempt. It has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
posted by smcameron at 8:35 PM on April 18, 2013


You don't provide proof for that statement, smcameron… but I believe you're right.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:31 PM on April 18, 2013


*high five*
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:40 PM on April 18, 2013


I believe you're right.

No, no... you belieb smcameron is right. You belieb.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:04 AM on April 19, 2013


I will read a statement declaring that faith deserves only contempt in exchange for a good cup of coffee. As an extra bonus, I will also rubbish hope and charity for a doughnut and the latest issue of Harpers.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:35 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


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