Last month I was in Tehran for the end of Ramazan [i.e. Ramadan], and the night before Eid e-Fitr [i.e. "Festival of Breaking the Fast"] my family and I went to a public street food festival downtown.
It might surprise many non-Iranians, but the array of live music included electric guitars and rock and roll. The rockers did not draw a bigger crowd than an excellent, traditionally-dressed Sufi singer playing the daf (a Middle Eastern hand drum).
It will likely not surprise non-Iranians, however, that there was not any performer who resembled Nicki Minaj.
Saudi Arabia provoked indignation across the Muslim world by inviting Minaj, an American rapper known for her nearly-naked live performances and profanity, to perform in public at a cultural festival in Jeddah.
Saudi women fairly complained: How can the government (and probably also their grandmothers) compel them to wear modest clothing in public, but then give a stage to Minaj?
Saudi women who support their dress code - and credible polls show that Saudi women overwhelmingly support both the code as well as the most modest forms of female Muslim dress - fairly screamed that Mohammad Bin Salman is helping Minaj break a rule which they truly treasure.
Minaj's concert would have come just ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, adding another layer of democratic disapproval at home and shock across the Muslim world. The Minaj invitation provided yet another reason why Muslims are openly boycotting Hajj like never before: The Saudi monarchy clearly does not respect the values of Islam, and they are committing horrific crimes against Muslims.
Minaj has just pulled out of the concert, saying that she did not want to perform in a country where "women have no rights", adding that her decision was not intended to "disrespect" the Saudi government. Minaj shows her lack of political modernity by declaring her respect for the reactionary and outdated form of government of monarchism, but MBS is sure to be very sad-faced about her decision - this puts him at odds with the average Saudi person's morality, yet again.
Our headline does not equate the death of (psuedo-dissident) Jamal Khashoggi with the now-cancelled performance of a stripteasing rapper - it points out how both are cases of the Saudi monarchy evincing no respect for humanity nor for the democratic will of Saudi Arabians.
Minaj and her values are embraced and encouraged in the US, and that is their decision - it is not for Saudi Arabia to impose their choices on the US, any more than the average Saudi wants the US to decide how they should live. However, it seems rather obvious that the average Saudi woman and man absolutely disagrees with Minaj's values, and it is the obligation of rulers (we cannot use the phrase "civil servants" in the Saudi context) to respect their own people (subjects, in the Saudi context).
Yet we should never be surprised that MBS - or any Arab monarch - so blatantly defies public opinion, because these Western-propped governments lack anything resembling modern democratic structures. Who knows what whim possesses them to do anything? What is certain is that they act with zero accountability, zero democracy, zero notions of post-aristocratic ideals, and in a manner which is totally unbecoming of the custodians of Islam's most important sites.
The goal of the Minaj invitation seemed obvious, and we see Israel do the same thing: it was an attempt to whitewash the regime's crimes within the Western public: By slavishly showing the West that they embrace Western pop culture, they are trying to "normalise" reactionary, murderous and apartheid-like conditions.
This is why the Saudis promised fast-tracked electronic visas for international visitors: they want the West's 1% taste-makers to visit, and then return home saying, "Saudi Arabia is just like us - our Western government is right to support them."
Their governments are not right.