The Washington Post: Uzbekistan officials call Harlem Shake ‘a vortex full of meaninglessness and shamelessness’

Posted by Max Fisher on April 10, 2013 at 12:05 pm

An Uzbek news site called Ziyouz, once known for its cultural commentary but increasingly for parroting official state propaganda, has published a length article condemning the Harlem Shake. It calls the dance, a breakout phenomenon that has produced silly homemade videos from every corner of the globe, “a vortex full of meaninglessness and shamelessness.”

Sarah Kendzior, an anthropologist with extensive experience studying Uzbekistan, says the articles reflects more than just knee-jerk anti-Westernism from this majority Muslim dictatorship. Nor, she believes, is this about preempting the Harlem Shake “flash mobs” that became public protests in Egypt and Tunisia.

“This is more of an opportunity for them to establish their moral authority and present the world outside Uzbekistan as dangerous and corrupt,” Kendzior wrote in an e-mail. “It’s not a knee-jerk response; it’s calculated.”

The article, she explains, quotes two “experts.” The first is an “expert on culture” with no stated affiliation (is he an academic? a government official?) and the second is a preacher and rector at the state-run Tashkent Islamic University, which is affiliated with members of the Uzbek government. They argue, according to Kendzior’s summary, “that the Harlem Shake is mindless, damaging to youth, a typically terrible product of globalization and mass media, and that it does nothing to help Uzbeks develop their spiritual values.” The preacher is quoted as citing the Koran.

Freedom House ranks Uzbekistan as “Not Free” and included the country among just eight others in its 2011 report, “Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies.” Their report cites, among many other civil rights abuses, the degree to which the government attempts to control public and even private speech. “Open and free private discussion is limited by the mahalla committees — traditional neighborhood organizations that the government has turned into an official system for public surveillance and control,” it reads.

For a state-aligned Uzbek outlet to treat even just this slight hint of popular culture as a threat, though funny from afar, is part of a much darker mission.

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Dessi: Author has no idea on what he is writing about, at least no idea about the cultural aspects of traditional Uzbek society in the first place, put Islam aside. It is shameful for Washington Post to publish such an unprofessional article which even interprets the original source wrong. After sexual revolution, most of the westerners find Harlem Shake and other similar viral videos with the elements of nudity and pornographic content amusing, while struggling against rapists and childmolesters. Absence of any kind of human dignity and animalistic cravings are considered as the elements of self-impression, and in some way used to measure the level of democracy by some journalists. I am not saying that Uzbekistan is absolutely democratised country, but there are some values we would like to keep. And one of these values is our oriental way of looking at different things, which has nothing to do with democracy and freedom of self-impression. We don’t think that acting crazy in public nude somehow increases the dignity and the reputation of that person, neither it appears to be fun as it may embarrass other people around. Unlike western cultures, Uzbeks like other Asians are more of a community people rather than an individualistic society, therefore it does care others what you do in public, and people will surely be concerned about your behaviour, and they will surely judge you. This is the way how we try to keep our social norms, customs and traditions, making everyone to think twice before saying something, just leave alone acting. It is worthwhile to ponder on what you do, if it somehow offends other people in your community, if it really helps you gain respect within this community etc. If none of that holds, then there is no purpose or meaning, but self-humiliation causing public embarrassment.

couple of remarks on wrong interpretation of the source:
1) There are no officials involved in this article at all. It is an independent insight of a journalist who analyses this phenomena in Uzbekistan, providing correct statistics and reviewing recent cases in other countries.
2) Experts mentioned in the article, one explains cultural effect of this phenomena, and the other gives some background on religious aspects, whose affiliation by the way is Tashkent Islamic Instute (not University, which is absolutely different institution in Uzbekistan), and he is not a rector, but a head of the department.

MT1213: An article written on prejudice. Facts are misrepresented and shown in a light to serve the “conclusion” of the article which was predetermined before the author even started to write it. After all they have a right to express their opinion, don’t they? The author could also present his opinion on what he dislikes about opinion of the “officials” but please without manipulating the facts.

Mohir Ali: What? If I say I dislike it, this is incorrect to you and if I say I like it this is considered to be democratic? What an interesting American Democracy and freedom of speech this is! Of course, I also think this is stupid and it corrupts our children and youth. I’ll tell you something, the thing you think is democratic may not be democratic in every corner of the world. Educate yourself a little be, be open-minded, try to think on our level and stop judging others by only your own measure. I’m Uzbek and I’m proud of it and I also ignore this Harlem stuff.

quizel: In regards to freedom of speech, you are free to say you dislike the dance and other people are free to critisize you. I hope you have the same in Uzbek. By the way the Harlem Shake video craze has very little to do with the original Harlem Shake. A lot of people from Harlem find the videos ridiculous and insulting. Personally, from what little I saw, some of the videos are just silly and innocent fun and some are obscene–but if everyone is a consenting adult, they’re free to participate. And anyone from Uzbek or anywhere else can voice their opinion and discourage their children from emulating that behavior.
Thank you for taking the time to come to a US news site and sharing your point of view.

Someone from the City: I know the owner of and the author of the original article personally. Both the website and the author has nor relationship with government authorities and do not aim to parrot government propaganda. The article is baseless and lacking any sort of substance.
The original article is an independent analysis of a phenomenon which is foreign to Uzbek society.
The anthropologist with extensive experience studying Uzbekistan mentioned in this article actually agrees that Harlem Shake is inane act:…

Sohib Egamov: Dear Author and other readers who has negative opinions about Uzbekistan and governement, its people! Plz, don’t pay attention to any words which is told you about our life. Plan to come here and you will see our people, our life. I will wait for you!
That people who is writing about negative sentences, don’t know our country and their aim is to ruin our coutry. But we don’t give a chance for them.
If you want to come Uzbekistan, you may contact me and i will show our Uzbekistan and you will see how we are living under pressure or freedoom? OK.

Sohib Egamov: Each nation has its own tradations and culture. Uzbekistan is multicultural country but there are a lot of muslims and we have our own life style. For us Harlem Shake is western culture and it effects our child’s mind and they want to live as a West and American people who is supporting gay and lesbian marriage. It is shame for our people. That’s why we can’t accept your Harlem Shake

OUTPOST2012.NET: Who cares of the rating Freedom House? It is as obnoxious institution as Harlem Shake.
Every nation creates the society and its institution in a way it wishes. The 30 million Uzbek nation will decide for itself what’s better.
It may differ from our values, tradition and habits. But to judge what is right and what is wrong is the way to nowhere.

politics12: Yes the Harlem Shake is obscene, disgusting and in some versions imitates violent rape. However, for the rappers and their idiotic followers any suggestion of criticism is sweet music–rather as ‘Banned in Boston’ used to guarantee high book or film sales! Maybe now ‘banned in Uzbekistan’ will have the same cachet!

Masud: Author has no Idea about Uzbekistan and Uzbeks. There are several aspects of this nation, which author HAVE TO pay attention before writing this article. All we know, that such kind of dances are harmful for youth in general. Put Islam aside, it is just MORAL thing.

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