Justin Bieber has had what might be politely termed an awkward spring so far, whether he was joking about whether Anne Frank would have been a fan of his—an idea brilliantly satirized in the New Yorker by Yoni Brenner, who sketched out a vision of World War II in which the Nazis are defeated by Belieberism—and ran into trouble with his pet monkey. But as The Hollywood Reporter notes, he appears to have gotten one gesture of international cooperation right:
Amid an international tour plagued with missteps, Justin Bieber is being recognized for doing good during Thursday’s concert in Turkey. The pop star paused twice during his Istanbul performance to honor Azan–the Islamic call to prayer Muslims observe five times daily. “I’m not a Justin Bieber fan but as a Muslim, I got a lot of respect for him cos of what he did,” one Twitter user posted user after E! Online first reported the news. Wrote another, “You can hate all you want, but he earned my respect.” Later adding: “Muslim performers don’t even do what you did.”
There’s a lot of talk about a culture war without the boundaries of the United States itself. But American culture—or in this case, hybrid Canadian-American cultural products—is also a powerful export internationally. If Woodie Guthrie’s guitar was a machine that killed fascists, teenybop pop can produce earworms that transcend religious practice, national origin, and gender. Bieber’s gesture of respect is a proffer of sorts, a suggestion that religious practice and pop music can coexist—and that Christians are perfectly capable of being respectful of the practices of people of other faith traditions—and those who say it can’t are putting quarrels in the mouths of Western artists. If there’s an international culture war underway, a side that offers both the possibility of devotion and opportunities for pleasure may have one up on a party that shuts many participants out of both.