Lebanon is often portrayed as an island of liberalism and sophistication in the Middle East. The small country, with just 5 million inhabitants, houses an elegant capital in Beirut that contains all the cuisine and nightlife you'd expect from its nickname, the "Paris of the Middle East," only with more beaches.

Yet the same country also has a conservative, sometimes reactionary side. And over the past week that other side has come out to the fore – thanks to an award given to a Miami porn star.

On Dec. 28, adult Web site PornHub announced that Mia Khalifa (not her real name) was the "#1 ranked pornstar" on their site. Khalifa, a 21-year-old raised in Maryland, has a degree in history and also acted as an "unofficial mascot" for the Florida State Seminoles. However, the fact that she was born in Lebanon soon made her infamous in the Middle East.

According to the Lebanese Examiner, a number of Beirut-based newspapers wrote critical articles about Khalifa shortly after the award was announced. On Twitter and Instagram, where Khalifa has an active (and very NSFW) presence, Khalifa received a barrage of criticism and threats. One user posted an image taken from an Islamic State "execution" video, with her head digitally pasted onto the victim.

In an interview with The Post, Khalifa said she had not expected any reaction to PornHub's announcement from Lebanon, where she has not lived since she was 10 years old and last visited five years ago. A relatively new adult performer who wasn't sure if she'd stay in the industry long term, she hadn't expected much attention at all. "I really didn't expect it to go past maybe having my own Web site and maybe a contract extension," she said.

The torrent of online messages were hard to ignore, however, and Khalifa soon began to respond. "Doesn't the Middle East have more important things to worry about besides me?" she tweeted on Saturday. "How about finding a president?" she said, referring to Lebanon's ongoing struggle to find a new president. "Or containing ISIS?" she added, using an acronym to refer to the Islamic State. When one user said she would soon be beheaded, she replied that was okay as long as they didn't target her "expensive" breasts.

Khalifa conceded that some of the messages were hard to read. The hardest ones were the ones "that tell me I am a disgrace to my country and that I should kill myself," she said. "Hearing that my home country hates me stings more than anything else."

Much of the criticism of Khalifa focused on the aspects of Middle Eastern identity that made it into her work. In one video, for instance, she performs while wearing a hijab, a head dress worn by Muslim women. Khalifa – who comes from a Christian family – said she was surprised this scene in particular caused anger. "The scenes containing a hijabi are satirical," she explained. "There are Hollywood movies that depict Muslims in a much worse manner than any scene Bang Bros [the company who made the video] could produce."

Another factor was Khalifa's tattoos, one of which shows the logo for the Lebanese Forces, a political party that operated as a right wing Christian militia during the country's long civil war. Another which contains the first line of the Lebanese national anthem ("كلنـا للوطـن للعـلى للعـلم" or "All of us! For our Country, for our Glory and Flag!").

Many of Khalifa's critics argued that these tattoos added a political edge to her work. In response, Khalifa tweeted that she was entitled to an opinion on Lebanese politics as she was born and raised there. She told The Post that the response was made out of "annoyance" and that her opinions about politics were inherited from her family. She got her tattoos to "show solidarity with my father's political views after a bombing in Lebanon in 2012," she said. Khalifa said her family does not support her work ("they are less than pleased to say the least") and that they have not discussed the backlash.

Despite the negative comments, Khalifa also received a large amount of support from Lebanese society. She said she received "touching messages" from Gino Raidy, a Beirut-based blogger, and British-Lebanese author Nasri Atallah was one of a number of people who defended Khalifa on Facebook.. "She is a 21-year old in Florida who has made a decision for herself, with absolutely no wider implications," Atallah wrote.

Despite Beirut's liberal reputation, some observers have noticed a growing shift to conservatism in Lebanon over the past few years – Internet service providers began to block access to a number of adult Web sites after orders from the Telecommunications Ministry, for example, and Khalifa isn't the first Lebanese woman to suffer a backlash due to her nudity. Last year, a topless photograph of Lebanese skier Jackie Chamoun prompted similar waves of criticism and support for the young Olympic athlete. Chamoun later apologized for the photographs. "I know that Lebanon is a conservative country," she said, "and this is not the image that reflects our culture."

Khalifa isn't anywhere near as contrite. "What I once boasted to people as being the most Westernized-nation in the Middle East, I now see as devastatingly archaic and oppressed," she said. And while she says she "hates" the word feminist, she can't help but wonder what her situation says about women in Lebanon. "Women's rights in Lebanon are a long way from being taken seriously," she said, "if a Lebanese-American porn star that no longer resides there can cause such an uproar."