Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman

Although a skinny little book, Joumana Haddad’s treatise on being a writer/editor in Lebanon packs a wallop, controversial in all environments: Haddad’s own country, certainly throughout the Middle East, and also in the West. Intentionally designed to hit you in the face, I Killed Scheherazade might best be examined by quoting a passage almost at the end of the volume:

“I’ve never been a big fan of Scheherazade?who, to make matters worse, is nauseatingly cherished by the Orientalists?even though I really loved reading and re-reading The Arabian Nights. Her character, I am convinced, is a conspiracy against Arab women in particular, and women in general. Obviously, the poor lady did what she had to do. I am not judging her for that. In fact, I might have very well done the same, had I been in her delicate position. I’ve had just enough people (especially in the West, but in the Arab world as well) turning her into a heroine, the symbol of Arab cultural female opposition and struggle against men’s injustice, cruelty and discrimination. She’s just a sweet gal with a huge imagination and good negotiation skills. Things simply needed to be put in their right perspective.

“Thus, I killed her.”

Angry at the way Arab women have been portrayed, Haddad launched Jasad (The Body) in Beirut?an erotic magazine in Arabic, which confronted issues of battered women, masturbation, transsexuality?and, surprisingly, was not censored in spite of screams of outrage. “Being an Arab today,” Haddad writes, “means you need to be a hypocrite. It means you cannot live and think?. It means you are split in two, forbidden from speaking the blunt truth?because the Arab majority depends upon a web of comforting lies and illusions.” But the passage gets even more controversial: “It means that your life and your stories must be repressed, clamped-down and encoded; rewritten to suit the vestal guardians of Arab chastity, so the latter can rest assured that the delicate Arab ‘hymen’ has been protected from sin, shame, dishonor or flaw.”

Obviously strong stuff. Note that I Killed Scheherazade is not a translation from Arabic into English. The copyright page lists no earlier edition in the Middle East prior to the English edition, published in London and soon in the United States. So, even if Haddad’s Arabic magazine discusses controversial subjects, it is quite probable that this book could not have been published in Beirut, in spite of the city and the culture’s liberalism vis-?-vis most of the Arab world.

Haddad was fortunate to grow up in Lebanon and not a country like Saudi Arabia. Second, the uniqueness of her own childhood provided her with an exposure to a world not typically Arab. Her family is Christian, not Muslim, and her father’s library contained a number of books not often found in Arab households. Haddad remarks, “In the earlier stages of my life [age twelve], I used to think that only two things were worth doing whenever I had the chance of being alone: reading and masturbating.” The books in her father’s library helped, especially discovering a copy of de Sade’s Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue. “That book pumped adrenaline through my nervous system.” Other books included Lolita and Sexus.

Haddad notes that erotica (such as The Perfumed Garden, by Sheikh Nefzawi) was consumed by Arabic cultures in the fifteenth-century, but restrictions against such works (and the treatment of women in general) came about more recently as conservatism gained its dominance. Of the Arab custom permitting the marriage and the abuse of very young girls, for example, Haddad refers to the revered Ayatollah Khomeini, and a passage from his book, Tahrir al-Wasila:

“A man is not to have sexual intercourse with his wife before she is nine years old, whether regularly or occasionally, but he can have pleasure from her, whether by touching or holding her, or rubbing against her, even if she is as young as an infant. However, had he penetrated her without deflowering her, then he holds no responsibility towards her. But if a man penetrates and deflowers the infant [?], then he should be responsible for her subsistence all her life.” [Ellipsis in original].

That pretty much gets to the core of the matter. Haddad states, “To be a woman writer in an Arab country means to impose strict self-censorship, a thousand times harsher than any official censorship imposed from outside.” But she will have none of it?self-censorship or governmental.

I Killed Scheherazade is a bold manifesto, but the question is “How many Arab women will read it?” Ditto, “How many Arab men will pay attention?”

I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman
By Joumana Haddad

Saqi Books, 160 pp., ?8.99

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail