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.

March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes