Arab and Arab American Feminisms
Gender Violence and Belonging
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Syracuse University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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Arab and Arab American Feminisms has been a collaborative journey that began in 2002. It came together through ongoing conversations with colleagues, mentors, friends, and loved ones. We are indebted to everyone who has been there for us along this journey. As members of the American Studies Association’s (ASA) annual meetings organizing committee of 2003, Amy Kaplan and Melani...
List of Contributors
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Arab and Arab American Feminisms: An Introduction
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In Brooklyn, Yusra Awawdeh, a sixteen-year-old Arab American student at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, wore a “Free Palestine” T-shirt, a Palestinian flag pin, and a kufiya (checkered Palestinian scarf) to school. A security guard removed her from class and took her to the dean’s office, where a female school safety officer patted her down and told her to remove her shoes and socks while...
Part 1. Living with/in Empire: Grounded Subjectivities
1. Beyond Words
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Photos out of Abu Ghraib were being circulated on the Internet, as the Israeli Defense Forces entered and nearly destroyed the Gaza Strip town of Rafah. There must have been a saturation point, what with the constant stream of images from Iraq, Afghanistan, the Congo. The poem accepts Suheir Hammad’s inherent weakness, her dependency on language for expression. If there is redemption, it is indeed beyond...
2. The Political and Cultural Representations of Arabs, Arab Americans, and Arab American Feminisms after September 11, 2001
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In this chapter, Mervat Hatem reflects on the impact that September 11 had on her own writings, specifically the study of the changing political and cultural representations of Arabs, Arab Americans, and Arab American feminisms in the United States. Historically, our understandings of these international and national actors influenced the general locations of Arab American men and women and the debate on gender in their...
3. Palestinian Women’s Disappearing Act: The Suicide Bomber Through Western Feminist Eyes
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This chapter critiques some Western feminist representations of the female suicide bombers of the second Palestinian Intifada. It argues that Palestinian women suicide bombers posed a challenge to the Orientalist view of Arab and Muslim women’s bodies as demure and passive. By looking at the way this figure is deployed in the works of three writers, Andrea Dworkin, Robin Morgan, and Barbara Victor, the essay...
4. Arab Jews, Diasporas, and Multicultural Feminism: An Interview with Ella Shohat
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In this interview, Ella Shohat discusses her family’s multiple displacements from Iraq to Israel and to the United States. She articulates the relevance of the question of Arab Jews to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as to the Middle Eastern–American diaspora. Shohat discusses the fraught position of Arab Jews in a historical context in which “Arab versus Jew” became the operating framework for identities with the...
5. In the Belly of the Beast: Struggling for Nonviolent Belonging
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Questions about belonging and nonbelonging, identities created and remade, spaces for empowerment and action, and feminist analysis impact our lived realities as Arabs and Muslims, in the United States or at least in a world dominated by U.S. hegemony. How does belonging to an imagined community inflict violence on those persons who do not belong, who refuse to belong, or who refashion belonging in their own...
6. Decolonizing Culture: Beyond Orientalist and Anti-Orientalist Feminisms
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In this essay, Nadine Naber interrogates the ways that Arab diasporas remake “Arab culture” in the United States and the significance of this process to the issues of sexism and homophobia. Her analysis focuses on middle-class Arab immigrant discourses and the Arab American social movements to which she has belonged. Naber proposes a feminist approach that locates diasporic notions of “culture” within the historical...
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Like many of my other poems, “Inanna” is a voice against the childish actions of war. Inanna, in this poem, goes back to her country (Iraq) and meets with her people. Although she loves them, she actually “yells” at them. Her voice is a mother’s voice in front of embarrassing actions...
Part 2. Defying Categories: Thinking and Living Out of the Box
8. Between the Lines
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These poems were written at the turn of the twenty-first century, during multiple global crises, and at a time when Arab identity was a contentious topic in the United States. They are about dislocation and reinvention, and the tension between the individual and the collective whole...
9. Quandaries of Representation
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Observant or not, Muslim women face a host of well-known stereotypes: that they are dependent, shackled by the strictures of their religion, and all-around unfree. Such stereotypes are compounded by the many “representational entrepreneurs” in today’s media who are eager to speak for and about all Muslim women. The author discusses her experiences with the sometimes humorous, sometimes sobering expectation...
10. Dyke March, San Francisco, 2004: Many Are Intrigued by the Fact That I Am Also a Belly Dancer
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Happy/L. A. Hyder spoke at the 2004 Dyke March in San Francisco. Held the night before the Pride Parade in June, it is attended by thousands of lesbians from around the world. The 2004 theme was “Uprooting Racism,” and authors-activists Jewel Gomez and Elana Dykewoman also addressed the gathering. As it turned out, they used similar words to talk about our local lesbian community and the world...
11. The Pity Committee and the Careful Reader: How Not to Buy Stereotypes about Muslim Women
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A surge of publication about Muslim women recasts old Orientalist fodder, the Western stereotype of the Muslim woman as Victim, and its companion stereotype, the Muslim woman as rebellious Escapee from Islam. The author calls the widespread discourse of this stereotype “the Pity Committee” and calls the equally biased, apologist reaction against it “the Defensive Brigade.” A close reading...
12. History’s Traces: Personal Narrative, Diaspora, and the Arab Jewish Experience
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In this essay Kyla Wazana Tompkins looks at the politics of feminist autobiography in terms of the specific intersections of race, gender, and diaspora that construct the Arab Jewish experience. She theorizes the possibility of an Arab Jewish experience that is oriented not toward or through Zionism but rather in the politically and culturally productive possibilities of diaspora...
Part 3. Activist Communities: Representation, Resistance, and Power
13. The Burden of Representation: When Palestinians Speak Out
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Nada Elia explores how Arab American feminists are frequently invited to speak at various “progressive” events and conferences. The expectation, however, is that they will deliver some variation of one single narrative: the oppression of Arab women by Islamic fundamentalism. A discussion of the broader political context, namely, ongoing settler colonialism and the criminally racist nature...
14. Taking Power and Making Power: Resistance, Global Politics, and Institution Building: An Interview with Anan Ameri
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Anan Ameri discusses her experiences as the founder and director of the Arab American National Museum (AANM) in Dearborn, Michigan. She reflects upon the vision behind the museum and its significance to diverse audiences. Ameri shows how her history of grassroots activism in the areas of social justice for Palestinians, Arabs, and Arab women has shaped her approach to leadership...
15. Inside Out: Youth of Color Organizing from Multiple Sites: An Interview with Janaan Attia
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Janaan Attia makes links between her engagements with U.S. identity politics and her experiences as a community-based organizer. Attia addresses the positions of Arab youth within people of color-based movements and the place of Arab women and queer Arabs within movements based on women of color and queer people of color. She calls upon the many communities to which she belongs to take issues...
16. Arabiya Made Invisible: Between Marginalization of Agency and Silencing of Dissent
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Lucy is an African American woman. She was a fellow student at Berkeley Law School at the University of California. Her remarks characterizing Arab women as a subjugated community within the Arab world are certainly not exceptional. Were they exceptional, perhaps the Bush administration could not have used the liberation of western Asian women as a justification...
17. On Rachel Corrie, Palestine, and Feminist Solidarity
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Rachel Corrie, a twenty-three-year-old white activist from the United States, was killed in the Gaza Strip in 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer driver as she defended a Palestinian home from demolition. This essay, written by a member of her community, examines Rachel’s witness to the extremes of violence inflicted on the Palestinians as a model of feminist solidarity that embraces our...
18. Just Peace Seder
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The Toronto Just Peace Seder is a joint Jewish-Palestinian community-building initiative launched in the spring of 2002 and organized annually since by a group calling itself Cooks for Peace. The collaborative text is a testament to the successful partnership developed over a period of ten years between an informal, unaffiliated group of Jewish, Palestinian, and Arab Canadian...
19. Dissidents, Displacements, and Diasporas: An Interview with Dena Al-Adeeb
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Through an interview-style narrative, Dena Al-Adeeb explores the multiple and multilayered displacements and dislocations that color her Iraqi diasporic experiences. This article maps out her dissident trajectories through her political and social-cultural activism and artwork. Dena outlines almost thirteen years of work against the war and sanctions in Iraq, against anti-Arab (including other...
Part 4. On Our Own Terms: Discourses, Politics, and Feminisms
20. Arab American Feminisms: Mobilizing the Politics of Invisibility
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This chapter explores Arab American feminisms as mediated by the paradoxical framework of being simultaneously invisible and hypervisible. Calling this idea the “politics of invisibility” (since hypervisibility also functions to obscure the creative work of Arab American feminists), Amira Jarmakani looks at the ways Arab American feminists have worked in coalition with U.S.-based feminists...
21. Class Equality, Gender Justice, and Living in Harmony with Mother Earth: An Interview with Joe Kadi
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Joe Kadi reflects upon the vision behind the groundbreaking anthology edited in 1994, Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab American and Arab Canadian Feminists. Joe addresses how personal history coupled with writings by U.S. women of color inspired development of this book. Kadi addresses similarities and differences between the issues the book addressed and the issues...
22. Personal and Political: The Dynamics of Arab American Feminism
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In this personal essay, the author shares several experiences that reveal how Arab American feminists battle sexism in their personal lives as well as on the political front. She explores ways in which struggles for gender equality within the Arab community are often used as an indictment against Arab culture. She also emphasizes that Arab American feminists are in the precarious position...
23. Teaching Scriptural Texts in the Classroom: The Question of Gender
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This chapter deals with Moulouk Berry’s experience teaching a course she designed on the Quran at the University of Michigan–Dearborn. She explores the different epistemological relationship that the students have to the course than their professor and how the blurring of the line between the two can create tensions in the classroom: the professor teaching teaches about the sacred...
24. The Light in My House
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Imani Yatouma writes about the violence of heterosexuality, especially her experience with infertility and childhood sexual abuse. She describes how these experiences led to a paralysis in her writing and trauma-induced amnesia. She emerges from this abyss through writing and embracing a queer life. She finds herself open to queer endings; writing is still a painful discourse that creates...
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When Lisa Suhair Majaj moved to the United States in her early twenties, she realized that although she had been born an American of Arab heritage, she had no guidelines for what it meant to be an Arab American. Everything was new territory, and she fumbled a lot as she tried to make sense of, and articulate, her identity. Majaj encountered a great deal of hostility, ignorance, and...
26. Reflections of a Genderqueer Palestinian American Lesbian Mother
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Huda Jadallah’s reflection challenges how stereotypes of Arab men as terrorists and Arab women as submissive do not operate as such in cases of gender nonconformity. In addition to challenging us to rethink the intersections of racism and sexism, she also discusses the challenges of being an Arab lesbian mother and her experiences of being scrutinized as such in a racist and...
Part 5. Home and Homelands: Memories, Exile, and Belonging
27. The Memory of Your Hands Is a Rainbow
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Amal Hassan Fadlalla conceived this poem during Sudan’s two major political events: the conclusion of the peace agreement between Sudan’s Northern and Southern warring parties in 2005 and the escalation of the conflict in the Darfur region in western Sudan. Globally, the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the 9/11 attacks, and other humanitarian crises continue to generate...
28. You Are a 14-Year-Old Arab Chick Who Just Moved to Texas
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“You Are a 14-Year-Old Arab Chick” is a second-person piece that follows a young girl as she tries to acclimate to a new life in Texas after a childhood in the Middle East. Throughout the story, she is literally trying to negotiate a new place for herself in her father’s home, in which he holds all the power. In a few short pages, she encounters ignorance, predatory behavior, and control...
29. The Long Road Home
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Sherene Seikaly reflects on the search for home as a Palestinian American. Her piece ponders how identity is related to the practice of history making. As she travels across borders and through archives, she questions the possibility of belonging and the importance of the search, rather than the destination of a sense of home...
30. The Legacy of Exile: An Excerpt
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This story exposes the multiple layers of U.S. imperialism in the Arab world as they play out in the life of a young queer Arab woman. This piece was inspired by the strength, courage, and resilience of Arab women living with the haunting legacy of exile...
31. Stealth Muslim
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Evelyn Alsultany reflects on her experiences as a “stealth Muslim” who is not visually identifiable at a time of heightened anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism. She describes the ways in which various Muslims and non-Muslims react upon discovering her Muslim identity, often perpetuating essentialist notions of Islam. She remarks on the contradictions in government officials, media...
32. Where Is Home? Fragmented Lives, Borders Crossings, and the Politics of Exile
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The meaning of home and homeland—two concepts that seem to be self-evident or readily understood for most people—is fraught with complex emotions and contradictory memories for exilic and diasporic communities. In this essay, Abdulhadi reflects on her awareness that Arabs and Muslims were seen as dangerous and as suspect in the United States exactly as Palestinians...
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Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2011