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Arab American Women’s Writing and September 11: Contrapuntality and Associative Remembering
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[W]e need ultimately to “catch up” to the events, to move forward and backward from them in order to work through their traumatic impact and to address the social and political contexts that help to foster (without necessarily leading to) acts of extreme violence. Such contexts are not . . . only explainable in terms of the problems of US foreign policy. Nevertheless, any attempt at explanation must go beyond the local events of September 11 and their reception and must include discussion, among other aspects of the historical background, of how the United States has been complicit in preparing the grounds for terrorism, both at home and in the rest of the world.

As a national tragedy and a traumatic experience, the events of 9/11, represented by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, marked a turning point in the lives of many Americans. Arab Americans, who not unlike other citizens had to grapple with the consequences of this tragedy, found themselves the target of the “war on terror” initiated by the Bush Administration and used to limit civil liberties and to persecute people perceived as a threat to the security of the American nation. These people included a number of immigrants and Americans, especially of Arab or Muslim origin.1

In this atmosphere characterized by animosity and fear, Arab American writers insisted on making their voices heard and their perspectives represented. They gave talks on American campuses and circulated poems, essays, and letters online in the days and weeks following the events of 9/11. The few years after 9/11 also saw a surge in Arab American texts, attesting to these authors’ awareness of the danger of silence and misrepresentation. Situating my analysis within the context of Arab American writing about 9/11, my paper probes questions of associative remembering as a mode of contrapuntal reading of history in the following texts: “Where Is Home? Fragmented Lives, Border Crossings, and the Politics of Exile” by Rabab Abdulhadi; “first writing since” by Suheir Hammad; “america” by Dima Hilal; “We Will Continue Like Twin Towers” by Mohja Kahf; and “Letter from Naomi Shihab Nye, Arab-American Poet: To Any Would-Be Terrorists” and the introduction of 19 Varieties of Gazelle by Naomi Shihab Nye.2 Two of the texts discussed, “Letter from Naomi Shihab Nye” and “first writing since,” were circulated online in the few weeks immediately following 9/11; the introduction to 19 Varieties of Gazelle was published one year after 9/11; “Where Is Home?” was presented closely after 9/11 on American college campuses,3 and “We Will Continue” and “america” were published in the few years following 9/11 (2003 and 2004 respectively).4 These texts capture a particular atmosphere in Arab American literary production as they convey their authors’ feelings of responsibility and anxiousness related to the urgent need for Arab American individual and communal self-definition in this tragedy.5

Despite the fact that they belong to different genres, each with its own logic and politics, what brings the works discussed together is the similarity of their approach to the representation of the events of 9/11, namely their use of contrapuntality and associative remembering. While poetry and letters usually can be conceived as an adequate tool to convey the personal character of memory because they are often used to reflect intimate dimensions of experience, the essay is traditionally understood as an impersonal genre that has “assumed a measured relationship with its audience” (Mittlefehldt 197). However, it is worth noting that this genre has undergone major shifts and transformations as marginalized voices have been claiming access to it and redefining its elements. These transformations are represented by a new stress on the personal and intimate aspects of these subjects’ experiences; as such, the essay has become a “weapon of choice” sustaining different types of struggle against “racism, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, ageism, poverty, and injustice” (Mittlefehldt 196). Reflecting this struggle against oppressive structures, the texts of Nye, Kahf, Hammad, Hilal, and Abdulhadi contribute to the production of a critically recuperative voice exposing the ambivalence of the location of Arab Americans in the United States. It also articulates forms of...



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