- TDR Comment: Where Are the Muslim Feminist Voices?A Question Asked in September 2001
Ed. note: Fawzia Afzal-Khan is Professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, the author of Cultural Imperialism and the Indo-English Novel (1993, Pennsylvania State University Press), and of numerous articles on feminism and post-colonialism, and coeditor with Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks of The PreOccupation of Postcolonial Studies (2000, Duke University Press). Her poetry has appeared in Span and Samar. Currently she is working on a prose memoir, Sahelian (Girlfriends), the first chapter of which, "Sam's Secret," was published in the Nepalese journal, Himal, in July 2000. Her ongoing work on Pakistani alternative theatre is represented by her 1997 TDR article, "Street Theatre in Pakistani Punjab" (41, 3 [T155]:39-62), as well as by articles published elsewhere, including "Desiring Methodology: Performing Postcolonial Theatre Anthropology in Pakistan" in New Approaches to Theatre Studies and Performance Analysis, edited by Günter Berghaus (2001, Max Niemeyer Verlag), and "Exposed by Pakistani Street Theatre: The Unholy Alliance of Postmodern Capitalism, Patriarchy and Islamic Fundamentalism," forthcoming in Social Text. Afzal-Khan is also an accomplished performer of North Indo-Pakistani classical singing. Before coming to the USA, she was the winner of the Amateur All-Pakistan Classical Vocalist award three years in a row. She has performed on radio and television in Pakistan, on WBAI in New York, and at venues in Manhattan and upstate New York. She also works with the Faim de Siecle theatre, performing in 2000/2001 in New York, France, and Bosnia in a multimedia production of Heiner Müller's Medeamaterial.
I was at home, in Ossining, in Westchester County, New York, the morning of 11 September 2001, packing my suitcase for a week-long trip to Quebec City to perform in my theatre troupe's production of Heiner Müller's Abandoned Shores on the stage of the acclaimed Canadian director Robert LePage. Then the phone rang. It was 9:00 a.m., I was in a hurry, and I almost didn't answer. The response to my irritated, "Who is it?" was an hysterical long-distance sobbing all the way from Lahore, Pakistan—my mother's. My heart sank. This is the call we immigrants dread. I braced myself for the worst. "Has something happened to Daddy?" I said, haltingly, barely audible even to myself. "Oh my dear daughter, you are safe, Allah ka shukr hai," was the confusing reply I got. Wondering if Mom had finally lost it, I was about to ask her to explain her bizarre call, when she blurted out, "I was so worried you might have been on one of those flights..." I was [End Page 5] still in the dark, but when I finally registered my ignorance over the crackling noise of the long-distance lines and her own sobbing, my mother, incredulous, responded, "Oh my dear, don't you know? Something terrible has happened... we are watching it on CNN here... some planes have collided into the World Trade Center..."—and then the line went dead.
I spent the rest of that day, the day after, and many days that followed, in a daze, engulfed in sorrow and fear like everyone else I know. Never one for sentimental displays, I found myself weeping when greeting friends, driving the car, in the shower, waking up, in front of the computer screen, in front of my students at Montclair State University in New Jersey. But in the midst of the sadness over the horrendous loss of life that I shared with my American compatriots—whites, blacks, Arabs, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists—and the fear over U.S. reprisals that I shared with others all over the world, especially friends and family in my native country, Pakistan, I felt myself nevertheless, bewilderingly and frighteningly, alone. What, I find myself asking still, are the causes of my feelings of alienation?
You see, I am a feminist. I am a Muslim. I am a professor of English who studied for her PhD in an American university, even though my mother tongue is Urdu. I am a singer trained in the Indian classical tradition...