- Arab Occidentalism: Images of America in the Middle East by Eid Mohamed
Eid Mohamed’s book studies the representations of the United States of America in Arab cultural productions, especially Egyptian ones, since 2001. It focuses on the cinematic, fictional, poetic, and journalistic Arab responses to 9/11 and the war on terrorism. Eid Mohamed makes sure he integrates the works of Arab immigrants in the USA, to complement those of Arabs in the Middle East.
The fraught relationships between the USA and the Middle East have been the object of several studies, but this work succeeds at presenting a new argument thanks to its nuanced approach of the topic, its focus on culture, and its restricted timeframe (the 2000s–2010s).
In the first chapter, Mohamed discusses the texts of Alaa al-Aswany and Amani Abul Fadl as examples of moderate voices that do not give fixed definitions of self and other. In the second chapter he studies the media representations of two incidents engaging the USA and the Arab world: the shoe-throwing incident at Bush in Iraq and the election of President Obama. He analyses texts and cartoons from Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Ahram as well as Al Jazeera. In the third chapter, he analyses Arab and especially Egyptian films, some being occidentalist in the sense of stereotyping the West and scripting America as essentiality colonialist, and some contesting the idea of a clash of civilizations and providing a fluid discourse on the Arab-American encounter. Mohamed focuses on films dealing with 9/11, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the American involvement in the Middle East. In Chapter 4, he analyses two novels by post-9/11 Arab-American women writers: Mohja Kahf’s Emails from Scheherazad and its discourse on the independent Arab-American woman, as well as Laila Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land which interrogates the ability of tradition to protect Arab-American subjects. These writers try to reconcile hybrid identities, although the constraints of time and space [End Page 516] are eventually too strong for their characters.
Mohamed’s argument throughout the book is that despite attempts at counter-narratives, there is still a monolithic representation of the USA in Arab and especially Egyptian cultural productions post-9/11. One could criticize the author for not engaging enough in theoretical terms with Occidentalism, a term which he uses without sufficiently tracing its history and its variants. The same goes for Orientalism, which he uses mainly in the Saidian sense. Because he focuses on the Arab uses of the terms, he does not trace their larger histories. This points to both the strength and the weakness of this book, which is convincing thanks to its narrow focus and nuanced readings, but which lacks the ambition to speak in theoretical terms.
Overall, Mohamed’s book is a valuable read for a large audience interested in the relations between the USA and the Middle East as well as for specialists in cultural studies and Middle Eastern studies. It is particularly welcome to read a scholarly text that engages with a sensitive issue in such careful and unbiased ways. [End Page 517]