Abstract

ABSTRACT:

This essay argues that we should look for the reemergence of Orientalism as an offshoot of the war on terror in Arab American fiction rather than exclusively in life narratives by Middle Eastern women writers living in exile in the United States. The examination of Alicia Erian's début novel, Towelhead (2005), listed among the New York Times 100 most notable books of the year in 2005, adapted to the screen by Alan Ball, and one of the most commercially successful Arab American books, reveals Arab American fiction as a site for imagining Arabs and their belonging after 9/11. Inspired by the author's life, the novel establishes the American domestic sphere as a significant battlefield against the encroachment of allegedly threatening cultures. Set in Texas during the first Gulf War, the text describes an Arab father's brutal treatment of his thirteen-year-old Arab American daughter, foregrounding the clash of cultures between East and West within the United States. Whereas critics imply that the title of the book is gratuitous and that the novel does not really deal with race, I contend that it does but in unexpected ways. Though an Arab American novel, Towelhead is more aligned with what Lila Abu-Lughod labeled as "literary trafficking" and what others have called "native-informant" life narratives. In fact, the novel is at odds with dominant conventions found in American ethnic fiction, whereby race and racialization are thoroughly public phenomena. Here, it is the domestic which is the key site for racialization, and processes of race-making are inextricably bound up with gender. Set against a backdrop of US military interventions in the Middle East and the war on terror, the novel politicizes domesticity to question the assimilation of Arab immigrants in the United States, summoning the idea of "enemy within." As such, Towelhead extends the longstanding colonial practice of appropriating feminism to justify imperialist intervention. However, it parodies mainstream US representations of Middle Eastern women saved by the American army and calls for a softer rescue.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1542-4286
Print ISSN
0093-3139
Pages
pp. 724-746
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-20
Open Access
No
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