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five The Orientalist Historical Romance Novel Allah loved lovers; he would bring them together when it was His Will and not before. Julia fiTzgerald, royaL sLave I n 1998, the president of the Middle East Studies Association commented that “1978 was a very good year for landmark books on the Middle East . . . Edward Said’s Orientalism also appeared that year. I wonder if there’s been a better year since?” (Khoury 5) Philip Khoury’s remark was more apt than he could possibly have realized, for coeval with the publication of Orientalism came the birth of a cultural phenomenon centering on the Middle East that would have horrified the erudite Said—a well-read, multilingual scholar, who was also an accomplished classical pianist, and who disdained the “lowbrow” tastes of massmarket popular culture. In 1977, historical romance novelist Johanna Lindsey published her first novel, Captive Bride, part of which was loosely based on the plot of The Sheik. The following year saw the publication of Julia Fitzgerald’s Royal Slave, Bertrice Small’s The Kadin and Love Wild and Fair, Christina Nicholson’s The Savage Sands, Julia Herbert’s Prisoner of the Harem, and Janette Seymour’s Purity’s Ecstasy. The harem historical novel started largely as an American phenomenon. Beginning in the late 1970s, American popular culture was suddenly awash with aristocratic blond heroines being abducted by swarthy Barbary corsairs, stripped naked in slave markets, and sold as concubines into the oppressive harems of Oriental potentates, where they tasted the erotic delights of sex and the exotic indulgence of the senses. At the same time that Said THe orienTalisT HisTorical roMance novel « 145 » began denouncing Western understandings and cultural representations of the Middle East as imperialist attempts to fix the Orient as its inferior other, claiming them to be “‘racist, . . . imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric” (204), a new subgenre of popular literature began perpetuating the very stereotypes that he so passionately decried. Said was not the only one disturbed by the Western image of the Middle East or the limitations in Western academic approaches to the region. Zachary Lockman provides a comprehensive and insightful analysis of mid-twentiethcentury American academic studies of the Middle East against the backdrop of the increasing American entanglement in the region that led up to the publication of Orientalism (Chapters 4–7). The Middle East had dominated international and domestic news since the Six-Day War of 1967. Regional politics affected American consumers directly when U.S. support for Israel during the October War of 1973 resulted in the first OPEC embargo of oil exports to the United States. The embargo was lifted in 1974, but oil prices continued to climb throughout the decade, culminating in another oil shock after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Stories of revolutionary and terrorist activities also dominated the Western media during the 1970s: from Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s coup in Libya in 1969 and his calls for a Muslim cultural revolution in the region, to the hijacking of British and American airliners by PLO splinter groups, to the overthrow of the shah of Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini, and the American hostage crisis from 1979 to 1980. T. J. Semmerling argues that as American economic and geopolitical anxieties grew in the 1970s, psychosocial unease about the Middle East found expression in Hollywood films mythologizing an assertive, militaristic, and ultramasculine United States threatened by feminized and malevolent Arabs, whose defeat served to “enhance our own stature, our own meaning , and our own self-esteem in times of our own diffidence” (2). This may well be true; yet the most astounding thing about the Orientalist historical romance novel in all this time was its almost complete lack of engagement with any of the tumultuous upheavals going on in the Middle East. It wasn’t oil sheiks but Ottoman sultans who fascinated historical novelists, while Palestinian hijackers were passed over for renegade Barbary pirates.There were certainly loose historical parallels between the 1790s and the 1970s, as Michael Oren (2007) points out, noting the correspondence between North African corsairs who captured Americans for financial gain and the dizzying variety of anticolonial or irredentist terrorist organizations—from the Palestinian Abu Nidal and PLO to the « 146 » Desert Passions Lebanese Hezbollah—that kidnapped Americans and hijacked airplanes in the 1970s and 1980s to protest American foreign policy in the Middle East. Like the response in the early American republic, the Reagan administration ’s response in the 1980s was to use force as well as...


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