مقابلتي مع كاتيا خوري على محطة الإم تي في حول كتبي: جنة على الأرض وعروس عمان


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رؤيا لم تخطيء.. التوعية الجنسية مطلوبة ولو في برامج فكاهية ساخرة


من المحزن أن يؤدي الرهاب الجنسي في الأردن إلى قتل كل ما هو جميل وناجح في هذا البلد. نتفهم الخوف من الجنس في ظل غياب توعية جنسية في المدارس، سياسة فصل الجنسين في المدارس، وثقافة شعبية تربطه بالشرف. ولكن الهوس في تحديد جنسانية الفرد وتجنّب الخوض في الأمور الجنسية في النطاق العام (للبالغين) تضخمت لتطال كافة جوانب الحياة الطبيعية الأخرى، وأضحت حجة لقمع أبسط أشكال التعبير من فنون وموسيقى وطريقة ارتداء الأفراد لملابسهم ولهجتهم وطريقتهم بالكلام والحركة. ومن الطبيعي، في مجتمع تضخمت فيه الذكورية، أن تدفع المرأة والأقليات ثمن التراجع الثقافي والبلطجة الشعبية.

فالفيديو الذي تم عرضه على قناة رؤيا، وفيه ايحاءات جنسية، مطلوبة في سياق نقد الرسائل الجنسية في برامج الأطفال، لم يكن ليقابل بمثل هذا الغضب الشعبي لو لم تكن مقدمة البرنامج فتاة. فترسيخ المرأة على أنها سلعة جنسية في كافة البرامج التلفزيونية والدعايات والأغاني العربية والأجنبية منع المتلقي من رؤية الرسالة النقدية من خلف البرنامج، ليقرأها على أنها مقدمة كإثارة جنسية من قبل مقدمته. فلو كان المقدم رجل، لما هبّ من هب ليدافع عن محافظة المجتمع المزعومة. فالرجل مسموح له بالتعبير عن جنسانيته، كان ذلك في الشارع، أو البيت، أو أية مساحة خاصة أو عامة، ومجتمعنا يجب أن يعرف بأنه مجتمع ذكوري لا مجتمع محافظ. حجة أنه مجتمع محافظ تستعمل فقط لتقنين جنسانية المرأة وتحديد حرياتها وحركتها. كذلك فإن الأصوات الطائفية التي ربطت مقاطعة القناة ب”الإسلام” ونعتت مالكها بأنه “نصراني” (لا يوجد نصرانيين في الأردن، هنالك مسيحيين). تدل على دفع الأقليات ثمن التراجع الإجتماعي والتضخم الذكوري.

وبالعودة إلى البرنامج موضوع الطرح، ونقده الموضوعي، ووجود ايحاءات جنسية به. ما هي طبيعة الإيحاءات الجنسية التي وجدت في البرنامج؟ المقدمة لم تقم بأي تمثيل يدل على إغراء أو أي حركة في وجهها أو جسدها أو حتى في لباسها تدل على رغبتها في إثارة المشاهد جنسيا. كل ما قدمته هو قراءة لقصة تهدف إلى توعية المشاهد إلى وجود بعض الإيحاءات الجنسية في المواد المقدمة إلى أطفالنا. فالبرنامج لم يقدم “ايحاءات جنسية” كما زعمت الصحافة، بل قدم نقدا مباشر لتلك الإيحاءات الجنسية في قصص الأطفال. فلو قدم البرنامج “ايحاءات جنسية” حقيقية، بمعنى لو قلدت المقدمة هيفاء وهبي مثلا في فيديو كليب “بوس الواو” لما كانت ردة الفعل بهذه القوة. وذلك يذكرني بردة الفعل الشارع “المحافط” (اقصد الذكوري) لحملات التوعية بمرض نقص المناعة، فالتوعية بطرق الوقاية من المرض مرفوضة ولكن تجاهل انتشار الجنس غير الآمن مسموح! وهذا يدل على تناقد صارخ في الفكر الذكوري يغطي عن تفشي آفات اجتماعية عميقة طالمة قشرة “المحافظة” براقة وتحمي الميزات التي ينالها الذكر في هكذا مجتمع.

ولكني أتساءل هنا، متى سيتصالح الأردنيون مع جنسانيتهم؟ ومنى تكف تلك الحساسية في التعامل مع احدى أهم الصفات التي تعرف الإنسان؟ متى سننضج ونحسن التعامل مع الإنسان؟ اليست الايحاءات الجنسية اليوم أفضل من ايحاءات العنف والكراهية والقتل؟ وأين المشكلة إن كانت تلك الايحاءات تقدم لكبار بالغين متصالحين مع أنفسهم ومع طبيعتهم وهويتهم الجنسية؟

لم يكن على رؤيا الإعتذار، بل كان عليها أن تنتهز الفرصة وتقدم لنا برامج أخرى ترفع من الوعي الجنسي وتصالح المجتمع مع الجنس، ولو قدمت هذه البرامج بشكل فكاهي ساخر أو ترفيهي.

نحتاج اليوم إلى ثورة جنسية تعيد الحيوية إلى المجتمعات العربية، فقمع الحقوق الجسدية والحريات الجنسية يعد من أكبر الأبواب اليوم التي تستغل لقمع الفرد العربي. وصحية المجتمعات تبدأ بتصالح المرأة مع الرجل وتصالح الإنسان مع جسده. 

Willow Trees Don’t Weep: Interviewing Fadia Faqir


267927_251134238233496_6688446_nFadia Faqir is a national pride. She is one of the most successful Jordanian authors (if not the most). Her books were published in 19 countries and translated into 15 languages. She already has four published novels.  My Name is Salma”, which is perhaps the most known, and “Pillars of Salt” which got translated into fifteen languages.

In her writings we could see a needed close-up on the lives of Jordanian women. Stories she managed to bring out of this small country and echo to the world.

20763386I read her latest book “Willow Trees Don’t Weep” recently and was impressed with how well she managed to craft the storyline. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since she holds a Ph.D. in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of East Anglia and have been teaching that discipline at the University of Durham for many years now.

The book tells a story of a Jordanian young girl who goes on a mission to find her father who left home a long time ago to join the jihad fighters in Afghanistan. While the underline theme is a personal relationship between a father and his daughter, the book’s concern is much larger; it gives a needed perspective on the ramifications of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and its effects on our lives today. It shows the aftermath of the cold war and how it triggered the radicalisation of Arab societies. It takes us from Jordan to Afghanistan to the UK on a journey that depicts the lives of three nations affected by terrorism.

I had the chance to interview Fadia about her new book and asked her the following:

Fadi: When I first started reading the book, I was instantly hooked. It felt like another book of Khaled Al Husseini who is one of my favorite writers. Was it an intentional decision you made to follow his writing style? Were you influenced by his books? Or is it the way you crafted the book with such quality, following modern standards of storytelling that made it feel like Khaled’s books?

fadia1Fadia: I really like al-Husseini’s style, but I felt that the picture he drew in The Kite Runner, although beautiful, was not complete. Where were the so called ‘Arab Afghans’, jihadis from different parts of the Arab World, who joined the Taliban and fought against the Russians? Also if you look carefully my stance, perspective and vision are quite different from his. I don’t see the American invasion of Afghanistan as a liberation. It is simply an occupation and didn’t improve living conditions for ordinary Afghanis despite what is propagated in the mainstream media. The picture is far from rosy and the cycle of violence continues.

Fadi: Khaled Al Husseini saw a huge success telling the stories of Afghani people and the effect of the cold war and the soviet invasion of his country on their lives. I am happy to see someone else tackling the effect of that war on the lives of people in the region and the world at large. This is an important story that needs to be told. Where did the idea of this book come from? What motivated you to tell this story?

fadia2Fadia: When I heard that a young man from our neighbourhood in Amman ‘achieved martyrdom’ in Afghanistan in 1987 my fourth novel began germinating. I was puzzled by this piece of news. Why would a young man from Jordan travel all the way to Afghanistan to fight somebody else’s war? How could he leave his family and country behind and travel with the Taliban from one province to another, looking for Soviets and their supports? What happens to your loved ones when you prioritize the call to jihad, holy war, over them?

What about their women relatives who are left to fend for themselves, earn a living, and keep the household together? Their perspectives were mostly missing in everything I had heard or read.

More over the ramifications of the events in Afghanistan are far and wide. Difficult questions needed to be asked about the state of the world today and the only way you could tackle complex issues is through fiction.

Fadi: In my dissertation for the MA in Creative and Critical writing, I did a psychoanalysis read for the relationship between the father and the son in “The Kite Runner”. I was mainly interested in the effect of the father figure on the death drive of the son. For my creative piece, I reflected that into a relationship between a mother and her daughter. I could read the same in your book: Najwa has a strong mother’s figure that is doubled by her grandmother. I could see how these figures along with her concern about her identity fueled her journey into dangerous Afghanistan to look for her father. At the end of the book, you kill the father figure and pave the way for Najwa’s healing. Did you have this psychoanalysis dimension in mind while writing the story?

Fadia: No, I didn’t. This must have evolved unconsciously. There is a line I read somewhere, ‘Father die so I could be free to love you.’ And I wanted some of that in the novel. He does not literally die, but the myth of him does. So Najwa, like most of my heroines, manages to position herself within the historical web of events, and actualizes herself at the end of Willow Trees Don’t Weep. Like most of my novels it is a rite of passage and a narrative of initiation. Physical journeys from one country and continent to another are intertwined with internal ones. The odyssey humanizes and leads towards compassion for self and others and ultimately forgiveness.

Fadi: I enjoyed reading in particular about Najwa’s mother. Though she sounded depressed, but also showed a strong character. It needs courage for a Jordanian woman to stand firm and admit that she is not a believer. The character has even gone beyond that into showing disgust and strong rejection of anything that is related to religion (partly due to her husband disappearance for his religious cause). I am sure that there are many Jordanian women who could relate to this character. I know that even showing such women exist needs courage. Where you reluctant in writing her this way?

fadia3Fadia: No. There had to be a wide spectrum of characters in a novel that is partly about faith and the intra dialogue between Muslims themselves, which you rarely see represented in the mainstream media. The fundamentalists, true and moderate believers, seculars and the non-believers interact and debate issues. Najwa says that she is caught between her father’s magic, ie belief, and her mother’s science, ie secularism. She has to navigate a way through all of this and forge her own ethical code.

There are many secular people in our society and in many households in Amman the debates about belief or lack of it rage. This had to be aired. Give voice to the voiceless if you have a pen and can use it as you weave aesthetically pleasing fiction.

Fadi: In all of your books, you show concern in women status in Jordan. Gender equality activism is not new in Jordan, much work has been put into this but yet things are not moving forward the way we aspire to see. We have seen good success in education where women makes more than half the graduates but we are yet to see this translated into economic participation and civil rights. What do you think is wrong? How can we tackle these issues?

Fadia: Jordanian society is male-dominated and had been for a long time. To tip the power in women’s favour requires social, legal, political etc. revolutions. This will take time and effort. The economic variable is so important, but women shy away from discussing property, earnings, inheritance with their partners and family members. Economic autonomy and independence is a perquisite for equality and equal opportunity. Oddly enough in some cases in Jordan, where domestic violence is rife, it is not leading to liberation. Male members of the family confiscate the earrings or women. However, education and economic independence are a must and then other things would follow.

fadia4The ceiling in Jordan is made of fire-proof glass and women need to keep chipping at it to break it. And every step towards gender equality taken by any woman anywhere in Jordan will push the boundaries farther. The personal is political and is our starting point.

One more observation: women themselves are mostly divided and do not support each other. In Britain things began to change when ‘The Old Girls’ Network’ was born and women began organizing themselves and truly supporting each other.

Fadi: It is a beautiful relationship you built between Najwa and her father, especially towards the end of the book where many things gets revealed. You dedicate the book to your own father Ahmad al-Faqir. It is a touching gesture. As they say there is a woman behind every great man, but I also think that there is also a loving father behind every great woman. How did he shape the woman you are today? What influence did he have on your character and literary career?

Fadia: My father taught me how to read and how to read between the lines for I rarely saw him without a book in his hands. He encouraged me to study history and emphasized the importance of understanding its movement in it’s totally and explained how events are interconnected. We disagree on some things, but our conversation never stopped.

His pursuit of freedom and justice inspired my writings, although our world visions are different. Despite the fact that he sometimes disagreed with my choices he stood by me through thick and thin and never stopped loving me or I him.

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Fadi: There is a good part of the book that talks about Afghanistan war with detailed scenes from battles ground. I assume that required much research from your side. Does living in the UK make it easier for you to access that information? When talking about historical incidents, do you think that Arabic authors are in disadvantage here in terms of the breadth of information they can access?

fadia5Fadia: A colossal amount of research went into the novel, but the reader is supposed to only see the tip of the iceberg. Since it began germinating in 1987 I hadn’t stopped searching for information. I collected material, watched documentaries, and monitored the press for twenty-seven years. My interest in the Afghanistan, its people, and the invasion is like a program that is always running in the background of the PC of my mind, an obsession, if you like.

Unlike some Arab authors access to books here in the UK is easy and their price is normally reasonable especially if you buy them secondhand. So yes some Arab authors who don’t have the facts at their fingertips are at a disadvantage. But the internet is changing all of that if you they have an unhindered and uncensored access to it.

Fadi: Do you have plans to translate “Willow Tree Don’t Weep” to Arabic?

63611_184340641579523_5515078_nFadia: As you know I don’t translate my books although I oversee closely my translations into Arabic. I worked really hard on the translation of My Name is Salma because it was the first time my writing appeared in Arabic and it had to be perfect. It isn’t, but the Arabic text is close enough to the original. I do hope that Willow Trees Don’t Weep will catch the eye of an Arab publisher soon.

Fadi: Why did you choose to write this one in English?

Fadia: After writing in English for thirty-one years it has become as Conrad said, ‘a capability’. These days I wake up and write in whatever language comes first and English is normally my morning visitor. I am not sure after living outside Jordan all these years my Arabic would be good enough to draw the kind of world my fiction conveys. Funnily enough social networks have improved my Arabic and widened my contact with the Arab world. I am also planning to partly move to Amman. So watch this space.

Fadi: How do you see the state of the Arab world today? I feel that we hit a rock bottom with terrorism and that we are yet to see a u-turn. People today are more aware of the dangers that comes from religious extremism. Do you feel a positive change is anywhere in the near future?

Fadia: Unfortunately I don’t envisage a positive change soon and because of that I am suffering from post-Arab Spring depression. Its symptoms: silence, self-examination and searching for ways forward. 

fadia6When the educational systems and institutions were attacked and slowly destroyed by regimes afraid of an educated dissident the seeds for extremism were sown. Katatib and religious schools, where mostly Wahabi dogma is taught, began spreading. And the elite bear some of the responsibility for that because difficult questions about religion and its relation to politics were either dodged or never discussed openly. For true enlightenment to take place intellectuals must apply reason and discuss the role of traditional institutions in society openly. But alas that pivotal moment had passed. So the damage is done and it’s going to take a long time and much effort to reverse the tide in the Arab World towards liberal, democratic and tolerant societies.

Fadi: Have you started working on your next book?

Fadia: Yes, and the working title is ‘Catherine and Omar’. The second draft is almost finished, but it requires a few edits. A female British archeologist arrives in Jordan and joins an excavation in Petra. This cross-cultural encounter proves to be life-changing for her and some people around her.  It is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but there isn’t much laughter in me these days because of the events in our region.

Fadi: What do you advise young Jordanian ambitious writers?

Fadia: I recently stayed in Amman for a while and I could see how much it has changed. East Amman, where native Jordanians, immigrants, asylum seekers jostle for work and live side by side, is in a state of flux. This miasmic shift needs young writers, like you, to chronicle it. Indian and Latin American fiction comes to mind. And I am looking forward to reading something similar to Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia in Arabic and with a clear Jordanian flavor.

Also it will be great if a Jordanian literary agency is established to represent, defend and promote local writers.

If I were younger I would look carefully at self-publishing on the internet. Digital books opened up possibilities for authors everywhere and Jordanian ones are no exception. It is hard at the beginning but if you establish a cyber footprint you will be in charge of your own brand, earnings and future.

To conclude the closer a writer moves to him/herself and their own voice the more international they become. This journey towards self, distinct style, and unique vision is life-long and arduous, but the rewards are many. Some readers prefer authentic and sincere narratives with a distinct cultural flavor and Jordan is a fertile ground for that kind of writing.

Fadi: Thank you Fadia, as you said, we have many stories that deserve to be told, and have Jordanian talents that are up to bring these stories to life. Keep on impressing us. 

Two Views of Fadi Zaghmout’s Debut Novel, ‘The Bride of Amman’


Happy about these two amazing reviews for The Bride of Amman by Safia Moore and Sawad Hussein!

Arabic Literature (in English)

Safia Moore and Sawad Hussain give their views of Fadi Zaghmout’s debut novel, The Bride of Amman, a bloggish book on life and sexual freedom in Jordan:

By Safia Moore

Zaghmout talking about his book. Zaghmout talking about his book.

Released in English this summer, Fadi Zaghmout’s novel The Bride of Amman is a sharp and sensitive exposé of Jordanian society through the voices of young people constrained by conservatism and blatant discrimination.  The confessional tone is entirely appropriate since chapters are allocated to characters, each telling their individually unique, yet linked stories, hopping between the present and the past, with one eye always on the future.  This structure privileges the reader with insider knowledge, and the fast-paced slices of life often read like private blog posts.  Indeed, Salma, described by her grandmother as “an unplucked fruit left to rot” because of her unmarried status at thirty, writes an anonymous, popular and highly didactic…

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10 blurbs from distinguished figures for The Bride of Amman


The Bride of Amman is finally out in English and I am more than happy and thankful for the endorsement of the following wonderful people. I am honoured for their words.

1. Hanan Al Sheikh, author of Women of Sand and Myth, The Story of Zahra, and One Thousand and one Nights:

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2. Shereen El Feki, author of Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World.

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3. Matthew Weinart, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Political Science & International Relations Department, University of Delaware:

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4. George Azzi, gender and sexual rights activist, co-founder of AFE and Helem:

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5. Fadia Faqir, author of Willow Trees Don’t Weep:

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6. Wafa AlKhadra, Professor at American University of Madaba, Jordan:

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7. Nermeen Murad, Chief of Party of USAID Takamol Gender Program; writer, columnist, gender and human rights advocate:

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8. Saba Mubarak, Jordanian Actress and Producer:

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9. Madian Al Jazeera, owner of the books@cafe, Amman Jordan:

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10. Sridhar Rangayan, film maker and activist, Mumbai, India

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The Jordan Times reviews “The Bride of Amman” and they love it!


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A review for The Bride of Amman on The Jordan Times by Sally Bland. Posted on 5th July 2015.

Full review:

The book cover displays the cognitive dissonance and inner conflict experienced by all the major characters in “The Bride of Amman”. While the title would seem to signal happiness, the face of the woman pictured next to it is full of anxiety and pain. Marriage, and all the expectations attached to it, is just one of the societal norms which author Fadi Zaghmout problematises in his novel.

Hard-hitting prose quickly draws the reader into the lives of four young women and a man living in today’s Amman. They are close friends and share many things, not least, the risk of total devastation if they do not abide by the rules. Some refuse to be boxed in by social norms and consciously make defiant choices, while others are unwittingly set on a collision course with family and society through no fault of their own. All are seeking love and respect. They start off as irrepressible romantics, but events carve hard, cynical edges on their souls, as they discover that it is hard to remain true to their values and dreams amidst pervasive social pressure to conform.

Leila’s happiness at obtaining her degree is marred when she finds that this is not enough for her parents, relatives and neighbours, who consider it only a prelude to marriage. It is not that she rejects the idea of marriage, but she had hoped for more recognition of her academic achievement.

Salma, Leila’s older sister, suffers from remaining single, and is deeply wounded upon hearing her grandmother describe her as “an unplucked fruit left to rot”, as she nears her thirtieth birthday — her “expiry date”. (p. 22)

The story shows that judging women only by their marriageability can have catastrophic consequences.

Hayat loses her job when someone reports on her relationship with a married man, leaving her feeling vulnerable and terrified at the loss of social respect and of income she needs to finish university and contribute to her family’s upkeep. Her vulnerability is amplified by her father’s sexual abuse, which colours her self-esteem and relationships.

Rana has a more analytical view of society than her friends: “I’m rebellious by nature… very conscious of the contradictory messages I get from the world around me. Everyone seems to want to construct my moral framework for me, in a society that strikes me as schizophrenic and very masculine. Whereas I’m a female, a young woman trying to feed a craving for gender equality and personal freedom.” (p. 38)

But her awareness doesn’t protect her entirely from the dilemmas she faces after falling in love with a Muslim — a love she must keep secret from her conservative Christian family.

Ali is also under a lot of pressure to get married. In fact, he does want a family, but his preference for his own sex means that a traditional marriage would be living a lie.

By letting his characters tell their stories, Zaghmout delivers a radical critique of society from a feminist/outsider perspective, producing one of few books written by men that convincingly convey the women’s angle. Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours”, Amitov Ghosh’s “Sea of Poppies” and Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” come to mind.

Zaghmout’s book is not a literary novel like theirs; in fact, it verges on melodrama, but it is a story that needs to be told, a novel that obviously emerges from strong motivation to catalyse social change. Having originally written “The Bride of Amman” in Arabic testifies that his aim is to generate discussion, not simply to expose.

Transgressing taboos opens the characters up to new sides of their personalities and more positive ways of relating to others. “Are our ideas like clothes?” Leila queries. “They seem to fit initially, but they become too small for us as our awareness about our surroundings grows, and then it’s perhaps time to throw them off and replace them with new ways of thinking.” (p. 227)

While Zaghmout declares war on outdated social norms that complicate and sometimes destroy people’s lives, he does not declare war on society as such. The story points to a number of avenues for reconciliation if only people are open-minded and respectful of others’ individuality and dreams. “The Bride of Amman” is a brave intervention in a debate that is going on just below the radar. Let’s bring it out in the open, he seems to be saying.