The Bride of Amman on display during the launch event at Gay's the word bookshop in London

Violence, Resistance, and Pleasure in Fadi Zaghmout’s “The Bride of Amman” By Dr. Viktoria Pötzl


Dr. Viktoria Pötzl does a great job analysing “The Bride of Amman” in this academic paper. 

Abstract

As Fadi Zaghmout’s novel deals with different forms of violence, resistance and pleasure, readings of these contingently interdepend with gender, sex, sexuality and desire by the novel’s flaunty display of Jordanian and Egyptian society at its worst. In this article, I focus on various depictions and intersections of genderbased violence, institutionalized violence, structural violence, homophobia, and transphobia. Furthermore constructions of femininity as well as transgressions of binaries and their often violently opposed normalizations will be examined.

A close reading of Fadi Zaghmout’s The Bride of Amman provides us with a master narrative of an inherently androcentric, patriarchal, misogynic, homophobic and transphobic setting/society and the reinforcement of this very system by its own people. By exposing the literary construction of two female protagonists as femini sacri (and one as their antagonist) and complicating these very constructions to speech act theory, it is shown how violence operates through language.

Keywords: Violance, Resistance, Pleasure, Feminism

“Though I looked everywhere, I could find no men, only male beasts. The true men were maimed or killed off as masculinity fell prey to the clutch of violence.” (B: 156)

When it comes down to it, The Bride of Amman can be read as a huge plea for love. It might not be the romanticized heteronormative love one might have in mind, instead it describes sundry versions of love and manages to deconstruct institutionalized, legitimate forms of love (marriage between men and women) and subverts heteronormativity in doing so. As Fadi Zaghmout’s novel deals with different forms of violence, resistance and pleasure, readings of these contingently interdepend with gender, sex, sexuality and desire by the novel’s flaunty display of Jordanian and Egyptian society at its worst. In this article, I focus on various depictions and intersections of gender-based violence, institutionalized violence, structural violence, homophobia, and transphobia in Fadi Zaghmout’s novel. Furthermore constructions of femininity as well as transgressions of binaries and their often violently opposed normalizations will be examined.

Violence, or let’s call it marriage:

“We laughed about it, a sad kind of laughter that betrayed the degree of unfairness in a society that forces our relationships to conform to one single format, making things permissible for men only, and only in one specific arrangement.” (B: 160-161)

As the book title already suggests, the novel focuses primarily on the question of marriage in Jordanian society. It is described as a “much more significant achievement than getting a degree” (B: 16). Leila, one of the novel’s protagonists, came to realize that no one cared about her getting a degree: “I genuinely believed that getting a degree would raise my value in everyone’s eyes and establish my status as a fully independent woman. But at that moment I was stopped in my tracks, thunderstruck, by the realization that my degree was in fact nothing more than another step on the path towards the ultimate goal: marriage.” (B: 20) As exemplified in Leila’s story, the overall goal in a woman’s life shall be marriage. What is more important than following this certain narrative, although it has to be acknowledged and thus quoted, are the repercussions these narratives have on women and hence how they satisfy normalizations. As a literary character, Leila subserves as a stencil for this very process of normalization. Although Leila used to have critical views of the system of marriage and its implications, she is more than willing to put those aside when Ali proposes to her and furthermore embraces all the apparent privileges that come with being a bride. She thinks that now she has everything one (a woman) can achieve in life and states what she once condemned: “Who cares about a degree? Soon I’ll have the most prestigious certificate I can ever achieve: a marriage certificate.” (B: 103) Finally she is to be called an Aroos, which means bride in Arabic:

“Aroos – what joy is crammed into those letters! The name resonates in my ears like a sacred chant, the most cherished word in the human lexicon since time immemorial. Mankind has celebrated the concept of the bride throughout the history of civilization, and countless traditions, customs, and fables have been built up around it. Contemporary Amman society is no different.” (B: 104)

The significance of being a bride is not only emphasized here, rather it implies in itself a sharp universal and eternal cultural aspect, which is not to be questioned anymore. Leila reproduces an essentialized and normalized master narrative that dominates as socially legitimate over others that are not.

Another narrative the text takes up against societal silencing and non-recognition is that of gay relationships. The dictate of marriage hangs like a Damoclean sword over the novel’s texture and discourages its characters to go for, or in some cases even to think about the treasures they desire, as is depicted in Ali’s character. He is madly in love with his long-term boyfriend Samir, but follows the dictate by deciding to marry Leila and therefore breaking Samir’s heart. He justifies this by not having another choice and says that he would rather choose death than hurt the person he loves best. (B: 85) Ali’s perceived Hobson’s choice unsettles him at the same time it forces justifications upon him. The text’s intention is to blame Jordanian society for its strict regulations and codes when it comes to love and dating, even more so when it’s homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, or intersexual dating or love. Homosexuality is not punishable before the Jordanian law but making use of Foucault’s archeology of silence, one can only assume which power structure and dynamics lie behind a dominant discourse, within which ones (non-heterosexual) desire is silenced.1

Every society has its rules implied and directed towards its people, not necessarily de jure as implemented laws. Every community develops its own codes and labels certain forms of desire whether as morally acceptable or not. Implemented boundaries produce inclusions at the same time as exclusions. Inclusion privileges people over the excluded other. The struggle over inclusion and exclusion produced not only norm-conforming subjects, but also various and vibrant subcultures.2 Following the novel’s course, one has to understand that Ali could never be a heroic character in that sense, that he would fight a society’s suppressive system and live happily ever after with his great love Samir. Keeping the text intent in mind, Ali’s lack of choice is only logical and serves the text intent efficiently. If Ali were depicted as a hero of and fighter for gay rights and visibility, he could never have been the suffering, abandoned, self- and love sacrificing character/victim the narrative requires as its ethical anchor, which is directed towards (Jordanian) society by an educational wakeup call. The reader has to suffer with him and develop empathy towards his character. Maybe Ali could not have succeeded, even if he tried, since he knows his family and society; he knows, if he were to choose Samir, he would have had to change his whole life or leave the country.

Rana actually had to leave Jordan, since she was pregnant with Janty’s child and her parents would not have allowed her to marry a Muslim. The only alternative would have been for her to secretly have an abortion and break up with Janty. Just as Ali, the literary figure Rana serves to tell a certain narrative. Therefore she is also left with any other choice apart from fleeing to Sweden. As doing so, she reflects: “I was filled with a sense of hatred for myself, and for everyone around me. I hated our culture and our religion, our traditions and our social prejudices.” (B:150) To avoid being killed by her (male) relatives, Rana had to leave with Janty, whose parents assured their safe escape and confessed to Rana’s parents afterwards. Since Rana’s family is Christian and Janty’s is Muslim, there was not even a chance to get married, because Rana’s family never would have agreed (B: 152-153) or as Rana would put it: “Society left me with no other choice” (B: 154) Blatantly, not having an abortion is a means of Rana’s resistance against this very society that forces women either into (unwanted) marriages or into (unwanted) abortions, whenever marriage is not an acceptable option.

Violence, or addressing Excitable Speech:

Following John L. Austin, Judith Butler uses the term “performative Speech acts”, which put in force, what they designate.3 Supportive examples can be easily found in The Bride of Amman. First, it is Leila rushing home proudly and happily after concluding her university degree, Leila – after a couple of moments of congratulations – is forced to succumb to what Butler calls Excitable Speech. Wishes and congratulations Leila receives are all about finding a husband soon, to start her own family as a young bride – unlike her sister Salma – or to be as good a cook as a student. (B: 19) Salma starts to cry when she hears her grandmother say “don’t end up like your sister. No one wants to be an unplucked fruit left to rot.” (B: 19) Salma is the very figure in The Bride of Amman, for whom the harmful effects of speech are worked up to a climax – namely her suicide. On the surface of the story’s plot, Salma appears to be less doomed than the seemingly inescapable faiths the other protagonists face. And yet it is Salma who commits suicide. The literary figure of Salma serves the purpose to demonstrate precisely the vast violence of linguistic acts and repeatedly emphasizes the forceful character of excitable speech. Even metaphors the text utilizes are violent: Selma reflects her grandmother’s words as “a scalpel that sliced through” (B: 21) her “mask of selfconfidence” (B: 21) Further examples for the humiliations addressed towards an unmarried “old” woman shall be given through the following quotes: “Thirty […] it’s the first time a girl dies in a society that can’t wait to write its daughters off as ‘old maids.’” (B: 22) we can find similar passages on other places, when for example people are thanking God for getting married before they turn 30 (B: 23) or when the ticking of the biological clock (B: 25) is mentioned. Salma writes a blog in which she deals with the huge amount on expectations towards women in Jordan, which she labels as a “society that is full of pressures and obligations”. (B: 24) Still, it was Salma’s decision not to get married, since she declined every suitor asking for her hand: “She couldn’t stand this traditional approach to arranging marriages. She felt humiliated by the charade of putting herself on public display for them to decide if she was good enough.” (B: 53)

Further, Ali experiences the hurtful character of hate speech as he reflects on his childhood and his early experience with his own sexuality. Children teased one another by using pejorative terms to describe gay men. As he grew older he took up a variety of other words and asked himself which of these terms could possibly refer to him: “Were all the degrading words teaming up to point at me and laugh? What had I done to get branded by these names before I even knew what sex was?” (B: 88)

Making use of Austin’s Speech Act theory in a Butlerian way, the novel furnishes with an array of examples which explore the diverse ways hate speech operates. Language can originate different things and bestow reality unto certain things. While it is repeatedly said that marriage is the most important thing in life, it really does gain importance. Ali, who becomes very insecure about his desires even undergoes therapy in order to get ‚healed‘, because of all these hurtful words used to delegitimize, stigmatize, and pathologize his desire. In order to “act”, a single invocation must, however, be repeated constantly4 as we could see transposed on Salma as well as on Ali’s example.

Performativity also creates the effect of naturalization. As such, cultural norms appear to be natural.5 Since norms need to be repeated constantly to gain their status of naturalized truth, they can never be finite and therefore bear the potential for (unintended) changes, subversion and shifts in the very process of repetition. By relying largely on Foucault and Austin, Butler assumes that reality is constructed through discourses assisted by language, which also serves as a leitmotif for this article. To be more precice, in acknowledging reality’s discursiveness also the novels narrative can be unmasked as such and therefore deconstructed.

Violence: rape

As the novel deals with and portrays manifold forms of violence, it doesn’t come as a surprise that also rape is discussed throughout the book. The topic of rape is relayed through Hayat, one of the protagonists, who was sexually abused by her father since childhood. By the time Hayat thinks that the sexual assaults lie in the past, it only takes her father’s look at a family gathering to trigger fear and panic in Hayat. Her first sentiment of misreading his look turns out to be wrong: “I should have known that the torment I endured for years was not over yet. […] Later it would seem that fate had conspired to play along with him that night, and the moon didn’t stand by passively, either. They all ganged up together to play some satanic game in which I was the victim.” (B: 68-69) The abuser here is not a stranger, it’s her father. To portray this atrocity as fate with no means of escape appears unsettling. By shifting Hayat’s rape towards a transcendent force,  the narrative tends to cutting down responsibilities, when guilt shall be ascribed solely and unquestioningly to the perpetrator. Notwithstanding this could be also a coping strategy for Hayat, since the transcendent is not as real as reality, more like a “satanic game” (B: 69). A further problematic depiction for not reclusively blaming the rapist father can be seen as follows:

“The moon chose to hide that night and was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the moon had given my father her blessing for his crime, or perhaps she was ashamed to witness it. I was alone with my father. I drove in silence, praying to God over and over in my heart, begging him to stand at my side and let me get through the night safely. But God did not listen. He also hid and abandoned me to my destiny.” (B: 69)

Again, being raped is described as Hayat’s destiny, to which the moon gave her blessings and from which God shied away. In calling rape a woman’s destiny, rape becomes normalized and naturalized. A different reading would suggest the moon and God being metaphors. Then God could represent kind of a male force in society, whereas the moon would stand for a powerful female principle. Thus being said, both look away or even give their blessing. This call for justice is at the same time an accusation towards a society, which rather tends to look away than intervene. That leads to Hayat blaming herself, when she tells that she promised herself not to allow him to touch her anymore, but “here he was exerting his control over me like he always did”(B: 69) Hayat tries to escape her father’s sexual assaults two times that night, but first he threatens her with telling everyone that she ran away with another man, which means she would become what Giorgio Agamben calls Homo sacer or femina sacra, to make use of Ronit Lentin’s term. The latter merges Gender Studies to Shoah Studies and applies her findings unto contemporary Israel. In doing so, she addresses and critiques suppressive modes of nationalities. Lentin states that „woman, due to her function as a vehicle of ethnic cleansing, and to her sexual vulnerability, arguably becomes femina sacra at the mercy of sovereign power: she who can be killed, but also impregnated, yet who cannot be sacrificed due to her impurity. […].”6

At first sight, adopting Lentin’s research results of the Shoah and Israel for the purpose of analysing The Bride of Amman might seem far-fetched. The comparison becomes plausible however, as we find that both Hayat and Rana are excluded from the law7 in Fadi Zaghmout’s novel, and can therefore be killed. All that Hayat’s father has to do is making the verbal threat (speech act theory also works here) of spreading the rumor of her running away with a man, which would make her lose what protection the state is granting her. Just like Rana can be killed by male relatives for getting pregnant while unmarried and her decision not to have an abortion and not being silent about it. Making use of the Arabic term haram – حرام – the meaning of َ the Latin word sacer becomes more obvious than in its English understanding, whereas it can mean both, sacred and accursed. By complicating the figurative construction of a homo sacer – or to be more precice, a femina sacra – on the literary construction of female identities like Hayat and Rana, their vulnerability  becomes evidently ostentatious. Not protected by the same law as other citizens (men) and by labeling not only their actions, but also themselves as haram, sovereign power leaves them with their bare life. Convicted of a crime by the people, the murderer is not to be judged8 and the femina sacra, who can be killed is at once one who cannot be sacrificed due to her impurity9 . Hayat, as well as Rana before, provides us with being the prime example and in doing so supplies a master narrative of femini sacri. In order to uphold the highly valued thing called honor, Hayat’s father is more obliged than allowed to kill his daughter (due to a self invented story he uses as a threat to keep her quiet about the rape) as is Rana’s family (due to her pregnancy). Referring back to Butler and linking the literary constructions of femini sacri to speech act theory, it’s easy to see exemplified on these very constructions how violence works through language and in which ways it produces realities. Hate speech makes/does femini sacri – women who can be killed. This, unfortunately being not as fictional as one might wish, firstly serves the perpetrators of violence with an allegedly legitimate reason and secondly prevents them from being judged or punished.

Violence, or let’s call it transgressing gender norms:

Ali is the gay protagonist in Fadi Zaghmout’s novel. He is in a happy relationship with Samir, but asks Leila to marry him. Due to this literary figure one gets to know how life as a gay man in Jordan may look like. Homosexuality is not a crime before the law, but the only (socially and before the law) legitimized (romantic) relationship is marriage between a man and a woman, or a man and four women, or a man and two women or a man and three women. But let’s get back to Ali’s story and his decision to marry and therefore bending to societies restrictions. He pretends and performs/does heterosexuality, or as he puts it: “I wear my lie like a professional: it masks every bit of me and I take on the persona of a man who is not me, a man whose true face very few people know.” With this statement, Ali challenges the idea of performativity in Butler’s sense, assuming a true face behind his mask, referring to an existential origin as starting point of every performance. This leads us to Trinh. T. Min Ha’s concept of the infinity of layers (over an assumed original), which „ […] subverts the foundations of any affirmation […] and cannot, thereby, ever bear in itself an absolute value”10 What seems very obvious at this point are the pre- led relations of identity and difference, in which it is not to represent (describe) intelligible or monosemy identities, but to refer to an infinity, in which additionally various levels/layers of identity are being considered.

The novel does not subvert gender binaries, it rather reproduces them. It is sorely obvious what femininity and masculinity signify within the narration and therefore, a person assigned male at birth is a man and being assigned female at birth, one is a woman rather than becoming one. But as every norm produces resistance, there is an exception to this, embodied in the literary figure of Nawal/Tamer, the “gay camp”. Although there are many hints in the novel that Nawal/Tamer is a woman, she is misgendered throughout the whole book – sadly enough even by the narrator. 11 She serves as a template and provides the reader with a role model:

Although the novel provides us with a non binary figure, this figure is referred to as he throughout the whole novel, and denies the character its self-definition. The aim of this article is to acknowledge a person’s right to choose their gender and sex and therefore Tamer is called Nawal, as it was her choice.

“He [sic!] had bleached his [sic!] hair […] He [sic!] had a small earring in one ear. The strong scent of a feminine perfume wafted from him [sic!]. He [sic!] had face powder on, giving him [her!] a pale, yet slightly shiny complexion. He [sic!] held his [sic!] hand out softly like some kind of aristocratic lady. […] Tamer [sic!] is a very effeminate man [sic!] or, as he [sic!] prefers to see himself [sic!], actually a woman. Among friends, he [sic!] calls himself [sic!] Nawal after the Lebanese singer Nawal al-Zoghbi […] He [sic!] takes every opportunity when he’s [sic!] at a party with gay friends to wear women’s clothes […]” (B: 137-138)

Nawal’s story which is horrible and might stand for the hardships a lot of gender-queer people or transwomen are put through. She grows up in Saudi Arabia and when the schoolchildren are divided into boys and girls, Nawal insists on being a girl, which nobody believes at this time. Her father sends her to Egypt in the hope that the harsher Egyptian lifestyle would make a man out of his child. Actually, quite the opposite occurres. Nawal swiftly makes friends in Cairo’s gay and transgender communities, but since Egypt’s restrictions on gays, their persecutions and imprisonments are highly brutal, also Nawal gets caught, imprisoned, tortured, beaten and raped. (B: 139-143) When she tells the judge about being raped, the former answeres: “Well, take a look at yourself. Who could blame them.” (B: 143) As bad and horrifying Nawal’s story is, as characteristic is the answer given to her by the judge, when it comes to depictions of Arabic culture/society concerning LGBTIQ issues and rights:

“Tamer [sic!] realised that he [sic!] lived in the most chauvinistic society on the face of the earth, a society where femininity was seen as nothing more than the potential to turn men on and satisfy their sexual urges. It was a culture where it was the woman who was blamed for any kind of sexual liaison outside marriage, where a woman’s natural expression of her femininity was seen as a free invitation to men to abuse her and treat her with contempt. “ (B: 143-144)

This femininity is used by the judge as an excuse for Nawal’s rape. Following this very problematic narrative, Nawal is to blame for being raped, since her femininity assumedly provoked the guard. What we witness here is a typical reversal of victim and perpetrator and additionally discriminates against femininity. As Nawal is sentenced to one year of prison, she must to endure the worst atrocities including rape. Shortly after her first sentence is declared unjust, the new sentence is set out for three more years, what leads Nawal to kill herself. As her attempted suicide fails, an American human rights organization bails her out of prison and arranges for her to stay in Jordan. (B: S 144-145) The text intent with Nawal’s story obviously is to produce empathy in the reader. One should learn what society does to gender-queer and transgender persons and feel with them. It feels more like an educational project than an attempt to reclaiming transgender, gender-queer voices or empower transgender, gender-queer people or communities. Nawal’s story is not a heroic one, it even can’t be heroic, considering the intent of the novel. Nawal has to endure harm and injury, in order to raise the reader’s awareness for violence against trans persons. Even Ali reflects on his privilege of acting cis male compared to Nawal’s life as a transwoman:

“We’ve both found ourselves outside of the traditional parameters of the definition of a man in our society. Being so obviously camp has meant he’s [sic!] had no way of hiding or blending in or pretending to play the role society expects of him [sic!]. It’s different for me in that my sexual preferences are less apparent. “ (B: 145)

Violent Resistance, or let’s call it death

“The Palestinian woman who blew herself up in Tel Aviv, to cast a spotlight on the oppression of an entire people who did not benefit from legislation and international laws, is no different to the woman inside me who has had no support from modern social legislation in throwing off the legacies and the constraints that still restrict her relationships with others and her existence as a woman. And here I am today choosing to sacrifice myself […]” (B: 170)

As analyzed earlier, the violent impact of hate speech on a person can become unbearable, which finally leads to Salma’s suicide. The example above, a quote from Salma’s Blog, demonstrates solidarity with Palestinian women and their struggle on the one hand and ties her own identity as a woman to a Palestinian woman’s identiy on the other hand. In doing so, it is not only a state or occupation who gets the blame or is made responsible for suicide bombings, it is “the absence of political, social and economic justice” (B: 170) that led women to this choice. This explanation opposes public main discourses of the instrumentalization of female terrorists, while highlighting a female voice. It criticizes Palestinian authorities and international bystanders as well as Jordanian legislation and society. The quote implies a similarity in women’s oppression across countries, that must be contextualized in various ways.

Salma’s story can be read as the master narrative of self-determination, which sometimes seems to be the only escape route. In this case, Salma sees no other option than killing herself, also for the purpose of making a statement. Her suicide is depicted as an act of resistance, rather than surrender. Additionally, it could be construed as a move of solidarity with other women, and thus as an intrinsically feminist act. Salma kills herself for every woman and mother in order to exemplify the immense amount of pressure addressed towards women and daughters. (B: 170) Making a statement of solidarity like this emphasizes the necessity of the concept of solidarity between women.

The society described in Fadi Zahmout’s novel is inherently patriarchal and androcentric, which means that irrespectively of sex or gender, people reinforce this very system.

The staging of Salma’s suicide is highly theatrical. She is dressed in a wedding gown and films herself for a live stream on her blog on top of Amman’s citadel. As she holds the razor blade in her hand, she turns to the camera and asks loudly: “So you want me to be an aroos? […] Here I am […] Your bride, my beloved city. Am I worthy of you, my love, my city? Am I good enough for you, Mum?” (B: 171) To sum it up briefly, Salma’s suicide is perfectly staged, and can be read as an act of freeing herself, reaffirming her agency, making a feminist statement of solidarity and criticizing patriarchal and androcentric systems of oppression by actually becoming The Bride of Amman, and antagonist of femini sacri. She is the master of her own life and death. Thus, she cannot be killed. But she can be sacrificed, and chooses to do so.

Silent pleasure and resistant victims:

Conclusion Due to the novel’s educational attempt it’s only logical that the depiction of gay sex follows a certain narrative. This narrative tends to silence gay sex and replace it with love. As in the example of Ali and Samir: “Our bodies trembled in rapture and we fell back into each other’s arms in an embrace of pure love. After our passion, we lay together in a state of tenderness and warmth; my head on his chest, my fingers stroking his hair, we drifted off to the symphony of physical and spiritual gratification.” (B: 86). There is no depiction of the actual sex, more so, the afterplay is the topic. Also sex between men and women misses detailed descriptions. Since Ali is gay and not really attracted to women, it is difficult for him to sleep with Leila. When Leila finds out about her husband’s desires, she reacts madly at first, but both of them find an arrangement that suits them. Leila decides to go back to University and starts gender studies: “The sexual discrimination which had haunted me through every stage of my life was embodied in every passage I read in the books on the reading list.” (B: 229-230) After finishing her master’s degree, she becomes a women’s rights activist while still being married to Ali, but more like a true friend and companion. The ‘untraditional’ relationship between Ali and Leila subverts the system of marriage at the same time as it shows us resistance in a place where resistance is difficult to think. Sure, both are not able to live the lives they would prefer, but manage to build a supportive and respectful relationship which most (traditional) marriages lack.

Also Hayat reclaims her victimized/raped body and starts to have a lot of sex with different partners:

“I’m not gripped by fear for my reputation like most girls. I couldn’t care less if it reduces my chances of getting married. I’ve always sensed that if I’m ever going to, it would probably to a foreigner anyway, because I’m unlikely to find a single Jordanian man who would be willing to accept the past I carry on my shoulders. After all, marriage is the furthest thing from my mind right now. All I want from a man is the pleasure that can be obtained from just one night.” (B: 124)

All of the main characters are factoid victims of some sorts at the beginning of the novel. The achievement of this analysis – among others – is to point out the resistance that is tentatively shown in the characters’ developments. All of them find and contrive strategies to cope with the different restrictions, oppressions and discriminations imposed on them. In the end, no one fully remains a victim, even if they are victimized throughout the entire book. Salma chooses to kill herself in a heroic act of reaffirmation. Rana’s family finally realizes, after Sarah is born, that love shall be stronger than honor, which leads to Rana’s and Janty’s return to Amman. Ali gets the family he always wanted, he gets support from his wife Leila and doesn’t have to fear of being exposed any longer. Hayat develops as a survivor of rape over enjoying sexual pleasure and freedom into a self-confident woman, living a self-determined life. Leila becomes an advocate for women’s, LGBT and sexworkers’ rights. Furthermore, the novel gives voice only to the former victims and never to the rapists, harassers or abusers. Men are mostly the bad guys, only gay and gender-queer people are depicted decently. In silencing the perpetrators of violence and giving a voice to the survivors, as well as through the characters’ development throughout the book, the novel’s narrative does not reinforce a simple dichotomy of perpetrators and victims, but it rather opens up spaces for resistance and pleasure. Only Nawal is left out of this emancipatory project by ending her storyline early. This leaves the reader with an unsatisfied feeling, not knowing how her life went on. It seems like her character was only introduced as a means of educating the reader about violence against transwomen. By refusing Nawal’s self-definition and not acknowledging her as a woman, the text reproduces, maybe unwillingly, violence towards gender-queer and transgender people.

The attempt to give women, gays and transwomen a voice is the novels huge achievement, but fails due to the characters lack of depth at some points.

Nonetheless a close reading of Fadi Zaghmout’s The Bride of Amman provides us with a master narrative of an inherently androcentric, patriarchal, misogynic, homophobic and transphobic setting/society and the reinforcement of this very system by its own people. As examined closely during this article, this is done through language’s discursive powers. By exposing the literary construction of two female protagonists as femini sacri (and one as their antagonist) and complicating these very constructions to speech act theory, it is shown how violence operates through language and thus consequently generates normalized and naturalized facts.

Works cited:

Zaghmout, Fadi: The Bride of Amman. Signal 8 Press. Hong Kong. 2015. [B]

Agamben, Giorgio: Homo Sacer : Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford University Press. Stanford. 1998.

Butler, Judith: Körper von Gewicht. Die diskursiven Grenzen des Geschlechts. Suhrkamp Verlag. Frankfurt am Main. 1997.

Butler, Judith: Haß spricht. Zur Politik des Performativen. Berlin Verlag. Berlin. 1998.

Foucault, Michel: Der Wille zum Wissen. Sexualität und Wahrheit 1. Suhrkamp Taschenbuchverlag. Frankfurt am Main. 1983.

Lentin, Ronit: Femina sacra: Gendered memory and political violence. 2006. (http://www.tara.tcd.ie/bitstream/2262/25154/1/femina%20sacra%20pdf.htm [03.02.2016])

Nazir, Sameena; Tomppert, Leigh: Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa. Citizenship and Justice. Freedom House. NY et. al. 2005.

T. Minh-Ha, Trinh: Woman, Native, Other. Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Indiana University Press. Bloomington. 1989.

theeb

Theeb is off to the Oscars: Interviewing Producer Nadine Toukan


When they announced the short list of The Best Foreign Film for Oscars this year, a national euphoria hit Facebook. It was one of those moments, when everyone felt proud. “Theeb” reached the Oscars, a Jordanian film that has been gaining praise world wide, winning awards here and there and demonstrating how far the film industry in Jordan has gone.

We can make quality films, Nadine Toukan believed, and she delivered. Jordan’s film industry is still in its infantile stage. It was started merely 10 years ago with a governmental plan to establish “The Royal Film Commission”, which was part of a national strategic plan to create a creative industry that would build on the energy of the young population in the Kingdom. Nadine joined “The Royal Film Commission” at the time with a mandate to search and develop local talents in the film industry and she did an amazing job; Today there are hundreds of Jordanian talents carving their way in an industry that is yet to mature. Nadine didn’t only that, but also topped herself by showing everyone that it is possible to make a Jordanian film and pioneered the scene by producing the much loved “Captain Abu Raed” in 2008, followed up by “When Monaliza Smiled” in 2012, and finally the globally celebrated Oscar nominated “Theeb”.

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I am so proud of have the chance of interviewing Nadine and ask her the following:

Fadi: You are going to the Oscars! How does it feel?

 

Nadine: Theeb is off to the Oscars. And don’t forget the BAFTAs tomorrow in London. Exciting. Rewarding. Confusing. So what. How cool. A melange of many feelings, and a good time for deep reflection and taking stock. 

 

Fadi: You believed and you delivered. I remember that you once told me that what triggered you to produce “Captain Abu Raed” is that you wanted to show people in the film industry at the time that we can. Today, you are proving that we can’t only make films but we can also make quality films that can be admired worldwide. I would like to know more about what motivates you? was it your passion for storytelling or your love to your country and your people?

 

quotes3Nadine: I’m generally fed up with a few things: “We can’t, it won’t work, there’s no money, who cares…” Having our stories owned by others, and us almost always bothered at how they end up being told. Defeatist attitudes. Entitlement. Waiting for Godot. I’ve always lived to the tune of, “you want it, go will it into existence”. So in part, the power of imagination pull. Not driven by a major strategic plan, rather through a series of serendipitous events and situations.

 

 

Fadi: I have met you for few times only, but I have always read a side of you that I can’t help not to admire and point out, which is your willingness to help people realize their dreams. I don’t forget the time you tried to help me find a new job in order to be able to publish “The Bride of Amman”, and I remember when I first approached you for an interview on my blog, you wanted to give the spotlight to other people on the crew, like the first assistant director, Yanal Kassay.

 

quotes1Nadine: Listening to your plan for the book and that you needed a job, and reacting in trying to connect you with opportunities, is the result of my built in producer skills. That’s just how I’m wired. Filmmaking is one of the most collaborative industries. There’s no industry without the tribe. We’re used to having directors, actors, producers, and at times cinematographers, front it, but none of us would get far without line producers, ADs, PAs, coordinators, art directors, and the long list of people needed to be able to go the distance, including our generous backers and investors. It’s easy to get caught up in the hero syndrome. I find that scary, and it stops us from understanding through the necessary wider lens. In this industry, there are no heroes, there are heroic collaborations. On Theeb, Naji stood on the shoulders of giants to be able to direct the film this way. We are indebted to each and every single person who said yes at any given stage of this production. Theeb is possible thanks to many people who came together to raise the bar, and simply didn’t settle.

 

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Nadine Toukan with the star Jacir Eid

Fadi: Looking at Theeb’s cast, you gave the starring role to the young bedouin Jacir; that in itself is a fairytale story. You are taking this young man to the Oscars! How rewarding it is being the person behind the success of many others?

 

Nadine: Jacir owes this big break to his father, Eid, whose lazy planning led Bassel and Naji to find Jacir in front of their camera. And then there was magic. I don’t agree with the notion that anyone is behind the success of others. Rather, it’s our continuous motion, and intersections of people and their actions. Speaking of serendipity: One evening while camping at the Ammarin Bedouin Camp in Beidha, a visitor from the area stopped by and sat with us over tea and small talk. Half way through, he stood up and gave me a piece of his mind: “You, all of you with your cameras, the makers of these bedouin TV series we see on the satellites, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Year after year you make one series after the other about our bedouin culture and stories. None of them are accurate, we don’t live that way, nor speak that way, nor do we socialise the way you fantasise. Yet you keep making them about us. And here we are. Still alive. Still living here, but you never come by to do your research right, nor do you speak to us. And you still keep making those silly bedouin series”. While I had never been involved in any of these productions, I knew very well what he was referring to. It was painful, and a much needed wake up call. Representation was broken, and that had to stop.

 

Back between 2003-5, I served on the committee working on Jordan’s submission to the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity program, under the title: The Cultural Space of the Bedu in Petra and Wadi Rum. It was a challenging feat that ended up being proclaimed in 2005 and ratified in 2006. One of the recommendations of the action plan was to create programs that would support the communities in these areas own their culture and oral heritage in their own way, in their voice. Then one day, some of the least likely suspects collaborated on the making of Theeb. A story owned and performed by the community itself, simply because we were open to listening to the situations we found ourselves in, and decided to break free from anything that had been before us. We followed our instinct, and paid attention to opportunities that presented themselves to us. Then took a series of risks and leaps of faith.

 

Fadi: I watched “Theeb” at Abu Dhabi Film Festival last year, and had goose-bumps seeing the theatre full of people who all stood up at the end and clapped. Did you foresee its success?
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Nadine Toukan and Naji Abu Nowar

Nadine: A lot of hard, good work went into the film by a large group of extraordinary people. I knew we had something special. The backstory of which is even more special. When Bassel pitched the project to me back in 2010, it was “a bedouin short film”. I remember looking at him curiously, smiling, wondering where this may go. Then he said he had passed it on to Naji for script notes. Bigger smile. Two remarkably talented and interesting people were about to collaborate. The beginning of an excellent equation. And when we started making creative decisions on how we were going to approach the production, it was clear we had something authentic.

 

Fadi: As you know, the Jordanian film industry is still in its infantile stages. There are many challenges that we have to overcome. Having a Jordanian film showing in cinemas in other countries is a challenge in itself. How did you do that?

 

Nadine: Through expensive sales agents and distributors.

 

Fadi: What are the biggest challenges that you think is facing the Jordanian film industry?

 

Nadine: Writing. Waiting. Distribution.

 

Fadi: Making films usually requires big budgets. There are only few cinemas in Amman and I would say, like the publishing industry, distribution channels are limited. How did you overcome that? Did you make profits for “Theeb” yet?

 

Nadine: No. Sales agents and distributors take a huge cut for the work they do. We’ve had limited distribution. We are back in some theatres around the Arab world this month post the nominations, and we hope the long tail of the life of the production may eventually pay off. I think I’ve heard the questions: “Is it on YouTube or any of the torrents?” and “When will Hammoudeh be selling it?” more than: “When can I buy a cinema ticket?”

 

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Fadi: The Royal Film Commission has done an amazing job in training young Jordanian talents in the past decade and facilitating and help funding local films but it was hit by the global financial crisis and the tough situation that Jordan has been facing after the Arab Spring. It is still playing an active role in helping the industry but not as strong as it used to be. How do you see the RFC support for the industry?

 

 
quotes4Nadine: The RFC has done some excellent work over instances, but no where near enough. I say this as someone who once worked there when it first started, and say it with a lot of love. I don’t think the global financial crisis is a valid excuse. Sounds like a good cover. This is the time to be brave and aggressive, and think of new types of collaborations for growth. I’m grateful to the RFC for giving us a loan from a modest fund they had, to make Fadi Haddad’s feature, When Monaliza Smiled, the year we planned. That enabled us to get on with it without delays. It was produced on a shoestring budget, and ended up resonating with diverse local audiences. Prime Cinema, Amman, kept the film showing for over 9 weeks. The best kind of cinema partners a local film could hope for. Sometime ago, Ruba AlAyed (now with MBC) handled marketing for the RFC, and one of the slogan’s she worked within back then was: Anything’s possible in Jordan. I’d like them to deliver on that. It means getting unstuck. The RFC may have to step way out of its comfort zone, and radically change the way they’re doing the work.

 

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Nadine Toukan and Fadi Haddad

 

Fadi: You raised the bar so high, do you see other Jordanian films following Theeb’s steps and achieving such success in the near future?

 

Nadine: I hope they go ever further. No reason not to.

 

Fadi: What was your wildest dream at school?

 

Nadine: Depends what stage of school. I had many that changed a lot. Never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Still don’t. Next time we talk, ask me about my wildest dream tomorrow.

 

Fadi: What’s your next step after the Oscar?

 

Nadine: You mean after Theeb. Always on a quest towards identifying my next screen production. I’m also spending this year working with the Doha Film Institute on a wonderful program for emerging Qatari filmmakers. DFI is doing meaningful work, and in line with my own philosophies for the needs ahead for an Arab renaissance. It’s a place and program where a generation of Qataris are busting to see and tell things for themselves as they experiment with the cinematic arts. A beautiful exchange where I get to give of my experiences, and they give me of their dreams. What an honour.

 

Fadi: What’s your motto in life?

 

Nadine: Screw it. Let’s do this!

 

Fadi: Screw it. Let’s do this indeed! Let’s bring our stories to the world! Thank you Nadine.. best of luck tomorrow in the BAFTAs and later this month in the Oscars.. You make us proud! 

 

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The Arab Observer interviews Mutasem Subeih: “Ana 197” and the issue of identity


If there is one measurement that would predict the success of a person in a certain field, it would be his/her passion. Mutasem Subeih is one of those people, who along with his writing and creative talent, shows a strong passion and perseverance towards carving a career as a writer. We met first time last year in Sharja’s book fair at the launch of “Janna Ala Al Ard”. He came to support me for my second book, and told me about his ambition (a work-in-progress at the time), a promising story titled “Ana 197” of a young man going through out of body experiences in his dreams.11079615_1066278080056966_42229702336390685_n-2

The book came out few months ago, and I had the chance to get my copy in a book signing Mutasem organized in Dubai. It was published by Arab Scientific Publishers who won Sheikh’s Zayed Award as the best Arab Publisher earlier in the year and it shows a beautiful cover of a man trapped in a bottle. The concept is creative, and the story is crafted well.

I had the chance to interview Mutasem and ask him the following:

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Fadi: I have experienced it myself, it is not easy to find a decent publisher for your first book, especially when you are a new writer. How did you manage to secure a publishing contract with the best publishing house in the Arab world?

quote2Mutasem: Indeed it’s quite a struggle to find a publisher as a new writer. However, I never gave up. I was persistent. I applied to somewhat 10 publishers and all of them refused publishing my book. Then luckily, three months later, ASP contacted me saying read and liked my book and hence approved to publish it.

 

Fadi: How was your experience with ASP? In terms of book quality, distribution, and publicity?  

Mutasem: I’ve had a pleasant experience with ASP up to date. They are genuine and have been helpful. I believe they are trying their best to help me get the publicity needed. They are also willing to participate my book in all upcoming book fairs in the region.

 Fadi: Why didn’t you publish your book with a Jordanian publisher?

quote3Mutasem: Unfortunately, Jordanian publishers didn’t believe in my book. I tried with two reputable Jordanian publishers, and yet both refused my book with invalid reasons, I believe. After ASP accepted to publish my book, one of them called back saying they were sorry that they have not actually read the book. They then mentioned that I could publish with them the book at any time. Of course, I have already have signed the contract with ASP back then. Six months later, I learned that the Jordanian publishers do not participate in all book fairs. For instance they have never participated in the Al-ayam Book that began in Bahrain on the 2nd of October.

Fadi: I know what it feels like holding the first copy of your book when it first arrives. It is quite an accomplishment. How did it feel?

Mutasem: Super exciting!  I cannot put it down in words. I’m very grateful.

Fadi: I read the book two months ago and loved the concept of it. The idea of coming out of your body and living the lives of others is intriguing. How did the idea come to you?

Mustasem: Funny enough,  I was actually playing this game on PlayStation and I was quite astound by the main character of the game. I found myself wondering what it would be like if my soul travelled into his body and lived by his experiences? How would that feel? The idea captivated me and triggered me to write about it.

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Fadi: There are interesting moments in the book where the soul of the main character argues with him. It fights with him, conspires on him, and terrifies him. The idea poses some important questions about identity, thus the name of the book has the pronoun “Ana”, correct? But what do you think really form our identities? Who am I? Am I my soul, my body, my nationality, my sexuality, my experiences, a sum of all of that? or what?

Mutasem: Precisely. You’ve summed it up pretty much! I think everyone has a different interpretation for that. Personally I think we are the sum of everything you mentioned combined.

Fadi: You have certainly wanted to explore the issue of identity in the book. There is another dimension where you tackle that in setting Malik (the main character) who is Jordanian in London. How did that helped you in shaping your story and developing the storyline?  

Mutasem: As you mentioned, Malik’s mother is Arab, his father is a mystery but he was born and raised in London.  Like many Arabs that live in the west, they find themselves lost between the east and west. Malik too is unsure where he stands, he goes on many journeys to discover who he really is physically mentally and spiritually..

Fadi: I liked the amount of the imaginations in the book where you can’t predict whose the next person Malik’s soul is gonna live in? That required a good research from your part taking us into different times and culture. But I can also see the issue of gender identity here, especially when Malik finds himself in a woman’s body. Knowing the importance and sensitivity of the matter to the Arab reader, you must have terrified your audience! What would you do if you wake up one day in a female body?  

quote4Mutasem: Funny that I have thought about this often! I always try to put myself in a woman’s shoe to try and see her perspective. I feel many women suffer vastly when trying to express their inner emotions and thoughts to men. I think it will be an embarking journey if I woke up in a woman’s body! They are so fragile emotionally and yet  so patient and they can be stronger than a mountain.

Fadi: I don’t think that women are fragile emotionally but anyway. The book has been out for several months now, how was the reactions to it?

Mustasem:  I’m quite grateful from all the feedback I am getting so far. It definitely is more than I ever expected. Ilhamdilah.

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Fadi: What did you do to promote it?

Mutasem: Its a struggle to promote books in the Arab world general.  However I have to admit that I am blessed to be working in the media field. My colleagues have generously helped me reach out my voice.

Fadi: Where is it available?

Mutasem: In Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, KSA, Bahrain, and soon in UAE and rest of GCC. It can also be found in every Arabic book fair.

Fadi: Are you working on your second book? What is it about?

Mutasem: I began writing a novel for a few months about the future. However I couldn’t presume with it as I felt there was so many unspoken issues are going on now.  So I am still working on the idea, but the idea revolves around a Jordanian girl suffering with endless obstacles in her hard life.

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Fadi: I love seeing Jordanian talents emerging in all creative fields. Unfortunately, we barely have established industries that support such talents and help refining them and lifting them. The publishing industry has never been strong in Jordan, same for Film, Drama, Art, etc. Yet, we see young Jordanians carving their way into these industries trying to position themselves and the country in the map of the Arabic world. How do you see the state of the industry in Jordan? and what do you advise writers who are looking into entering this field and publishing their first book?  

quote1Mutasem: Honestly, I see a bright future for our and the coming generations.  We are on the right track. We are trying our best to catch up with developed countries. We have so many hidden talents and I feel they are starting to raise their voices.  My advise for new writers, is never to give up on hope. If one is truly passionate about writing, then they will keep writing and never give up on getting it published.  The world is big enough, there’s so much room for new writers.

Fadi: Thank you Mutasem. I wish you the best of luck. And I look forward to reading more for you. It is always good to see a young Jordanian talent determined to succeed.. 

London launch for The Bride of Amman

Starting off as a Jordanian blogger, I never dreamt of the day I will be launching my book in UK. And It just happened!


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With Brian Whitaker in Waterstones Brighton

On my way back to Dubai after a week of touring UK to launch “The Bride of Amman”. I have to admit, when I first wrote the novel, this hasn’t been in my wildest dreams. Getting published in Arabic is a hassle, having a successful book is a feat, getting it translated into English is a dream, and running book signing events in 5 different cities in the UK is something else. On top of all of that, I was honored to have the chance to speak at The Middle East Center of St. Anthony College in Oxford University and also in one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the UK, Eton College, and and and, I was joined in the last two events (in London and Brighton) with a writer I have admired and read his book few years ago, a guardian journalist and author of “Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East” and “Arabs Without Gods: Atheism and Freedom of Belief in the Arab WorldBrian Whitaker.

me and Ruth talking at Oxford University

me and Ruth talking at Oxford University

Of course, nothing of that would have happened without Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp. She is such a lovely person, full of energy and kindness. She hosted me in her beautiful house. Ruth has been organizing this trip for a while now, setting up book signings and talks in 5 different UK cities: Cheltenham, Bristol, Oxford, Brighton and London. She didn’t stop there, but also squeezed in a lovely visit to the British Library where Dan Lowe (it was a pleasure meeting you Dan) showed us old Arabic manuscripts that addresses sexuality. And also Eton’s college visit where we met Haroon Shirwani head of Arabic departmen who also showed us their own priceless collection of Arabic manuscripts (thank you Haroon). Ruth has also succeeded in setting us up for a radio interview in ShoutOut radio station in Bristol (thank you Evan).

with Eton's students

with Eton’s students

When Ruth contacting me via Twitter in 2013 after getting a hold on “Arous Amman” (the Arabic version of The Bride of Amman) while visiting Jordan, I didn’t realize how lucky I am that she popped up in my life. At the time she wanted to translate an except from the book and submit to “Words Without Borders” Literary Magazine, and I was happy to accept. Few months down the line, when I signed a contract with Signal8Press to get the book in English, I knew who I should ask. Gladly, she was on board. But even then, I never anticipated that such tour would be in my horizon. Looking back 10 years ago, when I published my first blog, I’d say that I am more than happy to reach where I am today. It wasn’t only the joy of writing every word and sentence, on my blog, and in my books, but also the wonderful journey of debating my ideas and getting to meet successful and wonderful people all around. I have to admit that I do enjoy doing all of the public relations activities: running interviews, being in book discussions and debates around my writings, getting readers’ feedback and building relations with people in the field. It is such a joy!

Window view for the suffolks bookshop in Cheltenham

Window view for the suffolks bookshop in Cheltenham

Event announcement in Oxford Uni

Event announcement in Oxford Uni

Funny, things aren’t usually as rosy as it is when the book is out. The process of writing a book is long, and it is not easy. It requires discipline and commitment. And I can’t deny that like anyone else in the creative industry, it is always a worry to maintain and overdo previous success and assure that your future work is as good or even better than your previous one. I was too worried before my second book “Janna Ala Al Ard’ was released. It was the second step that would establish me as a writer. The topic itself was tricky, siding off gender and sexuality where I have all of the support and delving into speculative fiction of a story from the future. That has also happened at a time I was back to school for my MA. I remember when I was done with my degree and where back in Jordan looking for a job again. It was a tough period where I was too worried about the little savings that had left with me at the time, and not knowing what will come next. I focused on the book, and even after I secured a job (3 months later), I still was committed to the book till I completed it in April 2014. It was a tough period as well as a month later I was moving to a job in Ajman in a totally new environment. I remember my first few days in Ajman sitting in a cafe at the cornish with the whole text printed out, reviewing every word and doing my last edits. The work on Janna had just started, not finished, I needed to secure a publisher, and having a successful first book didn’t actually give me a passing card to get publishers interested in the second. I sent the text to couple of them and was hoping, really hoping, that Dar Al Adab would show interest. On their website, they say that they have a committee of avid readers who assess submitted books and write a report accordingly. They told that they need 2 months to review it, and it took them 3. When the report hit my email, I was flying with joy! I couldn’t believe my eyes, reading it over and over again, their acknowledgment of the book as worthy enough to be one of theirs.

The Arts Cafe in Bristol

The Arts Cafe in Bristol

We then set a launch date in November, and now, a year after, I am more than happy with the reactions. People has been loving it and acknowledging it as a quality work of speculative fiction that is rare in the arab world. I have also secured another publishing contract with Signal8Press to get the book out in English in early 2017. I hoped that Ruth will be with us on this project but she has a full plate of books to translate next year. She has thankfully introduced me to another brilliant translator Sawad Hussain whom I look forward to work with. (on a side note, I am loving the world of the translators community).

The Bride of Amman on display during the launch event at Gay's the word bookshop in London

The Bride of Amman on display during the launch event at Gay’s the word bookshop in London

The year has been good to me in terms of my writing career. Alef’s conference and launch of Janna in Amman was beyond my expectations. It is something that I will always remember. It was also wonderful to run some important TV interviews during the year on Roya TV, MBC, MTV Lebanon, and OSN (to be aired soon), as well as two magazine interviews in both Living Well and Layali Amman Magazines.

All of this is a reminder that I need to get back to the same discipline and commitment and continue working on my third book which I started early in the year. Hard work do pay off, and I look forward to seeing what the years are hiding ahead.

Cheers everyone!

roya

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. 

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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. 

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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.