The degree to which the US approach to human rights has shifted during President Obama’s administration is a highly controversial matter. Notwithstanding the extent to which Obama’s administration has followed or changed his predecessor’s lines of action, President Obama’s foreign policies increasingly rely on his rhetorical commitment to the promotion of human rights, freedom and democracy across the world. Whereas the administration of President Bush justified US interventions in a much more overtly imperialist and self-defensive manner, President Obama bases his policies on allegedly humanitarian solidarity with the wellbeing of the Other. […] A critical reader may well ask, does President Obama make the same demands of the Tea Party and the fundamentalist Christian right in his home country? The flagrant gap between the diligent vigilance he selectively shows towards sexual rights violations abroad and the lack of concern about what happens at home is indeed striking.

Orientalism and the modernisation of sexuality.

As Jasbir Puar puts it, ‘homosexual subjects who have limited legal rights in the US civil context gain significant representational currency when situated within the global scene of the war on terror’.

Praise be. Don’t forget to read this.

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Via Kawrage.


The American media has falsely convinced its viewers that Malala was shot because she wanted to go to school. It is unfortunate that most viewers have accepted this narrative and failed to ask simple questions like, “Is Malala the only girl in all of Pakistan who goes to school?” The average Muslim woman, or even the average Pakistani woman, does not get shot on a daily basis; millions of girls and women go to school daily, even if there are still many families who deny education to their daughters. Yet, for the American media, Malala has become a stand-in for the condition of the generic Muslim woman. Yes, there are issues in the Muslim world—including Pakistan—but many of the experiences of women in the Muslim world are shared by our sisters in the non-Muslim world. Highlighting one Pakistani girl’s case, and misrepresenting it as an attack on any Muslim woman who wants to go to school, not only trivializes the issue but also diverts attention from women’s mistreatment in the rest of the world—including the so-called Western world.

Orbala - How Not to Talk About Malala Yousafzai in Tanqeed magazine.

An excellent article by Orbala who argues that while criticizing US drone strikes is extremely important, one should not forget to criticize and bring attention to the ongoing attacks by the Pakistani military in the tribal agencies as part of being an ally in the so-called US “War on Terrorism.”

Make sure you read this.

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On the left, the original cover of the novel “Zaat”, by Sonallah Ibrahim. On the right, the cover of its French edition.
Zaat tells the story of an Egyptian middle-class woman from the death of Nasser till Mubarak’s rise to power (1970’s - 1990’s). The novel describes the malaise of modern life in a big city like modern Cairo, which the original cover tried to depict with an illustration of Zaat in her kitchen, a shelf full of icons of modern life hanging over her.
The French cover shows the painting of a 19th century odalisque.


On the left, the original cover of the novel “Zaat”, by Sonallah Ibrahim. On the right, the cover of its French edition.

Zaat tells the story of an Egyptian middle-class woman from the death of Nasser till Mubarak’s rise to power (1970’s - 1990’s). The novel describes the malaise of modern life in a big city like modern Cairo, which the original cover tried to depict with an illustration of Zaat in her kitchen, a shelf full of icons of modern life hanging over her.

The French cover shows the painting of a 19th century odalisque.

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While Western readers of Hosseini’s The Kite Runner are led to believe that they are creating a “bridge of understanding” between themselves and Afghan culture, they are actually identifying with a stereotypical way of understanding the relationship between the East and the West. This is in part assisted by the fact that these “foreign” characters with which the Western reader identifies are in reality not “foreign” at all: despite their background, they have been constructed in accordance with Western political and psychological needs. Additionally, the novelistic genre of the bildungsroman also addresses these Western needs in two ways: by providing Western readers with a familiar structure that assists them in understanding the “otherness” of the Orient, and providing a gateway that makes it easy to impose Orientalist stereotypes on the characters. Therefore it becomes clear why Western readers connect so readily to this novel. Both the political and psychological needs of the West are fulfilled by Hosseini’s use of Orientalist stereotypes and binary opposition, and the literary vessel in which they are delivered is familiar, humanizing, and palatable. Yet this imposition of Western needs on Hosseini’s text raises a central question for all readers of apparently “non-Western” texts: can the West ever read the non-West, or must it only read itself and its reflections?

Sarah Hunt - Can the West Read? Western Readers Orientalist Stereotypes and the Sensational Response to The Kite Runner

This is an important piece outlining why and how The Kite Runner is as problematic as it is. It might seem like an innocent tale about loyalty and friendship at first, but upon further analysis, you’ll see how it is yet another way of perpetuating stereotypical binaries, Orientalism, and a perpetual celebration of the West and its ideologies, culture and existence.

She further states: 

“In addition to government practices that defined Americans and Arabs/Muslims as binary opposites, government and media discourses relied on old Orientalist tropes that positioned American national identity as democratic, modern, and free and the Middle East as primitive, barbaric, and oppressive” (Alsultany 594). I will make the point that the same occurs within Hosseini’s novel: that despite its attempts to challenge these stereotypic binaries, the novel only ends up reinforcing them.

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Lebanese government to sue American TV hit over Beirut portrayal

on October 17, 2012

Two cars of men carrying AK-47s pull into a tight alleyway, jump out and threaten hijab-cladded women. Another car arrives and out steps a shady Hezbollah leader, the cue for special agents of the Central Intelligence Agency spring their ambush.

All this takes place on Beirut’s ‘Hamra Street’ in the latest episode of the multiple award-winning American TV series ‘Homeland.’ This episode of the show aired over the weekend in the West and portrayed the Lebanese capital as a hotbed of terrorists and random attacks on foreigners.

Reality anyone?

For those unacquainted with Beirut, the real Hamra Street is a bustling cosmopolitan artery where days spent shopping and chatting in cafes give way to a nightlife of drinking and cavorting in local bars. A hub of modern city life, it is Beirut’s much smaller version of London’s Tottenham Court Road or New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Unsurprisingly, the misrepresentation has sparked more than a little ire in the Lebanese government. Speaking exclusively to EXECUTIVE, Lebanese Tourism Minister Fady Abboud has promised to take legal action over the “lies” in the show.

“This kind of film damages the image of Lebanon — it is not fair to us and it’s not true, it is not portraying reality,” he said. “We want to take action, we want to write to the filmmakers and producers and demand an apology. And we are planning to raise a lawsuit against the director and the producer.”

Abboud stressed that he was studying potential legal routes the government could take, but added that he would be willing to take action personally if necessary.

The first series of Homeland, which aired last year, was both a critical and a ratings success, with high viewing figures followed by recognition at almost every major television awards event. The shows stars Claire Danes and Damien Lewis, who won the best actor and actress Emmys, respectively, while the show also took home the coveted Outstanding Drama Series award.

It focuses around a female CIA agent (Danes) who believes that a United States soldier who was captured in Iraq and returned home a war hero has been turned into an informant by Al Qaeda. During the episode in Beirut, Danes is seeking to kill a senior figure in Hezbollah allied with Al Qaeda (despite the fact that, in reality, there is likely more animosity between these two groups than there is between either of them and America).

Minister Abboud said the reach of the show made the misrepresentation even more problematic. “This series has a lot of viewers and if you are promoting Lebanon as a non-secure zone it will affect tourism. It will mean a lot of foreigners stay away if they are convinced by what they see,” he said. “Beirut is one of the most secure capitals in the world, more secure than London or New York.”

The show was not filmed in Lebanon at all, but was shot instead in the Israeli city of Haifa. For Abboud the fact that it was filmed in a state with which Lebanon is technically at war was an added insult. “We would like to welcome the crews here to film in this city — we were offended by the fact that they filmed the thing in Israel and said it was Beirut,” he said.

Misrepresentation’s long history

Lebanese have long complained about the misrepresentation of their country in the Western media. Jad Melki, director of the Media Studies Program at the American University of Beirut, said the portrayal was disappointing but not surprising.

“We have been dealing with this for over a century, the portrayal of Arabs in the US is that we are all Islamists living in the desert, evil and angry all the time,” he said. “If you look at US media, racist stereotypes of African Americans have all but disappeared but it is still acceptable to stereotype Arabs.”

Melki said that because the civil war made Lebanon, and particularly Beirut, synonymous with violence, trying to convince Westerners that the city is a prosperous, diverse place is much more difficult than playing on people’s preconceptions. Even the title of the episode, “Beirut is Back”, appears to be a reference to the city’s troubled years in the 1980s, when car bombings and kidnappings were rampant.

“The civil war version of Beirut is still portrayed,” said Melki. “There is a frame of mind and a stereotype of a certain group of people or place and it doesn’t make sense if we break away from that as the audience won’t understand. So we look for the version we know.”

British Ambassador Tom Fletcher, who has campaigned for Westerners to reassess their perception of the country, admitted to being a big fan of the show but said it was a misleading portrayal.

“Homeland is one of life’s joys, but Lebanon tends to get a rough time from filmmakers — I’d encourage people to see the real Beirut,” he told EXECUTIVE.

Everything sticks

Beyond legal action the Lebanese government’s options for responding to the show are relatively few. Abboud said his office was considering a counter-video in which footage from the show would be inter-spliced with daily images from Hamra Street.

“We also have a campaign to promote Lebanon on CNN which is starting next month,” he said. “It features all the tourism sectors in Lebanon, what Lebanon has and a real picture about Lebanon.”

Melki suggested that if the country were serious about countering Western perceptions then they should spend money on hosting a major American film in the country. In the most recent Mission Impossible film Tom Cruise scales the world’s tallest building — the Burj Khalifa in Dubai — in the kind of advertising deal which costs millions of dollars but can help change perceptions in the West.

“It would be expensive but effective,” said Melki. “Currently the Ministry of Tourism produces videos about Lebanon with lots of shots of the mountains – its not storytelling, its not entertaining. A movie does that, a TV show does that.”

Homeland’s  “Hamra Street”
Reality’s Hamra Street

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And the worst attempt at pun on a headline about the “Arab Spring” goes to…


We get it, we get it. Spring = flowers. Arab women = delicate flowers. Surprised they weren’t able to squeeze a veil pun in there.


Are the real secrets of Arabic literature lost in translation? - The National ›


For some years now I have followed reports of any Arabic literature translated into European languages, particularly English, French and German, as well as the recipients of Arabic literary prizes that receive attention from the translation industry.

I would receive these reports in good faith and with an appreciation for those in the West who involve themselves in translating a literature that enjoys no great global popularity.

Today, however, after much observation, I find myself posing two pressing questions: Is it really important that Arabic literature be translated into foreign languages and do these translations honestly lead to the spread of Arabic literature among readers of other languages? I write this as someone whose own work, The Smiles of the Saints, has been translated into English.

My response to these two questions is, I fear, a definite, unequivocal “No”.

Taking together all of the Arabic literature we see translated and celebrated today, it is my view that nothing has changed.

These translations have failed to give expression to the true nature of the Arab world’s literary output and they have proved unable to bring about any sort of audience for this literature.

Nor do I anticipate this happening in the future, as long as the existing mechanisms for translation continue to operate as they do. In particular, the greatest obstacle facing the translation of Arabic literature is the absence of Arab institutions to fund, publicise and frame a systematic process of translation.

Perhaps it is necessary at this point to remind myself that we are living in what the French philosopher Guy Debord terms “the society of the spectacle”; that profiteering, capitalist imperatives shape values throughout the world, both West and East; that institutions for propagating all-powerful consumer images strive to create markets for generating profit no matter the product and that, as it seems to me, the market for publishing and translation in both Europe and the Arab world is unfortunately no longer an exception to this rule.

But as an Arab author, my purpose here is to state that the Arabic book - exported outside its borders by means of translation, a representative of the Arab society that sent it - has become a victim twice over.

Once, of the superficial, commercial media, concerned with image at the expense of essence, which operates in its Arab country of origin and then again a victim of the image of the “eastern” book which the European literary class attempts to present to the world.

It is quite clear that there is a focus on the topics and not the techniques of writing on the part of publishers today, usually concentrating around subjects such as corruption, the role of Arab women in their societies and sexual relations (particularly in closed societies).

This appears to be driven by a publishing market which offers the western reader an image that says that, while such countries may not possess any “global” writers (in any case, a concept midwifed by Eurocentrism), they nevertheless possess societies that the reader can enjoy getting to know.

The Arab countries, the publishers seem to say, are closed, incomprehensible societies, producers of terrorism and violence, whose inhabitants live through numberless manifestations of corruption and persecution, whose women suffer sexual and social victimisation - and these books will open the door to this world for you.

In fact, this phenomenon has provoked comment from many Arab writers.

I quote here from an article by the Egyptian critic and academic Gaber Asfour, a professor at the University of Cairo and (briefly) Egypt’s minister for culture, published in Al Hayat, in which he examines this phenomenon and states that it is driven by what he calls “a neo-orientalist tendency”.

“A globally prevalent neo-orientalist tendency espouses a set of literary and artistic works from the Third World in general, and the Middle East in particular, abounding with denunciations and exposes of a ubiquitous vile backwardness and rampant corruption at every level, with the aim of marketing these works after translating, distributing and promoting them in the media to an unprecedented degree.

“This gave rise to the phenomenon of the modish, scandalising novel of limited creative value that lets no corruption, oppression, perversion or deviance pass unmentioned, playing up portrayals quite dreadful in their backwardness.”

Asfour believes that this is no coincidence, pointing out the “the orientalist trend is coupled to a parallel ideology of hegemony associated with the rise of the ideology of globalisation, which aims to achieve two things.

“The first, is to perpetuate in the minds of westerners an image of an East in decline, simultaneously alien, fantastical, backward and oppressed, to justify the need for colonialist dominance of the region.

“The second, is to convince the inhabitants of this wondrous East of their abiding retardation, itself the source of the admiration they receive and their fascination. By keeping the backward East backward, this makes it a source of wealth to be plundered; a display case of human wonders and the prodigal rewards they bring.”

The literary critic and Arabist Stefan Weidner is one of those who lauded these limited works - in this case Khalid Al Khameesi’s Taxi - when he wrote:

“Some critics in the West might ask, ‘But is this book in fact not literary enough?’ Yet it is incumbent upon us to cast off a traditional western understanding of literature if we are to comprehend what the author has accomplished here. We must admit that with a single, decisive blow, Al Khameesi has severed the Gordian knot of contemporary Arabic literature, to wit: that the problems these authors should be addressing in their works are too big for literature to solve.”

Personally speaking, I do not understand why a literary text must be transformed into a sociological treatise stripped of its literary value, nor why stories of this sort are promoted as literature in the first place.

In place of the purely commercial Taxi, the Lebanese researcher Dalal Al Bazri has written Politics is Stronger than Modernity, an important book more capable of giving us a masterful explanation of the political and social changes through which Egypt has passed.

Or take the exaggerated praise meted out to Saudi author Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh, a book of limited artistic value to which no conscientious reader of literature would pay a moment’s notice.

This, despite the existence of another book by a female Saudi writer by the name of Saba Al Hirz, who published an important and stylistically sublime novel about the minority Shia community in Saudi Arabia and the love affairs of its young women, demonstrating the author’s considerable narrative skills.

It was called The Others and no one paid it the slightest attention.

For the sake of fairness, I should stress that many publishing houses, sometimes private or small and generally in Europe, outdo themselves in identifying the most important Arabic novels, ably assisted by noble knights from the ranks of translators. But their task is not an easy one.

The problem is that books translated by major Arab writers such as Gamal Al Ghitani, Mohamed El Bisatie, Abdel Rahman Mounif and so on, are not praised as highly as other, mediocre works.

When I visited the Philippines two years ago, authors there recommended a novel by a young man who had won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008. The book was Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco.

I was overawed by the novel’s quality, by its language, its construction and its skill. To my mind, this is the true purpose of prizes, to praise books for the manner in which they are written, not for their subject matter alone.

I believe this literary aspect is missing in the process of translating Arabic into foreign languages. Literary worth must be made the primary, indeed the sole, criterion for selection. At the moment, the process is based on a political consideration: an attempt to get to know a culture that exports the problems of its own backwardness to the West.

Implicating literature in this process may benefit it in some ways but in the end it is likely to do it more harm than good.

Ibrahim Farghali is an Egyptian novelist, journalist and literary critic. Further Arabic literary works can be read in English at Qisas Ukhra:

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Every once in a while I like to share books with Tumblr. This time I bring several books on the politics of imperialism, Orientalism and Empire narrative(s) experienced by post-colonial nations in the Middle East and South Asia as well as Africa. Five writers from five different places with excellent thoughts for you to read and share: (From left) Eqbal Ahmed from Pakistan, Edward Said from Palestine, Hamid Dabashi from Iran, Vijay Prashad from India, Aimé Fernand David Césaire (Frantz Fanon’s teacher!) from Martinique.

Click on the links in order to download the books:

Have fun learning (and dismantling hegemony).

Bookworms, here’s some brain-food.



Made some cards for orientalist, racist, Islamophobic people.

Pew pew pew.




Khatam shud.


The girls may have put the “jab” into “hijab,” but fighting with morality police or private individuals telling women to cover up is rare in small towns. It’s more common in larger cities, where women are more likely to take a stand.

"Jab" in "hijab." That’d be a cool name for a hijabi hip-hop group.