An un-distressed damsel who writes back: representations of Muslim women in post-9/11 memoirs and novels
The Islamic world has always been of interest to the West. However, the attention after the catastrophic event of September 11, 2001, was unprecedented and the burgeoning rise of literary and cultural texts written about Islam and Muslim women simply reflects such attention. In this context, Muslim women’s voice gained impetus and the literary market received so many works by these women who for the first time started to speak about their life behind the veil. This research traces the memoir boom in the aftermath of 9/11 by Middle Eastern and Muslim women writers published and promoted by American, European and Australian publishing industries followed by contemporary women fictions by Arab American writers. In the first part, I address three memoirs that are written and published by and about women from Middle East and/or Islamic background by Azar Nafisi, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Norma Khouri. In each chapter, I will discuss how the author by taking up the role of cultural insider claims to be the voice of oppressed Muslim women and fight for their rights. But in fact, by documenting Islam as a monolithic, misogynist and backward religion, they confirm the Orientalist tropes and neoconservative ideologies and create highly problematic, yet popular, work which intensifies Islamophobic tendencies and anti-Muslim sentiments in the West. Furthermore, I argue that much of the discourse on the oppression of Muslim women in these testimonial narratives, is primarily used to help secure the popular neoconservative’s assumption that Muslim women need to be saved therefore providing enough support for the west to justify war and military intervention in the Middle East. Part two addresses works of Laila Halaby, Mohja Kahf, and Diana Abu-Jaber emerged as a write-back to the monolithic representation of Islam and Muslim women. These narratives by Arab American women authors question the simplified image of the Muslim and Arab woman in favour of more complex and nuanced representations of Muslim and Arab women. By bringing their American identity into a dialogue with their ethnicity, these authors deal with the question of hybridity and in-betweenness and problematize the dominant misrepresentation of Arabs in mainstream America. They also deconstruct the essentialized notion of identity and through various negotiation strategies construct individual and communal subjectivity, which is complex, unfixed, fluid and in-progress.