Literature and Theatre

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Written on the body

A queer and cartographic exploration of the Palestinian diaspora in Randa Jarrar’s A Map of Home (2008) and Him, Me, Muhammad Ali (2016)

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

This last chapter explores the construction of the queer female diasporic body in Randa Jarrar’s debut novel, A Map of Home, and in her short-story collection Him, Me, Muhammad Ali. It is argued that Jarrar constructs it as the simultaneous repository of Palestinian dispossession and of Arab and Islamicate homosexual repression. It analyses how Jarrar’s narrators express shame about their same-sex desire without knowing where it comes from, and it is argued it stems from internalised heteropatriarchal Muslim and Arab cultural values. In the face of Islamicate homophobia, Jarrar offers irreverent queer exegesis which contravenes the heterosexist bias of traditionalist religious interpretation. It is also argued that national maps are forfeited in favour of the mapping of queer subjectivities. The mapping of bodies against the prescription of nation-states helps us consider queer subjectivities in all their diasporic complexity, heeding, specifically, what it means to be queer, Arab, and of Palestinian and Muslim heritage, simultaneously. It is suggested Jarrar’s texts vindicate the queer female Muslim body as needing to claim ownership of itself, over and above inherited narratives of national dispossession and heteropatriarchal violence.

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

This chapter proposes that queer diasporas are inverted in Ferzan Özpetek’s debut feature film, Hamam (1997), exploring the experiences of an Italian man in modern Istanbul. This chapter undertakes a reading of Hamam which interrogates the film’s use of the Orientalist homoerotic spatial trope of the Turkish bath. Whilst the film has been deemed as perpetuating European imaginaries about the sensually and sexually alluring Orient and of the civilising ‘white saviour’, the analysis demonstrates that the homosocial spaces of the eponymous hamam remain micropolitically transgressive, productively re-inscribing same-sex desire onto contemporary Turkish culture. Character connect across ethnic and national divides, at a remove from the Italian protagonist’s inherited Catholicism, and from the clandestine workings of Kemalist and Islamist homophobia illustrated in the film’s denouement. The chapter suggests that Hamam does not victimise the figure of the abandoned wife whose husband has turned towards men, but that she continues the architectural restoration work her dead husband started in a manner that does not equate the film’s exploration of male queerness with a silencing or ignoring of women’s perspectives.

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

This book explores representations of queer migrant Muslims in international literature and film from the 1980s to the present. It brings together a variety of contemporary writers and filmmakers of Muslim heritage engaged in vindicating same-sex desire from several Western locations. The book approaches queer Muslims as figures forced to negotiate their identities according to the expectations of the West and of their migrant Muslim communities. It coins the concept of queer micropolitical disorientation via the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Sara Ahmed and Gayatri Gopinath. The author argues that depictions of queer Muslims in the West disorganise the social categories that make up contemporary Western societies. The study covers three main themes: queer desire across racial and national borders; Islamic femininities and masculinities; and the queer Muslim self in time and place. These thematic clusters examine the nuances of artistic depictions of queer Muslims’ mundane challenges to Western Islamophobia and Islamicate heteronormativity. Written in a scholarly but accessible style, this is a timely contribution to the controversial topic of Islam and homosexuality, forging understanding about the dissident position of Muslims who contravene heteronormative values and their equivocal political position in the West.

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A postcolonial queer melancholia

Matrilinearity, Sufism, and l’errance in the autofictional works of Abdellah Taïa

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

The first chapter in Part III deals with Abdellah Taïa’s autofictional work: his short fiction collections Mon Maroc and Le rouge du tarbouche, and his novels Salvation Army and An Arab Melancholia, with due reference to Taïa’s debut film, Salvation Army. This chapter firstly explores Taïa’s chosen genre and its articulation of embodiment. It then links the writing of the self to Taïa’s postcolonial queer melancholia, conceptualised in dialogue with Jean Starobinski’s notion of l’errance – errancy – which performs an assemblage of temporalities validating his position as a gay, Moroccan, Muslim, Arab man. It is argued Moroccan society’s homophobia triggers religious doubt in Taïa’s autofictional self, and a desperate embrace of matrilineal and Sufi versions of Islam is posited at a remove from Islamist Sunni literalness. The chapter also analyses Taïa's critique of colonial social hierarchies in contemporary Western sexual tourism. It is suggested Taïa’s most hopeful episode of homoerotic connection is enacted in the representation of queer diasporas, where same-sex desire articulated in transit temporarily dissolves man-made geographical and personal borders. Finally, it is proposed that Taïa’s articulation of the legacies of pre- and Islamic poetry inscribes his queer sensibility within the long continuum of Arab cultural history.

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Of interethnic (dis)connection

Queer phenomenology, and cultural and religious commodifi cation in Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and The Buddha of Suburbia (1990)

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

The book’s opening analysis of queer interethnic desire involves the work of Hanif Kureishi. The chapter undertakes a new reading of Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette under the auspices of ‘queer phenomenology’, probing the film’s blurring of private and public bodies and spaces and its assemblage of individual perspectives challenging racism and ethnic exclusivism. The chapter proposes that the film’s queer micropolitical disorientation challenges the essentialist identity categories dictated by mainstream dominant ideologies, as well as colonial social hierarchies and neoliberal Thatcherite ideologies. Meanwhile, it also focuses on how female Muslim sexuality and gender non-conformity also subverts Muslim and South Asian gendered spaces in the diaspora. It performs a queer phenomenological analysis of the film’s closing scenes, where the violence suffered by queer bodies in queer spaces generates trust between different factions of British society, hence micropolitically blurring the lines that segmentalise the nation’s ethno-religious communities. The subsequent analysis of The Buddha of Suburbia argues that queerness is forfeited for the sake of joining the dominant cultural mainstream, and that the truly transgressive queer characters are those who oppose normative values in the margins of British society.

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Introduction

Queering Islam and micropolitical disorientation

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

This chapter contextualises the book’s scholarly contribution. The chapter begins with a critical survey of the complex historical relationship between Islam and homosexuality, with attention to the work of Scott Kugle, Samar Habib, and Khaled El-Rouayheb. The chapter establishes that the current Islamist dismissal of homosexuality does not hold when considering Islam’s deeply embedded cultural homoeroticism. In dialogue with Joseph Massad and Habib, the chapter furthers a blended model of sexuality which strategically adopts constructionist and essentialist perspectives. This is aided by the elasticity and multivalence of the term queer, which is offered as an anti-normative positioning against the strictures of both Western homosexual ethnocentrism and Muslim homophobia. Inspired by the work of Gayatri Gopinath, Sara Ahmed, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, this chapter coins the term queer micropolitical disorientation, arguing that queer Muslims in the diaspora disorganise both nationalist and diasporic ideologies with their dissenting sexualities. The chapter proposes an antithetical methodology, via the work of Edward Said, Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin, which ‘writes back to power’ and which is attentive to cultural and political specificity.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly?

Unveiling American Muslim women in Rolla Selbak’s Three Veils (2011)

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

The last chapter of Part II explores Rolla Selbak’s Three Veils (2011). The religious symbol of the veil is analysed as standing metonymically for the film’s three American Muslim protagonists. The chapter suggests the film depicts the women’s struggles with familial and societal expectations about their Muslim femininity, particularly regarding arranged marriages, rape, domestic violence, and homosexuality. It is argued that the film’s protagonists struggle with inherited ideas of what constitutes a ‘good Muslim’ and Arab girl, as they find themselves grappling with the competing ideologies of American liberalism and Muslim traditionalism. The three girls are constructed as the good, the deviant, and the bad Muslim. Although Selbak tackles controversial topics regarding the American Muslim community, it is argued she does so in an attempt at dealing with real issues assailing Muslim women, yet she depicts an American Muslim community that is gradually becoming more attune to the plights of women. Amira, the homosexual Muslim, and Nikki, the queer Muslim, do not end up together, and Amira becomes a hijab teacher in Jordan, which constitutes Selbak’s admission that allegiance to faith and community can still impede the free expression of homosexual desire.

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The druzification of history

Queering time, place, and faith in the diasporic novels of Rabih Alameddine

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

This chapter retrospectively explores Rabih Alameddine’s fiction dealing with the Lebanese diaspora in the USA: The Hakawati, I, the Divine, and KOOLAIDS: The Art of War. The chapter initially considers The Hakawati’s reinscription of homosexuality in Islamic (hi)stories and its problematic censorship in contemporary Lebanese communities. Such a disorientation of heteropatriarchal mores is rendered possible through Alameddine’s ‘druzification’ of history – a pun on Rushdie’s ‘chutnification of history’ – from his diasporic perspective, by adapting and interweaving stories, histories, and religious texts in a manner that syncretises them. It then examines the queering of gender performance in I, the Divine, a novel that critiques both Druze patriarchy and homonormativity in the West. It concludes by analysing the queering of time and place, via Judith/Jack Halberstam, in KOOLAIDS, a novel that, it is argued, assembles the Lebanese Civil War, the American AIDS crisis, as well as America and Lebanon, through a queer Muslim pseudo-prophetic narrator living with AIDS. It is proposed that Mohammad irreverently dismantles heteronormative scriptural exegesis and amalgamates sacred texts in order to defy literalist religious orthodoxies. It is also suggested that KOOLAIDS posits a form of queer family at a remove from the prescriptions of bloodlines.

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Countermemories of desire

Exploring gender, anti-racism, and homonormativity in Shamim Sarif ’s The World Unseen (2001) and I Can’t Think Straight (2008)

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

The first chapter in Part II offers an exploration of Shamim Sarif’s first novel, The World Unseen and its 2008 film adaptation, and of I Can’t Think Straight (2008) and its eponymous film version. The narratives are approached in light of intersecting issues of race, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality in apartheid South Africa and contemporary Britain. It is argued that Sarif’s depiction of the romantic relationship between two Muslim women in South Africa, and of a British Muslim woman and a Christian Jordanian woman of Palestinian heritage in contemporary Britain, challenge the Western stereotype of submissive Muslim and Arab women and of their male relatives as universally patriarchal. Sarif’s reinscription of a female homosexual vocabulary onto Arab-Islamicate cultures offers an antidote the erasure of female Muslim homosexuality in contemporary Islamic discourses. The chapter probes Sarif’s critique of Muslim homophobia. It also suggests that Sarif’s configuration of same-sex desire in relation to the dominant Western model of ‘coming out’, is homonormative; yet, despite the limited vistas offered by her characters’ middle-class perspectives, Sarif’s deployment of queer female bodies forge clandestine countermemories in the face of discursive suppression of Muslim female homosexuality.

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Conclusion

Thinking across

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Alberto Fernández Carbajal

The conclusion summarises the book’s findings about queer interethnic desire, Islamic femininities and masculinities, and the queer self in time and place. It suggests that none of the artists referenced in the book have the same relationship with Islam, and that their Muslim identity is a matter concerning their own relationship with God. It is suggested there is no queer Muslim diasporic community of writers and artists as such, but a variety of communities locally created. It is argued the work of the chosen artists is often not part of the cultural mainstream, so their visibility is still an ongoing issue. Finally, ways forward in the study of global Islam are sketched, particularly the recent flourishing of decolonial studies, with its specific focus on the role of Islam in the global South, as well as the possibility of non-literalist and mystical dimensions of Islam, such as Sufism, to offer the metaphysical conditions for decolonisation. It is finally proposed that for decolonial Islam to emerge fruitfully, it needs to remain intersectional and also transversal, uniting with heterodox Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the fight against Euro-American and Islamic hegemonies.