Book Reading/Signing: Desiring Arabs by Joseph Massad

Wed, May 9, 2007 7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Alwan for the Arts Presents

Desiring Arabs by Joseph Massad Book Reading/ Signing and Discussion

Wednesday, May 9, 2007, 7:00 PM Free and open to the public Refreshments will be served

Desiring Arabs by Joseph Massad/ University of Chicago Press, 2007

From Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay, sexual torture has played a notorious role in the recent history of American interventions into the Arab world. These abhorrent techniques have been officially justified as an effective tool for interrogating Arabs, who are perceived as repressed and especially susceptible to sexual coercion— the result of centuries of racist assumptions about Arab sexuality. In Desiring Arabs, Joseph A. Massad uncovers the roots of these attitudes and analyzes the impact of Western ideas—both about sexuality and about Arabs—on the last two hundred years of Arab intellectual production. Sexual desire has long played a key role in Western judgments about the value of Arab civilization. In the past, Westerners viewed the Arab world as licentious, and Western intolerance of sex led them to brand Arabs as decadent; but as Western society became more sexually open, supposedly prudish Arabs soon became viewed as backward. Rather than focusing exclusively on how these views developed in the West, Massad instead reveals the history of how Arabs represented their own sexual desires. To this aim, he assembles a massive and diverse compendium of Arabic writing from the nineteenth century to the present in order to chart the changes in Arab sexual attitudes and their links to Arab notions of cultural heritage and civilization. For instance, he demonstrates how, in the 1980s, the rise of sexual identity politics and human rights activism in the West came to define Arab nationalist, and especially Islamist, responses to sexual desires and practices, and he reveals the implications these reactions have had for contemporary Arabs. A work of impressive scope and erudition, Joseph A. Massad’s chronicle of both the history and modern permutations of the debate over representations of sexual desires and practices in the Arab world is a crucial addition to our understanding of a frequently oversimplified and vilified culture.

Joseph A. Massad is associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. He is the author of Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan and The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians.

Praise for the book: This is a remarkable book, at once a fascinating history of ideas and a brilliantly analyzed case study of cultural imperialism. There are many excellent studies of Western representations of Arab and Muslim peoples, but there is nothing comparable on the way the latter have responded to the former. With impressive learning and sharp wit Massad describes the internalization of European conceptions of the human among Arab intellectuals, both nationalist and Islamist, since the nineteenth century. His account of their concern to reorient sexual and civilizational desires (both being closely intertwined in the European imagination) is quite stunning. Anyone interested in the modernization of Middle Eastern culture cannot afford to miss this book—nor, for that matter can scholars seriously engaged in postcolonial research or in lesbian and gay studies.” —Talal Asad, City University of New York

This compendious study of the discursive production of an Arab sexuality incorporates new readings of the modernity/tradition debates that go well beyond a specifically Arab context, and moves all the way from historical research into the history of literature and literary criticism. Even as it supplements Edward Said’s work by its consideration of Arab Orientalism, Desiring Arabs boldly looks forward to an unscripted future.” —Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities, Columbia University

Massad refuses both the essentialized oppositions between Arab and Western civilization and the all-embracing universalism offered in the name of human rights. Instead he insists that representations of Arab sexuality must be understood historically, as the varied and conflicting products of exchanges between Arab and Orientalist writers. This is an inspired and erudite intellectual history, complex, nuanced, critical, and deeply engaged.” —Joan W. Scott, Institute for Advanced Study, author of The Politics of the Veil: Banning Islamic Headscarves in French Public Schools

Last updated: 2007-09-12 08:28:47

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