Amin and Ahmed

1-In an introduction to his book Qasim Amin suggest that:

An observer might think that I now maintain the veil should be completely dispensed with – but this is not the case. I still defend the use of the veil and consider it one of the permanent cornerstones of morality. I would recommend, however, that we adhere to its use according to Islamic law, which differs from our present popular traditions. Our people are ostentatious in their caution and in their interpretations of what they believe to be the application of the law, to the extent that they presently exceeded the limits of the Shari’a and have harmed the nation’s interest. (35)

As the chapter unfolds, Amin provides various hadith and Quranic verses to argue that what the Shari’s requires from women is to cover their body parts, except for their hands and faces. However, he suggests that such religious saying were later infused with “harmful customs” that exaggerated such practices under the title of religion, “but of which religion is innocent” (39). What he criticizes, then, is the practice of covering up the whole body, including the entire face, when in front of men. He concludes that such practice conceals the identity of women and disables them to participate fully in social life.  Pursuant to that discussion, he asks for a reform of such un-Islamic customs that limit the activity of women outside of their homes.

Having considered these statements, why is it that Ahmed regards such claims as a reform or “the abolition of the veil?” (315)

2-Qasim Amin argues that “Some people will say that today I am publishing heresy. To these people I will respond: yes, I have come up with a heresy, but the heresy is not against Islam. It is against our traditions and social dealings, where the demand for perfections is extolled” (4).

To what extent do you think this statement satisfies the needs of colonialist intentions? To what extent is his adherence to the Islamic laws an anti-colonialist stance, if it is at all an example of one? Do you think this statement is in accordance with Ahmed’s views on the writer (318)?

3-In another instance, Amin proposes that

The Islamic legal system, the Shari’a, stipulated the equality of women and men before any other legal system. Islam declared women’s freedom and emancipation, and granted women all human rights during a time when women occupied the lowest status in all societies….These advantages have not yet been attained by some contemporary Western women, yet they demonstrate that respect for women and for their equality with men were basic to the principles of the liberal Shari’a. In fact, our legal system went so far in its kindness to women that it rid them of the burden of earning a living and freed them from the obligation of participating in household and childbearing expenses. This is unlike some Western laws, which equate men and women only with regard to their duties, giving preference to men with regard to societal rights. (7)

How do you think this statement challenges Ahmed’s idea that Amin’s narrative elevates the status of Western/ Christian women?

Dismissing Hybridity(?) in The Inheritance

Blog Post #1

As I read through The Inheritance, one of the things that struck me was how fervently so many characters insisted on a firm conception of national identity and self-identity.  In the section titled “Without Heritage,” Zayna recalls a longing for the “old country” that she herself had not known.  She shouts “We’re going back home, we’re going back home!” when her father vows to leave the United States, as though Palestine is where she truly belongs (7).  Yet almost everyone insists on coding Zayna as American.  While Zayna describes herself as “between two languages and two cultures,” her American grandmother views herself and Zayna as part of a collective American “us” (9, 17).  While Zayna’s grandmother cannot understand her granddaughter’s sense of un-belonging, her family in Palestine alternately view her as the successful, prosperous American and as part of a different “us”.  Her uncle believes Zayna should not leave the country, but rather remain part of the old country family.  Beyond material successes and accumulation (and her accented Arabic), Zayna is not an American in this geography.

Zayna’s extended family seemingly has more trouble with Kamal’s status as working in Germany.  Mazen views this as disloyalty–arguably, to kinship and to country–and he questions whether Kamal “felt himself above […] our family, our friends, and the inhabitants of this land” (226-227).  Mazen continues to reason that “the Germans are not our people,” and he spends most of the novel resenting Kamal seemingly allowing himself to become part of a different nationalist “our.”  The end of the novel clearly shows that the general disregard for a kind of individual hybridity is tied to nationalism: the governor cannot fathom Kamal doing work for anyone but his nation of origin.  His skills are somehow owed to a national project.  Yet for Zayna’s uncle, Zayna’s national allegiance is tied to caring for her “inheritance” (her infant brother)…and from this, we might gather that national identity looks different for men and women in the novel.  Women are meant to nurture the men in the family (which we also see with Nahleh, who is exploited by her brothers), and men are meant to contribute their skills to a kind of national family.

Work Cited

Khalifeh, Sahar. The Inheritance. Trans. Aida Bamia. New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2005

Abjection in Ayi Kweiarmah’s: The Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born

Ayi Kweiarmah’s novel, The Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born, describes a postcolonial Ghana where a new government order has replaced the old one, and the changes are subtle, perhaps even invisible. Kweiarmah paints a picture of a complicated new order, and provides rich examples of the difficulties in overcoming a new state that is ruled by the those that were able to gain power by knowing people, or by knowing a friend of a friend, and corruption breeds corruption in this new order, thus producing characters such as Koomson. Koomson’s identity becomes troubled when the Ghana government is toppled by a new regime, and he is in danger of being jailed or killed by those that have gained power. Koomson spends time in the man’s house, and hides out there in order to try to devise a plan to save himself from the coup. The man helps Koomson get away, but they first have to go through the latrine hole. “He could hear Koomson strain like a man excreting, then there was a long sound as if he were vomiting down there. But the man pushed some more, and in a moment a rush of foul air coming up told him the Party man’s head was out” (Kweiarmah 168). Koomson gets out of the hole, disgusted, but alive and safe from the new government. Furthermore, Koomson then gets away on a fishing boat and is able to survive. His white clothes dirtied and caked with excrement, his new life in another land awaited him so that he could become a new self, on that is not a government official or a rich man, but a man that is a survivor and a whisper of a Party official, doomed into exile from Ghana.

Koomson abjects the Party man identity and embraces a new identity of a man with no certain identity, only that of a survivor and escaper. Even moreso, the last name that the man calls “the Party man” is “Koomson,” a cemented new self that is surviving from the post-self-the-Party-man (Kweiarmah 178). Julia Kristeva writes that “…polluting objects fall, schematically, into two types: excremental and menstrual…Excrement and its equivalents (decay, infection, disease, corpse, etc.) stand for the danger to identity that comes from without: the ego threatened by the non-ego, society threatened by its outside, life by death” (71). Koomson feels his identity threatened by the excrement that he has to go through, but he recognizes it is this or the corpse (which is the utmost abject of the abject). Furthermore, Koomson loathes “waste” and Kristeva contends “the spasms and vomiting that protect me. The repugnance, the retching that thrusts me to the side and turns me away from defilement, sewage, and muck…separates me from them” (2). By Koomson going through excrement, he is left with the self that has gone through shit in order to solidify this new identity, thus, leaving behind his old identity of the Party man and embracing the new identity of a complete and whole Koomson.


Works Cited

Armah, Ayi Kwe. The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born: A Novel. London: Heinemann, 1981. Print.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia UP, 1982. Print.


Breaking Down Binaries in Sahar Khalifeh’s THE INHERITANCE

Bonnie Opliger

26 September 2016

Blog #1

Sahar Khalifeh’s novel The Inheritance explores and complicates many binaries: between the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the educated and illiterate, the honorable and the dishonored, the immigrant and the native, and the women and the men (just to name a few). Khalifeh presents these binaries through her characters’ experiences as they try to navigate the many conflicting and painful aspects of finding love, family, and purpose in the changing and disrupted Palestinian culture of the West Bank in the early 1990s. I am particularly interested in how Khalifeh alternates the point of view from first person with Zayna in the beginning of the story, to third person omniscient throughout the remaining pages interspersed with lapses back into Zayna’s first person narrative. The third person omniscient perspective delves into the deepest psyches and secrets of numerous characters–often revealing much more than is spoken aloud. I believe this humanizes even some of the most unlikable characters. After Zayna is accidentally shot by Nahleh and is half awake and half dreaming she notes, “There were hills, a horizon, and a slight dark substance in the blue pit forming celestial shapes of unique beauty. What disparity between the two scenes, the internal and the external, between the view seen from the outside and the reality of the place. What a contrast” (132). The cohesiveness of the family, the traditional culture and rigid gender roles are often held up as ideals of a celestial nature, but all too often in the novel the pressure to maintain these ideals leads to deep resentment, pain and suffering. Zayna feels especially stuck between two worlds. She has achieved great financial success under the guidance of her American grandmother in Washington, D.C. but feels numb, lost and disconnected from the Arab culture that she identified with growing up as a child with her Palestinian father in New York. She notes, “I didn’t say I was Arab because I wasn’t. Who am I then? Despite my mother’s citizenship, my birth certificate, my school certificate, my books, my accent, my clothes, and everything about my life, I was not truly American” (17). Similarly, Nahleh feels jaded with her life, being an educated and generous woman who supported her family but is now left without a family of her own and siblings who she feels have used her. I am also interested in the characterization of the men in this novel, most of whom seems impotent in some way. Mazen in particular struggles with issues of masculinity. Mazen idealizes Nahleh and cannot reconcile her romance with Abu Salem with his image of her perfection, “He had discovered that after all these years he had been cheated and stupid. Nahleh was no better than other women or men or above sexual temptation” (122). Yet Mazen is unable to gain any introspection into his own philandering ways and scorns the women who try to guide him. The lines between honor, love, and tradition become blurred as these men and women struggle to navigate a culture in turmoil.


Works Cited

Khalifeh, Sahar. The Inheritance. Trans. Aida Bamia. New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2005

Class and Nation

In doing the readings for this week, one particular question stood out to be me in terms of postcolonialism, class, and nation. All of the readings, in some way, address the question of whose story gets told in nationalist stories and histories of colonial and postcolonial struggle. As Ranajit Guha argues in his chapter on historiography of colonial India, in many instances, nationalist histories are written by the elites, and therefore privilege their stories and views of postcolonialism. This then obscures the lived realities of the subaltern classes, for whom independence is perhaps not as transformative as portrayed by many nationalist histories.

While there are many ways in which Armah’s novel addresses this question, here I want to focus on Aidoo’s “For Whom Things Did Not Change.” I am particularly interested in the last 7 pages of the story, where Zirigu tells his story to Kobina. Although in telling his story to Kobina, Zirigu illustrates the reality of post-independence Ghana “for whom things did not change,” the shift in dialect from the beginning of the story highlights the fact that Zirigu’s words are being filtered through Kobina. The first part of the story, written, presumably, in Zirigu’s dialect, which, contrasted to Kobina’s, creates a clear relationship of class-difference between the two men, focuses largely on Zirigu’s difficulty in understanding how to serve Kobina. He tries to relate to Kobina as he has any previous “master,” repeatedly comparing Kobina to white men and the “big men” of his country. As the second half of the story shifts to Kobina’s point of view, the language also shifts to his way of speaking. The fact that this shift continues even as much of the story is told by Zirigu raises questions for me about who gets to tell the story of independence, even if that story does include the struggles of the working and servant classes. If the history of the nation continues to be told by the elite, even when it includes the stories of those for whom things did not change, to what extent are those peoples and voices still being erased? Or does it not make a difference who tells the story as long as the story is told?

In another way, I think this question can be extended to how we think about both Armah’s and Aidoo’s works. Although both works deal with the working classes of post-independence Ghana, and are in many ways critical of the ruling elite, it seems that both authors are also members of the elite. So, then, the question remains not only about whose stories get told in relation to independence and the nation, but also who gets to do the telling.

Nation + Nationalism

There is obviously a lot to pull out of this text in regards to character development, themes, and symbols, which we can definitely do in class. However, since the conversations from the last two weeks have seemingly centered on notions of the colonial, imperial, and postcolonial in regards to political/historical/social boundaries of such, I would like to open up the conversation a little more towards this idea of the nation and how it is created or ‘imagined’.

We see in Thiongo’s A Grain of Wheat how different people, amidst an anticolonial movement, envision their ideas of the nation: Kihika becoming a symbol for the anticolonial struggle while conversely, Karanja panics at the thought of John Thompson leaving Kenya because he fears for his future under the leadership and rule of black power. The false hope that is so fervently invested into the anticolonial struggle becomes particularly evident not only through this schism, but also through the broader story of a disappointed and disillusioned people. The anticolonial struggle we see play out in A Grain of Wheat is led by characters who work for the British government in some capacity or another as a result of confessing their affiliation to the Movement. This is only one example of many (the villagers mixing Christmas hymns with traditional song and dance immediately comes to mind as another) of the ways in which a hybridization of cultures illustrates internalized colonial values.  This aligns with Fanon’s critique of decolonization in “On National Culture” where he foregrounds the paradox of national identity. He argues that while the notion of “national identity” has been vital to the emergence and anticolonial struggle of Non-Western/Global South/Third world revolutions (because if you don’t rally around the idea of a nation what do you rally and organize around?), it also, paradoxically, limits efforts of liberation because the process of nationalizing reinscribes an essentialist, totalizing, specific understanding of ‘nation’. In other words, Fanon is encouraging a materialist conceptualization of the nation that moves away from cultural heterogeneity and basing a national identity on collective cultural traditions and rather moves in a direction of political agency and collective attempts to deconstruct and dismantle the (economic) factors of colonial rule.

On the other side of the spectrum, Thiongo also provides us an interesting perspective from the British, especially in the character of John Thompson. In line with our conversation last week about the need to read and understand the primary documents produced by the colonizers, chapter 5 provides further insight into the process of colonization from the perspective of the colonizer. Thompson states: “The growth of the British Empire was the development of a great moral idea: it must surely lead to the creation of one British nation, embracing peoples of all colours and creeds, based on the just proposition that all men were created equal…to be English was basically an attitude of mind: it was a way of looking at life, at human relationship, at the just ordering of human society. Was it not possible to reorient people into this way of life by altering their social and cultural environment?” (54) Here we are presented with a different understanding of the nation, or rather, an understanding that is the dominant representation of nation.

Understanding, then, the way history plays out in Kenya, the history of ethnic divides and conflicts, and the precarity of the Kenyatta name (Jomo as first president, his son recently elected as Kenya’s 4th amidst protests), can we, using Anderson’s definition(s) of nation and nationalism, provide alternative conceptualizations of “national identity” and nation to still organize around? For example, at the end of socialism and war, Lenin argues for the right of nations to self-determine understanding that this cannot be achieved without fighting against all oppression of nations – but can this be achieved outside of the definition of nation?


Laying one’s belongings out to dry

I was struck by a series of photographs on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, where over a 2-day period, nearly 8,000 migrants were rescued. The photos of people are horrific, important, and by now familiar, a problematic mix if there ever was one. What really struck me in this short series, though, was one snapshot of objects (by photographer Emilio Morenatti):


And I found myself wondering, what stories are contained in these objects, these pocket photos and cash bills? How can we think about this moment of rescue in the Mediterranean as linked to colonial histories?

Here is a set of objects laid out to dry by someone who has risked his life to reach Italy, a country that likely will not recognize him and certainly won’t grant him citizenship; here is perhaps the only evidence beyond the body that this person exists, has an identity, has a list of phone numbers to call, perhaps others who have already crossed, or might help in some way, or are at home waiting to hear; here are the family photographs, the ID photographs, the Eritrean bills that might be all he has… to his name? To his future?

Seen from the outside, and such distance, the photograph might be hopeful: the beginning of something. Survival. But it also must be understood, I think, as an image that corresponds to the thousands, tens of thousands of people risking their lives to cross the sea — and the fact that dealing with “the migrant crisis” as a problem of border control will never be a way of addressing the migrants’ reasons for flight.

We could look at this image and ask: How is an Eritrean welcomed to European shores? How is he welcomed to the first detention camp in the land of his country’s former colonizer?

(original photo essay can be found here)

Can I wear a sari or not and who decides that?

There was an interesting debate about ethnic fashion adopted by non-ethnic people. An article from MIC describes this practice with different examples of some ethnic fashion styles.

The author claimed that wearing Native American’s headdress is not appropriate using Jessica Metcalfe’s words.

By this point in time, it should be pretty obvious that wearing a headdress that’s even just inspired by Native American cultures is a no-no. As Jessica R. Metcalfe, creator of Native American blog and boutique Beyond Buckskin, previously told Mic:

“[The headdress] is a sacred, important symbol to us. And it’s still a tradition that is practiced in our communities … Whenever you have celebrities or major companies misusing the sacred headdress, that is a direct way of destroying our culture.”

However, the author gives an example of wearing sari in a different perspective.

“The sari was originally intended to keep teenaged girls and women both comfortable in the heat and to look ‘modest,'” noted Palash Ghosh in the International Business TimesThat doesn’t mean non-Indian women can’t ever wear them; when in 2013, British first lady Samantha Cameron wore a sari to a Hindu temple to celebrate Diwali, a temple-goer told the Guardian:

“The fact that Mrs. Cameron made such a huge effort to dress as per Hindu customs most definitely shows how much she values our culture, religion and traditions.”


I agree that if non-ethnic people attempt to make fun of a specific ethnic fashion while wearing it, that would be not appropriate and regarded as a way of “destroying that culture” but in multicultural and global societies, this seems not a simple matter. Artistic value of these clothes is restrictedly possessed by ethnic groups?  What is the permitted point and what is not? and who can decide that?

Aesthetics and Politics

Since the interaction between the aesthetic and political was an important theme in our discussion of the Bangla short stories, I thought I’d open up the topic a little more. One of the reasons why I think protest literature is a valuable genre category is because such literature clearly envisions an audience that does not coincide with the communities who are the central to that literature. At the same, the genre category is also useful as it helps demarcate such works from others that envision radically different audiences and create reading experiences that present their real audiences with an extremely challenging hermeneutics (such as Erna Brodber’s Myal), all with subversive intention. What I didn’t consider in class was a literature that straddled both approaches–and I think Dalit autobiographies sometimes fall into this third category.

In discussing Dalit literature and the conversation around the idea of a “Dalit aesthetic,” Toral Gajarawala proposes what she calls “unreading” as a conceptual framework through which to read Dalit literature. Such reading would “expand the temporal and chronological map provided by the narrative fictional framework in a paratactic way such that the putative event is deconstructed.” Gajarawala’s example is a Dalit autobiography that “domesticates” a central event of Indian history, the Partition, by rewriting the story of Partition as purely something that affects the prices of things ‘at home’. Gajarawala points out that Dalit literature often deconstructs the idea of the “eventfulness” of Indian history because Dalit historiography is a “history of white pages.” I think Gajarawala’s concept is a good way to approach Dalit literature, and indicates that some works of protest literature may create complex audience effects by strategic formal choices. Urmila Pawar’s Aaydan, for example, has a number of really boring episodes described in detail, in addition to all the instances of caste discrimination and humiliation I expect to find in the book. I mean, how much do I really want to know about her uncle? Why does nothing of much significance happen in the first 100 or so pages, except for a couple of episodes in school? One of the reasons I responded this way to the book is because my sense of what is historically eventful or meaningful, especially in the construction of the self, did not correspond with Pawar’s, and for reasons beyond the ethnographic. (She isn’t just showing her audience the rituals of her community.) It’s really striking that the first two pages of the narrative are about women walking from the coastal village to Ratnagiri, the town. When you stop to think about it, that’s a really strange opening for an autobiography, especially when you’re a feted writer. The opening is crucial to authorial and audience positionality; she is locating herself in a way that isn’t historical in the way that the conversion to Buddhism is; in fact, her community seems to exist outside the nation, in a different time from the time actually represented (1950-2000 roughly). The episode, for me, is an example of the challenging hermeneutics that can be found within the tradition of protest literature.

Intersectionality of Struggles

Angela Davis book_Freedom is a Constant Struggle

Activist and scholar Angela Davis, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz has recently released her latest book titled Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement. The book is a collection of essays, interviews and speeches that highlight the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world. The international connections she makes between struggles is a the necessary and radical type of theorizing that we have been exploring within this course. Whereas we have theorized connections between the struggles of Dalits and African Americans, Davis does so between the struggles of Africans Americans and Palestinians. She talks more about the intersectionality of struggles, than about the intersectionality of identities. She credits young organizers and activists, of the Black Lives Matter movement, for tracing this very type of intersectionality. She acknowledges that they are not myopic in their activism, only focusing upon individual perpetrators of police brutality, but have taken on larger questions of imperialism, structural/institutional racism, state violence, and racism. This kind of intersectional thinking is necessitated in the creation of a truly radical consciousness. This sort of intellectual facility is transformative and powerful in the struggle against and dismantling of complex systems of oppression. These activists show us the extent to which dismantling Palestinian apartheid has become central to efforts against racism in America. Their quest for international solidarity harks back to the internationalist intersections that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was making in between America’s militaristic foreign diplomacy, in Vietnam, and domestic racism, in its own contiguous states. It appears in the not much has changed, even with the election of an African American president. America still wrestles with connecting problems/evils: racism, militarism, capitalism, classism, materialism, poverty, ableism, sexism, and such like.