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On 28 January 2017, the field of Middle East studies lost one of its strongest and most vocal advocates—Barbara Harlow. Barbara led a heroic life: writing, resisting, drinking, and smoking, to the end! With the heart of a warrior, she practiced muqāwama at every level and in every possible way. Her power of the “No” confronted structures of power, normativity of all kind, and fluff. She was solid, engaged, wise, and infinitely supportive of her students, colleagues, and causes. She was the first to arrive at every demonstration and the last to leave, making sure that the pro-bono lawyers were ready at police stations to work on releasing those arrested. Barbara was real, genuine, and fun to be around. She loved to hear the latest news—and gossip—from Cairo and Beirut as we sat at her kitchen table, sipping white wine and smoking. She read everything, from mystery novels set in Cairo or London to the most recent study on Arabic literature and culture. Browsing her library one finds graphic novels from the Ghassan Kanafani Foundation that she used to learn Arabic; all of Lacan, Blanchot, Artaud, and Derrida from her poststructuralist days; legal and political theory books dealing with South Africa and Palestine; and complete series of journals such as al-Hadaf and al-Karmel.
This essay examines the movement of Arab national and cultural revival known as nahdah (meaning renaissance or awakening) as a speech act and a performance involving a nuhūd (rising) and an uncertain practice of civilization (tamaddun) that seek to bring about a culture of knowledge. Contesting its treatment as a homogeneous project of modernity that rose and fell and as a historical period with clear epistemic breaks, it argues that nahdah civilizational practices could not be reduced to notions of civilization associated with Orientalism as system of othering and cultural superiority. This approach frees up nahdah texts from the dominant narrative of rise and decline, and from their intertextual and ideological dependency on European modernity as a model to be borrowed or resisted.
When we and several authors of the articles included here originally debated the idea of this special issue, our aim was to respond to what we perceived as a standstill that locks Middle Eastern queer studies into a premodern Eastern versus modern Western-oriented division. While the East is studied as a repository of tradition with an identifiable sexual and amorous nomenclature, the West is often presented as a fixed hegemonic structure distinct from the East, regardless of the long traditions of cultural exchange and the specific forms of translation and dialogue that take shape when the identities and models of desire associated with the West travel or are performed outside it or at its periphery. This division has generated a set of binaries pertaining to the applicability of terms (gay, lesbian, homosexual) and theoretical frameworks (queer theory) to Middle Eastern literary and cultural contexts. It is our belief that critical engagements with queer Arab and Iranian sexualities in literature and culture ought to situate current discussions in queer theory within debates and concerns arising from specific Middle Eastern social and political realities.
This article examines the association of homosexuality with madness in two contemporary novels, Hanan al-Shaykh's Innaha London ya ʿAzizi (Only in London) and Hamdi Abu Golayyel's (Julayyil) Lusus Mutaqaʿidun (Thieves in Retirement). Through a comparative reading of the figure of Majnun, an impassioned lover and mad rebel, I argue that literary articulations of queer desire operate as embodied resistance to social and political normativity, both in the Arab world and in the diaspora. Discussing the aesthetic transformation of the contemporary novel and drawing on the Arab-Islamic literary and philosophical tradition, I critically engage Michel Foucault's reading of sexual and epistemological developments in light of current debates about Arab homosexuality. I show how discursive models of sexuality are situated in modernity's intertwinement with other structures of power and systems of belief, crossing cultural contexts and linguistic registers.