‘Sexuality in the Arab World’: Book Attempts to Shed Multi-Faceted Light on Subject Long in the Shadows

Forthcoming in Al Jadid
By 
Al Jadid Staff
The English and Arabic book covers of "Sexuality in the Arab World."


“Sexuality in the Arab World” has fascinated many Western scholars, though not as many Arabs, mainly for political and cultural reasons. Edited by Samir Khalaf and John Gagnon, this book first appeared in English in 2005 and then was published in Arabic by Dar al-Saqi in 2015, translated by Osama Manzalji. Novelist and critic Mahmoud Houjeiri has reviewed this book in Arabic, a review that offers an Arab perspective which is worthy of sharing and translating. 

Despite this fascination, the subject of sexuality continues to cause “suspicion, confusion and moral anxiety,” writes Khalaf in his conclusion of the book as cited by Houjeiri. The level of this confusion has increased with the digital world. Despite all the sexual changes in youth lifestyle, female sexual tendencies are still suppressed for being a source of “seduction and temptation.” This is manifest in honor crimes, female genital mutilation, and hymen replacement surgeries. According to Khalaf, despite the painful meanings of these practices, “There have not been any general and open discussions to better understand these issues.” Some of the contemporary dual images of women and Arab sexual tendencies continue to perpetuate the false concepts spread by Romanticists, Europeans and Colonialists that suggested “Muslim women are either lustful and sexually rapacious, or submissive, repressed and inhibited.”

“Sexuality in the Arab World” was a result of a conference held to understand the different practices still present in the Arab world, though Houjeiri considered some of the explorations of the conference to be politically loaded and culturally ordered. John Gagnon, one of the book’s co-editors, provides a politically inspired analysis explaining the underlying interests of colonial powers.

The book compiles several essays on various topics relating to masculinity, sexuality and domestic workers, and homosexuality. In his essay “Like Pure Gold: Sexuality and Honour Amongst Lebanese Emigrants, 1890-1920,” Akram Khater examines Lebanese emigrant struggles as they adjust to life in diaspora. Ghassan Hage’s “Migration, Marginalization, and Dephallicization: A Lebanese Villager’s Experience” provides an analysis of sexual impotence and its ties to social power. The article “Sexuality and the Servant: An Exploration of Arab Images of the Sexuality of Domestic Maids Living in the Household” by Ray Jureidini focuses on the exploitation of domestic workers by male householders. Discussing homosexuality in the Arab world, Jared McCormick finds that most Lebanese still do not consider homosexual lifestyle acceptable.

Translated from the Arabic, “Sexuality in the Arab World: Book Attempts to Shed Multi-Faceted Light on Subject Long in the Shadows” by Mouhamad Houjeiri is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 23, No. 76, 2019.

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