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Contemporary Arab American Women Writers: Hyphenated Identities and Border Crossings ...

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Contemporary Arab American Women Writers:

Moreover, in a world of intersecting and more frequently clashing Arab and American cultures and fluid and shifting geographical and cultural borders, what does home signify for Arab American women? More specifically, does home for these Arab American women mean the newly adopted place from which they write; does home refer to the reservoir of public and private memories; or does home mean “that third space” where these women go after alienation from their original home and from their adopted ones? In this book, contemporary Arab American women writers—Leila Ahmed, Mohja Khaf, Laila Halaby, and Diana Abu-Jaber—ask these key questions, and each finds her own path to negotiate the hyphen of her identity.

The tension of the hyphen for these Arab American women’s identities is intensified by the conflict between Arab communal values and the individualism and freedom America seems to offer, especially since any struggle to assimilate within American culture involves breaking away from Arab family traditions. The pressures they face intensify the hyphen for contemporary Arab American women writers. These women struggle to find a place for themselves given their bicultural upbringings; they search for and struggle to claim an Arab identity without being marginalized by American society. Indeed, concerns about deepening already debilitating stereotypes of Arabs in America restrict Arab American women writers’ ability to communicate freely about challenges they face. With their powerful gifts, Ahmed, Kahf, Halaby, and Abu-Jaber critique intellectual tendencies that make concessions to fundamentalist regimes, both Western and Eastern, and movements and in effect abandon Arab women to their iron rule. Using their writing, these women resist the East, with its fundamental, oppressive regimes, as well as the West, which sees them as domesticated, and/or unenlightened other. Although at times their depiction of the Arab world with its oppressive patriarchal systems seems to fit Western stereotypical images of the under/undeveloped Arab world with its domineering male and subjugated female, contemporary Arab American writers (and I agree with them) emphasize that it is not their religion that places them in this dilemma.