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Haddad discusses ‘the new Arab woman’

Joumana Haddad, renowned Lebanese poet, journalist and founder and editor in chief of Jasad Magazine, the first erotic magazine in the Arab world, spoke Monday afternoon in Wallenberg Hall about the “new Arab woman” and her latest book, “I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman”.

Joining Haddad on a panel were Esther Wojcicki, chairwoman of Creative Commons, Diana El-Azar, director of media, entertainment and information industries for the World Economic Forum, and Kirsten Mogenson, associate professor in journalism at Roskilde University. El-Azar and Mogenson served on the panel via webcam from Switzerland and Denmark, respectively.

Lebanese poet Joumana Haddad discusses her ideas on "innovating the new Arab woman" with a group of panelists Monday afternoon. VIVIAN WONG/Staff Photographer

The panel, co-organized by the Stanford Center for Innovation & Communication (SCIC) and the Center for Design Research and moderated by David Nordfors, founding executive of SCIC, began with Haddad reading a section of her book.

The book’s title references Scheherazade, the heroine of “One Thousand and One Nights,” a character normally regarded as the vision of a strong woman. In the classic tale, Scheherazade saves her own life and the lives of other women by telling stories to a king for 1,001 nights.

Haddad argued that the archetype of Scheherazade must be killed because she represents a woman who negotiates for her basic rights, a process which must stop as women realize they are equal with men and deserve these rights from the onset.

In her excerpt, Haddad described the “so-called Arab woman,” an image of a belly dancing, submissive woman perpetuated by the media and innovations such as Mattel’s “burka Barbie.”

“What is an Arab woman, anyway?” Haddad asked.

“She is not as uncommon as you might suppose,” Haddad said of the independent Arab woman, saying “she represents an intense kind of hope” for other women, both Christian and Muslim, of the Arab world.

Haddad stressed that she does not deny the existence of the submissive Arab woman.

“It has become like an art,” Haddad said of the problem of denial in the Arab world.

Haddad’s work, which includes challenging religion and discussing sexuality, has received strong reactions, drawing hate mail and death threats. Jasad, the title of her groundbreaking magazine, means “body” in Arabic.

Haddad contended that Islamic feminism is “an internal contradiction” and challenged the conception that a woman can be emancipated while choosing to wear the veil.

Despite censorship, Jasad Magazine has a diverse readership of both men and women. Outside of Lebanon, the most interest in the magazine comes from Saudi Arabia, where the magazine’s website is banned.

“The more you ban something, the more you make it desirable,” Haddad said, characterizing censorship as “a monster that feeds on itself.”

Haddad described her book as the outcome of building passion and anger and discussed the importance of economic empowerment, culture and reading in the liberation of women. She described the “illusion of freedom” that some women have in Lebanon despite the fact they remain economically dependent on men.

Haddad, who speaks seven languages and has received literary awards from various countries, typically translates her own works. Though she first wrote it in English, which she said was coincidence, Haddad plans to translate “I Killed Scheherazade” into Arabic soon.

Though she has chosen to remain in Lebanon, Haddad said she would leave if a war breaks out again.

“I have always felt like a world citizen,” she said. “I’m scattered as if an explosion happened when I was born.”