Alia Malek on Rula Jebreal

on 2 Comments

Rula Jebreal and Julian Schnabel were at Alwan for the Arts the other night, talking about her book Miral, and Schnabel’s movie about the book. Weiss posted on their presentation. He saw Alia Malek, author of A Country Called Amreeka, at the event and asked her to respond to his post.

It’s funny how different people focus on different aspects. So let me give you my reactions and thoughts to the panel. 

First and foremost, I’m not sure how fair it is to analogize Jewish-Americans acknowledging the Nakba to Arab-Americans acknowledging sexual abuse and gender inequalities. Denying gender inequalities is not central to any Arab nationalism, the way that denying the Nakba is sort of central to Zionism or its apologists. So it’s less of a “challenge to our very essence” for Arab-Americans to sit and hear about sexual abuse and gender issues…

And I think that is in part because of how Rula Jebreal presented it — which is why I think the comparison to Ayan Hirsi Ali is quite unfair as well. Had Rula presented her mother’s rape as a function of the essence of Arab men, or Arab culture, or Muslim men or Muslim culture, then I think many of us would have been up in arms. and that’s what Ayan Hirsi Ali does and why she is so disliked or dismissed. Rula didn’t essentialize at all. She told us about her mother’s personal experience. And she also told us how her adopted father loved her and cared for her even though she wasn’t his own. 

Also, last night I watched an interview with Jebreal: It’s in Italian, but she was vehement when the interviewer tried to ask her about “Islamic countries” that such a notion is false. She is in fact very much un-Ayan Hirsi Ali in that way.

Her grandmother taking on a new husband after she was widowed… while that might have been the tradition at the time, it’s hardly the situation that every stepfather comes in and is a rapist or an abuser. I don’t think she was blaming the tradition for her mother’s rape. And unfortunately, life is full of mothers turning the other cheek from the abuse of their daughters for whatever reason… and that is happening down the street as much as it is happening in Arab countries. 

Also im curious why you noted there was a veiled woman (i only saw one) when noting that no one went up in arms over the sexual abuse/inequalities theme …. that seems to assume that a veiled woman would be more tolerant of gender inequality and abuse… I think that’s a false assumption… especially considering this woman was the one behind the video camera etc.

I’m not sure I heard her say that only in Europe could she share her tale… I think that’s contradicted by the fact that it’s been subtitled in Arabic (by her) and that it was shown in Doha, Dubai, Ramallah film fests etc. I think those in fact were HIS assertions, when challenged by the female Italian cinematographer about him making the film etc… and remember, she was sent to Italy for education and on scholarship but also worked as a journalist in the middle east.

And she pointed out the sexism culturally not of Palestine, but of Italy…I think her point about conservative Arab mores was that, one does not air dirty laundry about family sexual abuse, or about the father not being her real father, etc. and that of course will bother viewers. But the main difference is, according to them, the movie has been embraced bu folks in the middle east (Arabs) … Jewish Americans have yet to have that opportunity.

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