'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Kamel Daoud - The Sexual Misery of the Arab World // Boualem Sansal - “They make a crime of everything”
ORAN, Algeria — AFTER
Tahrir came Cologne. After the square came sex. The Arab revolutions of 2011
aroused enthusiasm at first, but passions have since waned. Those movements
have come to look imperfect, even ugly: For one thing, they have failed to
touch ideas, culture, religion or social norms, especially the norms relating
to sex. Revolution doesn’t mean modernity.
The attacks on Western
women by Arab migrants in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve evoked the
harassment of women in Tahrir Square itself during the heady days of the
Egyptian revolution. The reminder has led people in the West to realize that one
of the great miseries plaguing much of the so-called Arab world, and the Muslim
world more generally, is its sick relationship with women. In some places,
women are veiled, stoned and killed; at a minimum, they are blamed for sowing
disorder in the ideal society. In response, some European countries have taken
to producing guides of good conduct to refugees and migrants.
Sex is a complex
taboo, arising, in places like Algeria, Tunisia, Syria or Yemen, out of the
ambient conservatism’s patriarchal culture, the Islamists’ new, rigorist codes
and the discreet puritanism of the region’s various socialisms. That makes a
good combination for obstructing desire or guilt-tripping and marginalizing
those who feel any. And it’s a far cry from the delicious licentiousness of the
writings of the Muslim golden age, like Sheikh Nafzawi’s “The Perfumed Garden
of Sensual Delight,” which tackled eroticism and the Kama Sutra without any
Today sex is a great
paradox in many countries of the Arab world: One acts as though it doesn’t
exist, and yet it determines everything that’s unspoken. Denied, it weighs on
the mind by its very concealment. Although women are veiled, they are at the
center of our connections, exchanges and concerns.
Women are a recurrent
theme in daily discourse, because the stakes they personify — for manliness,
honor, family values — are great. In some countries, they are allowed access to
the public sphere only if they renounce their bodies: To let them go uncovered
would be to uncover the desire that the Islamist, the conservative and the idle
youth feel and want to deny. Women are seen as a source of destabilization —
short skirts trigger earthquakes, some say — and are respected only when
defined by a property relationship, as the wife of X or the daughter of Y.
create unbearable tensions. Desire has no outlet, no outcome; the couple is no
longer a space of intimacy, but a concern of the whole group. The sexual misery
that results can descend into absurdity and hysteria. Here, too, one hopes to
experience love, but the mechanisms of love — encounters, seduction, flirting —
are prevented: Women are watched, we obsess over their virginity, the morality
police patrols. Some even pay surgeons to repair broken hymens.
In some of Allah’s
lands, the war on women and on couples has the air of an inquisition. During
the summer in Algeria, brigades of Salafists and local youths worked up by the
speeches of radical imams and Islamist TV preachers go out to monitor female
bodies, especially those of women bathers at the beach. The police hound
couples, even married ones, in public spaces. Gardens are off-limits to
strolling lovers. Benches are sawed in half to prevent people from sitting
One result is that
people fantasize about the trappings of another world: either the West, with
its display of immodesty and lust, or the Muslim paradise and its virgins.
It’s a choice
perfectly illustrated by the offerings of the Arab media. Theologians are all
the rage on television and so are the Lebanese singers and dancers of “Silicone
Valley,” who peddle the promise of their unattainable bodies and impossible
sex. Clothing is also given to extremes: At one end is the burqa, the orthodox
full-body covering; at the other is the hijab moutabaraj (“the veil that
reveals”), which combines a head scarf with slim-fit jeans or tight pants. On
the beach, the burqini confronts the bikini.
Sex therapists are few
in the Muslim world, and their advice is rarely heeded. So Islamists have a de
facto monopoly on talk about the body, sex and love. With the Internet and
religious TV shows, some of their speeches have taken monstrous forms,
devolving into a kind of porno-Islamism. Religious authorities have issued
grotesque fatwas: Making love naked is prohibited; women may not touch bananas;
a man can be alone with a female colleague only if she is his milk-mother, and
she has nursed him.
Sex is everywhere. Especially after
Orgasms are acceptable
only after marriage — and subject to religious diktats that extinguish desire —
or after death. Paradise and its virgins are a pet topic of preachers, who
present these otherworldly delights as rewards to those who dwell in the lands
of sexual misery. Dreaming about such prospects, suicide bombers surrender to a
terrifying, surrealistic logic: The path to orgasm runs through death, not
The West has long
found comfort in exoticism, which exonerates differences. Orientalism has a way
of normalizing cultural variations and of excusing any abuses: Scheherazade,
the harem and belly dancing exempted some Westerners from considering the
plight of Muslim women. But today, with the latest influx of migrants from the
Middle East and Africa, the pathological relationship that some Arab countries
have with women is bursting onto the scene in Europe.
What long seemed like
the foreign spectacles of faraway places now feels like a clash of cultures
playing out on the West’s very soil. Differences once defused by distance and a
sense of superiority have become an imminent threat. People in the West are
discovering, with anxiety and fear, that sex in the Muslim world is sick, and
that the disease is spreading to their own lands.
A radical Algerian preacher called for
Daoud's death. "We are cursed," says Sansal, whose "2084"
is a nightmare vision of an Orwellian Islamic state.
THE veteran Algerian
writer Boualem Sansal weighed in Thursday to defend his compatriot Kamel Daoud,
who is at the centre of a storm over his claim that sex “is the greatest
misery in the world of Allah”. Daoud, who won France’s top literary prize the
Prix Goncourt last year, sparked outrage for an article he wrote in France’s Le
Monde daily in the wake of the wave of sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s
Hundreds of women had
reported being molested or robbed by a mob of mostly North African and Arab men
in the western German city. While Daoud deplored racists who regard all Muslim
immigrants as potential rapists, he went on to claim that the “Arab-Muslim
world (is) full of sexual misery, with its sick relationship towards woman, the
human body, desire.” He said it was the Muslim “soul that needs to be persuaded
The novelist has since
found himself at the centre of an international row, with his critics accusing
him of “fanning the fantasies of Islamophobes”. But Sansal, the elder statesman
of Algerian letters, rallied to his cause Thursday, writing in the French
newspaper Liberation that “saving Kamel Daoud is saving liberty, justice and
Earlier this month a
radical Algerian preacher was jailed for six months for calling for Daoud’s
death, while a group of French academics and intellectuals signed an open
letter berating the writer and journalist. ‘Politically correct
terror’ “We are cursed,” said Sansal, whose own latest book “2084” is a
nightmare vision of an Orwellian Islamic state.
He insisted that an
unholy alliance of the “declarers of fatwas and the most emeritus of censors,
but also the jealous, the fair-weather friends and the agents of the thought
police from their perches on high in the media and cultural institutions, are
mobilising to get” Daoud. “We shouldn’t kid ourselves, the attacks on Kamel
Daoud are (a form of) terrorism called political correctness,” Sansal claimed.
In the wake of the
controversy, Daoud, a columnist with the Quotidien d’Oran newspaper based in
the western Algerian city where he lives, said he was giving up journalism. He
won the Prix Goncourt for “The Meursault Investigation”, a pointed Arab
retelling of Albert Camus’s classic “The Stranger”, set in his home city. Daoud,
45, was once attracted by Islamist ideas but later turned his back on them.
Sansal said although
many considered him a “global symbol of the struggle for freedom of
expression”, he feared Daoud could be browbeaten into forsaking fiction as
well. “Kamel has pulled out of journalism. Are they going to oblige him to
abandon literature too?” he asked.
A fierce opponent of
Islamists in Algeria and elsewhere, Sansal, an atheist, said that he discovered
“the intelligence and the tenacity of the assassins of liberty and thought”
from the moment his own first novel, “Le Serment des barbares” (The Barbarians’
Oath), was published. “They make a crime of everything,” he said.