Tag Archives: Islam

Jasad & The Queen of Contradictions

Filmmaker: Amanda Homsi-Ottosson
Year: 2011
Country of Origin: UK, Lebanon
Format: Color, DVD
Running Time: 40 minutes
Languages: English, Arabic (subtitled)

This documentary from Lebanese director Amanda Homsi-Ottosson explores the controversy surrounding Jumanah Sallum Haddad’s magazine Jasad. Published quarterly, Jasad is an erotic cultural magazine that aims to educate and provide and outlet for Arab sexuality.  Haddad, a writer herself, decided to create an outlet for other Arab men and women to read, write, and discuss arts and literature surrounding ideas of the body.

Contradiction mostly focuses on the debate that has sprung up around Jasad, both between those who view the magazine as beneficial and those who find it to be inappropriate and shameful and between those who believe that it is not serving women in the way it should be. The documentary focuses mainly on interviews with Haddad herself, those who read (or wish to ban) her magazine, and various professionals whose lives are touched by the issues in covered in Jasad, such as a sexual health counselor.

Contradictions paints an interesting portrait of Haddad and her magazine.  The documentary begins with Haddad explaining why she was motivated to create Jasad and continues with street interviews about perceptions of the magazine. Reactions are predictably polarized, ranging from religious denunciations of the magazine to endorsements of the work by young men and women hoping to spread awareness and acceptance of sexuality.

The most interesting part of Contradiction comes when various Jasad readers explain the importance of having such a publication in the Arab world.  It is explained that it is common for Arab men and women to use French or English words for genitalia and sex acts, because the most common equivalent words in Arabic are either offensive or nonexistent. Jasad is portrayed as bringing back ownership of not only the body but the language surrounding the body to Arabic speakers.  The narrative of Jasad can be written as one of decolonization and reclamation.

Contradictions, although unconditionally supportive of Haddad and Jasad, does allow alternative opinions to be expressed through interviews. One in particular offered a valid and interesting critique of the magazine. Two Muslim feminists – one veiled and one not – argue that Jasad is pushing a certain kind of liberation on society. The women explain that there should be no shame in wearing a veil, and that they are “not represented in this ‘revolutionary magazine'”.

Related readings:
I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, by Jumanah Sallum Haddad, creator of Jasad

Veiled Hope, The (Dir: Norma Marcos, 1994)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 55 min

Color, VHS

Distributed by Women Make Movies
The Veiled Hope is a documentary that carves its way into the hearts and minds of five Palestinian women who live in Gaza and the West Bank. These women include a teacher, a social activist for Palestinian rights, a physiotherapist, a doctor, and Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, the most famous of the five. Each woman discusses the ways in which she helps reconstruct the cultural identity of the Palestinian people in her life. In addition, the viewer has the rare opportunity to hear women’s voices on the issues of Israeli occupation, the rise of Islamic fundamentalist movements, and the wearing of the veil, which to many individuals symbolizes the oppression of women in the Middle East. Many of these women’s experiences address the social conservatism of the nation. One woman describes how love is forbidden to be discussed in Palestinian society and that a romantic relationship between a man and a woman is considered to involve too much intimacy. Another woman spoke of how she must ask for permission from her father in order to leave the house, even if she is just going to visit their neighbor. This same woman told of how she wanted to stop wearing her veil because no one at the university was wearing one. Her father was not in favor of this idea, claiming that her veil signified that she was a decent, modest woman. The doctor that was interviewed discussed how the most prominent complaint amongst women was of severe backache. She argued that this was most likely psychosomatic—women were expressing their anxieties in the form of physical ailments.
Using interviews and old photographs, Marcos tells the story of the women’s movement for education and political autonomy from the 1920’s to the present. However, one interviewee argues that a western feminist movement is not effective in Arab countries. What is more important than women learning to read and write in their culture is for women to learn how to breastfeed their children or to learn how to recognize cancer symptoms before it is too late. One doctor claims that it is necessary for women to understand the genetic consequences of intermarriage in order to stop the rampant genetic disorders that persist within their culture. These individuals aver that a western feminist movement is incompatible with their culture and thus, are proponents for a new movement that will work within the system of the Arab society. On a more universal level, this film serves to uncover the intersection between national and gender movements.




Julie Monaghan, Fall 2004