Scrapping with Superman
Talking to Joumana Haddad
Alex Rowell, July 8, 2012

To the annoyance of her many critics, Joumana Haddad is fast becoming one of Lebanonís most recognized authors on the international circuit. Two years after the release of I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, Haddad is set to release her second book Ė Superman is an Arab: On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions Ė this September. NOW Lebanon met with the polemicist, poet and publisher at her office in downtown Beirutís An-Nahar building.
Apart from writing the new book, what have you been up to since Scheherazade?
Joumana Haddad: I published a childrenís book in Italian, and Iíve been working on the new issue of the magazine Jasad [ďBodyĒ], which Iím publishing this summer. And mainly Iíve been travelling to talk about Scheherazade because working on the book doesnít finish with the writing; thereís a whole new life to it, which is meeting people and getting feedback, and I love doing that. I enjoy this interaction with the readers.
I understand that Jasad has run into advertising difficulties.
Haddad: Can you believe it? I worked with three advertising agencies and none has managed to find me clients. All of them said itís too daring, and I thought, ďWhat the hell? Weíre in Beirut!Ē Walk down the street and tell me whatís daring in Jasad that isnít out there. Itís continued mainly because of the sales, but after two years you canít go on without ads. I donít want to make money out of it, but it deserves to survive.
So, Superman is an Arab. Explain.
Haddad: I thought there was a need to tackle manhood, not only womanhood, because, as you might know Iím a third-way feminist, which means I donít believe in womenís solidarity; I believe in human solidarity. I believe in partnership between men and women, and if our suffering is going to change it wonít be by women alone.
And it hit me that in the Superman story I always preferred Clark Kent, because heís real. And I think many of our leaders and religious representatives here in the Middle East think of themselves as invincible supermen.
But why an Arab? I expect this will offend some people.
Haddad: Thatís the least of my worries! I hope they get offended because even though Iím not writing to offend, I donít mind provoking when it can push people to do something about it.
Iím sure that when it comes out, people will tell me, ďHeís Italian too because we have such people in Italy,Ē and so on. But to me heís an Arab because I belong to the Arab world, and Iím seeing so many supermen around, whether theyíre people next door or people I work with. And what can you say about someone like [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah? He thinks of himself as Superman Ė at a minimum.
And God is a superman Ė thatís my first enemy, the monotheist God. Thatís the first Superman we need to get rid of.
As in Scheherazade, religion gets a lot of attention in Superman. Why?
Haddad: Iím a person who believes in human rights, in equality between men and women, in a non-discriminatory world. That alone means I canít believe in a monotheistic religion. Because if you go back to the texts and practices of Christianity, Islam and Judaism you find misogyny, very patriarchal systems and values, terror and blood, all in the name of a God who lectures about mercy and love but has nothing to do with either of them.
One chapter is called ďThe disastrous invention of marriage.Ē This is new.
Haddad: No itís not! [Laughs] The way itís practiced now I think this institution cannot survive. In countries where divorce is easy, the number of divorces is increasing. In countries where itís difficult, the number of affairs is increasing. So this needs to be re-thought, and again, the influence that religion wields over this and the amount of money and power it gets from it is also something for us to ponder.
Why do you think you provoke such a hostile reaction from women?
Haddad: I think you should ask them! At first it used to sadden me, to tell you the truth. But now Iíve stopped measuring myself by the approval of others. Whatís important for me is that Iím convinced about what Iím doing. Itís very liberating, because though approval feels good, it can also be poisoning.
And like I said in Scheherazade, women are often their own worst enemies. My fiercest critics are women.
Another chapter is called ďThe disastrous invention of getting old.Ē
Haddad: Well Iím 41. I wanted to talk about this misinformed quest for youth and beauty we have. Itís about facing my grey hairs, which I like. People should be happy with themselves, though I know itís not easy.
Is this especially true in Lebanon?
Haddad: I think so, because of this culture of the image. People here only pretend to live. If you see them and think they look happy and rich and cool, youíve made their day. They donít care whether theyíre really happy inside. Itís the culture of seeming good rather than feeling good, which is a very suicidal way to live.
Why is Lebanon so different from, say, Syria or Jordan in this respect?
Haddad: Lebanon has always been freer in some ways. But all these women who think theyíre liberated donít have their rights respected at the level of laws. Itís terrible how much women are discriminated against here; theyíre second-class citizens. So they are pushed toward these cheap liberties Ė you can wear what you want! You can dance till four in the morning! Ė to distract from the real struggle: the laws on violence, marital rape and numberless others.
Some critics accuse you of writing for a Western audience.
Haddad: This is horrible, because I try to defend human rights, secularism, womenís rights, sexuality, and these people say these are ďWesternĒ values, which means Arabs donít believe in these things. I say these are universal things; I donít think we should give the West the monopoly on them.
Do you take an interest in Lebanese politics? Are you March 14, March 8, etc.?
Haddad: Iím against the herd syndrome. Nobody represents me but myself. I am definitely against March 8, but Iím very critical of March 14, too. I think we have lost a big momentum. I was one of those [on March 14, 2005] who marched to Beirut Ė from Jounieh Ė and that was the first time in my life I did anything like that. Now I donít regret that because I believed in that moment, but thereís been an inability to deal with such a historic moment.
So Iím an independent. I donít want to have to choose between a terrorist Iranian regime and a backward Wahhabi one, either with Hezbollah or the Salafists, with one stupid, corrupt criminal against another. This is against being a responsible, thinking human being.
Do you support any Lebanese activist movements?
Haddad: Yes, but for example when I support the secularists, or a womenís march, Iím more interested in the civil laws aspect. There should be one law of personal affairs for every citizen. We canít call ourselves a republic or a democracy until this is the case. Some secularists prefer to start on the political front Ė i.e. changing the balance of power Ė but we canít do that until people stop thinking of themselves as Christians, Sunnis, Shia, etc.
Superman Is An Arab will be published in English by Westbourne Press on September 1.

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