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Dislodging (New) Orientalist Frames of Reference: Muslim Women in Diasporic and Immigrant Muslim Anglophone Narratives

  • Author / Creator
    Zarei Toossi, Katayoun
  • Abstract Aided by the methodologies of postcolonial theory, particularly critiques of Orientalist discourse, Muslim feminist scholarship, cultural studies and studies on diaspora this dissertation explores the ways in which an emergent body of Muslim immigrant/ diasporic narratives in English by women writers deals with the change in the landscape of dominant representations around Islam. Such representations mostly focus on a bifurcated conception of oppression and victimization of people, particularly women, by the patriarchal doctrines of Islam and/or the redemption from such fetters upon moving to the West and adopting Western values and lifestyles. These simplistic renditions become more significant when considered in the context of post-September 11 terrorist attacks which prompted concerns about the rise of Islamic extremism. This project explores how a variety of Muslim narratives in English problematize the perception of religiosity as always being a result of the imposition of external forces that are invariably oppressive or politically charged. The dissertation starts with the original theorization of Orientalism offered by Edward Said and examines works by Azar Nafisi and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. These narratives represent the ways in which a new strand of Orientalist narratives, while adding nuances to the original theorization offered by Said, reiterate the Orientalist framework in portraying the Muslim woman as a homogenized category and her disadvantaged location between tradition and modernity without heeding to intricacies of larger power and knowledge discursive formations and historical specificities that impact these relations. The second chapter explores how exemplary non-fiction by Leila Aboulela demonstrates the difficulty of communicating the experience of Muslim faith to a non-Muslim reader. The third chapter focuses on semiotic complexities of the Muslim veil as an object that has almost invariably become a defining feature of Muslim female subjectivity, as well as the ways in which Mohja Kahf’s literary representations of the veil engage in scholarly conversations around Muslim hijab and identity in the context of diaspora and deconstruct meanings associated with the veil. Finally, and following Said’s concept of affiliation, an analysis of Camilla Gibb’s Sweetness in the Belly wraps up the dissertation by showing how it challenges exoticizing tendencies of Orientalist discourse in representing “Otherness” and unquestioned assumptions of authenticity accorded to exilic voices of the recently emerging popular autobiographical accounts of women writers from Muslim and/or Middle Eastern backgrounds. The concluding chapter discusses the challenges of balancing the political and literary demands on Muslim Anglophone narratives and examines the ways in which this literature can become an enduring and positive force in realm of minority Literatures. It calls for a solidarity model that starts in connection with the aesthetics and politics of the world of Islam and then moves beyond racial, gendered, classed, religious, and cultural divides. The conclusion argues that this model can provide a better opportunity for Muslim narratives in English to be heard and appreciated on a broader spectrum.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2012-09
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R39H97
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
    English
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
    Doctoral
  • Department
    • Department of English and Film Studies
  • Specialization
    • English
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Slemon, Stephen (English and Film Studies)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • abu-Laban, Yasmeen (Political Sciences)
    • Gingell, Susan (English, University of Saskatchewan)
    • Ouzgane, Lahoucine (English and Film Studies)
    • Reed, Daphne (English and Film studies)
    • Johnston, Ingrid (Education)