When Lebanese writer and poet Joumana Haddad’s I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of An Angry Arab Woman was published in 2010, it was described as a bold treatise, intentionally designed to be revolutionary, written in manifesto style. Recently, a revived interest has situated it in more superficial terms as “a provocative new book which “lifts the veil” on what the “Arab Spring” really means for women,” with Haddad as the liberated Arab woman telling all about her unliberated sisters. In fact, this theme is so familiar some have made the mistake of describing Haddad as the brave provocateur Muslim woman, along the lines of Irshad Manji, despite the fact that Haddad is an agnostic who who grew up in a conservative Catholic family.
It is fitting however that her book, I Killed Scheherazade, is described as provocative, since in the book’s Foreword, Haddad explains that it was provoked by the words of a journalist interviewing her, who noted, “Most of us in the west are not familiar with the possibility of liberated Arab women like you existing.” In response, Haddad retorted “There are many “liberated Arab women” like me. And if you are not aware that we exist, as you claim, then it is your problem not ours.”
Later regretting her “defensive reaction,” she attempts to explain it in writing I Killed Scheherazade, which takes on prejudice, hypocrisy and religious bigotry in rapid-fire blunt prose. In the opening, Haddad promises to deprive the Western reader of “chimeras and ready to wear opinions” but writes that her book is primarily addressed to “fellow Arab citizens.” She situates the book as first and foremost an effort of self-criticism, illustrating the real dilemmas in the Arab world, because “no effort of self-defence deserves to be taken seriously if it is not accompanied and sustained by an effort of self-critism.”
And so, Haddad attempts to break western stereotypes about the Arab world at the same time as her book brims with anger and resentment at Arab failures, attacking the lack of critical thinking and the herd instincts of populations afraid to ask questions: ”The Arab mind cannot handle questions, because questions can hurt and upset the murky calm of the swamp.” As M. Lynx Qualey points out, Haddad could be seen as disqualifying her own project: ”So, if Haddad is an Arab, then I assume she cannot handle questions that upset the murky calm of her swamp? Right?”
Haddad is celebrated more in the West than in Lebanon, yet as Qualey argues, she is far from being Lebanon’s Nawal al-Saadawi, and the generalizing politics of her self-criticism have been described as problematic by many who see it as taking on a mantle of the taboo-breaking revolutionary, hating and hated by her own country, with an accompanying replication of stereotypes about Arab culture. See for example, “An Open Letter to Joumana Haddad” which points out “the huge problematic with statements like “The Arab mind is in crisis.”” (Joumana Haddad responded directly the post in the comments section.)
In one chapter of her book, however, Haddad does become more specific about her anger and resentment, taking on the comments that suggest that she was fortunate to be born into a Christian family: “Had you been a Muslim woman you’d never have been able to write what you write.” Haddad responds to this declaration of “skeptical, judgemental, predjudiced Western minds” by quoting St Paul, “Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection.”