Deconstructing Borders: Arab American Immigrants and Body Politics in Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf

Document Type : Original Article


Department of English, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University


The present article contextualizes Mohja Kahf’s 2006 novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf and a few of her selected writings within a historical perspective. Drawing on cultural, postcolonial, gender and border studies, I argue that the Syrian American novelist, poet and activist Mohja Kahf (1967- ) locates woman’s body, labeled as ‘Muslim’ by the West, at the crux of her works to interrogate body politics and negotiate gender and rights. Depicting the life of Arab American immigrants from the 1970s to the 1990s, Kahf delineates the macro and micro politics hegemonizing that body, subverted by its agency and counter-hegemonic voice. Taking Indianapolis, the city at the crossroads, as her space of departure that witnesses her coming of age, in her narrative, Kahf deconstructs temporal, spatial, cultural, and gender borders, creating a liberating transcultural/transnational path. Written at the intersection of history and fiction, the stories of Muslim women’s bodies as cultural products are stories of power relations that are anchored in patriarchal, colonial/postcolonial/neocolonial discourses. Through the Muslim woman’s body, Kahf creates awareness of the threatening role of knowledge production embodied by such discourses as the real terror that has colonized minds and constructed borders. Appropriating selected Western feminist tactics, intertwined with the Muslim feminist concept of “mujadila,” Kahf introduces a protagonist who embarks on a journey of consecutive conflict with all discourses of othering, silencing, negation and appropriation through a constant process of re-visioning, deciphering, healing, and re-inscribing of Muslim women’s bodies.