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December 11, 2017
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Joumana Haddad: A Modern Day Jezebel

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Jasad Magazine (Source: Jasad Magazine Online).

She cites strong, sexual women, from Lilith to Jezebel, Scheherazade to Salome, as being key in shaping Arab culture, and these figures have served as her inspiration to write several books with titles like 'Lilith's Return' and 'I killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an angry Arab woman'. These works are personal and political; daring and sensual. Yet Haddad pushes the boundaries of Arab femininity even further in the quarterly magazine she founded, Jasad.

Jasad Magazine Cover 
(Source: Jasad Magazine Online)

Meaning 'body' in Arabic, Jasad aims to restore the once richly sensual vocabulary of the Arab language. It deals with topics profoundly taboo in most of modern Arabia today: masturbation, homosexuality, abortion and masochism are just a few themes that can be found throughout the magazine. Jasad is not only aimed at women; it welcomes contributions from both genders, as well as gay, straight and transgender writers of all ages and nationalities. Haddad states she created the publication due to a profound fatigue with the notion that a fundamental part of life-sex-was being constantly negated and judged in her society. She is adamant that there can be nothing shameful about an act that is universally experienced and enjoyed, and for that reason, she insists that contributors to Jasad use their real names.

Being an Arab today means you have to be a hypocrite.

Unsurprisingly, such boldness has come up against fierce opposition. At the magazine's debut at a Beirut book fair a few years ago, the militant Islamic group Hezbollah tried to shut down Haddad's stall and destroyed her posters. Later, her website was hacked into and her in-box filled with threats of rape, murder and stoning. She has been terrorized by men threatening to throw acid in her face. Yet, Haddad persevered, and sales of Jasad have thrived. Circulation now extends beyond Haddad's native Lebanon, to Egypt, France, England and even - though delivered in discreet brown paper wrapping - to uber-conservative Saudi Arabia.

So how does she explain this paradox? 'Being an Arab today means you need to be a hypocrite', she states, with characteristic frankness. By this she explains that although we all have sexual thoughts and feelings, Arab culture tries to negate these, usually through religion. People have a public self, which forces them to decry sexuality, but what they do in private may be another story. 'Some of my highest sales are in Saudi Arabia,' she says wryly.

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Joumana Haddad. (Source: Jasad Magazine)

It's easy to understand why. If discussions on sexuality and related issues are not welcome in a public forum, they may be best dealt with in the privacy of one's own home. Jasad allows its readers to share the experiences detailed in its contents and lets them know they are not alone in their confusion, desire and doubt. By creating Jasad, Haddad hopes to enable the gradual expression of all forms of sexuality, and to allow for the public discussion of serious 'private' issues affecting the lives of Arabs, such as polygamy and forced marriages.

Demonized by society, sensual, strong, sexual and smart, it seems that Joumana Haddad is on her way to joining the pantheon of legendary Arab women she so admires.

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