12 April 2010 Books 10 questions

Ahdaf Soueif

The Egyptian writer, shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1999, on her first visit to India last week
Ahdaf Soueif
Ahdaf Soueif

Why a visit to India now?

India occupies a place in everyone’s imagination, so this invitation from Women Unlimited was a good opportunity to visit.

You dream in Arabic but write in English—what are the challenges?

The challenge is to fashion an English which is hospitable to Arab experience.

Do you think Islam is a feminist religion?

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To a large extent, yes—when you take into account the historical and social circumstances in which Islam appeared. But everything depends on how you interpret it.

You once championed the veil as empowering women?

I said it’s possible to see it as empowering. The Muslim view of the veil is that it liberates women from being seen primarily as sex objects. I believe in a woman’s right to choose.

Why have young Egyptian women taken to the veil in such a big way?

It would take me too long to go into the reasons why. I have written long tracts on this.

How has 9/11 changed political Islam?

9/11 made it possible for political Islam to be described as an enemy of modernity.

And is it?

You can’t generalise because some thinkers of political Islam are extremely progressive, while others are conservative and isolationist.

How has 9/11 affected your own writing?

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My subject has been affected by my growing awareness in the ’90s of the problem of representation of Arabs, Islam and Palestine in the West.

Doesn’t that make your writing polemical?

It’s always a problem. Since 1999, I’ve felt a responsibility to engage directly through journalism and cultural activism, so I’ve produced no fiction.

Is it worth it?

I’m trying to create a space in which I can go back to fiction...maybe this summer.

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