Interview: Joumana Haddad

With the magazine she produced in the Middle East, Joumana Haddad outlouds the unspoken words of the region. Lebanese poet who describes herself as an “organised rebel”, rips off the world of squeezed women with her red nailed fingers!

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The original Turkish version of the interview is published in November Issue of Tempo Magazine with her profile picture taken by Giorgio Pace. The complete profile is only available in printed form but the introduction can be seen at:  http://www.tempoonline.com.tr/haberdetay/54596.aspx

– Copyright Tempo Dergisi –

The English version of the interview can be read below:

Cagil M. Kasapoglu – Tempo Magazine

BEIRUT: “I’m not Hugh Hefner of the Arab World!” Joumana Haddad says, referring to the founder of Playboy magazine. “I’m more dangerous than that.”

Joumana Haddad, Lebanese poet and intellect speaking seven languages, has introduced a literature of sexuality to the Middle East in 2008 with her “controversial” magazine called “Jasad” (Body in Arabic).

“It’s also a poem, but in a more straight forward language,” she describes her magazine.

Before she begins to talk about her strong standing against Middle Eastern values as a woman, she takes off her high-heeled stilettos and says, “I hope you don’t mind, you are a girl, so you understand me.”

Joumana Haddad, author of ten books, makes women more visible in the society through her writings. While tackling the thorny subjects, she does not just “create a sexy bar, but she shakes the temple.”

The stories covered by the magazine include, self-mutilation, cannibalism, transexualism, cannibalism, penis, Kama Sutra, sex life and women’s personal experiences printed with graphics and illustrations from famous artists.

Joumana Haddad reminds the Arab world, with her magazine Jasad, that such words literally exist in their mother tongues which are most frequently used in French or English to dispatch the guilt.

The emphasis of body and arts in any forms is the spot of her literature. “The longest relationship a human being has, is with his/her own body, from the day we are conceived till the day we die … Being ashamed of this body is very sad but also very dangerous,” she says, as a response to general critics she receives for her magazine.

She expresses her anger toward the schizophrenia, hypocrisy and duality of the people who tempt to decide for the rest, on what should be said, read and watched. “It is humiliating”, she says, taking a guard position with her red polished nails as a cat ready to scratch and continues, “I am an organized rebel!”

Haddad refers to a binary opposition of “Us Vs Them” and stresses the reason why she doesn’t feel any belongings to those people who live in hypocrisy especially in the Middle East.

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“The more people pretend to be conservative, the more [in secret] they lead to double lives, where they do things that “we” even would not think about.”

Although, her quarterly magazine raised the eye brows of several religious authorities and women’s organizations in the Middle East, Joumana Haddad thinks that dealing with outside pressure is easier than the inner censor developed by traditions.

“It’s like a cancer inside of me. Being raised in this region, I have been exposed to all the so-called values and habits that somehow try to keep me from sayings things I want to say. You always have to be aware and not lose your attention … Freedom is not for granted, it’s a fight.”

She began her fight for freedom at the age of 10, by revealing the “unwanted books” that her father used to hide at the top of library shelves. With the help of a single chair, she was lifting up herself to reach the wisdom of literature which was going to bring her to the front stalls of worldwide bookstores. And as a 12 years old girl, she stepped in the world of “Marquis de Sade” while her peers were reading fairy tales.

She depicts a picture of a mature, solid and sophisticated visage even at the age of 7 when “death” was introduced to her, with her grandmother’s suicide.

“Since then I have been thinking about the theme of suicide, at one point I discovered that my favorite poets have committed suicide as well,” Joumana Haddad said, giving the reason of writing her anthology in 2007 of 150 poets who committed suicide.

“I write a lot about the body and sexuality in my poetries. Death, is the other side of the coin,” Haddad said. She added that, she felt the need to challenge the moments of abandon that have made those poets to take that step.

“The only way I could challenge, was to confront my own death. It was like fencing, a battle with death. I like to elude myself that I won that battle, for the time being.”

Poet, translator, journalist, administrator of International Prize for Arabic Fiction and Member of the Book and Reading Committee in the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, but “most importantly” she is a mother of two kids in 17 and 10 years old.

“I am very proud of them, because it is not easy to have a mother like me.”

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