Tale Tales From The Third C Cul­ture

The pow­er­ful new voice of the fe­male Arab di­as­pora, Egyp­tian-British jour­nal­ist Alya Mooro’s de­but book is an es­sen­tial man­ual for Mid­dle East­ern women who, like her, don’t fit the mould

Harper's Bazaar (Arabia) - - Contents -

“Ire­ally felt like it was my re­spon­si­bil­ity to open up these con­ver­sa­tions that aren’t cur­rently in the main­stream,” Cairo-born, Lon­don-raised jour­nal­ist Alya Mooro tells us of the in­spir­ing mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tors that led her to pen The Greater Free­dom: Life as a Mid­dle East­ern Woman Out­side the Stereo­types, her de­but novel which is re­leased this month.

Part mem­oir, part so­cial com­men­tary, it is crit­i­cal read­ing for any Mid­dle East­ern woman who feels un­der pres­sure to con­form to so­ci­ety’s ideals. A “ral­ly­ing cry to out­siders ev­ery­where”, the book ex­am­ines the ad­van­tages, bur­dens and mis­un­der­stand­ings of grow­ing up be­tween two vastly dif­fer­ent cul­tures, while touch­ing on themes in­clud­ing dual iden­ti­ties, con­tem­po­rary Mus­lim ex­is­tence and mak­ing peace with not fit­ting in.

Alya, 30, who lives in Lon­don, re­calls in­creas­ingly feel­ing the con­flict­ing pull of both cul­tures, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to love and re­la­tion­ships, which later be­came in­stru­men­tal in writ­ing the book. She re­mem­bers how this in­ten­si­fied dur­ing vis­its to Egypt where friends started to get mar­ried and have chil­dren, while in Lon­don, her friends were in ab­so­lutely no rush. “I felt caught in the mid­dle. I started to feel like I re­lated less to my friends, but also felt the pull of what I was ‘sup­posed’ to do, more and more,” she muses.

It’s this that is the run­ning theme through­out The Greater Free­dom. We see her grap­ple with dis­so­nant ex­pec­ta­tions from both cul­tures through­out her tur­bu­lent teenage years to the present day, from nav­i­gat­ing re­la­tion­ships, pres­sures to marry and have chil­dren, and the ques­tion of where she calls home, all in raw, un­flinch­ing de­tail. Her over­ar­ch­ing goal? To de­bunk the dam­ag­ing myth that we must ‘be­long’ to one or the other iden­tity.

The Greater Free­dom is part of a grow­ing surge of fe­male writ­ers from the Arab world redefin­ing their iden­ti­ties on their own terms; from Pales­tinian-Amer­i­can Etaf Rum’s novel, A Woman Is No Man, to Le­banese-British Zahra Hankir’s an­thol­ogy col­lec­tion, Our Women on the Ground. Alya main­tains that she didn’t in­ten­tion­ally dis­tance the book from neg­a­tive western per­cep­tions of Arab women as op­pressed, but none­the­less was com­mit­ted to the im­por­tance of pre­sent­ing an al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tive.

“Just by re­veal­ing my own life as truth­fully as I pos­si­bly could is show­ing that we’re not a mono­lith,” she tells us. And it’s not just her own ex­pe­ri­ences: each chap­ter is in­ter­spersed with in­ter­views with other women of Mid­dle East­ern her­itage re­flect­ing on the di­ver­sity of their ex­pe­ri­ences. “The idea that all of us are sim­i­lar is so bor­ing be­cause it’s so far from the case,” Alya adds. “My friends are funny, witty, strong – we’re all sorts of things be­fore op­pressed. It’s other peo­ple mak­ing these as­sump­tions.”

It’s lit­tle won­der, then, that she stresses that it’s “al­ways” been the right time to hear from young fe­males from the Arab di­as­pora, not least be­cause they’ll be able to see their own ex­pe­ri­ences re­flected. “For women to fig­ure out what they re­ally want, we have to un­pick all the mes­sages we’ve been told and ab­sorbed from fam­ily, so­ci­ety and cul­ture. We need to think of who we are and have the courage to act.” She says this is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant given the lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Mid­dle East­ern and Mus­lim women in the main­stream me­dia for decades, par­tic­u­larly ex­ac­er­bated post 9/11 with what she dubs as the “fear of the other.” Alya con­tin­ues, “We have so many sim­i­lar­i­ties to each other, and if we can see the hu­man in each other, then it’s harder to ‘oth­erise’ peo­ple.”

While she at­tests to the ben­e­fits of strad­dling two cul­tures and worlds, giv­ing her an ‘out­sider per­spec­tive’ – some­thing she says has been ben­e­fi­cial to her jour­nal­ism – she con­cedes that she’s for­tu­nate she doesn’t have to ‘pick’ one side.

“I want to keep telling sto­ries that be­long to me, my friends and my sur­round­ings,” she tells us. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to me.” And not just to her – it’s re­ally im­por­tant for us all.

Alya was born in Cairo but raised in Lon­don

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