Ain’t No Blog Big Enough!
Exclusive interview with writer and blogger Fadi Zaghmout
Photography by Ala’a J.
Touch-ups by Nada Al-Agha
Can you create a national treasure? Take one part intelligence, maybe two parts wit, wisdom and integrity, a pinch of eccentricity and no small amount of brilliance and you may come close. But that Alchemic moment that transforms someone from straightforward greatness into icon is never formulaic. Some people are simply in possession of a certain magic that makes them especially dear. For My.Kali, it’s Fadi Zaghmout!
For many people in the Middle East, the online platform and the blogsphere stirred the beginnings of liberation and revolution, the reality of which, writes the novelist and blogger, didn’t always thrill Jordanians or Middle Easterners for that matter, however, it impressed the right people!
Although Fadi’s blog causes the best controversial attributions, his ‘The Arab Observer’ wins best read, while this summer, his book ‘Aroos Amman’ has been in everybody’s nook! The freckled champ is on a roll (touch wood), magazines across the country have been praising his work, subjecting him in their columns and people’s pages, from covering his book readings and reviews, to being one of the best tweepers, staging 3rd of having most followers on Twitter, right after Queen Rania and Queen Noor. “Alf Mabrouk!” Queen Noor tweeted (on which Queen Noor herself have congratulated him on his twitter, to being a follower herself). My.Kali commends a social-media heroine and sits with a great Jordanian.
What’s the best review you ever got toward your book ‘Amman Bride’ (Aroos Amman)?
I can’t remember really what the best review I ever got for Aroos Amman. I got many reviews from different people and in many forms, from blog posts, to Facebook messages and status updates to even simple tweets. The words of people overwhelmed me on many occasions but one tweet that still resonates in my mind is the one when someone said “Aroos Amman is a slap on the face of this sexist society”
Your book (Aroos Amman), does it only reflect the Jordanian society, or could it also reflect the rest of the region as well?
I would say that the book reflects the state of Arab societies at large. The issues presented in Aroos Amman are pretty common in the region. A mix of patriarchy, sex phobia, gender inequality, obsession with marriage, and a preference of social values over individual rights and freedoms can sum up the state of Arab societies today.
Do you think this book will help change or maintain perceptions to the western readers toward Middle Eastern societies, or do you think the book help the west understand Middle Eastern underground issues (like the ones subjected in the book)?
When I wrote the book, I didn’t have western readers in my mind. I wanted to send out a specific message to the Arabic reader and more specifically to the Jordanian one.
It is funny because I have been accused of importing western solutions and shoving it down “our” throats! It is sad to realize that personal freedoms and basic body rights are considered to be “western”
But to answer your question, I think that the book can give a western reader a clearer and more accurate account about the state of our society in terms of gender and sexuality.
Do you think casting a gay character in the book along with women reflects a stereotypical sense when it comes to homosexuality especially when it comes to the Middle East? (As many do think gay men have to do with womanhood)
Not at all! The gay character presented in Aroos Amman is a masculine character. The masculinity of Ali in the book meant to shatter those stereotypes. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t belong with those women, the book meant to highlight social obsession with marriage and how the rigid requirements for such institution leaves those characters in struggle trying to keep up a decent social status.
Do you think the book’s gay character portrayed a positive or a negative over view toward gay people? And is masculinity vs. femininity (in men) another issue that could be slammed or used as a negative trade?
I would say that Ali (one of the characters in the book) portrayed both a positive and negative view toward gay people; the same applies to the other characters in the book. If you want to make your character real, you have to show the good and the bad. I have given voice to Ali. He told us his story, his struggle in his teens to deny his homosexual feelings and his own rationalization of his beliefs. He also explained how social and religious expectations pushed him into a fake marriage. I would say that people would judge him positively or negatively based on their own views and understanding of his situation and his choices.
Sure masculinity vs. femininity of gay men could be used as a negative thing but that has to do with the lack of understanding of issues related to sexuality. People still don’t differentiate between sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sexual actions. These are different qualities that come in variations and with a complicated correlation. I tapped slightly onto that when I briefly presented the transgender character of Tamer (another, not main, character in the book). It was all addressed from a social point of view, but maybe should be addressed in details in another book!
The stories in the book, and as you mentioned once they’re somehow based on real stories, reflect a harsh sense of reality. Did the sad messages in the book, more or less, were driven to a positive conclusion?
I do have a positive outlook to life. Reality can be harsh, yes, but I also know that while we can be drifted within the hits and spikes of the society we live in, I also know that we are not helpless and with some efforts and self-empowerment we can always work for a better future for ourselves and for people around us, hence came the positive conclusion.
“Sure masculinity vs. femininity of gay men could be used as a negative thing but that has to do with the lack of understanding of issues related to sexuality. People still don’t differentiate between sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sexual actions.”
Do you get harassed because of the book, as some might deny that these sorts of issues (that the book tackled) do not exist in a country or society like Jordan?
No, I didn’t get harassed because of the book at all. I agree that there were some people who denied the existence of those issues in Jordan or didn’t like the way I gave voice to those characters to speak out and claim their body and sexual right. I got slammed for that on few occasions.
Earlier on your blog ‘The Arab Observer‘, you published a letter written by a woman who sent you to thank you for your inspiring book, and that she didn’t sympathy with the gay character, considering that she was, admittedly, a victim to have married a gay man. Do you think other women fall victims to such marriages? And if so, what do you think the reason and the solution is?
There are many women who fall victims to such marriages and deal with it in different ways, the story of Ali and Laila didn’t come up out of the blue. It has to do with the social obsession with marriage and intolerance for homosexuality, or maybe it has to do with one’s lack of personal sexual preference or trying to ignore it and overcome it.
The solution would be in giving a decent sexual education at schools that acknowledges sexual orientation and builds up a culture of tolerance that won’t drive those people to hide and end up hurting other innocent people.
Do you think your blog, (The Arab Observer), has affected the reviews on the book or the judgments over it? (as it happened in a discussion during one of your book reading)
Maybe it did. I mean, I have been blogging for 6 years now and many of the issues I presented in the book I tackled previously on my blog. So many people knew exactly what to expect from Aroos Amman and projected their previous opinion of my blog on it.
On another side, I have been criticized for the structure I used for the book’s sections where for some the short segmentation of the stories felt like blog posts.
Why do you think these people criticize your blog? What are the issues you tackle the most?
To be honest with you, the status of gender inequality and the lack of personal body and sexual freedoms in the country is what triggered me to start blogging in the first place. I have always tackled these issues bluntly on my blog which generated much criticism but also much support throughout the years.
Do you feel comfortable to be other people’s psychiatrist (or around that sense)?
I don’t know why, but since my childhood, I have always felt this need to raise the morals of people around me. It has been fairly easy for me to channel negative thoughts into positive ones in my life and maintaining a good level of happiness. I know that others can do the same if they tweak their way of thinking. I would love to help when I can.