SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar receives Arab American Book Award for exploration of what it means to be Iraqi

22 August 2014
We Are Iraqis

Nadje Al-Ali, Professor of Gender Studies at SOAS, University of London has been awarded the 'The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award' at the 2014 Arab American Book Award for her co-edited book on what it means to be Iraqi.

Co-edited with University of Southern California PhD scholar Deborah al-Najjar, We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War features of contributions from Iraqis - both in country and in the various diasporas.

Iraqi artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, photographers and activists, many of whom now live in the US, cover a range of issues some of which are common to immigrants. The contributors tackle identity in diaspora, the lasting impact of war, cultures in transition – compounded by US’s invasion of their home country.

In an interview with Jadaliyya, an independent magazine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, the scholars said the motivation for the book first emerged in 2006 when Iraqis were generally portrayed either as passive victims or as perpetrators of horrific violence. In the midst of an ongoing humanitarian crisis the voices of contemporary Iraqis were not heard.

Professor Al-Ali explained: “While media and academicians centred on suicide attacks, Islamist militias, occupation forces, political leaders, political processes, and the oil economy, we did not find in-depth and creative explorations of and engagements with the rich and diverse forms of cultural expressions that have been part of historical and contemporary Iraq.

“We wanted to create a cutting edge piece of work on Iraq by fiction writers, poets, artists, bloggers, activists, and academics of Iraqi descent. We also wanted to produce an anthology that would include the multiplicity of Iraqi voices inside Iraq and in the diasporas.”

The judges described the book as “highly relevant and much needed addition to this under-published subfield within Arab and Arab American studies.” The book was also described by the Jordan Times as one which “combines the personal with the political, the material with the visionary, in order to address reality”.

The 'Arab American Book Award' is organised by the Arab American National Museum (AANM) in the US. The AANM is the first and only museum in the United States devoted to Arab American history and culture.