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Arabic fiction -- 21th century -- History and criticism


In Iraqi fiction, the prerogative to narrate the experience of marginal identities, particularly ethno-religious ones, appeared only in the post-occupation era. Traditionally, secular Iraqi discourse struggled to openly address “sectarianism” due to the prevalent notion that sectarian identities are mutually exclusive and oppositional to national identity. It is distinctly in post-2003 Iraq—more precisely, since the sectarian violence of 2006–2007 began to cut across class, civil society, and urban identities—that works which consciously refuse to depict normative Iraqi identities with their mainstream formulations became noticeable. We witness this development first in the Western diaspora, where Iraqi novels exhibit a fascination with the ethno-religious culture of the Iraqi margins or subalterns and impart a message of pluralistic secularism. This paper investigates the origins of the taboo that proscribed articulations of ethno-religious subjectivities in 20th-century Iraqi fiction, and then culls examples of recent diasporic Iraqi novels in which these subjectivities are encoded and amplified in distinct ways. In the diasporic novel, I argue, modern Iraqi intellectuals attain the conceptual and political distance necessary for contending retrospectively with their formative socialization experiences in Iraq. Through a new medium of marginalization—the diasporic experience of the authors themselves—they are equipped with a newfound desire to unmask subcultures in Iraq and to write more effectively about marginal aspects of Iraqi identity inside and outside the country. These new diasporic writings showcase processes of ethnic and religious socialization in the Iraqi public sphere. The result is the deconstruction of mainstream Iraqi identity narratives and the instrumentalization of marginal identities in a nonviolent struggle against sectarian violence.


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