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Loving palestine
Rajeswari Mohan a
Haverford College, PA

To cite this Article Mohan, Rajeswari(1998) 'Loving palestine', Interventions, 1: 1, 52 — 80

To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/13698019800510151


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Nationalist Activism and Feminist Agency in Leila
Khaled's Subversive Bodily Acts
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Rajeswari Mohan
Haverford College, PA
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

A distinctive feature of contemporary western feminism is its attempt to

regroup epistemology, critique, and intervention at the margins. This essay
activism interrogates this development in contemporary western feminism, especially
the privilege it accords to postcoloniality, through a discussion of the the•r-
agency etical and political implications of narratives by and of Palestinian women.
Focusing primarily on the representation of Leila Khaled a Palestinian mil-
bodily acts itant, the essay discusses women's political insurgency, analyzing their
feminist actions and self-representation to explore the specific mechanisms by which
responsiveness they secure agency and represent their identity. In doing so, the essay
assesses the effects of women's insurgency on sexual divisions of labor and
subversion power. In particular, the essay examines the ways Khaled's narrative envi-
sions a specifically feminist agency in the course of her quest for national
identity and, more importantly, transvalues and redefines the idea of nation
by focusing on women's participation in nationalist struggles.
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

If I couldn't bend heaven I would scratch hell.

Leila Khaled

She had, like Joan of Arc, exceeded her sex.

Mrs Khaled

ooeo e o o • o e o o o o o• oe ae oee • • • • • • • • o o ooo • • • o • e• e o o o e e e e o • O • • o e o • •o • • • o o o o o • e o•e • e• ooo o • o e • o • • • * • o o o• • • • o e• o•

~ interventions Vol. 1(1)52-80 (1369-801X)

Copyright © 1998 Rout]edge

Rajeswari Mohan

As feminists become more comfortable with the idea that feminism is a

complex and uneven field riven by disagreements over political and theoreti-
cal priorities, they have focused their efforts on turning this contestatory
diversity to advantage. Feminism is being rearticulated as a protean ensem-
ble of diverse practices having in common an opposition to patriarchy's infi-
nite variety of strategies, western feminist theory is also looking more
carefully at its margins for the new epistemological and political possibilities
unfolding there. An early and influential instance of this development is
Teresa De Lauretis's 1990 essay, 'Eccentric Subjects: Feminist Theory and His-
torical Consciousness', which makes the claim that feminist theory comes to
its own in the postcoloniat mode. Another attempt to decenter and open up
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the subject of feminism has been Judith Butler's important and highly influ-
ential theory of gender and sexuality as performance in Gender Trouble
(Butler 1990b). However, despite the unprecedented attention and import-
ance given to the margins in these and other works, much of the exciting
feminist theory in the west is still inattentive to the specifics and differences
in the margins that might crucially inflect the new feminist subject being
formulated. As an upshot, many assumptions and priorities of feminist dis-
courses remain unshaken in the rearticulations wrought through encounters
with the margins. This contradiction has prompted the charge from Third
World feminists like Marnia Lazreg that the valorization of difference in con-
temporary feminist discourses results in an 'indifference' to understanding the
relationship between modes of being different and a resistance to accepting
difference as the other side of sameness (Lazreg 1990: 326-48).
This essay explores the theoretical and political challenges posed by the
margin by staging an encounter between recent articulations of postmodern-
ism and feminist theory, and narratives by and of Palestinian women. By this
means, I hope to examine the explanatory power of the theory as well as to
map the fault lines made visible in the theory by narratives of Third World
women's insurgency. While I focus primarily on the representation of Leila
Khaled, the Palestinian militant, I draw into the discussion, where relevant,
other instances of women's political insurgency. In so doing, I suggest that
narratives of insurgency press against the limits of theories of feminist agency
and highlight the areas remaining to be mapped by feminist navigations
between margin and center. One such area is that of the place of feminism,
often euphemized as the 'woman question' in nationalist struggles. Studies to
date have drawn out the troubled if not antagonistic relations between these
two areas of political aspiration. Khaled's narrative opens up the possibility
that a specifically feminist agency might unfold in the course of the quest for
national identity and, more importantly, demonstrates the ways in which the
idea of nation is transvalued and redefined by women's participation in
nationalist struggles.
Leila Khaled is a Palestinian woman who, in the sixties and seventies,
i n t e r v e n t i o n s - 1:1 54
e o e o e o e o # o o o o o o o o o o e e e e o e o o . o o

participated in the campaign launched by the PFLP to focus world attention

on the Palestinian cause. An outspoken and charismatic woman, she
attempted two hijackings, the sheer daring of which made her the darling of
western media as well as of the Arab world. She currently lives in a refugee
camp in Damascus organizing and directing the Palestinian Women's Popular
committees and working as an elder stateswoman representing women's
issues to the PLO.
From the start, Leila Khaled's autobiography, My People Shall Live, forces
the reader to confront the problem of representation (Khaled 1975). The
shaping impulse of her autobiography is revealed in her title, and Khaled jus-
tifies her intent by describing the bewilderment of the passengers of the first
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plane she hijacks, many of whom had never before heard of Palestine. Among
the victories secured by her actions she prizes the fact that these people would
never forget Palestine, and offers her life and narrative as sustained attempts
to keep the world's attention focused on the plight and rage of the Palestin-
ian people. Though narrated in the first person, her autobiography is adver-
tised as 'The Autobiography of a Revolutionary... as told to George Hajjar',
and a prefatory note tells us that the narrative is based on notes from a five-
day period during which Hajjar and Khaled talked extensively about her
experiences. The simplicity of Hajjar's assertion, 'I wrote this book as told to
me by Leila Khaled', only heightens our uncertainty about the tensions likely
to rise between Hajjar's and Khaled's investments in revolutionary (self)-
fashioning, notwithstanding the cross-currents set up by Khaled's avowed
commitment to the emancipation of Palestinian women. The autobiography
opens with the question 'who speaks, and to whom?', taking us into the thick
of feminist and postcolonial debates on representation.
Representation, in the dual sense of politically 'speaking for' a constituency
and constructing an identity through the orchestration of signs, usually runs
the risk of glossing over the divisions and dislocations between the subject's
political interests and its desires. Not so in the case of Khaled's autobiogra-
phy which seeks to advance a political cause by revealing the losses, desires,
and acts of courage, small and big, that converge in a contradictory revol-
utionary consciousness. As we will see, the efficacy of Khaled's actions
depends on her assuming a number of personae. As a feminist, she attacks
Arab patriarchal attitudes in her colleagues one moment, and retreats behind
Arab feminine decorum the next when interrogated by western police author-
ities; she declares her solidarity with oppressed women across the world, but
often draws upon the most misogynist stereotypes of women in her critiques
of politics. Readers confronted with these shifting roles are hard pressed to
know how to read them. Are they just contingent roles behind which lurks a
stable core of identity? Or is Khaled a hopelessly confused and contrary
person, as some have suggested? More importantly, how do we measure the
usefulness of these roles for Khaled's long-term goal of social transformation?
e * e e o o e o * o e o o e , * e o o e , e e o o e o l e e

Rajeswari Mohan

Can we characterize her as a feminist, or has she gone the way of others, who
have sacrificed feminism at the altar of nationalism?
The notion of identity as performance suggests some answers to these ques-
tions. As a practice that foregrounds the conventions it upholds or subverts,
performance relies upon its fleeting and precarious status as identity-forming
action to set up a space of negotiation between performer and audience where
politically interested and historically contingent interpretations of identities
emerge. Judith Butler's account of performance rearticulates identity and
identification as a fantasy of coherence - read desire for national and sexual
self-possession in Khaled's case - that finds its expression and consolidation in
acts, gestures, and words that produce an effect of an internal core by setting
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off a play of signifying absences on the surface of the body 'that suggest, but
never reveal, the organizing principle of identity' (Butler 1990a: 336). What
performance underscores is that identity is a fabrication achieved and sus-
tained through corporeal and discursive signs. Butler's notion of interiority as
the public regulation and disruption of identity through the surface politics of
the body sets aside some of the questions raised by Khaled's critics. Instead,
reading Khaled's narrative as the staging of a Palestinian woman's life as a
revolutionary foregrounds the conditions enabling the emergence of insurgent
consciousness, the negotiations between apparently competing political visions
and commitments, the forces impelling the leap from consciousness to action,
and the effect of political radicalism. We see the ways Khaled ekes out unfold-
ing opportunities and contingent choices to build up an extraordinarily com-
pelling instance of feminine agency. At the same time, we can appreciate her
apparent contrariness as acts that disrupt and rearticulate patriarchal,
imperialist, and nationalist regulation of identificatory fantasies. That is, we
can track the ways her performance plays out the fantasy of coherent identity
so as to reformulate the fantasy of national identity. The notion of perform-
ance thus makes it possible to delineate the internal and external, the psycho-
logical and political, the libidinal and social ramifications of Khaled's
self-fashioning as the new Arab woman. At the same time, her case under-
scores the limitations of subversive performance as political strategy.
Framing the text as performance immediately brings into the picture the
audience and interpreter whose political interests, discursive positioning, and
libidinal investments inform the significance of the performative moment. As
Gayatri Spivak points out, plotting the critic's standpoint is crucial to prevent
the encounter with postcolonial and subaltern texts from reifying the other.
Such attentiveness can also result in realistic assessments of the political effec-
tiveness of cultural theory and the particular instances of interpretation it
generates: 'The subject implied by the texts of insurgency can only serve as a
counterpossibility for the narrative sanctions granted to the colonial subject
in the dominant groups. The postcolonial intellectuals learn that their privi-
lege is their loss' (Spivak 1988: 287). Narratives such as My People Shall Live
interventions- 1:1 56

remind us that the gains made by postcolonial feminist theory are still bound
by the discursive regimes and institutional arrangements caught up within
neo-imperialist arrangements. The narrative repeatedly draws attention to the
ideologies informing the frameworks - of the commonsensical or the politi-
cal - within which it is interpreted. Khaled presents feminists with a series of
vexatious questions: H o w do we address her choice to become a militant? If
we read it as her cooptation into a masculinist ideology of militarism as some
feminists have done, do we not run the risk of erasing her agency not only as
a Palestinian but also as a woman? What are the theoretical and political costs
of such a move? What, too, would be the costs of going against the com-
pelling arguments offered by actions such as those of the women of Green-
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ham Common or the mothers of Plaza de Mayo, about feminist alternatives

to violent political intervention? Indeed the energy, optimism, and certainty
of Khaled's self-representation may embarrass contemporary feminists for
whom representation and interpretation take place under the transcendent
sign of incommensurability. In posing these discomfiting questions, the narra-
tive makes visible the discursive limits of our understanding of an inter-
national feminism and our institutional and ideological investments in
accepting these limits. As such, it reminds us of the road not taken and the
gains and losses following our choices. It reminds us, in the way Spivak identi-
fies as typical of subaltern texts, that contemporary feminism's commitment
to indeterminacy is a privilege that, in the final analysis, may add up to the
loss of feminism's potential for radical critique and social transformation.
Feminists, following Foucault, have theorized that the potential for change
and agency exists in every institution and practice that - as an instance of the
social - is suffused in power relations. Khaled's narrative presses home the
point that if women are to seize this potential, the stakes may often be more
drastic and radical than what most academic feminists are willing to concede.

I "Leaving home" and feminist agency

This point may be explored more fully in Teresa De Lauretis's formulation of

contemporary feminism. For De Lauretis, the particular discursive and
epistemological character of feminism resides in its 'being at once inside its
own social and discursive determinations and yet also outside and excessive
to them' (De Lauretis 1990: 116). The figures that exemplify this agonistic
feminist consciousness are the postcolonial and the lesbian, because they
provide an epistemological position of self-reflexivity about the personal,
political, and historical factors that construct, specify, and situate feminist
practice. With this self-reflexivity comes a shift in historical consciousness, a
shift that entails a displacement and a self-displacement, a 'leaving or giving
up a place that is safe, that is "home" - physically, emotionally, linguistically,

Rajeswari Mohan

epistemologically - for another place that is unknown and risky, that is not
only emotionally, but conceptually other; a place of discourse from which
speaking and thinking are at best tentative, uncertain, unguaranteed' (1990:
138). De Lauretis hastens to add that 'this leaving is not a choice: one could
not live there in the first place' (ibid.).
This eccentric position, De Lauretis argues, is essential if feminism is to
afford the potential for transformative agency and movement; indeed it is
necessary to sustain the feminist movement itself. However, through a sig-
nificant slippage, while De Lauretis adopts postcoloniality as the defining
trope for the eccentric subject, she goes on to elaborate the specific enabling
conditions and political advantages of such a subject position on the basis of
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Minnie Bruce Pratt's narrative of lesbian critical consciousness. This, De Lau-

retis carefully points out, is not to give priority to heterosexism over other
systems of oppression such as capitalism, racism, or colonialism. Rather, she
seeks to emphasize the significance of the marginalized subject of feminism
which achieves political agency by its 'capacity for movement or self-deter-
mined (dis)location, and hence social accountability' (1990: 137). But what
is the connection, logical and political, between the capacity for movement
and social accountability? Does the one lead to the other, as De Lauretis seems
to imply? Do movement and dislocation amount to a principled abdication
of positions of privilege, and would such an abdication ensure the collapse of
oppressive social hierarchies? Given that postcoloniality, as an epistemologi-
cal position, takes as its starting-point a dislocation that is not self-determined
but violently enforced by external powers, and given that the capacity for
movement is precisely what is often curtailed or controlled in postcolonial
contexts of underdevelopment, how tenable is her characterization of con-
temporary feminism as 'postcolonial'? Does this characterization empower
postcolonial women? A comparison of Minnie Bruce Pratt's and Leila
Khaled's accounts of dispossession may provide some clues to answering
these questions.
Since the eye of this epistemological storm is social location, and since
location is crucial to the evolution of both Pratt's and Khaled's insights and
actions, the Bakhtinian notion of chronotope may serve to draw out the ideo-
logical implications of location and dispossession. According to Bakhtin:

In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one
carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh,
becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the
movements of time, plot and history. This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators
characterizes the artistic chronotope. (Bakhtin 1981: 84)
o e o o e o e e e o o o o , o o o e o , e

It is precisely this understanding of place as the ideological precipitate of

interventions- 1:1 58
e e e e e e • • o o o e * o o o o e e e o o e o • • • • • *

history and social hierarchies that informs De Lauretis's adoption of the trope
of deterritorialization, in which what is involved is no simple loss of home
but the renunciation of the privileges and oppressions materially embodied
there. The chronotope that makes visible the social order from which Pratt
finds herself gradually alienated is the courthouse square in her hometown
'with [her] in the middle' (Pratt 1984: 17). Similarly, the market house in the
North Carolina military town where she lives with her husband represents
not only the advantage taken for granted by middle-class white heterosexual
families, but also the silences and evasions the community agrees upon to
ensure that its comfort and equanimity is not disturbed by any acknowledg-
ment of its historical implication in practices such as slave trade in the past
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and racist exploitation of poor blacks in the present. Appropriately enough,

Pratt begins to realize how much of an anachronistic impediment the market
house is, as she drives around it day after day, with the growing anxiety that
she would spend the rest of her life going 'round and round in a pattern that
1 The connection
between women's I knew by heart') In contrast, the 'H Street Corridor' in Washington DC rep-
mobility and their resents the material dislocation, movement, and growth that brings her into
emancipation is daily confrontation with privileges associated with race, class, and sexuality.
narrativized often in
This dislocation is an escape from the lies and rigidity of her life in the south,
contexts in 'road albeit no simple flight into freedom; it is accompanied by the gut-wrenching
movies', perhaps the sensation of 'falling through space' (Pratt 1984: 27). It is an escape, at once
most spectacular and
heroic and agonistic, from a position whose privilege is implicated in oppres-
controversial of which is
the 1992 film Thelma sive hierarchies, a position that Pratt's coming out makes intolerable and also,
and Louise. The to a degree, unavailable. It is also an escape into a critical self-consciousness
subterranean lines signaled by the trope of constant movement and illuminating encounters with
yoking these liberatory
moments to the otherness unhindered by the patriarchal architectonics of her life in the south.
continuing plight of For Khaled too, critical self-consciousness and oppositional agency begins
Palestinian women such with dislocation, but whereas Pratt narrativizes her social situation through
as Leila Khaled stand
revealed in the long
the chronotope of a claustrophobic enclosure from which she must escape,
history of western Khaled dramatizes her brutal dispossession and eviction as the loss of a pro-
gerrymandering in the tective and sustaining space of her own without which she experiences the
Middle East during
dizzying anomie of diaspora not as freedom but as constraint. Not to put too
which the desire to
protect oil supplies to fine a point on the distinction between escape and exile, deterritorialization
the West and ensure means that Khaled cannot expect any guarantees in her life. From simple pleas-
American lifestyles has ures such as plucking an orange from a tree to more serious ambitions such
consistently overridden
any liberal sympathy for as her hopes for a university education, Khaled finds her desires thwarted at
the Palestinian cause. every turn for the simple reason that she is a refugee without the rights guaran-
teed by nationality and stable community. As a woman, Khaled finds herself
forced to live by alien patriarchal codes - such as circumscriptions on dress
and movement decreed by Kuwaiti law - that she resists at the risk of being
deported. In foregrounding this condition, Khaled's narrative is a precursor of
a genre of narratives of the Palestinian diaspora that explore the self-disinte-
gration accompanying the loss of identification as a subject of the State.
o o o o e e e e e o o o o o o e e o o e e e e o o o o o e e

Rajeswari Mohan

The difference in the processes that bring about Pratt's and Khaled's deter-
ritorialized positions is papered over in the appropriation of 'postcoloniality'
as the master trope for contemporary feminism. The term 'postcolonial' encom-
passes a multiplicity of positions and histories, among which the difference
between colonizer and colonized is crucial to understanding the problems in
De Lauretis's formulation. This is the difference elided over in her use of both
2 According to Pratt and Gloria Anzaldua as exemplary postcolonial positions. So strong is
Sandoval (1991: 11)
the pull of Pratt's position that De Lauretis overlooks Anzaldua's significant
consciousness depends point that deterritorialization produces in the mestiza a split consciousness that
on a mobile subjectivity provokes a relentless attempt to regain land and opportunities snatched away
that seeks out
by imperialism. Anzaldua's argument has been furthered by recent articula-
opportunities for
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'subjugated citizens [to] tions of Third World US feminism by Chela Sandoval and others who theorize
throw off subjectivities oppositional consciousness as 'a kinetic motion that maneuvers, poetically
in a process that at once transfigures, and orchestrates [the social symbolic] while demanding alien-
both enacts and yet
decolonizes their various ation, perversion, and reformation in both spectators and practitioners' (San-
relations to their real doval 1991" 3). 2 De Lauretis's celebratory invocation of 'postcolonial' goes
conditions of existence'. against the observation of many postcolonial critics who take the term, which
When she proceeds to
describe the resulting
implies a transcendence or supersession of colonialism, to mystify ongoing and
mode of agency as 'a newly emergent relations of neo-imperialism and settler colonialism that
kind of anarchic activity prevail in the so-called postcolonial world (McClintock 1992; Shohat 1992).
• . . a form of ideological
More to the point, the Palestinian diaspora is one postcolonial development in
guerrilla warfare' (p.
23), the adjacency of her which the departure of British colonizers was followed by the Israeli neo-
project with Khaled's colonial relations that Khaled's narrative relentlessly spotlights.
becomes evident. Precisely such a recognition is urged by the first chapter of My People Shall
3 The term is Louis
Althusser's (1971) and I Live. It bears the title 'The Staircase', a reference to the only part of Khaled's
use it here to emphasize house in Haifa that she remembers. A transitional space like Pratt's 'H Street
the difference between corridor', the staircase serves as a chronotope for Khaled's violent and unex-
the State's means of
eradicating opposition
pected propulsion into increased political awareness by historical events
by systematic violence beyond her control. Significantly enough, we see Khaled not on but under it,
and the institutional as if to emphasize the possibilities for growth and movement that are lost
mechanisms such as the
with exile, and to highlight the fear and helplessness of dispossession. Hiding
family, where the Law
of the Father operates, under it from the violence unleashed by Zionist forces in 1948 to terrorize
by which it secures Palestinians into leaving their homeland, Khaled sees death for the first time
consent. Michel P&heux in ways that radically undercut existing structures of authority in her life and
suggests that such
ideological apparatuses
put in their place the more summary authority of the colonizer's Repressive
can also serve to State Apparatus. 3
provoke resistance. In
Khaled's narrative the
family, as an ideological I do remember being terrified, but I do not remember whether the dead person was
apparatus ruled by the
Arab or Jew. I only remember hearing bombs exploding and seeing the blood spurt-
law of the father, seems
to function as such a ing from the dead man's stomach. I hid under the staircase and stared at the corpse
contradictory site of in the street outside. I trembled and wondered whether this would be the fate of my
interpellation and father. (Khaled 1975: 25)
interventions- 1:1 60
e o o o o o o o oo oooo o o e o , * o e o o . o . , ooo

Dispossession comes with the knowledge, displayed in the fearsome phan-

tasm of the slain father, that the new law which has supplanted the law of
the father punishes transgression with nothing short of death. In other words,
Khaled's first intimation of the power of the colonizer brings with it the know-
ledge that her father, and the law he represents, is vulnerable to the greater
law of the military occupier. This recognition marks Khaled off from Pratt,
who finds herself unable to climb up the courthouse with her father and really
experience herself at the center, and who is left therefore with a heightened
sense of her father's authority as well as her own (self)-exclusion from it.
Insofar as Khaled recognizes that her father shares her vulnerability to the
colonizer, he becomes less of an imperious embodiment of the patriarchal law
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and more of a symbol of abjection, of the territorial and cultural dislocation

that is to be avenged. The place given to the father in Khaled's narrative is of
a piece with the guarded, prickly, yet strong solidarity expressed by post-
colonial and minority feminists with other members of their community,
feminist or not, a sense of solidarity in difference that rules out escape or the
'leaving of home' as a political option. More usually, postcolonial feminists
are faced with the arduous and potentially risky work of staying back and
transforming home.
Khaled stays back, watching her father live for eighteen years in Lebanon,
a broken man dreaming of his return to Haifa and dying with his dream
unfulfilled. Khaled's own dream of returning to Haifa is kept alive by the
desire to avenge her father's disappointment such that return becomes the
absolute horizon of the future. As she flies over Tel Aviv on a hijacked plane,
she proclaims over the radio, 'Father, we shall return. We shall redeem your
honour and restore your dignity' (Khaled 1975: 144). As the narrative goes
on to establish, redemption of the father's honor and restoration of his dignity
involves a radical redefinition of family, honor, and dignity. Alluding to the
Arab tradition of linking a man's honor to his control of female sexuality in
the family, Khaled asserts that 'Honor means more than virginity,.., there
is honor in recovering our homeland' (Morgan 1989:211 ). In one stroke, she
redefines honor, severs it from the control of female sexuality, and enlarges it
so that it is no longer the exclusive prerogative of men.
The reiteration of the pledge to return also imbues historical time with the
charge of the prophetic in ways that complicate Khaled's commitment to
rational strategy. The almost mystical relation between redemption and resist-
ance is underscored in other versions of Khaled's forced departure from
Haifa, the proliferation of such apocrypha itself testifying to Khaled's mythic
significance. According to one account, as her family prepares to leave Haifa
in a rented car, Khaled refuses to go with them and hides under the staircase.
Just as the family leaves the car to get her, it is hit by a shell. Khaled's resist-
ance literally saves the family, and her mother takes their fortunate escape as
a sign telling them to stay on and resist the occupiers a little longer
• eee • o e e e • e e ee eeo • ee• • oo eeo e• •

Rajeswari Mohan

(MacDonald 1991: 102). The messianic overtones of this episode resonate

with invocations of deep and sacred origins said to characterize most dis-
courses of nationhood (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Particularly in Pales-
tinian nationalist discourses, remembering the origins of the people in the
land and refusing to move have been important aspects of ideological warfare
against a regime that is interested in colonizing only the land and not the
4 Several commentators
have pointed out that al- people. 4 The repetition of the promise to return is thus a way of turning back
Suramud or history, as Regis Debray explains: 'This zero point or starting point is what
steadfastness has come allows ritual repetition, the ritualization of memory, celebration, commemo-
to be seen as a
distinctive feature of
ration - in short, all those forms of magical behaviour signifying defeat of
Palestinian Resistance the irreversibility of time' (Debray 1977: 27). Khaled's periodic renewal of
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that inspires people to the pledge to return, her re-telling of the story of her dispossession, and even
stick to their land
despite all the pressure
the bravado of her brief foray into Haifa on board a hijacked plane all
to make them leave. See, become ways of symbolically securing the possibility that the wrongs of
for example, Giacaman history might be set aright. By first refusing to leave and then repeatedly
and Odeh (1988); and acting out her longing to return, she also speaks to the possibility of negoti-
Peteet (1991). Peteet
points out that qualities ating between the tensions generated by the guilt and rage of those who were
associated with al- expelled and those who stayed.
Summud are those This is but one of the many ways Khaled's yearning to return differs from
characterized as
feminine, specifically
the 'giving up of home' De Lauretis identifies as the paradigmatic postcolonial
silent endurance and position. Khaled's yearning, however, is one for a reclamation rather than a
sacrifice for family and simple return to an origin that is as deeply flawed as it is longed for. Hence
community. In this
regard, the prominence
the uncertain, unguaranteed, tentative position that De Lauretis values as the
accorded to aI-Suramud basis of feminist agency is useless to Khaled. Instead, Khaled's version of post-
opened the way for colonial politics stages a refusal to give up home coupled with a refusal to
women, and men, to see accept home in its patriarchal configurations. Indeed, Khaled's own narrative
women's actions and
values as politically stages episodic encounters with western liberal ideas in ways that almost pre-
significant forms of empt this essay. In a meeting with European students, several of whom par-
resistance (1991: 153). ticipated in the university upheavals of 1968, Khaled and her comrades are
amused and astonished when French and German anarchist students pro-
claim, 'Let chaos reign'. Khaled responds by pointing out that 'the Palestin-
ian people were an example of a society in chaos without authority and
leadership, which as a result, was left at the mercy of the Zionist oppressor'
(Khaled 1975: 125). This response takes us to the heart of the difference
between struggles as they are often understood in postcolonial contexts and
articulations that graft postcolonial tropes onto postmodern discourses in
ways that may be undeniably urgent in the western academy but not else-
where. Khaled recognizes that in order to act decisively and change the con-
ditions of her existence, she must maintain her unwavering focus on the telos
of liberation. Only such a steadiness of vision would help her overcome the
contradictions and ambiguities of which she is acutely aware. Her approach
to politics actually converges in this respect with Pratt's, the political direc-
tion of whose text is somewhat lost in De Lauretis's strategic misreading
interventions - 1:1 62
# o e e e o e e e e o o o e o o e . o e o o o o e e e o e o

which is itself mediated by Martin and Mohanty's analysis of Pratt's position

(Martin and Mohanty 1986). Pratt herself insists that we do something to
overcome our 'basic ambivalence of feelings' which, in the words of LiUian
Smith, takes us through life 'like some half-dead thing, doing as little harm
(and as little good) as possible, playing around the edges of great life issues"
(Pratt 1984: 46).
At the same time, as Khaled's narrative proceeds, it becomes abundantly
clear that ideologies of gender and nationalism generate so much political and
psychological pressure her narrative cannot come to a definite closure, but
rather simply peters out. What does emerge is that Khaled's resistance to
gender ideologies develops under the pressure of a Palestinian nationalism
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strongly critical of the western liberal ideas of individuality, identity, and poli-
tics such that her story grates against the accommodationist impulse that
drives much of contemporary feminist encounters with its margins. So it is
that the double vision that is identified as the distinctive feature of contem-
porary feminism by De Lauretis does not result in ambivalence as far as
Khaled is concerned but rather in a concerted appropriation of nationalism
as a medium for smuggling in a feminist agency.

II R e d e f i n i n g home and n a t i o n

Khaled's determination to reclaim her home is aided by her double vision of

what home had been even as a patriarchal stronghold and what it has the
potential to be in a Palestine liberated from Israeli as well as patriarchal
power. Such a reclamation would, in effect, constitute a forward-looking
Palestinian national culture:
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Underdeveloped people live by fate; they look with nostalgia to a 'golden past'. My
people and I suffer from these debilities, but we are also living in the Ongoing process
of history and are trying to determine our future rather than bind ourselves to a dead
past. (Khaled 1975: 41)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It is at that moment when the temptation to yield to nostalgia is strongest,

when history all too often seems to offer little scope for agency that Khaled
discovers the potential of deterritorialization and the opportunities it offers for
a radical rupture with an oppressive past. She realizes that in opening the way
for social transformation, Palestinian people's 'defeat was indeed [their] sal-
vation, [their] means of regeneration and renewal' (1975: 41). In taking this
position, she aligns herself with those nationalists who attribute their dispos-
session to their 'backwardness' and press for a nationalism based on modern
and progressive social institutions. While she grasps the political possibilities
o• • • • e t o •oo • • ••o

Rajeswari Mohan

presented by historical ruptures, she does not simply insert herself in the grand
narrative of history as progress; nor does she abandon the project of wresting
freedom from the realm of historical necessity. In repeatedly calling attention
to the history of deprivation and betrayal which has been the lot of her people,
Khaled stalls the emergence of an optimistic narrative of history as inevitable
progress and development. Yet, her bold occupation of the gaps created in the
social structure by exile and dispossession produces an oppositional agency at
the point where emancipatory discourses enter an unsettled social order.
Furthermore, what seems to be a rather uncritical reliance on the rhetoric of
development may be read as a strategic intervention in emerging Palestinian
national culture. The claim to the dignity, glory, and solemnity of a precolo-
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nial past has often served to rehabilitate and legitimize national culture during
anti-colonial struggles. But what begins as a crucial element in forging an
oppositional nationalism, can often lead national cultures up the blind alleys
of sentimental reaction and nostalgic quietism (Fanon 1963: 206-48). Given
this possibility, which has historically proven to be costly to women's emanci-
patory movements, Khaled's artful movement between past and future steers
national culture away from reactionary nostalgia, but draws upon its political
charge to project a utopian vision of social transformation.
At the same time, her firm commitment to historical change challenges
what Arab feminists like Fatima Mernissi have identified as 'the ahistoricity
of Arab identity which views movement and change as states of social imbal-
ance and moral disintegration' (Mernissi 1988: 36). Mernissi argues that
because the culture views itself as constant and superior to time and change,
5 The divided subject of
feminism has been the
any attempt to rethink or reconsider tradition is characterized as fitna, or a
focus of many recent sinful, deceitful, even seditious challenge to religious authority. In particular,
attempts to address the any initiative on the part of women to seek change in their social status is
categorical differences
deemed a fitna that draws charges of atheism and blasphemy. Mernissi goes
implicit in the
woman/women split. In on to point out that women's emancipatory strategies can generate change
an earlier work, De only if they can shift attitudes to time and history in ways we have seen
Lauretis herself offers an Khaled attempting. Interestingly, Khaled also reconfigures the idea of the
elegant formulation:
'The female subject of Palestine nation as she styles herself as the signifier of 'the true meaning of
feminism is one being a Palestinian in its original Canaan definition: a heroic fighter, a warlike
constructed across a person, a selfless fellow' (Khaled 1975: 17). For all these reasons, we may
multiplicity of
discourses, positions,
argue that Khaled's narrative suggests a model of postcolonial and perhaps
and meanings, which feminist agency distinguished by its unwavering political vision and exem-
are often in conflict with plifying the variegated inflections called into being within the postcolonial
one another and
feminist subject by its multiple commitments,s As such, the narrative pro-
inherently (historically)
contradictory' (De vides concrete instances of the negotiations demanded by these multiple
Lauretis 1987: ix-x). commitments, and implicitly critiques the politically charged hesitations of
Another brilliantly feminist discourses that invariably shepherd the divided subject towards
provocative exploration
of the divided subject is ambivalence and indeterminacy.
Harraway (1991). Recent feminist critiques of the episteme of indeterminacy have identified
interventions - 1:I 64
o e e o o e o o o e e o e # e e e e e e e o e e o o e o e a

the absence of a theory of 'difference-in-relation' to patriarchy, and a corre-

sponding lack of enthusiasm for the idea of social transformation, as major
deficiencies in contemporary feminism (Ebert 1991; Hennessy 1992). These
critics also acknowledge the tactical usefulness of indeterminacy for feminism,
which has often been omitted in rousing narratives of anti-imperialist and anti-
capitalist revolutions. Khaled's narrative advances a model of contingent
feminist agency grounded in revolutionary ideology, strategy, and mass
mobilization. She insists, 'I am not going to succumb to emotionalism and
allow my feelings to blind my reason' (Khaled 1975: 128). This insistence
grows stronger as emotionally charged episodes punctuate the narrative, some-
times joining the narrative flow towards denouement, but often remaining
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unintegrated like half-submerged objects setting up local eddies and cross-cur-

rents. Political reality often presses an agonistic knowledge upon her con-
sciousness" 'I returned home intoxicated by the wine of reality. I was crucified
and redeemed at the same time' (1975: 36, emphasis added). Revolutionary
ideology, strategy, and rationality may be indispensable to Khaled as guiding-
posts for her activism, but they are shaken here by her knowledge of social
realities that nevertheless 'blind reason' with their complex and intoxicating
effects. In such moments, the proto-religiosity of her revolutionary fervor and
the promethean leaps of her faith in nationalism undercut her attempts to
center her narrative in rationality. What we see in these instances, and truly
throughout the narrative, is a strategy of cultural identification through dis-
junction and dissonance that Homi Bhabha has identified as distinctive of all
attempts to narrativize the nation (Bhabha 1990). Khaled's account anchors
itself in the PFLP's commitment to a global alliance against imperialism, yet
flits between the contentious and irregular interests and identities that inform
her actions as a feminist. As devoted daughter, desiring woman, rebellious
exile, disdainful prima donna of revolutionaries, Khaled repeatedly stages her
ambivalence about a homogeneous and progressivist ideology of nationhood.
In doing so she keeps alive the liminal, internally critical feminist position
otherwise in danger of being swamped by the nationalist agenda. At such
moments, the basis of the nation in home, family, and blood begins to unravel.
Her narrative also self-consciously plays commitment to collective liberation
against individual empowerment, rational strategy against the unpredictability
of experience, and revolutionary utopianism against emotional messianism. 6
6 On the challenges
posed by Khaled's What remains steady is the telos of liberation that is paradoxically secured by
narrative to western all this dissonance and contradiction.
readers' notions of A similar dissonance marks Khaled's struggles against patriarchal values.
voice, self-reflexivity,
and the politics of
In exile, as her family sinks into quiet despair and a drastically declined stan-
autobiography, see dard of living, eight-year-old Khaled witnesses the gradual physical decline
Gunn (1992). of her father whose paralysis signals the decay of patriarchal authority in the
family. In political debates between her father and her brothers, her father
comes across as an ill-informed, cautious, and literal-minded man whose awe
e o o o o , , o e e e , , , o . e e o o o o o e o o o o o o

Rajeswari Mohan

for authority and inability to deal with ambiguity make him unequal and
somewhat irrelevant to the complex political vision demanded of a diasporic
people. The absence of patriarchal authority is a crucial enabling condition
to Khaled's agency not only by loosening traditional circumscriptions and
controls on women, but also by withdrawing protective buffers and height-
ening her vulnerability to Israeli power in ways that bring her into direct con-
frontation with the state. During the hostilities between Israel and the Arab
states, Palestinians living in exile were cut off from all contact with their
families in the Occupied Territories. One particular episode describing
Khaled's attempt to meet her grandmother at the Mandelbaum Gate drama-
tizes the full scope of Palestinian dispossession. From the start, the meeting
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proves to be a nightmarish enactment of the phantasm of the fallen father.

Khaled's father is unable to visit because he is suddenly paralyzed after an
unsuccessful attempt to meet his mother just a few weeks earlier. When
Khaled's grandmother sees that her son is absent, she jumps to the conclusion
that he is dead, and collapses in grief. As Khaled and her mother try to shout
out news to the grandmother across the barbed wire, language - the medium
of the law of the father - fails them. Overcome by emotion, they find them-
selves incapable of uttering a coherent sentence. As they prepare to take leave
of each other, Khaled's grandmother places a necklace around her mother's
neck by way of restoring the relationship established between the women
through the father. But almost as if to drive home the father's defeat, an Israeli
guard watching the encounter pounces on Khaled's mother and snatches the
necklace from her. Khaled's mother returns home 'upset by Arab inability to
protect her and shocked by Zionist brutality' (Khaled 1975: 77). Rosemary
Sayigh has pointed out that western liberal feminist accounts of the family as
the source of women's oppression critique the workings of patriarchy at the
family level, often without looking at the economic and political structures
organizing family relations. Narratives of Arab women's lives, such as
Khaled's, also challenge this theoretical bias. Khaled's collisions with the
authority of the colonizing state in its patriarchal guises remind us that Pales-
tinian women's oppression within the patriarchal family is vitally shaped by
colonial occupation and exile, thereby underscoring why the struggle for
women's emancipation must take on Israeli colonialism and its supportive
network of capitalist interests (Sayigh 1985).

III The m i l i t a n t subject and feminist o r t h o d o x y

Khaled herself flees from her life of abjection in Lebanon to Kuwait where
she has the opportunity to work and live in relative independence. As the
narrative proceeds, however, one detects a cunning strategy at work as Khaled
resists the codes of feminine decorum when they are imposed upon her by her
interventions - 1:1 66

own people, but retreats behind the same codes as cover and protection when
confronted by European or Israeli 'outsiders'. Khaled seems to recognize that
even legitimate activities within the existing social order can create a cultur-
ally ambiguous space where unprecedented gender roles might emerge along
with new forms of oppositional agency. In this sense, her gender identity
becomes performative in that it is made up of contingent actions that, by their
very provisionality, radically undermine the foundations of gender; the central
structure of sociality. Also at work is a clear understanding of resistance as a
contingent and local practice, temporary in its effects. Through her acts of
resistance, Khaled asserts herself, demonstrates to herself and the world that
she does not have to accept social restrictions, fosters her oppositional ener-
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gies, and causes profound anxiety in the authority figures she confronts. This
notion of resistance is marked off from revolution which is situated in the
longue dur~e of social transformation guided by socialist principles and
understood in the narrative as being brought about by the overdetermined
effects of emancipatory struggles against colonialism and patriarchy in differ-
ent corners of the globe. In light of this distinction, her admiration for Ho
Chi Minh and Che Guevara, and her support for other anti-imperialist
struggles such as those "waged by the Vietnamese, can be seen as attempts to
secure affectively a collective consciousness.
The seeds of Khaled's militancy are sown during her adolescent years,
between 1956 and 1959, which mark the years of her apprenticeship as an
activist, and of her transformation into a good soldier. These are the years
Carol Gilligan has identified as pivotal to the development of feminine resist-
ance, as a period during which 'a resistance which is essentially political - an
insistence on knowing what one knows and a willingness to be outspoken -
. . . turn[s] into a psychological resistance: a reluctance to know what one
knows and a fear that such knowledge, if spoken, will endanger relationships
and threaten survival' (Gilligan 1991: 12). Gilligan describes this transform-
ation as a doubling of voice and vision which underlies women's participation
in political practices that they recognize to be against their own interests.
Drawing upon the work of Sara Ruddick, Gilligan asserts that 'If only women
would make a shift within their existing practice as mothers, separating out
those elements which support militarism (the worshipping of martyrs and
heroes) from those which subvert it (women's irreverent language of loyalty,
love, and outrage), women could move r e a d i l y . . , from denial to truthful-
ness, from parochialism to solidarity, from inauthenticity to active responsi-
bility' (1991: 38). Khaled's narrative pressures the divisions operating in
Gilligan's theory between political and psychological resistance, between
nationalistic support for militarism and outrageous subversion of oppressive
power, between existential inauthenticity and politically responsible soli-
darity with the oppressed. Indeed, like Robin Morgan, whose views we will
discuss below, Gilligan would probably read Khaled's narrative as an instance
, Q , O O O , O O O O O O O e , a , O O Q , O O e O Q a O l

Rajeswari Mohan

of successful patriarchal indoctrination and see her activism as a betrayal of

her specifically feminine qualities and insights.
Khaled's narrative suggests a resolution different from those observed by
Gilligan. Not quite forswearing the ethics of responsibility and nurturing,
Khaled first gets involved in military action when she prepares and delivers
bread to a besieged Arab National Movement militia. Indeed, Khaled's
actions consistently demonstrate that political resistance in women need not
be transformed into psychological resistance as Gilligan argues. Instead,
political resistance to patriarchal structures can be channeled into other forms
of resistance such as nationalism which, despite its apparent complicity with
patriarchal politics, often throws the patriarchal order into crisis. As the
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struggle over the necklace demonstrates, in the diasporic context, the law of
the father is seriously undercut by the fact that it is written in a disenfran-
chised language. Reclaiming and redefining this language in the name of
nationalism allows Khaled to challenge ideas of feminine comportment, and
once she breaks the reins of patriarchal control in this realm she, like other
women in her situation, finds that she cannot ever return to a life where others
make decisions for her.
Indeed, throughout the narrative, Khaled identifies her ardor for Palestine
with a higher and truer feminine ideal. Deriding as 'a travesty of womanhood'
those Palestinian women who seek education as a way of finding husbands
(Khaled 1975: 53), Khaled resists all attempts to position her as a sexualized
object of male attention, and as one who could be 'railroaded into some
uncreative role like office work or marriage and baby production' (1975: 59).
Simultaneously, she seeks constantly for points of contact and divergence
between her narrative and those of western feminists. She points out that
while most western women see themselves as victims of two kinds of oppres-
sion, 'class and sexual', Palestinian women have to bear the brunt of four
different systems of oppression: 'national, social (the weight of traditions and
habits), class and sexual' (ibid.). As a woman she finds herself vulnerable to
simultaneous oppression from all these quarters, and adopts the strategy of
using her resistance to one to undermine the others. Khaled's self-fashioning
as a Palestinian revolutionary depends on her deft management of her posi-
tion as a sexual being such that the pivotal role of sexuality is foregrounded
even as she wrests away from others the power to define and control her.
For long, militant actions such as Khaled's have been recognized as having
the aim of manipulating political attitudes rather than physically defeating an
enemy. Violence in this context is psychological and symbolic, not merely
material. At stake is winning acceptance and legitimacy for one's political
cause by discrediting the opposition. That is, what militants want is for their
cause to be seen as both urgent and just (Crenshaw 1983). Women's role in
the Palestinian resistance movement up until and including the Intifada
depends for its success on their performance of their daily feminine roles to
interventions- 1:1 68
• • o • • • • . • • • • o o t o • • • • o • • o o , • • o o

such a degree that their political activism is truly dependent on what Butler
has theorized as 'subversive bodily acts' (Butler 1990b: 128-41). Palestinian
women in the Occupied Territories use their voluminous clothing to hide
stones, Molotov cocktails, and the illegal Palestinian flag knowing that Israeli
soldiers would be reluctant to search them for fear of outraging Palestinian
men into violent reaction. In such situations, Palestinian women manipulate
the mutual agreement between Israeli and Palestinian men that women are
subjects of patriarchal law to clear for themselves a space for political
7 See Hiltermann
(1991). Hiltermann agency.7 The multiple claims between which women navigate in claiming this
suggests that women's agency can be seen, for instance, in mothers who urge their children to join
groups gamed a the Intifada, and who provide cover and support for their children's attacks
headstart in the Intifada
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by escaping surveillance on the army. The pull of the ideology of motherhood, which dictates that chil-
and suppression because dren must be protected at all costs and that their childhood innocence must
the Israeli Government not be taken away from them, is felt most keenly by mothers precisely when
initially believed that
Palestinian women did
they realize that militancy is the only way they and their children can assert
not wield much their dignity and humanity (MacDonald 1991: 79).
influence and therefore Needless to say, this mode of maternal thinking is a far cry from that
were potentially
advanced by Sara Ruddick. Furthermore, in a war of physical and cultural
attrition, child-bearing, keeping alive the memory of martyrs, and educating
children in Palestinian history all assume a significance that women in the
West Bank accept as necessary in a state of war. At the same time, the spread
of education, women's employment, and the increasing social worth and self-
esteem of women as they participate successfully in political struggles have
8 See Najjar and
Warnock (1992), provoked critical reformulations of the ideal of motherhood, s One measure
especially pp. 29-34, of the threat posed by Palestinian women's activities is the fact that women
70-S, 105-119, reportedly make up the largest group requiring hospital treatment after being
148-55, and 242-53.
beaten for protecting children. They are also the target of army raids as
soldiers deliberately try to terrorize them and thereby scare the community
into submission. While women's actions were directed against the Israelis,
they serve another important function. In the words of one activist, 'we
wanted the men to know that we have teeth too'. Successful in both respects,
women's insurgency has gained approval and support for women's organiz-
ations such as the Women's Higher United Council which, in 1989, managed
to secure the support of the Unified Leadership for an Equal Rights for
Women Bill (MacDonald 1991: 75). As well, the forms taken by women's
political participation have blurred the division between public and private
realms of experience, redefined the domestic sphere, and eroded traditional
structures of sexual division of labour (see also Peteet 1991).
Khaled's refusal to bend to the male chauvinism and self-righteousness of
her critics leads to situations that foreground the status of women as the
object of contention between different versions of patriarchal law, especially
in the (post)colonial context. Generally speaking, acts of female militancy
precipitate a crisis of authority and meaning such that female militants are
, Q o . e i o i
* * , , o * eoo • i o o o • i o o i • oo

Rajeswari Mohan

invariably seen as instances of gender anomaly. Their act of taking up arms

against an enemy, their attitude of unflinching commitment to a cause, their
acceptance of men as allies, and their contingent abandonment of 'feminine'
values of nurturing, non-violence, and pacifism have led to their being seen
by the dominant culture as well as by some feminists as grotesque aberrations
of femininity. For instance, when Astrid Proll of the Red Army Faction was
arrested in 1978, British tabloids proclaimed what remained unsaid in staider
journalistic accounts of her arrest: that she was a lesbian. In doing so, these
reports confirmed the commonsense perception that armed militants could
not be real women. The same can be said of reactions to female members of
the IRA (MacDonald 1991:5). Of a piece with this reaction is the telling
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response of the male public who deluged both Khaled and Kim Hyon Hui,
the North Korean agent who blew up a KAL jet in 1987, with marriage pro-
posals shortly after their arrest and incarceration. The compulsion to sexual-
ize these women into hyperfeminized objects of male desire and, more
significantly, to shepherd them into the patriarchal fold of marriage and
heterosexual desire is one indicator of the threat they constitute. For it is not
simply that they flout the law of the father by picking up their guns, but that
their actions - which till their discovery take place under the cover of docile
femininity - raise the worrying possibility that the edifices of patriarchy a r e
9 For instance, Miss
Kim observes, 'In
constantly being undermined by sly femininity.9
Korean society, women Khaled's narrative augments our appreciation of the fascinating possi-
a r e thought to be afraid bilities of feminine subterfuge by letting us glimpse the equally complex ratio-
to walk about on their
own, so it would be
nalizations that accompany each of her actions. For instance, as she waits to
unthinkable for a board the TWA airliner on her first hijacking mission, Khaled sees a little girl
woman to put a bomb wearing a button which proclaims 'Make Friends' playing in the airport
on an airplane' (quoted
lobby. Khaled's hurried attempts to allay the pangs of guilt provoked by the
in MacDonald 1991:
67). Khaled undertook reminder that her actions would take as victims innocent travelers such as
both her missions in the the charming little girl lead to an awareness of the ways cute productions of
guise of a young love- the commonsense work to suspend critical understanding of social realities.
lorn woman eager to be
reunited with her fiance.
The charge to make friends asserts that goodwill can bridge social divisions
and may even be an acceptable compensation for exploitation and oppres-
sion. Khaled quickly sees that the innocent pleasures of play and guileless
optimism work within an exclusive circle beyond which stand the 'homeless,
hungry, barefoot . . . twice "refugee" children of Bagan Camp'. The silent
reproach of these children, 'we too are children and we are a part of the
human race' strengthens Khaled's resolve (Khaled 1975: 136). There is no
turning back. But she does decide to be extra careful and not jeopardize
unnecessarily the lives of the passengers (1975. 137).
In this episode, to quote Frantz Fanon, Khaled's decision is 'the untidy affir-
marion of an original idea propounded as absolute' (Fanon 1963: 41). Fanon
explains how the 'native' is brought into existence through the violent
encounter with the colonizer which positions him as the passive, dehumanized
interventions- 1:1 70
o e e e e e e ooo eeoe eoeo e o o e o e e o e o o o

10 See Fanon (1963: object of policy, instruction, and control. This object, in asserting its opposi-
43). 'It is precisely at the
moment he [the
tion, assumes a heroic and agonistic subjectivity; i.e. in rebellion the native is
colonized] realizes his humanized. This is precisely Khaled's rationalization of her actions. Armed
humanity that he begins intervention becomes an assertion of her 'spurned humanity' (Khaled 1975:
to sharpen the weapons
130), and she is convinced that 'as a Palestinian [she] had to believe in the gun
with which he will
secure its victory.' as an embodiment of [her] humanity and [her] determination to liberate
11 The remarks of one [herself] and [her] fellowmen' (1975: 89). 1° When women like Khaled take up
of Julie Peteet's arms and join liberation struggles, they also reconfigure the social symbolic by
interviewees underscores
this point: 'Our women publicly portraying the transformation of the most conservative aspects of a
aren't women anymore; society, even the most cloistered and protected members of which are seen to
they have become men. embody and resist the suffering of the community, n Contradicting Robin
NOW I know they have
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to be this way because

Morgan's account of Khaled as a dupe of masculinist ideologies, this incident
of our society, but even shows her actions to be informed by an anguished awareness of her prior com-
when they go home they mitment to her people and their children. At the same time, by inserting herself
are no longer women'
in a discourse of anticolonial resistance in which the oppositional agent is
(Peteet 1991: 152).
12 Significantly, none framed as invariably masculine, Khaled not only creates a space for feminine
of Leila's actions are anticolonial oppositionality, but shows how the struggle itself may be reartic-
known to have directly ulated because of her commitment to preserving human life and dignity. 12
caused loss of life. After
her first successful This ambiguous and unpredictable deployment of femininity is greeted
hijacking, the airliner with skepticism if not outright dismissal in some quarters of feminism. For
was blown up aher the instance, women's militancy has provoked strong critique from Robin
passengers were
evacuated. During her
Morgan who agrees with many political scientists that terrorism is a strategic
second mission, her response to abjection, to being so thoroughly marginalized as to be deprived
comrade Patrick was the of conventional modes of redress. 13 This response, she asserts, is typically
only one to die on
masculine because, 'culturally, powerlessness is not a blow to girls' identity
board the plane, at the
hands of the Israeli sky as females; in a way it is convenient training' (Morgan 1989: 66). Further-
marshals. more, Morgan asserts, women as a group do not share the 'phallic excite-
13 Morgan's use of the ment that confuses toughness with strength' (1989: 152). Female militancy,
word 'terrorism' to
describe such political therefore, is nothing more nor less than the 'logical incarnation of patriar-
interventions signals her chal politics in a technological world' (1989: 33). Whatever the relative
movement towards the freedom and power Khaled may have gained by her actions, Morgan goes on
liberal agenda she
denounces elsewhere. In
to dismiss her as motivated by a lust for approval, acceptance, and respect
this respect her views by her male comrades (1989: 215). To say the least, Morgan's reading flies
overlap partially - in the face of Khaled's own narrative of her life in which, as we have seen,
despite her ringing
men are largely figured as enabling absences. Furthermore, Khaled sees
denunciation of the
military-industrial nationalist insurgency as an unprecedented opportunity for women to break
complex - with the out of constraining codes of feminine behavior, and in the process not only
opim'ons of mainstream emancipate themselves but also redefine the ideal of national sovereignty. 14
American media in
whose reporting In dismissing everything that Khaled has to say as expressions of false con-
participants in political sciousness, Morgan ironically winds up resorting to what she critiques at the
struggles supportive of beginning of her book as the exemplary patriarchal ploy of rendering
US interests are called
'freedom fighters', while
women's realities invisible and ignoring their suffering (1989: 53). What
those seento"oppose seems to be at work in Morgan's account of female militancy is a notion of
• • m• • o • • l . • • . • • l • oo • o e e o • o • • • •
Rajeswari Mohan

t h o s e interests a t e women's identity and experience as universals - she dodges the question
d e e m e d 'terrorists'. O n
this issue, I find
whether they are biologically embedded or culturally instilled - that function
p a r t i c u l a r l y helpful transculturally to identify women with nurturing and preserving life. In the
C o n o r Cruise O ' B r i e n ' s absence of an understanding of the ways the category 'woman' is called into
definition o f t e r r o r i s m
existence by the very patriarchal structures against which feminism revolts,
specifically as unjustified
violence a g a i n s t a
Morgan is unable to recognize that the critical transformation of 'woman' as
d e m o c r a t i c state t h a t the subject of feminism is brought about by the ensemble of practices and
p e r m i t s effective a n d discourses, some of which may not be advertised as feminist, through which
oppositionand redress women's emancipation is sought. Because she defines militants like Khaled as
to oppression(O'Brien women who are seduced away from their true peaceful natures by their desire
1983). to please violent men, she misses the important point that Khaled's beliefs
14 For a discussionof paradoxically stem from her desire to preserve the life of her family and her
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the specificways
women's participation people. Also missed is the fact that the stories of Khaled and other women
in the Palestinian militants crucially redefine the category 'woman', through a sustained refusal
strugglehas brought of the gender binaries invoked in patriarchal discourses and feminist accounts
about a reinterpretation
of nationalist ideals such as Morgan's, both of which circumscribe women's roles, which the one
such as economic undercuts and the other valorizes. At stake in this refusal, for feminist poli-
independence,justice, tics and knowledge in general, is the opening up of options to act politically
and education, see
Young(1992). and to reconfigure not just gender but other social structures such as nation
within which women live and act. To put it differently, narratives such as
Khaled's are important for feminist discourses precisely because they offer
concrete instances of the contestatory relations between feminisms in a world
order riven in its most minute forms by hierarchies of wealth and political
influence, and demonstrate what exactly it means, in terms of available politi-
cal options and strategies, to be the ubiquitous divided subject of feminism.

IV S t a g i n g t h e n e w A r a b w o m a n

Khaled's narrative, then, draws attention to her precarious and contingent

construction of an identity that gives her a near-celebrity status, as what one
biographer describes as the PFLP's 'superstar'. Most accounts of her actions
emphasize her beauty and youth, and her own narrative enacts a deft but risky
manipulation of codes of femininity not only as a cover for her actions but
also as a way of redefining those codes. In the words of one critic, 'Here was
a woman who might be beautiful, but she was unmistakably deadly and,
because of that, deeply thrilling' (MacDonald 1991: 98). As she choreographs
the play of the beautiful and the deadly, the pleasure and the danger, Khaled
insists on pointing out the consequences of her actions for the way her adver-
saries and her readers think about Palestinianwomen. Frequently, Khaled dis-
simulates her politics and pretends to be an apolitical young woman who does
not understand English - the signifier of education and therefore class privi-
lege - to shield herself from surveillance and detection. At other times, she
interventions- 1:1 72

leads on her adversaries to make judgments about her and then turns tables
on them. For instance, during a confrontation with the Jordanian ambassador
to Lebanon, Khaled deliberately promotes the impression that she is not an
Arab woman by her forceful behavior and fluency in English. Once her ruse
is established, she takes delight in speaking to him in Arabic and assuring him
'that I was an Arab, a Palestinian and that every Arab woman was going to
be my kind in the near future' (Khaled 1975: 64). The figure of the new Arab
woman reappears so often in the narrative that it, like the promise to reclaim
home, assumes the dimensions of a symbol around which the narrative orga-
nizes itself. Often appearing at precisely those moments when the political
deadlock over Palestine seems to unravel, the figure signals the immutability,
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for Khaled, of the bonds between nationalism and female emancipation.

As if to muster evidence in support of the viability of the new Arab woman,
Khaled frequently invokes the women militants who preceded her - Amina
Dhahbour, Rashida Obeida, and Shahdiah Abu Ghazalah - often assuming
their personae in the course of her missions. This invocation seems less a dis-
guise than an attempt to stage publicly the return of the repressed, as the dis-
possessed Palestinian woman becomes the figure of ghostly disruption and
vengeance. The following message broadcast over radio by Khaled during one
of her hijackings seems to address the Israeli government, but is also directed
at those Arabs who doubt the efficacy and resolve of Palestinian women:
'Here we come again. Shahdiah Abu Ghazalah [who was killed by Israeli
forces] has come back to life. There are millions of Shahdiahs who will be
returning again and again to reclaim the land' (1975: 142). In moments such
as these, Khaled seizes and recodes the figure of the Arab woman by infusing
her with the potential for historical transformation. By locating the new Arab
woman at the center of the myth of return, Khaled accords the figure a
primacy in the national symbolic.
Patriarchal traditions, however, are no push-overs, as can be seen from the
relentless effort to contain the subversive potential of Khaled's actions by
recasting her as the sexualized object of men's desire. Khaled herself is alert
to this danger, which she invariably encounters during her missions in the
guise of amorously importune men who threaten to blow her cover. Similarly,
when she is imprisoned by British ahthorities after the failure of her second
hijacking attempt the policeman, Chief Inspector Frew, who is in charge of
interrogating her tries to break down her reserve and resistance by flirta-
tiously underplaying her role as a militant and recasting her as the object of
his admiration. Even her irritated rejection of his compliments draws an
indulgent comment from the press, 'Leila does not accept men's compliments'
(MacDonald 1991: 128). In these situations, Khaled usually takes refuge
under the very patriarchal system of control and subjugation she fights bit-
terly when at home, and claims to be spoken for in one way or the other.
As if to counter the repeated threat of containment through sexualization,
e e o o o o o e e o o . o o o o o o o e o o o o o o o e o ,

Rajeswari Mohan

Khaled's narrative is starkly devoid of conventional love-interest themes. From

the start of the narrative, Khaled begins to fashion herself through a resistance
that she presents as spontaneous and untutored. As a child she was 'quite
boyish and aggressive', and played and fought with the boys in her neighbor-
hood (Khaled 1975: 29). As a young woman living alone in Kuwait, she main-
tains her resistance, asserting that despite 'numerous boyfriends' she never
became 'really attached to any man' because her only attachment was to the
revolution (1975: 67). After this point, patriotism increasingly becomes
invested with libidinal energy as Palestine gets figured as an estranged love, as
the promise of wholeness, as the only way towards the restoration of her
humanity, as the precious reward for her pain and suffering, and thereby as the
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object of her yearnings. Repeatedly, she draws upon the conventions of patri-
otic poetry which casts Palestine as a lover. Seeing the coast of Palestine for the
first time in her life from aboard a hijacked plane, she exclaims, 'My love and
I were racing toward each other for an eternal embrace' (1975: 142). Later;
while in prison she composes love poetry addressing Palestine as her lover:
e o o e e e o e e o o o e o o o o o e o o

My beloved, I shall return on the

wings of eagles to you;

Mother, I can no longer keep my secret:

I am a lover of Palestine and I have
No other love... (1975: 155)
o o o e o e e e e e o o o e o o e o e o o

In figuring her patriotism as a love that must be kept secret because it keeps
her away from other loves her mother might wish for her, Khaled enters a
discursive field that raises important questions about her position not only as
a nationalist but also, and more intriguingly, as a sexual subject. Is the poem
nothing more than an exercise in the conventions of patriotic declamation?
Does Khaled's occupying the position of the impatient lover shake up the con-
ventions of romantic poetry which predominantly cast the woman as the
passive object of male desire? And does this meddling unsettle the gender and
sexual binaries enacted and supported by such conventions? If it does, to what
extent and in what fashion? Is Khaled carving out a position of active female
sexuality in her narrative, or is she going further by inserting herself in a posi-
tion coded as masculine in the tradition of patriotic romance and thereby dis-
turbing the heterosexualmatrix? Several writers have pointed out that the
construction of the land as feminine has been the basis of a practice of declar-
ing political control of the land through the sexual exploitation of women
(Accad 1991; Young ,1992). What are the consequences of Khaled's tamper-
ings with the sexual domain for nationalist vision in this context?
Instead of trying to determine, like some commentators, whether Khaled
was a feminist or a nationalist first, we may be better advised to see contingent
interventions- 1:I 74

agencies emerging as her nationalist postures serve as a cover for feminist

interventions just as her feminine masquerades aid her militant nationalism.
If the Arab woman, veiled and spoken for by husband, father, or brother, is
the culture's way of signaling femininity through a 'play of signifying
absences', as Butler puts it, Khaled counters with her own orchestration of
presence and absence: her self-styled androgyny, the conspicuous absence of
male companions, lovers and husbands, publicity photos with pictures of Ho
Chi Mirth and Che Guevara in the background, and the more famous por-
trait of her smiling mischievously as she cradles a kalashnikov in the crook
of her arm. A number of Arab feminists such as Evetyn Accad have argued
that the strict control of feminine sexuality and the policing of gender roles
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serve as central supports of oppressive and exploitative social arrangements

in the Middle East, and insist that there will be no social transformation
unless sexual revolution is incorporated into political revolution. Khaled's
subversive forays into the heart of the patriarchal symbolic clear the ground
for the emergence of the New Arab Woman she heralds in word and deed.
Like the activities of the women of the Intifada, whose activities in the public
sphere two decades later redefine for the culture women's place and work,
Khaled's performance forces a rearrangement of gender roles that cannot but
15 Mary Layotm
provides a subtle have economic and political ramifications, is
analysis of the ways At the same time, by taking place in an almost gladiatorial scenario,
women's participation Khaled's enactments ask several important questions of Butler's model of sub-
in the Intifada puts
pressure on the home-
versive performance. One macabre incident in Khaled's life is particularly
inside/street-outside insistent. After her first successful hijacking and her mercurial rise to celebrity
division central to status, Khaled's face becomes so widely recognized that she becomes a risk
gender arrangements
for future missions. Still determined to continue her militancy, she decides to
(see Layoun 1992).
assume a sort of radical disguise by way of a series of three 'face-twisting'
operations by a plastic surgeon. Several aspects of these surgical make-overs
tip us off to the possibility that this is one more instance of gestural politics
where Khaled tampers with the most intimate and deep-rooted elements of
the symbolic orders regulating her life. For one thing, the entire procedure
takes place without anesthesia either because, according to one account,
Khaled stoically refuses it, or because the necessary facilities were not avail-
able in the private clinic where she was operated on for security reasons. But
even after all this trouble, the operations do not seem to have done much
good, for Khaled continues to be recognized. In her autobiography, Khaled
recounts an instance when she tries to maintain her disguise and fend off a
male admirer who recognizes her. When her attempts to deny her identity fail,
she accepts her identification as revo!utionary prima donna and, in one of her
loftiest gestures, presents his new-born baby daughter with a necklace of
bullets while wishing her a 'long, long, revolutionary career' (Khaled 1975:
187). Once again, a necklace seals female relationships, though this time the
uniqueness of the necklace marks the eccentric quality of the network being
, o o Q o . o , o , o , o , , o , ~ , , o o o o o o e o l i

Rajeswari Mohan

established. This incident anticipates her recognition by an Israeli sky marshal

on board the El AI plane she hijacks shortly thereafter, which results in her
brutal capture that almost becomes an execution. Her career as a hijacker
ends with this attempt. Khaled's implicit recognition of the futility of her dis-
guise and the fact that she has her face 'untwisted' after her discharge from
the PFLP's combat cadre suggest that there is more at work here than a simple
desire for disguise. The ineffectuality, the sheer incomprehensibleness of this
action imbue it with an exorbitant symbolic significance that resonates with
certain historically specific features of the context of Khaled's performance.
For one thing, Khaled's face-twisting - with its connotations of veiling, dis-
guise, heroic sacrifice, and masochistic self-mutilation - enters willy-nilly into
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a complex field of postcolonial and sexual politics in the Middle East, where
the body of woman and its visibility has been the focus of struggle between
colonial and indigenous patriarchal ideologies. Most infamously in Algeria,
Arab women were identified as the carrier of culture and became the object
of a French colonial policy of unveiling which sought to destroy indigenous
cultures and install the hegemony of Europe in the name of liberating and
enlightening the colonized. Implicit in imperial designs on the body of the
Arab woman were two crucial assumptions. Firstly, in identifying the Arab
woman with the veiled body, a homogenized image of colonized femininity
emerged that brooked no modification or variation. Lost here are class and
regional differences in women's adoption of the veil. But by a stroke of revol-
utionary dialectic, this homogenizing impulse provided nationalists with a
16 See Fanon (1965).
For a critical analysis of potent weapon for anticolonial struggles. 16 Secondly, in the colonial context,
cultural politics of European unveiling of Arab women was a pointed act of aggression, a cul-
veiling and its tural violation that sought to bare their secrets, reveal their beauty, and
narratives, see Woodhull
(1991). thereby wrest control of their sexuality from the colonized patriarchy. 17
17 For a suggestive European unveiling of Arab women was thus seen as a 'double-deflowering'
analysis of the erotic where the rending of the veil was usually the violent foreplay of rape and
enchantments for the
conquest of a land also figured as feminine. The resistance thrown up by the
colonizer of the play
between concealment colonized was in turn organized around the focus of colonial aggression and
and unveiling of the the offensive against the veil was met with a cult of the veil. In colonial
colonized female body, Algeria and Morocco, and occupied Palestine, Arab women have shown how
see Allouta (1986).
the veil, designed to efface the presence of women, allows them to act in the
public sphere in subversive ways. Similarly, the unveiling of women offers
opportunities for subversion of the colonial and patriarchal preconstructed.
In colonial discourse, the unveiled female body represented a victory for
European culture and a satisfaction of the desire for conquest and posses-
sion. The contest between colonial and nationalist men over the veil has thus
run the risk of altogether sidelining women's agency,
But for an unveiled Arab woman, whose disguise is her unveiling, the
effects are more complex. Like the Algerian women who carried bombs into
the French Quarter and like Khaled who dons chic European ensembles as
i n t e r v e n t i o n s - 1:1 76
oaeeeeoeeeeaoeooeee4, eeueeeeeeo

disguise, the unveiled woman is hard-pressed to realign herself to her body.

She must pass for a European, but at the same time 'be careful not to overdo
it, not to attract notice to herself', and in doing so 'relearns her body, re-
establishes it in a totally revolutionary fashion' (Fanon 1965: 59). Khaled's
disfigurements also serve as a dramatic form of veiling that accentuates her
struggles against patriarchal and colonial controls. Her actions release
complex dissonances of openness and disguise, repeatedly leaving behind the
figure of the retiring Arab woman to assume an aggressive expansiveness. But
this expansiveness is itself a disguise that counts on stereotypes of the docile
and submissive Arab woman so as to make a veiling of her unveiling. Khaled's
excuse to the plastic surgeon that she wishes to undergo the painful opera-
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tions to satisfy the twisted desires of her fianc6 adds another fold to the
pattern of subversive deception, just as the surgeon's unquestioning accept-
ance of this bizarre excuse becomes a shocking confirmation of the way patri-
archal control over women's bodies is taken for granted. In light of her
insistence that Palestine is her sole love, this excuse becomes at once an
oblique criticism and a heroic acceptance of the demands of nationalism as
well. Khaled's spectacular enactment of the pain and risk sbe is willing to
suffer for the sake of her homeland emphasizes, one more time, that hers is
not a weak-kneed patriotism, and that the New Arab woman she represents
is up to the demands to be made of her. At the same time, by offering the
body in pain as the symbol of Palestinian nationalism, Khaled taps into Pales-
tinian feminist discourses that see 'violence against women [as] the implicit,
unstated axis upon which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict turns' (Young 1992:
5). However, Khaled's actions push the discussion beyond its usual end-point
of victimization to address the culture of violence in which women are
assigned central roles. In this regard, the entire episode serves as a material
synecdoche of jouissance in its dual aspects - the exhilaration, the liberation,
as well as the sense of dissolution, of mise-en-abyme that accompanies gender
bending. She draws into the contest Arab and western expectations of the
veiled woman and the liberated woman of the future, patriarchal notions of
woman's body and beauty as property of men, her own sense of herself as
absolute mistress of her body, and the value accorded to sacrifice and mar-
tyrdom in the discourse of Palestinian nationalism, provoking profound
anxiety in the process.
In activating these configurations, Khaled's actions draw attention to the
precariousness of the authority of patriarchal discourses and their eminent
vulnerability to appropriation by the diverse interests and multiple value
systems inscribing the female body. It has recently been suggested that the
resurgence of veiling in a number of Islamic societies does not so much signal
a return to precolonial traditions as an identification of women with their
societies' 'in-betweenness'. As symbols of transitions, contradictions, and
conflicts between modernity and tradition, women increasingly become

Raieswari Mohan

ideological scapegoats that help displace and contain conflicts accompanying

new historical situations. Khaled's refusal to be contained in such a fashion
and her loud insistence on orchestrating the play of disguise and denouement
in her facial disfigurations demonstrates that women do take charge of his-
torical liminality and convert it to an emancipatory moment. At the same
time, her decision to correct her disfigurement suggests that the contingency
of performance is not without its sometimes tremendous personal cost. The
politically apt variations in Khaled's perforn~ances make it impossible to
ignore the historical and context-specific nature of the patriarchal orders she
takes on. In this regard, her actions suggest that the paternal law is not sin-
gularly deterministic and may not even be singular.
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Khaled's orchestration of multiple identifications and her alternations

between valor and pathos produce what Buffer describes as the effect of all
subversive bodily acts: 'convergences and innovative dissonances within
gender configuration which contest the fixity of masculine and feminine place-
ments with respect to the paternal law' (Butler 1990b: 67). However, Butler's
claims about the efficacy of such contestation depends on her parodic con-
struction of the paternal law, which she asserts 'ought to be understood not as
a deterministic divine will, but as a perpetual bumbler, preparing the ground
for the insurrections against him' (1990b: 28). Khaled's skill at playing on
assumptions of feminine modesty, guilelessness, and passivity to clear the
ground for her actions implies a similar understanding of the law to a degree,
with the British Inspector Frew lending able support in the role of the comedic
father. But the events following her second, unsuccessful hijacking attempt
reveal that the comedic is but one of the many aspects of the patriarchal order,
which does not hesitate to switch to sinister authority when necessary. After
her capture, Khaled comes very close to being killed by the angry passengers,
crew, and Israeli agents on board the flight. Even after her release and her
return to Syria, she is the target of several assassination attempts, during one
of which her sister and her fianc~ are killed on the eve of their wedding. Khaled
may be skillful in evading the law's retributory arm, but in these manifesta-
tions it is not comedic in the least. These events demonstrate the prohibitive
aspect of a law that brooks little resistance and which scarcely hesitates to
invoke the apparatus of the State - the army, the prison, the secret service -
and shows little tolerance for the transgressive body.
Furthermore, the law itself is capable of parody, which has been a standard
strategy of containing feminist representation. Eileen MacDonald recounts
her experiences trying to track down Khaled and being told by one of Yasser
Arafat's chief advisors that 'she had grown fat, had had eight children, and
that all she was now interested in was cooking' (MacDonald 1991:99). That
this ridiculous image turns out to be nothing more than an anxious patriar-
chal fantasy may indicate that Khaled's barbs have found their target, but it
also proves that parody reigns strong as the favored anti-feminist stratagem
interventions - 1:1 78
e e e e e , o o o e o o o e o e e o e o o e e o e o e e o e

as well. More importantly, as exhilarating as it may be for gendered per-

formance to demonstrate the politics of incommensurability that 'exposes
"identification" and the drama of ~being" and "having" the Phallus as phan-
tasmatic', the actual subversive effects of such performance cannot be
assessed or guaranteed in the absence of a theory of the social that situates
the patriarchal symbolic in relation to economic and political arrangements
within which women are positioned as producers, reproducers, consumers,
citizens, refugees, outlaws, etc. In choosing sexuality as their central point of
intervention, Butler and De Lauretis address practices vital to patriarchal
designs. At the same time, their work ironically perpetuates what materialist
feminists have critiqued as the 'sexualization of women', by ignoring the
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effects of sexual politics on women's roles as consumers, producers, and

political actors. Early field reports on actual gender performances by femin-
ists such as bell hooks and Susan Bordo suggest that gender performances
have contradictory effects at best, and that gains made on the fronts of sexual
difference, autonomy, and representation are eroded by the tighter imbrica-
tion of sexual subjects within the exploitative networks of commodity aes-
thetics. They have shown that, if sexuality is not articulated with class and
race, even the most spectacular and daring subversions of gender roles can
become cogs in the vast and complex machinery of commodity aesthetics and
consumerism (hooks 1991; Bordo 1991). Leila Khaled's case also demon-
strates that while Butler's theoretical interventions make visible the subtle
mechanisms and far-reaching effects of women's political actions, the link-
ages between women's positioning as sexual subjects and the other locations
of their subjectivity and agency need to be mapped in detail if we are to
appreciate the full range of political effectivity of subversive bodily acts.
The value of texts such as My People Shall Live for those living and
working in the west is precisely that they pose such challenges and questions
to feminist theory and practice. To say this is not to position these texts merely
as grists for western theoretical mills, but simply to draw out their implication
at one point of their reception. These implications gain in importance when
we recall the reasons Khaled addresses her autobiography specifically to an
English-speaking audience. Equally, Khaled's narrative joins other accounts
of women's insurgency and political participation elsewhere - in Latin
America, Asia, and Africa as well as in union barricades in the industrialized
world - which consistently demonstrate the vital role played by feminist
agendas in every revolutionary movement. These accounts offer their own
theoretical perspectives that academic feminism ignores at great cost. I have
tried to show in this essay how recent theoretical interventions in Anglo-
American feminist discourses provide some powerful concepts which allow
us to trace the actual mechanisms by which women's participation in politi-
cal movements bring about social transformation, not simply by disrupting
gendered divisions of labor and politics, but also by remapping the social
. . , o o , o o . o . , , o o o , o o l e e o o o o o o o e

Rajeswari Mohan

symbolic of the sexual. However, the encounter with alternate sites of femin-
ist theory and practice will remain incomplete if the circuit is not closed, and
if the counter-pressure exerted by texts of postcolonial and Third World
insurgency on Anglo-American theory is not acknowledged. Such an acknow-
ledgement will make unique demands on any attempt to account for or under-
stand the circumstances of non-western women's lives from the standpoint of
western academic discourses, for such attempts are inevitably animated by
the dialectic tension produced by the ambivalent and ambiguous distinctions
between them and us, as well as by the different meanings the texts hold in
the different sites they circulate (see Mani 1990; Mohan 1994).
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