Back of the Throat and Nine Parts of Desire
Before the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States, Arab Americans were largely considered as invisible subjects and scores would qualify as culturally white. However, following this unfortunate event, this group of people instantaneously came under public scrutiny. Based on the various theories of interculturality, the encounters of Arabs following the 9/11 attack are depicted by two artistically different plays written by Arab Americans: Back of the Throat (2005) by Yussef El Guindi, an Egyptian-born playwright and Nine Parts of Desire (2004), a one-woman play written by Heather Raffo, a half-Iraqi dramatist. Whereas official discussions after 9/11 tend to conceal the many variations that characterize the Arab Americans, these plays act as clarion calls that throw various binary constructions down the gauntlet. The plays center on issues race, ethnicity, and gender and rip to shreds the many ways in which identities are constructed, narrated and mediated. Accordingly, this paper compares the themes of the two plays with a particular focus on the diversity within each play as well as the character similarities between them.
Like in most of his other works, El Guindi in Back of the Throat focuses on the themes of cultural, political, and ethnic collisions that face Arab Americans. This theme of being ignored and racialized is central to the experience of many Arabs, not only in the United States but in many a foreign country. Having morphed overnight from being dependable citizens to suspects of terrorism, El Guindi effectively uses the encounter of Khaled with two federal agents, to bring out the plight of Arab Americans in post 9/11 America, which primarily centers on discrimination (Mohr and Dawes). Similarly, Heather Raffo brings out the theme of unfairness and discrimination in her play, Nine Parts of Desire. This play delves into the various controversial issues that women faced in Iraq, an age-old war-torn zone. The monologues in the play bring out the different experiences of women and the traumatic experience of being female in Iraq, particularly the prejudices were perpetrated against them. Layal, the play’s main speaker is an artist that enjoys privileges due to the sexual favors that she grants Saddam Hussein’s sons (Raffo). Contrarily, the other women in the play have to endure the agony from the oppressive rule of the chauvinistic regime.
Accordingly, while El Guindi focuses on racial discrimination, Raffo emphasizes gender bias.
It is also imperative to note that both plays depict the topic of gender and the society’s perception of women. In El Guindi’s play, one actress can play the parts of Shelly, Beth, and Jean. Initially, this actress appears as an old-fashioned librarian. Subsequently, she shows up as Khaled’s ex-lover and finally, she is depicted as a pole dancer. Imperatively, El Guindi spans the various ways in which men visualize women – from caricatures of intelligent but neuter spinsters to travesties of scatterbrained yet sexually appealing toys, with the girlfriend being the average of the two. The manner in which women are continually objectified and change shape in Back of the Throat depict the sexist profiling among most men. For instance, the federal agents find Khaled’s pornographic magazine (El Guindi). Also, one of the agents makes a chauvinistic banter while grilling Khaled (El Guindi). These two instances are evidence that the two males objectified females. This sort of bigotry calls to mind Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire in which the woman, particularly Layal, is also depicted as the man’s sex toy.
To a great extent, El Guindi’s and Raffo’s plays highlight the punitive yet ineffective measures that the United States has taken to mitigate terrorism and to prevent any impending attacks following the September 11 bombing. In Back of the Throat, the abuse and panic exacerbated by the methods that the federal agents used while grilling Khaled can largely be considered as an apparent violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms. Similarly, in Nine Parts of Desire, Layal the artist was a victim of the missile strike following America’s air raid on Iraq during the war that was by all means secondary to the September 11 attack (Raffo). As a consequence of the United States’ harsh measures, an innocent civilian and many other lost their lives following the violation of their inherent rights to live. Accordingly, whether to wage a war abroad as in Nine Parts of Desire or to execute plans for preventing future attacks within the borders as in Back of the Throat, care should be taken to avoid problematic and dangerous approaches that would worsen the already perilous situation of Arab Americans.
Essentially, there are some notable similarities between the characters in the two plays. Both plays have Arab American characters who are victims who are discriminated against in their respective societies. Further, both plays underscore the aspect of diversity. Khaled, a bona fide citizen of the United States whose loyalty is unquestionable is a victim of intercultural conflicts stemming from the diverse composition of America’s community. However, due to a single terrorist attack, this diversity risks to be jeopardized as the Arab Americans become a targeted lot. While the intricacies of diversity in Back of the Throat are evident from the interactions of characters within the play, these particulars in Nine Parts of Desire are appreciable from the interaction of the character and the audience. Through her, the viewers get to appreciate the differences in both experiences and culture between Iraq and America. Nevertheless, both plays contribute to a positive dynamic intercultural model.