Given the negative and limited representations of Muslims and Palestinians, and the central role that women play in this spectrum of dominant representations, this article takes interest in the possibilities of circulating dissent and alternative portrayals through digital media. Taking interest in the poetry of Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad, which vibrantly emerged in the digital public sphere in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, this analysis focuses on Hammad's digital interventions to challenge Islamophobia and other forms of discursive and material domination. Based on a textual analysis of Hammad's poetry, this article is also informed by a semi-structured interview conducted with the artist, as well as other information available in the public domain. This analysis reveals that digital media play an important role in increasing Hammad's ability to circulate her art to a wider audience. Building bridges across multiple communities and positions of marginality transnationally, Hammad's work attempts to challenge dominant Islamophobic and gendered discourses about identity. However, similarly to other “minority” artists, “talking back” (hooks 1989) to dominant discourses requires a performativity of identity, and is at the same time anchored to the motivation to unsettle essentialist understandings of identity. Through her writings and poetry performances archived online, Hammad highlights the complexity of identity and reveals both how racialization is socially constructed and the racial ambiguity of Islamophobia. While acknowledging the discursive formation of identity, Hammad's work also underscores the real, material consequences of discourses of fear and hate in order to regain some agency and symbolic power.
Mohanty (1991) contends that “it is the common context of struggle against specific exploitative structures and systems that determines our potential political alliances” (7). Hence, Mohanty challenges the essentialist understanding of identity politics in favor of a politicized understanding of oppositional identity. However, such alliances are not always easy to build as historical instances of the failure to stand in solidarity with other struggles demonstrate.
The TED video can be found here: https://www.ted.com/talks/suheir_hammad_poems_of_war_peace_women_power?language=en
The dance performance can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_aY4ALfbwg
In a previously published article, I define alternative media “as media content that challenges dominant assumptions and offers stylistic innovations for the purpose of inspiring social change. In addition, I argue that alternative media consist of transforming the existing stock of material into one's own language in order to promote social justice” (Oumlil 2016, 41).
The poem “Rafah,” performed at the Palestine Festival of Literature 2009, is available as an online video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21PVTeloXfc, and in the Born Palestinian, Born Black reprint (Hammad 2010).
The poem “break,” which opens the collection Breaking Poems (2008), is also available online as a performance video: https://bodyontheline.wordpress.com/2008/03/23/break-by-suheir-hammad/