What Makes a Man? Sexuality and Representation in Europe-Middle East Encounters

© Abraham H. Zeitoun

Berlin, May 18, 2017
ICI Berlin, Christinenstr. 18/19, Haus 8, 10119 Berlin

An ICI Event, organized by Peter Rehberg, 2012/13 EUME Fellow Tarek El-Ariss, and John Borneman, in cooperation with Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe (EUME). More information...



Rashid al-Daif
Joachim Helfer

Zeina G. Halabi (EUME Fellow 2012/13)
Michael Allan (EUME-CNMS Fellow 2017)
Friederike Pannewick (EUME member) et al

Questions about sexuality, gender, and religion in the East and West have dominated debates in Germany and other European countries since the beginning of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in the summer of 2015. Despite all claims as to the unprecedented nature of the displacement and its root causes, German media attention is becoming increasingly transfixed by an all-too-familiar construction of ‘oriental’ masculinity.

Back in 2003, the Berlin-based ‘West-East Divan’, a project of the Working Group ‘Modernity and Islam’ (today EUME), initiated an author exchange between Rashid al-Daif from Beirut and Joachim Helfer from Berlin. Two books resulted from the encounter: al-Daif’s Awdat al-almani ila rushdih (The German’s Return to His Senses, 2005) and Helfer’s response Die Verschwulung der Welt (The Queering of the World, 2006). Both texts caused a heated debate at the time of their publication: al-Daif’s apparent homophobia seemed to have found a match in Helfer’s orientalism. Their exchange certainly complicated the assumption that an encounter between two intellectuals, two literary writers from different cultures would ultimately have to be able to dispel all intervening prejudices. A decade later, their remarkably candid debate crossed the Atlantic: in 2015, the English translation of the exchange was published with additional critical essays under the title What Makes A Man? Sex Talk between Beirut and Berlin.

The workshop reassembles the original partners of the encounter and a larger group of critics from both sides of the Atlantic to explore the issues at stake. It will test the assumption that al-Daif and Helfer’s publications can help us carve out the cultural, literary, and media conditions in which narratives of gender and sexuality across cultural and religious differences and their critiques are developed.


1 pm - 1.15 pm 
Christoph Holzhey (ICI Berlin)
Georges Khalil (EUME/Forum Transregionale Studien)

1.15 pm -1.30 pm  
Peter Rehberg

1.30 pm - 3.30 pm
Panel I - East/West Literary Encounters
Michael Allan
Zeina G. Halabi
Gary Schmidt
Robert Tobin

Moderator: Tarek El-Ariss

3.30 pm - 4 pm 
Coffee break

4 pm - 6 pm    
Panel II - Sexuality, Masculinity, and Media Representation
Mohamed Amjahid
Dieter Haller
Paula-Irene Villa
Samuel Williams

Moderator: John Borneman

6 pm - 7.30 pm 

7.30 - 9 pm  
Discussion – What Makes a Man? Revisiting The German’s Return to His Senses and The Queering of the World
Rashid al-Daif
Joachim Helfer

Moderator: Friederike Pannewick
followed by a Q&A