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Desiring Arabs Hardcover – 8 Jun 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (8 Jun. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226509583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226509587
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,661,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"A pioneering work on a very timely yet frustratingly neglected topic.... I know of no other study that can even begin to compare with the detail and scope of [this] work." - Khaled El-Rouayheb, Middle East Report "In Desiring Arabs, Edward Said's disciple Joseph A. Massad corroborates his mentor's thesis that orientalist writing was racist and dehumanizing.... Massad brilliantly goes on to trace the legacy of this racist, internalized, orientalist discourse up to the present." - Financial Times"

About the Author

Joseph A. Massad is associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. He is the author of Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan and The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is worth checking Massad's interviews away from this scholarly work before you read it. His view's on what he calls the 'Gay International' in particular, which he continually parcels together with the American right wing evangelicals in the book, as a proselytising conspiracy against Arab culture and values. He is not unbiased, clearly finding it almost impossible to conceive that any Arab, unless hopelessly corrupted by western cultures, could self identify as 'gay', feminist or as homosexual. That said this book is fantastic in debunking many western Orientalist writers and thinkers. It will make you think and argue with yourself and with him.

He points out a plethora of Arab books that deal with sexuality that have not been translated into western languages or were inaccurately interpreted. Islamic writers of the 19th century are shown to be curious and interested in western morals and psychology (and just as likely to paint unbiased views as the one sided ones we so often assume). The most fascinating debates are however in the Arab internal discussions and assessments of poets who wrote about same sex love within their own culture in the medieval period that he details. Most of these are unexamined by western scholars (he ridicules Orientalist conferences where the minority Arab attendees had to translate for the westerners who could not read Arabic but claimed expertise). Massad's work is fantastic in bringing out these arguments and misconceptions. (If nothing else his examination of the evolution of words and terms for sex and homosex are a goldmine when using Google!).

He shows that a relaxed exchange of views amongst Arab authors writing from the late 19th century onward changed mid twentieth century to a more puritanical and censoring attitude.
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Format: Paperback
Desiring Arabs is one of the most interesting and challenging books that I have read.

Massad's thesis is that people in the West have always had (and continue to have) an entirely wrong view of Arab sexuality/sensuality. Westerners impose their/our own matrix of sexual relationships upon a completely different culture. The exhibits which he uses to prove this thesis are a variety of Arabic literature. This literature encompasses plays, novels, short stories, films and poetry.

Initially I was concerned that the texts which he cites would make the book unnavigable as I have read only two or three of them. In this I was wrong as he explains the plots and draws out issues from the texts admirably.

Much of the book is concerned with homosexuality and its manifestations in Arabic literature. In regard to this I feel that I learnt a lot from reading the book as Massad places each text into its contemporaneous historical and socialogical position.

'Desiring Arabs' is not for the faint hearted or for the uncommitted. From its outset the language used is convoluted and unnecessarily complex. I am certain that this will put many readers off and that is very unfortunate as I think that Massad's message is one that any amateur or professional anthropologist ought to be made aware of.

I am also rather concerned that Massad really does not seem to provide many answers. He argues that the West views Arab sexual culture in an entirely wrong way, yet only towards the end does he touch upon an alternative view that we perhaps ought to have. Perhaps in this I miss his major message but as somebody who battled and thought my way through the book I felt that I was owed a clearer description of Massad's own stance regarding the issue.
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Format: Paperback
great purchase, the book was impeccable, it was delivered on time, I have nothing at all to complain about :) can't wait to start reading it!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x888eee10) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x888f7f9c) out of 5 stars The History of Sexuality In A Colonial Context 21 Dec. 2014
By Mikhail B - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Much has been made about the status of non-heterosexual people in the Middle East, their plight, their struggles and their loyalties. More often than not, this issue is dealt with rather predictably as one of conservative reactionary Muslims in the region denying full equality and dignity to people with different sexual orientations. In other words, that the culture is fundamentally homophobic. An opposing, equally ridiculous response is that of the former President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who claimed that there were no homosexuals in Iran.
Joseph Massad seeks to set the record straight on this issue with his book Desiring Arabs. Massad launches an intellectual assault on a central assumption behind both pronouncements: that "homosexuality", as a category of sexual relations, is a cross-cultural concept that people simply fall into or not. According to Massad, such an assumption reads a modern European understanding of sexual relations onto a cultural framework where such divisions were not present. Tracing a genealogy of the homosexual-heterosexual dichotomy in true Foucauldian genealogical fashion, he identifies this psychiatric-medical concept in its Victorian colonial millieu and shows how it spread with western knowledge into bourgeois parts of the Arab world, where Arab intellectuals adopted it and other ideas in order to recreate themselves as "modern" in line with liberal European precepts of the time. Starting from where Edward Said left off, Massad shows that such concepts carried orientalist/colonialist assumptions about the sexual decadence of non-western (particularly Islamicate) societies and how Arab intellectuals reacted to such orientalist prejudices by imbibing western sexual discourses to correct themselves and purge any trace of sexual behavior and practice that did not conform with this type of racist thinking. The result, Massad argues, is a marked increase in rather prudish sexually intolerant ideas in the Arab world which were taken as a sign of being "proper" and "civilized" heterosexuals, shoving out those Arabs and Muslims that did not distinguish so strictly between opposite sex and same-sex behavior or identified with one or the other in ways different to today. In his analysis, he cites a number of prominent Arab writers and intellectuals from the 19th and early 20th centuries, showing how their ideas were structured to fall in line with this European epistemological reality in the region.
Massad concludes the book with a discussion of contemporary gay liberation movements and their effects on the Middle East. Here, makes a controversial yet compelling critique of colonialist assumptions behind gay liberation activities engaging with the region, assumptions that only replicate and enforce the hetero-homo dichotomy in the Middle East, perpetuating the type of epistemic violence that only worsens the conditions of non-heterosexual minorities in their native countries. Instead, Massad argues that rather than pursuing neo-colonial projects such as "Gay liberation" which only perpetuates racist western understandings of sexuality, activists should work to dismantling these binaries in order to open the door to more radical possibilities of sexual identification. It is a powerful argument that is quite compatible with the goals of queer theorists seeking to challenge western sexual epistemology (one that I sympathize with highly as a bisexual man) yet perhaps there may be a risk of over-exclusiveness that does not account for those Arabs and Muslims that do understand their sexualities according to the western model and seek an end to discrimination on that basis. Some have argued that Massad risks creating an impression of an idealized pre-victorian non-binary sexual past that was destroyed by the encounter with Western knowledge. I don't think he specifically endorses pre-modern Islamic notions about sexuality as a model to be emulated. Indeed, he says as much in countless interviews clarifying his arguments on the book's thesis, but perhaps there should be some more nuance in combatting the restrictions of modern sexual categories?
That being said, this is still a major tour-de-force of Arab intellectual history. He builds on Said's Orientalism thesis with this detailed analysis of the production of sexual knowledge in a colonial context, how it targets a subject population and how that subject population utilizes that knowledge to detrimental effect. No student of the history of sexuality or Arab cultural history can afford to ignore this important landmark work.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88682204) out of 5 stars A splendid and provocative work of scholarship and cultural analysis 4 Aug. 2011
By patrick b. crawford - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The work masterfully covers representations of Arab sexuality (mostly homosexuality). Massad examines many of the major works of literature on this topic as well as their reception in the critical commentary. Massed also does not flinch from providing his own reasoned and highly critical analysis of the gay rights movement as it is imported into the Arab world. He provides a scathing critique of western attempts to "liberate Arab gays". Massad is a capable and unflinching intellectual who calls it as he sees it even where doing so makes him unpopular and the target of really aggressive attack (we need more intellectuals like this these days!). His scholarship and his analytical capabilities are so impressive that you are convinced by argument, despite the fact that such conclusions cause to you question your fundamental prejudices inclinations and beliefs about the gay rights mission. This book not only caused me to read more Arabic literature generally but also has nuanced and enhanced my understanding of the gay rights movement in general. It left me a bit embarrassed about some of my existing belief structures. This is a good thing.
13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x886821c8) out of 5 stars thoughtful extension of said's thesis 26 Jan. 2009
By farinel - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The work at hnd is thoroughly researched and passionately argued. It provides a summary of how Arabic speaking scholars viewed their own literary tradition and how their views changed under western influence and later in reaction to such influence. The summaries of poetry, novels, and films are very helpful but the core of the book is theoretical, a challenge to the imposition of european based theories of sexuality on the diversity of experience and sexualities among men in the former Ottoman empire.The book rightly challenges the sexual typology developed by liberationist rhetoric and corrects the frequent attempts to waylay medieval and other authors writing in Arabic into the 'gay' camp. From both an historical and anthropological perspective the book makes sense (to me at least) because it testifies to the gap between labels and the polymorphous and elusive nature of sexual desire. It also respects the differences in people and cultures over time.
12 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x886824bc) out of 5 stars The Byzantine Veil all over again 13 Jan. 2008
By sam - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Like the Byzantines who viewed unveiled women as prostitues or lower class women and thus succeeded in creating the veiled Arab woman simply by implying they are a lower class if unveiled, Western literature of the last 1000 years referring to the Arabs as sodomites and pederasts and now, incredibly as homophobes, has imposed its mores and culture on their fluid concepts of Arab sexuality.

An excellent read.
49 of 91 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x886829c0) out of 5 stars Very Problematic 12 Aug. 2007
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book, like Edward Said's Orientalism gives the impression that the wes tis the source of everything that is wrong not only with the Arab-Muslim world but also the West, in a sense that western scholarship and perceptions are always 'racist'.

But what does this mean? The Arabs and the West are not monoliths. The black Arabic speakers of Southern Iran, the Hebronite Arabs, the Southern 'Latin' Italians and the Irish are diverse peoples that do not deserve to be lumped together into simple categories of 'racist west' and 'victimized Arab'.

The thesis here is that in the 19th century westerners viewed Arabs racistly as being sexually promiscous and licentious, as desiring women too much. In the 20th century however the West is supposed to have become sexually open and suddenly the Arabs became 'conservative' and prudish. But why was this so? Is it true that the west's attitudes towards sex forced the west to view Arabs differently? Did Arabs also change?

The book answers this question by claiming that Arab attitudes towards sex in the 19th century changed because of the west and that a Nahda or rennaisance took place, in which Arabs internalized western ideas of sex. It is strange how racist a thesis this is for a book that accuses the west of viewing the Arabs in an unfair matter. This thesis claims that Arabs have never thought for themselves, that they are monoliths, and cna only change at the behest of the west.

But what of the Ruwalla tribe of Arabia? What of the Dajani family of Jerusalem? What of the slave stalls of Cairo where women were sold to Harems, or the dancing girls of Cairo? Did not this change as well? Did not the 'dancing girls' disappear in the early 20th century? Did not the Ruwalla Bedouin change as TV and internet influenced them and as they migrated to cities. Attitudes to sex among Arabs changed, attitudes to this day are different in Riyadh, Beirut and Hebron. To pretend that this is all because of the West and to claim at the same time that the west has only been 'racist' is an unfair way to examine this. The West has tried to understand the Arab world in the exact same way the Said Qutb understood the western world. Misconceptions go both ways and so does truth. By calling one people racist and lumping the other together, one does a serious disservice.

Seth J. Frantzman
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