“Homeland America, bismillah”
Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf and the Dissonance of Nationhood
Mohja Kahf’s 2006 novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, follows the protagonist, Khadra, in her journey ‘back home’, to the State of Indiana, where she grew up and where she ran away from, in search of herself, her identity, and a less ‘dissonant’ existence first in her native Syria, then in Eastern US. Her personal and intimate search becomes an exploration into the multilayered and intricate articulations of the Islamic faith, of its positionings inside the US, and its negotiations with US nationhood. Kahf’s is a work of fiction that is also a (sometimes quite explicit) dissertation on Islam, the Muslim-American community, issues of inclusion, exclusion, identity, whiteness, and the national narrative of the US vis-à-vis the Ku Klux Klan, 9-11, Orientalism and patriarchy. This article looks at Kahf’s novel in the light of a critical discourse emerging in Arab-American fiction in relation to the boundaries and predicaments of US nationhood. In particular, the analysis will focus on Mohja Kahf’s poetics of dissonance that challenges dominant narratives of American national identity and its exclusionary cultural politics.