EUME Workshop
Do 18 Mai 2017 | 13:00–21:00

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

Organized by Tarek El-Ariss (UT Austin / EUME Fellow 2012/13), John Borneman (Princeton University), Peter Rehberg (ICI).

ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Christinenstraße 18-19, 10119 Berlin

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.



Stefan Weidner: Er ist schwul, und das ist gut so: Joachim Helfer und Raschid al-Daif auf dem west-östlichen Diwan, in: FAZ (07.08.2007)

Nahrain al-Mousawi: “Book review: ‘What Makes a Man? Sex Talk in Beirut and Berlin’: An honest and painful cultural exchange”, in: (27.05.2015)

Robert Deam Tobin: “What Makes a Man? Sex Talk in Beirut and Berlin”, in: German Quarterly 89.4 (2016)

Kevin Winter: “What Makes a Man? Sex Talk in Beirut and Berlin by Rashid al-Daif and Joachim Helfer, Translated by Ken Seigneurie and Gary Schmidt”, in: Portland Book Review (13.04.2015)



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

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