Published as: Sevea, Terenjit Singh. Encountering the Orient/Islam: Re-reading Cyber-Narratival Heteronormativity. Masaryk University Journal of Law and Technology. Vol. 1, No. 2, 2007. ISSN 1802-5943.

This paper departs from scholarship since William Gibson's (1984) terming of cyberspace that presupposes being "on-line" as a transcendental experience from the body.[1] Re-reading cyber-narratives is a method locating cyberspace as always imbricating processes like colonialism, Orientalism, racism and sexism. For example, this paper pursues Edward Said's concerns about proliferating information in "Orientalism Now" (1978) to explore how cyber-narratives re-present Occidental encounters with the Orient/Islam. Subsequently, this paper unpacks the World Wide Web's role in creating "sexed bodies" (Butler 1990). Here, I draw upon scholarship that has been aware of how realities such as the September 11 event and post-event War/Liberation/Freedom have been hegemonically created by cyber-textual strategies (Der Derian 2004; Puar and Rai 2002; Derrida 2001; Baudrillard 2003). Unlike critiques of a repressive order of "Western" hegemonic cyber-narratives, I am concerned here with how Orientalists and the West to white-ness itself have produced through cyberspace (Rai 2004: 4). The conclusion will highlight this paper's scepticism about cyberspace and suggest engaging alternative narratives to problematize cyberspatial reification of heteronormartivity. This does not aim at detaching the represented "Muslim woman" from the real subject for example (Alloula 2000), but is a mere attempt to facilitate further genealogies.

More recently, postcolonial critiques have furthered Said's (1981) concerns about Orientalism's mass reproduction and/or translation in the ‘new media' (Puar and Rai 2002). Sufi (2006) for example examines how a colonial obsession with the eroticism of the "Muslim woman" (Sen 2001: 9) has been regularly reproduced in cyber-narratives. Cyberspace has facilitated encounters with the erotic Orient in its pardanashin (veiled woman) within harems and hammam (Oriental female public bath) for example, re-producing Orientalist voyeurs emancipating (or clicking) the secluded "Muslim woman" through showing and seeing her further. Orientalist travelogues (complemented by contemporary voyeurism)[2] and Victorian art (on the mute, submissive, sexy Oriental woman)[3] to French pornographic colonial postcards (produced from 1900-1930 in Algeria of unveiled women)[4] have been made accessible to web-surfers today, beyond the prior select colonial audiences. Furthermore, proliferated visual representation and the notion of being "on-line" as a transcendental experience has simultaneously detached audiences from political contexts and meanings to situate these "originally" print narratives within.

Butler's (1990) concerns about feminist attempts at liberation as active processes of creating the "sexed body" is evident in how cyber-feminists' crusades against the "veil" for example have re-presented encounters with the Oriental female body. Assia Djebar[5], the Sisters in Islam[6] to cyber-feminist blogposts (Sufi 2006: 15) have respectively criticized the male controlling of the sexual Muslim woman's zina (gaze), lamented the limited transnationalism of Kemalist aversion to the parda and celebrated Turk/Afghan female "liberties to expose". Interestingly, the aforementioned cyber-feminist narratives are not stereotypical, Western images of Muslim "sexed [female] bodies" oppressed by Islam but rather cyber-narratives by the now fancy-term "native feminists" (Chow 1996). Indeed, this paper furthers these critiques of such feminists into the very practice of representation in cyberspace as a process of creating the Oriental, sexed body. Paraphrasing Frederic Jameson, the visual is blinding. This is perhaps best evident in how even cyber-narratival attempts to unsettle Orientalist representations like Shirin Neshat's have unintentionally re-presented the "sexed body" and added to the proliferation of pornographic cyber-narratives.[7]

One area this paper is attempting to re-read is the post-911 cyber-narratives on heterosexual heroes, homosexual/hypersexual Islamists, sexual jihads, sexually-repressed Muslim women have re-presented encounters with the Orient/Islam (Rai 2004; Lorber 2002; Rai and Puar 2002). Interestingly, diverse post-911 cyber-narratives from terrorism analyses[8] to Hindu Rightist[9] propaganda have re-presented the harem as an ever-virile production line for Islamists. The author in an interview with a supposed terrorism expert was disturbed by how the latter's views on jihad were directly informed by a cyber-notion that mujahideen are driven by heavenly rewards of unregulated sex with sixty-two/seventy/seventy-two huris (black-eyed virgins).[10] Indeed, such "scholarship" simultaneously informed me about cyber-narratives on Palestinian female suicide bombers being driven by "single-hood", the lack of a sex, desperation, and the loss of male (even incestuous) relatives.[11] Such cyber-narratives "make" audiences encounter Oriental females craving for heavenly unlimited towel boys, electrolysis and nicer breasts[12], and voyeur (like Hala Jaber) at women handling and/or strapping-on weapons[13].

While influenced by counter-hegemonic cyber-narratives such as Arundhati Roy's webpages[14] to MP3 audios[15] critiquing the American construction of victimized burqa-clad Afghan/Iraqi women to liberate, the author remains sensitive to how "911" and "post-911" American masculinity itself has been simultaneously created in cyberspace. This paper is concerned with how cyber-narratival heteronormativity operates through re-presenting an encounter with an Orient/Islam that creates the very entity of the "West", "Occident" or "white man". Cyber-narratives on the victimized "Muslim woman" and kohl(eye-shadow)-wearing, hand-holding homosexual "brown men" (like the Taliban)[16] have simultaneously created the heroic masculinity of "911" fire-fighters, post-911 military-men (read feminist crusaders) and even normal family men (as opposed to sexual/violent Oriental harems and Islamist oppression of their women) (Lorber 2002; Puar and Rai 2002; Sufi 2006: 17). Unlike web-columns that have celebrated the valorization of working-class masculinity, this paper calls for further sensitivity to, in Foucault's words the disciplining of "docile [male] bodies".[17]

This paper dares criticism in suggesting that there exists a complex inter-textuality between cyber-narratives and real practice. For example, more recent critiques have highlighted how the American regime's refusal of negotiation (derided as feminine) as an option[18] has been inter-textual with proliferating cyber-images of Ground Zero as marked by heroic masculinity[19] (Lorber 2002; Sufi 2006: 19). The author is more concerned however with how cyber-feminists such as the United States-based "The Feminist Majority" operate in cyber-complicity with real American displays of masculinity such as the war in Afghanistan.[20] These cyber-feminist narratives re-present the Orient/Islam as a regime suppressing the "sexed bodies" of brown sisters awaiting white sisterly emancipation (this interestingly has even appropriated "American peace keeping" in Afghanistan).[21] Similarly, cyber-feminist narratives have conveniently cohabitated with Israeli attempts to prevent Palestinian suicide bombings for example through bringing the brown woman out of the bomber (created by outfits such as the Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Brigade).[22] As noted in a recent critique of post-911 narratives, Miss America blogs re-present encounters with an Orient/Islam of brown women blowing (themselves up) instead of liberated, white woman showing.[23] The scepticism the author displays of cyberspace is not an attempt to be-level insightful cyber-narratives that have unpacked the "violence" of lifting the veil for liberalism's "equal opportunities", and been attentive to cyber-feminism's essentialism of "sexed bodies".[24]

In conclusion, this paper highlights its scepticism about cyberspace, and suggests engaging alternative narratives to unsettle the reification of heteronormartivity in cyberspace. This is not an implication of a "reality" and/or "body" being beyond and/or prior to cyber-discursive constitution. On the contrary, this is a humble attempt to further Foucault's genealogies i.e. adopting multiple narratives to problematize. These narratives, some of which I have been informed by in my discussions and interviews[25], unsettle the very cyber-narratives (and intertextual real practices) that set out to "emancipate" them. Discussions with and hearings of multiple narratives that I have been exposed to reveal a consciousness among these seemingly "repressed Muslim women" of their bodies being sites of gendered/racialized power relations, and an aversion to being re-presented as sexual encounters with the Orient/Islam.

While certain critiques have been attentive to how cyberspace has been "racialized" in its dominant confinement to a developed, "white", Western context[26], this paper has been concerned with the re-presented encounters with the Orient/Islam that create these very identities. However, such scholarship does help further genealogies of cyber-narratives as being detached in their very language and/or content from the "entities" they speak for. The author sceptically dismisses even websites and blogposts claiming to re-present the "Muslim woman" as a ‘speaking subject' - in re-naming cyberspace as "cyber-hijab (veil)"[27] for example - as re-presenting encounters with the secluded (anti-interaction/emancipation) zenana (harem).[28] This is not an attempt to be-little the "postmodernism" of cyber-bodies such as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)[29] and the on-line journal Zanan[30] who seem aware of aforementioned discursive constitutions, and endeavour to ‘subvert' dominant cyber-discourses and real politics. The author's critique encompasses a discomfort at cyberspace being a hegemonic form of knowledge, and at how a neoliberal, late-modern capitalist cyberspatial ethic silences individual (read private and/or feminine) practices/narratives that are devalued in its language. This study is merely one engagement of cyber-narratives; hopefully a realization of the politics of being "on-line" will spur further genealogies of the seemingly all-pervasive rubric of cyberspace.

Select (Print) Bibliography[31]

Alloula, Malek. "The Colonial Harem: Images of a Suberoticism". In Feminism and pornography. Edited by Drucilla Cornell. Oxford, UK ; New York : Oxford University Press. 2000.

Baudrillard, Jean. 2003. The Spirit of Terrorism and other Essays ed. Chris Turner. London: Verso.

Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, NY: Routledge.

__________. 1993. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex", NY: Routledge.

Chow, Rey. "Where Have All the Natives Gone?". In the Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. Edited by Padmini Mongia. London; New York. Arnold: New York. 1996.

Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality trans. R. Hurley, Penguin Books.

Gibson, William. 1984. Neuromancer. London : Grafton.

Jameson, Fredric. 1990. Signatures of the Visible. New York: Routledge.

Lorber, Judith. "Heroes, Warriors and Burqas: A Feminist Sociologist's Reflections on September 11", Sociological Forum, Vol. 17, No.3, September 2002.

Rai, Amit S. and Jasbir K. Puar. "Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots", Social Text Vol. 72, No. 3, Fall 2002.

Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. London: Routledge & K. Paul.

__________. 1981. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. NY: Pantheon Books.

Sen, Indira. "Devoted Wife/Sensuous Bibi: Colonial Constructions of the Indian Woman, 1860-1900". In Indian Journal of Gender Studies. Volume 8. Number 1. January - June 2001.

Spivak, Gayatri C. 1995. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" in Ashcroft, Bill et al (eds.) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. NY: Routledge

Sufi, Falak. "Uncovering the Gendered Bases of Post-911 Discourse". 2006. Unpublished Paper.




[3] Even Orientalist museums have gone "on-line". See for example.

[4] See for example.




[8] I have had the unfortunate tasks in my research capacities of reading through some of the cyber-narratives of Southeast Asian "terrorism experts".

[9] See for example.

[10] See for example for its array on articles on this motivation for jihad.










[20] For further explication, see





[25] My research and interviews encompassed largely anthropological studies of "local", "Islamic", "privatized" and "feminine" practices/narratives of "women" in north Pakistan.



[28] See for example:; hypocrisy/;;;



[31] The cyber-narratives have been referenced throughout the paper.