Symposium: Narrative Imaginaries of the Middle East

In this symposium, Middle Eastern, more specifically Palestinian, Irani and Iraqi, literatures and narrative imaginaries are explored from several intersecting perspectives: those of an essayist/actor/activist, a scholar, and a translator. The aim is to make space for dialogue and the exchange of ideas, and offer the audience new perspectives into thinking about literature as art, scholarship and site for social change.

Time and location: Tuesday, 2 April at 1-4.30 pm, Publicum PUB2 and Zoom (link will be sent to registrated participants). 



13.15 Opening words (Professor Hanna Meretoja, director of SELMA Centre, and Koko Hubara, PhD candidate in comparative literature, author of Ruskeat Tytöt – Tunne-esseitä, and Bechi)

13.25-14.05 Noora Dadu, MA (Theatre and drama), actor, playwright (Minun Palestiinani, and Fail), activist and essayist, author of newly published Roolitus (Vastapaino)

14.05-14.45 Dr. Amir Moosavi, Assistant professor in comparative literature, Rutgers-Newark. He is currently completing a book titled Dust That Never Settled: Afterlives of the Iran-Iraq War in Arabic and Persian Literatures

14.45-15 Coffee break

15.00-15.30 Sampsa Peltonen, translator of contemporary literature as well as contents for the public-service media. His working languages are Finnish, French and Arabic. He has lived and travelled extensively in the Middle East and Northern Africa and has translated works by such authors as Hassan Blasim, Alaa al-Aswani, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, Rajaa Alsanea, Leïla Slimani – and, most recently, Adania Shibli

15.30-16.00 Roundtable (chair: Koko Hubara)



Noora Dadu: Turning the gaze: Decolonizing (internalized) oppression structures in art work

Can art act as a tool of decolonization while maintaining its intrinsic value of freedom? How to avoid instrumentalization of art when a specific work has a strong social message? How to maintain artistic freedom in the times of oppression, apartheid and genocide?

What happens to a personal (decolonial) text when it is transformed into live performance, and what happens to a performance when it’s transformed into a book? 

Being Palestinian, meaning solely existing as a person with Palestinian heritage, challenges the mainstream Finnish narrative of Palestinian being, which is almost non-existent and when it does exist, vilified, questioned, simplified and marginalized. This narrative is not interested in the constant threat of (cultural) genocide, forced assimilation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people nor it is interested in the complexity, humour or strength inside Palestinian society.

To be a Palestinian artist in this narrow space requires one to turn the gaze, from the one that is being looked through or at, into the one who does the looking; from an almost invisible object into a subject; a teller of a detailed story. This act is done to contradict normative narratives and create a paradigm shift in harmful cultural discourse. This process is always internal and external at the same time, since the greatest risk for colonized people is adapting the colonizers gaze and concept of reality.

However, for the “revolutionary artist/writer” this process contains several challenges, when the artist’s work becomes a symbol of resistance or a national treasure. This can mean less freedom for an artist who is committed  to follow the artistic process, which cannot be fully controlled. 

In this presentation, I will reflect and analyze on this process of writing, and performing, and writing about performing. In the center of this presentation is the body – the object, the subject, the question.


Amir Moosavi: Warfront Apocrypha: The Dead, Desertion, and Dystopia.

The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) dominated the first decade of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s existence. Since its conclusion, the government has continually returned to this war, which it calls the “Sacred Defense,” (defa’-e moqaddas) and used it as its foundational narrative. An essential part of the Sacred Defense narrative frames the war with Iraq as a modern reenactment of the seventh-century martyrdom of the third Shi’i Imam, Hossein bin Ali. As such, the soldiers who died in the Iran-Iraq War participated in a holy war; they did not die but were martyred on the battlefield. Since 1980, the Iranian government has sponsored the production of thousands of works of fiction, memoirs, poetry collections, and films that espouse this narrative and purport to speak the sole truth of the conflict.

However, the Sacred Defense narrative has not gone uncontested, and since the 1990s fiction has been one arena that has emerged as a combative space over the representation of the war. This paper presents subversive depictions of the war front in two Persian-language novels written and published in Iran in the early 2000s. It examines how two Iranian writers who are veterans of the war, Ahmad Dehqan and Hossein Abkenar, have used the familiar tropes of state-sponsored literature, like war front heroism, the inviolability of martyrdom, and the notion that the war front soldiers were ideologically committed to the sacredness of the war, to write transgressive narratives of the war with Iraq. Although their styles differ, the two authors employ their positions as war veterans and write under the guise of fiction to publish and beat the censors (at least temporarily) in Iran. Of particular interest in this paper is how these writers disenchant the war front experience through the figure of the martyr (shahid) and martyrdom (shahadat), and the etymological connection that exists in Persian and several other languages between them the words “witness” and “witnessing.”


Sampsa Peltonen: Thoughts After Having Translated Adania Shibli into Finnish

Translating literature from conflict zones is crucially important, because good fiction can give readers an insight into what I like to call the emotional realities of the people living there, thus adding a more humane dimension to the general discourse dominated by fact-based media reports. Translating a text implies great responsibility: appropriation is an important part of the translation process – but how can I make sure that the Finnish version of Shibli’s Minor Details is not about me?


Welcome to join us in listening and discussing the Narrative Imaginaries of the Middle East!

Remember to sign up to participate by March 26th: