Joumana Haddad is not your typical author, nor is she your typical woman. A rebel on her own terms, she has penned several books to date on feminism, equal rights, patriarchy, and gender in the Arab world.
Also known as the writer “who loves to be hated,” (though she disagrees with the description, and prefers the more accurate “who doesn’t mind being hated”), the accomplished activist, journalist and playwright, is now setting her sights on politics.
Haddad will be running in Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
Why? Because she believes that at this point in her life, she is ready to be the change she wishes to see.
Haddad grew up in Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war, in a modest family whose primary goal was to provide her and her brother with a good education.
In an interview with The Guardian, she speaks of how she eventually got used to everything: “the severed limb of a neighbor lying on the pavement, the men tied to cars and dragged through the streets, the gunfire and bomb shelters – everything except the whistle of approaching shells.”
Amidst all that horror and violence, the only thing that saved her life and soul was reading. In that sense, books have been her number one ally.
Haddad has come a long way since then. She is a working mother of two (Mounir and Onsi), speaks seven languages and has received numerous awards.
More recently, she was just featured in Arabian Business' "100 Most Influential Arab Women" list. She has also been selected as one of the 100 most influential Lebanese figures from around the world in a book titled "The 100" and launching on March 17.
But, it is her upbringing, her life experiences, her trials and tribulations that have made her who she is today.
StepFeed interviewed Joumana Haddad about her life, and political aspirations while she’s currently in Hollywood for the premiere of a play based on her book, “I killed Scheherazade”.
Here’s what she had to say.
Q: So, you're already an established journalist and author, why do you now want to venture into politics?
Actually, one of the main reasons behind my candidature is to bring the messages that I defend and the convictions that I have into the political arena. This can greatly help in transforming Lebanon into a more humane, just and civilized country for all. I started considering running ever since my eldest son, Mounir, left Lebanon for a brighter future and for fair and impartial opportunities abroad -and he’s not the only talented, hard working young man or woman that we’ve lost because of Lebanon’s locked horizons.
This, coupled with all the problems that we have to deal with on a daily basis, and which suck up all our energy, while they should be given, fundamental rights like electricity, water, pollution, lack of public transportation ... propelled me to seek direct action.
I want to play an active role in coming up with solutions that would make the lives of Lebanese citizens better. I’m also interested in being involved, as a Lebanese deputy, in the laws that concern us all.
Many laws in Lebanon need to be reconsidered, passed, enforced. I am convinced that the Lebanese parliament is in dire need of new blood. I and so many people around me are constantly feeling tired, frustrated, fed up with the deadlock that we have been facing for so many years. And the civil society has so much to offer.
The inclusion of young motivated people in our political life would help bring this country forward. I believe in justice, I believe in hard work, I believe in transparency, I believe in humaneness; and I think that if we can bring these values into the parliament, we can have a real chance at changing Lebanon.
Since I’m not one to wait for change to just happen, but rather one who does her best to create the change she wishes to see, I decided to run!
Q: You’re quite well known both on and off camera. But, away from the spotlight, who is Joumana Haddad deep down inside?
I’m a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of a person. I’m very transparent (some people would say “too transparent”, but I don’t believe there is such a thing as an “overdose of honesty”). My books already speak for that.
I grew up in a very modest Beirut apartment. The main objective of my parents was to allow me and my brother to have the best education they could provide us with. And I’m deeply grateful to them for that. Books were like bread in my daily life. I started reading at a very young age and I think this is what saved my life because I grew up during the civil war. No dreams were allowed, no hopes, no plans: there was only fear all around us, and the need to survive the day. Books became an escape for me. They allowed me to have multiple lives, and aspirations that I would learn to fight for later on throughout my life.
I’m also quite determined, even stubborn. If I have a goal in mind, I would not rest until I’ve accomplished it. I’m a person of action, dreams to me are plans and strategies. I seem rather tough and harsh to some, but that’s just straightforwardness and a great deal of passion.
I also gradually liberated myself from the judgment of others in order to be able to express and live and achieve without being intimidated.
Do I stumble and fall? Of course! Who doesn’t? But I do get up and try again. And again. And again.
Q: You call yourself a humanist, is this so you can avoid the "feminist" tag? Is feminism a bad word?
I call myself a humanist but I’m also a feminist. I think the two are intertwined. You cannot be a humanist without being a feminist and you cannot be a feminist without being a humanist. So, in this respect, I definitely don’t avoid the feminist tag, and I definitely don’t think that feminism is a bad word, but it is a widely misunderstood one unfortunately.
Q: Why so?
A part of that misunderstanding comes from the patriarchal mindset that mistakes fighting for your rights and for your dignity as a woman for aggressiveness and spitefulness. The other part of the misunderstanding is the responsibility of some in the movement who are hostile towards men and who generalize about them… I am convinced that men are an important ally in life and in this battle for equality and human dignity. I have come to meet many feminist men in my life, and I’ve also come to meet lots of patriarchal women. Feminism isn’t about gender, it’s about being fair, being humane and wanting justice and dignity for all human beings.
I also call myself a humanist because I really admire the philosophy behind the term. And I discussed it at length in my last book, “The Third Sex”.
I think that if all of us return to our basic humanity, this beautiful common identity that we share, we can overcome our discords, and allow our differences to enrich us rather than divide us.
Q: What are you hoping to achieve as a running candidate? What do you want?
I want a more humane Lebanon. The word humane englobes everything else you can think of. It means the right to have a decent life, job opportunities, developmental projects, and basic needs, like water and electricity; it means tolerance, justice, respect, positivity, and caring for the environment, so on and so forth.
I do believe that the last twenty years I had spent fighting for the causes I believe in, despite all the obstacles that I have had to face, all the attacks that I have had to absorb, are a clear indication that I am a woman of actions and not a woman of words; that when I believe in something and plan a project, I deliver.
I think this is one of the most important things that people should be looking for in a candidate right now, along with of course his/her human ethics and honesty.
Q: How much of a chance do you think you have at winning? And if you do, how much of a chance will you be given as a minority to make change?
I do not obsess about my chances of winning. I’ve simply decided I will do everything that I can do in accordance with my values to win. I don’t even start my sentences with “If I win”, I start them with “When I win”. It’s a state of mind. Winning starts right there, in your head. And when I shall win, trust me, I will not wait to be “given” a chance to make change, I will hunt that chance myself and grab it.