Having been witness (and perhaps party to) many stilted and uncomfortable conversations that do not include references to Foucault but are, instead, attempts to enter into relations with an attractive classmate, I am convinced that Middle Eastern Studies students are particularly awkward when it comes to romance. To some extent, the awkwardness of gender relations in the field can be attributed to the region’s own rigid gender divisions and conservative social culture. For instance, one would expect Lain American Studies students to be relatively more adept in this arena because of the region’s inherent sensuality and its peoples’ unbridled hedonistic impulses. (In particular, Paraguay has gained the reputation of being a bastion for pleasure-seekers.)
I seek here not only to problematize gender relations as they manifest themselves in daily graduate student life, but to suggest a new framework for how these gender relations may evolve. For that purpose and in belated celebration of Valentine’s day, I have composed a few pick-up lines, customized for students of the region. While making reference to common subjects of interest, these pick-up lines also subvert and complicate assumptions about the nature of romance in contemporary MESAstan. Note of qualification: Though these pick-up lines display a distinct heteronormative bias, they are in no way meant to support the unstable, socially-constructed categories that characterize gender.
1. Why don’t we continue this conversation about forms of contestation in Ottoman Macedonia over drinks on Friday night?
This line is particularly effective if you have just attended a lecture on Ottoman Macedonia and are engaged in a riveting conversation about the role of the bandit in the Empire’s far flung provinces. If you have not been discussing Ottoman Macedonia, this statement may be a non-sequitur. The danger here is that when you do continue the conversation, you are unable to impress your classmate with your knowledge of Macedonian geography and Ottoman language.
2. Let me be your Caliph, I will put an end to the fitna within your soul.
3. May I establish my intellectual hegemony over you during a cup of coffee?
This sentence reveals your intellectual “confidence” in a not-so-subtle way. Also, asking someone out for coffee is always a safe bet given the reality that some of the Pious, Righteous and Virtuous members of the ummah do not indulge in the drink (laban).
4. I would like to problematize your single status on Facebook by taking you to dinner on Thursday night.
Most Middle Eastern Studies graduate students spend an embarrassing amount of time on the social networking site. While referencing somebody’s relationship status on Facebook may have been taboo two years ago, the nearly universal adoption of Facebook as an element of our Panoptic society means that you can safely use this line. However, you may feel obligated to mention how Facebook is used to surveille and discipline the population and, therefore, constitutes a form of state power. References to the not-so-unproblematic forms of self-representation and modes of “staging the self” engendered by Facebook participation would also be appreciated.
5. I’d like to be the New Historian of your current relationship.
6. Ana Ismi Maha. Ana adrus el arabiyya fi Jamaat New York. Eskun fi Brooklyn. Walidi t’amel fi el umum el mutahida. Wa Ana fahlan wahiida.
Imitating Maha from al-Kitaab’s impeccable fusa is one way you can establish your linguistic prowess and impressive your classmate. However, you must be sure to stick to the script, lapsing into colloquial Egyptian is guaranteed to elicit stares and derogatory comments from the Lebanese. (Ca va?) This method works best when you are able to use Maha’s lines semi-appropriately in context. For example, in a crowded public lecture you may turn to your attractive classmate and say:
“Why don’t we grab a coffee, ya’ni, besebub el izdiham” (on account of the crowdedness”)