Study Guide

A Border Passage Foreignness and the Other

By Leila Ahmed

Foreignness and the Other

Because of the complicated relationship with her homeland, Ahmed truly becomes a citizen of the world. (In fact, she's now an American citizen.) As such, you might think a sense of alienation would be, well, alien to her. She seems as comfortable in the "harem" at Zatoun as she is in the company of the women at Girton.

But don't be fooled. Ahmed constantly handles the concept of otherness in this work. Whether she's speaking of her own estrangement from family or the effects of colonial rule on the inner life of the colonized, there's a definite understanding of what it means to be hanging out in the margins.

Her experiences abroad—while exciting and beneficial—always make Ahmed feel like she is an observer (on a good day) or the target of racial hatred (on a bad day). Her Arab identity inspires negativity in non-Arabs, but also within herself. And that's the hardest kind of otherness she encounters: being unable to truly know herself because of the labels of outsiders.

Questions About Foreignness and the Other

  1. In what ways does racial identity shape the way Ahmed sees herself? How do other people's interpretations of Ahmed's racial identity shape her thinking about self and her place in the world?
  2. What does Ahmed mean when she says that her father had a "colonized consciousness"?
  3. Why is Ahmed so upset when Miss Nabih confronts her over her Arabic homework?
  4. Why does Ahmed rebel against her mother's preference for Arabic culture?

Chew on This

For Ahmed, true colonization doesn't just happen when one country dominates another; it happens when a person accepts and internalizes the propaganda of a colonial power against her own culture.

Ahmed feels that in order to be properly aware of issues of race, ethnicity, or gender, we need a vocabulary that will encourage discussion and a community with which to share our experiences.

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