Cite as: Robert Tobin, Contribution to Panel I - East/West Literary Encounters of the workshop What Makes a Man?: Sexuality and Representation in Europe-Middle East Encounters, ICI Berlin, 18 May 2017, video recording, mp4, 13:21 <>
18 May 2017

Contribution to Panel I - East/West Literary Encounters

By Robert Tobin

Video in English

Format: mp4
Length: 00:13:21
First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin

Part of the Workshop

What Makes a Man?: Sexuality and Representation in Europe-Middle East Encounters

Questions about sexuality, gender, and religion in the East and West have dominated debates in Germany and other European countries since the beginning of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in the summer of 2015. Despite all claims as to the unprecedented nature of the displacement and its root causes, German media attention is becoming increasingly transfixed by an all-too-familiar construction of ‘oriental’ masculinity.

Back in 2003, the Berlin-based ‘West-East Divan’, a project of the Working Group ‘Modernity and Islam’ (today EUME), initiated an author exchange between Rashid al-Daif from Beirut and Joachim Helfer from Berlin. Two books resulted from the encounter: al-Daif’s Awdat al-almani ila rushdih (The German’s Return to His Senses, 2005) and Helfer’s response Die Verschwulung der Welt (The Queering of the World, 2006). Both texts caused a heated debate at the time of their publication: al-Daif’s apparent homophobia seemed to have found a match in Helfer’s orientalism. Their exchange certainly complicated the assumption that an encounter between two intellectuals, two literary writers from different cultures would ultimately have to be able to dispel all intervening prejudices. A decade later, their remarkably candid debate crossed the Atlantic: in 2015, the English translation of the exchange was published with additional critical essays under the title What Makes A Man? Sex Talk between Beirut and Berlin.

The workshop reassembles the original partners of the encounter – Helfer and al-Daif – and a larger group of critics from both sides of the Atlantic to explore the issues at stake. It will test the assumption that al-Daif and Helfer’s publications can help us carve out the cultural, literary, and media conditions in which narratives of gender and sexuality across cultural and religious differences and their critiques are developed.


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)


Rashid al-Daif
Joachim Helfer
Robert Tobin
Zeina Halabi
Michael Allan
Dieter Haller
Gary Schmidt
Paula-Irene Villa
Sam Williams
Mohamed Amjahid
Friederike Pannewick

Organized by

Peter Rehberg
Tarek El-Ariss
John Borneman
An ICI Event in cooperation with Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe (EUME), a programme at the Forum Transregionale Studien