“Washing Away the Shame”: A Forgotten Arab-Jewish Author as a Pioneer against Honor Killing

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Arab-Jewish culture witnessed a new revival during the first half of the twentieth century, but this revival was cut short as a casualty of Jewish and Arab nationalism. This article seeks to reclaim the voice of the currently voiceless Arabic literature written by Jews, focusing on the writings of the Iraqi-Jewish writer and poet Ya‘qūb Balbūl (1920–2003), whose devotion to the Arab nation and Iraqi society and his Arabic literary activities and contributions, like those of other Arab-Jewish writers, artists, and intellectuals, sank unfortunately into total oblivion. One of Balbūl’s short stories from the late 1930s, “Ṣūra Ṭibqa al-Aṣl” [True Copy] is the focus of this essay—the story refers to his struggle against honor killing in Iraqi society and its translation is included at the end of the article. The practice of murder for family honor has been employed by several communities in the Muslim world, where the purity of women is often used as a benchmark for the entire family’s honor. Little did Ya‘qūb Balbūl and other Arab-Jewish writers and intellectuals foresee at the time that ideological and political developments in Palestine would crudely foreshorten that envisioned new revival of the Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Arab symbiosis during the twentieth century. We are currently witnessing the demise of Arab-Jewish culture—a tradition that started more than 1,500 years ago is currently vanishing before our very own eyes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-145
Number of pages37
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Purdue University Press. All rights reserved.


  • Arab-Jewish culture
  • Arabic literature
  • Feminist literature
  • Honor killing
  • Iraqi Jews
  • Short story
  • Ya‘qūb Balbūl

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies


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