Heidelberg’s American Girl: a Constant Criminalization of the East

Heidelberg’s American Girl: a Constant Criminalization of the East


[symple_box] Mohamed LAHMIDIMohamed Lahmidi is a High School Teacher of English in the Moroccan city of Tangier. Mohamed holds a M.A. in English Language and Culture from Ibn Tofail University, Kenitra, including a B.A. in Enlish Language and Literature from the same university. [/symple_box]

In “Heidelberg’s American Girl,” we are faced with a novel that deals with the image of a people belonging to a highly sensitive geopolitical part of the world, the Middle East. As is usually the case with the colonialist discourse which constitutes the underpinnings of an arrogant, hegemonic Western world[1], Ahmed Gamal El-Din Moussa, the ex-minister of higher Education in Egypt and author of the novel under scrutiny, Heidelberg American’s Girl, sheds light upon the representation of the “Middle-easterners” in the aftermath of 9/11 events as is structured within the collective imagination of the Western neo-cons’, neo-imperialists’ and/or neo-orientalists’ mindset, most notably the American ones, whose philosophy is based on creating enemies despite the fact that they do not exist in reality.

The “Green Danger” is a new emblem launched, advocated and nurtured by American neo-conservatism after the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th November, 1989. In terms of Edward Said’s Orientalist paradigm (a romanticized and idealized vision of the East), this kind of traditional prejudiced romantic image about the East is an old constant corollary engendered by the “Western Reason” itself, for it is compelled to produce and reproduce misrepresentations and distortions about other peoples in demeaning and debasing ways, with the intention of showing its superiority as being a master narrative owing to disenchantment to which European legacy had successfully been subjected.

The novel’s tripartite plot revolves around the life of three characters from different geographies, cultures, religions, and ideologies. The story takes place in Heidelberg, which is a city in south-west Germany. It is also known for its institutions of higher education; that is why it constitutes the cynosure for many students around the world.

The novel’s central character is the Egyptian Oussama[2] Zaid who is preparing a PhD in nuclear physics in Grenoble. He comes to Heidelberg to expose and share the results of his studies in the Department of Physics in the city’s research center.  The second character is Maggie Williams, an American student studying German Art and Literature in Heidelberg. The third character is a German student called Peter Schtenhoff.  The latter possesses a blatant penchant for neo-Nazism.

Within the context of 9/11, the question that crosses every reader’s mind is: Do people in the West see any Oussama as being Oussama Bin Laden?

The character of Oussama in this novel is full of kind and sincere human feelings which turn upside down the maligning preconceived impressions as revealed by David Fritman, a CIA officer.

There is actually a great deal of dialogue, throughout the novel as a way of giving a chance to characters to argue and explain their viewpoints without being caught in the trap of discrimination, prejudice, racism, or stereotyping.

The story not only deals with a mutual love relationship between the American, Maggie and the Egyptian, Oussama, but it plainly touches upon the constant struggles between people as well in the hope of attaining power that never lasts since it is a gain that always fades away over the years. Unfortunately, the victim within these unjust conflicts and struggles is the human being. The story also reveals the scourge that many Muslims and Arabs withstood following the 9/11 events. Alas, the 9/11incident was a gift from heaven, for it had been employed and vindicated to wrongfully cause others pain due to hatred, discrimination and rise of Islamophobic or anti-Muslim sentiment.

The fact of meeting in a geographical area other than ours can largely help us understand both the past and the present. This is in fact what happened to Maggie and Oussama because Germany happens to be the space where they tackle issues that separate them like history, geography, and religion. This kind of interaction that takes place between the two bridges and the distance that, geographically speaking, distinguishes between a girl coming from the US and a young man coming from the Delta region in Egypt.

Oussama is really taken by the sincere and deep human affection of Maggie, who is always obsessed by the human tragedies around the world like genocide, mass killing in Rwanda, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

David Fritman, who is a CIA officer on a mission in Germany, meets his old school friend, Maggie Williams, in the streets of Heidelberg. He is not fully desperate when Maggie apologizes for having lunch with him on Saturday. On the way to the castle, David cannot contain his jealousy for Oussama, who succeeds in attracting Maggie. In a racist tone, David is wondering how Maggie, given her distinguished origin and refined beauty and culture, falls in this trap of falling in love with Oussama.

In a nutshell, the novelist has managed to overcome the trap of stereotypes while dealing with the aforementioned characters, their interaction and exchange throughout the novel. Ahmed Gamal El-Din Moussa is actually concerned with humanity through exposing his characters to some sort of interaction based on the dimension of “geography” as a way to understand past and present. Through the character Maggie, the author asks people– explicitly and implicitly- to jettison the Manichean philosophy that feeds on racism, exclusion, injustice, hatred, and inhumanity.


[1]I am referring here to the Western world as a geopolitical entity (= an epistemological category) defined by the thought, the history, the culture, the ideas, and the lifestyle characterizing the civilizational identity of this geographical entity.

[2]The choice of the name is not arbitrary because “Oussama” is very suggestive in this context, for it reminds the whole world of the Al-Qaida leader Oussama Ben Laden who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks/tragedy.