On Arab culture and literature

Newsday has a nice essay today by Matthew Shenoda on Arab culture and literature. An excerpt:

A survey of any of the major forces in contemporary Arab literature teaches us that while U.S. media have painted Arabs as villains of humanity, the truth is that dignity and a connection to place are central to Arab identity. We learn that the preservation of a peaceful life in one's home is a major theme in Arab literature. We learn that resistance as an innate part of people who deeply love their home and their humanity comes second to a celebration of life. We learn a reverence for nature.

In the midst of the horror of a U.S.-led war, we can look to Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef to understand that in his Basra, a child learns, "that when rain falls in mist/there will be no lightning at the end/of the horizon,/no thunder in the heart,/no wave on the river." Is this child now grown to be a "thug," as Rumsfeld claims, or is he a person yearning to reconnect with his land, to provide a place for his family to live and grow, a place in which to gaze out on a horizon that will not be dotted by missiles?

In Darwish's monumental memoir "Memory of Forgetfulness," which chronicles his experience being exiled in Beirut during the 1982 war, he writes, "They can aim sea, sky, and earth at me, but they cannot root the aroma of coffee out of me." Here we see coffee being used as an ancient symbol with roots in Abyssinia and Arabia to reflect a part of the very being of Darwish, a symbol rooted in the land, an aroma that cannot be erased by any amount of force.

Syrian poet Adonis, too, speaks of his connections to place in his poem "Remembering the First Century," when he writes, "A mountain speaks its name/to me./ After all, I have/some credentials." His credentials are roots tracing back beyond written record - his credentials are centuries of lineage in that place.

What many citizens of the United States do not have the opportunity to witness is the beauty of the Arab world, the way olive groves grace the landscape, the way children sit at the feet of their grandmothers, the way an ancient way of life has survived despite centuries of foreign occupation. And so perhaps the greatest understanding is for the people of the United States to see that Arabs are an ancient people, that the bombs over Iraq and the siege of Palestine are seeking to wipe out memory, the memory of history, of ancient and revered places, places we are all in some ways linked to.

Perhaps we need to learn that if we wipe out and erase Iraq and Palestine, we will, as Qabbani has learned, see that we are striking out half our own lives. Think of the beauty, as Darwish does, next time you smell the aroma of coffee.

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This page contains a single entry by published on April 25, 2004 2:42 PM.

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