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A new Arab society
by Ergo te Lina
2006-09-06 10:22:44
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Ali Ahmad Said Asbar (علي أحمد سعيد إسبر), born 1930, is a Syrian-born poet and essayist who has made his career largely in Lebanon and France. He has written more than twenty books in his native Arabic. Said was considered to be a candidate for the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, but the award went to British playwright Harold Pinter.

The following are excerpts from an interview with him aired on Dubai TV on March 11, 2006.

A Syrian-born poet and essayistAdonis: Words are treated today as a crime. Throughout history, there has never been anything similar to what's happening today in our Arab society - when you say a word, it is like committing a crime.

Interviewer: True.

Adonis: Words and opinions are treated as a crime. This is inconceivable.

Interviewer: True. You can be arrested for writing an article.

Adonis: That's one example.

In the Koran itself, it says that Allah listened to his first enemy, Satan, and Satan refused to obey him. I believe that Allah was capable of wiping out Satan, yet He listened to Satan's refusal to obey Him.

At the very least, we demand that Muslims today listen to people with different opinions.

Interviewer: How do you view the plan for democracy, the "Greater Middle East" plan?

Adonis: First of all, I oppose any external intervention in Arab affairs. If the Arabs are so inept that they cannot be democratic by themselves, they can never be democratic through the intervention of others. If we want to be democratic, we must be so by ourselves. But the preconditions for democracy do not exist in Arab society, and cannot exist unless religion is re-examined in a new and accurate way, and unless religion becomes a personal and spiritual experience, which must be respected. On the other hand, all issues pertaining to civil and human affairs must be left up to the law and to the people themselves.

Interviewer: Mr. Adonis, how do you view the democracy in Palestine, which brought Hamas to power?

Adonis: I support it, but I oppose the establishment of any state on the basis of religion, even if it's done by Hamas.

Interviewer: Even if it liberates Palestine?

Adonis: Yes, because in such a case, it would be my duty to fight this religious state.

Interviewer: What are the reasons for growing glorification of dictatorships - sometimes in the name of pan-Arabism, and other times in the name of rejecting foreigners? The glorification comes even from the elites, as can be seen, for example, in the Saddam Hussein trial, and in all the people who support him.

Adonis: This phenomenon is very dangerous, and I believe it has to do with the concept of "oneness," which is reflected - in practical or political terms - in the concept of the hero, the saviour, or the leader. This concept offers an inner sense of security to people who are afraid of freedom. Some human beings are afraid of freedom.

Interviewer: Because it is synonymous with anarchy?

Adonis: No, because being free is a great burden. It is by no means easy.

Interviewer: You've got to have a boss...

Adonis: When you are free, you have to face reality, the world in its entirety. You have to deal with the world's problems, with everything...

Interviewer: With all the issues...

Adonis: On the other hand, if we are slaves, we can be content and not have to deal with anything. Just as Allah solves all our problems, the dictator will solve all our problems.

I don't understand what is happening in Arab society today. I don't know how to interpret this situation, except by making the following hypothesis: When I look at the Arab world, with all its resources, the capacities of Arabs individuals, especially abroad - you will find among them great philosophers, scientists, engineers, and doctors. In other words, the Arab individual is no less smart, no less a genius, than anyone else in the world. He can excel - but only outside his society. I have nothing against the individuals - only against the institutions and the regimes.

If I look at the Arabs, with all their resources and great capacities, and I compare what they have achieved over the past century with what others have achieved in that period, I would have to say that we Arabs are in a phase of extinction, in the sense that we have no creative presence in the world.

Interviewer: Are we on the brink of extinction, or we are already extinct?

Adonis: We have become extinct. We have the quantity. We have the masses of people, but a people becomes extinct when it no longer has a creative capacity, and the capacity to change its world.

The great Sumerians became extinct, the great Greeks became extinct, and the Pharaohs became extinct. The clearest sign of this extinction is when we intellectuals continue to think in the context of this extinction.

Interviewer: That is very dangerous.

Adonis: That is our real intellectual crisis. We are facing a new world with ideas that no longer exist, and in a context that is obsolete. We must sever ourselves completely from that context, on all levels, and think of a new Arab identity, a new culture, and a new Arab society.

Imagine that Arab societies had no Western influence. What would be left? The Muslims must...

Interviewer: What would be left?

Adonis: Nothing. Nothing would be left except for the mosque, the church, and the commerce, of course.

The Muslims today - forgive me for saying this - with their accepted interpretation [of the religious text] are the first to destroy Islam, whereas those who criticize the Muslims - the non-believers, the infidels, as they call them - are the ones who perceive in Islam the vitality that could adapt it to life. These infidels serve Islam better than the believers


He made further comments in an article, "Beyond the East/West: Towards a Culture of the Future", which can be found in its entirety at www.library.cornell.edu.

"I admit that when I hear the word frontiers, I feel that it is immediately transformed into chains ringing within me. When I envision it in its martial image, the image of barbed wires, and see how these wires extend in the selves and minds the way they extend on the ground, I am stricken with terror from all directions..."

Victor Hugo once said: "Every self comprises a complete model of all the selves." Man is a totality before he is a part. How then do we affirm this totality? This is the question that should inform every cultural policy if it is to rise to a universal and a human level. It is the cultural policy that declares, after human rights, the rights of nature as well as the rights of universalism."

Examples of Ali Ahmad Said Asbar's work

Who are you? Whom do you choose, 0, Mihyar?
Wherever you go, there is God or Satan's abyss
an abyss coming, an abyss going.
And the world is choice.
I choose neither God nor Satan.
Each is a wall.
Each closes my eyes.
Why replace one wall by another,
when my perplexity is the perplexity of the
The perplexity of the all-knowing?

I don't know of any ancient Arab poet who created a persona through which he expressed his thought and preoccupations and visions, although we can find an equivalent in our traditional prose: Kelila and Dimna by I bn al-Muqaffa', for example.
So, doubtless, in my creating the persona of Mihyar the Damascene I was influenced by Western models: Nietsche's Zarathustra, Goethe's Faust and Lauteramont's Maldoror.

There are some Arab critics who confuse Mihyar the Damascene with the poet Mihyar al-Dailami, but they share only the name Mihyar; otherwise they bear no relationship to each other, none whatever.

Picture the earth as a pear
or breast.
Between such fruits and death
survives an engineering trick:
New York,
Call it a city on four legs
heading for murder
while the drowned already moan
in the distance.
New York is a woman
holding, according to history,
a rag called liberty with one hand
and strangling the earth with the other.
Song to Counter-Time.........

If I dared, I'd say:
the planets, heaven and its genealogy
men and their language as ordain( are floating corpses.

If I dared, I'd inquire:

who is, now, being tried by fire?
What does he insinuate, what does
relate? has he confessed? and was? He was?

If I dared, I'd chant
for the cities crashing into ashes and blood, and to the devouring n
I'd declare:

It is this time's
article of faith, that earth should breed
inside a corpse, and a god be suspended
as a sort of charm above
its arches, by crime.


when the flames enfolded you,
what pen were you holding?
What feathers sprouted
when your old ones burned?
Buried in your own ashes,
what world did you confront,
what robe did you done,
what color did you choose?

Tell me.
Tell me what silence follows
the final silence
spun from the very fall of the sun?
What is it, phoenix?
Give me a word,
a sign.

Your banishment and mine
are one.
Your banishment and mine
and the banishment of heroes
are one.
Your banishment and mine
and the banishment of heroes
and the banishment of love and glory
are one.

What is it we love or fear
but shadows of ourselves?
When I recall your suffering,
my phoenix,
I forget my own.
No mother held you
when you left
until you burned for breath.
No father blessed your exile
in his heart
before you saw it born
in flame with each horizon.
I've left.
I've left my mother.
I've left my mother
on a mat of straw
to grieve my going.
Astray, I swallow dust.
I, who learned love
from my father's eyes,
have left my father's house
to be the prodigal.

I am a hunted bird.
I steal my bread.
All I see is desolation.
Pursued by falcons,
my small wings lose their feathers,
feather by feather.

"They say my song is strange
because it has no echo.
They say my song is strange
because I never dreamed
myself awake on silks.
They say I disbelieved the prophesies,
and it was true,
and it is still and always true."

My phoenix,
I learn with you
the banishment that murders me
in ruins and the sheerest voids.
I break from jail
to seek the man I keep becoming.
I leave the gait ajar,
the chain empty,
and the darkness of my cell
devours me like eyes in shadow.

Though banished,
I love all those who banish me,
who crowned my brow with chains
and waited to betray me.
I see my childhood
like an isolated Baalbek
with its longing pillars,
and I burn.
Horizon by horizon,
I am born to the chants of the sun.

My new wings grow
like yours, my phoenix.
Phoenix, we are born for death,
and death in life
deserves its springs and harvests,
its rivering Jesus,
its passion with the vineyard
and the mount.
But it is not all solitude
and echoes from the grave.

Phoenix, I remember one
who perished on a cross-
He burned in pools of cherry
like fire within fire-
Yet from the dark of the ashes
he glows.

His wings are numbered
with the flowers of our land,
with all the days of all the years,
with pebbles and the merest stones.
Like you, my phoenix,
he survived our hunger,
and his mercy feeds us.

Dying with his wings outspread,
he gathered all who buried
him in ashes
and became, like you,
the spring and fire of our agony.

Go now, my sweet bird,
show me the road I'll follow.

Source: www.library.cornell.edu

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Get it off your chest
 (comments policy)

Anti2006-09-05 15:52:21
"At the very least, we demand that Muslims today listen to people with different opinions."

Do they? I think they are only blind from what their religious leaders tell them!!!

Ergotelina2006-09-06 21:04:49
You can also

Watch the Video

Ergotelina2006-09-06 21:05:19

Robert2006-09-07 08:46:25
People remember 911

Contradiction2006-09-07 12:32:10
People remember 911 - it is all they remember now.

The same America that is now fighting a war against terror is the same one that funded the IRA's campaign of terror in Northern Ireland and on the UK mainland.

Robert2006-09-08 17:41:31
IRA has nothing to do with today's terrorism. IRA is a patriotic organisation for Northern Ireland. What patriotic is about Bin Laden?

Nigel J.2006-09-09 19:31:11
Yeah, right! What is patriotic about bombing shopping centres and killing innocent people?

However, the IRA's reign of terror lasted over 30 years, yet the world didn't turn every Catholic into a terrorist. Strange how one day of mass terror five years ago tarnishes the reputation of every Muslim.

What is the difference?

Antti2006-09-10 13:19:47
Because IRA was fighting for their independence, at least that was their excuse. What’s the excuse of all the Bin Ladens? The price of oil or to make us all Muslims? i think IRA was a local trouble, 911th made terrorism international problem.

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