Palestinian Poet Mourid Barghouti: ‘Tomorrow Is What Matters’
The Seventh Emirates Airline Literature Festival featured a session with Palestinian poet and memoirist Mourid Barghouti titled Out of Place. While the introductory part of the session focused on what place means to Barghouti as a poet, the remainder delved into other ideas: including the obsession with the past, the use of hyperbolic language, and aesthetics in Arab poetry. Barghouti shared his wisdom with a sizeable audience, making them laugh at times, and leaving them pondering his heartfelt statements at others, not least because they could – and should! – be applied to life as we live it. Spontaneous applause after such statements was not uncommon, and attendees were left wanting more.
The following expands on key themes Barghouti touched on while responding to questions posed during the session.
What does place mean to you?
Barghouti started by saying that thirty years of exile have taught him that there is no one definition of place. The idea of “place” was taken away from him a long time ago, he said, as he pointed out that he is four years older than the state of Israel. He played with the idea of “time as place, and place as time.” The past is a place, he said, before sharing that he has learnt over time that barriers do not define a place.
He asserted that the sole difference between the horizon and the prison cell is our feeling towards each of them.
He then posed the question: “What happens when the difference between here and there becomes blurry?” He asserted that the sole difference between the horizon and the prison cell is our feeling towards each of them. In both personal and national cases, these two contradictory places can be the same place, or can even become one place.
What makes you write poetry?
Barghouti responded that he wanted to preserve his ability to critique. In poetry, he clarified, you have the ability to critique the self: your family, your nation, your life, your party, your religion, your work, your president…
Today, he said, man has lost the ability to critique this individual and collective self. True critique, Barghouti went on, is when one critiques oneself. “It’s not when Hamas criticises Fatah, or vice versa,” he expanded by way of an example. “Rather, true critique is if Hamas’s leader would criticise himself … everything under the sky is open to critique. This is what led me to poetry.”
With relation to how criticism has played a role in his life, Barghouti said: “I cannot coexist with the ‘ugly’. My life, its standards are not right and wrong, not halal and haram, but the standards I have are the ‘beautiful’ and the ‘ugly’ … There is such a thing as a beautiful mistake and an ugly correctness.”
When asked to give examples of each form, he specified that a beautiful mistake is something he can be happy in committing. For example, lying in order to give someone hope to live another day is a beautiful mistake. On the other hand, an ugly mistake he explained through an illustration: If an audience member — being a friend of Barghouti — asked to borrow a hundred dollars, he would lend it to him; if the money has not been paid after a year passes, Barghouti posited that he would be well within his rights to file a complaint against the borrower. However, Barghouti sees this outcome as wrong. “There is a friendship, circumstances not allowing people to pay,” he said. “People see this as crazy, but it’s better that I forget the matter altogether.”
The UAE is a young country, forty-three years old. Poets have said that with the skyscrapers and increasing development, the only place for cherished childhood memories of grandmother’s house is in the poem. What do you think?
Barghouti said that houses have changed, families have changed, the world has widened and it has advanced. “We are a people who have almost forgotten how to think of the future. [There are] political parties [that] want to go fifty years back and live there. If the past is our dream for the future, then when will we live? The past isn’t a dream. What[ever] from it [that] deserves to continue in the present will do so, and what doesn’t deserve to continue will disappear on its own.”
Leave the past where it belongs and go forth to tomorrow … think of tomorrow’s morning.
“I’m for human and architectural progress, and not looking at the past with excess consecration or romanticization. Tomorrow is what matters. What happened to us yesterday, we don’t live today. Leave the past where it belongs and go forth to tomorrow … think of tomorrow’s morning.” Barghouti’s response was thunderously applauded by the audience, which marvelled at how a man who has lived through such a tumultuous past could be so optimistic about the future. Numerous tweets were hurriedly posted to share this statement with the wider world.
You’ve talked previously in other forums about tabriid al-lugha, literally a cooling of the language – what do you mean by this?
Barghouti responded that he speaks in a tangible language that any Mohammed on the street would understand. He avoids speaking like the intellectuals on TV, who he says perhaps do not even understand what they are saying themselves at times with their roundabout ways of expressing simple ideas. “When I say ‘a wall’ in poetry, I mean a wall. Choose language that is shared between [us].”
He went on to refer to his experience as the Chair for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction panel this year, and the type of writing he witnessed in some of the novels that came before the panel. “In some of the books I read, there were phrases such as ‘brutal aggression’, as if all aggression isn’t brutal!” The use of such modifiers for nouns that are already clear points to lazy writers, he said. Hyperbolic language makes writing ‘heated,’ Barghouti continued, before making clear he prefers to ‘cool’ it down, to make it simple.
He then offered the following sentence as an exemplary illustration of his point: “‘Ahmed entered. I looked at his face, and saw that he was very tired.’ I, as Mourid Barghouti, when I read this sentence, I get rid of the ‘very;’ it weakens the idea of how tired he is. ‘I saw that he was tired,’ is much stronger than ‘he was very tired.’ The writer who puts ‘very’ in his writing loses the ability to convince you just how tired that person is.” He concluded his answer with the thought that the more detailed he gets in his writing, the less hyperbole is needed.
Is the aesthetic in your poetry always political?
“We writers write about two things, nothing more: life and death. When death is violent – caused by criminals, invaders, settlers [and] dictators – then you are writing a poem you could label as political. But when death is caused by say … what happened with Romeo and Juliet, then we can’t call it political. We are living in a place where we are almost eager for natural death; this is a strange place for us to be living in.”
Barghouti then walked the audience through his writing process:
“My aesthetics are dictated by my rough copy. By my first leading lines. When I start the poem, with one or two lines, they are my theoretical guides. I don’t follow any literary theory. I follow my first lines. These would lead me to a book-long poem; these would lead me to a narrative poem, an epic, a haiku, a three-line poem … I am faithful to the way I start my poem. The rhythm comes with it, the rhyme, the music, the philosophy, the length, the temperature of the poem are all suggested by the way it starts. If you follow literary theories, you cannot be a genuine writer. The first rough copy will guide you […] I hate labels. I don’t use the term political poem, love poem; those labels say nothing. It’s akin to a label that you put on your luggage when you are leaving for the airport: it says whose luggage it is, but never tells what is inside.”
Mourid Barghouti ended his talk by reading a poem dedicated to his late wife. The rhythm of his syllables and the cadence of his phrases gripped the audience, who could not help but feel that they had witnessed the recitation of one very long yet engaging poem. Many were struck by his immense humility, and how he continually thanked the audience not only for their attendance, but also the very intellectual nature of their participation.
Labelled as a Palestinian poet, we know where he hails from and what his profession is, but sitting through Barghouti’s session at the Emirates Airline Literary Festival assured the audience that what they witnessed was a mere scratching of the surface of a literary giant who goes far beyond the casing of conventional definition.
Sawad Hussain is an Arabic teacher, translator and litterateur residing in Dubai.
Palestinians are saying that the terrorist operation in the kosher supermarket, which was carried supposedly on their behalf, only caused them more harm.
By Amira Hass | Jan. 12, 2015 | 4:10 AM | 2
Only a few hours after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris last Wednesday, the theory that the Mossad was behind the terrorist attack was heard among Palestinians. The goal: To convince France that Islam in being Islam is the problem, and so they should forget about the Israeli occupation.
Adopting the latest conspiracy theory allowed people to navigate between two poles: They expressed disgust over the murders, but avoided renouncing the murderers themselves, the motives given for the murders (protecting the honor of Islam and the prophet Mohammed) and from the assumed internal motives: discrimination and racism against non-whites within France.
Palestinians cannot but help identifying with other victims of discrimination and racism. But they also feel from up close, and personally, the dread of Arab infighting and the terror of Islamic organizations. It is easy to count the dozens of Palestinians who have been drawn to Islamic State, but it is hard to quantify the continual fear of all Palestinians for the well-being of their families, friends and acquaintances in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – victims of those same internal wars, terror and brutalization – and in the past week, the homeless victims of the cold. Therefore the two polar opposite feelings are the essence of the Palestinian position on the events in Paris.
In theory, after the terror attack on the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher in Porte de Vincennes on Friday and the murder of four French Jews (of North African origin, and two of them at least had “an Arab appearance”), the conspiracy theory was shaken. But then came the reports that Israel would encourage the emigration of the Jews of France and Europe to Israel – and now the conspiracy theory received a boost: The attack served Zionist and colonialist interests.
How far this theory took hold among the Palestinians, it is hard to measure or know. In the meantime, not only Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned and sent his condolences, Hamas did too. The Palestinian Liberation Organization and nongovernment organizations in the West Bank, including the journalists’ union, called for a mass rally on Sunday afternoon for “solidarity with France, the friendly nation, against terror.” And Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in a level-headed and logical speech, said the heretical terror is harming Islam more than any cartoon or book.
To the same extent, Palestinians may realize that the terrorist operation in the kosher supermarket, which was carried supposedly on their behalf, only caused them more harm. Mass immigration of Jews to Israel is not just a point in a statistical competition over the demographic balance. This immigration allows and justifies taking control over more Palestinian land, on both sides of the Green Line. Even before they have arrived in the country, Jews have greater rights here than the Palestinians who were born here. On their arrival, they will receive rights that are denied to Palestinians.
For example: The Jews of France can live in Jerusalem and continue to hold French citizenship. At the same time, Israel is revoking the residence status of Palestinians from Jerusalem who for reasons of work or family acquired permanent status in other countries. In practice, they are expelled from the country. A French Jew can have two homes in Israel and another in France. A Palestinian who lives in Area C, and his family also has a home in Area A, is sentenced to expulsion from his home in Area C. And that is how the West, which enables Jews to hold dual citizenship, is a partner in the discrimination and expulsion of Palestinians.
Palestinians (and other Arabs) who are divided between supporters of the regime in Syria and its opponents are unanimous over one issue: The West, Western imperialism and the close allies of the United States – Qatar and Saudi Arabia – have a hand in creating the disaster: if by supporting repressive Arab regimes, if through indirect and direct support for militias and terrorist movements that operate in the name of Islam that accepts increasingly outlandish and murderous interpretations. The goal: To allow the continued Western control over oil resources, to guarantee the continued profitable economic involvement (weapons, and after the destruction – construction) and to always guarantee the well-being and security of Israel.
The global attention that focused on the dead in Paris reinforces the Palestinian theory in particular, and that of the Third World in general: As far as it is a matter of the policy considerations of the Western powers, the lives of non-whites are not taken into account, only the well-being and comfort of the whites, including among them Jews and Israelis.
And here once again is the unavoidable comparison: Jews, with equal rights in France and with a comfortable economic and social status, who are afraid of attacks by Muslims, will be welcomed with open arms in Canada, and maybe in other Western countries, not just in Israel. Palestinian refugees in Syria whose lives are in danger every moment have nowhere to seek refuge. Europe accepted just a handful of them (and of the refugees from Syria.) Not a single Western leader apparently considers demanding that Israel allows Palestinian refugees from Syria to be absorbed by their close families: in the West Bank, and yes – also within Israel.
Citizens of France from an Arab-North African and Muslim origin are sensitive to this sort of discrimination in European attitudes, and find in it an ancient colonialist approach. If France and Europe want to not only draw intelligence lessons but also sociological and political ones, they must conclude that the continual expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinians is really a central part of the problem, and a truly aggressive policy against the Israeli occupation is part of the solution.
Amira Hass tweets at @Hass_Haaretz
Budrus [is] a documentary by Julia Bacha that examines one West Bank town’s reaction to Israel’s construction of the security barrier. The town, with a population of 1,500, was set to be divided and encircled by the barrier, losing 300 acres of land and 3,000 olive trees. These trees were not only critical for economic survival but also sacred to the town’s intergenerational history. The film tells the story of Ayed Morrar, a Palestinian whose work for Fatah had led to five detentions in Israeli jails, but whose momentous strategic decision that the barrier would be best opposed by nonviolent resistance had far-reaching ramifications
The defense team for Chicago Palestinian community leader, Rasmea Odeh, have uncovered new evidence that confirms her alleged immigration fraud case is based on her being targeted for Palestine activism. Yesterday, they filled a motion to dismiss the indictment against her.
Rasmea Odeh was arrested on October 22, 2013 by agents of the Department of Homeland Security and charged with immigration fraud. Allegedly, in her application for citizenship made 20 years ago, she didn’t mention that she was arrested in Palestine 45 years ago by an Israeli military court that had tortured her to confess to bombings in Jerusalem. (For additional background on Odeh’s case, see Rasmea Odeh: Repression of a Palestinian Community Leader.)
In the Chicago courtroom on the day of her arrest, Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas was seen conferring with the prosecutors. At the time, that was the first clue Odeh’s indictment was related to the case of the well-known Palestinian and anti-war Midwest activists whose homes were raided by the FBI when the U.S. attorney alleged that they had provided material support to foreign terrorist organizations in Palestine. Eventually a total of 23 activists were subpoenaed, but all refused to testify and were never charged assuming because of a lack of evidence. Members of multiple organizations were also targeted including the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Arab American Action Network (AAAN), Palestine Solidarity Group – Chicago, and others. Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas continues to lead this ongoing investigation. Odeh’s supporters could easily presume that Odeh and the case of the 23 were related. Hatem Abudayyeh, Executive Director of the AAAN and one of the activists whose home was raided by the FBI, is also a colleague of Odeh, Assistant Director of the AAAN.
It’s important to note that this ongoing investigation involves activists from multiple struggles including the anti-war movement, Colombia, Cuba, and immigration rights, but it’s primary focus is support for Palestine. Echoing what’s happening to Odeh now, Carlos Montez, a veteran Chicano, anti-war, and immigrant rights activist, whose name appeared on a search warrant of the Anti-War Committee office in Minneapolis, was indicted in May of 2011 on unrelated charges related to a protest 45 years ago. The charges were eventually thrown out of court. This multi-year investigation that involves targeting social justice movements, in this case Palestine activism, by criminalizing their activity and suppressing any coalition building among different groups has been a trend throughout U.S. Justice Department and FBI history. More on this trend later.
On Wednesday, the Rasmea Odeh defense team confirmed a direct relationship between the investigation targeting Palestine activists in 2010 and the records that led to the indictment of Odeh in 2013. The press release states “Attorneys representing Chicago’s long-time Palestinian community leader, Rasmea Odeh, have filed a motion and brief in Detroit’s U.S. District Court to dismiss the indictment against her. They are doing so on the grounds that the charges are the product of an illegal investigation targeting both Palestine solidarity efforts and organizing in the Palestinian community.”
In the motion to dismiss, Odeh’s attorneys describe the indictment as “the product of an illegal investigation into the First Amendment activities of the Arab-American Action Network (AAAN) and intended to suppress the work of the defendant in support of the Arab community of Chicago.” The motion goes on to describe how in January of 2010 the Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox “initiated a request through the office of International Affairs Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from the State of Israel for records of the defendant.” In July 2011, the Israelis sent a set of documents to Assistant U.S. Attorney Fox, supporting the claim that Odeh “had been arrested, convicted and imprisoned by the military legal system imposed by Israeli in the West Bank…Over two years later, with nothing to show for its raids in 2010, Ms. Odeh was indicted for falsely answering questions in 2004 in her naturalization application.” The defense attorneys also speculate, not without reason, that “the United States Attorney in Illinois, which was the office that initiated the request for the Israeli documents and was carrying out the investigation, apparently passed the case to the office in Michigan, to divert attention from its failed efforts to criminaliize the work of the AAAN in Chicago.”
These are dots that are not difficult to connect. The initial investigation in 2010 broadly targeted activists throughout the Midwest, but primarily focused on Palestinians and Palestine activists in Chicago. During the last four years, the Palestine solidarity movement has grown in numbers and impact particularly through the growth of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement directed at Israel and the proliferation of Students for Justice in Palestine groups on college campuses. With the growth of the movement came the attention of the FBI.
As mentioned above, the FBI has a history of targeting growing social justice movements in the U.S., criminalizing those movements, and preventing coalitions they might form with other communities or organizations. Examples from Church Senate Committee Report on FBI Counterintelligence (COINTELPRO) Programs and other studies of FBI history include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) accused of being communists and the undermining of attempted coalition building with unions and anti-Vietnam war groups; the Black Panther Party prevented from building coalitions with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and politicized gangs like the Blackstone Rangers in Chicago; and the targeting of the Sanctuary Movement that supported Central American refugees in the 1980s accusing activists of supporting terrorists as a way of undermining the movement’s broad support of faith-based, human rights, and socialist groups.
Several hundred statements of support from unions, human rights, civil rights, and faith-based groups and thousands of supporters from across the country for the 23 anti-war and Palestine activists seem to have prevented indictments in that case so far. It is not hard to imagine the prosecutors reviewing the evidence they had collected that had failed to convince a grand jury for an indictment, finding Odeh’s file from the Israelis, and deciding to build a case for indicting another leader of Chicago’s Palestinian community. There are few other reasonable explanations for why Odeh would be charged for an alleged offense that occurred 20 years ago on the basis of a prison term resulting from a confession obtained through torture 45 years ago.
“Rasmea is facing up to ten years in jail and deportation. She is a Palestinian who has stood up for the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim community in Chicago, and to end the occupation of Palestine as well. Rasmea suffered vicious torture and sexual abuse in Israeli prisons, and the U.S. government is trying to victimize her again,” states Hatem Abudayyeh of the national Rasmea Defense Committee.
Odeh’s defense team will be discussing this motion to dismiss at her next court hearing on September 2 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, at 231 W Lafayette Boulevard, in Detroit, Michigan. The Rasmea Defense Committee and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) – CAIR-Chicago is a member of both coalitions – are organizing a picket line outside the court building at 2:00 p.m. and filling the courtroom for the hearing beginning at 3:00 p.m.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.