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Poetry, Change, and Revolution - A Saudi Poem Revisited

Mon, 13 Oct 1997:


MER - Change comes in the Middle East, as elsewhere, in complex ways.  There is the regular daily news of course; and in the region especially it is inextricably intertwined with an ever-more-sophisticated and propagandistic journalistic establishment.  But there is also considerable ferment that rises from the grass-
roots giving lie to the daily headlines and making even Kings fear the possible day of retribution from their own people.

And then there are defining moments of change and revolution that redefine both the news and the news-makers.

Years of CIA treachery finally resulted in the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s.

A few years later in 1982 the Israeli/U.S. war on Lebanon unleashed powerful forces leading to the Palestinian Intifada that has yet to run its course or bear its fruit.

The Gulf War less than a decade later is at yet unconcluded as new regional forces partly stemming from that war threaten to overturn the established order from Saudi Arabia to Algeria, from Jordan to Egypt.

Indeed the American-sponsored "peace process" may in reality be far more about attempting to reinforce the "client regimes" of the region than about finally achieving justice for the Palestinians.

There are also moments when even those at the top of the current order, even those severely seduced and corrupted by it, feel they cannot remain completely quiet any longer.

Some 13 years ago one the most notable non-royals in Saudi Arabia -- indeed a Government Minister and a close confidant of King Fahd himself -- published the following memorable poem.  He was promptly fired and "warned".  But indeed, it was not long before the seductive powers of money and privilege soon co-opted him again -- as has been the case with so many others -- quieting his tongue, suppressing his convictions, and burying his pen.

This Saudi poem remembered now; a moving and historic Israeli poem from a decade ago to come.


Between you and me, a thousand slanderers are screeching
     So of what use it is for me to digress in singing?

My voice dies away; you do not feel its echo
        Though of old you used to like my singing.

I see you among the crowds; yet I do not see
     That wonted smile flourishing on your countenance.

Your eyes pass me over, hurrying, as if
     They were passing a stranger, fleeing in terror.

Between you and me a thousand slanderers are lying.
     You keep on listening to them; you do not give them the lie.

They have deceived you, and their deception has pleased you, though you were not
     Wont to be pleased by perfumed falsehood before.

Praise be to Him who made hearts like strong vaults
     For hiding feelings that are still in turmoil.

Tell the slanderers I come with white flag raised;
     Go ahead and slander me and best me.

I am not good at fighting such battles.
     What kind of a person will fight when the opponent is a fox?!

What kind of person will struggle when the weapon is intrigue?
     What kind of person will contend when the enemy is a scorpion?

Manliness refuses to befoul its sword;
     A bold man may conquer at the moment he is conquered.

Our separation is imminent; am I bidding farewell to a silent man?
     Or are you listening to my gentle reproval so that I can go ahead and deliver it.

Not at all!  In any case, reproval has never resuscitated a love
     That has been murdered.  And getting near someone has never prevented him from turning away.

Bought panegyrics will be recited for you;
     Those hungry praise-mongers are getting ready.

A pen that can be bought and sold is not the equal
     Of a reed that writes with the blood of an eye.

                Ghazi al-Qusaybi
                Minister of Health, Saudi Arabia
                April 1984

        "The purpose of journalism is to comfort
        the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
                        - I.F. Stone

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