The Arab world lives in a state of nostalgia for bygone days, when much of the hatred and intolerance of today had not set in, and the demographic minorities of what was once called the Levant were not escaping to Europe and elsewhere. But the Levant of peaceful coexistence between religious and ethnic minorities and the Muslim majority has suffered a physical blow with the rise of the terroristic Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
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Many factors contributed to the decreased numbers of Syrian Christians before the 2011 revolutionary uprising. These included immigration based on economic or political reasons, and low birth rates compared to other religious communities, with the latter a factor generally attributed to higher educational levels.
The scenes of refugees drowning by the hundreds in the seas between Turkey and Greece as they attempt to reach Europe are harrowing. They come from all corners of the Middle East, not only from Syria, but also Lebanon and Iraq. Lebanon recently received the corpses of a family of eight who died when they illegally took a ship from Turkey heading to Europe. All this while the photo of the Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, remains fresh in the minds of the world.
Etel Adnan describes a group of friends who gather frequently in Mill Valley, California, ostensibly to paint. Instead, they are fully involved in the issue of perception. In her book “Journey to Mount Tamalpais,” she quotes one woman in this group: “To perceive is to be both objective and subjective. It is to be in the process of becoming one with whatever it is, while also becoming separate from it.” And, she adds, the moment of perception is a moment of art.
In a meeting with my students at the American University of Beirut on December 14, 2000, the Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan told us that she began writing her long, prophetic poem “The Arab Apocalypse” (The Post-Apollo Press, 1989) in January 1975 in Beirut, two months before the outbreak of the Lebanese War (1975-1990). “Then, the war took the poem over,” said Adnan, and she added: “The war wrote this poem.
In many languages
men devastate the land
tear it up with gun-fire
Smash it with terror
bury it under the dead
In the spiral of ages
In the black winds of hatred
love is too light.
Nawal el-Saadawi remains one of the most famous Arab feminists. By the same token, many consider her one of the most radical and uncompromising activists. Her radicalism spans a wide range of issues, including women’s sexuality, the circumcisions of young girls, and, perhaps most irritating to Arab governments, her insistence on the interconnectedness of sexuality and politics, a perspective which leads her to conclude that they need not be separated.