Inside Al Jadid - Essays and Features
Farag Bayrakdar’s ‘In Between the Lines’: When ‘Nation’ Becomes a Weapon!
A prominent Syrian poet, Farag Bayrakdar spent more than 14 years in Hafez Assad’s jails. His essay, “In Between the Lines,” reflects on growing up in an era where Mr. Bayrakdar, and others like him, became disenchanted with the term of “Nation,” recalling how, in the hands of authoritarian regimes like the Assads in Syria, the concept became aneffective weapon of repression, used to incarcerate dissenters and stifle yearnings for freedom. Bayrakdar prefers balad or country, the term his folks used, instead of the ideologically and politically loaded concept of “Nation,” which also became commercialized in the post WW II era, especially in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s the late introduction into the Arabic language of the concept of “Nation” during the early 20th century also compounded the alienation that many felt. Additionally, Bayrakdar discusses the superiority of humanists over nationalists, reflecting upon the roles of notorious tyrants, such as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Mussolini, among others, whose nationalist—rather than humanist—dispositions led their countries into disaster. The essay by Syrian poet Farag Bayrakdar, translated by Elie Chalala, will appear in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 70, 2016.
Yasar Kemal: Champion of Anatolian Literature and Social Justice
Turkish-Kurdish novelist Yasar Kemal (1923-2015) passed away a little more than a year ago. Recipient of several awards, both in Turkey and internationally, the author’s works centered on rural literature with a focus on peasants, and struggling farmers. Coming from a poor family and having spent the majority of his youth toiling away in the fields, Kemalinjected his life stories into his novels, a focus that led some critics to describe him as the father of the “village novel.” Unquestionably a progressive and non-dogmatic leftist, Kemal endured harassment from Turkish authorities, including prison time, a suspended sentence of 20 months in jail, and a period of exile in Sweden. Fellow Kurds expressed disenchantment with Kemal’s writings, first for not writing in his native Kurdish language, and then for his admiration of Ataturk’s reforms. It goes without saying that he was a supporter of the rights of the Kurdish people and other minorities within Turkey like the Armenians. Quoted as having included Tolstoy, Cervantes, and Chekhov among his major influences, Kemal especially revered Chekhov, calling him “my master.” Alex Soltany writes an appreciation essay of Yasar Kemal’s literary legacy for the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 20, No. 70, 2016.
On Random Violence
Azmi Bishara, prominent Arab and Palestinian intellectual, offers a contrarian position to those who blindly glorify violence that targets civilians, with special emphasis on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He examines the roles of morality, religion and politics in the continuing debate on Palestinian strategies against Israeli occupation. In his article “Targeting Civilians: Morality, Religion and Politics,” he condemns the attacks on bystanders as a “doubled crime” The first transgression deals with targeting innocent civilians who happened to be present at the scene of the crime, while the second concerns killing people on the basis of their religion or other types of beliefs. In the first instance, public opinion naturally identifies with the victims even if they do not share their views, especially when those killed tend to be innocent and generally have nothing to do with the cause behind the crime. Bishara condemns the violence, regardless of the weapons used—an explosive belt, a booby trapped car, or from by an aircraft — especially when this type of attack fails to distinguish between bystanders and combatants. He notes these condemnations become less in times of war when countries involve their own civilian populations in the fighting. The essay by Mr. Azmi Bishara is scheduled to appear in Al Jadid Vol. 20, No. 70.
Visionary Egyptian Novelist Gamal al-Ghitani Dead But Not Forgotten
The Arab literary community has lost a major figure in the passing of Gamal al-Ghitani last October. A highly acclaimed novelist, Mr. al-Ghitany authored more than 46 literary works, and received several literary awards. He wrote his most famous work, “Zayni Barakat” as a response to his five-year imprisonment under charges of public dissent, as well as an indictment of dictatorship during the 1960s under President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Born into a poor family from Upper Egypt, al-Ghitani worked as a carpet designer in his youth before he found employment with the newspaper Akhbar Elyom, becoming its war correspondent in 1967 and 1973.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail praised al-Ghitani for “enriching literature with his unique style, intelligence and broad vision.” Unlike other writers who conform to a Western style of fiction, al-Ghitani emphasized Arab literary tradition and the old Arabic ‘tale’ form in his works. He founded Akhbar Al Adab, a leading literary magazine, in 1993 and continued on as its editor-in-chief until 2011. An advocate of artistic freedom, al-Ghitani opposed Islamist practices against the arts. He also disapproved of the Muslim Brotherhood rule following the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and openly supported the military regime that unseated Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Drawing on past and contemporary Egyptian history, al-Ghitani believed that the similarities between Egypt’s defeat in both the 1517 Ottoman-Mamluk War and the 1967 War proved the close connections in human experiences throughout the ages. Professor Nada Ramadan Elnahla writes an appreciation essay of al-Ghitani’slegacy in Arab literature for the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 20, No. 70, 2016.
Syrian Children and the Exit from the Dark Tunnel!
“For more than five decades, the Syrian child was subjected to an orderly process of upbringing to control the phases of his growth and maturity. Following the nursery phase, which did not have an ideological formation, the child entered the realm of official popular organizations, along the North Korean model, controlling the child’s consciousness and distorting his growth...Among the new promised generation, ideological series of “brainwashing” continued while accompanied with the development of an intelligence psychology. A seed planted very early, in the beginning stages of their burgeoning awareness, resulted in the “art” of reporting fellow students to state officials. These practices developed in scope as the students gradually advanced in age, all the way until they entered the realm of practical life.” To read Mr. Salam Kawakibi's essay in full, please click on the link below:
Aleppo: A Catastrophe Defying Poets’ Powers of Description!
“When talking about what is happening in Syria, I face the inability of language to express reality. My vocabulary remains limited. My ability to describe reality, the basic forms of literature and writing, remains limited. Nothing I have written or read could be elevated to the level of one moment of the reality experienced by Syrians in their disastrous country, or in their great Diaspora into which they were unmercifully pushed….Those barking on TV like mad wolves in defense of Arabism, religion, sect, or resistance, forget that these remain unimportant without humans. In fact, these ideas have no existence without people…Aleppo remains a catastrophe. In size, scope, and wounds, it surpasses the catastrophe of Palestine. What the world witnesses today, human cleansing broadcast live on TV home screens, was not available during the Palestinian catastrophe. (This is an edited translation by Elie Chalala from the Arabic of a Facebook post (and an article appeared in Al Arabi Al Jadeed) by Jordanian poet Amjad Nasser. To read the full article, click on the link below:
The Syrian War Has Taken Us Prematurely to Hell!
“Hell has come to us; we don’t have to wait until the end of the world to face it…The crimes committed in Syria have surpassed what the human mind can imagine in terms of horrors and atrocities… The fertile imaginations of artists, novelists and poets have excelled in portraying Hell in their paintings and writings. Similarly, religious texts have offered horrific descriptions of the hell and its fires, from its worms to its venomous snakes, while illustrators of icons and murals have painted visions of unbearable suffering. However, no one’s imagination has achieved the level of creativity reached by the criminals in Syria, who came from all corners of the world, to make Syria into the reality--not the fiction--a real Hell surpassing any imagined inferno… We would not have reached this terrible inferno had we not accepted the many atrocities committed throughout the years. What takes place these days remains a direct consequence of years of silence over crimes committed by dictatorial regimes, and totalitarian parties, “secular,” “religious,” or “sectarian.” … It [Hell] has arrived prematurely. Had we wished, we possessed the ability to bring paradise to our present world instead of waiting until the final day. We chose Hell over paradise. Thus, fires consume us, we perish from starvation, tremble in the cold, and fall victim to oppression.” (From Father George Massouh’s article, “The Syrian Hell,” published on father Massouh’s Facebook page and lebanonfiles.com. An edited translation from the Arabic is by Elie Chalala.) To read the full article, please click on the link below: