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)...Using the word Levant has raised much curiosity, both intellectual and political. Identifying the vicious and obscurantist ISIS movement with the region called the Levant, a place which historically has represented the polar opposite of ISIS ideology, causes dissonance.
While the number of Christians has decreased under the Syrian government – a government that claims to be the “the protector of minorities” – from 15% in 1970 to 4.6% in 2008, the regime still insists on exaggerating the percentage to about 10%. The church itself places it at about 7%. The state’s rationale in offering a rosy picture appears clear: it provides a convenient propaganda tool from which the regime benefits in its “public relations.”
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.
I read Etel Adnan. I meet her sometimes in Beirut. I try all the time to discover the kind of writer she is, the woman she is, how she perceives herself and the world around her. She tells us that her books are the houses she builds for herself, that she settles nowhere, that she lives all over the world in newspapers, railway stations, cafés, airports. Feeling different early in life, she writes in “Journey:” “Memories are as fresh as cool water and a cool breeze floats over one’s fever.”
Al Hayat’s editor-in-chief shares a recent experience in Warsaw, when the tourist guide in the hotel said to him: “It is important to go to Auschwitz to view the effects of the holocaust, the gas chambers and the atrocities committed by the Nazis.” Mr. Charbel's answer proved telling, and predictable, given the current tragedy in Syria. “I listened to her words and was tempted by a desire to smile. There is no justification for me, an Arab, to go to Auschwitz. I have no right to examine history’s genocides while I am drowning in the holocausts of the present. I am from a region whose armies and militias do not hate the ‘final solution.’”
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. I started with tensions and rhythms and later wrote 59 pages corresponding to the 59 days of the Tal-el-Zaatar (a Palestinian camp in the outskirts of Beirut, destroyed by the Lebanese Forces in 1976) siege and destruction.”
I have coined the phrase “Wounded Beirut” as an expression of the state of my bleeding heart and my city’s as I lived and suffered the war that decimated my country between1975-1990. I witnessed the agony of my city being reduced to ruins, and yet, refusing to die. Indeed, “Wounded Beirut” summarizes in my imagination all that we did, witnessed, and resisted throughout those long, tragic war years. Writing about my city has certainly been part of the healing process and a tribute to Beirut.
If "The Prophet" is accepted on its own terms as a poetic work, regardless of its distinction from prevailing modes, one is struck by its direct engagement with common life…. It is time to accept Gibran not as a foreigner who wrote books in English, but as an American, with his difference and with his gifts. Let "The Prophet" and Kahlil Gibran enter the canon of American literature. The book and its author have been standing outside its rusty gates long enough.
Ramadan Drama Revisits 40’s Egyptian-Jewish Relations
“The Jewish Quarter” has sent some unsettling messages about the “Ramadan series” (or soaps), prompting commentaries in the Arab press and beyond, and finally meriting a feature article in the New York Times. This 30 episode serial, which runs through the month of Ramadan in Egypt, offers a viewpoint unlike that featured in any other serial before or after the Arab Spring.
Nawal el-Saadawi remains one of the most famous Arab feminists. She is also considered a radical and uncompromising activist. Her radicalism spans a wide range of gender issues, and perhaps most irritating to Arab governments has been her insistence on the interconnectedness of sexuality and politics, a perspective which leads her to conclude that they need not be separated.