Mahmoud Darwish, noted Palestinian poet, reacts to the devastating Gaza revelations with some remarkable, scorching self-criticism. I append comments, understanding that I am working with a translation and may well misinterpret.
MEMRI Special Dispatch-Palestinian Authority/Reform Project
June 29, 2007
On June 17, 2007, renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish published his reflections on the internecine fighting in Gaza in the London daily Al-Hayat. Darwish is known both for his literary output and for his political activism; he was a member of the PLO Central Committee from 1987 until 1993, when he resigned in protest of the Oslo Accords.
The following are excerpts from Al-Hayat (London), June 17, 2007.
Leading Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish on the Events in Gaza
“Did we have to fall from towering heights and see our blood on our hands, in order to grasp that we are not angels, as we used to believe? Did we also have to expose all our faults before everybody, so that our true nature should not remain virginal? How much did we lie when we said: ‘We are an exception.’ That you believe yourself is worse than to lie to another. To be friendly with those who hate us and cruel to those who love us – that is the baseness of one who aggrandizes himself and the arrogance of the lowly.
Interesting on a whole series of levels. Let’s take them one at a time:
Did we have to fall from towering heights and see our blood on our hands, in order to grasp that we are not angels, as we used to believe?
Apparently, yes. The blood was on your hands a long time ago, in Lebanon, for example. Only the wildest fantasies — like your poetry — could have you thinking you were angels, and only, apparently, the most spectacular failures could get you to reconsider.
Did we also have to expose all our faults before everybody, so that our true nature should not remain virginal?
Apparently so. If it hadn’t been in public, a global shame, you could have continued to lie to yourselves, to pretend that you were virginal. And just what does it mean to say: “so that our true nature should not remain virginal?” You never were, you were born as a sacrifice to hide Arab shame. Is this an expression of the honor-shame attitude that holds that as long as others don’t know, it hasn’t happened?
How much did we lie when we said: ‘We are an exception.’ That you believe yourself is worse than to lie to another. To be friendly with those who hate us and cruel to those who love us – that is the baseness of one who aggrandizes himself and the arrogance of the lowly.
This is strong stuff. It also underlines the (non-racist, non-condescending) observation that Palestinians/Arabs know about lies and lying to oneself. They are not unaware of these issues, and when confronted with a stark situation, are capable of searing self-criticism. I’d love to know who Darwish has in mind when he refers to those who hate and love us. It does remind me of my exchange with Omar, whose blog at the time had an opening quote from an Arab proverb about how one sign of a fool is his inability to distinguish friend from foe. What I was trying to say to Omar was, “you have been fools for believing that your leaders — Arab and Palestinian — are your friends.” Is this what Darwish means? But then to whom have the Palestinians been cruel who love them?
As for “those who aggrandize themselves” with “the arrogance of the lowly,” permit me to quote from Omar again, who has a remarkable post about Arab self-delusion that, I think, sheds light on Darwish’ alusion:
Arabs often see themselves as being more aware than others in what matters politics, they like to think of themselves as not being fooled like other nations and that they know why everything happens. In general, they have this thought of that most people around the globe are being fooled either by their governments or by their misleading media tools, while they (Arabs) are not.
I read this as a reference to Arab conspiracy theory. They think Americans are fools because they believe peoples’ protestations of “good faith,” whereas Arabs know that everything is a trick. The fact that anyone who wants to can manipulate Arabs by spinning a conspiracy theory, apparently doesn’t occur to them. As Friedman’s Rule #3 states:
If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all, they won’t believe it.
So even as they think of themselves as far more self-aware than Westerners, they register on our screens are astonishingly self-deceiving. Interesting paradox.
As for Darwish, it would help if we had a word on how he, Darwish, contributed to this fantasy of innocence… and can we expect him to acknowledge that this fantasy — what Ajami calls the Arab’s Dream Palace — was purchased by demonizing Israel. What on earth gave him the impression that he and his people were at the “towering heights” except his own word magic?
“Oh Past: Do not change us as we get farther from you. Oh Future: Do not ask us: ‘Who are you? And what do you expect from me?’ Because we too do not know. Oh Present: We have borne little, for we are but insufferable passers-by.
Do I detect regret? Uncertainty? Even humility? Oh would that you had shown some of this much earlier. Would that you had not been encouraged in your fantasies for so long by (well meaning?) fools who believed the lies you told yourselves. Say, rather: “O Past: We have abused you so we didn’t have to change. Oh Future: We have destroyed you with our insufferable entitlements and demands. Oh Present: We have refused to experience you, lest we feel the shame of our dishonor.”
“Identity is that which we bequeath, and not that which is bequeathed us. What we invent and not what we recollect. Identity is the false mirror, which we should break whenever the image pleases us.
If by this he means, Palestinians are the forgers of their own identities, and that, in order to take that power in hand and bequeath the next generation a real and healthy and honorable identity, rather than the one handed to them by their Arab brethren who have given them their identity as sacrifices of suffering on the altar of shame-driven hatred, then I’m all for it. That would make the final remark very powerful, and very much an act of integrity: smash the narcissistic image that “pleases” and grapple with the hard and ugly realities.
“He wore a mask, took courage, and murdered his mother, because she was an easy prey for him, and because a woman soldier stopped him and exposed her breasts to him, saying: ‘Does your mother have such as these?'”
Well the first part makes sense. I have written about how in the pathological state of Palestinian/Arab honor right now, the men kill their daughters and sisters for being raped, but not the rapist — because the girl, even as she is family, cannot fight back, whereas the rapist can. As for the second part, I really doubt Israeli soldiers do that kind of thing — although the latest issue of Maxim does give pause — and I’ll pass on the fascinating significance such a fantasy reveals.
“Were it not for shame and darkness, I would visit Gaza, without knowing the way to the house of the new Abu Sufyan, nor the name of the new prophet. And had not Muhammad been the Seal of the Prophets, each tribe would have had a prophet, and each Companion would have had a militia.”
Not sure what this all means, but I do think that each companion did, indeed, have a militia. Muhammad averaged 9 military expeditions a year by the end of his career.
“June has astounded us on its fortieth anniversary. If we do not find one to defeat us again, we defeat ourselves with our own hands, lest we forget.”
“No matter how much you look into my eyes, you would not find my sight there. Disgrace has snatched it away. My heart does not belong to me, nor to another. It has come to do without me, [but] without becoming a stone.
“Does he who cries over the corpse of his brother ‘Allahu Akbar’ – does he know that he is an infidel, because he sees Allah in his own image, smaller than a normal human being?
Did you think you could yell “Allahu Akbar” while killing Jewish children, dance in the street at the news, and not corrupt your souls. Should you be surprised that your cult of death has begun to devour you? Did you have to wait till the world knew it before you realized what anyone with eyes could have known a long time ago.
The prisoner who aspires to inherit the prison concealed a smile of victory from the camera, but he did not succeed in suppressing the joy which spilled out of his eyes. Perhaps because the hasty text was more powerful than the actor.
I don’t know what Darwish has in mind, but I can offer some examples. When the Palestinians who celebrated 9-11, Arafat ordered the footage destroyed, threatened media outlets not to show what they had, and paraded his false regret before the camera while ostentatiously giving blood for the victims. Well-meaning Westerners could not see the Schadenfreude that spilled out from his eyes, but Arabs could, and rejoiced in private, even as they created the prison they loudly demanded the West free them from. As for a hasty text more powerful than the actor, look at Houda Ghalia on the beach at Gaza mourning at her father’s side crying “film! film!”
What do we need Narcissus for, so long as we are Palestinians, and so long as we do not know the difference between a mosque (jami’) and a university (jami’a), because they both come from the same root. What do we need a state for, as long as it and [the passing] days have the same destiny?
“A sign on the door of a nightclub: Welcome Palestinians returning from battle. Entrance is free, and our wine does not intoxicate…
“‘Me and the stranger against my cousin; me and my cousin against my brother; and me and my sheikh against myself.’ This is lesson number one in the new national education under the vaults of obscurity.
MEMRI notes here: “This is an ironic inversion of a common Arab saying: “Me and my brother against my cousin; me and my cousin against a stranger.” It illustrates the point to which Palestinian culture has taken the dynamics of honor-shame to pathological extremes — from zero-sum to negative sum. And once the “apartheid” wall went up, and killing Israelis became too hard, they were left with the one thing they have taught themselves in their shame-filled rage: killing themselves.
“Who will enter Paradise first? He who died by the bullets of the enemy, or he who died by the bullets of a brother? Some sages say: Sometimes your enemy is one born of your own mother.”
“The fundamentalists do not make me angry, for they are believers in their own way. But I am angered by their secular supporters and by their atheist supporters who believe but in one religion – their own pictures on television.
Nice. Edward Saïd comes to mind, and all the other phoney Palestinians who salvage their honor even as they become Western by speaking lies to everyone in the guise of courage.
“Someone asked me: Will a hungry guard defend a house whose owner traveled to spend his summer vacation on the French or Italian Riveria – whichever one of them. I said: He will not guard. He asked me: Does me + me = two? I said: You and you is less than one.
“I am not ashamed of my identity, because it is still [a work] in progress. I am, however, ashamed of some of the things mentioned in Ibn Khaldun’s Prolegomena.(3)
“You are, from now on, another.”
MEMRI notes: The Prolegomena (Al-Muqaddima) is a work by Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) that analyzes Arab history and society. I don’t know what this means. I take the last remark to mean that, with this global humiliation, Darwish recognizes that he is not who he and his people thought they were.
Where to from here? How long before fawning Westerners convince Darwish that he can drown his humiliation in more scape-goating of Israel. Is this fierce man, with his ability to see terrifying truths, to confront the narcissism in which Palestinian identity has been macerated from its beginnings in the refugee camps, capable of staying with the painful truth that might set him and his people free?
What an act of courage that would be! A prophet, a civic hero, in a time great need. Then poetry would become the great creator Darwish once, mistakenly, imagined.
Let me conclude with the remarkable post from Omar in which he shows the essential ingredient of all real self-criticism: empathy for the other and a willingness to be fair and apply the same standards to oneself.
At the time when most Arabs criticize Westerners (Americans in specific) because they swallow everything presented to them without questioning, they seem to follow the same route! A single news clip, a show, or a bunch of photos are enough for millions to start demonstrating without questioning, and until this day, a thrilling speech can drive millions of Arab Middle Easterners blindly. Over a night, the media turned the sympathetic feelings toward Iran and the Shiites among Arabs 180 degrees with a 2-minute low-quality clip showing Saddam’s execution, and yet most Arabs feel that they cannot be driven easily, not by the media for sure!
A similar thought can be reflected on some of the conceptions on the west; for instance, there has been a cliché catching on for a while of that all Americans are guilty because they failed in creating a coalition against their pro-war leaders to cause a coup against them, while at the same time forgetting all about Arab states and kingdoms that helped directly in the invasion of Iraq but yet almost no protests took place in the Arab world, therefore neglecting the fact that if it’s anyone’s guilt for not acting then it’s theirs!
It’s easy for many people to whine and complain about the western double-standard policy, which is a fact, and blame them for not interfering when it matters, while at the same time rejecting everything coming from the west under the excuse of that it’s not “original” or that it has to be some sort of a conspiracy against us. Moreover, the western media bias is harshly criticized by the same people who don’t see any biasing in the Arab media and take any word coming from it to be sacred and unquestionable.
It’s my deep conviction that we need to introduce objectivity heavily in our lives in order for us to stand up and face the perils ahead, because as I see it from here, hypocrisy never prevails.
Note how his commenters agree at two sites. From your mouths to your hearts to those of your companions. The truth will set you free. But it has to be the truth.