Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Luxuriating in the easy life of McMurdo and starting in on the 4th book of the month: "The Dream Palace of the Arabs" by Fouad Ajami. 'how a generation of Arab intellectuals tried to introduce cultural renewals in their homelands through the forces of modernity and secularism. Ultimately, they come to face disappointment, exile, and, on occasion, death.' Fouad, an excellent storyteller, relates the struggles and informative failures of several would-be Arab modernizers against the backdrop of 20th-century events in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt. Hope passages of Arab poetry will not get me on some watch list.

"The Bridge" by Khalil Hawi. Hawi was a Christian Lebanese poet who wrote from WWII until his suicide during the Israeli invasion of 1982. Here he mourns the 'sickness of the East' (failure of the once enlightened and advanced Arab world to modernize, and its eclipse by the Western world) and at the same time retains hope for future generations.

They cross the bridge blithely in the morning
My ribs are stretched out as a firm bridge for them
From the caves of the East, from the swamps of the East,
To the New East
My ribs are stretched out as a firm bridge for them.
They will go and you will remain
Empty-handed, crucified, lonely
In the snowy nights while the horizon is ashes
Of fire, and the bread is dust;
You will remain with frozen tears on a sleepless night
The mail will come to you in the morning:
The news page... How often you will ruminate its contents,
Scrutinize it... Reread it!
They will go and you will remain
Empty-handed, crucified, lonely...

From Hawi's Cambride dissertation on his homeland and countrymen:

"'The free air of the Mountain, and the dignity of the Mountain itself, leave their impression on their spirit and physique, while a primitive kind of ideal morality is manifested in their conduct. Nevertheless, after their youth is over, the repeated shocks and frustrations they are fated to receive from the evils inherent in their surroundings, the realization of the tragedies and futilities of the history of their country, and the practical wisdom which their parents try to teach them, itself learned from frustrations and the futility of idealism, all these combine to keep them from belief in any great cause such as public welfare or the advancement of the nation. Petty egoism and indiscriminate opportunism seem indispensible qualities if they are to adapt themselves to their environment, and become capable of struggling with its political, social , and economic conditions. Yet the good qualities developed in their youth do not disappear entirely from their mature character, even though these play no essential part in directing their conduct. Petty feuds, intrigues, and lack of integrity are accepted as normal, while dignity, frankness, and open-heartedness are nothing more than an apparent aim, a sheild and a mask."

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