Thursday 20 December 2012

Syria’s choice between oppression and darkness

The late Syrian poet Muhammad al-Maghut and the Arabic title of his theatrical work "Toast to the homeland"

Muhammad al-Maghut (1934-2006) was a Syrian poet, essayist and playwright. The influence of his innovative and lyrical Arabic prose poetry on generations of Arab poets has been phenomenal.
He wrote for theater, television and cinema and published three poetry collections, two plays, a novel and two collections of satirical essays.
Encyclopedia Britannica says al-Maghut “was considered to be one of the greatest and most original writers of modern Arabic literature and was known for the darkly comic and satiric nature of his writing.”
His most popular and regionally acclaimed theatrical work was probably كاسك يا وطن, Arabic for “Toast to the homeland.”
And one of his famous quotes declares, “Policemen, Interpol men everywhere. You search for the perfect crime… There’s only one perfect crime – to be born an Arab.”
In his think piece today, pan-Arab al-Hayat’s editor-in-chief Ghassan Charbel recalls a Syrian abroad telling him recently he feared for Syria’s future, wondering, “Is Syria fated to move from oppression to darkness?”
The question, Charbel writes, reminded me of what Syrian poet Muhammad al-Maghut said during our meeting a few years back at a mutual friend’s (Fakhri Karim’s) home in Damascus.
Al-Maghut told me at the time:
“Don’t drown in hope. Don’t deceive yourself. There’s nothing for us to look forward to – not when we are made to choose between the man with the badge (meaning the military officer) and the man with the beard (meaning the hardliner). The former will pull out your nails; the latter will grab your freedom and neck.
“We are on the sidelines of history and irrelevant to the future. We are effectively an endangered species despite our reproduction prowess. A sample of our soil needs to be analyzed at the world’s highly sophisticated laboratories. The problem could be in the type of soil as to whether you beget an officer or a Taliban. The night is long.”
Charbel wonders, “What if al-Maghut were alive today? What would he write or say? How would he describe what is left of the villages, of the cities, of Syria and of the families? Or about what is left of Homs, of Aleppo and of Damascus or about the wreckage of the old souks, of coexistence, of history and of jasmines?
“Like the Syrian I chanced to meet overseas at a library, al-Maghut dreaded the toxic choice between oppression and darkness… For once, he was perhaps fortunate to miss the horrors of oppression and the horrors of darkness.
“I hope al-Maghut was wrong. I also hope the young Syrian I chanced to meet was exaggerating. The toxic choice is not fated. There must be a window to freedom, to democracy, to dignity and to mutual recognition among the components and affiliations. Syria deserves surviving in the realm of a state that is not built on oppression and does not embrace darkness.”