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Monday, December 1, 2008
Mourid Barghouti's Midnight: Exclusive Introduction by Guy Mannes-Abbott
Over the next six days, the English PEN World Atlas blog will carry an exclusive essay adapted from Mannes-Abbott's introduction, including his unique in-depth interview with Barghouti, who discusses his poetic process.
The Bombing and the Brink by Guy Mannes-Abbott
2004 feels tumultuously distant already but recent events have reminded me of the bloody brink it represents. At their recent trial, the men accused of plotting to bring down passenger aircraft with ‘liquid bombs’ were linked with those of the 7/7 and 21/7 attacks in London. Prosecutors claimed that members of each group visited Pakistan during 2004, when their righteous anger embraced murderous violence. What kind of year was it, then, that tipped these people over this kind of edge? It was the year that American-led adventurism in Iraq peaked with attempted map-wipes of Fallujah and Abu Ghraib torture. A year in which the ‘cradle’ of our common humanity was saturated in bloody perversion. Threaded inbetween, Israel committed routine outrages in its occupied territories. Rafah was bulldozed, Sheikh Yassin -and random early-morning neighbours- bombed to pieces, the ‘West Bank’ was walled up, protesters and journalists mowed down. Before years end yet another Palestinian child was married with an IDF bullet inside a UN school. What is there to salvage from such a brink? I spent most of 2002-3 in Gujarat, India, from where exercises of Western ‘might’ felt different. In 2002 I’d witnessed state-sponsored slaughter of Muslims fuelled by Nationalist visions of an exclusively Hindu holy land. In 2003 I watched the invasion of Iraq from the edge of Gujarat’s Great Rann of Kutch. It was there that I came to understand at gut level that our world divides between the bombing and the bombed - something the bombed need no reminding of. Back home in London, an abysmal 2004 primed me for violent resistance, a step lacking final triggers of a massacred family, a homeland denied me or brutishly overrun. ‘Justice’ didn’t visit me from the sky to force the issue. Stranded on the cusp, something shifted when I read Ahdaf Soueif’s clear-sighted reports of visits to occupied Palestine and then on its writers. It’s much harder to support bombing people whose interiors -in novels, poems, memoirs- you know something of, isn’t it? Lacking Arabic, I decided to ‘discover’ more of its literature in translation and do whatever I could to champion it and encourage more. Not much, as it turned out: a handful of literary reviews and author interviews. Notice when it was otherwise withheld. Of the little that does make it into the English language from Arabic even less originates in Britain. Amongst that ‘little’ and ‘less’, a rich Palestinian literature has been most wilfully under-represented.
II. In 2004 I also ‘discovered’ the poetry of Mourid Barghouti, whose classic memoir I Saw Ramallah  I admired already....