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Thursday, December 4, 2008

"There Are Many Mohammeds": The Bombing and the Brink Part IV

In which Guy Mannes-Abbott and Mourid Barghouti discuss the implications, ramifications and emotions of Barghouti's poem, "A Night Unlike Others"

IV. Despite being the most declamatory of Barghouti’s poems in translation, there is no accusation, nothing that must be withdrawn under certain circumstances, no contentiousness and, even here, no stage directions. Yet this is a poem written in the wake of the gratuitous killing of a young boy by the Israeli Defence Forces right in front of the world in September 2000. It was followed by Israel reinvading illegally Occupied Territories as the second intifada took off. Mohammed al-Durra became an icon of injustice, a symbol, an idea, wrapped in flourishes of rhetoric -the kind that Mourid refuses.
I asked him about it, knowing that there had been a memorial edition of an occasional publication in Cairo, renamed Durra, to which writers gave work. Something about my question touched him: the fact that I would ask it, that my own son was ‘due’ on the very same day. Perhaps even that his late arrival by two weeks had made for a singularly naked concentration on the human. The point, quickly established, was that yes, it was Mohammed al-Durra, in a sense, but “Mohammed is not a name, even!”
There are many Mohammeds, I suggest.
“Yeh yeh yes.”
He then told me how he’d been invited to go on a kind of memorial tour of north African capitals with the father of this particular Mohammed, whose long face we all saw yanked into animal terror. There were posters everywhere, everyone was saying this, chanting that; “I went on the tour, but I never read this poem!” He said this with pride; proud of a characteristic, principled clarity.
So we have a poem about a grotesque crime, which was a trigger for the slide back into hell for Palestinians, a historically significant moment. The poem does not name, nor does it blame. Even agreeing to a memorial tour in support of the family, the poem that does not name is not read! This, in a heightened way, exemplifies Mourid Barghouti's work. The particular here, unnamed, has graduated to the universal. If this is literature in bondage -as J.M. Coetzee described his own writing during the apartheid era- the bindings are our little humanity, the prison our planetary bauble.
V. Four years on from 2004, a first proper collection of Barghouti’s poems is due in English. Midnight & Other Poems includes the first full version of the long title poem, written during 2004 and published in Arabic as the year turned into 2005.

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