Essays and Features
In a meeting with my students at the American University of Beirut on December 14, 2000, the Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan told us that she began writing her long, prophetic poem “The Arab Apocalypse” (The Post-Apollo Press, 1989) in January 1975 in Beirut, two months before the outbreak of the Lebanese War (1975-1990). “Then, the war took the poem over,” said Adnan, and she added: “The war wrote this poem.
In many languages
men devastate the land
tear it up with gun-fire
Smash it with terror
bury it under the dead
In the spiral of ages
In the black winds of hatred
love is too light.
Nawal el-Saadawi remains one of the most famous Arab feminists. By the same token, many consider her one of the most radical and uncompromising activists. Her radicalism spans a wide range of issues, including women’s sexuality, the circumcisions of young girls, and, perhaps most irritating to Arab governments, her insistence on the interconnectedness of sexuality and politics, a perspective which leads her to conclude that they need not be separated.
Assia Djebar has been a problematic for some Arab intellectuals, both when she became an "immortal" or a life-long member of the prestigious French Academy, and when her name was frequently mentioned as a Nobel Prize contender. Her recent death on February 6 proved no exception. As her body lay in one of Paris’ hospitals, the same questions arose: Why were her works not translated enough into Arabic, while her novels were translated into scores of other languages? A valid question.
Revolution’s successes and failures; the taboos broken, how political Islam’s “holiness” mask dropped; the intelligentsia’s flight to the past to avoid analyzing the present.
The valley was flooding with apparitions . . . Silence, followed by a crescendo. A sound that will echo in the valley years later. ("Apparitions")
Radwa Ashour—novelist, educator, human rights activist, politically committed intellectual figure, and critic—opened her 1998 autobiographical novel "Apparitions" (or“Specters”) with this powerful scene. Seventeen years later, on November 30, 2014, Ashour would join those apparitions, her gentle soul forever filling our valley with her inspiration, resistance and writings.