"The Earthquake of Houla"-- Reading Adonis

By Elie Chalala
Adonis

Adonis’ controversial writings on the Syrian revolution have ensured that his critics consistently mention that many people hate him. Yet, even so, there remains a big difference between his critics and his “haters.” A large number of Arab and Syrian intellectuals, artists and scholars have denounced the threats of physical harm to Adonis featured on some new media venues, and I would like to add my voice to theirs. But this does not and should not prevent us from taking issue with some of what Adonis has said.

Adonis concluded a recent column in Al Hayat newspaper with the brief statement, "Zilzal al-houla", which translates to"the Houla earthquake."The same statement was distributed to other media sources, including the London based Al Quds al-Arabi.

"What happened in the village of Houla is a human and moral earthquake, and this is more irrefutable proof that man does not have any value in the land that saw the birth of the first civilized man.  It comes as part of a series of heinous acts which confirm that the struggle for power and the lust for domination remain the main theme of Arab political history, both past and modern." Note here the generality that marks Adonis's statement. Never mind the philosophical tone of the statement, he still declines to come out and name those who are committing these "heinous acts." Without this, we are left to think that both the opposition and the brutal Assad state are equally culpable, not to mention the more than 40 children who were slaughtered in Houla. Generality and vagueness have been key problems in most of what Adonis has written about the Syrian uprising.

Consider what he says next: "Regardless of denial pertaining to who committed this evil act, and regardless of what the investigation would reveal, this crime was committed on Syrian soil: it was Syrian hands that killed Syrian nationals. The responsibility is then Syrian." Adonis is reluctant to even speculate on who the perpetrators were, instead reveling in vagueness. What he almost seems to find most problematic is that the crime was committed on Syrian soil. Let us not forget that Adonis is a great romantic poet. But this is not the time for romanticism and glorification of the Syrian land. Furthermore, one can even smell some chauvinism in his statement, as if evil deeds were only the preserve of other countries!

Once again, Adonis rehashes a former theme that some intellectuals have responded to with outrage. In a letter, he appealed to Bashar al-Assad as an "elected president," asking him "before all else, aren’t you president of a country and people?"  He continues his statement as if Syria were a constitutional democracy (and perhaps he even believes that it is), saying that the Syrian "state bears moral and political responsibility" and describing it as "the authority of the Syrian people and the protector of all of them."When I read this statement, I wondered where Adonis had been during the past 15 months! He also leaves me wondering how he defines legitimacy, secularism and other attributes he imagines to be inside the house of the Assads.

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