Certainly a majority of Arab intellectuals and journalists used to identify with a popular discourse devoid of any rationality; only a small number refused to believe the Iraqi regime's deception. That small group of Arab intellectuals developed a unique understanding, free from the strong emotional agitation which Saddam's regime used so effectively. One cannot deny that there are lessons to be learned from it concerning the condition of the Arab culture, especially those on the production end of the culture.
In 1978, while in his 20s, the young writer Sattar Jabr Naser caused a controversy in Baghdad with his book, "Reflections on the Book of Ali al-Wardi: Glimpses of the Modern History of Iraq." Naser denied that he was seeking fame by studying the flaws of his teacher, but insisted that he wanted to accomplish what his teacher could not. However, the destiny awaiting him was indifferent to his motives.
In recent years, we have seen the rise of a rich body of immigrant literatures, including many powerful works by Arab-American women who have set out to interrogate their own, often fragmented, identities. Unlike earlier generations of Arab-American writers, these women are consciously building bridges to other communities of color.
Arabic literature is perhaps one of very few literary traditions that have a distinct literary genre known as the "prison novel." This is not only because a great majority of writers have themselves lived the experience of arrest, imprisonment, and even torture, but also because the history of the contemporary Arab intellectual is one of constant struggle with the authorities.
My friend Inge phoned from San Francisco to ask me if she had to buy a chador in order to visit the magnificent mosques of Isfahan and Turkey. I said that for Turkey I did not think she would need to, but that for Isfahan I was not sure, though usually in Islamic countries Western women and Christian women in general weren't obliged to wear the veil. The conversation went on, and we ended up discussing "fundamentalists'" insistence on the mandatory veiling of Moslem women.
Spoken by more than 250 million individuals today, the Arabic language is the only language among the Semitic languages that has undergone a constant expansion for nearly three millennia. The last 150 years have been among the most decisive years in its evolution.
In a recent essay published in the London based daily Al Hayat, the poet Adonis offers his own perspective on contemporary and past Arabic poetry. He claims that past and present Arabic poetry is basically similar, if not identical, in experience and expression.
Writer-director Elia Suleiman is now referred to as Palestine's first movie celebrity. His low-budget, darkly comic film "Divine Intervention" is winning critical acclaim and bringing audiences to their feet - and taking away many film festival trophies. But, like its creator, the film is "stateless," and as such, has been denied eligibility for an Academy Award nomination.
Suleiman's characters, on the street and on celluloid, silently rage against the very absurdity of their dispossessed status in a world that turns away from Palestinian reality, humanity-and film.
Ahmed Zewail's idealism and success is evident on every page of his autobiography, "Voyage Through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize." He reminds us of the altruism, the enthusiasm, and the stimulating atmosphere experienced by many a foreign student beginning graduate school in the U.S.: "I was working almost day and night and doing several projects at the same time…. Now thinking about it, I cannot imagine doing all of this again, but of course, then I was young and innocent."