Why Death of a Nation's Conscience Has Met With Cold Indifference
Celebrated singer and composer Marcel Khalife, who has spent over a quarter of a century singing for Lebanon, the Palestinian cause and the Arab world, will go to trial in November on charges of "defaming" Islam by setting to music a poem that includes a quote from the Koranic account of Joseph.
In early October, criminal charges were filed against Khalife by Beirut's newly appointed Chief Investigating Magistrate, Abdel-Rahman Chehab. He called for a sentence of six months to three years on charges of "disrespecting" a religious text.
Translation occurs when some-thing is changed or transformed into something else, when one thing becomes another. Defined and understood in this way, the very acts of speaking and writing in and of themselves can be regarded as acts of translation–the transformations of feelings or thoughts into sounds or markings that, by common agreement and necessity, stand for those feelings and thoughts–thus making the sharing of experience possible through what is then called communication or, in the hands of poets, communion.
Al Jadid's feature paper on Adonis' views on Arab poetry was most interesting and thus calls for some further debate. As an Arab-American poet and one familiar with the works of most contemporary Arab poets I would both agree and disagree with what was said.
It is true that "tarab" is intrinsic to Arabic poetry's past and present, as it is intrinsic to Adonis' own poetry. "Tarab" being, at its best, the sort of ecstasy reached when the musicality of the verse coincides with the visionary quality of the thought expressed.
There seems to be an almost surreal gap between the realities in the Arab world and the lectures, books, and conferences concerning Arabs, Islam, and the Orient that are produced in the West. For too long, Western scholars have been ignoring the types of dialogue occurring in the context of contemporary Arab cultural phenomena such as plays, journals, cinema, and intellectual discourse. This neglect of primary Arab sources affects the whole field of Arab studies, or as it is called in some places Oriental Studies.
For the tenth time we are visiting the United States of America, representing our beautiful Lebanon in a mission of art, specifically music. For the tenth time, we are performing in American cities filled with millions who came from the ends of the earth to earn a day's mouthful-which grows ever smaller. Arabs have come from all their various countries, for one reason or another. When we meet with them, they tell us of their toils and troubles, and we bring them messages of our homelands which burden our hearts.
The latest figures on AIDS in a global scale reported by the World Health Organization are a cause for sobering reflection. They indicate that by the end of 1997, 30.6 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS, and that 5.8 million people were infected with HIV in 1997, which represents approximately 16,000 new HIV infections per day. North Africa and the Middle East have 210,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, and in 1997 that region had 19,000 new cases of HIV infection.
Both in the Arab world and diaspora, Arabs are remembering what they refer to in Arabic as al-nakba, the "uprooting" and the "catastrophe" that befell the Palestinians when Israel was carved out of their homeland in 1948.
For a people whose love of poetry has been rooted in their land for centuries, it is no wonder that the loss of Palestine in 1948 marks the emergence of contemporary Palestinian poetry, impacting the very nature of literature throughout the Arab world, and ultimately, attracting a growing Western audience.
Half a century has gone by since the onset of the history-shattering events Palestinians refer to as al-nakba - the ‘uprooting,’ the ‘catastrophe’ that befell their homeland with the carving out of the state of Israel, the ‘disaster’ that still infuses their poetry.