Thursday, January 22, 2015

Poetics for a Future Arab Spring

Will there be another Arab Spring? Yes, as surely as mountains are washed to the sea, as surely as people long to be free. (Bob Dylan) …History repeats.

In biblical times, the Assyrians used terror to maintain their empire: They went in for showy things like making pyramids of heads of their enemies. One day Egypt revolted. Revolt failed, people screamed. Then Syria tried, it too was bloodily repressed. Various lands, in sequence, revolted. At last Egypt tried again—and this time broke free. From that day it was only a matter of time before the evil empire passed into history. Merely two hundred years after the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh was destroyed, reduced to a great earthen mound, peasants in the area did not know what the mound was. As a Jewish scholar wrote, “Nineveh is gone, and who shall bewail her?”

Of course modern Arab dictators are careful not to provoke a revolt, and of course they are supported by the police and organized Arab religions, just as how in WWII the various organized religions in Japan’s East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere supported the Japanese empire. Of course Arab peasants don’t believe in separation of church and state, human rights, freedom of speech and democracy. Not most, not yet, but… they are talking. And they can talk to cousins in North America. Even if the workers are too busy to read, many can still hear. They might hear how the Muslim parts of Eastern Europe are prospering, even though—or else because—after renouncing communism, they went secular, not sharia.

I think Egypt, with it’s vast population, will be the site of the new Arab spring, although it might not happen until Arab babies being born today, born crying for democracy, are grown adults. The day will come. And what will they think of us, in their excited days of freedom?

Will they remember how back when Obama was president the U.S. still believed in “Yankee imperialism?” As in Secretary of State John Kerry going to Cairo and twisting Egypt’s arm to take a huge loan, and military hardware, without attaching any strings, any requirement whatsoever, for human rights? This although there is blazing evidence that terrorism is associated with lack of civil rights? I know, yes, I know Obama never utters the words “war on terror” but the next generation of Arabs won’t know that: They’ll just think that back when they were children the Yankees wanted imperialism more than they wanted to win "peace and freedom" for Arabs.

And then, in the seasons following their liberation, idealistic Arab college students gathering in their libraries to converse and research will know whether the West set an example in freedom or in appeasement. As in cartoons. Did westerners self-censor, to save their own skins, or instead set a “tough love” example to help Arabs learn?

Here is a verse I memorized from a school history textbook:
The Destruction of Sennacherib
By George Gordon Byron

The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold
And his cohorts were gleaming in silver and gold
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue waves roll nightly on deep Galilee.

(Link to the rest of the poem)

Sean Crawford

~Well blog fans, today in my title I am trying the word “poetics” because while having “poem” in a post gets a low hit count, having “remarks” gets a count so low you wouldn’t believe me. (I’ve blogged since 2009, I know my stats)

~During the cold war we compared and contrasted our way of life with the dull Russians and communists, now in the war on terror I sometimes compare us to Arabs and Muslims.

And so I thought of Arabs today when I was reading Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter. Simone was only 11 years older than my father, yet she lived in a dutiful time when her culture was too extreme, too rigid—like the Muslim cultures of today. It strikes me this was merely a hundred years ago. I don’t worry about Arabs reading it, since only 600 translations per year are made into Arabic, but I wonder about dutiful Muslims in Europe or America: Would it hurt the feelings of Muslims with too much ego (and without “boundaries”) to read Simone and then realize the West is merely 100 years ahead? Such a short time. I think of it this way: While it doesn’t hurt the youngest boy in a huge family if the eldest brother is far ahead, surely having a brother merely two years older who was successful and liberated would feel like a sad reproach.

~Simone is like my friend Blair in finding most people boring. No wonder her boyfriend was Jean Paul Sarte. On page 236 she writes:

“The students I tried to get friendly with at the Sorbonne were all, I thought, both male and female, without any interest: they kept rushing about in noisy groups, laughing their heads off; they weren’t interested in anything and were quite complacent about their indifference.”

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