Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Mikha’il Nu`aymah is one of the best writers in Arabic in the 20th century. He influenced me a lot during my childhood. I wrote him a fan letter and managed to meet him when I was 11. His memoirs (Sab`un—or Seventy) is one of the best works of literature in modern Arabic in my opinion. (I never cried more in my childhood than the night I came home (Angry Arab Jr.) after meeting him. I had a full film of pictures with him. My father got mad at me over something, so he destroyed the film. I remember crying for the whole night. My father did feel guilty and sent a professional photographer with me the following week. I get angry thinking about the incident.) He wrote this poem (Who Are you? What Are You?) in 1922 commenting on Western arrogance after WWI (my translation):
“Who are you? What are you to rule over people?
As if the sun and the moon are in your fists?
Are you the light of the sky? Or its creator?
Running the galaxy and destiny?
Or has your god met his master in you
So he abandoned his power and killed himself?
So you went around exploiting people
With sword, and money if the sword got broken
Dividing the earth into square meters
With what it contains inside
You rob some people of their wealth
Giving it to others,
And those who complain are fed loam
You cut down the plants in orchards,
To burn wood, or collect fruits
And dividing people into herds
Slaughtering whomever you pick,
And keeping others
As if people are machines you operate
Or as if the fountain of existence came out of your palm
Who are you, what are you, oh, son of the West
Who orders me around?
And I am not allowed to turn you down?
Did God create you from his breath,
And me from stone?
So leave the mission of
Civilizing me and elevating me,
To whoever sees what you do not see
Who are you what are you to rule over people?