Dear Followers, Friends, fellow Workers:

I have just begun a new blog/zine called
Chirot Zero Zine A Heap of Rubble--
Anarkeyology of hand eye ear notations
the blog is more exusively concerned than this one with presenting essays, reviews (inc. "bad reviews") , Visual Poetry, Sound Poetry, Event Scores, Manifestos, Manifotofestos, rantin' & raving, rock'roll, music all sorts--by myself and others--if you are interested in being a contributor, please feel free to contact me at
as with this blog, the arts are investigated as a part of rather than apart from the historical, economic, political actualities of yesterday, today, & tomorrow
as with al my blogs--
contributions in any language are welcome

Free Leonard Peltier

Free Leonard Peltier
The government under pretext of security and progress, liberated us from our land, resources, culture, dignity and future. They violated every treaty they ever made with us. I use the word “liberated” loosely and sarcastically, in the same vein that I view the use of the words “collateral damage” when they kill innocent men, women and children. They describe people defending their homelands as terrorists, savages and hostiles . . . My words reach out to the non-Indian: Look now before it is too late—see what is being done to others in your name and see what destruction you sanction when you say nothing. --Leonard Peltier, Annual Message January 2004 (Leonard Peltier is now serving 31st year as an internationally recognized Political Prisoner of the United States Government)

Injustice Continues: Leonard Peltier Again Denied Parole

# Injustice continues: Leonard Peltier denied parole‎ - By Mahtowin A wave of outrage swept the progressive community worldwide at the news that Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier was denied parole on Aug. ... Workers World - 2 related articles » US denies parole to American Indian activist Leonard Peltier‎ - AFP - 312 related articles » # Free Leonard Peltier 2009 PRISON WRITINGS...My Life Is My Sun Dance Leonard Peltier © 1999. # Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance - by Leonard Peltier, Harvey Arden - 2000 - Biography & Autobiography - 272 pages Edited by Harvey Arden, with an Introduction by Chief Arvol Looking Horse, and a Preface by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. In 1977, Leonard Peltier... - # Leonard Peltier, American Indian Activist, Denied Parole And Won't ... Aug 21, 2009 ... BISMARCK, ND — American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, imprisoned since 1977 for the deaths of two FBI agents, has been denied parole ... - Cached - Similar - #

Gaza--War Crime: Collective Punishment of 1.5 Million Persons--Recognized as "The World's Largest Concentration Camp"

Number of Iraquis Killed Since USA 2003 Invasion began

Just Foreign Policy Iraqi Death Estimator

US & International Personnel losses in Iraq &Afghanistan; Costs of the 2 Wars to US

Number of U.S. Military Personnel Sacrificed (Officially acknowledged) In America's War On Iraq: 4,667

Number Of International Occupation Force Troops Slaughtered In Afghanistan : 1,453


Cost of War in Iraq


Cost of War in Afghanistan

The cost in your community

flickr: DEATH FROM THIS WINDOW/DOORS OF GUANTANAMO--Essays, Links, Video-- US use of Torture

VISUAL POETRY/MAIL ART CALL Cracking World’s Walls & Codes Concrete & Virtual

Cracking World’s Walls & Codes Concrete & Virtual

No Sieges, Tortures, Starvation & Surveillance
Deadline/Fecha Limite: SinsLimite/ongoing
Size: No limit/Sin Limite
No Limit on Number of Works sent
No Limit on Number of Times New Works Are Sent
Documentation: on my blog
David Baptiste Chirot
740 N 29 #108
Milwaukee, WI 53208

Miss Universe Visits Guantanamo: 'A Loooot Of Fun!'

Miss Universe Visits Guantanamo: 'A Loooot Of Fun!'

The current 'Miss Universe' Dayana Mendoza (formerly Miss Venezuela) and 'Miss America' Crystal Stewart visited US troops stationed in Guantanamo Bay on March 20th, the New York Times reports. Here's Mendoza's account of the visit from her pageant blog last Friday. She says the trip "was a loooot of fun!"

This week, Guantánamo!!! It was an incredible experience...All the guys from the Army were amazing with us. We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting. We took a ride with the Marines around the land to see the division of Gitmo and Cuba while they were informed us with a little bit of history.

The water in Guantánamo Bay is soooo beautiful! It was unbelievable, we were able to enjoy it for at least an hour. We went to the glass beach, and realized the name of it comes from the little pieces of broken glass from hundred of years ago. It is pretty to see all the colors shining with the sun. That day we met a beautiful lady named Rebeca who does wonders with the glasses from the beach. She creates jewelry with it and of course I bought a necklace from her that will remind me of Guantánamo Bay :)

I didn't want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Militant Extremists in the United States "(2008) & the New Extreme Experimental American Poetry & Arts

This piece, written a year ago, i just re-found in my archives for my ongoing Project, The new Extreme Experimental American Poetry and Arts.

I am working right now on a piece regarding the recommendations to a large conference in 2002, in which FBI, State and Local Police were told the great value to be obtained for understanding the "thinking of the Enemy/Terrorists." via the use and study of selected films and literary works.  Using the understandings gained from these Cultural Resources, the police and agents are now more prepared to develop their tactics and strategies for Counter-Terrorism at Home as part of Homeland Security.

This piece here will fit right in and give some more materials to work with.
One of the main ideas of my project is that while American writers and artists by and large in making an "avant" have turned away from anything to do with the rapid buildup of new wars before the "old" show any signs of abating 

For myself, as for writers like Paul Virillio, the "avant-garde" is relinked with its "origins" in the military and so is part of the operative methods and uses of language of the military-security-corporate-academic institutions. 

By ignoring these language events, the American "avant" mirrors them. Instead of developing any critical distance with which to realize their own blindness and deafness to a world and language which have taken control of them in a Totalizing system in which t say one is attacking the system in language is to say the one is doing what the system would like the poet to do--to stick to language games, roughing up syntax, trouncing the lyric and so forth.

Here a small introduction to the ever developing uses of language which go into creating the structure and "Reality" one is to believe one is living in.

The next segment in this series wil also be re the reading list given to the FBI and States and Local Police, with sections of the speech in which this is accomplished.

International Relations and Security Network

Latest from

Militant Extremists in the United States


Holly Fletcher

April 21, 2008


The September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington were the most destructive ever on U.S. soil. But law-enforcement officials have also long struggled with a range of U.S.-based terrorist groups. Domestic extremists include hate groups motivated by ultra-conservative ideals that are often anti-Semitic and racially motivated; ecoterrorists who use violence to campaign for greater environmental responsibility; and socialist groups who oppose the World Trade Organization. While homegrown Muslim extremists have proven more lethal in Europe than in the United States, U.S. authorities continue to worry about the prospect of attacks by militant Muslims who are American citizens. Domestic extremists have a “longstanding [sic] trend” of committing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2002–2005 Terrorism Report (PDF), the bureau’s latest comprehensive report on such incidents.

Do homegrown terrorists pose a threat to the United States?

Yes, according to U.S. law enforcement officials. The September 11 attacks—the biggest and deadliest terrorist plot ever executed in the United States—were carried out by foreigners, but the twenty-four terrorist incidents that occurred between 2002 and 2005 were carried out by domestic extremists, according to the FBI. The most notorious recent case of domestic terrorism was the April 1995 truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and injured more than 500.

Is domestic terrorism a new phenomenon?

No. It has existed for more than a century, dating back at least to the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley. Extremists across the political spectrum—including white supremacists, Puerto Rican separatists, abortion opponents, and environmentalists—have used a variety of terrorist tactics to pursue their goals. According to the FBI, both domestic and international terrorist groups have since the early 1990s adopted looser organizational structures similar to the al-Qaeda network, which allows groups to plan larger attacks without fear of infiltration by law-enforcement agencies.

What is domestic terrorism?

Just as differing definitions of terrorism are offered by government agencies and other experts, the meaning of domestic terrorism is also hard to pin down. The FBI, the lead federal agency dealing with domestic terrorism, has defined it as “the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, defines domestic terrorism as criminal acts that are “dangerous to human life” and seem to be meant to scare civilians or affect policy. Civil rights groups have expressed concern that this definition is overly broad.

Not all politically motivated violence qualifies as terrorism (for instance, the FBI and some terrorism experts did not regard the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, who says his antimodern beliefs were behind a seventeen-year mail-bombing campaign, as a terrorist), nor do all groups that espouse extremist ideas turn to terrorist acts. Experts do not consider all political assassinations or hate crimes to be terrorist attacks.

What types of domestic terrorism are there?

The FBI classifies domestic terrorist threats mostly by political motive, dividing them into three main categories: left wing, right wing, and special interest. Religious sects have also been connected with terrorist incidents.

Another type of domestic threat cited by federal law-enforcement officials in the period after September 11 is the alleged presence of Islamic extremists in the United States, operating either as an arm of a foreign organization or a homegrown cell. A 2007 survey by the conservative Heritage Foundation looks at least nineteen “foiled” terrorist plots, all within U.S. borders. Experts say often the groups linked to such plots are not wholly domestic; groups like al-Qaeda are establishing smaller, localized cells that rely on people who have longtime residence within a country to organize grassroots attacks.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights law firm that tracks hate groups, says these groups are not always considered domestic terrorists since they may be purely ideological, with no potential for violence. Right-wing extremist groups that engage in violence usually fit the criteria of a hate group. Left-wing and environmental extremist groups are not hate groups, according to the SPLC, because they do not espouse rhetoric that targets specific groups that have a defining characteristic.

What is left-wing domestic terrorism?

Terrorist activity by anticapitalist revolutionary groups is considered left-wing domestic terrorism, the FBI says. In the late nineteenth century, immigrants from Eastern Europe sympathetic to the international anarchist movement launched what historians consider the first wave of domestic terrorism in the United States. Anarchists bombed Chicago’s Haymarket in 1886 and tried to kill the steel tycoon Henry Clay Frick in 1892. In 1901, an anarchist sympathizer named Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York.

Another wave of left-wing terrorist activity began in the 1960s. Far-left groups such as the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Armed Forces for Puerto Rican National Liberation (FALN) used bombings and kidnappings to draw attention to their radical causes. By the mid-1980s, however, left-wing terrorism began to wane.

Are left-wing domestic terrorists still active?

The FBI says that anarchist and socialist groups with an anticapitalist and antiimperialist stance have diminished over the last several years and pose less of a threat than in the past. Left-wing terrorism is “a latent but potential terrorist threat.” Left-wing extremists caused much of the damage at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

Puerto Rican separatists represent another strain of left-wing extremists but experts say their activity is scaled back. In its heyday, the FALN tried to kill President Harry S. Truman, stormed the House of Representatives, and set off bombs in New York City, but Puerto Rican extremists today tend to confine their activities to Puerto Rico.

What is right-wing domestic terrorism?

Attacks committed by people who favor individual freedoms over governmental regulation are classified as right-wing domestic terrorism. Such extremists may be motivated by issues of race, such as the Ku Klux Klan, or other issues, such as opposition to abortion or immigration. According to the FBI, right-wing terrorists often take “racist and racial supremacy and embrace antigovernment, antiregulatory” platforms. Far-right movements often blend political rhetoric with racial undertones, despite recent attempts to reach a broader audience by eliminating racial language. Authorities do not categorize people with extreme right-wing political ideals as threats unless the group they are affiliated with demonstrates a real potential for violence.

Are right-wing domestic terrorists still active?

Yes. Attacks by left-wing or special-interest groups were the most common until the 1990s, when right-wing terrorists began staging more attacks aimed at civilians. The FBI says that the Oklahoma City bombing was carried out by far-right extremists who feared increased UN involvement in domestic policies, opposed stricter gun-control laws, and were enraged by “several confrontations between members of right-wing groups and law enforcement officers at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.” A right-wing extremist, Eric Robert Rudolph, was also responsible for the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta that killed two and injured more than one hundred. The decline of right-wing terrorist attacks since 2001 could be attributed to extremists’ anger shifting toward foreign entities and away from the U.S. government, the Los Angeles Times reported in March 2008.

The FBI reports that eight of the fourteen terrorist acts prevented between 2002 and 2005 were planned by right-wing groups. The others ranged from an anarchist plan to bomb a Coast Guard station, a prison-gang attempt to attack military and Jewish targets around Los Angeles, and a few people who attempted, individually, to establish ties with al-Qaeda.

What is special-interest terrorism and how often does it occur?

Special-interest terrorism is perpetrated by the “extreme fringes” of social movements, such as animal rights, environmental, and antinuclear groups. According to the FBI, one of the most visible movements in the last ten years is termed “ecoterrorism.” Groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front target facilities and materials that are perceived to be harmful to the environment or animals. Extremists advocating for better treatment of the earth and animals were responsible for twenty-three of the twenty-four terrorist attacks during 2002 to 2005. Environmental extremists are suspected of the early March 2008 arson that destroyed several new, unoccupied luxury homes near Seattle.

Generally the special-interest groups are composed of small, autonomous cells that are difficult to infiltrate because of their security and secrecy. Common tactics like arson, vandalism, and animal theft avoid physically harming humans and are meant to cause economic harm to the victims, according to the FBI.

Which type of extremism poses the greatest threat to the United States?

Although environmental extremists were responsible for nearly all the domestic terrorist attacks between 2002 and 2005, right-wing extremists are still considered the most dangerous to the United States, says the SPLC. Right-wing extremist attacks are planned to target people, and if successfully carried out, intend to kill many civilians. Ecoterrorist attacks, on the other hand, aim to sabotage the infrastructure of businesses and corporations that endanger the earth; the groups do not aim to kill massive amounts of people.

The FBI says right-wing extremists have the potential to carry out the most deadly domestic attacks since they have a tendency to amass weapons and explosives and have “a propensity for violence.” Increasingly, right-wing terrorism threats come from what the FBI calls the “lone wolf” terrorist in the FBI Strategic Plan 2004-2009. Such an individual is a fringe member of a formal extremist group but acts alone instead of carrying out a group-planned attack. Despite limited funding, solo attacks can be deadly and are difficult to detect.


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Poetry and the justification of violence - News - News & Events

Poetry and the justification of violence - News - News & Events

Apr 14, 2009 ... Iran-Iraq war; During the Iran-Iraq war, according to ... when I was in Iran - but you grow up with the poetry and the imagery it contains. ... -

Poem about Iran-Iraq War by IranNegah -- Revver Online Video ...

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Poem about Iran-Iraq War by IranNegah -- Revver Online Video ...

Apr 29, 2008
A video by IranNegah - Basij reading poem about Basiji's, War & Mental effects from wartime. -

Writing, Culture, and Political Consciousness Interview with Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Islam, Empire, and the      Left: Conversation with Tariq Ali, editor, New Left Review; 5/8/03 by Harry Kreisler.
Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 3 of 6

Writing, Culture, and Political Consciousness

You've raised two interesting points. One is this link between consciousness and activism. Let's talk a little about changing political consciousness. You have done that in many formats -- in film, in television, but especially in writing. Let's talk a little about writing and the link between writing and making known a radical perspective on the way things are. You've written fiction; you've written nonfiction. What does it take to do that kind of work, and which of the two do you prefer?

It's a difficult one. I decided to write fiction in the late eighties, early nineties, when politics was in the doldrums and very little was going on in reality. I wanted to pose a question, which had become important already in the late eighties and early nineties, which was, "Why didn't Islam have a Reformation like Christianity?" I thought I would go to the roots of the problem, where the answer lay, and I went to Spain, which was under Islamic rule for four or five centuries. What happened there? As I traveled around Spain -- and I spent months there, going to all the towns, imagining things -- I felt I didn't want to write a history, I suddenly wanted to write a novel. So I wrote Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, about the decline and fall of Islamic civilization and how it was defeated. And that process I rather liked; I enjoyed it. I finished doing that, when and the book came out, it was well-received. Edward Said said to me, "You can't stop now. You've got to chronicle the whole damn thing. Don't just stop at Spain. Do it all."

So that's how [I began] this set of novels I've been working on since '89. It's now known as the Islam Quintet -- three of them have been done; two more left. It's a very different way of writing, because when you're writing a novel, you have an idea. I write stories within stories, and I go for the narrative. Yet often, when you're writing, characters come out of you, somewhere within you, whom you were not even thinking about, and there's a danger, sometimes, of them taking the narrative away from the way you've conceived it. So you have to control it a bit. But it's very exciting at the same time; completely different from writing nonfiction.

It was all the work I'd done on that Islam Quintet which enabled me to write The Clash of Fundamentalisms. book coverAnd some of that mode of writing came into this book as well, because I'd done so much research on early Islam, the creation of dissent and diversity in it, that putting it down in this book wasn't that much of a problem. I enjoyed writing The Clash of Fundamentalisms, because it was the first nonfiction I'd written for about twenty years, and I wondered whether I'd be able to. But it's different from the nonfiction I wrote prior to the period I started writing fiction.

In what way is it different?

My nonfiction prior to this, because of the period in which it was written, the late sixties, the seventies, the early eighties, tended to be very ... how should I put it? Very polemical in tone, very ideological, reflecting the period I was writing in and reflecting the ideas that dominated that period. And I guess the arrogance -- that is the other thing which the sixties generation had, a certain political arrogance which was reflected in our writings, because we hadn't suffered any defeats. In fact, we'd scored. The Vietnamese had actually won that war, and that victory had also formed our consciousness that it was possible to win. That informed the way we wrote; we were always looking for victories. Now I think it's more reflective.

It's interesting, because in The Clash of Fundamentalisms, you will be making a point and then you go to the poetry of the period. Tell us a little about that. Is there in the poetry an insight that allows you to make a point in a more compelling way? That was the case for this reader.

This is absolutely the case. And, more importantly than that, poets have played a very big role in the culture of the Islamic world, and also the non-Islamic world. If you take the role poetry played in Russia, both prior to the Revolution, during it, and after it, when Stalin had poets executed, the poets who survived said, "The one thing we cannot say about this regime is that it underestimates our craft!" In the West, poetry had become quite anodyne. There were very brilliant poets, but they didn't have that central role in the culture. Well, in the Arab world, they did. In the world of India and Pakistan, poets had a very important role. I think it grows out of the fact that the oral cultural tradition was very strong in that world. The written word obviously predominated, but large numbers of people couldn't read or write. When they went to hear a great poet recite, even if they couldn't read or write themselves, that poem left a deep mark on them. Often these poems were sung by famous singers, so they had a very deep impact.

The poetry of Nizar Qabbani, which is in that book, is quite stunning. It's funny, but just after the United States and the occupation armies occupied Baghdad, I had a message from one of the greatest living Arab poets, Sa'di Yusuf, who is an Iraqi poet who's been in exile. He rang me and we met in London, and talked. His poetry used to circulate throughout Iraq, even though Saddam banned it. It never stopped circulating, as did the poetry of two other Iraqi poets, [Muhammad Mahdi] Al-Jawahiri and Mudhaffar Al-Nawwab. And he said, "Saddam understood the importance of poetry and would often say to us, 'Come to Baghdad and there will be a million people to listen to your poems. The blood on my neck guarantees your safety.'" And Saadi Yousef said to me, "When a head of state says that the blood on his neck guarantees your safety, it's not exactly reassuring!"

That's right!

So he said, "We didn't go." But, you know, he hates the new occupation. He's writing more poetry, and it's already been published in Iraq.

This tradition is very deep in me, because when I was growing up our house was a venue for poets and writers. They came and went, and, often, as a very young child, I would be sitting on the floor listening to people, very great poets reciting their poetry, so I was privileged. And then you could go to a poetry reading in a big open-air theatre. The poetry reading started after dinner, at 9 o'clock at night, a musha'ira, and it could go on until the early hours of the morning. By the end of it, the poets were reciting their poetry extemporaneously, inventing verses on the spot, and the crowds then made known which was their favorite poet. Often, poets too close to the government of the day were booed and heckled. So it's a very different tradition than has developed in the West.

When I was writing this book, I remembered all that, and I know what part it played, so I inserted it in the book.

That suggests that in some ways our modern capitalist civilization, or whatever you want to call it, is inadequate, because part of the emergence and the consolidation of the American empire is a dumbing-down through a denial of outlets and opportunities for expression. It would be interesting for you to share with us your insights about the applicability of what you're saying about fiction and nonfiction and poetry as an expression of protest and an analysis of reality when that is being dampened down. We're not having those opportunities in the West, not so much as a matter of formal repression, but more a kind of repressive tolerance, as Marcuse would say.

I think this has gotten very pronounced since the nineties, in particular. The nineties of the last century were a decade when dumbing down became the form in most of the advanced capitalist world, including Britain. The BBC is still marginally better than most of the American networks, but I use the word "marginally" because if you live in that country and you see it every day, you see the big decline that has afflicted the BBC. Channel 4, which was set up in 1982 to be an innovative, critical television channel (it was set up by Parliament) -- by the middle to end of the nineties had collapsed. A lot of experimental, very good work was done, but then it came to an end and it's almost as if one can trace this end to the collapse of the communist enemy; that with the ending of that, it's almost as if the rulers of this world, the dominant capitalist world, decided, "We don't need to educate our citizens so much. We have nothing to be worried about. If you educate them too much, give them too many opportunities, make them too vigilant and alert, they might actually turn on us." I'm not saying this is how they thought it concretely, but certainly that's how it seemed to one, that that's what they were trying to do. The dumbing-down seemed sudden, that one day the networks were actually quite intelligent, and then six months later everything had disappeared. There's a very good Hollywood movie about it called Network, with Peter Finch, which describes the dumbing down in American television. But what happened in Britain has been every bit as disastrous.

To be cynical, I really do not believe that they want citizens in this world to think. They don't want that. They want a population which is more or less servile, which listens to them, accepts all they say, a population which is obsessed with consumerism and fornication, and carries on doing that. That they don't mind at all. That's fine. But anything beyond that which challenges them, they more or less stopped. This has affected the way things are under the control exercised now within television -- shocking even in things like theater. I remember in the sixties, seventies, eighties, if you were head of drama at the BBC or Channel 4, you could do what you want. You went with your instincts. In the nineties came focus groups and marketing. You have to do the thing which gets the highest ratings. They assumed that the lowest common denominator is what got the highest ratings, and so they all started doing very similar things. Diversity in television began to die.

Now, in your discussion of the Iranian Revolution, you talk about the emergence of an underground Iranian cinema when the Khomeini Revolution consolidated itself. These systems, whether in the Islamic world or in the [American] Empire, if we can make that distinction, have tendencies toward repression, but there's always still hope. In the case of Iranian cinema, we're seeing the expression of the dissent which the regime is trying to deny.

This is absolutely true. This vibrancy of the Iranian cinema reminded me very much of some of the movies that were coming out of Eastern Europe in the fifties and sixties -- allegorical, very brilliantly done, very intense, saying something which made the viewer think. It wasn't "feel good," it was, "Think: what is this movie trying to say?" So the actual tone of most of them, good or bad, whether they worked or not, was incredibly intelligent because they were pitched at a very high level and wanted the cinema-goer to think, "What is the director trying to say?" The contrast with what was happening at that time here couldn't be more pronounced.

The one big difference for me between, say, life in the United States and life in Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, or Damascus, or elsewhere in that world: there you have repressive regimes, but the character of the repression is such that it creates a very vibrant underground life, or even everyday life. If you go into a café in Cairo, or Damascus, or Saudi Arabia, the population, the citizens sitting with each other around the table, drinking coffee and talking, are engaged in discussion of everything -- politics, culture, the latest novel by Moneve, the latest novel by Mahfouz. "What's it like?" "Is it good?" "What is this corrupt politician doing?" That, you do not get in large parts of the West now. It's as if they in the West have a self-satisfied and complacent citizenry. I'm talking about the majority, now, not the minority. And that is very different in that world, where people do talk, whether in the privacy of their homes, in cafŽs, on the streets, they watch, they look. They may be powerless in terms of changing governments, but they are much more alert than many, many people in the West, and that's interesting.

Video/+Audio--An Iraqi Rhapsody: Poet & Novelist Sinan Antoon on the U.S. Destruction of the Iraqi State, His Latest Novel and the Sad Statement that Iraq Was Better Under Saddam Hussein

Democracy Now

July 06, 2007

An Iraqi Rhapsody: Poet & Novelist Sinan Antoon on the U.S. Destruction of the Iraqi State, His Latest Novel and the Sad Statement that Iraq Was Better Under Saddam Hussein


Iraqi-born poet and novelist Sinan Antoon joins us in our firehouse studio to discuss the U.S. occupation of Iraq, his latest novel, "I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody," poetry, and much more. Antoon says, "Even if there is withdrawal, it's going to be withdrawal Israeli-style: from urban centers to the military bases…that have been built there with millions and millions of dollars. This is the old colonial style: when it's too costly you let the natives kill each other, let the natives police each other." [includes rush transcript]

Sinan Antoon is an Iraqi-born poet, novelist and filmmaker. He left Iraq in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War and currently teaches Arabic literature at New York University. His poems and essays have been widely published in both Arabic and English. In the summer of 2003, Sinan returned to Baghdad with a group of filmmakers to co-direct "About Baghdad," an acclaimed documentary about Iraq under U.S. occupation. His novel "I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody" was recently published in English, and a collection of his poetry was published last month titled "The Baghdad Blues." He is a member of the editorial committee of Middle East Report.

  • Sinan Antoon, Iraqi-born poet, novelist and filmmaker. He currently teaches Arabic literature at New York University.

Rush Transcript

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
Donate - $25, $50, $100, More...

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to another Iraqi voice, Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi-born poet, novelist, filmmaker. He left Iraq in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War, currently teaches Arabic literature at New York University. His poems and essays have been widely published in both Arabic and English. In the summer of 2003, Sinan returned to Baghdad with a group of filmmakers to co-direct About Baghdad, an acclaimed documentary about Iraq under US occupation. His novel I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody was recently published in English, and a collection of his poetry was also published in June, called The Baghdad Blues. He's a member of the editorial committee of Middle East Report. Sinan Antoon joins us in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!

SINAN ANTOON: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: As you listen to your fellow Iraqis speaking about the oil law, your thoughts?

Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef on 'bullet censorship'

Socialist Worker online logo archive > dated 26 August 2006 | issue 2015

» email article | » comment on article | » printable version


Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef on 'bullet censorship'

Saadi Youssef

Saadi Youssef


Acclaimed Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef spoke to Jonathan Maunder the about his life and work, and about the current state of politics and poetry in the Middle East

Saadi Youssef is one of Iraq's best known poets. His work is renowned throughout the Middle East and beyond. He has translated numerous writers into Arabic, including George Orwell, Federico Garcia Lorca and Walt Whitman. Saadi fled Iraq in 1979 after Saddam Hussein tightened his hold on power. He now lives just outside London.

With the recent Israeli onslaught on Lebanon in mind, I asked Saadi about the time he spent living in Beirut during Israel's 1982 invasion of the country.

"I was there for three months of the siege," he said. "In that situation you can't be safe for a moment. There is constant fear - one time I was walking on the street and a mortar bomb landed 50 yards from me.

"Writers and poets played a very important role at the time. There were many journals that would publish work by poets in Beirut.

"These would be sent out to those on the front line resisting Israel, so they were very influential in this sense.

"The Lebanese Communist Party printed a daily newspaper. During the siege many poets played a crucial role in maintaining it, as many of the journalists were out fighting. Writing poetry was a way of maintaining hope at a time of great horror."


How does he view the recent Israeli offensive? "I think that what is going on at the moment is similar to what happened in 1918, after the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman empire. The whole region was redrawn and colonised by the West.

"Today I think we are seeing something similar, an attempt to colonise the region again. It's not just the US, but the Europeans too. The French could be going back into Lebanon - just as they did in 1918!"

Saadi started writing poetry in his late teens. I asked what caused him to start writing.

"People, especially poor people in Iraq, appreciate poetry," he said. "It started for me as a political expression - but after a while poetry reaches a kind of independence of artistic form. You can't sacrifice art to politics".

The natural environment of southern Iraq - its date palms, birds, marshes - is a major influence on Saadi's poetry, but he finds it hard to separate this from political realities.

"I can be observing a tree, watching how it is blown by the wind, how it looks. But then I can hear the sound of war planes overhead. I believe nature repairs what war does to you.

"So it is hard to separate out my poetry and politics. On a surface level they are separate, but I think in a deeper sense they are very interwoven.

"Personal experience is the normal way of beginning any work of art. When I write poetry, sometimes it can mean meditating on an idea for a few days and then writing, or it can be writing first and then developing it.

"People need poetry. It helps people who maybe cannot get to a theatre or cinema to get in touch with an artistic form - poetry is accessible".

Why does he think poetry is so central to Middle Eastern culture? "The oral tradition is very important. Partly this stems from censorship. The first thing to be searched for at Arab airports is not drugs or guns, but books!

"But poetry you can smuggle across borders. Novels can be censored easily, but poetry stays in the head.

"People respect poets more than politicians, who are usually corrupt."


We talk about his life in Iraq. "When I was in secondary school in Basra in the 1940s around a third of the students in my class were Jewish.

Later, when Israel was created in 1948, the Israelis did a deal with the Iraqi government to transfer the Iraqi Jews to Israel.

"Half a million were transferred. The Iraqi government got a £5 commission for every ticket they sold to an Iraqi Jew to go to Israel.

"Today the young generation in Israel aren't taught about their roots in the Arab world, even though their grandparents may have come from there."

"I went to study at the University of Baghdad in the mid 1950s. Cultural life in Iraq was rich then.

"I and many other students were also very active in political life. There were many strikes at that time, which we helped to lead.

"I was a member of the Iraqi Communist Party, as many of the youth were. It was a major political party at that time.

"All the trade unions and peasant organisations were led by Communist Party members. There were a number of famous clerics who were also in the party. But in the late 1960s the US assisted the Baathists in destroying the party."

Where does he see Iraq going under the occupation? "Under the Ottoman empire Iraq was divided into three separate regions. The current talk of sectarian division is to prepare the ground once again for the division of Iraq.

"In terms of access to oil, a federal structure is easier to manipulate than a central government. But Iraq has no history of sectarian division.

"There is 'bullet censorship' in Iraq at the moment. Two women Iraqi writers who I know and respect have recently fled, one a novelist, the other a journalist.

"There's a reign of terror going on. The occupation is turning a blind eye to it. As in the old days, the fight for political and artistic freedom is the same."

Alongside military and economic colonisation there is cultural colonisation, Saadi notes.

"Recently there was a gathering of important Iraqi cultural figures in Jordan who have links to the occupation. There was top security and a very small audience.

"I think the majority of Iraqi poets are against the occupation, but there is no real organisation between them. There is a need for a central, organised opposition to the occupation."

He says of the US, "There is much I love about America, like jazz culture for example.

"I have great respect for the American people, I just oppose the American war machine."

This is reflected in his poem "America, America", where he condemns the first Gulf War but also writes about the feelings of a US soldier disillusioned with the fighting.

I finish by asking him about the future of poetry in the Middle East. "There are a lot of younger poets today who send me their work, from North Africa as well as the Middle East.

"For the last 20 years this poetry has had a gloomy atmosphere, expressing feelings of dislocation and frustration. But when politics gets hotter, the poets will come out of their cocoons."

A personal song

Is it Iraq?
Blessed is the one who said
I know the road, which leads to it;
Blessed is the one whose lips uttered
The four letters:
"Iraq, Iraq, nothing but Iraq."
Distant missiles will applaud;
Soldiers armed to the teeth will storm us;
Minarets and houses will crumble;
Palm trees will collapse under the bombing;
The shores will be crowded
With floating corpses.
We will seldom see
Al-Tahrir Square
In books of elegies and photographs;
Restaurants and hotels will be our roadmaps
And our home in the paradise of shelter:
McDonald's, KFC
Holiday Inn;
And we will be drowned
Like your name,
O Iraq,
"Iraq, Iraq, nothing but Iraq"*

* The line is from the poem Unshudat al-Matar (Rainsong) by the pioneering Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (1926-64)

Bush in Babylon: Recolonising Iraq by Tariq Ali

Bush in Babylon: Recolonising Iraq

The bestselling history of the resistance in Iraq that vitalized the antiwar ... and in-depth analysis of the extent of resistance to the US occupation in Iraq. ... but also on personal testimony and the works of different Iraqi poets, ... - Cached - Similar

"Battlefield Without Borders" Iraq Poems by David Smith-Ferri

"Battlefield Without Borders"
Iraq Poems by David Smith-Ferri

In January, 2007, Haley�s Publishing will produce a volume of poetry I wrote, with a beautiful Foreword written by Kathy Kelly. The book is entitled Battlefield Without Borders, Iraq Poems. I wrote about two thirds of these poems while in Iraq, after encounters with Iraqi people, in a wide-range of settings �� from hospitals to homes to bomb sites. The remaining poems have been written since, during the escalating terror and insanity of the current war and occupation. Marcia Gagliardi, the publisher at Haley�s, is generously donating her proceeds from the sale of this book. And my partner has generously agreed to match Marcia�s donation, so that for every $14 book that is sold, $12 will go into a fund for Iraqi victims of this war. You can read some of the poems here.

In December of 1998, Art Laffin, an activist, traveled from Washington, D.C. to Ukiah, CA, where I live, to give a slide presentation about his recent visit to Iraq. Iraqi people, at the time, had been living for eight and a half years under a crushing economic embargo, about which I knew next to nothing. What Art provided was a primer in horror and in a compassionate, hopeful response to it. From him, I heard stories of doctors, trained in Europe and the United States, unable to treat diseases because of a lack of equipment and medicine. I saw pictures of young children dying of diarrhea, dying in their mother�s arms. And I wanted to do something constructive in response.

I also learned about Americans who risked large fines and prison terms because they violated federal law by traveling to Iraq and bringing medicine and clothing to Iraqi hospitals. These were ordinary Americans, who scaled the sanctions wall and returned with pictures, stories, heightened understanding, and new information not reported in the media. I decided to visit Iraq for myself � to be able to speak from personal experience. Eight months afterward, in July, 1999, I visited Iraq for the first time, as part of an eight-member fact-finding delegation organized by the Chicago-based group, Voices in the Wilderness. The purpose of our trip was to gather first hand information about the humanitarian crisis caused by international economic sanctions and the terror caused by the policy and practice of "no-fly zone" bombings.

Three years later, in September, 2002, in the frightening run-up to the invasion, I returned to Iraq. On this delegation, I had three goals. First, I wanted to interview Iraqis � in some cases people I had talked with on the prior trip � about the threat of war. Surely, I reasoned, it should matter to us what people in Iraq think, how they perceive our possible actions and how they might respond. Second, I wanted to investigate the likely real life consequences of a United States military invasion on ordinary Iraqis. Last, there were a few families in Iraq with whom I�d maintained indirect contact, and I wanted to see them and talk with them and their children. I knew that if war did come, this might be the last chance I�d ever have to see them.

During each trip, I visited people who lived at the edge of a precipice, and whose point of view had the clarity that only comes with proximity to death. I met with a wide range of people �� doctors, patients, clerics, lawyers, teachers, taxi drivers, waiters, shoeshine boys, shop owners, business people, UN program directors, et al. I encountered anger and terror, to be sure, but also a remarkable depth of hospitality and warmth, intelligence and goodwill. The encounters were intense and emotionally charged, not only those which occurred at bomb sites and hospitals, but also ordinary meetings with people in a bakery or hotel lobby or restaurant.

In these circumstances, my urge to write became a need to write, a need to process and give form to experience so I could share it and remain sane. Below is a sampling of the poems. The book is dedicated to Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and to Barbara Lubin, Driector of the Middle East Children�s Alliance, for their steadfast and nonviolent opposition to war in the Middle East and the compassionate example of friendship and solidarity they�ve set at great personal risk.

In December, I will join Kathy Kelly for three weeks in Amman, Jordan, where we will spend time with Iraqi refugees of war. In January, after I return, I will begin a book tour, to raise funds for Iraqi victims of war. Feel free to contact me about the book or about the tour. My e-mail is And please consider buying a copy of the book and supporting the fund for Iraqi victims of war. You can do so by sending me a check made out to Voices for Creative Nonviolence to the address below.

Thank you,

David Smith-Ferri
November, 2006

2918 Mill Creek Rd.
Ukiah, CA 95482

"Iraqi Poetry Today": A Review by Adrienne Rich

Iraqi Poetry Today. Modern Poetry in Translation No. 19. Guest editor: Saadi A. Simawe. Kurdish editor: Muhammad Tawfiq Ali. Series editor: Daniel Weissbort. London 2003.

"Iraqi Poetry Today": A Review by Adrienne Rich

July 4, 2003
"A dangerous and indispensable art", translation is both an act of social responsibility and an aesthetic experience akin to "making love with a new person, in a new body," according to Adrienne Rich. An American poet's views on the war in Iraq, politics and poetry, and the "multiply-exiled, strongly-identified voices" she discovers in Iraqi Poetry Today.

Ah! This is Baghdad: I move through it every day, to and fro,
While I squat in this cold exile. I look for it
In the demonstrators who move along Rashid Street carrying banners,
In the strikes of textile workers,
To whom we throw bags of bread and political tracts.
At dawn, carrying paint, we spray the walls with our slogans:
"Down with Dictatorship!"
In the coffee-houses extending along the river on Abu Nawwas,
In the fishermen by the bridge,
In the monument of Jawad Selim which is riddled with bullets,
In Majid's coffeehouse, where the geniuses and informers sip tea,
Where a poet expelled from college gazes at a window
Behind which three Palestinian girls gaze down the street forever.

Ah! Every morning the war gets up from sleep.
So I place it in a poem, make the poem into a boat, which I throw into the Tigris.

This is war, then.

(from Fadhil al-Azzawi, "Every Morning the War Gets Up from Sleep")

As an American poet, I see my country represented in Iraq by an inept and cruel military occupation, and by a government whose cultural insensibility, at home and abroad, is absolute. Given the first Gulf War, twelve years of disabling sanctions against the Iraqi people, the coup of the last American election, requiring only the terrorist assaults on home soil to complete consolidation of power into the grasp of the rich and bloody-minded – I begin this review in some anger and bitterness, but with profound gratitude for the project, Iraqi Poetry Today.

My life would be unthinkable without poetic translation – my own limited efforts to learn from and work with poems in French, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Yiddish, Urdu, Spanish, assisted by dictionaries, literal translations, native linguists, other poets' versions, and the ancient and durable tradition itself. We translate for infusions from poetries we're able to read, and seek out or collaborate on translations from those we cannot read, for illumination of the poetic core of literatures we could not enter any other way. And for other reasons too, having to do with what in poetry is inimitable, intransigeant, telegraphic, musical, explicit, indirect, physical, impalpable, unmistakably human as the human face, yet varied as faces are.

To carry the intrinsic nature of a poem from one language to another can mean to make another poem; unweave strands into a new texture; experience the expressive limits of one's mother-tongue; make love with a new person, in a different body; work with an unfamiliar medium – to feel the material contradictions of art. In a volume with many co-translators, there is bound to be a mixture of strategies ranging from the literal to the most inventive ends of the spectrum.

Poetry from the Arab world was first opened up for me by Salma Khadra Jayyusi's magnificent Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987) in which she rightly says that since there can be no "perfect equivalence" in the translation of poetry, "the task of translating [is] not only a major aesthetic undertaking but also a crucial social responsibility." (Jayyusi, xxiii.) Subjective, emotional experience everywhere lives and converses in poetry. Yet, subjective emotions exist of necessity in dialogue with objective conditions. Poetry springs from a nexus of individual and shared experience, above all an experience of location – geophysical realities, visible landscape, spaces marked out by religion, education and politics, poverty and wealth, gender and physiognomy, subordination and independence. Poetry both articulates new upshootings of particularity and grows out of a traditional compost. And it is often written in a desire to change the composition of the very soil from which it grows.

In his introduction to Iraqi Poetry Today, Saadi A. Simawe admits to a disappointed hope for his undertaking: that "translating poetry might contribute to the appreciation of other civilizations and even to peace in the Middle East. It seems [in the light of September 11 2001] that our dream has failed." I want to urge him not to abandon hope. Conflicts waged by political/economic powers may be carried on light-years behind immense transformations in public consciousness. In the twenty-first century war is an anachronism maintained through advanced technology and manipulated emotions, on behalf of corporate power, in the name of chauvinism. Yet old notions of heroism and glory, still pushed by the warmakers, are fraying. An enormous international revulsion against war showed its face in mass demonstration upon mass demonstration during the months before Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld invaded Iraq. That revulsion has been a presence in poetry for centuries.

Simawe goes on to say: "The globalization of capital threatens to extinguish the spirit of each culture, but one positive change has come with this movement. It has shed light on the importance of translation. Translation can, of course, be seen as a tool that facilitates the globalization of capital and thus contributes to the overall deadening of cultures, but when poetry is translated, it works against these effects." I agree in principle but would argue with the generalization. A poem is indeed something different from advertising copy or a bestselling novel or computer manual or mass-circulation magazine. Yet whose poetry is translated, from and into which languages, what of the poetry actually translated can get published and receive international distribution, what poets (and what poetics) are disseminated, and who decides these matters – such questions vibrate beneath Simawe's claim. The corporatization of publishing and book distribution, the funding support for cultural journals, the class and gender relations which create an international literary/intellectual elite, all come into play here. (Of the forty poets in this anthology, just four are women, one of whom, Sajidah al-Musawi, is described as "an Iraqi woman poet, writing in Arabic. No further information about her is available." I can't but wonder why. One, Nazik al-Mala'ika, now living in Egypt, is considered "the most important woman poet and critic in the Arab world." With Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, according to Salma Jayyusi, she liberated Arab poetry from formalism. Of the thirty-odd translators, incidentally, fifteen are women.)

Reviewing a booklength poem by Egyptian poet Muhammad Afifi Matar, Saadi Simawe and Carolina Hotchandani note "how influential English translation has recently become on the literary standard in the Arab world. Whether or not a piece of literature is translated into English practically determines the artistic value of that work. At this early stage of globalization it is difficult to determine whether this phenomenon is enriching Arabic literary tradition."

In his introduction to Iraqi Poetry Today, Simawe observes that, "…whether we like it or not, English has become the world language, and thus has come to belong to people of all nations. Hundreds of the poets who live in exile have lost their audience and have begun to write either in English or to get their poetry translated into English or the language of their host country. The outcome of this hybrid poetics has become an important feature of western modernism." So, western poetry is enhanced. At the same time, "major critics in the West are not familiar with, and some not even interested in, the languages of the colonized." Indeed, and a Western reader like myself may approach an anthology like this sketchily versed, or not at all, in the literary contexts and traditions behind the making of the poems.

Clearly reflected, however, are politically repressive conditions such as those within Iraq under the dictatorship, and the Iran-Iraq war, which sent most of the poets in this book into exile. Five of the forty still live in Iraq; the majority are scattered in Damascus, London, Germany, California, Denmark, Geneva, Egypt, Detroit, Israel, Cambridge Massachusetts, Tripoli, Sweden; some, like Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati and Sa'di Yusif, having moved for a lifetime "from exile to exile." Most of them have been identified with the Left and have paid the price. The loss, to any country, of its creative and rebel spirits, is more than just a "brain drain". These are the damages wreaked by brutalities from within. (The deaths of more than 300,000 Iraqi children alone from acute malnutrition, first as a result of economic sanctions, the mortality rate rising after the US and British invasion in March, represent an incalculable national loss inflicted by brutalities from without.)

Standard Arabic, Hebrew, Iraqi dialect and Iraqi Kurdish are the languages of these poets. The Kurdish editor, Muhammad Tawfiq Ali, suggests the internal tensions of an ethnic minority poetry in a brief, somewhat ironic essay centering on Goran and Bekes, pseudonyms of the father-figures of Kurdish modernism. "The stark irony," Ali tells us, "is that the proletarian poet [Goran] wrote in the social dialect of the bourgeoisie, whereas the nationalist [Bekes] wrote in the dialect of the working class and peasants….Goran's poetry is formal, indirect and subtle: Bekes is informal, direct and popular or simple." I wish that Ali had said more about the politics of Kurdish nationalism (and internationalism) from which these and later Kurdish poets such as Bulland al-Haydari emerged. The relationship of nationalism and language (or vernacular) is of special interest where poetry is concerned, as cultural resistance to ethnic or colonial domination.

I have found myself, by default, reading these translations more for images and themes than for their verbal quality. In part this has, obviously, to do with my own outsider relation to the languages they were written in and the traditions they represent. But the versions also seem uneven: many feel to me at one or two stages of craft behind the level of poetic rendering that Khaled Mattawa, for example, Libyan American and himself a fine poet in English, has given to the poems of Sa'di Yusif, both here and in the recently published collection, Without an Alphabet, Without a Face: Selected Poems of Saadi Youssef (St. Paul Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 2003) or of many poems in Jayyusi's Modern Arabic Poetry, or Nathalie Handal's The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology (New York/Northampton: Interlink Books, 2001.) There are phrasings which trouble me, as in Fawzi Karim's "What Was My Choice?":

One has learned to allow a tiny space in the head for contingency.
Yet, losses befall suddenly
– of the river and the date palms that used to balance
of the friends circling your glass like a crescent.

Then you in one moment peel yourself of whom you love
and alone, dim-sighted, grope your way home,
the light of the street lamps heavier than darkness
the burden of exile than in memory.

Tantalizing ourselves with hope
shielding ourselves against…but the question in the middle
of exiles suddenly attacks:
– What have you chosen?

No longer trusting ourselves
about to desert the self,
annihilated in God's self,
or prefer to watch, like a trap,
the tripwires of another.

[10 April 2000]

When exile took us by surprise,
a surgeon ready-scrubbed
he treated us with scalpels
cleansed us of the dream tumours in our organs,
and pushed us into the last scene of the shadow theatre
in order that we perform for him our secondary roles

Who are we? Fury of a blind man
being led by a thread of loss,
dice thrown on the night's page
without even an echo of their

[11 April 2002]

In an affecting and immediate poem, with memorable images such as the "friends circling your glass like a crescent," exile as surgical excision, the rolling of soundless dice, lapses into awkward English syntax are especially jarring. Phrases like "peel yourself of whom you love," "the burden of exile than in memory," "the question in the middle/of exiles" (at the core of exile?) "prefer to watch, like a trap" (preferring?) "the tripwires of another" (another's tripwires?") "in order that we perform for him" (to perform for him?) seem to need more attention to values of the ear. Similarly, in two poems by Abd al-Karim Kassid, the word "stature" is used where "body" or "figure" is meant; "stature" refers only to height or dimension where an entire corpus is implied here: "The tree is a stature/ and the leaf, an eye."

To transfer the tonalities of Arabic (in which most of the poems were written) into English would be, I assume, a challenging task, akin to rendering the music of Spanish or Russian. Sometimes a single word seems ill-chosen, particularly when repeated over and over: as "calamity" in Murad Mikha'il's long accumulative poem, "You Have Your Calamity and I Have Mine." The word "calamity" is rather weak syllabically to bear the weight of many repetitions: why not "disaster"? Mikha'il is an Iraqi Jew and seems to address an Arab world of which he both is and is not a part. The poem is extraordinarily interesting but "calamity" sounds almost Victorian in the face of what it's evoking.

As I've gone deeper into this collection, the flaws have seemed almost negligible beside what I've carried away from the whole ("almost" because each word in each poem/translation does matter.) There is the remarkable transcription of Mazaffar al-Nawwab recitating his long poem, "Bridge of Old Wonders" for a live audience. Al-Nawwab, described as "the most popular poet in the Arab world," is a performance poet whose works circulate almost entirely through pirated cassettes. The poem moves from invocation through rich and allusive imagery into symbolic narrative, from delicacy to machismo, from a "high" poetic tone to colloquialism and dialogue, from Iraqi cities to a Palestinian refugee camp, from mourning to scathing invective whose objects range from oil sheikhs to the "Arabs of silence" to Yasir Arafat to Henry Kissinger. For all its declamatory intensity, it's highly layered and textured, requiring the many notes provided for the Anglophone reader, as if T.S. Eliot and Amiri Baraka had spent a long night together.

Finally, Iraq's great innovative woman poet, Nazik al-Mala'ika represented here by ten pages of poetry. "Jamilah and us" addresses the moral problematics of protest poetry – in this case, the many poems written on the imprisonment and torture by the French of a young Algerian resistance fighter:

The details of your torture were on every tongue,
And that hurt us, it was hard for our sensitive ears to bear
… Did we not use her suffering to give meaning to our poetry?
Was that a time for songs?

Her longer poems here suggest an impressive authority of voice which in the English doesn't quite carry over; the invocative "To Poetry" is marred by phrases like "raving fragrance," "heaving with yearning." The largeness of her scope and vision are most apparent in the mystical-political "The Hijrah [Migration] to God" which begins as an ecstatic praise-song and ends:

O my king, the journey has lengthened, lengthened,
and ages have passed,
and between locked worlds I have sailed, asking at doors.
I carried with me the wounds of fedayeen,
and the taste of death in September, and of mud.
I carried with me the sorrows of Jerusalem, O my king,
and the wound of Jenin,
and a night of high walls that cannot be scaled.
So where is the door? Where is the door?
My sacrifices are heaped at the altar,
my Quran is hidden in the mist,
and the agony of my Al-Aqsa mosque
cuts me like a knife….

How can we spend the night in captivity?
And how can we sleep, expelled from our homes?…
And you stay with the slain, o my king, and with the wounded,
you stay at your post, vigilant.
And here we have lost the religion, and fought our beloved fedayeen.
We spilled blood in Beirut,
we poured blood in Amman,
and with our hands, we made our land a guillotine for our people.

One reads, guessing: is this or that poem actually more remarkable than translation can suggest? is it, in translation, bound, like Prometheus, on the rock of its its language and cultural references? Has the translation been timid, binding itself within the literal, or within an idea of Anglophone poetic language (e.g. "wondrous") which, to an American eye and ear, seem artificial? How have twentieth century movements in Arabic poetry,from traditional to modernist poetics, with blendings of both, found correspondence in English? Is it mere chance that the poems by Ronny Someck, born in Baghdad but living most of his life in Israel, seem verbally so fresh and audacious? Yet gathered here, these multiply-exiled, strongly-identified voices possess an energy for which I can only re-affirm my gratitude.

Translation is a dangerous and indispensable art. Likewise, criticism of translation by one unfamiliar with the original languages must come with many caveats. But a complex and vivid humanity, an aching for freedom, resounding throughout this collection, should nourish the hope in which it was conceived and carried through – even as Iraq, its people, its poets, still dwell in hunger and under fire.

Iraqi Poetry Today. Modern Poetry in Translation No. 19. Guest editor: Saadi A. Simawe. Kurdish editor: Muhammad Tawfiq Ali. Series editor: Daniel Weissbort. London 2003.

Adrienne Rich 

2004: From street bards to Saddam, everyone's a poet in Iraq

From street bards to Saddam, everyone's a poet in Iraq

| Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
In Iraq, there is a saying that beside every palm tree, you will find a poet. To give you some idea of how many poets that is, there are 25 million people in Iraq, and 38 million palm trees.

In this country, poetry is like national therapy, a cure for ills in the body politic.

The Monitor gives the story behind the story.

"As Iraqi people, we like to celebrate our state, our country," says Harith Ismail Turki, a professor of English literature who is, of course, also a poet. "People sometimes resort to poetry, not as a way to escape, but as a way to mitigate the agony inside themselves."

The palm tree proverb, for example, was coined by urban intellectuals during the Baath regime to describe a time when poetry served two masters: Often used to praise Saddam Hussein, it was also one of the few safe ways to criticize the government. But now that Mr. Hussein sits in prison, where he spends his days writing poetry of more vigor than quality, Iraqi poets have a new injustice to protest: the US military presence.

"Don't trouble yourself with the dirty Americans, and don't trouble yourself with her dirty servants," chants a heavyset man, stepping into the middle of an admiring circle of men. In a poem addressed to the renegade Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, he compares Paul Bremer to the founder of the Baath Party, Michel Aflaq: "Why does the family of al-Sadr threaten America?" he sings, as the men around him clap rhythmically. "People were loyal to Aflaq, and now they have became loyal to Bremer / But we will always be ready to fight with you whenever you want."

Picking up the theme, another poet tries to outdo his rivals. "Look, people, the eagle of Kufa came home to his city," he cries. "Moqtada, the Eagle of Kufa, to whose will both America and the Governing Council submitted! / He has at his command al-Mahdi soldiers who are ready to sacrifice their souls."

Cheering, the men begin to jump up and down, waving daggers and Kalashnikovs in the air.

A vernacular poetry

You won't find these verses in any anthologies or literary magazines. These anonymous poets star on a compact disc, a low-quality digital video of a tribal gathering that you can buy in Sadr City's Mraidi market for a couple of dollars. Intoning their poems in low, dramatic voices, the poets are singing a traditional form of Iraqi oral poetry called darmee, with a complex and untranslatable rhyme scheme and a rollicking, irresistible rhythm.

Sometimes called "popular poetry," darmee is composed in the spoken slang of Iraq's Shiite south, not the written Arabic of classical poetry. Pop singers like Kazem al-Saher, "the Iraqi Elvis," take song lyrics from old darmees. Often performed in groups in a freestyle competition, darmee is a bit like Iraqi rap.

Shiites from the south of the country began composing darmee when the country was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. While classical poetry dwelt on elevated historical themes, like the prophet Muhammad's battles, darmees bemoaned everyday woes: faithless lovers, cruel landlords, heartless females.

"During Ottoman times, darmee poets addressed the women - either to complain or to praise," says Abu Hatem, a poet and scholar who lives in Sadr City. "Sometimes a woman, if she missed her lover for a long time, might write one herself."

Abu Hatem, who treasures the folkloric poems, has nothing but scorn for contemporary darmee. "They represent the primitive stages of the mind," he says. "Sometimes they praise someone by a darmee, and this person doesn't deserve it."

He won't cite specific examples, but Iraqi poets still relish the memory of May 1, when a poetry reading at the headquarters of the Iraqi Communist Party erupted in scandal. When one poet got up to recite a darmee, another poet stood up in the audience and denounced him. "You scoundrel," said the heckler, "you used to write poems praising Saddam Hussein!" Kicked offstage by the Communists, the turncoat poet hasn't been heard from since.

Allusions to 1917

In Iraq, poetry and politics have always intertwined. In 1917, as revolt brewed in Iraq against British rule, the Iraqi poet Saad Salih sent a letter to another poet, asking him to spread rebellion and enclosing a poem: "Oh, Ahmed, stand and call the brave free men of Iraq," he wrote. "Perhaps blood, pouring over the earth, will utterly cleanse our disgrace."

The image - of blood rinsing away national shame - lives on to this day in a poem called "A Page of Miracles" that is dedicated "To Fallujah: the City of endurance and Jihad." Dated May 10, 2004, for the day American troops left Fallujah, the poem honors the Fallujan fighters.

"The precious blood of your people has washed away / The disgrace of their submission to the enemy, of those who accepted humiliation and lick the boots of those who invaded our country," writes poet Muhammad Said al-Jumeily. "The blood which watered our fields / Will remind us forever that we should take revenge."

In stirring language, Mr. Jumeily likens Fallujah to a banner, a sword, a moon, a light, and a castle: "You are a castle, in which young men became old / When they fought the marines."

Naming specific neighborhoods in Fallujah, he celebrates their ouster of American troops: "Ask people in al-Sinaa about the American herds which / Lick their wounds after being defeated. / Remember al-Nazzal and remember how the American armor melted / And how it proved to the world that the mythical glory of America is false after their defeat."

The irony is that Jumeily used to write poetry denouncing the Baath regime. "He never hesitated to state - even in front of the governor - his revulsion and abhorrence publicly," says Mr. Turki, who knows Jumeily. "I saw the bitterness in his eyes against the ex-regime."

Swift, Shaw, and Jumeily

A grave and bespectacled young poet who loves Jonathan Swift and George Bernard Shaw, Turki makes photocopies of "A Page of Miracles" for all of his friends. He's not anti-American, he just wants people to see the battle of Falluja through Fallujan eyes.

"It is a celebration of the die-hards," explains Turki, who teaches English literature at Anbar University in Ramadi, close to Fallujah. "They are celebrating their heroic actions and the Iraqi exploits. They believe that they won, because they prevented the American troops from reentering the city."

During the Fallujah uprising in April and May against the US occupation, Turki's classes stopped. When he came back to the English literature department, he found the black banners that commemorate the dead. Many of his students, most of whom were from Fallujah, had been killed in the fighting.

Turki, who teaches Orwell and Shaw to students from Fallujah, hopes that Iraqi poetry can help Americans identify with Iraqis.

"Somebody might come read our poems to try to understand us better," says Turki. "And they might find some kind of mutual understanding."

ACLU: CIA Withholds Documents, No Privacy at Airports, Take Action for Equal Pay and more

ACLU Online

In This Issue

CIA Refuses to Disclose Documents Related to Interrogation Tape

No Liquids, No Shoes, No Privacy at the Airport

Take Action for Equal Pay

Student is Able to Read Report on Harvey Milk After Threat of ACLU Lawsuit Against School

The End of Federal Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs?

Race, Reasonable Doubt and Reggie Clemons

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The End of Federal Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs?

More than a decade and a billion dollars later, there's a flicker of hope that our government will act in the best interests of young people and eliminate funding for the failed and ideologically-based abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs represent a purposeful campaign to mislead, distort, stifle and censor. They are based on the belief that providing teenagers with information will -- in all cases -- lead to bad and immoral decision-making rather than informed and thoughtful decision-making that can avert sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancies. Our nation's young people deserve better from their government.

President Obama has demonstrated leadership by requesting in his budget request to Congress that current abstinence-only programs not be funded. But, there is no certainty that Congress will do the right thing. In fact, abstinence-only supporters are gearing up and making the case to keep the programs alive. The budget process is now swinging into high gear and funding decisions for abstinence-only programs are expected any day.

>> Take Action: Tell Congress to end federal funding for failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Invest in teen pregnancy and disease prevention programs instead.

Race, Reasonable Doubt and Reggie Clemons

The ACLU has long fought against the unfairness and arbitrariness of capital punishment while working towards the ultimate goal of abolishing the death penalty. In yet another example of the injustice of the capital punishment system, a man's life hangs in the balance.

Reggie Clemons is scheduled for execution on June 17, 2009. Clemons, a black man, was convicted of the murder of two young white women in St. Louis in 1991. Clemons and two other black men were sentenced to death while a fourth person, a young white man was offered a plea deal and is out on parole. That is not the only race issue in the case. The original suspect, a white man and the cousin of the women, confessed to the crime after failing a lie detector test and changing his story several times. All three black defendants claimed that their confessions were coerced by police beatings and/or denial of constitutional rights. The arraignment judge sent Clemons to the hospital for obvious injuries he did not have before his 'interview' with police.

Further, there is no physical evidence linking Clemons to the offense. And jurors were improperly excluded and the prosecutor was guilty of serious misconduct. Though an appeals court overturned the death sentence, then Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon -- now the governor -- aggressively fought to have it reinstated.

Such involvement of the governor makes this case even more problematic. That's why we are asking Governor Nixon to appoint a Board of Inquiry to independently investigate the facts of this case. When a man's life is on the line, there can be no room for doubt.

>> Take Action: Write Governor Nixon and ask for an independent Board of Inquiry to investigate this case.

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June 13, 2009
CIA Refuses to Disclose Documents Related to Interrogation Tape

Accountability Video

>>Watch now. Why do we need accountability?

In an attempt to avoid public and judicial scrutiny of the Bush administration torture program, CIA Director Leon Panetta argued that records related to the destruction and content of interrogation tapes should be withheld in their entirety because they contain information about the actual implementation of "enhanced interrogation techniques," as opposed to abstract information about the techniques -- such as that included in Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos released earlier this year. Director Panetta also argued that the release of this information could be used as "ready-made" propaganda by our enemies.

In April, a federal judge rejected the CIA's attempt to withhold records relating to the agency's destruction of 92 videotapes that depicted the harsh interrogation of CIA prisoners. The ACLU is seeking disclosure of these records as part of its pending motion to hold the CIA in contempt for destroying the tapes, which violated a court order requiring it to produce or identify records responsive to the ACLU's FOIA request for records relating to the treatment of prisoners held in U.S. custody overseas. The government continues to withhold the documents in their entirety and argues that not even one sentence of the documents can be made public.

"The CIA's withholding of documents because they might be used as propaganda would justify the greatest governmental suppression of the worst governmental misconduct," said Alex Abdo, a fellow with the ACLU National Security Project. "If we accept the CIA's rationale, the government could, for example, suppress any document discussing torture, Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo Bay."

>>Learn more about the ACLU's efforts to learn the truth about the Bush administration torture program.

No Liquids, No Shoes, No Privacy at the Airport

Americans have become accustomed to giving up a little privacy -- and a lot of convenience -- at the border in the name of national security. But when Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) releases a policy, as they did in July 2008, which permits officials to subject travelers to suspicionless searches of their laptops, Blackberries, and other electronic devices, the line between routine and unconstitutional clearly was crossed.

In order to learn more about this alarming policy, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request this week with CBP to uncover how these suspicionless searches are threatening the constitutional rights of international travelers.

"Based on current CBP policy, we have reason to believe innumerable international travelers — including U.S. citizens — have their most personal information searched by government officials and retained by the government indefinitely," said Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "The disclosure of these records is necessary to better understand the extent to which U.S. border and customs officials may be violating the Constitution."

Suspicionless searches of laptops and other storage devices raise grave constitutional concerns. The sheer quantity of data contained on a laptop or on personal electronic devices means that these searches invade travelers' most intimate personal documents — not to mention sensitive business information routinely transported by executives and lawyers. Furthermore, by exposing all this information to government review, the policy may deter some travelers from maintaining documents that reflect unpopular or dissenting views, thus chilling the exercise of core First Amendment activities. And allowing suspicionless searches gives border agents unfettered power, which may easily be wielded in a way that discriminates on the basis of national origin or religion.

>>Learn more and take action.

Take Action for Equal Pay

Wednesday, June 10, 2009, marked the 46th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. That historic act signified our nation's commitment to ensuring that women are not paid less than men for equal work. But, over time, loopholes and weak remedies have made this historic law less effective than Congress originally intended.

Today, women, on average, continue to earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men -- that's only 18 cents more on the dollar than when President Kennedy signed the bill in 1963. For women of color, the progress has been even slower.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to demonstrate that disparities in pay between men and women working the same job result from factors other than gender. It would also prohibit retaliation against employees who inquire about their employers' wage practices or disclose their own pay to their colleagues. Furthermore, the Act would deter discrimination by strengthening the penalties for equal pay violations.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Paycheck Fairness Act with bipartisan support in January. But, the bill has not yet moved in the Senate. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Urge the Senate to move quickly on this very important bill. They need to hear how important fair pay is to you -- especially in these tough economic times.

>>Take Action: Please contact your Senators today and ask them to take up and pass S. 182, The Paycheck Fairness Act now.

Student is Able to Read Report on Harvey Milk After Threat of ACLU Lawsuit Against School

Natalie Jones

>>Watch Now: Natalie and her mother discuss how they fought the censorship of Natalie's presentation on Harvey Milk.

Two weeks ago, we reported on sixth grader, Natalie Jones, who was censored by her Califonia school for trying to give a report on Harvey Milk. Now, we are happy to report that on Thursday Natalie was able to give her report, though only after the ACLU threatened her school with a lawsuit for censoring it.

The assignment, part of an independent research project class, was originally to prepare a written report on any topic. Jones chose to write about Harvey Milk after watching Sean Penn win an Academy Award for portraying him. Students were then told to make presentations about their reports, which they would show to other students in the class. The day before Natalie was to give her 12-page presentation she was called into the principal's office and told she couldn't do so.

Then, the school sent letters to parents of students in the class, explaining that Natalie's presentation was being rescheduled for a lunch recess and that students could only attend if they had parental permission due to the allegedly "sensitive" nature of the topic. School officials tried to justify all of this by claiming Jones' presentation triggered the school's sex education policy.

After the ACLU threatened to sue them for violating the First Amendment as well as the California Education Code, school officials finally backed down. Natalie received a written apology, and school officials sent a letter about that apology to all the parents who got the original "warning" about the presentation. The school also agreed to bring its sex education policy into compliance with state law, and acknowledged that the mere mention of a person's sexual orientation isn't enough to invoke sex education policy. And perhaps most important of all, Natalie gave her presentation to the entire class Thursday morning.

Natalie's mom, Bonnie, tells us it went really well. She's terribly proud of her daughter, and we are too. But we suspect Harvey, if he were around today, might be proudest of all.

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Shannon Scanlan, Editors

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