June Jordan Song of Palestine

ترجمه شعر دیگری از جوردن: رود سوییتو | بازگردان: آزاده کامیار

Sabra and Shatila, 1982 — From around 6 pm 16 September to 8 am 18 September 1982, a massacre was carried out by the Phalange militia group, killing at least 1300 Palestinians and Lebanese Shiite Muslims in two camps in south of Lebanon, Sabra and Shatila. The narrative as to how and by which group massacre was planned is contested. But the common narrative is that the manslaughter proceeded for two days right under the eyes of Israeli Defence Force (IDF). The Phalanges, a military support of a conservative Lebanese Christian party were ordered by the IDF to clear out Sabra and Shatila from Palestine Liberation Organization fighters, as part of an effort to force the fighter withdraw from Beirut. 

On 19 September 1982, New York Times published a report about the massacre and the negotiations of UN forces with Israeli Army to enter the camps and clean the corpses. The report ended with the scene of an old woman in the death scene, wailing “Where is Abu Fadi?…Who will bring my loved one?” while holding in her hand a faded photograph of her son, Abu Fadi, and a wooden birdcage with a live parakeet inside.

The massacre got limited coverage in mainstream media in the States, but the last line of NY Times report found its way to a piece of poetry by the renowned African-American poet, June Jordan. As an essayist, playwright and poet, Jordan was a radical voice in advocating a global transnational solidarity amongst the oppressed and marginalized. 

Jordan responded to the event by publishing a poem the very next day with a preceding quotation from the New York Times report, “Where is Abu Fadi?” Jordan’s poem, Moving Toward Home, can be divided into three sections. From the very first line, the poem delves into giving a visual account of massacres of Palestinian people in Sabra and Shatila:

The horror that flows in the massacre scene in the previous section of the poem lands in the shattered ruins of a living room where some family member will be permanently absent. To Jordan, a safe living room is a place where “I must not ask where is Abu Fadi, because he will be there beside me.” In the poem she expresses her anxiety about the interruption of daily life in the camps after massacre, where refugees cannot safely keep their language and identity anymore, and children will grow up with horror knowing that men as young as six years old might be rounded up and put in front of a firing squad. The urgent imperative in the face of brutality is made clear: the “need to speak about living room.”

I do not wish to speak about the bulldozer and the
red dirt
not quite covering all of the arms and legs
Nor do I wish to speak about the nightlong screams
that reached
the observation posts where soldiers lounged about
Nor do I wish to speak about the woman who shoved her baby
into the stranger’s hands before she was led away
Nor do I wish to speak about the father whose sons
were shot
through the head while they slit his own throat beforethe eyes
of his wife
Nor do I wish to speak about the army that lit continuous
flares into the darkness so that others could see
the backs of their victims lined against the wall
Nor do I wish to speak about the piled up bodies and
the stench
that will not float
Nor do I wish to speak about the nurse again and
again raped
before they murdered her on the hospital floor
Nor do I wish to speak about the rattling bullets that
did not
halt on that keening trajectory
Nor do I wish to speak about the pounding on the
doors and

the breaking of windows and the hauling of families into
the world of the dead
I do not wish to speak about the bulldozer and the
red dirt
not quite covering all of the arms and legs
because I do not wish to speak about unspeakable events

that must follow from those who dare
“to purify” a people
those who dare
“to exterminate” a people
those who dare
to describe human beings as “beasts with two legs”
those who dare

“to mop up”
“to tighten the noose”
“to step up the military pressure”
“to ring around” civilian streets with tanks

In the third and last section, Jordan connects the urgency of the situation into a transnational identity and awakening: 

I was born a Black woman

and now

I am become a Palestinian

against the relentless laughter of evil

there is less and less living room

and where are my loved ones?

It is time to make our way home.
Having begun with recounting the details of a massacre, Jordan ends her poem by strongest gesture of solidarity, restating her Blackness while becoming a Palestinian. She then quotes the sentence of the wailing mother in Shatila who is looking for her son, “where are my loved ones?” and with a cry of pain, she calls for a move toward home

The Horror of Algiers

In 1830, 600 French ships arrived in Algiers. The arrival marks the first step of a violent strategy to stabilize French domination. Henceforth, Algerians’ crops were burned by the French soldiers, women were raped, men captured and killed. The region’s earth was ‘scorched’ to pre-empt any potential backlash. And to de Tocqueville, the French liberal philosopher, these were “unfortunate necessities that any people wishing to make war on the Arabs must accept.” Defending colonization, he believed that the “law of wars entitles us [French] to ravage the country.” Following an eighteen-year long battle, Algiers was colonized. Fast forward 124 years of over-exploitation, a full-force armed movement for the independence of Algeria, Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), was born. In the course of an eight-year long battle between FLN and France, more than 140,000 Algerians were killed by the French army, another 12,000 were subject to internal purges. 50,000 civilians were abducted by FLN and presumed dead. All the while, 18,000 French soldiers and 3,000 Settlers did not leave Algeria alive. Finally, in June 1962 the French rule in Algeria came to an end after 132 exhausting years. Algiers was decolonized. Some time parallel to the finale of the battle, Frantz Fanon was drafting the first chapter of The Wretched of the Earth: on violence. 

In his book, Fanon advocates the use of violence in decolonization. He brings to light that how the accepted codes of morality could live with the horror of colonization, but they same codes cannot digest the terror of decolonization, that is when the victim is an European. Jean-Paul Sartre, in the preface to the book, brings to our attention the contradiction of the European humanism that ‘lays claim to but denies human conditions’ from the natives. In Sartre’s view, Fanon deciphers the contradiction. 

But more important than the justification of violence in the process of decolonization, something else is happening in Fanon’s text beyond and above the lines, and Sartre quickly mentions it in the preface; regardless of what he argues, Fanon has looked away from Europe as the listener and is talking to his native brothers. There is a dialogue, too significant to dismiss, about Europe without Europe being part of the dialogue. At once, the unspoken assumption that the European knows and the native becomes known, the European thinks and the native is thought about, becomes irrelevant. Europe has become, all of a sudden, the object of a study, and the native the subject. 

This is essential to the legitimization of violence. Fanon notes that the violence of colonization is legitimized through dehumanization and de-Subjectification of the native. The moment that Algerians are constituted as humans again, colonization becomes a horrific exploitation of the subject of human, and the violence for liberation is rationalized as an act of self-defence toward liberation. Fanon, in showing all the complexities of the native, constructs Algerians as human again. ‘The wretched’ indeed can think, feel the pain, and pick up a gun. The wretched can even instrumentalize non-native philosophy – in the case of Ramdane Abane masterfully combining Lenin and Muhammad – to defeat the colonizer. The wretched is the doomed human, but still a human. By humanizing Algerians, the framing of the battle as the modern versus the savage – the only justification of French for colonizing Algeria – falls apart. 

The framing also falls apart by the grave violence of French army against the resistance movement, the so-called counterterrorism. By beheading the dissidents and torturing suspects, French officers proves absurd “savagery” as the defining term for natives behaviors. In their naked brutality, the colonizer and the colonized become similar, conducting the very same action. The assigned categories, names and compartments that the settler has created to differentiate himself from the colonized lose meaning in the face of a shared violence. Are the colonizer and the colonized both human? Are they both savage? Or aren’t we all both, at the same time

The Most Beautiful Romantic Relationship of the 20th Century

Christopher Isherwood (left) and Don Bachardy (right) in the late `70s. CHRIS & DON. A LOVE STORY, a film by Guido Santi & Tina Mascara. A Zeitgeist Films release.

I would find a story thread, follow it, see where it would lead me, often to another thread and then another and another. I did not have to make up the funny lines.  My subjects provided me with the best lines…”

A movie recommendation: CHRIS & DON

CHRIS & DON: A LOVE STORY is the true-life story of the passionate three-decade relationship between British writer Christopher Isherwood (whose Berlin Stories was the basis for all incarnations of the much-beloved Cabaret) and American portrait painter Don Bachardy, thirty years his junior. From Isherwood’s Kit-Kat-Club years in Weimar-era Germany (the inspiration for his most famous work) to the couple’s first meeting on the sun-kissed beaches of 1950s Malibu, their against-all-odds saga is brought to dazzling life by a treasure trove of multimedia. Bachardy’s contemporary reminiscences (in the Santa Monica home he shared with Isherwood until his death in 1986) artfully interact with archival footage, rare home movies (with glimpses of glitterati pals W.H. Auden, Igor Stravinsky and Tennessee Williams), reenactments, and, most sweetly, whimsical animations based on the cat-and-horse cartoons the pair used in their personal correspondence. With Isherwood’s status as an out-and-proud gay maverick, and Bachardy’s eventual artistic triumph away from the considerable shadow of his life partner, CHRIS & DON: A LOVE STORY is above all a joyful celebration of a most extraordinary couple.

Categorized as Books