Term Paper: Middle Eastern Writers Contemporary

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Middle Eastern Writers

Contemporary Middle Eastern writers expectedly approach social and political themes in their writings. The writers' consciousness is inevitably influenced by the experience of suffering, hatred and conflict that dominates the Middle East. Some of the best known and appreciated Middle Eastern writers such as the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, the Israeli Aharon Shabtai, and the Turkish poet Ozkan Mert give voice to the suffering and protests they feel in their poetry, attempting to redeem the negative sentiments and experiences through language and art.

As I see it, the relationship art and the world's social and political scenes has always been a difficult one. The language of poetry may seem to many a force that, in a way, alienates the reader from the immediate experience of reality. The words seem to clinch the meaning behind the state or the event described and then to reveal it entirely differently to the audience. Nevertheless, good poetry is like a transparent veil, through which we can see directly into the heart of things. It is very hard to state just exactly the limit between description and creation in a work of art. Even when art talks about well-known events or feelings, it always seems to have much more than a descriptive value, reaching somewhere behind what is immediately known and always disclosing a secret. In many of their works, the Middle Eastern writers are concerned with the exact same thing: when they write about war or murder, they show us the unknown sides of these events. The attempt to voice these atrocities gives birth to an aesthetics which is all the more bemusing as it tears open the inside of crime, sin, hatred and the feelings they compel us to experience. Moreover, no matter its subject art is always the creation of beauty. As Muhammad Ali put it, "art is worthless unless it plants a measure of splendor in people's hearts" (Lehrer), that is, art can awaken and teach emotion and beauty.

Muhammad Ali's poetry and that of Aharon Shabtai, an Israeli poet, can be studied together since they are both concerned to a great extent with the conflict between Palestine and Israel. As Muhammad Ali emphasizes, and as it was already pointed out, it is not in the nature of art to speak directly about something. Thus, his poetry, as he himself has stated in an interview granted to Jim Lehrer, his poetry does not speak directly about Palestine or Israel, but it does speak about "suffering, sadness, longing and fear," thus taking something from reality and recreating it in a new form: "In my poetry, there is no Palestine, no Israel. but, in my poetry of suffering, sadness, longing, and fear, the art is to take from life something real, then to build it anew with your imagination." (Lehrer) Indeed, one of his well-known poems entitled Fooling the Killers speaks about death and presumably terrorism in a veiled, indirect manner, hiding reality and external details to reveal the inner relevance of these themes. The poem is constructed as a direct questioning and lamentation addressed to an absent friend. Death or other specific elements are left out of the text, and thus the poem manages to convey a feeling of ambiguity, loss and bewilderment. The poet's friend, named Qasim is simply missing, without having left any apparent trace. Ali opens his work with a direct interrogation addressed to his missing companion: "Qasim, / I wonder now / where you are.... / I haven't forgotten you / after all these years, / long as the graveyard / wall is long. I always / ask the grass of the field / about you, and the dirt paths." (Ali, 35) the only actual detail that comes at the end of the poem hints that the poet has not seen this friend in more than forty years. The incertitude is used nevertheless as a cogent device here: the title implies that the author wanders about his friend's fate. When he wanders whether or not he has managed to escape or to "fool the killers" he obviously hints at terrorist attacks or other similar threat. Thus, merely by stating absence and incertitude, Ali succeeds in making a powerful statement against killings and terrorism. The question related to Qasim's life are also very telling: the author hints through his words at the terrible destructive power contained in hatred and killing, and how much it can simply erase of human life by cutting one's destiny short: "Are you alive, / with your poise, / your cane, and memories? / Did you marry? / Do you have a tent of your own, / and children? / Did you make it to Mecca? / or did they kill you / at the foot of the Hill of Tin?" (Ali, 35) This fact in reasserted in the next stanza, where Ali implies that with his dexterity and guile, Qasim may have managed to hide away from the passage of time, obviously hinting that his life may have ended even before he reached adulthood: "Or maybe you never grew up, / Qasim, and managed to hide, / behind your mere ten years, / and you're still the same old Qasim, / the boy who runs around / and laughs / and jumps over fences, / who likes green almonds / and searches for birds' nests." (Ali, 35) the poem is thus seemingly quiet and lamenting, but in fact it convey a feeling of terror and incertitude, alluding also at the fragility of any human being. Qasim seems for some reason to play a continuous "hide and seek" game with his "killers." This playful element only increases the terror contained in the lines of the poem: "I always envied you, Qasim, / your skill at hiding / in the games of hide-and-seek we played -- / barefoot at dusk -- forty years ago -- / when we were little boys." (Ali, 35) in the end, Ali tries to appear confident that his friend has mysteriously "fooled the killers," but this seems only to hint further at the terrorist attacks or the bombings that destroy whole masses of people, very often without leaving any tangible trace of the victims' identity: "But even if they did it, / Qasim, / if, shamelessly, / they killed you, / I'm certain / you fooled your killers, / just as you managed / to fool the years." (Ali, 35)

In yet another poem, Ali directly speaks about hatred, and states that it may be the first thing to putrefy in the soul of man, after he dies: "After we die, / and the weary heart / has lowered its final eyelid / on all that we've done, / and on all that we've longed for, / on all that we've dreamt of, / all we've desired / or felt, / hate will be / the first thing / to putrefy / within us." (Ali, 56) Thus, hate is not something that merely dies within us, but something that putrefies or decomposes the soul, having thus a greater annihilating power than death itself. Here, hatred obviously refers to the most destructive forms of human hate, such as religious, racial or political intolerance, and so on.

Similar to Muhammad Ali's poetry, the work of Aharon Shabtai is a conspicuous and condemning criticism of the wars between Palestine and Israel. Although an Israeli himself, Shabtai does not withhold the negative feelings against his own country and the terrorism. Thus, he explicitly likens the contemporary Palestinians with the Jews during the Nazi regime in Germany. As John Taylor underscores when he reviews Shabtai's volume of poetry called J'accuse, Shabtai condemns the persecution of Palestinians by the people of Israel, signaling a shift in the historical roles (before, the Jews have themselves been persecuted many times): "Israeli poet Shabtai...confronts what could be described as a collective identity crisis in Jewish culture, particularly in Israel. Having suffered immense persecution throughout history and learned to identify keenly with the dispossessed, Israeli Jews are now in a position of dominance over another people. Shabtai condemns Israel's role as occupier and military power, distancing himself from his country and identifying explicitly with the Palestinians ('I'm a Palestinian Jew')."(Taylor, 12) as Shabtai himself declares, through his poetry he tries to voice the embitterment he feels at the current state of things in his country, where violence and hatred have raised walls that do not allow communication between people: "When I was young and when I was in love with the land, suddenly we had a land, full of possibility, the ability to make the land beautiful, to grow up, and also to cross the borders for peace. And now, suddenly, it's another image. it's an image of closing, of a wall, and the wall is also something that's internalized in the people. it's a wall of fear, of hate, of incomprehension."(Lehrer) in the opening poem of J'accuse, Shabtai openly declares his wish that "the state" should… [END OF PREVIEW]

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