Monday, January 15, 2007

Rashid Husain on first loyalties

Palestinian poet Rashid Husain (b. 1936) was from a village near Haifa and died in poverty in a fire in his New York City apartment in 1977. His writings reflected his concerns and experience of Palestinian life under siege both within Israel and in the diaspora. He was also a translator, translating selections from Hayyim Bialik from Hebrew to Arabic, and Palestinian folks songs from Arabic to Hebrew. Translation below by May Jayyusi and Naomi Shihab Nye, from their "Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature".


From the play "The Interrogation"

Interrogator: In this poem you are clearly saying that my wife loves you.

The Poet: I am speaking of my land, I say I was there
before you, and she will always think of me first.
Be her husband-so what!
I loved her before you did
and have first place in her heart.
Even if you buy her perfume,
purchase her the finest clothes...
it's for me she will wear them.
I smoked on her lap long ago,
startling her with my earliest cigarettes.
I'll even enter your bed
on your wedding night, and come between you...
though you are her bridgroom
she will embrace me, desiring me most.
I will always be between you-
I'm sorry-but I was first.


At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Minuli Khawaga said...

Glad to see another fan of RH. His newspaper editorials from the late 50s are amazing. Here's one that prefigures Mahmoud Darwish's poem "Identity Card by a Few Years." If you want more, ask Hawblawg for Minuli's address, and we'll be in touch. Cheers!

Endangered Conscience!
by Rashid Hussein (trans. Minuli Khawaga)
July 8, 1959

I’m no candidate running for the Knesset.

Nor Minister in the Israeli Government.

I’m an ordinary citizen. My identity number is B123964.

Despite my non-special status, I have the right to warn Israel’s rulers.

Read these lines.

The place: a café in Tel Aviv.

An Arab youth and a Jewish youth sharing a table.

The Arab speaks painfully about the problems of the Arabs.

The Jew nods his head—he understands.

Suddenly the Jew raises his hand and silences the Arab saying, “This is the first time I have heard a courageous Arab speaking the truth at me! For the last ten years you’ve been talking to us in the language of slaves.”

Hey Arabs—are you listening? Delegates, did you hear? Pretty candidates for Knesset, did you get this? Intellectuals, are you listening? For ten years, we’ve been talking like slaves.

Hey slaves—the Jewish youth spoke the truth, the sincere truth!

The youth is silent for a moment, then says to his Arab colleague, “We used to hear about the bravery of Arabs, their pride, dignity, and defiance. We thought you would have formed armed militias against your persecution and the seizure of your lands. But you didn’t. That’s fine, but personally I was surprised that you lacked the courage. You’ve even failed to preserve your honor. Your language is that of slaves. Your words, those of servants. Your hypocrisy and adulation toward us are the manners of slaves.”
Yes: slaves! Slaves twice over! A thousand times over! Only a madman would think about undertaking militia work. Yet, in his exaggerated discourse the Jew wanted to express his impressions of us before he met us, and about our truth after he’d gotten to know us. It pained him to tell this to me. I told him the following story:

I was sitting with an Arab friend two days ago. Conversation turned around our current state of affairs. It was my friend’s opinion that the Arabs ought to be opportunists and divide themselves among the various political parties. My own opinion was that, above all else, Arabs needed to convince themselves:
1. That they have rights that are being suppressed.
2. That they have to demand their rights and struggle on their behalf.
3. That the correct path to obtain their rights is to unite their efforts.

My friend said, “What you’re saying may be correct. But prison and exile are our future.
I replied, “Is it reasonable to think that the authorities would dare to imprison ten thousand Arabs, for instance? They might be able to imprison or exile 100, 200, 300—and then? Could they imprison all of us if we stood together?”

He said, “Yes, it’s possible! Did anyone think that Hitler would dare to slaughter six million human beings? Yet, he did just that. Did anyone think that some would dare to murder 48 people at Kafr Qasim? But that happened!”

I felt a tremble flood my body as he spoke about Hitler’s crime and the Kafr Qasim massacre. I realized that a person could flip into a rabid bloodthirsty animal [like it was nothing].

What are we to understand from this man’s reasoning? Our people here, or a portion of it, has come to an astounding degree of fear [where he might be willing to] renounce all human values. I never once thought there’d be people among us so terrorized that they might think that the crime of mass murder were all around!

I never thought, perhaps the powers of oppression also never thought, that the policy it pursues toward us might lead to this kind of thinking, to where a human might feel he has no value, that he might be slaughtered like poultry!


One Jewish youth looks at us and guesses that we’re forming militias to obtain our rights. Then, when we don’t do that, when we compromise our dignity, he says, “You’re slaves!”

One Arab youth thinks it’s likely that our destiny will be the worst possible that humans can come to.

The two ways of thinking spring from a single notion more or less.

The Jewish youth feels (with absolute certainty) that no human being can face the wrongs done to us and bear it in silence.

The Arab youth also feels (with absolute certainty) that those who treat us in this manner won’t be shamed by anything.

Both ways of thinking point to the same thing: a repudiation of the human!

Whenever there are people, among the citizens of a given state, who so wholeheartedly renounce humanism because of the policies of the government, those who feel a sense of responsibility must scream as loudly as possible:

The human conscience is in danger! Humankind’s feeling of self-worth is in danger! The safety of the citizen is in danger!

Do you think I err when I warn Israel’s rulers against their policies toward us?

Will they consider me a traitor to the state?

Let them think what they like. I still believe that I am only doing my duty—the duty of warning them.

Let them do what they will, I’ll go on saying what I say, remaining true to the truth and humankind.

My address is well known to them.

My identity number: one, two, three, nine, six, four, B!

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Hanthalah said...

Wonderful... It's a pitty that no one speaks about Rashid Hussein today, and I find it really sad that he is unknown among his own people.

At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Lebanese Girl said...

Her's another poem of RH, i find him very talented, i don't know why he's not that popular:

"Song of a Refugee

(Tent 50)
On the left, is my new world
Shared with me by my memories:
Memories as verdant as the eyes of spring,
Memories like the eyes of a woman weeping,
And memories the color of milk and love!
Two doors has my tent, two doors like two wounds
One leads to the other tents, wrinkle -browed
Like clouds no longer able to weep;
And the second- a rent in the ceiling,
Leading to the skies
Revealing the stars
Like refugees scattered,
And like them, naked!
, on the left, that is my present
But it is too cramped to contain a future!
And- "Forget" they say, but how can I?
Teach the night to forget to bring
Dreams showing me my village
And teach the wind to forget to carry me
The aroma of apricots in my fields!
And teach the sky, too, to forget to rain.
Only then, I may forget my country".
Rashid Hussein


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