Arabs stung by the lash of verse Moving finger writes up storm
Sunday 12 February 1995
The tumult is less surprising given that the poem is entitled "When will they announce the death of the Arabs?" and its creator is Nizzar Qabbani, one of the best known - and most provocative - modern Arabic poets.
Almost three months after it first appeared - in the London based daily Al-Naquid, and since reprinted across the Arab world - Arab nationalists are still queuing up to savage Qabbani for such lines as: "The nations who call themselves Arabs are all dead, but no one has yet dared to sign the death certificate."
Qabbani, a former diplomat who served in Egypt, Britain and Spain, paints an unflattering picture of tribes who retreated from the universal world of knowledge into "burrows of fear" and of a culture of bigotry and ignorance that "oppresses women body and soul".
Qabbani's Arabs are misruled nations, misled by newspapers that "bow down to oil-money, a tyrant ruler or a colonel who steps over the beheaded bodies of the people". In one notable verse, he writes:
For fifty years now,
I have been watching the Arabs
Thundering without rain
Entering wars without exiting
Chewing the skin of rhetoric
Nizzar Qabbani's fame - and notoriety - dates back to the late 1950s. He replaced the romantic symbolism of classical Arabic poetry with powerful erotic verse featuring graphic, often pornographic, description of the female anatomy and dashing images of passionate love-making. Defying censors throughout the Arab world, his anthologies sold by the thousands, mainly to women - as young as 14 and as old as 80.
Never one to pour oil on troubled waters exactly, following the humiliating defeat of Arab armies in the 1967 Six Day War, Qabbani composed "The Sultan's Soldiers" in which he criticised the Arabs as "idles posturing in mosques, praying to Allah to defeat the enemy". He then likened "his excellency's regiment" to an army of ostriches -traditionally a symbol of cowardice in Arabic literature. An enraged President Nasser promptly banned Qabbani and his books from Egypt
He finally alienated the mainly Saudi-controlled Arab press in Europe with his 1990 poem "Abu Jahl [the father of philistinism] buys Fleet Street", depicting oil Sheikhs as abusing their wealth to corrupt the world's cultural heritage.
Some of those who now attack Qabbani condemn him for sniping from his English exile. Qabbani has no right "to draw a map of the Arab world while staying in your London hotel" wrote one Egyptian critic.
But for others, Qabbani's poem has struck a chord, at a time of great uncertainty among Arabs, and in a form with great resonance for them. "Poets, the good ones, still play a key role in arousing [our] feelings," wrote the Egyptian columnist Salama A Salama. "They have always been the best in carrying and conveying Arab sentiments and convictions."
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 3 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
- 4 The Greece debt crisis explained in less than 100 words
- 5 Cristiano Ronaldo storms out of interview after being asked about possible sale of Manchester United target Sergio Ramos
Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
Eiji Tsuburaya: Godzilla co-creator honoured in today's interactive Google Doodle
Bakery sends 'horrific' version of Frozen-themed birthday cake to unsuspecting customer
Florida teacher sentenced to 22 years in prison for sexually abusing three pupils
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...
£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...