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IGAF: Lying on Camera // Astounding Armaments

Nizar Qabbani wrote his epic poem "When Will They Announce the Death of Arabs" in 1994.



He was living in London at the time, far from his native Syria, watching the world he had grown up in and represented as a diplomat from afar. America had launched operation Desert Storm- a storm that lasts to this day- two years prior, and marked 1993 with the launch of 23 cruise missiles on Iraq. Qabbani will die of a heart attack in 1998.

In 18 stanzas, he explores the wishes and dreams he once carried, describes, however tribes and nations at war, that believe that secret services (like a cold, or a headache) are part of some heavenly order. He bemoans that the idea of the "Arab Nation" (possibly derived from the Pan-Arabist ideology that was crystallised during the Nasser years) has never come into being. He has been trying to draw a picture all his life, but his crayons have been taken away. He has watched wars- on TV, he has tried to imagine the idea of a peaceful Arab union- and now, he finds many monuments to this idea- but no-one who believes in it. The poem proved highly controversial in Arab circles- understandably, as it strikes out- as quite a few of Qabbani's other poems do- at dictators in the Arab world and the influence they exert on their peoples, and there continues to be- more than 20 years later- a front they endeavour maintain. 

It can be found here, in Arabic, and here in French- in spite of many hours of searching, I did not find it in English, and my translation would not do it justice. If you come across one, I will be happy to post it here. 
Love in the Arab world is like a prisoner, and I want to set (it) free. I want to free the Arab soul, sense and body with my poetry. The relationships between men and women in our society are not healthy.
           - Nizar Qabbani, at his sisters funeral.

It is difficult to translate the feeling and the meanings carried within the poem, but one could draw parallels between what Qabbani has seen in 50 years of observation and a fervent observer of more contemporary unions expressing their feelings at what appears to be a slow, painful, process of dissolution. It's an unfair comparison, and poetry about the current state is less passionate than this declaration of ultimate disappointment in the triumph of the self-serving greed of a few people over the progress and advancement of those they are meant to serve. 

In the same year Qabbani wrote "When will they Announce the Death of Arabs" the collection "50 Years of Praising Women" (خمسون عاما في مديح النساء) was published- a maybe unwanted reminder that, in spite of our individual grief, beauty continues.

Taken out of context, as in the Arabian Street Artist's 2015 "Homeland is Not a Series", two lines, quoted at the climax of the film, resonated globally, are related to war on the ground and in the media. These lines led me, at the time only having read the poem once, to have them translated them into about 30 languages (with a lot of help). The scope of the poem makes it difficult to translate it in its entirety with any literary accuracy, but we hope to do it some justice in our attempts at transliterating it to another format- going beyond written poetry into the realm of so-called "visual poetry". That it was shown in its long form -"'Lying on Camera", below- in the framework of "Les Instants Video" visual poetry festival in Marseilles in 2016 underlines the point.


Lying on Camera

For Lying on Camera, a calligrapher called Mafish consented to be filmed in the act of writing the phrase in Arabic, knowing that the footage from the three cameras and two microphones would be chopped up to tiny, tiny bits. It was clear to us that the calligrapher and his work would matter less than the words and that the creation and translation would take center stage over artistic energy and self-representation. With the very able eyes, nays and hands of a DOP, we shot three hours of film from a variety of angles. 

Considering the state of the world, it is almost impossible- as it always has been- to adequately express the grief and pain that is caused on a daily basis by wars, and their coverage. So we borrowed a few words. Brian Williams, reporting on the American air strikes on Syria (06.04.2017) helped, by encapsulating the worlds' addiction to this kind of coverage, and the way it is produced, and disseminated, by talking about "the beautiful pictures" he was showing of "fearsome armaments". This was the most honestly phrased news report in years, stripping away the many, carefully manufactured layers of artifice that usually disguise this type of reporting. 

Garret Epps, writing for the Atlantic, ends his article commemorating these strikes (spoilers) by saying:
To be clear: there’s a case that Trump actually had the authority to take action in Syria. I don’t agree with it, but I respect those who do. There is, in my judgment, no case that Trump doesn’t need to explain to Congress and the nation what he has done with America’s armed forces, why he believes it was legal, what he plans to do next, and what he hopes to achieve. 
On this matter, Congress and the preening “watchdogs” of the press and cable news have surrendered to Trump without firing a shot. 
Why would he hesitate to do whatever he feels like the next time he is challenged? 
That to me is as scary as that imagined long walk home.
This is one point of view- probably of many- but one that can be expanded: once that example has been set by the leader of a nation that, for the past seven decades, has attempted to maintain the facsimile of a high moral ground when it comes to warlike actions, what signal does it send to leaders of countries who have long since abandoned lip-service to the rights of their people and other peoples? And more importantly- a question I would like to encourage- where do I, as an individual, stand?

Watching and analysing the many unfolding situations around the world, daily, it is difficult not to become numbed and try to be comfortably numb about it, all of which is not news. Qabbani's poetry and the help I received from many others, set off an ongoing process that has helped me express the numbness, grief, helplessness and anger I feel as I watch, and listen to news- daily. 

I apologise for not providing a more positive outlook, but even with the many positive examples and energies of the people who surround me, the big picture remains bleak. 

Nizar Qabbani died on April 30th, 19 years ago. His first published work "The Brunette Told Me" speaks of his love for women and enjoyment of life in the Damascus of the 1940's. I hope to read it one day in a very different Damascus* and take pleasure in the poetry without nostalgia for better times- as a celebration of a present life in a world that we have made better than it appears today.

Poetry is a good starting point.



Or Cairo, or Sanaa, or Khartoum, or Pyon Yang, or Tehran, or Washington- I'm not picky.

Notes:
We continue to look for translations of the lines

"My Homeland, they have turned you into a horror series we follow in the evening. How shall we watch you when they cut off the electricity".

If you have one, post it in the comments. Or contact me at twitter @dot_seekay

And:
You can create your own remix of the translation using this gif 


And a page like Giphy.
This is one result:


via GIPHY



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