Reprinted from Middle East Eye
Whenever a new poem by Mahmoud Darwish was published in al-Quds newspaper, I rushed over to Abu Aymen's newsstand that was located in the refugee camp's main square. It was a crowded and dusty place where grimy taxis waited for passengers, surrounded by fish and vegetable venders.
Darwish's poetry was too cryptic for us teenagers at a refugee camp in Gaza to fathom. But we labored away anyway. Every word, and all the imagery and symbolism were analyzed and decoded to mean perhaps something entirely different from what the famed Palestinian Arab poet had intended.
We were a rebellious generation hungry for freedom that was soon to carry the burden of the popular uprising, or Intifada, and we sought in Darwish's incomparable verses, not an escape, but a roadmap for revolution.
Ignore the political choices made by Darwish after the disastrous Oslo peace process -- that is for another discussion about intellect and politics which, frankly, rarely works. Darwish represented a generation of revolutionary intellectuals: humanist, Arab nationalists, anti-authoritarian and anti-imperialist. In fact, they were mostly defined by the "anti" in their careers, rather than the "pro," and that was hardly coincidental.
In those years, long before Twitter coerced us into cramming whatever we wished to say -- no matter how complex -- into 140 characters or less, such a thing as books existed. Back then, ideas seemed to be more like a mosaic, involved and intricate productions that were enunciated in such a way as to produce works that would last a generation or more.
A novel by Abdul Rahaman Munif represented the pain of a past generation, and the aspiration of many to come. Language was timeless then. One would read what Tunisia's Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi wrote in the 1930s and Palestine's Samih al-Qassim much later and still feel that the words echoed the same sentiment, anger, hope, pride, but hardly despair.
Hey you, despotic tyrant, Darkness lover and enemy of life,
You scoffed at powerless people's groans; And your hands are tainted with their blood.
You embarked on empoisoning the allure of existence and sowing prickles of grief in its horizons.
...The flood of blood, will wipe you away, and the flaring gale will eat you up.
The "Arab Spring" resurrected the above words of al-Shabbi, but also those of others. It was believed that the peaceful protests of Arab nations was strong enough to "wipe away" the "darkness lovers," but the battle proved more brutal than many had expected, or hoped. "The flood of blood" is yet to be contained. Several Arab countries -- Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya -- are "sovereign" by name, but practically divided, in politics, sects, tribes and geography.
But this hardly concerns the "spring" per se, but instead the Arab intellectual and what he/she represents or failed to represent.
When I was younger, and Edward Said was still alive, I always wondered what his impressions of certain events were. His column ran in Egypt's al-Ahram Weekly. His non-conformist political style -- let alone his literary genius -- did more than convey information and offer sound analyses. It also offered guidance and moral direction.
Professor Said, and many such giants, were missed most during this current upheaval, where intellectuals seemed negligible, if at all relevant. There is no disrespect intended here, for this is not about the actual skill of articulation, but alternatively it concerns the depth of that expression, the identity and credibility of the intellectual, his very definition of self, and relationship with those in power.