Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"To be or not to be an Israeli Arab"

Just came across this 2010 essay in Comparative Literature: "To Be or Not to Be an Israeli Arab: Sayed Kashua and the Prospect of Minority Speech-Acts."  Gil Hochberg's invocation of Hamlet (and, perhaps unintentionally, of a post-simple-nationalist Arab Hamlet tradition) in this context seems felicitous. Whose language to speak? Whose identity to embrace? Which cultural performances will "denote me truly"?

I saw Kashua speak at Tufts last spring, at a wonderful event co-hosted by Jonathan Wilson of the Humanities Center and my friend Amahl Bishara.  At the Tufts Hillel, of all places.  (The plaque behind him says, ironically, "How good and pleasant it is for us all to dwell together.")  Then went home and read his Second Person Singular in two nights.  His major intertext in that book is not Shakespeare but Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata, seen through the prism of Hebrew translation at that. In any case, his observations on the paradoxes of upwardly mobile Arab-Israeli (as he calls it) identity are witty and convincing.

"Alas, poor Syria"!

This editorial cartoon by Habib Haddad just ran in Al-Hayat.  Poor Syria takes the place of the skull.  It's macabre and effective, partly because it follows the usual polemical pattern of personifying the nation as a single person with a single uncertain fate: in this case, Yorick.
h/t David Karjala.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bashar as "Brutus or Macbeth"

Franklin Lamb at Countercurrents writes of Bashar al-Asad's most recent non-concession speech, delivered in operatic style at the Damascus Opera House:
The nearly 1,400 seating capacity Opera Theater was packed for yesterday’s presidential address, and as in the final scene of Mozart’s Opera, the conclusion of Bashar Assad’s performance was followed by, as Mozart wrote, “a night-long celebration” among many of his supporters here in Damascus. Basher Assad’s glory, as he tried to leave the stage last night and was swarmed by scores of admirers, may not have been that of Caesar’s, during the Gallic wars as the latter also portrayed a domestic crisis and challenge as a defensive struggle to save “Rome”. And granted, it is unlikely that Syria’s president will appear to his critics as posh as John Kennedy at Vienna’s Opera House. But the man connected with his audience (s) during his watershed speech. He excelled in delivery, content and, most critically, stating and advocating what he believes is his countryman’s case. While welcoming foreign advice on how to end the current crisis, he insisted that the Syrian people throughout their history of resistance to occupation and hegemony have rejected the orders from certain governments he referred to, in the current crisis, as the “masters of the puppets” who are every day causing death, destruction and deprivations across the Syrian Arab Republic. Admittedly sleep deprived, this observer, as he listened to Bashar Assad’s address was reminded of a Macbeth or Brutus soliloquy. I could not help but transpose in my mind Brutus’ plea in Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
“Who is here so rude or unpatriotic that would not be a Syrian? Who is here so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak–for him
I have not intentionally or unjustly wronged. I pause for a reply.”
Following his presidential address to the nation, one local journalist, who is sometimes critical of the regime, elaborated–in answer to my question about Assad’s apparent enduring popularity during this tragic period for people of Syria: “It’s true. And it’s partly due to the fact that he is modest, even humble– and well-educated in contrast to some regional monarchs who are essentially illiterate and uninterested in the world outside their fiefdoms palaces.”
  ... but which is he, Brutus or Macbeth? 

I'm not usually a big fan of Fouad Ajami, but in this case (talking about John Kerry) I think he has hit on the right allusion:
Kerry said Assad delivered on the requests he made. But Fouad Ajami of Stanford's Hoover Institution says Kerry was "snookered."
"Bashar was a very, very talented man with his lovely lady, with his Lady Macbeth, with his wife, at charming foreign visitors and I think the charm worked on John Kerry," Ajami said.
 Because, as in Macbeth, the charm is an inextricable part of the slime.