The Lebanese poet Bassam Hajjar

Bassam Hajjar

From : bassamhajjarBanipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature in English .

1955 – 17 February 2009

With great sadness we report that Bassam Hajja died of cancer on 17 February. Born in Sûr (Tyre), Lebanon, he became a philosopher and a poet – with a Diploma of Advanced Study in Philosophy from the Sorbonne. Bassam Hajjar worked as cultural editor on the Lebanese daily newspapers An-Nahar and Al-Safir and later for Al-Mustaqbal in Beirut. Since 1980 he published ten collections of poetry. He was also a prolific translator from the French of novels, poetry collections and books of philosophy and literary criticism.

I don’t mind,
when I look,
from the edge of fifty –
the commotion of pedestrians on a wide street,
down there,
where the shops are,
the taxicabs,
a bunch of students and workers and the unemployed,
fathers who are looking for a safe place
in which to keep the pleasures of seeking,
the hardships of seeking,
day by day,
until the seeking day is over,
and the shortest among them,
the most short-lived,
finds refuge in a night of doubts and suspicion. 

I don’t mind,
at sunset,
men who drag the disappointments of hardships into lit houses
with the fever of hope
if there is any hope left

And I don’t mind –
when I look,
absent-mindedly –
days I should have lived,
or the shadow I used to be should have lived,
or the person who was for years in my company

And years elapse
like a silent dialogue
like a speeding bus
ahead of me
filled with those who live without me, here
or there

As if these were the memories of the person
I’ve always wanted to be
As if these were memories I’ve read in a book
which I then lost
a book borrowed by a friend then lost
maybe I sold it to a book peddler
a basket weaver
who will carry it to the end of the world
and barter it for a loaf of bread
a drink
a warm cup of soup

And I don’t mind
when I look
at me
the one who doesn’t mind

For I don’t care what happens metres away
miles away
and seas
and tales
away from the gate of my absent-mindedness

Translated by Anton Shammas
From the poet’s collection of the same title 
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Student Protesters Arrested In Iran

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service


TEHRAN, Feb. 24 — Dozens of Iranian students were arrested Monday after they protested a government decision to rebury troops who died in the IranIraq war on the grounds of a Tehran university, Iranian student Web sites reported. The semiofficial Fars News Agency said that “a few people tried to create problems and prevent the burying of the martyrs” but did not mention arrests.

Students said 70 people were arrested in the altercation at Amirkabir University of Technology. Cellphone clips posted on YouTube show the reburial ceremony and two groups of people shouting and shoving.

Protesters say they fear that the government will use the presence of war graves on campuses as a pretext for official suppression of demonstrations, political or otherwise.

According to Fars News, the leaders of the protest had links to a student group that has organized demonstrations in the past, calling for more democracy but also better living conditions on the prestigious university’s campuses.

Student protests have become rare since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005 and measures were imposed under which students can be suspended or expelled from state-funded universities if they participate in activities — such as demonstrations — that are deemed “against the system.” There are about 2 million university students in Iran.

On Monday night, friends and family members waited in front of the police station where many of the arrested demonstrators had been brought.

“We were filmed first, and many of us were arrested while leaving the university campus,” said a student who was waiting for a friend’s release, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Amirkabir University’s news Web site,, which is controlled by the students who organized the demonstration, said that 20 students were transferred to Tehran’s Evin Prison and that the others had been released overnight. It also reported the arrests of five student leaders Tuesday.

When Ahmadinejad became mayor of Tehran in 2003, he proposed that remains of troops killed in the war be reburied at each of the city’s squares as a tribute to their sacrifice. The city council opposed the idea at the time.

Since last year, remains of the fallen have been reburied at two other major universities in the capital, including at Tehran University last month. Groups of students opposed the moves, saying they were intended to influence the atmosphere on campuses. Iranians are expected to behave decorously in the presence of graves of fallen troops.

Monday’s reburial ceremony was widely advertised in Tehran, with big promotional posters lining main streets. The remains of unknown soldiers were driven through downtown Tehran before being brought to their new resting places by student members of the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary force controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps, photos published by the semiofficial ISNA news agency show. Plainclothes police officers also filmed the event.

“This is a scheme to create rallying points at universities for student supporters of the government. They would say that anybody who criticizes anything will in fact be criticizing the revered martyrs of the war,” Abdullah Momeni, a former student leader, said in an interview Tuesday. “Universities are the last places in this country with a grain of freedom and the ability to express opinions.”

“The students have deep respect for the martyrs,” Momeni added. “It’s the government that is abusing them for political games.”

The troops who died in the Iran-Iraq conflict, a bitter eight-year-long trench war in which hundreds of thousands of Iranians died, are revered in Iran. They are commemorated with public murals in almost every town, and large cities have special cemeteries devoted to them.

Some students voiced criticism of Monday’s protesters.

“They should not have protested against this,” Yahya Bakhtiari, a journalism student and Basij member, said. “Martyrs are considered to be our benefactors — they have given their lives. The least we can do is respect them. . . . They should be buried in public places, and they should be remembered.”


Photos of student protest

This week on Voices of the Middle East and North Africa

Movement to Boycott, Sanction and Divest from Israel

Professor Lisa Taraki,  associate professor of  Sociology at Birzeit university in Ramallah
Dr John Chalcraft,  lecturer in the History and Politics of Empire AT THE London School of Economics.
A conversation Torange Yeghiazarian, Artistic Director  of Golden Thread production. GTP is presenting  the West Coast premiere of Joyce Van Dyke’s award-winning play, A Girl’s War at the Thick House. This love story of opposite sides was first produced at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre in 2001. Named one of the “top ten” plays of the year by the Boston Globe, A Girl’s War won the John Gassner Playwriting and the Provincetown Theatre Company Playwriting Awards.
Resources of interest:

Iran and the West, Nuclear Confrontation on BBC

Iran and the West, Nuclear Confrontation on BBC

The divine sponge


Sargon Boulus

Sargon Boulus



The Divine Sponge

The Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus was a rare bird: a formal innovator immersed in tradition, a politically engaged artist who resisted political classification. Sinan Antoon looks back on his life and work.

“What words can do / these days / Is almost nothing” wrote the Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus in The Secret of Words, published just weeks after he died in a Berlin hospital on October 21, 2007. 

Boulus always modestly undersold the power his work had in Iraqi and Arab cultural circles. One wishes he could have seen the elegies and testimonials that quickly flowed in from Iraq, from Morocco, from across the Arab diaspora. In As Safir, the Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef bemoaned the loss of “the only Iraqi poet”. 

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Women in Iraq; Critique of Israeli Government by Holocaust Survivors

February 18, 2008

Women in Iraq; Critique of Israeli Government by Holocaust Survivors

Voices of the Middle East and North Africa – February 18, 2009 at 7:00pm

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Editorial on Bernard Madoff’s “Victims”

Daniel McGowan — Professor Emeritus, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and founder of Deir Yassin Remembered — has written an unusual and interesting essay in which he suggests that many of Madoff’s victims were, themselves, victimizers. He is pleased that their ability to continue to harm people may be diminished:

The Madoff Victims: They Richly Deserved It

As the news of Bernard Madoff’s colossal fraud focused on America’s most “important” Jewish tycoons and moguls, it was only a matter of hours before the story was spun around their victimhood with the usual cudgels of “anti-Semitism” and the Holocaust. In Israel columnist Bradley Burston spun the story best by declaring, “The anti-Semite’s new Santa is Bernard Madoff. … The Aryan Nation at its most delusional couldn’t have come up with anything to rival this.”

As the list of Madoff’s “victims” grows, their common characteristic is not philanthropy, but rather political Zionism. Virtually all have worked to build a Jewish state with little regard, and often downright hatred, for the non-Jewish population living there.

The money from this type of mogul or “ganzer macher” has been used to dehumanize and depopulate non-Jews in Palestine for over 120 years. But in spite of creating a strong Israeli economy based on guns, diamonds, and security services and in spite of walling Arabs in Bantustans in the West Bank and in the KZ lager known as Gaza, they have failed. Non-Jews outnumber Jews within the borders controlled by Israel, which makes a mockery out of calling it a Jewish state.

Schadenfreude is defined to be largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is recognized as well deserved. Political Zionism deserves scorn and derision; it is racist and antithetical to what Americans profess to hold self-evident: that all men and women are created equal and that we should share equal rights of citizenship. When rich Zionists lose a piece of their portfolios, especially to the guile of one of their own, it is a delight.

The press was first to report Madoff’s pilfering of the Robert Lappin “Charitable” Foundation, an organization whose “mission is helping to keep our children Jewish, thus reversing the trend of assimilation and intermarriage.” If the reader has trouble seeing the blatant racism here, substitute “White” for “Jewish” and imagine it was the stated goal of the David Duke Charitable Foundation..

While Mr. Burston found Madoff’s bilking of “fellow Jews, even Holocaust survivors” particularly outrageous, there are those who find divine justice in seeing one fraud defraud another. Elie Wiesel and his Foundation for Humanity would certainly qualify. Here is a man who has made millions peddling his narrative on the deaths of Jews in World War II; his novel, “Night,” is mandatory reading for most high school students; questioning it in any way invites charges of “anti-Semitism” and “Holocaust Denial.” He has been feted by Presidents and holds dozens of honorary degrees. If there were a CEO of the Holocaust Industry (a term coined by Norman Finkelstein), surely it would be The Great Weasel.

Wiesel’s Foundation claims to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through programs to promote acceptance, understanding, and equality. Yet he remains persistently indifferent to over 60 years of suffering of the Palestinian people and treats them with silence or as the “untermenschen” his people once were under the Nazis. Wiesel boasts of having worked for the terrorists of the Jewish Irgun, not as a fighter but as a journalist, and he steadfastly refuses to apologize for the massacre by his employer at Deir Yassin. As a devout Zionist there is no way he can endorse one state in Israel/Palestine with equal rights of citizenship for all.

Other victims of Madoff’s deception, like the Shapiro Family Foundation and the Chais Family Foundation, are undoubtedly genuinely philanthropic and well-meaning. But insofar as their gifts support Jews-only education, medicine, and social programs in Israel, they deserve the derision that would be accorded to Aryan philanthropists or others who support a racist state, one whose very laws favor one chosen group over all the rest.

Madoff’s clients were not just generous Jews; they were Jews who directly or indirectly support the racism inherent in political Zionism. They support the assimilation of Ethiopian Jews (a noble enterprise), but reject the assimilation of Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians caged in West Bank and Gaza. They support “birthright” trips for young American Jews in hopes they will settle in Israel, but not the “Birthright Unplugged” educational trips of Hannah Mermelstein or the work of Jeff Halper’s Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions.

Madoff’s wealthy victims build ever more Holocaust memorials with the message “Never Forget” but ignore the current siege and starvation of Gaza to which they contribute financially and by their silence. Like The Great Weasel, they simply dismiss the analogy as “unworthy.” Where is the Spielberg movie of the Gaza ghetto that isolates three times as many people as the Warsaw Ghetto and in worse conditions? Where is the support for Righteous Jews like former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, who calls what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity?” Falk has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Cast in terms of their impact on the struggle for Palestinian human rights, it is difficult not to plead guilty to schadenfreude caused by the greed of Bernard Madoff. In fact, my only regret is that Edgar Bronfman and Alan Dershowitz were not among his preferred clients.

Originally posted on

“Erase My Granfather’s Name at Yad Vashem”

Jean-Moïse Braitberg Discusses Israel in Le Monde

Mr. President of the State of Israel,
I am writing to you to intervene with the proper authorities to withdraw from the Yad Vashem Memorial dedicated to the memory of Jewish victims of Nazism, the name of my grandfather, Moshe Brajtberg, who was gassed at Treblinka in 1943, and those of other members of my family who died during deportation to various Nazi camps during World War II. I ask you to honor my request, Mr. President, because what took place in Gaza, and more generally the injustices done to the Arab people of Palestine for sixty years, in my opinion disqualify Israel from being the center for the memory of the harm done to the Jews, and thus to all humanity.
You see, since my childhood, I have lived in amongst survivors of the death camps. I have seen the numbers tattooed on their arms, and I have heard the stories of torture; I have known the impossible grief and I have shared their nightmares. I was taught that these crimes must never happen again, that never again must a man, because of ethnicity or religion, despise another man or mock his Human Rights to live a safe, dignified life without barriers or without the hope, so remote be it, of a future of peace and prosperity.
Yet Mr. President, I note that despite dozens of resolutions adopted by the international community, despite the glaring evidence of the injustices done to the Palestinian people since 1948, despite the hopes raised in Oslo, and despite the recognition of the right of Israeli Jews to live in peace and security repeatedly reaffirmed by the Palestinian Authority, the only answers given by successive governments of your country have been violence, bloodshed, confinement, incessant controls, colonization and deprivations.
You may tell me, Mr. President, that Israel has the right to defend itself against people launching rockets into Israel or suicide bombers that destroy innocent Israeli lives. My response to that is that my human sympathies do not vary according to the nationality of the victims.
On the other hand, Mr. President, YOU lead the destiny of a country which claims not only to represent the Jews as a whole, but also the memory of those who were victims of Nazism. This is what concerns me and which I find unacceptable.
By displaying the names of my family members at the Yad Vashem Memorial, in the heart of the state of Israel, your state imprisons my family memories behind the barbed wires of Zionism, and makes them hostage of a so-called moral authority which commits every day the abomination of denying justice to others.
So please remove the name of my grandfather from the shrine dedicated to cruelty against Jews so that it no longer justifies the injustice being done to the Palestinians.
Please accept, Mr. President, the assurances of my respectful consideration.

A Conversation with Professor Rashid Khalidi

February 4, 2009

In this program, History Professor Beshara Doumani will be in conversation with Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi about his new book entitled Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Hegemony in the Middle East. In his new work, Professor Khalidi dissects the crucial dynamics of power in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union as it played out in the Middle East, compellingly arguing that the intense rivalry between the U.S. and the USSR in the region set the stage for the tragic conflicts that have followed in its long wake. Rashid Khalidi is Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University.

During the program, we will also hear selections from All Is Calm is the name of a music CD by young and talented Iranian artist Hamed Nikpay.

Voices of the Middle East and North Africa – A conversation with Professor Rashid Khalidi – February 4, 2009 at 7:00pm

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A Look Inside Palestine

January 28, 2009

In this  program, Malihe Rzazan speaks with Saree Makdisi, a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA, about his new book entitled  “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.”

During the program, we  also hear selections from The Wameed a music CD by very talented Palestinian musician Kamylia Jobran.

Click here to listen. 

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