The Mythology of the Tyrant and the Culture of Violence and Silence

The Mythology of the Tyrant and the Culture of Violence and Silence

In the age of ambiguity which is prevailing over many matters, the affirmation must be repeated that those of Iraq s sensible writers and artists who are really concerned for Iraq as a country and a people must be in favor of revealing its wounds, not covering them up under any pretext. Fear breeds more fear, and nothing will save Iraq from its dark night except the courage to speak the truth and stand openly against all the crimes, atrocities and major sins that have drowned Iraq in seas of blood and savagery.

The tyrant makes his people into his own kind . This frightening expression was uttered by Albanian author Ismail Kadri, one of the international writers who are preoccupied intellectually and artistically in dealing with the methods and ways of dictatorial regimes and their evil consequences. The laboratory which he used for the conduct of his experiments was his own country, Albania under its now dead dictator Enver Hoxha. Although that Albanian laboratory and its data are not different in their general indications from any other location which has been ruined by a dictatorial regime, whatever the ideological banner which it is carrying and whatever the country whose liberty it is oppressing, to say that the tyrant makes a people into his own kind is enough of an exaggeration to reveal the tyrant s total, in fact tyrannical, ability. Even the person who says it almost falls into the circle of deliberate confusion which the dictatorial regime fabricates through its media and instruments of propaganda to deepen the impression and illusion of its omnipotence and the mythology of the dictator. This is what we insist is not true, is corrupt, is wrong about the facts of human history both recent and remote. These are evidence that a dictator, at the moment when he crumbles and his regime collapses, reveals a lamentable fragility, a farce that arouses astonishment at the ability of such a dummy to terrify and enslave peoples and nations for years, even long, bitter decades.

Tyrants do not have total or legendary ability. Hence their ability to falsify and distort shrinks to the limits of changing limited sectors of peoples into shadows of the tyrant, mouthpieces of his, followers and executioners. The emptiness and cowardice of all these are exposed at the moment of collapse, which does not make an exception of any tyrant, from Nero of Rome to Ceausescu of Bucharest in our present era.

Limited sectors are distorted and influenced by falsification among the peoples in the shadow of a tyrant. This means that larger and broader sectors resist and are courageous. This resistance takes on different forms, of which perhaps the most notable and widest in its area is resistance with silence, which creates a reality known as the silent majority .

One of the most notable sectors of peoples which show resistance to tyranny is the writers, artists and thinkers, who have left an outstanding heritage of resistance to tyranny which is unique in the diversity of its methods. This diversity is almost impossible to enumerate. There is the use of the language of silence which sometimes bursts out with what is difficult to utter in words. There is the use of the language of metaphor, whose indirect allusions, figurative expressions and symbols are endless. Among these we may count famous works in our Arab heritage like Kalila and Dimna and The Thousand and One Nights, and in the world heritage Don Quixote and a huge number of novels, plays, films, canvases, poems, songs, folk songs and riddles. These almost cover all the continents of the Earth, from Franco s Spain in Europe and Bokassa in Africa to those dictators in Latin America whom we were made to laugh at by great novelists from those countries like Asturias in The Green Pope and the Nobel Prizewinner Marquez in The Autumn of the Patriarch, intense laughter that is even side-splitting! This laughter gives the lie to the absolute will of the tyrants, dinosaurs which are no more than paper dinosaurs.

So we see that the resistance of literature and art to tyranny is the most notable and obvious norm in peoples' struggles. Consequently the obedience of a handful of people who are counted as part of the current of literature and art to the will of tyrants is a kind of flagrant perversion of people who are supposed to be a distinctive elite in their societies. This does not mean making them alone bear the burden of condemnation, indeed the greatest volume of condemnation must be directed at the dictatorship and its ugliness for perverting those who are supposed as is self-evident to the aestheticism of human creativity in general.

The Arms of the Republic of Fear

This introduction and its ideas evoked each other in my mind when confronting the examination of a document of literary criticism which I came across recently, in the form of a book published from one of the places of Iraqi exile in the era of the tyrant Saddam Hussein. There are more than three million Iraqis intellectuals in particular whom the oppression and harshness of this regime has compelled to leave their country and disperse in various countries of the world. They endure distress, misery, the pain of separation from their country, moral drowning and sometimes actual drowning - as keeps happening with refugee boats in the northern and southern seas of the Earth.

The book or document is called The Culture of Violence in Iraq by the exiled Iraqi critic who now lives in Sweden Salam Abboud. It is published by Dar Al-Hamal, which was established by another Iraqi exile, Khalid Al-Jamali, in the German city of Cologne. In justification of this book of criticism, the author says, "The motives behind writing this subject are many, and foremost of them is the condition of political ambiguity in the Iraqi situation and the intellectual and behavioral complexity that ensues from this. It is an attempt to re-examine some cultural-social matters. It is something that everyone avoids going into, because of the consequences it brings in which people do not like to be involved. Or in most instances they prefer to distance themselves from them, and leave it up to those who are more eager than they to endure harm a precious few to bear their burdens.

From these lines we may draw conclusions of how far the situation has gone in the Republic of Fear , since the network has extended its evils to cause harm even to those who have gone outside its borders, if it can find a way to do this.

Although the book is confined to dealing with one of the subjects of distortion which befallen Iraqi creativity, namely the subject of war in literature , particularly the Iraq-Iran war or the so-called first Gulf war, monitoring the mechanisms whereby many creative people were distorted under this heading reveals the tragic nature of the moral even more than the material oppression. Through it some creativity and many creative people are deformed into going along with the pretexts of the dictator and his regime for continuing the futility of that war, whose paltry gains were squandered in the end with a stroke of a pen. When the dictatorship once again began to prepare itself to embark on another war, it became certain that this dictatorship can only continue under the auspices of conflagrations, wars and destruction. Conflagrations and ruin of the country and its citizens first of all, and conflagrations and ruin of whatever it could burn and in the surrounding region after that.

War as a profound human experience, because of its extreme harshness, has created in the history of literature and art epics of profound influence. Through these, creative contemplation has extended to probe into the depths of the greatest questions of existence for human beings, like life and death, love and conflict. Thus Love and Peace by Tolstoy, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Hope by Andre Malraux, Three Soldiers by Don Passos, Farewell to Arms by Hemingway, Quiet Flows the Don by Sholokhov to the end of that great list of creative works which have probed the depths of the human soul by plunging into what war and its destruction brings about for human beings. But in the shadow of terrorism by the ruling regime in Iraq internally, the ideological clamor with its narrow horizon, and the superficial, ignorant and stupid regime of corporals have excreted a so-called literature of war in Iraq the Republic of Fear, if one may call textual monstrosities thus. Since a text any text forms its writer just as the writer forms it, these textual monstrosities (which have been called a literature of war) have carried out the greatest movement of disfigurement of the creativity of dozens of Iraqi story writers, novelists and poets. This is what the book or document of criticism deals with, naming names, reading the works, with excerpts as proof, thereby recording the crime.

An harsh, trivializing authoritarian regime has set a horrifying trap for the authors and poets of its country. What was demanded of them was no less than to justify, explain theoretically and praise the continuing pursuit of violence which provides this regime with the elements of its existence and continuity. This book enumerates many bitter facts, and enumerates the tragedy of those who fell into this trap and have become part of it, and the sorrows of those who have tried to escape from falling between its savage jaws.

Salam Abboud wonders, How can a writer, who has found that war is an ugly destruction that he cannot support or accept, express himself except by saying that it is an insane, destructive and inhumane action. Such a writer cannot under any circumstance have his say in a country ruled by Saddam or Hitler, except in two ways. The first is by pretending to be stupid and writing openly, and at the same time writing his last will and testament. Or else he can be silent.

One of those who chose silence about this war is the most famous Iraqi poet Abdulwahhab Al-Bayati. He dealt with the destruction in front of him in this way, as if he did not see it or hear about it! Consequently he was not obliged to speak about it. He preferred to flee with his anthology of poems Nahwa Tawasin al-Sama in the hope that they would rescue him from the evils of the futile war which was raging on earth.

Maybe he did not like to be a hero like Neruda, Hikmet and Lorca, but he certainly knew that war, any war, is the first enemy of a poet before being an enemy of the people. He departed God rest his soul with his mouth completely clean, which is harmful to war. That is a way of confronting war, whether some ill-intentioned people take it as malicious joy or it is taken as a warning, both things are bitter and harsh.

Silence as an Illness or Trickery

Another poet, Rushdi Amil, also chose silence about this war, and withdrew from people. There was no longer anybody to accompany him in this loneliness apart from unconsciousness and illness. The regime s critics accused him of "romanticism , an accusation which was equivalent to high treason at that time.

When the poet was cornered with a question from Hawass Al-Watan magazine about his silence, he was compelled to give a reply that was a mixture of suffering dipped in silence: There are no periods of silence I have passed through, ever. Poetry is silence in its sweetest and most truthful condition. I have never been silent. Silence means certain death. Sometimes silence becomes a voice in the face of everything that disturbs people s lives. And sometimes silence becomes the freedom which a human being practises. At least this poet tried to resist tyranny and the futile war with silence, but others wrote anthologies and volumes justifying and glorifying that war instead of exposing its spuriousness and deception at an early stage, in order to preserve human dignity and cut the reckless dictatorship down to size.

What was demanded of Iraqi writers was to interpret the war not as a human impasse on the surface of whose sufferings questions of human existence are floating. Rather, it was demanded of them and of others to cheer and justify the violence with which the wheel of the rabid, insane war was turning. Some chose silence, like the two aforementioned examples. There was a third silence about the futility and harshness of this war, by getting out of its age and clinging to worlds that reject it, as did the short story writer Hamad Khudair, who discovered a special astrolabe to contemplate the world and built an observation tower through which he could look at his disgusted soul in front of him on the battlefronts and in the streets. He expressed his choice by saying, You expect me to present a vision of the so-called experience of writing, whereas for eight years (namely the years of that war) I have been living in a field of vision that has no limits of time or space to its area. Its signs are coming to me from the silence of the first caves or from the towers of ancient knowledge which surround me wherever I step and however I hold my pen.

Parallel to these mechanisms of silence, and under the oppression of a despotic regime which does not know how to act except with instruments of violence - in its various forms in dealing with those who disagree with it even in literature and art, dozens - rather hundreds or maybe thousands - of texts of stories , novels and poems have fallen into the trap. And their creative writers have also fallen into one of the most astonishing manifestations of historical deception, which has turned writers pens into butchers knives and torches to ignite fires, in order to appease and go along with the violent insanity of the dictator and his bloody regime. It is a distressing manifestation for those who are involved in it, since they are criminals and victims at the same time, victims of those who dragged them into this shameful falsehood, and criminals because of their own participation, according to the logic that texts make their writer.

Let us contemplate: Ahmad Khalaf, in his short story Point of Contact, says, I fired two shots at him, then a third, and I said the fourth is for the wife s eyes! When the blade was plunged into his chest it made a noise like a large piece of pottery being thrown from high up. Do you remember the mule which threw itself from the hill?

The poet Ali Al-Shalah, in his poem Iraq, wrote:

A homeland whose pains we do not reveal,

But we long for them.

We march according to its voice,

As it gives permission and we do not ask permission.

Who are they demanding?

The country of us all.

The gardens of paradise are granted to us

And we long for it.

We love even the thieves in it,

And the drunks, and the heat of the cells in the summer, and the whores,

And the supporters, and then the opponents, and the informers,

And those who were informed, and the prisons.

Muhammad Hussein Aal Yasin, in his poem Al-Aradiyat, recites:

We have marched to the fields of struggle, and their soil

It cheers, welcoming us and glorifying God.

And if a camp brings us together within its area,

In every pulsing of our blood there is a camp.

In Fahmi Al-Saleh s short story A Fiery Meeting: During my return home after sixty days of war at one go, my mother said to me, weeping with joy that I had returned safe, If I had known that you would suffer like this, I would have strangled you when you were a baby in your cradle!

In Abdulsattar Nasser s story In the Night of the Trench, he says: Blood flows and the corpses are still soft and delicious to the crows, the insects and the earthworms.

The poet Muhammad Jamil Shalash, in his poem The Diaries of the Wife of a Man Who Was Killed, sings:

Death is a right, Abu Luayy.

Death is sweet when it is dictated by a living appeal,

And death is sweeter

When we are called to it

By the knight Abu Uday .

The poet Adnan Al-Sani virtually confesses:

The corporal says, Death does not accept subtraction and addition.

Choose for yourself a hole the size of your hopes,

This is the age of holes .

Buthayna Al-Nasseri, in her story The Prisoner s Return, writes: "The prisoner returns to his family after an absence of more than a decade, but his son (who was brought up in the school of the front) says to him, I wanted you to remain a martyr in the eyes of my friends. How am I to show my face to them after today?

These are merely brief samples of what has happened in the field of the culture of violence in Iraq, which has been patronized by the dictatorship to justify and facilitate its own predilection for violence as a tyrannical regime which depends on the two main pillars of fascism in every age and place, namely cruelty and force. From the point of view of psychology and justification, these two pillars become killing with an easy conscience, and enjoyment from killing. If it is understood that these two pillars are necessary for the regime to continue in power even for a time, the infiltration of the shadows of these two pillars into literary expression even on the subject of war becomes the real destruction and the clearest sign of the influence and penetration of the culture of violence under Saddam Hussein s regime. They reveal the cruelty and force by which this deformed content has been inserted into the field of artistic creativity, its texts, writers, painters and poets.

It is a huge deformation and deformity, which has extended not only to the fundamental principles of human behavior as expressed by these texts and these writers and poets in terms of disfiguring and distorting human nature, feelings and relationships, it has also gone so far as to devastate the achievements of the creative process. It is a coerced distortion, and its tragedy is that it is a flight from repression by the regime to self-repression of creativity. This is a bitter tax to pay for living in a homeland which specializes in killing its people , as Salam Abboud puts it. It would have been better if he had said the regime which kills its people, indeed it is the regime which kills both its country and its people. The writers and those who appease it are saving their necks from its lethal grip by offering as sacrifices short stories and poems which justify its savagery, support it and pave the way for new tyrants to emerge.

Under a culture based on destroying conscience, artistic expression is rather like playing with poisonous snakes, according to the critic. He adds in explanation that that there is no scope for creativity, because there is no room for questioning the situation, nor is there any room for truthfulness in expressing what is happening.

In this circle of playing with snakes, purposeless writing came into being, stories and poems without meaning except glorifying the game of death directed by the gang of the riffraff, as the writer calls them. Texts were born which are crude artistically and aggressive intellectually. Literary perversions became sanctified like plagiarizing other people s models and distorting them to serve the new mouthpiece, like the incident when a story writer plagiarized the text of The Slain Lanterns of Mandali by the great poetess Nazik Al-Malaika which had been published many years before the plagiarist s text. The poetess had nothing to do with the game of inflaming hatreds which the plagiarist practises in his text, since she used to describe the historical relationship that links the two neighboring peoples, with a high degree of responsibility and concern.

What was the result of that on creative people themselves? The author answers this question with his thesis that a split has occurred in the personalities of Iraqi writers who have fallen into this trap of the culture of violence. There were retreats which were only announced after flight to distant places of exile. There were undoubtedly spiritual losses, whose symptoms were those literary images which are truly articulate documents that with complete clarity express one of the most grievous aspects of the spiritual losses of creative Iraq: Enjoyment of the logic of occupying others, and the spread of the language of conquest and extermination, were the logical prelude to justifying the occupation of the souls of mothers, sisters, fathers and sons, and exterminating them without mercy.

In Search of a Horizon

The author decides in his book to regard writers who have submitted to the culture of violence as main partners in the regime's continuing crime. And this is correct in my opinion with regard to a sizeable number of well-known names which came into prominence before and after the war, and until the crime of the invasion of Kuwait, which they played a demagogic role in justifying and falsifying the facts about it. Most of these are leading members in ruling party organizations. I can add that they were, from the beginning, a part of the secret security and intelligence agencies. At their head are names - which some still regard as patriotic and literary which played a direct part in persecuting, torturing and killing people who were important in the realm of literary and artistic creativity in Iraq. But there is no harm in us disagreeing a little with the author in that we regard the list as too long. Among these there are also victims of the regime and an involuntary and forced result of its violence and cruelty, which even went so far as to use wives and children for its revenge.

The second matter that we regard as correct and agree with the author about it is the rejection of any attempt to justify what has happened and is happening in Saddam Hussein s Iraq on the grounds that it is part of the Iraqi cultural heritage. Iraq, regardless of the continued violence, bloodshed and subjugation through which it has passed for years in succession with change in the names and types of regimes, one cannot be reduced merely to bloody liquidation campaigns between political factions and coup d etats which rely on the language of killing and murder. This language is isolated in spite of its domination and the depth of its influence. But the language which has more continuity, life and depth is the language of the Iraq of poetry, literature and art, the Iraq of Al-Sayyab and Nazik Al-Malaika, of the melancholy of song, the birds of the betrayed marshes and the canvases of skilled plastic artists. This is the language that will remain in the end after the language of the culture of violence has devoured itself, and Iraq places itself on the road of democracy and peaceful dialogue. This is coming, beyond doubt.


Sulaiman Al-Askary

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