Adonis Diaries

Syrian’s poet Adonis to Syrian President Assad: An Open Letter

Posted on: June 21, 2011

 Syrian’s poet Adonis sends an Open Letter to Syrian President

My namesake Adonis, Syrian poet Ali Hamid Saeed Esber, born in 1930 in the mountain village of Qassibin, was awarded Germany’s prestigious Goethe Prize Wednesday.  He is an Alaouit (an Islamic sect that Sunnis considered as heretic for centuries, and still do in many ways, as is the family of Al Assad in power). Actually, my dad named me after the poet, who was already famous in the 50’s.  He is thus an older version of me.

This is an abridged translation from Arabic of the open letter published in the Lebanese daily Al-Safi (sentences in parenthesis are mine):

“Neither reality nor mind believes that democracy is about to be instituted in Syria, right after the eventual fall of the Assad regime.  However, it is not admissible to accept this violent security regime in Syria.

Without democracy, Syria is going to surely head to hell.  We have to steadily inch toward democratic institutions.  Western Democracy was unknown to modern Arab States, as it was historically unknown in Arabic culture.(The closest imitation was an assembly of leaders to come to a consensus: Shawra)

The pre-requisites for stable democratic systems are:

First, taking society out of the political cultural realm of “heavenly dictates” to the “earthly individual human rights”.  Basically, we have to separate State civil responsibilities from religious dogma.  The various religious political forms of government have killed citizens, physically and mentally, according to “religious laws”.

Second, democracy needs a climate of freedom of speech, opinions, and expressions:  Small minds can reduce rich texts into nothingness.

Third, leniency in difference of opinion is good, but what is required is equality under the laws of the land in matter of human rights.  The regime Baath Party failed to tailor-make a new modern suit and was comfortable resuming the old-fashioned, archaic traditional religious custom mentalities. The regime Baath Party failed in its mission of integrating society on the basis of a secular State.

The experiences in the various political ideologies failed in the Arab World to forming a modern citizen: they identified the citizen as related to his religious affiliation or tribal membership.

Fourth, the Syrian officials have to admit that their practices and application of the better principles of the Baath ideology came very short to target in forming a secular citizen.

“The Socialist Baath Party has not remained in power this long because of the strength of its ideology, but because of the power of its iron fist. Experience shows that this fist… can impose hegemony for a limited time only. It seems your destiny Mr. President (Bashar el Assad) is to sacrifice yourself for your mistakes and to give back voice to the people and let them decide”.

What a stable government requires?

First, identifying a citizen as a separate entity of his affiliation to his religious sect, tribe,…

Second, imposing equal rights under the laws of a secular land, regardless of genders or religious affiliation…

Third, reverting the sole power of extending legitimacy to the people…” (End of quotes)

The poet Adonis has refrained from openly criticizing Syrian authorities during the uprising. But he launched a scathing attack three weeks ago on all Arab rulers as “leaving behind nothing except breakdown, backwardness, retreat, bitterness and torture. They gathered power. They did not build a society. They turned their countries into a space of slogans without any cultural or human content.”

He said the uprising in Syria would test whether the Arab revolution would succeed in building “human civic life” that rises above religion.  Adonis fears that Arab uprisings might usher in Islamist rulers: He expressed skepticism that even “moderate Islam” would offer rights to non-Muslims.

Note 1: “The selection committee Goethe Prize considered Adonis the most important Arab poet of his generation and granted him the prize for his cosmopolitan (work) and contribution to international literature,” the German government said in a statement. “The pagan poet” will receive the 50,000 euro ($70,320) prize, which is awarded every three years, at a ceremony in Frankfurt, Goethe’s home city, on August 28.  The Syrian poet Adonis had championed democracy and secular thought in the Middle East, and is still very engaged to changing political and social structures.

Note 2: The Second link is in Arabic رسالة مفتوحة إلى الرئيس بشار الأسد) الإنسان، حقوقه وحرياته، أو الهاويه ,which was published yesterday in Lebanon’s daily al-Safir.

Note 3:  The poet Adonis was educated in a French high school before graduating from Damascus University in the 1950s and moving to Beirut, the cultural heart of the Arab Middle East.  He left Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and moved to France, but he still visits Damascus.

The poet Adonis has little sympathy for theories that seek to mold the Middle East into a single Arab Islamic culture, marginalizing ethnic minorities and diversity of thought. Adonis is a self-styled literary “revolutionary”:  He broke away from traditional Arab poetry, which from pre-Islamic times, espoused simple forms and language to convey profound themes about politics, love, culture and philosophy.

Adonis wrote in “Hand of Poetry, Open the book of the Horizon“: “I think that I’m a wave, traveling, since the days of Gilgamesh (a Sumerian king who ruled more than 4,000 years ago), toward Beirut and the Arabs”

Adonis hails from a long tradition of Arab poets who have acted as a force for modernity against strict interpretations of religious texts.  Adonis insists on putting religious topics into their proper context, historically, economically, and culturally.  Even supporters find it hard to follow the intense imagery and complex verse that has been his hallmark.

Note 4: When people asks me how I happened to be named after the “Greek God of Beauty” Adonis, I tell them that Adon is a Phoenician God of the first City-State of Byblos, the husband of Ashtarout (Astarte), another beauty.  I am not that beautiful:  I was saved the aches of the other spectrum of emotions…Khaled Yacoub Oweis wrote the announcement of the award in Amman (Reuters) on Wed May 25, 2011 9:04pm EDT

Note 5:  I read this piece of news that the open letter was published in Al Safir from the link https://nabeelblog.wordpress.com/…/adonis-open-letter-to-president

Note 6: The radical Islamists, particularly the Syrian kinds, have been lashing at Adonis in every occasion since the uprising.

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