A couple of weeks ago, I shared a train compartment from Casablanca to Marrakech with a Moroccan transport engineer, a Dutch-Italian couple, and a professor of Islamic culture back from Saudi Arabia for his summer holiday. The professor was talkative, repeatedly offering to buy everyone coffee and sandwiches. In a combination of fusha and a bit of English he went on about how people needed to know that Islam is not al-Qaeda and Da’esh, but love and friendship. At one point he asked us if anyone objected to him reciting a bit of the Qur’an. No one did, so he closed his eyes, pressed his fingertips together, and began reciting, quietly, beautifully. Afterward he asked the Dutch-Italian couple if they could feel the beauty of the language. Then, in the same voice and incantatory style, he said (in fusha) I am going to a new city. I will arrive and look for a restaurant and a place to sleep. He turned to them and asked if that felt different, but they couldn’t understand the question, and no one translated it, so we never got an answer.
It is said that Qasmuna’s father, Ismail, enjoyed improvising verse with her. One day he said: ‘Finish this poem’.
I had a friend whose rare delight,
Though it rewarded care with spite,
Qasmuna thought for a moment and replied:
One of my favourite insults to the person of Macbeth comes towards the end of the play, when the aggrieved Macduff calls out to him: “Turn, hellhound, turn!” It is a testament to Shakespeare’s prowess that even after we’ve witnessed all the atrocities committed by Macbeth, the line jars. “He’s not a hellhound!” one feels like shouting back. The insult agitates us. By then we had already tried to alienate ourselves from Macbeth and his deeds, but we’re too intimate with the depths of his anguish to do so, an anguish not mysterious and beyond our grasp, like Hamlet’s. Macbeth is well within our understanding, his dilemma is laid bare for us to ponder and weigh.
The suggestion that in reading Macbeth there are things to be learnt about Bashar al Assad, Saddam Hussein, or al Qathafi, is often laughed to scorn whenever I dare mention it in polite company. It is generally assumed that the characters of these men do not rise to the complexity and elevation of a Shakespearean villain, as if villainy excludes finesse. I am told they are mere butchers, with no depth of feeling or capacity for insight. Yet it is exactly that, insight, that I feel the likes of Saddam have, and which allows them to reign in terror for such elongated periods. One can hate Saddam and everything he stood for, but can we in good faith dismiss him as a brute, or deny his sophisticated methods of intimidation? A viewing of the Al Khold Hall footage – where Saddam solidified his grip on power by effectively staging a play, one where murder was unseen, like Macbeth, but real – demonstrates Saddam’s credentials as a connoisseur of terror. His methods of breaking the wills of men require nothing less than a terrible talent.
“Freud sees the collision between psychoanalysis and our penal institutions: ‘It is not psychology that deserves to be laughed at, but the procedure of judicial inquiry.’ Reik, in a moment of apocalyptic optimism, declares that ‘The enormous importance attached by criminal justice to the deed as such derives from a cultural phase which is approaching its end.’ A social order based on the reality principle, a social order which draws the distinction between the wish and the deed, between the criminal and the righteous, is still the kingdom of darkness. It is only as long as a distinction is made between real and imaginary murders that real murders are worth committing: as long as the universal guilt is denied, there is a need to resort to individual crime, as a form of confession, and as a request for punishment. The strength of sin is the law.”
To love two people is to have it
coming: body nailed to beams,
But loving one is like observing
I held out until fever
How long can grass
If I did not have hope
that my heart’s master’s
heart might bend to mine,
I would be stranded, no
closer to gate than home.
Poem 55 from a correspondence in translations of Ibn Arabi’s Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, between Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger. The first two translations are made independently and each subsequent rendering written after the other’s previous version has been sent and seen.
Distance, and desire ruins me. To meet
is no relief. Come or go, desire hardly cares.
Meeting him, unreckoned
things happen. In place of healing,
another ache of longing.
Because to meet him is to see
a person whose beauty grows
ever more abundant, proud.
All I can do is match my love’s ascent
To his loveliness on its measured scale.
Franco closed his eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath. He tried to calm down the storm that bullied its way into his mind. When he finally exhaled, he opened his glazed blue eyes, and looked outside at the Mediterranean waves. They clashed over and over with the solid rocks at the bayside. He pulled at the sleeves of his jacket and looked up at the makeshift clouds.
His gaze combed the mosaic floor of the open court. Today he and his beloved Saphiya are to perform a live musical recital in the grandiose Citadel of Qaitbay in front of thousands of devoted music lovers. All the profits will be donated to the Misr El Kheir Foundation and to the Syria refugees’ fund.