— Agha Shahid Ali reading “Of It All”
I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.
God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.
Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.
Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.
He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.
He had friends,
and they pledged him in the evening of his sorrow
not to turn him over to the soldiers
or to deny him when
he was summoned by the king.
And one turned him over
for a handful of silver
then committed suicide
and by another he was denied
three times before dawn broke
and once he had died his lips
could smile again, and then
he went on his way evangelizing,
boasting that he had known him,
and fished blessings by baptizing
in his name.
The Palestinians today are drowned in a world of predestination. It looks and feels like the fight to defend their issues is not a choice they have made, but rather a call they have followed blindly. Those who have chosen not to follow that call as it is, or heard it differently, consciously or not, are considered out of tune (not to say labeled with the most horrid qualities).
There is no doubt that Palestinians have the absolute right to fight for their dignity and freedom (what is the meaning of life without dignity and freedom?) But to take to the streets without a real awareness of your purpose or a clear strategy of what it would take to achieve it is suicide.
You said: I’m still here. I just don’t know what to say. But two weeks later, you were gone. And now I sit, words turned stale upon the page. Seems I’ve been here for months, rending sentences into syllables. Senseless. Torn and patched in vain.
I’m still here and you’re still gone.
You said: I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to live. But we didn’t want to hear, for fear your fear would unmask our own. We left you to your silent pain—let it erode the edges of your reserves, like waves, ceaseless, beating the shore—bruising, breaking your brash, butch swagger. Leaving fragments and splinters of you.
Bewildered, bipolar & blue.
A few days after you proposed that I write you this letter, a man was killed, his execution public enough that despite the five thousand miles between us we both could look on. This man, a journalist, had once been captured in Libya, then released, then was captured anew in Syria in 2012, this captivity ending in death. He was American, from New England as I am, he and I earned the same degree from the same university, enough years between us that I did not know him, though we each or both passed years among the low mountains and rising rents of Western Massachusetts, the grave of Emily Dickinson (called back, May 15, 1886) that even if one never bothers to walk behind the hair salon and the Nigerian restaurant to visit it serves as heart, destination of a pilgrimage one imagines.
The video his killers posted online may or may not in fact include the moment of his beheading, but confirms beyond doubt its occurrence. Here, we call the group who killed James Foley ISIS: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; or Iraq and al-Sham; or simply—months pass and the name grows more ambitious—the Islamic State. We’re told that the caliphate they envision stretches from the coast of Syria to Iraq’s eastern border. I had thought that Foley was taken from an internet café, but an article I just glanced at says something about a car being stopped, how men with Kalashnikovs forced him out of the car. If I were to tell the story in a novel, he would be in an internet café, sending as though it were nothing the story of one land and its wars to another, to a land whose replies are silent until the missile drops out of the sky.