The Waste Land

What is that noise?
The wind under the door.
What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?
nothing again nothing.

I’ve been having the oddest response to the latest Israel/Palestine crisis: all I can do is read poetry. English poetry, American poetry, French poetry, Arabic poetry, Russian poetry, I can’t do any work, I’m barely eating, I definitely DONT’ watch the news, but I have to read and read and read or I’ll collapse. In my first SoF post, I wrote hyperbolically that my twinned soul was at war. A month later, the war sits inside me. It glares at me on Facebook. It speaks in Hitler’s voice, calling for the death of Jews. It blares at me from video screens, denouncing 1.5 billion Muslims as terrorists and child-rapers. I can’t speak–when I denounce Hitler, I’m a Zionist Pig. When I stand up for Islam and Muslims, I’m a Self-Hating Jew. So I sit in my room, protected by my headphones and my books, and I read.

You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
I remember.

I find myself returning, over and over again, to two poems: T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and Samih al-Qasim’s “وحيدا في ليلة رأس السنة” (Alone on New Year’s Eve). The two poems, dark, abstract, brilliant and ambivalent, give me no answer. Unlike the rash of Middle East experts that have suddenly sprung up on my social media (Brace yourselves! Everybody is now an expert on the Israel/Palestine conflict!), Eliot and al-Qasim offer no explanations, give no opinions, make no condemnations. They sit with their pain, allowing the reader to join them “at the full table, paralyzed” as al-Qasim writes, “tears raining down (our) skin, silence in (our) throat.”

What shall I do now? What shall I do?
I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
With my hair down, so.

I find myself repeating those lines every day, hopeless and hopeful, hair floating in the humid Rabat air. What shall I do now? What can I do now? Does my voice have any power? Is it for me to disturb the winter of my silence, that keeps me warm and safe? I recently received a death threat because of my writing on Jewish/Muslim coexistence. The Jewish Task Force posted my photograph and a link to some of my academic work, and called for me to be “gang-raped and given AIDS.”  These are my own people calling for my rape on the internet. I sit in my room, reading al-Qasim: “and I weep. What else can I do among this throng?” I tie up all my hair.

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London

I hear the lamentations, calling blood to blood, tribe to tribe. I am a Jew. I mourn for every Jewish death. I bleed for Israel, for a Jewish homeland, even though the hollow promises of the state of Israel “reverberate like broken bells, echo behind barbed wire and ovens of glass.” But a part of me is Islamicate–not Muslim, not Arab, but enmeshed in a language, a religion, and a people among whom I have lived and who I love. And so I hear the other lament–my other blood, running in the streets of Palestine, Syria and Iraq. Children who will never play again. Mothers who will never laugh again. Men who will never walk again. Unreally real, Muslim and Jew, I hear you, as hard as I try to shut you out with my noise-canceling headphones, I hear you. I hurt for you. I bleed for you. I die when your children die. I am crying as I write this.

Still these are my people
Still, these are my tents
and my blood…

I don’t know where we will go from here, my two peoples. I don’t know what wastelands we will bomb ourselves into, I don’t know what cruel months the future will bring. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing, reading my poems, an in/effective rebellion against the “unknown tomorrows and yesterdays which surround us.” But I do have a bit of hope, cobbled together from beautiful fragments. Towards the end of The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot talks about “the third who walks always beside you, walking beside you on the white road.” There is a third way, my beloved twin peoples. There is a way to reject our divisions, reject the myth of eternal enmity, to reject the tribal hatreds. I’d like to do this by your side, to walk this third way together. And I’d like to do it soon. In the words of T.S. Eliot:



Image courtesy of Flickr Commons.

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2 thoughts on “The Waste Land

  1. Interesting. What’s even more so is if you read some of Alqasim’s poetry nit knowing who the author was, you would think it was written by a Holucost survivor. Therefore, I find poetry time be the purist expression of the human experience for it can not lie nor make a distinction in this case be wen Arab/Palestinian or Jew.


  2. Walaykum assalum! Eid mubarak said!

    Thank you Abraham, that is exactly why I read poetry in times of crisis–it is the truest way I know to be human. Isn’t Al-Qasim wonderful? I truly wish he were more read by a mainstream American and English-speaking audience. Is he very popular among Arab readers?

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