Writing in an Age of Despair

During the 1973 war, many Arab writers asked “what is the use of writing?”  And what is the role of the pen in a world dominated by bombs, tanks and warplanes, which in the end control the destiny of people and the future of their children?  Today, however, the international condition is even more unfair to people suffering from wars, sanctions and official torture at the hands of ‘civilized and democratic’ states, as if the language of politics is something and reality is something completely different.

The concluding statement of the nuclear security summit held in Washington on April 13, 2010, speaks of a world which has nothing to do with today’s world in which we follow the news of sanctions they try to impose against a country without nuclear arms, while they completely ignore another country’s violation of all laws and international agreements and treaties.  The summit invited an armed country which has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, while excluding states which have signed and fully committed to it, with inspectors monitoring their activities.

The statement called for “facilitating international cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear energy”.  If that is the case, why propose sanctions against Iran, which abides by international monitoring standards, while sanctions are not imposed on another country which has developed nuclear technology for military purposes?   If the objective is the establishment of real nuclear security, then why tolerate an aggressive occupying country which possesses nuclear warheads and refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty.

The language of the statement is vague to the extent that you need to reread every item several times without ever arriving at the real.  So, what is the point of writing, if the tyrants of the world are manipulating language in order to cheat people and falsify facts, using an obedient media machine?   The statement confirmed the use of double standards in Western policies.  It carries the sword of terrorism against Muslims, invoking “the possibility of terrorists [Islamic terrorists of course] possessing this dangerous weapon” and using it to terrorize and blackmail the world.   Signatories to the statement have refused since 1986 to put an internationally accepted definition of terrorism in order to keep the term a flexible instrument in the hands of those who want to use it at the right time and place and make it convenient for the powerful to use against the weak.

While Shimon Peres was lecturing about Islamic nuclear terrorism, his occupation authorities were expelling 70,000 Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank, in an operation of ethnic cleansing greeted in total silence by the ‘civilized’ world.  Here again, the language used drives one to desperation.  Reactions vacillated between “criticizing” the decision and “calling” for its rescission, and for “using sense”.

Had any other country made the slightest injury to innocent civilian populations, it would have deserved a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7.  Iraq, for instance, and despite the war waged on it and the foreign occupation since 2003, is still under such a decision.  What is the point of writing, when the West still holds to such shameful positions regarding human rights in Palestine?   The language made a dominant use of the passive voice, so The Sunday Times headline on April 12, 2010 reads: “Mass deportation feared after West Bank permit ruling” By whom?  In the body of the article, fears and concerns are attributed to human rights groups: “The Israeli army is to enact a ruling that could leave tens of thousands of Palestinians vulnerable to deportation from the West Bank, human rights groups have claimed”. The news disappeared completely from TV news and newspapers after a few days and the Palestinians are left to their destiny.

And despite the gravity of the situation, 76 Senators called on President Obama “not to change his policy towards Israel” which means not taking any step which might ‘annoy Israel’ despite all the crimes it is committing.   The new refrain now is establishing the principle of ‘land swaps’ in proposed solutions and creating a disarmed Palestinian state with no right to Jerusalem and without any discussion of the return of the refugees.  In the proposed American peace plan, which some consider to be a hope and a promise, “discussion of the refugees and the old part of Jerusalem will be put off, borders will be based on the 1967 borders and agreeing on territorial swaps, taking into account new fact on the ground”.

The term ‘territorial swaps’, which the Israelis  introduced to the settlement dictionary about a year ago, aims at legally establishing stealing Palestinian water and fertile land.  The ‘facts on the ground’ phrase means recognizing all the expulsions, displacements, settlements and thefts of land and water that Israel has perpetrated.  Here are East Jerusalem settlers evacuating Palestinians from their homes claiming that their right to these houses is stated in the Torah (see Yediot Ahronot, April 7, 2010).

Does not all of this lead to despair about the role of  the international community, the United Nations and of international resolutions and legality?  Does not that lead one to lose interest in listening to news and to peace initiatives based on imposing de facto solutions with the force of arms?  Is there a point in writing in this age of Arab weakness?

US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, ignored all the crimes Israel has committed and called on the Arabs to “support the Arab peace initiative by deeds not words,” thus confirming her position that it is Arabs who do not want peace not the Israelis, and as usual stressing ‘Israel’s security’ which is not threatened by anyone; while reality shows that Israel threatens Palestinians’ security.  She spoke about the right of Israelis and Americans “to live without fear”.  What about the Palestinian people?  Do not they have the right to live in freedom and dignity and without fear, without daily killing and displacement?

President Obama, who made effusive promises in his first speeches, expressed his determination to “put equal pressure on the Israelis and the Palestinians”, only to back down quickly because “they are not ready to put an end to the conflict regardless of the amount of pressure Washington brings to bear on them”.  Thus, President Obama equates the killer and the victim, the aggressor and those who are on the receiving end of aggression.   If there is any role for writing, it should be to expose the false language used to impose injustice on the Arabs and create false positions, and to show the official adoption of hypocrisy in international relations.

BOUTHAINA SHAABAN is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has been the spokesperson for Syria and was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through nizar_kabibo@yahoo.com



Bouthaina Shaaban is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has been the spokesperson for Syria and was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through nizar_kabibo@yahoo.com