Perceptively, Al-Mutanabbi, an Arab poet from the Abbasid era, remarked in a poem, “Wounding a dead body produces no pain” since life itself is already expired and with it all senses are gone.” The first part of the verse spoke of those who conduct themselves disgracefully then accept indignity as a norm, becoming like a lifeless corpse not affected by constant and repeated humiliation. This is the condition of the Arabs today: a lifeless corpse repeatedly stabbed and accustomed to humiliation.
I grew up in the Arab world, Jordan precisely, due to my family moving from Nablus, Palestine. War, bombings, death, refugees and destruction have been a lived experience and a reality from the first moments of my becoming conscious of the world. As an Arab, your vocabulary is shaped by the events and circumstances that surround you and provide a heavy imprint on your consciousness.
War images play nonstop on the newsreel, regardless of time and place. The stench of death permeates the air. The land itself is soaked with blood but people are in a daze and not able to stop and look at those bleeding on the ground. Reading and watching the news is like a never-ending replay of “The Night of the Living Dead.” But in the Arabic version, the rescuers, the police, the military, the politicians and business elites are themselves the killers. How does it feel to run from certain death to total physical annihilation while holding your loved ones close to your chest? How can the meaning of life be understood if only death is experienced and witnessed daily?
Wither the Arabs is the lived reality of an ancient, spiritual, generous and hospitable people reduced to being a global gas station, an obtuse source of finance coupled with senseless and obscene levels of consumption. At the same time, we have millions of Arabs barely eking out a living, used as target practice for the internal despotic state with an ignorant leadership that is in constant collusion with the external imperial powers against its own people.
Wither the Arabs marks a people that have been under the mercy of a gun for the better part of the 20th and, so far, 21st centuries. Arab is a pejorative term in today’s vocabulary and has all the negative connotations attached to it. And increasingly, members of this human group have developed an internalized sense of worthlessness inside the region and even present among those living abroad.
Pity the Arab leaders who parade and celebrate their conquerors in the streets of their contrived and utterly distorted capitals. These capital cities are evermore filled with ugly edifices designed to erase the past, cultural specificity and historical continuity, and in its place build high, empty and imitated shells while affixing statues of a dictator, king, prince or president as the only meaning to represent the nation that is made inanimate through it. What can be said if the measure of all meaning in the Arab world has become that which is meaningless and vain – a tall building, fake tree, indoor shopping mall, biggest prize for a car race, golf game or tennis match that has not a single local talent in contention?
I remember during my school years being taken out on school field trips and handed a flag of a visiting ex-colonial president or important person who had made it a point to visit so he could hand out salaries (called foreign aid) to the pitiful assemblage – that dignity for it has become a forbidden word. The fake celebrations and kids waving flags were the grotesque manifestation of the withering Arabs and symbolic of a leadership lacking the basic prerequisites to lead. Kids were made to line up for miles and miles waiting to greet Richard Nixon’s motorcade and to function as a backdrop for the Watergate investigation in Washington and the ongoing negotiations over Vietnam.
The whole country and people were transformed into cutout cartoon figures for an advertisement intended for a U.S. audience, and Arab leaders are the designated tea and refreshment servers on the constructed stage. Arab leaders feeling important and significant for being visited by the American emperor who at home already had no clothes and used these dimwitted figures to cover the plumbers and his metaphorically exposed behind.
The Arabs have become a disposable commodity serving as a backdrop for cheap laughter, scorn from friend and foe alike and piles of nameless and faceless bodies filling the land and sea. Thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe, destroyed countries and possibly 4-5 million deaths in the region since 1980 and more to come. Wither the Arabs because they are despised and forgotten in life, while their deaths function as a mere testing ground for weapons on the global market and not to be mourned or remembered.