Interview with Syrian Poet Aïcha Arnaout

By Harriet Staff

Words Without Borders has just translated from French into English an interview with Syrian poet Aïcha Arnaout, who has lived in Paris since 1978. "Last March," Cécile Oumhani writes, "she became totally engaged in the Syrian revolt, working day and night to send news updates and attend meetings in support of her people. We no longer meet at readings, only at rallies and evenings centered on current events in Syria." The interview sheds a lot of light on the uprisings:

CO: What are the specifics of the Syrian uprising?

AA: The Arab Spring uprisings are inspired by the same desires; the only differences are local. The Syrian revolution was triggered by the Assadist regime’s brutal torture of a group of children. Imitating the Tunisian and Egyptian slogans they saw on unofficial TV channels, they scrawled “down with the regime” on the walls of their school. The children were arrested and their nails pulled out. Those savaged little fingers turned a new page in Syrian history.

Despite the regime’s violence, the Syrian demonstrations are peaceful: the marchers meet gun barrels and tanks with empty hands, rifles with olive branches. Meanwhile, while occupying cities and murdering protesters, the regime claims to foster reform using the media to discredit the revolt and justify the government’s response, and calling for dialogue with the so-called opposition, in an attempt to clear itself at home and abroad among those who are still trying to make sense of the situation in Syria.

It also looks at the role the media plays in this particular situation, the rest of the world's reaction, and the role of the poet:

CO: What is the role of poets and novelists in the present situation?

AA: Writers should stand up for humanity, justice and the universal principles defining the rights of each living being to dignity, respect, and well-being. I am of course not referring to the subjects they deal with, but to their positions regarding the world, their ideas. They are free to choose any subject. The invisible driving force in their works will bear the marks of their principles. While Picasso was working on “Guernica” and expressing his anger, Matisse was painting still lifes, soothing spirits tormented by the war. Both painters shared the same views.

In the present tragic situation, poets and writers should stand by the side of the Syrian people. They should do their best to become available for those historical moments, through their writing or other forms of action. Of course this depends on each writer or artist’s personality, style and choices.

The Arab Spring offers a great variety of experiences, new and intense emotions. It is an opportunity for other forms of creation, in unison with the people. In the case of Syria, this has led to innovation. People have composed expressive songs; they have written poems directly inspired by events. Young people, in particular, have made marvelous use of grim humor and a mischievous vocabulary, experimenting with new forms of expression.

I cannot understand how some can remain silent in this turmoil. Even if they choose not to write, at least they should not hide behind an opaque wall, as if they were busy analyzing figures on a page of calculations. This is a historic moment, a moment when speech is golden.

We wonder how it's all affected her work. For now, you can read the full interview here.

Originally Published: August 3rd, 2011