By: Tareq Azizeh
The recent polarized debates and discussions regarding Lebanese poet Saeed Akl on the occasion of his recent passing, despite all inherent contradictions, were far from suprising. The man had, throughout his long career spanning decades, not only surprised the public by his exquisite poetic output, but also with his many outlandish hyperbolic displays and extreme positions.
Saeed Akl's poetry indeed represents some of the finest ever written in the Arabic language—classic or vernacular. His Damascene verses immortalized by [Lebanese diva] Fairuz, have become indelible marks of art, as is his poem "Yara" and her blond braids. However, this article will not address his poetic prowess and creativity; it will rather focus on one of the most extreme and racist phenomena emerging from the Lebanese War, on which Akl left his mark, and which became an integral part of his persoanl history.
Two days after the "Ayn Rummaneh" Bus incident [Where a bus boarded by Palestinian Fedayeen passing through a Christian quarter was gunned down, thus, according to many accounts, starting the 16-year Lebanese War], effectively pronounced the establishment of the "Guardians of the Cedars." This organization is a product of the marriage between poet Saeed Akl's and Maronite poltician Etienne Saqr's ideas. Saqr came to prominence through the "Nationalist Union of Lebanese Students" as a propaganda and military training official. His group became active in Ashrafieh [in predominantly Christian East Beirut] shortly before the war as the "Protectors of the Cedars" at first, until the official announcement of the organization's establishment, on April 15, 1975.
That date, for the "Guardians of the Cedars," represents the anniversary of the start of what they call "the Lebanese resistance against the genocidal war waged by the Palestinian refugees, and leftist and Arabist mercenaries, against Lebanon and its people." Notwithstanding their limited influence on the military fronts, they more than compensated in their extreme practices and slogans. One of these slogans read: "Not one Palestinian shall remain in Lebanon," and another read: "Every Lebanese should kill at least one Palestinian."
They were also known as the "Lebanese National Movement," and Akl's intellectual influences and ideas clearly figured in their literature. for example, the claim that Lebanon had been a distinct nation for thousands of years, and that Arabism was a lie and a threat to Lebanon. Also, the claim that the Lebanese speak a special brand of Lebanese "Phoenician" and should, once and for all, end the linguistic "duplicity" of a spoken versus written language. They should use write in the spoken vernacular, using an non-Arabic alphabet. The Lebanese question is an independent, stand-alone issue, not in any way connected to any other issue. Finally, the claim that the barrier separating Israel from Lebanon is merely a recent creation; an artificial barrier, that should be removed without hesitation.
Turning the above position into actual policy did not take long. In late July 1976, Etienne Saqr [Nom-de-Guerre: "Abu Arz" (Father of Cedars)], in his capacity as the military commander of the Guardians of the Cedars, issued a statement explicitly requesting "the assistance of the State of Israel against the evil forces that are still battling the Lebanese for the past 15 months, unremittingly causing their desolation and destruction." He considered Israel a friend of Lebanon, as of that moment, stressing the Guardians' hope to receive aid "militarily, financially, and economically... And they [the Israelis] will have our sincere thanks, in advance."
It, therefore, was only natural that the "Guardians" welcomed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982. It even reached the point where Abu Arz boasted of his and his movement's involvement in the massacre of Sabra and Shatila. He stoutly defended the perpetrators, stating that "we have the full right to deal with our enemies in Lebanon in whatever manner we see fit. This is an internal affair; stop meddling."
Saeed Akl, the poet of the Cedars and grand ideologue of its "Guardians," on the other hand, made an appearance in an interview with Israeli television during the 1982 invasion. In it, he famously procalimed Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin a "hero," asking him to pursue the "cleansing" of Lebanon up to the last Palestinian; expressing that he would be "despondent, if this task has failed to be achieved!" Not only that, but he also pronounced his thanks to the Israeli army, and his happiness for its ridding Lebanon and the entire world of this "filth called the bloody Palestinian racism!" The "poet" concluded by calling for the head of anyone who even dares call the Israeli army an army of invasion, to be cut off; stressing "on behalf of all of Lebanon," that it actually was "an army of salvation."
In conclusion, be it Saeed Akl or anyone else, if it is logical not to confuse poetry with the views of the poet and his political positions; then, consequently, we cannot assume a position vis-à-vis poetry depending on the political ideas or positions of the poet. Accordingly, poetry should not obscure all else, or become the unique dimension by which its author is viewd or identified. No part of the poet's history or failings should be overlooked or ignored, simply on account of the beauty of his poetry.
* Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Rozana.