Book Review: Kill Khalid

kill khalidIt happened quickly. On a lazy Thursday afternoon, somewhere in Amman’s Tla Al Ali district, Hamas leader Khalid Mishal saw nothing more than a blur of movement as he emerged from his car only to be faced with two unknown assailants. The sound of an explosion nearby, a tussle of activity as Mishal’s driver, Abu Maher lurched at the would-be attackers, and a whirling sound in Mishal’s ear, was all it took. One of the attackers hurled a coca cola can at Abu Maher before both fled the scene, heading for a getaway car a few meters away. Mishal’s men gave chase, and in what unfolded like the typical plot of a James Bond film, the amateur assassins were eventually pinned down. Initially believed to be a failed assassination, Mishal and his men would soon discover otherwise as the Amman-based Hamas leader grew suddenly sick only several hours after the attack. He had been poisoned. Mossad’s head, David Yatom rushed to Amman hours later, as Mishal lay in a hospital bed, to tell the late King Hussein one simple fact: “We did it. He’ll die in 24 hours. We sprayed him with a chemical. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

While such a scene may be easily mistaken to be the climax of this tale, war correspondent and Australian journalist, Paul McGough cleverly weaves together a story filled with intrigue that would rival the best of modern day thriller novels. The only difference is, this tale is true. In Kill Khalid, McGeough tells not only the story of Khalid Mishal’s brush with death in 1997, but that of his life as well. From his birth in Palestine to his upbringing in Kuwait and the rapid development of his political and religious beliefs during his university years, it is perhaps somewhat significant that Mishal’s life fit within the context of its single most defining event that could have meant his demise but, instead, became his power chip, elevating him to unprecedented stature in the Middle East political game.
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Book Review | “If I Were Another” By Mahmoud Darwish

mahmoud darwish poem poetry poet if i were another bookI read “If I Were Another”, a collection of beautiful poems by Darwish some time ago. The collection was released in 2009, and having purchased it in Beirut back in December, I thought today, the day that Darwish left us some two short years ago, was a symbolic day to retrieve it from my bookshelf and review it. Well, not really review it. I hate reviewing poetry books. My love for the art doesn’t allow me to do so subconsciously. And I have to much respect for someone like Darwish to dare slap that label on it. So call this more of an attempt to share a piece of his work.

To begin with, I’ve always found Darwish’s poetry in the original Arabic to be musical, but even in their English form they seem to resonate a certain honesty in his storytelling that made him such a rich writer. Fady Joudah, who translated “If I Were Another”, writes an interesting observation in the book’s introduction describing the work. Joudah writes:

“A consumate poet at the acne of innermost experience, simulteansously personal and universal, between the death of language and physical death, Darwish created something uniquely his: the treatise of a private speech become collective.”

I absolutely love that last sentiment: a treatise of a private speech become collective. That’s exactly what made Darwish’s poem speak so loudly to so many people, whether they were inherently part of the struggle from which he was born, or simply bystanders window-shopping on the avenues of an ongoing history. Darwish’s poems were like private conversations that one might whisper to oneself in a reminiscent state, but he gave these very conversations a collective voice.

“If I Were Another” brings together some of Darwish’s most interesting works from the past two decades, including the memorable Mural. Each poem is an epic unto its own, and the book illuminates short pieces like “A Music Sentence” simultaneously with the detailed prose of pieces like “The Tragedy of Narcissus”, all in one breath. Who am I? – the recurrent question in many of Darwish’s later poems is scattered throughout: “Who am I after the strangers night? / I used to walk to the self along with others, and here I am losing the self and others”.

But it is perhaps the lengthy Mural, written after his first encounter with death, that perhaps resonates the loudest on a day like today. A sad tale of self-exploration, Darwish tries to find some reconciliation in the journey to self:

Who am I?
The Song of Songs
or the university’s wisdom?
Both of us are me…
and I am a poet
and a king
and a sage on the well’s edge,
no cloud in my hand,
no eleven planets
on my temple,
my body is fed up with me,
my eternity is fed up with me,
and my tomorrow
is sitting on my chair
like a crown of dust.

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