Although some readers still cannot bring themselves to believe that I am serious in predicting that the Palestinian “resistance poet” Samih al-Qasim will win the 2011 Nobel Prize in literature, the betting public is listening.
Qasim is now getting odds of 50-to-one at the British-based gambling site taking bets on the Prize. He has pulled even with Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Umberto Eco, and William Trevor (the only one of the four deserving of the Prize), but Qasim still badly trails the favorites — Syrian poet Adonis, the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, and the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. (Murakami has an advantage the other two frontrunners lack: he too is conveniently anti-Zionist.)
Last year, when I predicted that he would take home the Prize, the Argentine poet Juan Gelman came out of nowhere to get 15-to-one odds. (Mario Vargas Llosa, another South American writer, won instead.) Now is the moment to put money on Qasim. This is the year for an Arabic poet. Adonis is the greater writer, and he spoke out in condemnation of Bashar al-Assad’s regime three months ago. Even so, Adonis believes deeply that poetry must be separated from politics. Moreover, he left his native Syria for the more cosmopolitan Beirut in 1961, and when Lebanon was consumed by the madness of Middle Eastern politics, he relocated again — this time to Paris, where he now lives as an expatriate.
Qasim, by contrast, is a poet engagé:
No monument raised, no memorial, and no rose.
Not one line of verse to ease the slain
Not one curtain, not one blood-stained
Shred of our blameless brothers clothes.
Not one stone to engrave their names.
Not one thing. Only the shame.
Their ghosts are gyring even now, their groaning shades
Digging through Kafr Qasim’s wreckage for graves.
This poem refers to a shameful massacre in 1956, in which a detachment of the Israeli Border Police gunned down 48 Arabs, including women and children, for violating curfew. Although you would never know it from Qasim’s poem, the massacre sickened and outraged all quarters of Israeli society. The soldiers involved in the shooting were sentenced to prison terms between seven and 17 years. In delivering its verdict, the court rejected the defense argument that the soldiers were merely following orders. The orders, the court found, were manifestly illegal:
Illegality that pierces the eye and revolts the heart, if the eye is not blind and the heart is not impenetrable or corrupt — this is the measure of manifest illegality needed to override the solider’s duty to obey and to impose on him criminal liability for his actions.
That Israel imprisons the murderers of Palestinians, while the “blameless brothers” celebrated by Qasim prefer to name squares and streets after the Palestinian murderers of Israelis, must be too complicated to work into eight lines of Arabic verse. The Nobel Prize committee is unlikely to notice the omission, however — or to object, even if they notice.
Update: In the Weekly Standard’s blog, Lee Smith observes that “Adonis’s support for the Syrian uprising, as well as the Arab Spring in general, is qualified.” Qasim’s support for the Palestinian “resistance,” by contrast, is unqualified and unchecked.