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    Mahinour Tawfik: “Did I say or do anything that might have been offensive or angered anyone?”

    Text: Solveig Hansen

    Mahinour Tawfik’s poem Chained Wings (The Palestinian Song) was both applauded and dismissed as promoting the Palestinian victimization narrative. Why did people perceive the poem so differently? IFLAC’s Ada Aharoni answered this and other questions in a Q&A session about the meaning and impact of peace poetry.

    It takes courage to present your poems to the world, to expose yourself, especially when you first start out as a poet. You never know how your words will be received. Will the readers love me or dismiss me? 22 year old Egyptian poet Mahinour Tawfik got a taste of the realities of being a poet when she presented us with her poem Chained Wings. It is about the life of a Palestinian who lost everything.

    “She seems to be blown in the wind, seeing things from afar, but with her wings chained. She is, in another way, the wind of change herself,” Hilarie Roseman wrote in her comment to the poem.

    Ed Leonard wrote, “The plea for peace, the lament for what has been lost, and the hunger for unbridled openness is very well expressed by this young Palestinian. I pray that all who read it can see this in the spirit in which it is given and not be clouded by anger and prejudice.”

    IFLAC Founder Ada Aharoni wrote that the poem “does not help the Palestinians to reach peace and only perpetuates their feeling that they are the only victims of the Arab Israeli Conflict,” and that the poem “only perpetuates the chaining of wings and does not free them.” “Palestinian poetry sometimes tends to victimization and to spread hatred of the Israeli ‘aggressor’, which of course does not help to create an atmosphere of peace.” Does she see Mahinour as one of those poets, I wondered, and why does Mahinour have to answer for them, and why does she have to defend her poem? Did Ada read her own prejudices into the poem and jumped to conclusions?

    Mahinour must have wondered too, because she wrote to me and asked, “Did I say or do anything that might have been offensive or angered anyone? Did my poetry invite anger or aggression that might be unethical for a poet?” And a new mail a little bit later: “My aim is peace, not to instigate any tension.”

    When I suggested to her to post these questions as a comment, she said that she did not want to invite troubles. She gave me her permission to quote them.

    In my reply to Mahinour, I assured her that there is nothing aggressive or hateful in her poem, at least not in my eyes. Nor do I see wings forever chained.

    So why these different views?

    The Meaning and Impact
    of Peace Poetry

    Ada Aharoni’s Response to Questions by Solveig Hansen

    1. What exactly is it in Mahinour’s poem that in your opinion perpetuate the victimization of the Palestinians and the chaining of wings?

    2. You said she speaks of the evil “aggressor.” Is this an anti-Semitic poem?

    3. Should I have rejected to publish the poem?

    4. While others read this poem as a peace poem, your opinion is that it does not further peace. Why do you think we see it so differently even though we all want peace?

    5. Food for thought: If we assume that the poem is about an Israeli flying over the lands, would your response and reaction be the same?

    6. You have been writing for almost eight decades. Have you ever had a peace poem dismissed as not a “proper peace poem” or for coming out of Israel? If so, could you tell us about it?

    1. What exactly is it in Mahinour’s poem that in your opinion perpetuate the victimization of the Palestinians and the chaining of wings?

    Though Mahinour is Egyptian, she deeply identifies with the sad plight of the Palestinians, and movingly describes it. However, by blaming only the “aggressor” as the cause of the “chaining” of the wings, instead of basing her poetry on real historical facts: The Palestinians refused to have a State by the side of the State of Israel in 1947, and started five bloody wars trying to destroy Israel. Unfortunately the Palestinians still throw rockets at Israeli villagers to this day, despite the Cease Fire.

    The first rule in Conflict Resolution is that in every conflict there are two stories and not only one. If we deal only with one side of the conflict, not only does it not solve the conflict but it makes it worse. Mahinour’s poem deals only with the tragedy of one side of the conflict, which perpetuates the feeling of the Palestinians that they are the only victims. Instead of helping them to see the real situation and that they are the ones who can unchain themselves by making peace with Israel like Egypt and Jordan, the whole responsibility for their chains is the Israeli “aggressor.” Though she doesn’t use the word Israeli, it is clear in her poem who the aggressor is.

    True Peace Poetry like that of Wilfred Owen, Shin Shalom, Celine Galtlover, Soheil, and Ammar (who prefers to write under his pen name – Free Pen), and many others, confront War itself as the enemy and not only one side of the conflict.

    Wilfred Owen (British Peace Poet of the First World War) writes: “If I had met the German soldier who was shooting at me, in a bar instead of on the battlefield, I would have invited him to a beer!” And in his beautiful poem: Strange Meeting two young dead soldiers meet in Limbo and ask each other: “Who are you?” The answer is: “I am the one you killed / My friend.”

    And Shin Shalom’s Peace Poem starts: “Ishmael my Brother / Till when shall we kill each other?”

    I myself have never written or published any poems that blame the Palestinians or call them “aggressors,” but have always tried to see both sides of the conflict as victims of the The greatest murderer of them all – WAR (from my poem: I Want to Kill You War!). And in my poem: A Bridge of Peace I start with two peace quotations, one from the Holy Bible and one from the Koran:

    “They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.” (The Holy Bible, Micha, 4,4)

    “He who walks with peace, walk with him.” (The Koran, Sura 48)

    My Arab sister, let us build a wonder bridge
    from your fig tree and vine to mine
    above the boiling pain of the Intefada battle.
    Salima, my Arab sister, when will we laugh again
    like two women,
    instead of weeping
    on our sons’ stones?

    In my poem To A Palestinian Student on TV I fully identify with the Palestinian student, because his pain of rootlessness reminds me of my own pain and misery when we were forced to leave Egypt, during “The Second Exodus.”

    I have written several more peace poems, as No Talking and others, in which I blame the leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, who instead of talking – wage bloody wars on each other.

    2. You said she speaks of the evil “aggressor.” Is this an anti-Semitic poem?

    Mahinour’s poem is not an anti-Semitic poem, as she does not express hatred of the Jews. Though she does not mention the word “evil” with the “aggressor,” it is clear that she is blaming the Israelis.

    3. Should I have rejected to publish the poem?

    I thank you for your intelligent questions, and am glad you did not reject Mahinour’s poem, as it has given us a chance to discuss the deep meaning of a true Peace Poem. I believe Mahinour truly believed her poem was a Peace Poem, and did not fully understand the impact it might have.

    I have often received anti-Palestinian poems submitted to the IFLAC Digest, and I have always refused to publish them as they would have increased the hatred of each other.

    Dear Solveig, I kindly suggest that in the future, if you hesitate about the message and impact of poems you receive, you may want to consult with me before publishing them.

    Solveig: I never hesitated, but let me rephrase: Would you publish it?

    Ada: Yes, I would agree to publish Mahinour’s poem, hoping it would lead to the exchange of ideas and opinions which we have had, concerning the essence of a peace poem.

    4. While others read this poem as a peace poem, your opinion is that it does not further peace. Why do you think we see it so differently even though we all want peace?

    The answer to this wise question relies on many cultural and political differences. I will briefly touch on 3 of them:

    1. Israel is the only non-Moslem country in the Middle East, and most Arab countries, including Palestine, prefer it to disappear. To this day, the Hamas Covenant, clearly and bluntly calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jews!
    2. Israel is a democratic country, and as such it represents a threat to most countries in the region. For instance, most Moslem countries do not like the fact that the Palestinian women in Israel prefer not to wear veils, and they are afraid that this would endanger the status of women and their preferences, in their own countries.
    3. When the 650,000 Palestinians fled from Israel in 1948, all the Arab States backed them and spread the story of their sufferings and uprooting, and none of the countries, including Israel, backed or spread the story of the equally painful uprooting of the one million of Jews from Arab countries who fled with only their shirts on their backs from the lands of their birth. In Egypt, Iraq, Syria and other Arab countries there had been flourishing Jewish Communities for more than 2500 years. Most of them have been completely destroyed.

    The propaganda spread about the Palestinian tragedy throughout the world augmented their feelings of victimization. The whole world has heard about the uprooting of the Palestinians, and almost none about the tragedy of the uprooting of the Jews from Arab countries, in the second half of the twentieth century. This perpetuated the “Chaining of their Wings,” instead of trying to break the chains and making peace with Israel, like Egypt and Jordan. A whole fashion of Palestinian self-pitying poetry developed under the stance of “Peace Poetry,” and it became fashionable to blame and hate the Israeli “aggressor” instead of taking part of the blame. These are only a few of the deep reasons why the reactions to Mahinour’s poem are so different. There are many more.

    5. Food for thought: If we assume that the poem is about an Israeli flying over the lands, would your response and reaction be the same?

    If the flying poet would blame only the Palestinian “aggressor,” instead of blaming the war itself, as I explained in my response before, my reaction would be the same, and I would not publish his poem. The whole point of IFLAC – The International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace – is not to praise or blame the one side or the other of a conflict, through our poetry, but like Wilfred Owen, to show the horror and “pity of war” on both sides, to both sides. Peace poetry should be written with the goal to banish war from our earth forever, and to create a better world beyond war, terror and violence.

    6. You have been writing for almost eight decades. Have you ever had a peace poem dismissed as not a “proper peace poem” or for coming out of Israel? If so, could you tell us about it?

    I will give you two examples:

    1. I was sent an Anthology collection of peace poems collected by a young Indian poet, by her publisher who wanted to know my professional opinion. The choice of peace poems she made was good, but I was surprised to find twelve of my poems among them with the name “Anonymous”! I wrote to the publisher and told him that the choice of the international poems in the Anthology is good, but that I am not “anonymous”, I was born in Egypt and now live in Israel. He wrote back to me, without apologizing for the mistake, and said that they have decided not to publish the Anthology!

    2. The second and last example (though there are many more), is that I was invited together with some other poets from Israel to send peace poems for an Anthology of Palestinian and Israeli Peace Poetry. I was glad when the American publisher told me two of my peace poems had been accepted, together with poems by other Israelis and Palestinians. However, when we received the Anthology, we got a shock! The Anthology was called Before There Is Nowhere to Stand, and it contained a Preface and Palestinian poems full of propaganda and hatred against Israelis and Israel! We Israeli poets wrote to the editors and publisher and asked them to have our peace poems removed from this Anthology which was not of peace but full of hatred. We got an answer that it was too late as the Anthology had already been published!

    Peace Poems by Ada Aharoni:

    Bridge of Peace
    Arab Israeli Student on T.V.
    Reconciliation: The Sulha Pomegranate
    To Siniora: My New Friend in Gaza

    Peace Poetry discussion and reading on IFLAC Radio on Peace Day


    What is YOUR opinion?
    The Comments field below is open for discussion.



    5 Comments on “Mahinour Tawfik: “Did I say or do anything that might have been offensive or angered anyone?””

    1. Thanks for your interesting comments and thoughts, Ada. To sum it up, in your opinion Mahinour’s intentions are good, but the poem does not follow the “right formula” for peace poems.

      I love Mahinour’s heartfelt poem as much as I love yours, and the two of you are basically talking about the same thing, but you have different styles. I sincerely hope that a young poet’s wings were not clipped. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.

      As an editor I enjoy the discussion and the different points of view, and you always make compelling points, Ada. At the same time I wish we had just read the poem “in the spirit in which it is given,” as Ed Leonard said in his comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Prof Ada
      Thank you for the clarification and that fruitful discussion, I really wish we’d contribute to humanity and Peace one day through poetry and kill war “ as you want “ 🙂 and we all do
      and I hope the whole world would listen and start thinking about a solution rather than digging the past and placing blames

      Solveig thank you for your support and making thing more clear to me
      Thanks for your faith in my voice , I hope all poets and artists of all styles around the world collaborate to end war


      Liked by 1 person

    3. Prof Ada , Solveig

      I read some of Ada’s poems and I respect and like their premise so much , their call for peace I wish she’d have a great impact on the Israeli side and I wish I could have impact on the other side ( although I am not Palestinian )
      But we all are humans and we seek to end war

      I am like Solveig living outside the tragedy
      I look at both sides from outside the box pained for both
      But I see much more pain infliction ( much more not Only ) on the Palestinian side, I am shocked by every day’s news and I can’t deny that some Palestinians avenge these tragedies ( sadly against innocent Israelis )

      I am broken by what’s going on in Gaza and the West bank
      I am broken by all the news ( Like the one I have just read that Israeli Forces went to arrest 3-year-old child , accusing him of throwing stone ) ( 3-year-old child , when I say 3 years old , I want to say baby not a child ) how can he be a criminal
      he is a baby , just a little Angel

      I hear screams , they break me
      And I also know about the suicide bombing by Palestinians and killing teenagers or innocents or placing bombs in public place I condemn that loud and clear
      You asked me if I blame Israel
      I do blame the whole world ( Including some Palestinian & Israeli authorities and my own country and the rest for giving up on the innocents , for watching humanity bleed taking no action
      I blame myself although I know I am nothing but powerless
      In that poem , I try to present the life of a Palestinian who lost everything
      Heartbroken by the tragedy of Ali Saad Dawbasha ( 18-month toddler ) who was burnt alive on 31 – July 2015 whose entire family but his brother Ahmed died later
      Ahmed Dawbasha is the only survivor
      “Deep inside I kept thinking and wondering if his death was better , more peaceful for him or his survival alone burdened by all the pain Until this moment I can find no answer
      I thought about helping him (.Ahmed Dawbasha ) anyway but I realized I could do nothing

      I thought of fundraising but the world’s fortunes can’t ease his pain
      I thought about conveying that story to the world which still I know it would never help him at all ,
      It breaks me just thinking about him or the other kids or any other innocent regardless if his race or religion
      I am not trying to place blames on anyone

      Both sides ( and the world ) are now left to blame
      I don’t want to dig into politics, all I wanna be is a voice for innocents, children , babies
      I want to fight for humanity neither politics nor territories
      I dream to save what’s left of humanity
      ( any race _religion_gender_age )
      Who are born unaware of the politics or materialism
      I am not politician but I am human until now ( I fear the time I gag my voice )


      Liked by 1 person

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