December 11, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5902

Iraqi Poet Kazem Al-Hajjaj: Would That Qatar, Who Sends Terrorists To Iraq, Disappear From The Face Of The Earth

December 11, 2014
Iraq, Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 5902

On October 14, 2014, a poetry conference was held in the Iraqi city of Basra, attended by hundreds of Arab and Iraqi poets, writers and critics. One of the participants, a well-known poet from Basra named Kazem Al-Hajjaj,   presented a provocative qasida titled "The People of Basra," in which he mourned for the rich cultural and intellectual past of the city, and of Iraq in general. Clearly describing himself as a secular man who "has never fasted more than a few hours" in his life, because he despises "the degradation of starvation, even for the sake of Paradise," he expressed appreciation for art and culture, both local or global, and contempt for the religiosity that is sweeping Iraq and which, he said, breeds violence and terrorism. In the poem he also expressed a wish that Qatar would vanish from the face of the earth for sending terrorists to Iraq.

The poem, which was published in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Haqiqa, elicited an angry response from Iraqi columnist Daoud Al-Basri. Writing in the Qatari daily Al-Sharq, Al-Basri called Al-Hajjaj "a small and unsuccessful Iraqi poet" who had "served as a hollow drum for the Ba'th regime," and claimed that, "instead of criticizing the failing and thieving [Iraqi] governments, [Al-Hajjaj had] directed his fury at an Arab country [i.e., Qatar] that would never harm Iraq or its people..."[1] Regardless of this harsh response in a Qatari paper, it seems that the qasida did not cloud the relations between the two countries, as evident from the fact that, a few days after its publication, Qatari Prime Minister 'Abdallah bin Nasser Al-Thani promised Iraqi Interior Minister Muhammad Salem Al-Ghabban, who was visiting Doha, to launch a new era of constructive cooperation between the two countries in all domains, especially the security domain.[2]

The following is a translation of the qasida.[3]

Kazem Al-Hajjaj (image: Al-Bayan, UAE)


No harbor overlooks the desert

Rather than the sea

Except this harbor!



We have no need for angels to descend once again.

This soil is sufficiently sated with hunger and blood

We ask you [the heavens] for rain, nothing more!


Yesterday I wished for death

I entered my caf├® and nobody recognized me

And I - I did not recognize anybody in my caf├®.

Let me repeat that: in my caf├®!

We have all become foreigners, and exile is a living death!

Each of us in his own grave, there is no grave for two!

And so

I asked in my will to be buried - alive or dead -

In the Hassan Al-Basri cemetery[4]

Not 'over there' [in Paradise]

For we people of Basra are afraid of exile

Even after death!

In one of my dreams God gave me a choice: to erase from the face of the earth

One of the two: either Holland or Qatar!

And I, without batting an eyelash, spared Holland,

For it has graced human eyes with three eternal and colorful treasures:

Rembrandt, Van Gogh and the Iraqi Sattar Kawoosh.[5]

Furthermore, Holland has never sent us a single Dutch terrorist by registered mail!


 Do not weep, o mother of the murdered

For we are not sufficiently alive

to mourn the dead!


My exhaustion is not conducive to labor

I -my profits are vast, as are my losses!

O Lord of the Worlds!

How we poets, since childhood,

Have rejected the hideousness of the world!


I have never fasted more than a few hours in my life.

I have never completed a day of fasting,

For I cannot abide the degradation of starvation, even for the sake of Paradise!

Nor will I tolerate the humiliation of eating 'over there' [in Paradise]!

Namely eating unearned [food] while others look on,

Like a prisoner!


I fear no judge, for I am my own court:

I awake in the middle of my night's sleep to bemoan the errors of my day!


And I am known in Basra from my youth

I was the thinnest and scrawniest of the young.

In Basra, since the days of Jahiz,[6] there are two:

A palm tree and a thin man. Until now!



O Rushdi Al-'Amil,[7] O... [the poet invokes 28 other Iraqi poets and thinkers who have died, and asks:]

Why have you died and reduced our numbers compared to those others?

We were a minority to begin with!




[1] Al-Sharq (Qatar), November 3, 2014.

[2], November 6, 2014.

[3] Al-Haqiqa (Iraq), October 29, 2014.

[4] Hassan of Basra (642-728) was a well-known Muslim preacher, theologian, and scholar of Islam. The cemetery named after him is located near the city of Basra.

[5] A contemporary Iraqi painter who lives in the Netherlands.

[6] Scholar and writer from Basra (d. 869).

[7] A 20th century Iraqi poet.

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