The poet Ali Ahmad Sa'id (b. 1930), known by his pseudonym "Adonis," a 2005 candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, left his native Syria for Lebanon in the 1950s following six months' imprisonment for political activity. In 1973, he received his Ph.D. from St. JosephUniversity in Beirut; in 1985, he settled in Paris, where he now works as a writer and literary critic. Among other occupations, he has edited the modernist magazine Mawaqif (Viewpoints), and translated some of the great French poets into Arabic.
The following are excerpts from interviews with Adonis, which aired on ANB TV on November 26, 2006 and on Dubai TV on March 11, 2006.
November 26, 2006 Interview
TO VIEW THIS CLIP: http://memritv.org/clip/en/1335.htm .
Adonis: "The difference between Europe and the Islamic world is in quality, not in degree. What I mean is that the Christian view of the world is not political, but humanistic. It is human beings who are the basis for politics.
"A Christian has great liberty to separate his religious faith from his political activity. The mistake committed by the Church in the Middle Ages was rectified - obviously after a struggle and violent revolutions - and political rule was entirely separated from politics..."
Interviewer: "From religion..."
Adonis: "From religion, sorry. In our case, political rule was based... Ever since the struggle over who would inherit Prophet Muhammad's place, political rule was essentially based on religion."
Interviewer: "But there were great revolutions in the Arab and Islamic world. Take, for example, the ideology of Arab nationalism. This ideology may be connected with Islamic culture, but it is still a man-made ideology."
Adonis: "But the ideology of Arab nationalism, in all its forms, is a religious ideology, in the sense that it has never raised any cardinal question concerning religion."
"The Arabs have managed to turn democracy or the revolution into a dynastic or monarchic regime, which is handed down. Most Arab regimes are monarchic regimes, one way or another."
Interviewer: "Including the republics..."
Adonis: "Especially the republics. In my opinion, while it is true that colonialism has played a role, and the wars with Israel have played a role, the greatest responsibility is, nevertheless, on us Arabs."
"The Arab individual does not elect from among people of different opinions who represent different currents. The Arab is accustomed to voting according to pre-determined concepts. Whoever represents this pre-determined concept... The nationalist will vote for a nationalist, and the communist will vote for a communist. These are all types of religious sects. The tribal and sectarian structure has not disintegrated, and has not melted down into the new structure of democracy and the democratic option."
"There can be no living culture in the world if you cannot criticize its foundations - the religion.
"We lack the courage to ask any question about any religious issue.
"For example, as a Muslim, I cannot say a single word about the Prophet Moses.
"The Prophet Moses did not say anything to me as a Muslim, whereas the Israeli Jew can criticize Moses and all the prophets in the Torah, and he can even question the divinity of the Torah."
"We, in Arab society, do not understand the meaning of freedom. We say that freedom means writing an article. Freedom is much deeper than that."
Interviewer: "Even writing an article is not possible."
Adonis: "True. Arab society is based on many types of invisible slavery, and the ideology and political rule conceal them with worthless slogans and political discourse. The underlying structure of Arab societies is a structure of slavery, not of liberty."
March 11, 2006 Interview
TO VIEW THIS CLIP: http://memritv.org/clip/en/1076.htm.
Adonis: "Words are treated as a crime today. Throughout history, there has never been anything similar to what's happening today in our Arab society - when you say a word, it is like committing a crime."
Adonis: "Words and opinions are treated as a crime. This is inconceivable."
Interviewer: "You can be arrested for writing an article."
Adonis: "That's one example."
"In the Koran itself, it says that Allah listened to his first enemy, Satan, and Satan refused to obey him. I believe that Allah was capable of wiping out Satan, yet He listened to Satan's refusal to obey Him.
"At the very least, we demand that Muslims today listen to people with different opinions."
Interviewer: "How do you view the plan for democracy, the 'Greater Middle East' plan?"
Adonis: "First of all, I oppose any external intervention in Arab affairs. If the Arabs are so inept that they cannot be democratic by themselves, they can never be democratic through the intervention of others.
"If we want to be democratic, we must be so by ourselves. But the preconditions for democracy do not exist in Arab society, and cannot exist unless religion is reexamined in a new and accurate way, and unless religion becomes a personal and spiritual experience, which must be respected.
"On the other hand, all issues pertaining to civil and human affairs must be left up to the law and to the people themselves."
Interviewer: "Mr. Adonis, how do you view the democracy in Palestine, which brought Hamas to power?"
Adonis: "I support it, but I oppose the establishment of any state on the basis of religion, even if it's done by Hamas."
Interviewer: "Even if it liberates Palestine?"
Adonis: "Yes, because in such a case, it would be my duty to fight this religious state."
Interviewer: "What are the reasons for growing glorification of dictatorships - sometimes in the name of pan-Arabism, and other times in the name of rejecting foreigners? The glorification comes even from the elites, as can be seen, for example, in the Saddam Hussein trial, and in all the people who support him."
Adonis: "This phenomenon is very dangerous, and I believe it has to do with the concept of 'oneness,' which is reflected - in practical or political terms - in the concept of the hero, the savior, or the leader. This concept offers an inner sense of security to people who are afraid of freedom. Some human beings are afraid of freedom."
Interviewer: "Because it is synonymous with anarchy?"
Adonis: "No, because being free is a great burden. It is by no means easy."
Interviewer: "You've got to have a boss..."
Adonis: "When you are free, you have to face reality, the world in its entirety. You have to deal with the world's problems, with everything..."
Interviewer: "With all the issues..."
Adonis: "On the other hand, if we are slaves, we can be content and not have to deal with anything. Just as Allah solves all our problems, the dictator will solve all our problems."
"I don't understand what is happening in Arab society today. I don't know how to interpret this situation, except by making the following hypothesis: When I look at the Arab world, with all its resources, the capacities of Arab individuals, especially abroad - you will find among them great philosophers, scientists, engineers, and doctors. In other words, the Arab individual is no less smart, no less a genius, than anyone else in the world. He can excel - but only outside his society. I have nothing against the individuals - only against the institutions and the regimes.
"If I look at the Arabs, with all their resources and great capacities, and I compare what they have achieved over the past century with what others have achieved in that period, I would have to say that we Arabs are in a phase of extinction, in the sense that we have no creative presence in the world."
Interviewer: "Are we on the brink of extinction, or are we already extinct?"
Adonis: "We have become extinct. We have the quantity. We have the masses of people, but a people becomes extinct when it no longer has a creative capacity, and the capacity to change its world."
"The great Sumerians became extinct, the great Greeks became extinct, and the Pharaohs became extinct. The clearest sign of this extinction is when we intellectuals continue to think in the context of this extinction."
Interviewer: "That is very dangerous."
Adonis: "That is our real intellectual crisis. We are facing a new world with ideas that no longer exist, and in a context that is obsolete. We must sever ourselves completely from that context, on all levels, and think of a new Arab identity, a new culture, and a new Arab society."
"Imagine that Arab societies had no Western influence. What would be left? The Muslims must..."
Interviewer: "What would be left?"
Adonis: "Nothing. Nothing would be left except for the mosque, the church, and commerce, of course."
"The Muslims today - forgive me for saying this - with their accepted interpretation [of the religious text], are the first to destroy Islam, whereas those who criticize the Muslims - the non-believers, the infidels, as they call them - are the ones who perceive in Islam the vitality that could adapt it to life. These infidels serve Islam better than the believers."