How do you choose to protest? Colin Lowther and Liz Waid look at Lebanese poet Yehia Jaber.
Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Colin Lowther.
And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
“Yehia Jaber is a Lebanese poet. He is well loved and very funny. When I first met him, it was his laughter that immediately drew me in. His laughter is warm. It makes other people want to laugh too. He looks like a poet. His white hair sticks up from his head. He always has a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He questions society and politics around him. He has good and funny observations of life. I immediately like his poems. They are both very funny and deeply emotional.”
These are the words of Roxana Vilk. She is a British Iranian filmmaker and artist. She wrote on her blog about meeting the famous Lebanese poet Yehia Jaber. Today’s Spotlight is on Yehia Jaber and his protests through poetry.
For centuries, poets have had a great influence in the Middle East. These artists are usually well educated. Their communities respect them highly. These poets have also had an important place during times of conflict. Their poems share ideas and protests. They write to express their anger and their joy. Yehia Jaber explains to Al Jazeera how he became one of these poets:
“Our war in Lebanon started in 1975. My life began as a political fighter and poet. And I was 14 years old. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978. So the three ideas came together suddenly: first love, then war, then reading. The three combined to create the poet Yehia Jaber.”
Jaber grew up in a small town in Lebanon. His father was a very religious man. Jaber loved his father. But they had a difficult relationship. At age 18, Jaber rebelled against his father. He became a member of the Lebanese communist party. At that time Jaber saw injustice all around him. He wanted to change the world through revolution. So he became a fighter.
Jaber saw many terrible things while he was a revolutionary fighter. And soon he saw that violence was not solving the problem. So Jaber left the Lebanese Communist Party. He decided to try to change his country in a different way. He became a student and a writer. He told Roxana Vilk:
“I discovered that war is not a real solution to change. I believe in peace. I believe in humanity. I believe that my place in this world is to be a poet not a fighter. I regret that I was a fighter and ask for forgiveness for what happened.”
Jaber had always liked to read and study. And other people encouraged him to do so. When Jaber was a young man he worked as a builder. But the other builders saw what a good student he was. They told Jaber to sit and study; they would build the house. Jaber’s co-workers and family knew that he should build up his mind.
Jaber studied until he had built something else. He now had a different kind of weapon. Jaber began to write poetry. He no longer fights with a gun. He now uses poetry as a form of protest. And he is not the only poet to do this. Roxana Vilk made a film about six Middle Eastern poets. These poets have become leaders. Their poems show people what is happening. They also encourage people to work for change. In this film, Yehia Jaber says:
“Basically, poetry is a cry of “no”. It is a “yes” for change. The relationship between poetry and protest is a deep one. All revolutions begin as poetry. Poetry is questions. Change begins with questions. So poetry and protest cannot be separated.”
Jaber uses poetry to discuss politics. He writes about what he sees around him in Lebanon. His poetry is often very funny. This sense of humour has made Jaber famous. Jaber even performs his poems as if he is a comedian - someone who tells jokes for his job. But Jaber is also saying something serious about his country. He comments on the problems of the world around him. He writes about his personal experiences.
One of Jaber’s poems is about a sad time in his life. His mother died of cancer. Jaber wanted to bury her body in her home town. But that town was across a bridge that was guarded by soldiers. The soldiers would not let Jaber cross with his mother’s body. Every day he took his mother’s body to the bridge in an ambulance. Every day he had to bring his mother back to the hospital morgue - where dead bodies are kept. This experience made Jaber very sad about his mother. It also made him angry about the conflict. His poem about it is both political and personal:
I sit under a cloud in Beirut
I am waiting for someone to wash her body
I am waiting for the soldiers to leave
I am waiting for the Red Cross
I am waiting for permission from the Israeli guard.
And my mother, like a frozen flower
Is waiting in the hospital morgue
She is waiting for the warmth of a hand
And for the touch of the earth
And it was raining, raining,
It was raining.
Many people in conflict areas have difficult experiences like this. That is why poets like Jaber continue to write about them. Poems are a way of expressing emotion. They are also a way of showing the truth of a situation. And they demand a solution to the problem. So, Yehia Jaber will continue to make people laugh. He may also make people angry or sad. But his purpose is to help bring peaceful change for his country. He says:
There is a relationship between war and words.
There is a relationship between love and words.
I choose my battle in words.
I make fire by words.
I save some people in words; make victims in words
This is my playground. I fight by words
The violence inside me will come out in words
So that there is no blood.
The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Yehia Jaber: Fighting with Words’.
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