Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the Thick and Thin of Arab Spring

It is not just his cultural connectedness with the Middle East but his ideological commitment to a democratic society that finds strong parallels with the ongoing Arab revolts. These parallels can be explored under the four themes of Faiz’s poetry: Youth and revolution, peace and nonviolence, dictatorship and freedom, and hope for a bright future.

It’s hard to believe, but sometimes, dead poets come back to reincarnate their world of uncompromising devotion and passionate commitments to their dreams again!

Immortal poetry has an unbelievable capacity to cross spatial and temporal boundaries. Faiz has become a universal poet not because of his romantic renderings but because of his ideological commitment to nonviolence, resistance to suppression, and a consistent denial of injustice and exploitation of the disadvantaged in every society.

It is within this context that this article attempts to find parallels between Faiz’s message of peaceful struggle and the current youth revolts in the Arab world.

Faiz had an emotional and personal bond with the Middle East. He studied Arabic with a Master’s degree and gained in-depth and first-hand knowledge of the language, people and culture of the region. He spent last years of his life in Beirut editing the Afro Asian Society’s journal “Lotus” during 1978-1984.

His last two anthologies include several poems on Palestinians and their struggle for freedom and he even proudly dedicated his book “Mairay Dil Mairay Musafir” (My Heart My Companion) to Yasar Arafat which also includes “Two Poems for Palestine.” Palestinians were so close to his heart that their miseries appear repeatedly throughout his last book including the poem “A Song for Palestinian Freedom Fighters,”
However, it is not just his cultural connectedness with the Middle East but his ideological commitment to a democratic society that finds strong parallels with theongoing Arab revolts. These parallels can be explored under the four themes of Faiz’s poetry: Youth and revolution, peace and nonviolence, dictatorship and freedom, and hope for a bright future.

Youth, Revolution and Faiz

Faiz was very hopeful of the youth of his own era and his poetry paid tributes to their commitment to resist oppression. When Faiz was in Jail in 1953, Iran was the target of an international political conspiracy where the U.S. and Britain joined hands to topple a democratically elected government of Prime Minister Musaddeq. He was ousted but young students started a pro-democracy movement throughout Iran. Their struggle was brutally crushed killing hundreds of young Iranians.

Faiz was devastated by the students’ bloodshed and wrote a poem “Irani Tulba Kay Naam” (To the Iranian Students). Symbolizing these students as diamonds and jewels, he asks the Iranian nation:

Tell me Iran,
who are these young warriors,
who’s pricelessblood was brutally shed,
in the alleys of Persia?

The Arab spring can be seen as the legacy of the students’ struggle in Iran 58 years ago who sacrificed their life for saving democracy in their country. The determination of today’s Arab youth, to free their nations from dictators and external powers, isthe same that we saw in Iran in 1953. An uncompromising resolve to restore national dignity and an unmatched determination to get rid of dictators from their countries are the same in the both movements.

Peace and Nonviolence

Faiz, throughout his poetic discourse, challenges injustice and oppression through peaceful protest and nonviolent struggle. He forcefully negates autocracy but not through violent means. His poetry is the fiery choir in low tone with a message to rise against tyrants effectively utilizing the weapon of nonviolence.

Throughout his poem “Ham to Majboor-e Wafa Hain” (I m Bound by Love) Faiz bitterly protests against brutalities of his own rulers but in the third stanza, it transforms intoa somber appeal to forgive the tyrant:

We are bound by love anyway,
and it’s fine.
Keep your sufferings to yourself.
No tyrant will again distress you,
Wash the blood off your mantle,
and let the agony go.

At the end his appeal for forgiveness turns into a recipe for love and tolerance, a trade mark of his poetic message:

True we’re the slave of love,
but my love,
who torments the lover like this?
May your carnivals endure,
but we are just a passerby,
who don’t matter anymore.
(Translated by the author)
This poem was written when his friend and the elected prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was killed by the military dictator General Zia ul Haq after a pseudo trial. Faiz, after the incident, left for Beirut only to come back just before he died in Pakistan.
In his anthology “Mairay Dil, Mairay Musafir” (My Heart My Companion) he is trying to console a Palestinian child through the poem “Phalastini Buchhay Kay Liye Lori” (Lullaby for a Palestinian Child) whose brother, sister and parents have been killed:

Don’t cry child,
your mother has just gone to sleep,
after crying,
your father has left this sorrowful world,
your brother has gone to far way lands,
to catch butterflies of his dreams,
your elder sister has left for her wedding.
Don’t cry child,
the dead sun and the moon,
are buried in your backyard,
and If you cry,
your mother, father, sister, brother,
sun and moon,
will make you cry more.
If you smile,
they will possibly come back,
to play with you again.

(Translated by the author)
Faiz, sometimes, uses two paradoxically opposed phenomena creatively-motivating masses to protest against tyrants through nonviolence and peace. He inspires his readers to rise against oppressors and then asks them to achieve this goal through peace with the same stroke of his pen.

Dictatorship and Freedom

Faiz’s philosophy of crime and punishment has never been better portrayed than in his poem “Teen Awazain” (Three Voices). To elaborate how oppression works, he uses three voices of a tyrant, victim and the supreme guide. By doing this, the poet paints a complete picture of a system of oppression.

In the first part of the poem, the tyrant reveals his own ruthlessness by inviting people to listen to his ‘eulogy of hope’ and the second part “The Oppressed” narrates miseries of struggling masses. The poem ends with the climax of “The Voice of the Divinity,” pronouncing the end fate of the tormenter:

Ask tyrants and oppressors,
to behold the slate of their deeds.
When people will rise,
there will be no escape,
from ropes and gallows!
No one can save them,
punishment and reward will be pronounced right here,
the day of reckoning will be here,
all accounts will be settled here.

(Translated by the author)

This spectacular poem not only recites the tale of Faiz’s era, it narrates the history of all ages of humanity. It is as applicable today as it was in the 20th century and echoes the story of the Arab youth, who after tolerating oppression for 60 years, finally rose to challenge ruthlessness of their dictators and successfully ousted them from power. Faiz is a poet of all ages and when he talks about oppression, he talks about the whole world, not just the subcontinent of South Asia.

Hope for a Bright Future

Faiz is ultimately a poet of hope and optimism.  He never leaves his reader without showing a glittering light on the horizon.  He always reminds them of forthcoming brighter days.
This hope for a bright future becomes the real essence of his poetic narrative.  One of his poems that he wrote in a hospital beatifically reflects his unconditional faith in optimism and hope:

True, this solitary moment is harsh for me,
but my heart,
it’s only a moment that will be over,
you have a long life ahead!

In another poem “Zindan Ki AikSham” (A Prison Evening) the poet looks for beauty from his prison window and views the trees as if they are painting on the canvas of skies. The poem beautifully ends with anindestructible faith in a bright future negating the tyrant’s will to spread darkness all over:

The glittering moonlight lays its silver hand,
on the shoulder of the rooftop.
Shining stars illuminate,
earth with blue velvet.
Bluish shadows coming down,
to reach green bends of my heart.
Creating waves of agony,
each time I remember my sweetheart,
life looks so splendid at this moment.
And those tyrants pouring poison into life,
might order the darkness,
to march to the alleys where lovers meet,
but tell me!
will they be able to extinguish the moon?

(Translated by the author)

Professor Khawaja Masood, commenting on the era of Faiz Ahmed Faiz said:

“The twentieth century witnessed those depressing moments when fascism crushed freedom of writing. Wars, revolutions, denial of revolutions, the courageous struggle to save humanity, and haunting crimes against humanity-Faiz saw all of it and he deeply felt everything.”
(Professor Khwaja Masood “Faiz, the Interpreter of His Contemporary Era” monthly Urdu journal Mah-e Nou, In the Memory of Faiz, Lahore, February 2002)

For developing nations, however, our century is not much different from the last century of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Imperialism has changed hands but its objectives are the same. Dictators now have new faces but their tactics are similar to colonial rulers. While imperialist forces were directly occupying their land then, they are still ruling through their proxy dictators. It is because of these sociopolitical similarities that his poetry resonates so well with the contemporary political climate in the Middle East.

In his poetic imagery, Faiz is seen again and again as a warrior who fights against tyranny peacefully while keeping his hope for a bright future alive. The four dimensions of Faiz’s revolutionary discourse-youth, nonviolence, resistance, and hope-seem to have remarkable parallels in the contemporary youth revolts in the Middle East.

Like a dead poet who comes back from his grave to haunt his tormentor again, Faiz remains immortal even in this century!

As he says:

When people will rise,
there will be no escape,
from ropes and gallows!

(From Viewpoint Online)

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