ArchivesSite MapSubmitOur GangContact UsHot Sites
1983-2015
tearing the rag off the bush again
Throat Song And Notes PDF E-mail
cutting the throat
utting the throat
tting the throat
ting the throat
ing the throat
ng the throat
g the throat
the throat
he throat
e throat
throat
hroat
roat
oat
at
t
Throat Song: A Threnody for Ibrahim Qashoush


cutting the throat
utting the throat
tting the throat
ting the throat
ing the throat
ng the throat
g the throat
the throat
he throat
e throat
throat
hroat
roat
oat
at
t


Notes to “Throat Song”

Note on form:  This poem is not, alas, an original construction; nor was the original written as ‘poetry’.  My poem is simply a slightly altered decontextualization and recontextualization in English of a Greco-Roman magical spell, “cutting the uvula,” written in Greek.  The translator speculates about its intended use: “Conceivably, this spell served as an amulet to heal its wearer from inflammation of the uvula.”  It was written in what is called a ‘wing-form’.  I have simply substituted the word “throat” for “uvula.” 

In this wing-form the entire phrase is written out as the first line.  In each succeeding line, the first letter of the preceding line is removed until only the last letter of the phrase remains.  This process also results in the entire phrase being spelled out lengthwise down the left margin.  The process creates not only a wing shape but also a blade shape, and in this instance suggests the drawing of the knife across the throat and the de(con)struction of speech as the throat is slit, the vocal cords sundered, and the throat dissected out. 

“cutting the uvula,” is found in The Greco-Roman Magical Papyri in Translation, ed. by Hans Dieter Betz, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992, PGM CXX. 1-13, pp. 315-316, translated by Roy D. Kotansky.  I urge interested readers to seek out this book for the many astounding things one will discover therein.

Note on content:  Ibrahim Qashoush, the Syrian poet and singer from Hama, had his throat cut out for a song.  His irreverent song, “Yalla, Erhal Ya Bashar,” “Come on Bashar, Leave,” which denounces Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, became an anthem for the growing resistance to al-Assad’s brutal, bankrupt regime.  There is a video on You Tube of a resistance rally in Hama, and a voice said to be his singing his song at the rally.  Just days later, in early July he was abducted by al-Assad’s goons, and on July 4 his body was found dumped in the river Orontes with his throat cut out.  Another video showing the head and neck of a dead man identified as Ibrahim Qashoush, clearly reveals the ghastly results of this ‘surgery’.  Contemplating this video, it becomes impossible to swallow until the autonomic reflex kicks in.  Even then, deglutition is difficult.  It comes reluctantly and with much guilt because an autonomic reflex is a sign of life.  I can still speak and sing.  I will still swallow whether I want to or not.

Reports of the facts of the life of Ibrahim Qashoush found on the Internet are much more ambiguous, yet one wants to know who this man was when he was alive.  Some accounts have it that he was a fireman and a father of three boys, 42 years old, who composed songs in his spare time.  He has been variously described as a cement worker, a second-rate wedding singer, an informer, still alive.  One article in the New York Times includes an interview with a young man named Abdel-Rahman (clearly alive and kicking), who emphatically states that he wrote the song; and he poses insouciantly in an accompanying photo.  Whether or not this man is the actual author of the song (why do I find this difficult to swallow?), I can’t but wonder why he’s apparently so lustful and desperate for fifteen minutes of fame that he’d not only claim authorship but pose for a photo circulated worldwide online and thus invite the same fate.  Perhaps someday, Inshallah, someone will tell us definitively who Ibrahim Qashoush was because the facts of his life matter as much as his death.

Even as the clinical reality of the killing resists and mocks the urge to see it as an occasion for metaphor and metonymy, its very nature immediately makes it chillingly emblematic, even the stuff of myth and legend, precisely because metaphor, metonymy, and the need to construct a satisfying (if not necessarily veridical) narrative, are fundamental ways in which the human mind makes sense of the world and the self.  So the manner in which Ibrahim Qashoush was murdered--a fiendishly depraved application of lex talionis--is a clear sign to others who would defy al-Assad, even in words and song, a reminder of brutal political reality and how cheap life is under the rule of a psychopath.  A Syrian quoted in the NYT says “They really cut his vocal cords.  Is there any greater symbol of the power of the word?” 

We agree vociferously and recoil in outrage at this savagery.  But we’re a nation of hypocrites, speaking out of both sides of our mouths because in our own society, though we trumpet our fidelity to free expression and other democratic values, life is also cheap and we silence speech and dissent in myriad ways, sometimes brutally, sometimes subtly.  The alarming erosion of the richness of the English language for debased utilitarian ends, the imposition of “Simple English” and simplistic cliché as the linguistic coin of the realm, the related race- and class-based privileging of certain modes of expression by the lumpenintelligensia, as well as the repressive diktats of the Politically Correct language and thought police on both the left and the right, are some of the greatest dangers to free thought and free expression operative in American society today.

The grisly, iconic death of Ibrahim Qashoush must be a reminder to everyone, not only of the power of the word and the human voice but of their fragility.  The murder of Ibrahim Qashoush can be seen as the ultimate sacrifice to freedom of speech, and his murder is heavily freighted with the atavistic characteristics of actual human sacrifice: in this case, the piacular sacrifice of a subject whose hubris has offended a god-king.  Catholics make The Way of the Cross and meditate for spiritual edification on the gruesome particulars of Christ’s Passion and death, that figure believers call the Logos, the Word made flesh.  In simili modo, everyone who genuinely cares about language and the basic need for freedom of thought and expression should steel themselves and watch this video of Ibrahim Qashoush post mortem, then meditate on the passion and death of Ibrahim Qashoush and reflect on what this act means in the context of the word made flesh in the here and now; and know how easy it is to cut out a man’s throat out for a song.

J.J. Phillips
Berkeley,
15 November 2011   

 
< Prev   Next >