In 1975 I left the burning city of Beirut for the quiet insanity of England. To say that short, frail and wispy, 15-year-old me didn’t fit in would be such an understatement as to be a joke. I stuck out more in an English public school than I would have had I marched in a May Day parade with the Red Army in Moscow, or sashayed the Yves St Laurent catwalk with supermodels, or hunted seals with the Inuit, or—well, you get the idea. I spent most of the time pretending that I wasn’t worried about my family back in a war zone, desperately feigning nonchalance.
I watched most of the Greece Russia without much attachment. I had no dog in this fight, not even a flea. I’m an Arsenal fan and couldn’t even sustain enough animosity toward Arshavin. I didn’t really blame him. He hadn’t shown any inclination to cover an opposing player or tackle anyone since 2008, maybe 2007, so it was my fault that I kept expecting him to. He had cost us many a game but it was Wenger’s fault that he kept faith with the Russian. One of these days, an epiphany and Arshavin would track back. Nope.
My nephew is obviously a football expert and I’m thinking he knows as much as anyone on ESPN. He should be hired even though he is in Beirut. I asked him whether Holland will win its first game, he said, “Robben is selfish.” I asked him whether Spain will win the tournament, he showed me his upper arm.
Around 8 a.m. on February 22, Syrian security forces attempting to prop up the Bashar al Assad regime shelled a makeshift media center in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, killing the American war reporter Marie Colvin and the French photographer Remi Ochlik. Four other journalists who survived the blast, including Colvin’s Irish photographer, Paul Conroy, and French Le Figaro journalist Edith Bouvier, were transported to a nearby hospital and treated for serious shrapnel wounds.
I know that this is harsh. But I use the word pusillanimous in its ugliest meaning—which is the “unmanly” meaning—especially in relation to Saudi Arabia, having stockpiled weapons and trained soldiers for decades so that by now it is the only Arab country capable of taking on the monstrous regime in Damascus … and winning. I say “unmanly” because the kingdom has done nothing of the sort.
A New Republic blogger last week pronounced the president’s foreign policy record “hawkish.” This is especially odd, given Barack Obama’s ongoing attempt at persuading himself and the world that he had altered the model of international relations so that it now worked by talk and suasion. This is probably how his enthusiasts—and young enthusiasts, especially—still experience him. Illusions die hard. But even Obama can no longer be wholly persuaded by this, his own fantasy.
Translator's note: Nizar Qabbani was the most popular and beloved Arab poet of the second half of the twentieth century. He was born in Damascus in 1923. He started out as a romantic poet, with daring poems of love and the heart’s adventures, but eventually he gravitated toward political subjects, and wrote unforgettable poems about the cultural and political maladies of the Arab world—he was a fierce opponent of dictatorship.
Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. I. Last November a protester on the outskirts of Damascus held up to the cameras a placard that mocked the people of Aleppo: “URGENT! ALEPPO REBELS—IN 2050!” It was hardly heroic, the caution of Aleppo, particularly against the background of a rebellion that had scorched Deraa and Hama and Homs and Banias and so many unheralded Syrian towns.
I. A year has passed since liberal America and the liberal opinion class, in particular, went ecstatic over the Arab debut into the modern world. I know that my standing in that class is suspect. So, being a bit flummoxed myself by the not altogether dissimilar developments in the vast expanse from the Maghreb to Mesopotamia, I conquered my doubts and made a slight stab for hope. But I quickly realized that I was wrong and left the celebration.