Adonis the Disingenuous! Elie Chalala

Adonis the Disingenuous!

Youssef Abdelke deserves much direct and specific language from Adonis and Khalida Said.


     There is something disconcerting about the statement by Adonis and Khalida Said which appeared in Al Hayat newspaper on July 25th. Creative ambiguity has become the trademark of Adonis's statements on the Syrian revolution. Does Adonis really believe or want us to believe that he does not know who abducted Youssef Abdelke in Tartus? The same can be said about calling Abdelke’s arrest a "political act" or "practice”! This language is disingenuous, to say the least. I agree with Ali Atassi's post that one might give Adonis the benefit of the doubt if Abdelke had been arrested in Al Raqa, Homs or Daraa.

      Even more dismaying is "intellectualizing" the abduction by invoking comparisons with the beheading of the statue of the 10th century philosopher and poet Abul Ala al-Maari. This comparison gives the impression that the abduction is an aberration rather than a daily occurrence for the regime. Some historical context is needed to educate the public. At stake is the life of one of the best living Syrian artists, a life that could be wasted like many others who have been left behind bars until they met their "natural" death. Adonis is fully aware of what happened to Abdelke's friend Abdel Aziz al-Khair, an opposition figure who was arrested last year, and according to unconfirmed reports, died or was killed while in prison. Abdelke deserves much direct and specific language from Adonis, a statement that openly calls on the Assad regime to release Youssef and all political prisoners.

     But Adonis and Khalida Said's statement raises other questions. A key issue is disproportionality between the statement and the "political act" (arresting Youssef Abdelke) which is part of the Syrian revolution. The statement addresses an "anonymous" authority that arrested Abdelke and again Adonis could not help but dance around in his language by discussing the difference between arresting a creative person and the defamation of a cultural icon like the statue of Al Mari, offering a commentary on how the arrest dehumanizes man, and how law becomes debased when the creative person is equated with the thief and the criminal. Adonis and Said also are angered by this "political act," despite all the "tragedies and calamities" happening in Syria in the "name of this great country."

     Adonis implies that Syria is a pluralist system and the Syrians are ruled by a law-abiding government, and suddenly some type of an anomaly has taken place which necessitates the call upon unspecified authority to find out who unlawfully detained Abdelke. He would present the abduction as an isolated incident, and not part of deadly pattern wherein hundreds of intellectuals have been and still are being detained in Syria. Abdelke himself was imprisoned from 1978 to 1980 (arrested along with his wife Hala Abdallah and his sister Sabah Abdelke in what is known as the May 17 Campaign; the prison experience in the Abdelke family even runs across generations, for Abdelke's father was also imprisoned at an earlier time for political reasons). Abdelke's 24-year exile in France followed this prison experience. How can it then be that Adonis and Said forget who is in charge in Syria?

    Invoking the cultural and historic becomes a distraction from the real issue — Abdelke's abduction. Recalling dark pages of Arab and Islamic history to illustrate the implications of Abdelke's abduction makes sense in some other place than Syria, but not where hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been abducted in a country that has been ruled by a military regime for almost half of a century. Adonis's attitude toward the Assad regime has shattered the expectations of thousands of his readers, who expected a much more humane response to the Syrian "calamity," especially when his position remains at odds with the most respected and legitimate international and human rights organizations.

       For the sake of brevity or political correctness, the statement does not move beyond generalities thus skipping the vital elements of the "calamity." The Syrian calamity is of apocalyptic proportions which shouldn't leave a man of Adonis's stature hiding in the shadows of words: the war has caused more than 100,00 dead, between five and seven million Syrians forcibly displaced inside and outside Syria, close to 100,000 disappeared, one-third of the country' physical structure destroyed, historic cities, towns, villages suffered the wrath of all internationally banned weapons, including chemical such as Sarin gas. For a moment, one could mistake Homs for Dresden after WW II. If all these cannot move Adonis to make a more daring statement, what could?

     I cautioned earlier against wasting time debating the "Adonisian" thesis that was popularized in Arabic to be a revolution in Alrou’ous and not in al-Kursi, which roughly means a revolution ought to be in the “heads” of the people and not the “chair,” meaning state or regime. I have already suggested that we direct our attention toward the state or the regime, and that Adonis is not and will not be the only intellectual who accommodates or befriends an authoritarian regime. I argued this approach, not a discussion focused on either theoretical issues or his sectarian background. A legitimate inquiry should be directed at Adonis's "soft" position on the Assad regime.

Elie Chalala