Daily Archives: 11 September 2006

Auden on Yeats in 1939 Inspires Somali in Canada in 2003

W. H. Auden seems a favorite poet to quote in these dark times. Google returns over 500 links to the memorable line “Each sequestered in its hate” from Auden’s poem “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” who died in 1939. The poem begins:

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

But the most oft-cited verses seem to be the following.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from each human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Now compare Auden’s words with a eulogy for the Somali exile Hussein Afrah Sheengiyale (d. Jan 2003):

Hussein Afrah Sheengiyaale died in the dead of winter
Earth, receive an honored Somali guest
Hussein Afrah Sheengiyaale is laid to rest
In this alien snow
In this old cold exile
In this old cold Canada …

All the crazy clans cower & wait
Each sequestered in its hate
Woefully arrogant
Willfully ignorant
That today
An important Son of Somalia died
In old cold Canadian exile
That every day
Thousands of Somalia’s best & the brightest
Languish
In anguish
Shivering
In this old cold Canadian exile

According to banadir.com, Norway (another cold country) is now forcing Somalis to return to their homeland.

The authorities in Norway, which has about 17000 Somali refugees and asylum seekers, have decided to return 400 whose asylum applications have been rejected. In fact, after a long period when Somalis were not returned to Southern Somalia, the changed situation in Mogadishu, including the opening of the airport, has given them the idea that it is now safe to return people there.

UNHCR has strongly advised against it, and other Scandinavian countries are not doing the same, preferring to wait and see.

Norway, which likes to be seen as a humanitarian nation, with peace-keepers and conflict solvers in many countries, is now practising a very strict policy in the case of Somalis.

This has caused a lot of debate and uproar. One party in the coalition government, the Socialist Left party, has condemned it, the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers, NOAS, is protesting, as is the Norwegian Refugee Council, and all major newspapers are daily writing about the situation. In fact, since this became known, the UNHCR has made a special appeal to the government, warning of the dangers of returning people to Somalia at the moment, as it is “a threat to the right to life”.

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Filed under Africa, Canada, Somalia

New Directions in Reading after 11 September 2001

I was home sick on 11 September 2001, and my sister called to tell me to turn on the TV. It took me a longish while to absorb what was happening and to begin reprocessing the events of the decades leading up to that day. My background reading began to expand in new directions, starting with a book that my historian brother had received in the mail just before I arrived for a visit. The book was The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism, by Simon Reeve (Northeastern, 1999), a well-told account of the first attack on the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the Bojinka plot in 1994–1995.

The next three books I bought for myself were:

  • Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid (Yale, 2000);
  • Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran, by Elaine Sciolino (Touchstone, 2000); and
  • The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey, by Fouad Ajami (Vintage Books, 1998).

Each presented perspectives that were fresh and thought-provoking for me. Ajami, in particular, offered an eloquent requiem for so many dreams that turned to dust during the last half of the 20th century. Now I see he has a new book out, The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq and it sounds as if it contains a provisional requiem for another set of dreams that may be turning to dust. The following passage is from a review by Victor Davis Hanson (via Laurence Jarvik Online).

In general, according to Ajami, the pathologies of today’s Middle East originate with the mostly Sunni autocracies that threaten, cajole, and flatter Western governments even as they exploit terrorists to deflect popular discontent away from their own failures onto the United States and Israel. Precisely because we have ushered in a long-overdue correction that threatens not only the old order of Saddam’s clique but surrounding governments from Jordan to Saudi Arabia, we can expect more violence in Iraq. What then to do? Ajami counsels us to ignore the cries of victimhood from yesterday’s victimizers, always to keep in mind the ghosts of Saddam’s genocidal regime, to be sensitive to the loss of native pride entailed in accepting our “foreigner’s gift,” and to let the Iraqis follow their own path as we eventually recede into the shadows.

Along with this advice, he offers a series of first-hand portraits, often brilliantly subtle, of some fascinating players in contemporary Iraq. His meeting in Najaf with Ali al-Sistani discloses a Gandhi-like figure who urges: “Do everything you can to bring our Sunni Arab brothers into the fold.” General David Petraeus, the man charged with rebuilding Iraq’s security forces, lives up to his reputation as part diplomat, part drillmaster, and part sage as he conducts Ajami on one of his dangerous tours of the city of Mosul. On a C-130 transport plane, Ajami is so impressed by the bookish earnestness of a nineteen-year-old American soldier that he hands over his personal copy of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American (“I had always loved a passage in it about American innocence roaming the world like a leper without a bell, meaning no harm”).

“Like a leper without a bell, meaning no harm” describes so well not just American innocence, but the entire edifice of UN efforts around the globe. When the working partner of willful innocence is cynical manipulation, malignant results are sure to follow. Especially when the willfully innocent couple their self-professed moral purity with a steady stream of jeremiads against the enemies of their manipulative partners.

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