Mahmoud Darwish’s Masculine Discourse Is Silencing Palestinian Women’s Voices

I admit it: I’ve been waiting for this moment. I’m addicted to the slaughter of sacred cows of all kinds, genders and colors. For a long time I’ve wanted to slaughter Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet, the myth, the God, the saint, who is above all criticism, political or literary. Don’t worry, I will be precise and sharp, and you won’t notice the blood.

I remember well the first time I discovered Darwish. I was a young girl and took a book from my father’s library whose cover had the face of a handsome, bespectacled man I wasn’t familiar with. I read the title, “A Siege for the Sea Eulogies,” and didn’t understand a thing. I tried to read a few passages from the book and choked with frustration. What the hell is this, I asked myself?

I didn’t have the tools or knowledge back then for a literary review, but this month the opportunity I spent years waiting for finally came up. On June 6 Salim Barakat, a well-known Syrian novelist and poet with a respectable literary resume, published a personal-literary article in the Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper recounting his long, wonderful friendship with Darwish. But toward the end of the article he revealed a small, negligible detail: Darwish had a daughter from a one-night stand with a married woman.

The sky fell, hard. The Arab media and social media, Palestinian writers and Arab writers in general fired volleys of posts, tweets and opinion pieces. They all responded, all felt obliged to protect Darwish’s honor, privacy and literary and cultural status from his friend, who had stabbed him in the back. The sea of content produced a few interesting pieces but failed to generate a complex cultural discourse beyond turning Barakat into a traitor and calling for open season on him.

As expected, most of the content was written by men. They rose like a devoted, blind army and systematically defended and scrubbed clean the great poet’s moral “blunder.” Their texts were shallow and trivial, ranging between two main poles: Barakat’s treachery and the claim that Darwish’s private life is his personal affair and none of the public’s business.

The most outrageous thing was that most of the texts didn’t deal with the cultural subject matter of Barakat’s article and went as far as to disqualify the man’s poetry and writing out of hand. Five books, dozens of articles and a significant contribution to Arab poetry were wiped out in a second. The Darwish cult lead a personal and cultural lynching of Barakat.

Mahmoud Darwish in an undated photograph.Reuven Kopichinsky / AP

One response was interesting, challenging and enlightening. It was written by Jordanian-Palestinian poet Musa Hawamda, who claimed that Darwish made clever use of the works of other poets of his generation, Arabs and non-Arabs. Hawamda even maintained that Darwish quoted entire biblical texts and concluded that Darwish’s bread was full of others’ flour.