There is much should concern us here as well as reminding us of the turbulent life of the Turkish communist poet Nazim Hikmet who spent most of his life either in prison or in exile
is the hell prepared for refugees.”
…Ashraf Fayadh writes in ‘Instructions Within‘, published in Beirut in 2008 (and quickly banned from distribution in Saudi Arabia) and from this far place away I write, it would seem that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the hell prepared for Ashraf following his imprisonment between 2014 and the recent commutation, on 8 th February 2016, of his death sentence for ‘apostasy’ to 8 years in prison and 800 lashes.
The story goes that Ashraf’s problems with the religious police in Saudi came from a row he had with another artist (in a cafe and during a soccer match), in Abha, southwest Saudi Arabia, in August 2013. Following this his colleague filed a complaint against him that including allegations of blasphemy. The then prosecution witness claimed to have heard him cursing God, Islam’s Prophet Mohammad and Saudi Arabia. Later some of the contents of the poetry book he had written years earlier, ‘Instructions Within’, were cited in evidence against him. The accusations having been initially dismissed Ashraf, (of Palestinian origin, though born in Saudi Arabia, yet still a stateless person) was quickly rearrested and since then has become a prisoner of conscious for Amnesty international and has stimulated PEN Centre USA to put a picket on the Saudi Consulate General office in Los Angeles.
His Wikipedia entry makes the point:
“Used as evidence against him were several poems within his book ‘Instructions Within’, Twitter posts, and conversations he had in a coffee shop in Abha. Prior to this death sentence ruling, Fayadh was accused of having promoted atheism in this same book of poems ‘Instructions Within’, which was published in 2008.”
There is much should concern us here as well as reminding us of the turbulent life of the Turkish communist poet Nazim Hikmet who spent most of his life either in prison or in exile because the Turkish regime of the time considered his work to be so subversive that the man must be either imprisoned, exiled or dead:
“For one thing hangmen separated us.
For another, this rotten heart of mine
played a trick on me.
It isn’t in the stars
That I’ll see you again”
‘Last Letter to My Son’ (Moscow, 1955)
The Independent wrote in November 2015:
“Saudi Arabia’s justice system is based on Sharia Islamic law and its judges are clerics from the kingdom’s ultra conservative Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam. In the Wahhabi interpretation of Sharia, religious crimes including blasphemy and apostasy incur the death penalty.“
What a great tribute to the written word as well as to the dreams and visions of decent people and poets who don’t live in the comfortable suburbs of major cities in the West that our work and our dreams are considered so threatening to these over-fed elites fattening on the wealth of our planet’s constantly depleting resources for their peculiar end-of-the-road life-style? It reminds you, maybe, of the last days of the Roman Empire when feeding humans to lions in public circuses left something missing in the human aspiration towards civilisation or ‘progress’ or humanity or more importantly, a world fit for human beings; whatever you might call it that differentiates us from the worst cruelties of an animal kingdom that at least lives by some natural law, even if it is only that of ‘eat or be eaten’.
It would strike my mind reading of Ashraf’s plight and others confronting a similar fate in our still-often-barbaric-world that the human race in this 3rd millennium is in a dilemma. We don’t seem to have a map to move forward. We fear desperately going backwards yet all our prophets have become apparently redundant at this moment and out of the Desert of Despair there seems to be appearing only these distorted creatures of the darkness with their brimstone and their fury and their hatred of Life. Hatred of life and everything that lives, supported, of course, by their greedy grasping on to every piece of wealth that is produced from the sweat and blood of human toil.
Where to from here, then? Is it not here that the poets and the dreamers, the authentic ones with a vision (and without a Kalashnikov) need to churn up the ground, rattle a few cages and do their best to agitate and disturb the status quo? Our future is that undetermined and that important. Our future is that open. Despite all ‘official’ pronouncements, speeches, laws and edicts. Without those whose life and creativity celebrates life itself this planet will become the graveyard, not just of humanity’s dreams and aspirations but an actual graveyard, with only our silenced bones left to complain and to mourn the loss of what never came to be. This future that is still only our dream.
But in a world where this dark and mindless fear can see only an enemy within a line of poetry what chance has the human aspiration to grow, to develop and to expand the boundaries of freedom got? Instead are we to descend into a world of whips and canes, of beheadings, prisons, darkness and ignorance? A world of cruelty unfit either for human or animal.
“…prophets have retired
so do not wait for yours to come to you…”
Ashraf Fayadh wrote before finding himself in this black hole of history.
We can choose different.
But we better wake up first. Before it is too late.
Ashraf Fayadh, we salute you, in your cell, in Abha, Saudi Arabia. Planet Earth.
Both Amnesty International, PEN Centre (USA) and PEN International. have online petitions for the release of Ashraf Fayadh.
 ( translated by Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk
Persea Books, 1994, 2002)