Saturday, November 03, 2012

Al-Mutannabi Street Coalition Deserves Your Support

There's a meaningful project I recommend that you support called al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition.

Abu al-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi is one of the most famous Arabic language poets of the era of Banu al-Abbas. There's a wonderful web site of his poetry in Arabic, with audio readings and explanatory texts, and there's even an Android App and an Apple iPhone and iPad App which correspond to the web site.

Even I, who knows very little Arabic poetry, have heard some of his lines like:

ما كل ما يتمنى المرء يدرك
تجري الرياح بما لا تشتهي السفن

A man does not achieve everything he wants
Winds blow where ships aim not.

أَعَزُّ مَكانٍ في الدُنى سَرجُ سابِحٍ
وَخَيرُ جَليسٍ في الزَمانِ كِتابُ 

The most secure place in this world is the saddle of a horse
and the best companion in this time is a book.

Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad was the center of the retail sales of books in Baghdad, and, as a matter of course, a meeting place for the city's intellectuals. On March 5, 2007, a car bomb killed 30 and wounded 100.

A San Francisco bookseller named Beau Beausoleil saw that this attack was unique in the carnage unleashed in Iraq by the US invasion and occupation. It was the most brutal and open of many assaults on Iraq's intellectuals. He asked artists to respond to this assault, and this response is al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition.

Since that time, artists and activists have been staging Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here events in many different cities.

For me, every killing and wounding and displacement in Iraq is a crime, no matter the perpetrator or the victim. Yet, imagining myself in Baghdad, and imagining many of the readers of this blog living there, I could see us together browsing shelves or sitting in a cafe hoping to meet an author or a bookstore owner to get the latest scoop.

Just like the pillaging of Iraq's archaeological heritage at the Baghdad Museum and sites around the country, the Zionists' appropriation of Palestinians' books after expelling them from their homes, the Taliban's destruction of the statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, the vandalizing of the tombs of those whom many Muslims revered as awliya (friends of God) in Libya and Mali and countless other incidents, this attack's impact is felt beyond the lives lost and the limbs mangled.

Support the project on

Links with additional information:
A New Mexico museum recorded a reading of some of the works which artists have contributed to this project. Listen to this, and I think you'll see why the project deserves support.

Al-Mutannabi Street Project: Reading and Exhibit from New Mexico History Museum on Vimeo.

I've also ordered the book Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5th, 2007, Bombing of Baghdad's "Street of the Booksellers"

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5th, 2007, Bombing of Baghdad's "Street of the Booksellers"

Let me plug here my blog on Iraqi Refugees in Amman, Jordan