I suppose I wouldn’t have a blog if I wasn’t. But I’ve posted about words before here, here and here. I love the clever use of words to make powerful statements. It’s easy to write prose on an issue, but I have a special place in my heart for a good bit of prosody.
When I’m not neck-deep in politics and campaigning, I like to use my downtime to read poetry, see live poetry performed and sometimes even write a poem.
I’m not very good at it, but I enjoy it as a form of expression. And I’m blessed to live in a country where I can write poems about whatever I fancy and, as long as they’re honest words, I can’t really get into trouble. Clearly, I avoid writing libelous haiku, trochaic hexameter on matters sub-judice, or sonnets on blowing up airports. But, in the main, I can and do write what I like. If I want to insult the government in poem, then I can. And maybe I will.
But, that can’t be said for poets, professional or amateur, in some other parts of the world. A poet called Mohamed al-Jamai in Qatar, for instance, can’t do that. He writes under the pen-name Mohamed al-Dheeb and was recently arrested for insulting the Emir of Qatar and trying to overthrow the regime. What he was actually doing was reading a poem about the Arab Spring and now this 37-year-old writer is undergoing terrible treatment and has been sentenced to FIFTEEN YEARS in prison.
I’ve read some amazing poetry over the years and seen some brilliant performances, but not one of them has felt to me like it was going to cause the overthrowing of a regime, either elected or otherwise. Al-Jamai wasn’t even reading out in the public square. No Speakers Corner for him. Just his apartment. He was reading to friends in private, in Egypt. As soon as he touched down in Qatar, he was arrested, tried in secret and found guilty.
And the fifteen year sentence, harsh as it sounds, wasn’t the original sentence. That was what it was reduced to after an appeal. That counts as clemency in Qatar.
Predictably, as he’s not a white middle-class European man, the media has hardly mentioned Mohamed’s story at all. This despite the High Commission for Human Rights showing concern over the fairness of his trial. No right to counsel, sessions behind closed doors, and statements doctored. That and he’s spent months and months in solitary confinement. All because of a poem read in a living room in Cairo. We should be shouting from the rooftops.
And to prove I can write a poem about anything I please:
Am I trying to overthrow the Government? Well, yes, I am. But only through democratic means. Will this poem foment rebellion? Course it won’t. And neither will the (no doubt far better) poem of Mohamed al-Jamai.
People need to stand up and speak up for him.