Beyond The Foreign

 Making Peace Between German and Arabic

From a linguistic point of view, my daily life is mainly affected by Arabic and German, but Hebrew and English are also part of it. At home I speak Arabic and German with my family, just I do mainly in my work as a lecturer of Arabic. So I regularly cross the bridge between both languages without knowing exactly which language I think in, dream in, or love in. The key thing is the situation in which I happen to be in at the moment; then one or the other language turns on without a warning – and that’s a good thing.

I first encountered the German language in 1981 at the Frankfurt Airport, at the beginning of my journey into a foreign land. I came as a tourist and soon decided to stay here. Precisely twenty years after I emigrated from Palestine; I began to write literature in German. Yet, even as a teenager, I wrote poetry, short stories, and essays in my mother tongue.

Basically, after so many years, it is no longer a problem not to write in Arabic. Essentially, it is about how far I, as a writer, am willing to go beyond the boundaries of my own language – meaning, mother tongue – to think, feel, and dare to write in another language. However, in order to do that, it is necessary that a person shows a willingness to overcome internal barriers, to open up to other cultures and languages, to explore them. In my case I can claim to have left the Rubicon behind me.

German is a very compact, well-structured, scientific language – I like to write in German. But musically speaking – meaning, as far as its sound goes – Arabic is more melodic and emotional. You can hear examples of this in my readings, when I read in both Arabic and German. There, my audience is carried along by the music of the languages.

Literary writings usually claim to touch people’s hearts, to make them happy or sad, to inspire them to think. That is also what I claim to do. When I write, I thing in images, and for that I at first do not need any language, any writing instrument. And when the hour of birth comes for a text or a poem, then I use one or another language as the medium that gives form to my images, my ideas.

Some of my pomes are begun in Arabic, some in German. After a few lines, other words, phrases, or even images from the other languages suddenly begin to flow into the poem. At this moment I allow myself a break, which sometimes lasts for days or weeks, until I intuitively decide which language I will use to continue to “paint” my pictures. The text then arises from this mixture. I try to translate German phrases or images freely, in an unconventional manner, into Arabic – and vice-versa, although the metaphors in Arabic are more flexible. Occasionally I enrich the German poems with Arabic word or phrases.

When I follow the wars in our region and over all the world, and the resulting destruction and devastation, the death and suffering of innocent people, and the flight of the defenceless, then I am more than ever convinced that poetry in specific, as well as literature and art in general, represent the more human face of our world in all of its diversity. Certainly, I see in them a way to make connections among the different peoples, cultures, and religions. What else do we have?

There is no alternative other than peace, freedom and equality for all people. I try to convey this massage through my poetry – not just on paper, but also in daily life. I respect and accept my fellow human beings and their individual lifestyles and ways of thought, because tolerance is the perquisite for better coexistence. Without peace and freedom, our world is poorer, and without love, our lives are empty.

By “peace”, I do not mean the political dimension of the word, by the way, but rather the peace we have every day with ourselves, the peace we have with people with whom we share bread and a glass of water, the peace we have with our neighbours and with everyone else who has a different point of view. And last, but not least, with the languages that are close to us and accompany us everywhere.

Yes, the languages are like my mirror and my homeland: everywhere the wind carries my voice – without them, I have no homeland. I am closely bound to the languages I use every day. A vivacious friendship, which also occasionally suffers from strife…

It is, in fact, remarkable how both languages can “cuddle” with each other. I am convinced that the mixture of languages - their contact – enhances daily life, and, moreover, bridges the gap between peoples and cultures. In the eyes of doubters, these views might seem to be mere fantasies. But what would our lives be like without dreams?

Excerpt from the interview, which was published in Krystian Woznicki(Ed.): McDeutsch, culture Kadmos Berlin Verlag, 2007, as well as in the mini-digital feature Berlin Gazette (