‘Come to Lebanon’: Jalib’s Verses Still Urgently Beckon

Following the August 4 explosion in Beirut, a re-reading of Habib Jalib’s poem of the 1980s urges us towards the same spirit of internationalism and solidarity with Lebanon.

Adeebo, shairo, danishvaro, sukhandaano
Karo hikayat-e-Beirut khoon-e-dil se raqam
Shikast jahal ko hogi shaoor jeetega
Karega jahal kahan tak sar shaoor qalam

(Writers, poets, intellectuals, connoisseurs
Write the tale of Beirut with the blood of martyrs
Consciousness will win, ignorance will face defeat
Till when will the beheading of consciousness by ignorance repeat)

∼ Habib Jalib

Lebanon is a part of the Arab world which is usually trivialised by the mainstream Western media as a state crucial to the West – read the United States – in the ‘war on terror’, or exoticised. Whenever an explosion or bomb blast occurs in Beirut – like the most recent one which occurred on the night of August 4 – Western nations and their media sit up and take notice, only to disappear when another tragedy occurs in any other ‘exotic’ Third World country.

Lebanon, which was artificially and opportunistically carved out of Syria by the French colonisers to retain leverage in the future, is routinely exoticised in the Western media as a European outpost of civilisation surrounded by savage Arab nations – a country perpetually at war with Arab nations to salvage its Christian, European values.

Throughout its torturous history, whenever Israel attacked and demolished half of Lebanon to achieve its strategic objectives, the Western media saw it as a necessary move to rescue Lebanon’s supposedly pro-Western trajectory. Meanwhile, the emergence of Hezbollah in Lebanon as a national resistance movement and its subsequent parliamentary success there was ignored or greeted with traditional hostility and contempt.

A more nuanced understanding of Lebanon and, by extension, its capital Beirut is thus needed in these troubling times. Not surprisingly, poets have come to the rescue at a time when security analysts and commentators are scratching their heads to make sense of the latest round of violence to strike Beirut.

In the immediate aftermath of the blast, many friends and comrades shared the poem Ek Naghma Karbala-e-Beirut ke Liye (A Song for the Karbala of Beirut) on social media, which Faiz had written on Beirut in the context of the destruction of that city, following  the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Also read: A Prayer and a Love Poem For Our Stricken World

Bloodletting continued in Beirut even after the Israeli invasion, culminating in the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut in September 1982, as well as the bombings of the US Embassy, and US and French barracks in Beirut in April and October 1983, respectively, leading to a complete withdrawal of US marines from Lebanon a year later.

Unlike Faiz’s aforementioned poem about Beirut, it is a little-known and under-appreciated fact that his great contemporary, the people’s poet, Habib Jalib, has written numerous poems on Palestine and the Lebanese Civil War. In fact, Jalib wrote so many poems on these two topics that if compiled they would be a chronicle on these seminal albeit tragic events of Middle Eastern history in the 20th century.

In order to give the reader just a glimpse of Jalib’s oeuvre on Lebanon, I will limit myself to an original translation of perhaps his best and most representative poem on Lebanon, titled Labnan Chalo, Labnan Chalo (Come to Lebanon, Come to Lebanon) which, like Faiz’s more famous poem, was also written in the perspective of the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s. In fact, two of the protagonists on opposing sides of the War are actually named in the poem, namely US President Ronald Reagan who decided to send marines to intervene in Lebanon (Reagan ko bhagaane maidaan se) and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (Yasir ke bahadur jiyalon par).

Jalib’s poem today beckons us towards the same spirit of internationalism and solidarity with Lebanon which was a hallmark of the poet’s generation for political reasons. Indeed, Jalib had said elsewhere with noticeable irony,

Ijaazat mangte hain hum bhi jab Beirut jaane ki
Toa ahl-al-hukum farmaate hain tum zindaan mein jao

(To go to Beirut, whenever we too seek permission
The rulers order us to go to the dungeon)

Also read: ‘Even in a Conscious State, the Entire Nation Is Unconscious’: A Poem for Our Times

Unlike the dictatorial 1980s in Pakistan when these verses were penned, one hopes it will be now easier to ‘go to Beirut’ or even express solidarity with it in Naya Pakistan!

Where the lightning of Satan is scattering
Where Man is mourning
Where the peace of the world is floundering
Faith beckons us anon
Come to Lebanon, come to Lebanon.

To save the boat from the storm
To free Man from Satan
To clear the field of Reagan
The heart says every second anon
Come to Lebanon, come to Lebanon.

O Arab, o foreigner
We have to bend the head of hauteur
We will not rest till the end of the usurper
My beloved, proceed with one life anon
Come to Lebanon, come to Lebanon.

There is no let-up from the murderer
Every heart has been torn asunder
The bloodthirsty enemy seeks to plunder
Wherever there is children’s laughter
Come to Lebanon, come to Lebanon.

For Yasir’s brave men
Who will remove darkness from its den
For the light of the dawning sun
Let us sacrifice ourselves anon
Come to Lebanon, come to Lebanon.

To stir the people of Frenzy
To offer life for honesty
To die in the path of fidelity
Proceed with your head in the field anon
Come to Lebanon, come to Lebanon.

This is the battle for world peace
This is the battle for all the people of grief
This is the battle for the human specie
Proceed for enhancing the dignity of Man anon.
Come to Lebanon, come to Lebanon.

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader currently based in Lahore, where he is also the President of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached at [email protected].