I began this post last week:
‘The last thing anyone wants right now is a reminder of just how bad things are in the Middle East, which makes telling you about my brand-new verse-novel Unholyland difficult.‘
Guess what, I never sent it…
But now I can begin my post again, celebrating – this great day – the turning of the tide of international opinion in favour of the Palestinian people and their right to a state of their own.
Before starting tho’ I want to make one thing clear. I am as sad when a Jewish child is hit by a rocket from Gaza as I am when a Palestinian child is hit. And of course it is true that one cannot quantify death. The pain of one innocent civilian’s death is equal to the pain of a thousand deaths. Yet everyone knows that Israel’s response to ‘terrorist’ aggression is disproportionate. And, as the world also knows very well, when the sources of grievance are removed, as the Brits have discovered in Northern Ireland, the ‘terror’ stops.
So what do I want to tell you about my verse-novel Unholyland, now that I don’t have to promote my work while the torrents of blood are flowing through the streets of embattled Gaza? Well, I’d like to tell you a little about how the work began…
Two years ago I saw a documentary about a Palestinian girl-rapper living in a refugee-camp near Damascus. I learned that she faced serious criticisms from her ‘elders and betters’ for following her path into ‘Slingshot Hiphop’, a new genre of rap which is sweeping the Middle East, a genre which adopts as it’s motto: ‘Puttin down the gun and pickin up the mic.’ This young girl’s story really got me, I mean I found it electrifying.
As a poet I have always believed that there is no rational exit from war. I believe that the only path out of the mentality of conflict is an emotional one, a path mediated by the arts and grounded in nonviolence. William Blake believed the same thing and spoke of the ideology of ‘mental fight’ as opposed to ‘corporeal war’. Plato wrote that the Golden Age is brought into the world by music. He proposed that the power of music could harmonize human souls and make laws and legal systems obsolete, no longer required to artificially keep people in check.
As I began to probe the background of Slingshot Hiphop a very strange fact emerged. Slingshot Hiphop is generally considered decadent, Western-influenced, soul-rotting poison in countried like Syria, even in more-liberal Lebanon and Jordan. Yet Slingshot Hiphop rappers from Gaza and the West Bank rule in Israel! Clubs in Tel Aviv get rammed with Israeli kids when a Slingshot Hiphop act hits town. Jewish teenagers fill the venues and chant the Arabic lyrics of Arabic rappers telling the facts about the Nakba of ’48, telling the truth about the feelings of young Palestinians facing a barren, meaningless life under occupation and settlement.
When I learned this ironic, crazy, beautiful truth Unholyland began to be born. It was only a short stop from here to the thought: ‘What would happen if a modern-day Israeli dj fell in love with a Palestinian girl-rapper.’ And that real and likely, supremely possible eventuality, peeps, is exactly what I explore in Unholyland.
A blessing on both their houses!
McCool predicted the Arab Spring and the Syrian Revolution. Now, right at the crux of our times, I’m looking hard at the situation on the ground in Galilee, in Nazareth, where my verse-novel begins. But I’m not really looking through the lens of politics, I’m taking the view of the heart into the maelstrom of the Middle East, knowing that the head must bow to the heart every time, knowing that with love and music everything is possible.
In Unholyland I’m not promising happy endings to love-affairs between ‘enemies’ but I am saying…
A blessing on both their houses!
Unholyland has hit the streets, a dark romance of The Shift. Check it out peeps, it’s in your Waterstones – and, as you know, the way of water conquers all obstructions, finds the gentle way through every conflict.