When Gibran Khalil Gibran wrote his poetic novel Broken Wings, Syria and Lebanon were in the grip of a dream and latent aspirations for change, social, political and spiritual. The novel is a long anguished and climactic cry of a woman imprisoned in spiritual and physical bondage within a loveless misogynistic marriage. She falls in love and cannot meet the man she loves. She gets pregnant after five painful years of marriage. Her health fails and the story ends with her welcoming death to release her into freedom for she has started to see death as her rescuer. When her newborn son dies, she holds him in her arms and utters in anguish, “You have come to take me away my child; you have come to show me the way that leads to the coast. Here I am my child; lead me and let us leave this dark cave.”
It is good to have Gibran with us, now at this terrible juncture of the history of Syria for Gibran loved Syria and regarded it as his country until Lebanon was severed from Syria. Gibran the visionary was the forerunner. His voice ascended to the highest of heavens, as prophetic poetry, rarely heard before in the Arab world, poured out of his mouth like rivulets of fire, a fire that cleansed and purified and only burnt into renewal. Images of beauty sprang out of his soul exhorting to a never never-ending search for the infinite and all that surpasses the understanding. Where he burnt he healed with compassion and where he tore he seamed and rejoined with the heroism of the spirit and the might of life. His words filled my childhood and teen years with an undying thirst for freedom and I rebelled; I rebelled against all the norms and shackles that tried to hinder my spiritual and intellectual emancipation. I was but a child but Gibran made a rebel out of me and I never stopped since then.
The story of the rebellious spirit of Salma and her spiritual maturity through pain and torture is the narrative of one woman, Oh, but how the personal narratives of the individuals can mix with the collective narratives of the people and fuse into a cataclysmic epic. This is the life of men, the life of nations, the life of suns, moons and stars, comments the poet narrator as he witnesses Salma’s death with her new-born child.
It is all about broken wings, about wings and the clipping of wings: the broken wings of women, the broken wings of children, the broken wings of the poor and the hungry and the broken wings of the Syrians? Yes, it has become about the breaking of the wings of Syria, too and the breaking of the wings of the Revolution. Freedom, freedom, cried the Syrian people as they have been crying for hundreds of years. Death, death to you and your children and cities cried a ruthless world. So the Syrians opened their hearts and souls to death, the extinguisher of light, welcoming the Reaper, welcoming the wings of death to carry them away and fly with them to the unknown, for their own wings have been broken. The breaking of wings, the wings of individuals or the wings of nations should fill us with awe and horror. It is sacrilegious It is like breaking the wings of the dove, the Holy Spirit.
Yesterday I saw a video animation by an Egyptian artist which left its mark on me. A lover, crying for the impossible, destroys all the manifestations and embodiments of life and beauty his beloved offers because his soul, unable to receive the gift of light, destroys the light and shreds its butterfly wings. This video by a strange association immediately brought Gibran and his heroine Salma to my mind because of the theme of broken wings.
We break the wings of those whom we love or those who come into our lives as givers of light. We break the wings of love because they are the brightest, and too much light terrifies us as we cannot break free from the enslavement to our desires and narcissism. Moreover, those who love us but do not see us or those who do not love enough, they also break our wings.
Perhaps, being a woman, I see the macrocosm and microcosm in terms of love, empathy and compassion. I also see it with the eye of the artist and the vision of the poet. Do not dismiss me too easily, I beg of you. Please let me tell you that it is the lack of empathy and sympathy, or more correctly, it is indifferent cruelty that makes us look at the broken wings of the dying Syrians and seek to clip them even further. Not only that, for we, in order to forget any memory of the broken-winged, of the wings we helped to break, hide the scattered feathers from our views and wipe out from our memories all traces of feathers and wings. If pressed and pressed very hard, we resort to the semantics of excuses and subterfuges, reducing the struggles of a nation to wishful thinking and the citation of confined limited aberrations.
Tyranny on an individual level or a more universal level speaks with one tongue and the fates of persons or individuals are also the fate of nations. The collective narratives of millions of Syrians, whose wings have been clipped, preventing dignity, integrity, Human Rights, decent living and the pursuit of knowledge and maturity, are indivisible from the survival of their country or its final disintegration and descent into chaos.
The death of Salma Ak-Karmy’s child between dawn and sunrise is like the death of a nation reborn yet murdered before attaining its sunrise; it is also like the death of thousands of Syrian infants and young children before the flowering.
Let Gibran finish my article, as the poet in him mourns the death of the newborn child:
He was born like a thought and died like a sigh and disappeared like a shadow…
His life began at the end of the night and ended at the beginning of the day. Like a drop of dew poured by the eyes of the dark and dried by the touch of light…
A pearl brought by the tide to the coast and returned by the ebb into the depth of the sea…
A lily that has just blossomed from the bud of life and is mashed under the feet of death..
British Syrian writer, artist and researcher