Bombardment of Lebanon by Israel, according to UPI, began on July 12, 2006, just after “Shiite Hezbollah militiamen captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in cross-border attacks.” The country’s infrastructure had been a prime target with the country’s sole international airport in Beirut, ports, power stations, telecommunications, roads and bridges and buildings being devastated. Over three hundred Lebanese civilians had been killed and, simultaneously, the Gaza strip was under assault from Israel as well.
Israel launched the attacks in an effort to neutralize Hezbollah. Arab leaders unified behind a call for an immediate cease-fire in the war. They came out strongly in defense of the Lebanese government and stated a top priority was to silence weapons and help bring an end to the attacks on Lebanese civilians and the destruction of infrastructure.
This is the climate that led columnist Saad Al Bawardi to publish a poem titled, “Letter to Bush,” in an Al Jazeera newspaper on August 13, 2006. The poem condemned then-U.S. President George W. Bush and “U.S. foreign policy regarding Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq.” And, it was the subject of a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks that was sent out by US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James C. Oberwetter from the Riyadh embassy in Saudi Arabia on August 16, 2006.
Oberwetter presented the poem saying it epitomized the Saudi public mood. In the cable, the Oberwetter describes, “Using strong rhetoric and metaphor, [Bawardi] expressed the anger and frustration currently felt by many Saudis toward the Bush administration.” He adds, “Al-Jazeera journalists told Riyadh contacts that their newspaper is receiving many angry letters voicing opposition to the U.S., but due to space constraints, they are able to publish very few. This poem is noteworthy as it was the first one of its kind published in a mainstream newspaper since the start of the Lebanon crisis.”
Perhaps astonishingly, Oberwetter doesn’t just report on the increasingly acrimonious attitude toward the US in Saudi Arabia. He presents a paragraph that could be considered a short primer on Saudi Arabian poetry and its history:
Poetry runs in the blood of the Saudi people. They have historically utilized poetry to express public opinion over social, political, and cultural issues. They also use poetry to curry favor with their rulers, local and regional, as well as share their criticisms in an open forum. Throughout the history of Saudi Arabia, there have typically been two categories of poets: (1) al-Madih, poets specializing in tributes and praise, and (2) al-Hija, poets specializing in satire and critique. In light of recent events, more poets from the al-Hija than the al-Madih category are publishing their work, airing their grievances about regional events. Saudi culture and custom allow poets greater latitude and frankness than that accorded to political commentators or critics, due to poets' greater prestige and traditional status as spokesmen for popular opinion and speakers of "truth" to the elite.
There’s reason to doubt that poets actually have more latitude than others to freely express themselves. Saudi Arabian blogger Roshdi Algadir was arrested, beaten and forced to sign an agreement never to publish his work on the Internet on November 4, 2008, after posting a poem to his blog. The Hisba apparatus arrested him and claimed they were protecting the Islamic religion.
In May of 2005, two writers, Abdullah al-Hamed and Matruk al-Faleh, were sentenced to seven and six years in prison. Their sentences suggested Saudi Arabia was now one of the most restrictive countries for poets and writers, who wished to freely express themselves.
However, the poem published did not put the focus on Saudi Arabia at all. So, perhaps, Saudi writers can freely express themselves, as long as they do not talk about Saudi Arabian politics and government.
Oberwetter included the translated poem in the cable. Here is how it reads when translated into English:
Sorry if I have exceeded my limits
And asked you for a response
Is the one who asks for a "right" a "terrorist?"
Does Palestine-- the occupied land
Have no people or freedom?
Do those who immigrated to it from Poland, Russia or America
Have the legitimate right to the land?
The legitimate right to expel the inhabitants of the land
As if they were red Indians?
Chased and driven out with malignity and fiery clusters of
From their land
Torn apart and divided
To dilute the case of having a "right?"
You promised the people of the Middle East of freedom
What freedom? And for Whom?
Freedom of the herdsman? Or the right of the herd?
A creative freedom of chaos?
Bush, Is there a code of ethics for chaos?
Or is chaos but oppression and coffins?
Ask the Statue of Liberty in New York
If it would answer you
It would have answered in anger and wailing
(Freedom is not built by injustice and skulls
Freedom would never be justly served by a tyrant)
Weapons of mass destruction that never existed
Was your excuse for invading the land of Iraq
To destroy Iraq
You left in it thousands of corpses, pain and divisions
Bodies torn by white phosphorous
If not plagued by cancerous diseases...
Tens of deaths every day
And your soldiers around the dead smiling
And your soldiers torturing
What freedom do you speak of?
In Lebanon your stupid dummy (Israel)
Took over the matter while you are the actor
Thousands upon thousands of missiles
Thrown by Israel with the hatred of killers
Leaving no stones no trees
No people or animals
Even the roads for those who want to run for safety
Were destroyed and were not saved
From the tyranny of the occupier...nor longer
There are any roads
Those who want to flee would only die
You did not do justice to a free and democratic Lebanon
You didn't have mercy on Lebanon of the varied denomination
You left the summer wind of death blowing in Lebanon
You were the one who gave the orders
But not the one who ordered the killing to stop
What did you give since you came?
Our big world is oppressed...scared
You said big exaggerated words:
"If you are not with us you are against us"
Which terrorist should be crushed?
Is the whole world a terrorist but you?
Bush, you are not an infallible prophet?
You have money, you have influence and you have power
But you don't have the Rightness
You don't follow the Truth
Let the other live without your guardianship
We know that the UN has become American
Rice is hers
Bolton orders and he gets answered
Bush, things will not stay the same
There isn't in the dictionary of freedom
A herdsman and a herd!