Wednesday, 27 March 2024 14:55

Naming

Written by
in Poetry
238
Naming

Naming

by Chris Norris

Pray tell us, you wise men and scholars all,
Pray tell us by what law you take it ill,
This usage of what we see fit to call
Our Holocaust, we whose life’s-blood you spill.
How should we name it as the missiles fall,
As your IDF snipers aim and kill,
As children cower by the shattered wall,
Fear-frozen there to be picked off at will,
As smart bombs smash lives like a wrecking-ball
And the pretence of ‘peace-talks’ goes on still,
Though their ‘negotiators’ stick and stall
While thirty thousand victims pay the bill,
And the corpse-chewing ghouls of capital,
US-directed, wait to gorge their fill?

What name should we deploy when ‘genocide’
Is likewise one its agents won’t excuse,
Or when they so persistently elide
Those overlapping sets, ‘Israelis’/‘Jews’,
So that the ‘anti-semite’ charge can ride
The global airwaves and ensure the news
Gets round so fresh atrocities may hide
From such a charge as ‘genocide’, or use
That sacrosanct word, ‘holocaust’, applied
To one case only lest its usage lose
The needful force and have the case re-tried,
New victims this time rising to accuse
Those who’d have their past victimage provide
Full cover when they wear the victor’s shoes?

‘Nakba’: a word so singular, unique,
So non-transferable that it might stand
As our equivalent: a word we speak
With awe, with sorrow for the lives and land
So brutally denied us, yet don’t seek
To set up, by some God-endorsed command,
A shibboleth that then requires we wreak
Such vengeance in its name as now they’ve planned,
Those Israelites who think it shows them weak
Or faithless if they fail to have it banned,
All usage of that word, and force oblique,
Evasive ways around on those they’d brand
As cursed Amalekites who’d dare critique
Their sacred land-grab as its bounds expand.

On one point above all let’s be quite clear:
It’s to the State of Israel they’re addressed,
These bitter words long bred of anger, fear,
Survivor-guilt, and need to speak out lest
Our witness-bearing voices disappear
And leave us – final insult! – dispossessed
Of freedom, land, and any future ear
Inclined to listen and to make its test
Of truth that stark reproof to every smear
Laid on us by their allies in the West,
The US and its satellites, whose sphere
Has long resounded to the wish expressed
By Netanyahu in his holding dear
Those tales of war, civilian slaughter stressed.

The State of Israel, then, a ‘Jewish State’
But how so? culture, history, language, creed,
Or (spare us!) gene-pool – anyway some trait
Or mix thereof that’s commonly agreed,
Amongst the faithful, somehow to create
Such bonds of comity as meet their need,
No matter how all tribes miscegenate,
Creed notwithstanding. Still we must concede
It shapes whole lifetimes, weighs on them like fate
Or lifts them like a future fit to feed
Millennial hopes with dreams that long await
The promised outcome – never guaranteed –
Yet rarely, as at present, compensate
Hopes lost by taking Saul’s atrocious lead.

Some there’ve been, Holocaust survivors, those
Like Primo Levi, who were quick to see
How it would go, how it so often goes,
With words made sacrosanct by state decree,
Or names whose unique resonance bestows
Full rights of use to holders of a key
Possessed exclusively by one who owes
Allegiance to that sole catastrophe
That seals its utterance. Then it’s friends or foes,
The rightful users, those presumed to be
Its true custodians, licensed to disclose
Which creeds or tribes have bent the suppliant knee
And which new spawn of Amalek oppose
God’s edict and invite calamity.

We Palestinians suffer it, your ban,
Each time you or your US sponsors draw
That line again, so crucial to their plan
For ‘Middle East’ dominion that the law
Of usage be upheld, that nothing can
Henceforth be suffered to approach the awe
Its naming must evoke. Yet what began
At Amalek when raging Saul first swore
To God he’d spare no member of that clan,
Man, woman or child, is what we see once more
In this our ghetto, this our Bantustan,
As your Apartheid state makes total war
On us last proxies of the Musselman,
That victim of all victims, to ignore
Whose mute appeal’s to spurn the plea that ran
In blood down every shibboleth-bolted door.

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Chris Norris

Christopher Norris is Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. He is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, politics, literature, the history of ideas, and music.

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