Mahamoud Darwich, Palestinian and Red Indian



Perhaps we can learn from Palestinians how to deal with our moment, that is with despair, exile and tragedy.

When the magazine opens exile, from the Arab intellectual community in Brazil, I believe there is nothing more opportune than evoking Mahamoud Darwich. We live under an ultra-right government whose strategy includes, among others, two crucial themes that, interconnected, make reading his work very current, perhaps essential. Because with Bolsonarism, we are witnessing an open attack on indigenous peoples and the adoption of a destructive policy with the land, the place and the environment (poison from pesticides on plantations, accelerated deforestation, mercury from mining in rivers, neglect of pollution of seas, mud from a ruptured dam, dismantling of inspection and control institutions…) that deserve to be considered in the light of his writings. If we perceive the connections between such themes and the issues that resonate in them, through the life and poetry of Palestine's greatest poet, perhaps we can learn from Palestinians how to deal with our moment, that is, with despair, exile and tragedy. , conceived from a vital perspective.

There are many possible entry points into Darwich's poetry and life. As our life experiences seem to be very distant from his and the Palestinians, I choose the one that seems closest to me, the one with the greatest resonance. The one in which the Palestinian poet discovers himself to be an Indian in his own condition as a poet and a Palestinian. More precisely, Redskin.

Imprisoned twice by the Israelis for political reasons in his youth, Darwich found himself a specter haunting his tormentors. In present absence, his last poetic autobiography published in 2006, two years before his death, the poet writes:

“Spectre that leads the guard to watch. Tea and a rifle. When the watchman nods, the tea grows cold, the rifle falls from his hands, and the Redskin infiltrates history.

The story is that you're a Redskin

Red from feathers, not blood. You are the watchman's nightmare

Watchman who hunts absence and massages the muscles of eternity

Eternity belongs to the guard. Real estate and investment. If necessary, he becomes a disciplined soldier in a war without armistice. And without peace

Peace be upon you in the day you were born and in the day you will rise again in the foliage of a tree.

The tree is a thank you erected by the earth as a trust in its neighbor, the sky (...)” [I].

“The story is that you are a Redskin.” In the early 90s, inOn the last night on this earth”, Darwich had published the red man speech, in which he addressed the problem of the Other. In writing it, she had read a score of books on Redskin history and literature. He wanted to impregnate himself with their texts, with the chiefs' speeches. He needed to know their clothes, the names of their villages, the flora, the ways of life, the environment, the instruments, the weapons, the means of transport. Now, why such a keen interest in North American indigenous peoples, so distant in space and time, apparently so unconnected with what was happening in Palestine in the second half of the twentieth century?

In the material collected to write his Speech, Darwich was particularly inspired by the speech of Cacique Seattle in the North American Congress, in 1854, in response to the proposal made by Isaac Stevens, governor of the Territory of Washington, to buy the Indian lands. There, the indigenous leader said: “Each piece of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been consecrated by some sad or happy event in the days that are long gone. Even the stones, which seem to be mute and dead like the stifling heat of the sun on the silent shore, shudder with the memories of moving events connected with the lives of my people, and even the dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to the his feet than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are aware of empathetic touch. Our brave departed, dear mothers, cheerful and loving wives, and even the little children who lived here and here rejoiced for a brief season, will love these gloomy solitudes and each evening hail the returning spirits of the shadows. -Red will be gone, and the memory of my tribe will have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will teem with the invisible dead of my tribe.” [ii].

Now, the sacred relationship with the land and the place is the same as we find in the red man speech. Let's see two small excerpts, translated by Elias Sanbar into French: “So, we are what we are in Mississippi. And the relics of yesterday belong to us. But the color of the sky has changed and to the east, the sea has changed. O lord of the Whites, tamer of horses, what do you expect from those who leave with the trees of the night? Elevated is our soul and sacred are the pastures. And the stars are words that illuminate... Scrutinize and you will read our entire story: here we were born between fire and water, and soon we will be reborn in the clouds on the shores of the bluish coast. Don't hurt the grass even more, it has a soul that defends the soul of the earth in us. O tamer of horses, tame your mount, may it tell the soul of nature its regret for what you have done to our trees. Tree my sister. They made you suffer, like me. Do not ask mercy for the woodcutter of my mother and yours (...)”.

“There are dead who slumber in the rooms you will build. Dead people who visit their past in the places you will demolish. Dead who cross the bridges you will build. And there are dead who light up the night of butterflies that arrive at dawn to have tea with you, calm as your rifles that abandoned them. Leave then, O guests of the place, some free seats for the hosts, that they may read to you the conditions of peace with the dead.” [iii].

The mouth of the Redskin, however, carries the voice of the Indian chief and the Palestinian. More than through an abstract notion of homeland, the Pele-Red-Palestinian relationship is designed as an intensity of kinship with the place, with nature, and its cosmic character. Like Cacique, the Palestinian poet belongs to the land; and not the earth to him. Thus, the poetic charge of the enunciation is the same in both speeches, and expresses the solemnity of the locution, its sacred, transcendent character. But, at the same time, the two discourses claim to be historical, they make history, they are landmarks of tremendous events.

writing the red man speech, Darwich raised the issue of indigenous genocide in the Americas and the relationship it had with the end of the Arab presence in the Iberian Peninsula. It was about establishing the meaning of the imposition of the West and its cosmovision. Indeed, in an interview with Subhi Hadidi and Basheer al-Baker, the poet clarifies the aesthetic and political reason for this incursion into History: “I distinguish between the chronicle and the archive. My poems speak of law, the refusal of force to impose its “rights”. It may be objected that history is but a long succession of those rights born of the use of force. Does this mean that the weak are obliged to accept their forced absence, even to collaborate in their own disappearance? Quite the contrary, shouldn't he keep fighting to remain present?

The historical record on which I work is that of the defense of the law, even if they tell me that States are born by the sword. Poetry cannot be reconciled with force, as it is inhabited by the duty to create its own force, founding a vital space for the defense of rights, justice and victims. Poetry is the unfailing ally of the victim, and it can only find ground in understanding with History on the basis of this fundamental principle. It is from this angle that we need to understand the theme of the Pele-Reds or the fall of Granada, in order to propose, in 1992, a humanist reading of 1492.

In that year, the western world was tied to the interpretation of the historical significance of 1492, and more particularly, of two founding episodes for the West: the voyage of Columbus and the fall of Granada. The first of the two events was a conquest accompanied by a genocidal project, in line with the spirit of the crusade wars. The second definitively enshrined the idea of ​​the West and expelled the Arabs from the path that led to that same West.

I'm a citizen of the world they destroyed, or kicked out of history. And I'm a victim whose only asset is self-defense. I immersed myself in an in-depth reading of the history of the Arabs in Spain, and that of the Indians and their relationship with the land, the gods and the Other. What impressed me about the Indians is that they apprehended events as manifestations of an unavoidable destiny, and that they faced them with the astonishment of those who see general history collapsing over “private history”.

The consecration of the concept of the West required the disappearance of seventy million human beings, as well as a furious cultural war against a philosophy intrinsically mingled with earth and nature, with trees, stones, peat, and water. The red man apologized with surprising ardor for the poetry of the tree he was going to cut down, explaining his vital need for its bark, its trunk, its branches; then he would throw a piece of trunk into the forest so that the tree would be reborn... The machine overcame that sanctity that the red man attributed to his land, a deified land, as he did not distinguish between its borders and those of the gods.

I put myself in the Indian's skin to defend the innocence of things, the childhood of humanity; to warn against the tentacular military machine, which sees no limits to its horizon, but uproots all inherited values, and devours, insatiably, the earth and its entrails. (...) My poem tried to embody the Redskin at the moment when he looked at the last sun. But the “white man” will no longer find rest or sleep, because the souls of things, of nature, of victims still circling over his head.” [iv].

Darwich thus extracts, in the past, the events that continue to resonate in the present and sees clearly how the agonizing condition of the Palestinian overlaps that of the Indian; but it is not only the ultimate deprivation, the deprivation of the right to refuse an abominable life and status that leads him to encounter the Indian; it must be noted that it is as a poet, as a man who seeks the source of poetry in the continuum of the cosmic, mythical relationship with nature, that Darwich sees himself in red skin. The Red Skin infiltrates History as the savage resists “civilization” – to be an Indian-poet and, at the same time, an Indian-poet is to assume an ontological and epistemological condition.

But it is also to be a Mistanenim, the Palestinian-Arab infiltrated in occupied territory and the Israeli-American nightmare. And it is here that the political dimension of the Pele-Red-Palestinian resonance becomes explicit. We find the key to this explanation in être arabic, book of interviews by Christophe Kantcheff with Farouk Mardam-Bey and Elias Sanbar, two close friends from Darwich, translators of several of his books into French and companions of his long exile in Paris. Like the poet, Sanbar was and is a Palestinian intellectual who acted as a true diplomat in Europe, defending the Palestinian cause in the fields of politics, ideas and culture. Like the poet, Sanbar also belonged to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Palestine, observes Elias Sanbar, is a nation without a state. How, then, can there be a national feeling so alive, so strong? According to him, this occurs due to the centrality of the issue of place. From the beginning, in Sanbar's view, it was a question of a replacement, not just an occupation, nor a colonial exploitation, or a classic colonization. Since the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, the Zionist project has consisted of the volatilization of an Arab land and its replacement by another.

“Therefore, says Sanbar, the Palestinians will be subjected to an offensive of domination of places, a domination in which the appropriation of land, which although similar as two drops of water to a classic, common, acquisition of property by a private person or a moral person – in this case, the “Jewish people” represented by the Jewish Agency -, will be in reality just an element, important, of course, but an element of a building aimed not at constituting an immense property of 26.320 square kilometers, that is the surface of Palestine, but the disappearance of a country.” [v].

A country, that is, a space considered for centuries by Palestinians as their homeland. For this very reason, the children of the land, although they considered themselves Arabs and spoke Arabic, called themselves “Arabs of Palestine”. This double belonging is constitutive of his being. In turn, as if to confirm this condition, all Arabs in other countries “will see in the AngloZionist project an offensive against a member, in the physiological sense, of their body. And as the very position of Palestine on the maps helps, it will find itself spontaneously assimilated as the most vital of all organs, “the heart of the Arabs” [vi].

Indeed, in November 1917, the Palestinian people learned that the British Minister James Balfour had promised his country to a movement from the West, committed to the idea of ​​promoting the return of the Jews after an exile of two thousand years and of restoring a “ State of the Jews” in Palestine. Then the conflict begins. Palestinians react immediately to Balfour's text. But, perplexed, they fall into a trap, as they accept the terms of the declaration that designates them as “non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

Thus, with Balfour, not only does the “Jewish people” “return” to an ancient territory that would have been theirs, but they find there not a nation and a people, but “non-Jewish communities”, that is, of another religion, Muslim and Jewish. Christian. In this way, the secular Palestinian identity is dismantled. And this has as a corollary the fact that the Jewish Palestinians not only cease to exist, but seem to never have existed!

“From now on, continues Elias Sanbar, everything happens between the returning Jewish people and two other communities that hope to leave in order to give way, their place. The contemporary history of Palestine will then be reduced, in various ways, to a permanent repetition of a terrible statement: Palestinians are permanently in an instance of announced absence”[vii]. It is useless for Christians and Muslims to claim the status of “people of Palestine” and claim that they were there before the Jews. Nor is it any use to affirm their presence in the place – the Zionists argue that in fact Palestine is an empty territory, a desert, according to the famous phrase of Israel Zangwill: “Zionism is a people without land that returns to a land without people”.

We are well aware of this type of argument, which was also used in Brazil during the dictatorship to justify the “developmentalist” project of “occupation” and “integration” of the Amazon, deliberately ignoring that it was and is inhabited by indigenous peoples, to whom the Brazilian military deny the right to use the term “peoples”, since people, in these parts, would only exist one, the Brazilian. But returning to Palestine: an absolute difference is created between the experience of the Israeli settler and that of the Palestinian citizen: the former thinks he has been there for millennia and that is why he can return; the second knows that he never left, that he has the right to live there… because he is from there!

Thus, since the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the draft constitution of the State of Israel already advocates the expulsion of the Palestinian people and establishes their status as refugees in their own land or exile. Therefore, Sanbar will state: “What marks and will mark deeply the Palestinian being is that early on this society knows that it is engaged in a fight that goes beyond the independence it claims. It struggles to continue to exist in place, his place" [viii].

Now, as Elias Sanbar rightly underlines, Israel was born in the same way that the United States was born – the Zionists repeat the same logic adopted by the colonizers in America; Palestinians will then have the fate of becoming Redskin, that is, natives destined for absence. Like the Indians, the Palestinians are left without a place.

Throughout the 1948th century, the issue was basically the same. On the one hand, a war of conquest of territory, a war of progressive occupation and denial of the existence of the autochthonous; on the other, resistance and obstinate affirmation of the existence of man and place. This is not the place to dwell on the key dates of this conflict that officially exploded in 1967 with the creation of the State of Israel and the disappearance of Palestine from the map and dictionaries as a country. Since then, the Israeli determination to make the country and people disappear extends into the Six Day War, in 80, extends to the invasion of Lebanon in the early XNUMXs with the Sabra and Shatila massacre, takes on new contours with the Intifada and , later, with the endless peace negotiations that never put an end to the systematic advance of the colonization of the occupied territories…

But if there is a similarity of destiny between the Redskins and the Palestinians, there is also a difference and it needs to be registered. In a conversation between Elias Sanbar and Gilles Deleuze, published by the newspaper Libération, on May 8-9, 1982, the French philosopher addresses the subject: “Many articles from the Revue d'Etudes Palestiniennes remember and analyze in a new way the procedures by which Palestinians were expelled from their territories. This is very important because the Palestinians are not colonized, but evacuated, expelled. (...) It's just that there are two very different movements in capitalism. Now it is a question of keeping a people in their territory and making them work, of exploiting them, in order to accumulate a surplus – this is what is commonly called a colony. Now, on the contrary, it is a question of emptying a territory of its people, to take a leap forward, bringing in labor from elsewhere. The history of Zionism and Israel, like that of America, has gone through this: how to create a void, how to empty a people?” [ix].

Until then, we are still in the field of resemblance. But, according to Deleuze, who marked the limit of the comparison was Yasser Arafat, when he pointed out that there is an Arab world, while the Redskins did not have any base or force outside the territory from which they were expelled. Sanbar agrees with this analysis: “We are singular expelled because we were not displaced to foreign lands, but to the extension of our “home”. We were displaced in Arab land, where not only does no one want to dissolve us, but the very idea is an aberration.” [X].

Thus, Palestinians were not confined to “reservations” like the Redskins. Displaced “at home”, among fraternal and supportive peoples, Palestinians assumed the condition of exile in a very particular way. As Sanbar points out, every exile entails two ruptures: one with the place of departure, the other with the place of arrival. “Now, expelled and forced to move, the Palestinians continued to be Arabs and at no time will their displacement give rise to a diaspora, as this requires choosing residence in a foreign land. What precisely were not the neighboring countries that welcomed them.

The Palestinians were refugees, of course, but in their territorial and identity continuity; displaced, of course, but within their language, their culture, their cuisine, their music, their imagination. Even more: they shared with the peoples who welcomed them the dream of unity in a great Arab State” [xi]. In this sense, “(…) refugees react as men and women/territory, that is, they are convinced to carry their land with them, in them, hoping to make the Return and “rest it in its place”[xii]. (Idem pp. 166-167) It is this complex and tragic condition that makes Mahamoud Darwich, thirty years after leaving Palestine, find himself in Gaza and writes:

“I came, but I didn't arrive.

I'm here, but I'm not back!”

Indeed, you cannot return from where you never left, because you never left the place. Therefore, it is now important to emphasize that Darwich was the voice that enunciated with all the letters all the layers of meaning of this complex condition. It was not by chance that he became a collective asset of the Palestinian people, who see him as their mouthpiece. To the point where he wrote a moving poem for his mother and all readers/listeners read/heard the word Palestine in that term.

It's impressive: to go through his work is to realize that Darwich is Palestinian, he is Arab, he is the refugee, he is the exile from within and the exile from without, he is the infiltrator, he is the Redskin; but he is also the vanquished Trojan that no Homer sang and the Canaanite whose Bible was lost. Darwich is all of these because he is a poet who taps directly into the potency of poetry's ancestral matrix – the present absence from which it springs.

“You no longer ask yourself: What to write?, but: How to write? You invoke a dream. He runs away from the image. You ask for meaning. The cadence becomes narrow for him. You believe that you have crossed the threshold that separates the horizon from the abyss, that you have exercised yourself to open the metaphor to an absence that becomes presence, to a presence that is absent with a docile-appearing spontaneity. You know that in poetry the meaning is movement in a cadence. In it, prose aspires to the pastoral of poetry, and poetry to the aristocracy of prose. It takes me to what I don't know about the river's attributes… It takes me. A melodic line similar to this one makes its way into the course of words, a fetus in becoming that traces the lines of a voice and the promise of a poem. But she needs a thought that guides her and that she guides her through the possibilities, a land that holds her, an existential restlessness, a story or a legend. The first verse is what the perplexed have named, according to their origin, inspiration, or illumination.” [xiii].

It is astonishing for us, Brazilians, the determination with which Palestinians cling to their identity, language and place. For us, it is almost incomprehensible. Hence the importance of Mahamoud Darwich as an emblem of what we are not. Since the 20s, Brazilian modernists have asked themselves: What does it mean to “be Brazilian”? and, in the impossibility of recognizing oneself as such: How to become Brazilian? If the modern Brazilian issue is eminently ontological and epistemological, it is because it directly challenges being and becoming. More than questioned, threatened with extinction as a people, the Palestinians forged a response in the struggle, through the mouth of Darwich and so many others.

Trying to respond, Brazilian modernists went in search of the “rediscovery” of Brazil and ended up discovering the Other, that is, the Indians, who constituted one of the three great population currents in the formation of the Brazilian people (with Europeans and Africans brought as slaves). ; even more: they discovered that, despite the unconfessed genocide practiced since 1500, many of these peoples still survived in the national territory. Therefore, the Other was not the outsider, the Other was the Other of the land itself, of the place, present and yet systematically ignored, “absent”. And it was this Other that made the modern Brazilian perceive himself as an “outcast in his own land”, in the words of Sérgio Buarque de Holanda.

Thus, in the 1920s and 30s, it became clear that, in order to know what it was like to be Brazilian or how to become one, it would be necessary to put on the table what it was to be an Indian, and how Brazilians deal, or rather not deal with it. . At the Anthropophagous Manifesto, Oswald de Andrade, formulated the question in a tremendous way, in his parodic finding of the Hamletian dilemma: “Tupy or not tupy, that is the question" [xiv].

Formulated in a foreign language, more precisely in the language of Shakespeare, the statement could not express an improvement in the schizophrenic condition of modern Brazilians, as they face a double bind which, according to Gregory Bateson [xv], does not allow option and decision. Indeed, the more we try to solve it, the deeper we sink into the trap. This occurs because both Brazilians and Indians, both savages and civilized people, cannot be themselves without “resolving” their relationship with the Other, historically denied, and repressed since forever. For what do Brazilians say to Indians: “You cannot be Brazilians because you are Indians!” And, at the same time: “You cannot be Indians because you are Brazilians!” Thus, Indians and Brazilians have their future blocked by the dilemma Tupy or not Tupy...

Mahamoud Darwich should be taught in our schools. So that our future generations would learn what a people's exemplary and irremissible passion for their place in the world is.

*Laymert Garcia dos Santos he is a retired professor in the sociology department at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Politicize new technologies (Publisher 34).

Originally published in the first issue of Exilium – Journal of Contemporary Studies body of the Edward Saïd Chair at Unifesp.


[I]Darwich, M. Presentabsence. Col. Arab worlds. Arles: Actes Sud, 2016. Translated from Arabic by FaroukMardam-Bey and EliasSanbar. pp. 146-147.



[iv]Darwich, M. La Palestine comme metaphore. Interviews. Col. Babel. Arles: Actes Sud, 1997. Translated from Arabic by Elias Sanbar and from Hebrew by Simone Bitton. pp. 78-80.

[v]Mardam-Bey, F. and Sanbar, E. Être arab – Entretiens avec Christofe Kant cheff. Col. Sindbad. Arles: Actes Sud, 2005. Pp. 74-75.

[vi]Idem. P. 78.

[vii]Ibid. P. 82.

[viii]Ibid. P. 92.

[ix]Deleuze, G. Deux régimes de fous – Textes et entretiens 1975-1995. Paris: Minuit, 2003. Edition prepared by David Lapoujade. pp. 180-181.

[X]Idem. P. 181.

[xi]Ibid. P. 166.

[xii]Ibid. pp. 166-167.

[xiii]Darwich, M. Present absence. Op. cit. pp. 80-81.

[xiv]Nunes, Benedict. “Anthropophagy within everyone's reach – Introduction”. In Andrade, Oswald de. From Pau-Brasil to Antropofagia and Utopias – Complete Works VI. Rio de Janeiro: Civ. Brasileira, 1972, p. XXVI.

[xv] Bateson, G. Double bind, Steps to na ecology of the mind: A revolutionary approach to man's understanding of himself, 271-278. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972, pp. 271-278.


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