al-Hajaya’s Elegy on Rashid az-Zyudi



Elegy on Rashid az-Zyudi

Rest in peace, you who sold your life
And spared it for the homeland’s sake: Zyudi
Rest in peace, Rashid, as many times as the wind blows
I hope you’re in heaven’s peace and eternity
Zyudi, you followed Wasfi, Hazza‘,
Salih Shwe‘ir, and all such noble lions
A brave man, a lion, from a lion’s pride!
Men of noble origin who keep their pledges
Your blood brightens our path
Our borders’ protectors take pride in its glory
Under Hashemite rule, you’ve proven yourself a man
Abu al-Hussein! We’re all his soldiers
It’s a War on Terror—we’re all resolved,
Our people and our army, to spare no effort
Jordan’s stronger than evil men’s aims
With such gallant lads defending its borders
Rest in peace, Rashid, as many times as the wind blows
I hope you’re in heaven’s peace and eternity
We all bleed grief for you, by God
Oh son of cheetahs, the recompense of God will come!


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William Tamplin, the translator, comments:

On March 2 in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid, police raided an ISIS cell, and a police captain named Rashid az-Zyudi was killed. Muhammad Fanatil al-Hajaya, a Bedouin poet from a hamlet in the south, started writing poems. His inspiration for writing this poem was twofold. The existence of the ISIS cell and its imminent attack shook Jordan to the core, and as a public figure Hajaya had to respond soon. Moreover, Hajaya saw footage of Jordan’s King Abdullah II burying Zyudi as if he were his own son, and this affected him.
Why did the attack shake Jordan to the core? Hajaya relates that unlike the Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians, and refugees from 41 other nationalities Jordan has sheltered, Jordanians would have nowhere to flee if ISIS attacked. So all Jordanians feel targeted, and Hajaya believes that Zyudi thus died for all of them. But if Jordanians feel targeted, Hajaya added, they also feel united. Indeed, even the opposition Muslim Brotherhood called for national unity in the aftermath of the raid.
Hajaya’s elegy on Zyudi follows the conventions of the traditional Bedouin elegy. It calls for God’s peace on Zyudi’s soul, reclaims the manner of Zyudi’s death, promises revenge on Zyudi’s killers, and praises Zyudi for sacrificing his life for his country. Hajaya consequently places Zyudi in the context of fallen Jordanian heroes: Wasfi at-Tal, the Jordanian prime minister assassinated by Black September in 1971; Hazza‘ al-Majali, another Jordanian prime minister assassinated in 1960; and Salih Shwe‘ir, a lieutenant colonel in the Jordanian army who refused to surrender to Israeli forces in 1967 and fought to the death. The poem also lauds Zyudi’s bravery and lineage, praising his leonine qualities and his descent from a pride of lions (lābit isbā‘). As Hajaya did in his elegies on Saddam Hussein, Muammar al-Qaddafi and Mu‘ath al-Kasasbeh, he reclaims the manner of Zyudi’s death by writing that his blood brightens Jordan’s path forward. Moreover, Zyudi was endowed with all the manly virtues (wāfī al-bā‘), another praise trope in Bedouin poetry.
In the next line Hajaya refers to Jordan’s war on ISIS as a “War on Terror,” a phrase often derided in the Arab media for Bush’s use of it to justify the American invasion of Iraq. Hajaya used it ironically in a poem he wrote from Bush’s point of view in 2004, but he has apparently reappropriated the phrase now that Jordan is a major ISIS target. Hajaya also goes out of his way in this poem to praise those guarding Jordan’s “borders,” any weak spots that Jordan’s enemies could exploit. He means not only the border guards in the Desert Patrol guarding Jordan’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia but also the intelligence officers working in bunkers in Amman.
It would be a mistake to read this poem purely as poetry. To be sure, Hajaya has written many poems that are beautiful as poems, but he also writes poetry that is nationalist, ideological, and reliant on stock tropes from more prosaic Bedouin poetry. Some detractors from this poetry claim that it is merely a collection of political slogans, and that is not untrue. But these poems are also potent conveyors of ideology on a popular level in a country that needs as much national unity as it can get.

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