Ghassan Kanafani, Writing as Resistance and Hiphop – In the Wake of Egypt 2011

Posted on February 20, 2011


Mic-Key Boston draws words from Life and Struggle of Kanafani.

“I am someone who feels a very strong need for freedom and to not allow anyone to be backed into a corner” uttered late Montrealer Lhasa de sela, an artist who adamantly believed in the call for equality between all peoples.

I (Mickey Boston) routinely perform a track entitled “depression” at every hip-hop set given. Before performing the piece, the historical context of the track is mentioned. I had studied in both Egypt and Jordan between the ages of seven and thirteen. After having crossed the poverty and the realization of the humanitarian crisis drawn by the conflict in neighbouring Palestine, I became politically conscious at a young age.

By result of having first-hand encountered the plight of Palestinian refugees in both states, “Depression” was a track written in context of a thirteen-year-old walking through a refugee camp and narrating the plight of the displaced.

“Depression” is a track that follows the narrative of what a child sees and how he sees what it is that he sees. In essence, the child narrates in like manner that Kanafani’s stories narrate from the point-of-view of a child. Being born in the West and moving to study in the East has its impact on a child. I knew that education was key to a brighter future, especially after being in Egypt and watching the other kids get in street fights while others collected tins. In Jordan I was struck with the aspect of always seeing other boys my age who had nothing. In both countries I befriended my Arab brothers and loved them as if they were of my very own blood and undeniably we are all of one blood and one people, this was the way I always saw things as a boy.

Hiphop came at the age of thirteen; those were the very first bars ever written. Politics and religion are a significant part of life in the Middle-East, Oriental nexus and greater Muslim world. Politics weave their way into the fabric of everything you live and wear: what political group are you aligned with and who do you support? Universities are sympathetic to specific political ideologies and bitterly vicious towards others.

Religion and politics are synonymous with the Middle-East and the Muslim world, things have not changed from Kanafani’s era. As result it was only natural for a thirteen-year-old to write verses on the political ideals of his surroundings. What is even more notable in this nexus is the aspect of corruption and silencing of voice, hiphop became the medium to write and writing was manifested in various forms whether they were words and expressions “vandalized” on walls and tanks to words being engraved in newspapers, novels, poems and letters.

Not being able to express and speak is deprivation for any human being. The ideal of fear and speculation reigned for many years in the Oriental circa in which being conscious over what was to be said and not said may have been a similar ordeal to a ground troop walking through a mine field. Torture houses still exist to this very day, government funded gangs, thugs and warlords have always been funded by crooked politicians was also an everyday norm. Writng hiphop or poetry was not the challenge nor the struggle, the struggle lay in vocalizing these given words.

Literature and Oppressed Expression.

I completed my Bachelors and Masters in literature. I later started a doctorate in American lit while still living in Brooklyn. Reading and writing was the path I followed and almost over ten years later from the day I started writing at thirteen in Jordan, I got my Masters. I delved more into Kanafani’s writing who was born in 1936 which was a father-figure date for me as my very own father was born in 1937. Kanafani was born in Acre (Akka), British Mandate of Palestine. His father was a lawyer, and sent him to a French missionary school in Jaffa.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Kanafani and his family were forced into exile, a part of the Palestinian exodus. Their home city became part of Israel. The family initially fled north to neighbouring Lebanon, less than 11 miles north, but soon moved on to DamascusSyria, to live there as Palestinian refugees. Kanafani completed his secondary education in Damascus, receiving a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) teaching certificate in 1952.

The same year he enrolled in the Department of Arabic Literature at the University of Damascus and began teaching in UNRWA schools in the refugee camps. Before he could complete his degree, Kanafani was expelled from the university and exiled to Kuwait for his political affiliations – a result of his involvement in the Arab Nationalist Movement(ANM), a left-wing pan-Arab organization to which he had been recruited by Dr. George Habash when the two met in 1953. Some biographers, however, do not believe Kanafani was ever expelled, but simply moved to Kuwait, where he worked as a teacher and became more politically active. In Kuwait he edited al-Ra’i (The Opinion), which was an ANM-affiliated newspaper, and also became interested in Marxist philosophy and politics.

The Palestinian membership of the ANM evolved in 1967 into the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), of which Kanafani became a spokesman. In 1969, he drafted a PFLP program in which the movement officially took up Marxism-Leninism. He also edited the movements newspaper, al-Hadaf (The Target), which he had founded in 1969, writing political, cultural and historical essays and articles.

The Rhythm of Resistance and Awakening.

Hip-hop has undeniably become one medium of education and awareness. The medium is one of many alongside art, literature, activism and music. Indeed the strength of hip-hop artists of the likes of Omar Offendum and the Narcicyst are undeniably present. Due to a changed world, with the advent of multimedia sources that rapidly send information from end of the world to the other, the medium has brought power to the message and it is undeniable that artists of the likes of Narcy and Offendum know that there is so much work to be done as this is not even the tip of the iceberg.

Would forefathers of the writing of resistance be proud? Kanafani would be. Would he himself be doing his writing today after having seen the advent of Egypt 2011? His words still speak as if nothing has changed:

“Knock on the water tank’s walls,” don’t die in silence… Resist!

Literal translation would go like this: knock on the walls, in Ghassan martyrdom day. It rhymes In Arabic, of course. The words still resonate in the wake of current protuberances  in the motherland. Writing is the resistance and the revolution indeed. Painting and design is as well and indeed there is as much of a literary and poetic and artistic intifada as there is an electronic one.

The writing on the tanks, Egypt January 30th, 2011

Kanafani is credited with having coined the term “resistance poetry” to refer to Palestinian poetry written in Occupied Palestine, a now recognized genre within the Arabic literary sphere. Mahmoud Darwish, who dedicated one of his own works, The Palestinian Wedding, to Kanafani, writes in an introduction to a volume of Kanafani’s literary critical studies that, “It was Ghassan Kanafani who directed Arab public opinion to the literature of the occupied land […] the term ‘resistance’ was not associated with the poetry until Ghassan applied it, thereby giving the term its special significance.

Released March 26th 2013, Journeymen's "Pledge of the Respirator" EP provides hiphop fiends an original boombap survey that was delivered by the consistent narratives of Mickey Boston Kovaks, John Wholetrain and Melo Malo Paulino.

Released March 26th 2013, Journeymen’s “Pledge of the Respirator” EP provides hiphop fiends an original boombap survey that was delivered by the consistent narratives of Mickey Boston Kovaks, John Wholetrain and Melo Malo Paulino.