Sunday, October 31, 2004

Twilight of Hope

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Byline by M.J. AKBAR: Twilight of Hope

There comes a moment when every man’s obituary appears on his face. Suddenly the hero of a hundred battles is suffused with a childlike helplessness, and his hand clutches for support from a friend, unsure whether this will be the last gesture. It is a moment of truth beyond denial. It is the face of a man who has seen the approach of the angel of death, and knows that there are no answers, there is no negotiation, there is only submission to the will of God. It was such a face that a genuine hero of our times, Yasser Arafat, presented to television when cameras glimpsed him on Thursday, 28 October. May God grant Arafat a much longer life, but his days as the commander in chief of the Palestinian resistance are over.

No man can be a hero all his life, unless that life is a short one. Arafat was a hero in spasms, and stubbornly human the rest of the time, wandering through error, calculation and miscalculation. Tragedy was the inevitable fate of this refugee who never found any refuge, not even in the compound where Israel kept him imprisoned to humiliate as and when it suited some passing policy of Ariel Sharon.

What was Arafat thinking about on Thursday? That his life had been, as Shakespeare discovered in another context, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? The sound and the fury took him to the centre of the world stage, where he played more than one part even as the cast of characters around him kept changing. But because that part ended on the margins, did it also mean that his life signified nothing? That would be too harsh, perhaps. If nothing else, then Yasser Arafat embodied a national dream. The flaw was that it became a dream without a horizon. Or to put it another way, reality always fell short of the dream, and he repeatedly was unable to accept this reality. The horizon was always beyond reach because he had trained himself to distrust what was within reach. Any trained negotiator, or any head of government, would have permitted space for pragmatism, for there are no perfect solutions. The Sadat-Begin pact was not perfect but it has anchored the peace in the region. The Assads of Syria have not, and cannot, forego their claim on the Golan Heights, but they have not gone to war over that claim for 35 years..........

If the world is wise the next Arafat will not be forced to wear a gun in his belt as part of his workday clothes. We are in a time of flux, in a twilight that has lost the sun but not found the stars. As the poet said, one world is dead and the other is waiting to be born.

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