10 Monday 23rd October, 2006
by Gwynne Dyer region was in precipitous decline, and needed a British and French power was in 1956. It was in
successful war to shore it up. slow decline, just as British and French power
f you’re an imperial power, your troops often Fast-forward fifty years to Iraq, and the script had been in the 1950s. In 1956 the revolt against
end up in places that most of your citizens has hardly changed. The great power facing France in Algeria had barely begun, and Britain
cannot even find on the map: Mesopotamia for demotion now is the United States (as new great still effectively controlled Jordan, Iraq and the
Roman soldiers, for example, or Afghanistan powers emerge in Asia), and the target is another Gulf states. The Suez invasion was an unpro-
(three times) for the British. It looks foolish, Arab country: Iraq. The rhetoric that justifies the voked attack intended to destroy Gamal Abdul
viewed with the long perspective of history, and invasion follows an American rather than a Nasser, the charismatic Egyptian leader whom
yet lots of people fall for it in the short run. European model, so there is more emphasis on the British and French feared would rally the
The coming week marks the 50th anniversary apocalyptic threats (Saddam Hussein has weapons Arabs against their domination of the region —
of the Suez crisis of 1956, when Britain, France of mass destruction that he will give to terrorists) and it ended by destroying their domination of
and Israel conspired to invade Egypt. That opera- and on moral considerations (he tortures and kills the region.
tion took much less time to fall apart than the
current Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, which
has already lasted more than three years, but the
parallels are irresistible.
The British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt
was an instant military success, because at that
point Egypt had just emerged from centuries of
colonial rule by the Turks and the British. Egypt
was utterly incapable of defending itself against
countries that had long-range bombers, aircraft
carriers and amphibious forces. But what was
striking, even then, was the sheer helplessness of
the Anglo-French invasion forces once they had
won their military victory.
It was one of those “wars of choice” that great
powers in decline sometimes fight just to show
that they are still top dog. Britain and France had
both suffered a sudden, severe demotion in their
great-power status after the Second World War, as
it became clear that the principal players in the success. It was another “war of choice” — in
next round of the game were the United States cheerleader-journalist Tom Friedman’s famous
and the Soviet Union, countries of continental phrase — and it is coming to the same grim con-
scale with which they could not hope to compete. clusion.
So the declining powers had chosen a war against It is taking much longer to reach that conclu-
Egypt as a way of demonstrating that they were sion because America, the sole superpower, has
still serious players. nobody else to tell it to stop. US President
It is unlikely that anybody in power in London Dwight Eisenhower did that service for the
or in Paris ever put it quite that way at the time. British and French in 1956, telling them to stop
Even in the innermost circles of power, things are the nonsense at once, and they obeyed. If they
rarely called by their proper names, and the lies had been allowed to continue, as Michael Foot
are layered. Thus the British and French secretly (later a contender for the leadership of the
agreed with the Israelis that the latter should Labour Party in Britain) and Mervyn Jones noted
invade Egypt, whereupon Britain and France in a book published in 1957, Britain and France
would “intervene” to separate the Israeli and would have faced guerilla war in Egypt, and in
Egyptian combatants and “protect” the Suez the end “we would have had to get out again,
Canal. expelled by the gun of the terrorist.”
Behind that was a story about how Egypt’s There was nobody who could tell the US gov-
nationalisation of the Suez Canal was threatening Suez Canal ernment to stop when the Bush administration
world trade (though Egyptians were running the decided to invade Iraq, and so American troops in
canal perfectly well), and another story about how people) than in the Suez episode. But behind all The analogy with the current American inva- Iraq are living through (or dying in) the same
the shareholders in the Anglo-French company that the motive is the same: the need to shore up sion of Iraq is striking. The United States gov- sort of guerilla war that Eisenhower spared the
that had previously run the canal were being vic- American power in the Middle East by a success- ernment offered the same blizzard of lies to justi- British and French in Egypt fifty years ago by
timised (partly true, but hardly a cause for war). ful war against a defiant local ruler. fy its invasion of Iraq, and its fundamental goal ordering them to stop and go home.
And behind all that was the real reason: the exis- American power wasn’t actually in rapid was identical: to shore up a slowly deteriorating There must be a moral here somewhere, but
tential angst that British and French power in the decline in the Middle East in 2003, any more than domination of the region by a striking military I’m damned if I know what it is.
Infusing destinations with an
effusion of poetic elegance
Destinies Destinations My own stanzas not smooth or perfect generating a new reality. Her mind sees beneath Formed looping ropes over plateau, valleys,
by Jean Solomons-Arasanayagam Yet the images I create with their the transitory surface of the material, giving us a desert
Writers’ Workshop, Kolkata, India, 2006 Imperfections and edgy unevenness new and intense faith in the imagination. Crossings, reaching the shores of Antioch and
Will be strung together in a necklace of To put it as neatly as I can, I would say with Tyre,
Memories, reminding me of the stones conviction that Jean sees, reconciles, combines Creating new legends out of marts of trade,
And segments of rock my daughter once and penetrates beneath the surface of the old to New metaphors for the colour of the ocean...
by Carl Muller Cupped in her palms, rough, unpolished, disengage the truth that sleeps there; then builds
Jagged, yet with that inner radiance afresh a fairer form of artistic power and beauty. In 1955, The Sunburnt Country - A Profile of
oetry carries with it a voluntary power. To Lying concealed within its hidden heart. Her Italian destinations take her to stand Australia was edited and released by Ian Bevan.
Jean Solomons- Arasanayagam, this could before “Da Vinci’s Marble Girl” [p. 43] with her In it there are these melodious lines by Dorothy
mean an act of volition - a spontaneity [‘Hyderabadi Pearls’ - pp. 2 26] softly contoured cheeks suffused by the prismatic/ Mackellar:
determined by an unconstrained necessitation to glow of the sun... to “Lago di
design her thoughts. The Romans called it Labor Do manners go with textures, Como” [p. 4 5] - The spirit soul I love a sunburnt country,
ipse voluntas: a labour of love, but, considering the vari-coloured fibres spinning of water, / aeons and aeons of A land of sweeping plains,
the quite monumental collections Jean has whole tapestries of leg- silent currents / moving with Of ragged mountain ranges,
unpacked so far, I don’t see much of “labour”. ends, epics, time into lime and then, Of drought and flooding rains.
Rather, I see a spiritedness to nail her own sagas /Eventual timelessness. I love her far horizons,
colours to the mast, so to say, and her lines flow I love her jewel-sea,
with ease. Find them Take these fines: Her beauty and her terror -
As she says in her acknowledgement, the theme mouldering in odd The wide brown land for me!
of this collection is Journeys - both literal and places, I have left behind a world
metaphorical; and that her own world was in old villas, cas- where my To Jean, Australia must always remain the
coloured by her many explorations. Three desti- tles, museums, Being was cracked apart, wide-open land. In “The Paper-Bark Tree’ [pp. 103-
nations figure [call them transcursions?] and be it tracing the histo- fragmented, spilling out 104] she seeks a mumina loci - spirits of the place
India, Bellagio or Australia, she becomes a gather- ry of vanished Or prised open, those that dwell in each natural object. Her tree, with
er of her own prismatic view and gives us vistas, epochs... slivers of nutflesh, some huge swaths of bark peeling off has its
as she describes them, as seen from her own men- Morsels still embedded Dreamtime name of the ancient Dreamtime peo-
tal watchtower. [‘Borrowed Plumes’ in the shell, ple, and she says:
To her, history may dessicate or crumble down - p. 28] Its edges jagged
the trundling centuries [‘Historic Journeys’ - p. II] against my palm I began to write my poems
but the courtyards are filled with the sun and the Why write poems To draw a faint trac- On these tattered seamless pages,
pillars sleep, and in the Kailasa caves, the gods that become caged ery of blood Leave them behind for the wind to read
sleep too, undisturbed by the furies that torch the birds, Fragmented stanzas, fractured phrases.
world. Let us give ourselves [‘At the Villa
I have found India quite a sprawling, elusive, the freedom of silence Serbelloni - Lines to Yes, Australia is “A Different Landscape” [pp.
exasperating, preposterous and wondrous country. Until the full-throated Her Serene Highness 108-109] and It’s a lonely search ill a land / that
It can shock and enthral. Jean looks on the gods song bursts out from the Ella, Principessa conceals its secrets... although wide-open to the vis-
of Kailasa - Siva Nataraj; Parvathi, his consort; bird della Torre e Tasso - itor who simply skims the sunburnt surface.
Vishnu, Krishna, and Kali, and knows full well Perching on a tree- pp. 50-54]
that the worship of these deities is one of the old- branch in an unravaged, What does it all add up to? A collection that
est living faiths of mankind. How does a Unravished forest. This is not a landscape that belongs to my echoes and re-echoes the wonder of new sights,
poet from Sri Lanka enter this Hindu firmament World but it is one I want to remember as new realisations, new understandings; of making
where the gods have a thousand names? Jean may [‘Imprisoned Birds’ - pp. I do the endless stories that spill out of the lips a heady mixture of souls.
tell you that she has to drink of the well of cos- 29-3 1 Of strangers. In Venice Preserv’d, Thomas Ottway sang of
mic energy herself. She sings of Hyderabad, of lutes, lobsters, seas of milk and ships of amber.
the strings of the sitar and the notes of a love I may be oversteeped in praise for this truly [‘Writing our Narratives’ -pp. 55-57] Jean gives us as much and more, blending, fusing,
raga on the green lawn of the Taj Banjara, of romantic poet of our times, but even as I write, giving unity and tone and spirit.
Tughluquabad and Delhi. Let me give you some lines from The Prelude by Wordsworth nag me. She takes us to the villas of Tuscany - thinking As Biographia Literaria says in Chapter 14:
excerpts: Madly enough, I ask myself: was Wordsworth of the pastoral idylls of Virgil’s Eclogues -
telling Jean of the tremendous power of percep- Florence, Bergamo; views “The Gobelin ... she abstracts their forms
We are all making journeys... tion? As he wrote - Tapestries” [p. 77-89], and the lines dazzle: and draws a kind of quintessence from things;
drowning in someone’s tears of finding revela- which to her proper nature she transforms
tions An auxiliary light Within these walls are many worlds that have to bear them light on her celestial wing.
within the red heart of the fiery ruby Came from my mind which on the setting sun Impinged from both silk roads and trade routes
in someone’s poems... Bestowed new splendour... All along the way... ...Which then re-clothed in divers names and
clinging to the cords and threads that spin fates
our fate. This is how I see Jean’s creations. She modifies Forgotten routes? Beginning -where? A road that Steal access through our senses to our minds.
[‘Images’ - pp. 12-18]. and combines both perceiver and the things per- Sourced from Chang-an diverged, trails, wind- Need I say more? Read this collection and ask
ceived, and presents an original union of both, ing, yourself: Is every destination a step to destiny?