ESSAY Stevie Davies

NWR Issue 98

Lying Turks and the Pure Tongue of Eden

On the eve of a visit to Egypt I aquired an Arabic phrase book. Intended to help ‘Americans visiting or temporarily residing in the Arab world’, it phonetically transcribes ‘essential’ words. ‘EH-nah es-FEEN’, I found, means ‘We are sorry’, to which the reply might be ‘mah-LESH’, ‘never mind’. A footnote reads: ‘much-used expression... equivalent to: that’s too bad; it doesn’t matter; forget it.’ Between East and West, speech forms have acquired depths of painful irony. Western insults to and assaults on Arab and Jewish races have been so heinous that our very language seems to reinscribe our offences. And we no longer expect, nor have we deserved, a tolerant ‘mah-LESH’.

Representing the relationship between Wales and the Middle East, from twin poles, the two books before me, each brave and thoughtful, assess how our ‘small nation’ has dealt with the East. Welsh wanderlust has been prodigious – but what has been garnered in the way of the moral treasure of insight? Has Wales a more honourable history than England and America at respectfully understanding the Islamic and Jewish worlds? The Cymric experience of struggle for political and cultural survival against a colonising neighbour suggested to Wales its entitlement to claim solidarity, even kinship, with oppressed countries, tribes and ideologies. Both Jasmine Donahaye and Grahame Davies are sceptical.

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previous essay: Along the Unthank Road
next essay: Spitsbergen


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