Dictator: Muammar al-Qaddafi
stream of consciousness
it comes to literary ventures, embattled Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is
best known for his 1975 political treatise the
Green Book, which lays out the foundation for Libya's jamahiriya system of government and is
supposed to be required reading for all Libyans. But for those looking for
additional insight into the dictator's mind, his follow-up publication, Escape to Hell, is the way to go -- if
you can get past the incoherent stream-of-consciousness prose, described by one reviewer
as "a lump of
uneven, partially digested literary cud."
to Hell is
billed as a collection of short stories and essays, but most readers have found
it lacking even the basic ingredients of plot or content. One of the most
bizarre stories is called "The Astronaut's Suicide." It tells the
story of an astronaut who returns to Earth from a long stay in space, finds he
can't adjust to normal life, and kills himself. It's meant to be a children's
book. Another piece titled "Stop Fasting When You See the New
Moon" both praises and
derides Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's proclamation about when Ramadan would occur for
allied Islamic forces during the first Gulf War (a decision traditionally left
to Islamic scholars).
themes do emerge from the mess. Qaddafi rages against urban decay and Islamic
fundamentalism. Reviewers have noted how
"environmentalism, tradition and enlightened interdependence are high on
his list of virtues," especially in his yarns on the beauty of Bedouin
life in the desert. He really does hate
the city, though:
the city: a mill that grinds down its inhabitants, a nightmare to its builders.
It forces you to change your appearance and replace your values; you take on an
urban personality, which has no colour or taste to it.... The city forces you
to hear the sounds of others whom you are not addressing. You are forced to
inhale their very breaths.... Children are worse off than adults. They move
from darkness to darkness.... Houses are not homes -- they are holes and
a young boy was run over in that street, where he was playing. Last year a
speeding vehicle hit a little girl crossing the street, tearing her body apart.
They gathered up her limbs in her mother's dress. Another child was kidnapped
by professional criminals. After a few days, they released her in front of her
home, after they had stolen one of her kidneys! Another boy was put into a
cardboard box by the neighbourhood boys in a game, but was run over
accidentally by a car.
wonder he prefers staying in tents in the desert.
the United States was planning and executing an invasion of his country, Saddam Hussein
spent the final
weeks before the war working on a plot of his own -- a historical novel
describing an ancient tribe repelling an attack from foreign invaders. It would
have been the capstone in a remarkable literary career. Saddam's debut novel, Zabiba and the King, was published in
2000 and was followed by three more novels: The Fortified
Castle (2001), Men
and the City (2002), and Devil's Dance,
the book supposedly completed just one day before the U.S. invasion and, smuggled
out of Iraq by one of Saddam's daughters. The novels were popular in Iraq
(though perhaps not by choice), and the last one has even been translated
Zabiba and the
the first novel, was released anonymously, but critics quickly fingered Saddam (or,
at least, his ghostwriters)
as the probable author. It became a bestseller, with lavish praise from the
Iraqi press. The Iraqi National Theater even produced a musical based on the
as the country's "biggest production ever."
novel is an allegorical love story, set in Arabian
Nights-era Iraq, about a beautiful woman, Zabiba, who falls madly in love with a
king named Arab and then teaches him
about Islam and how to run a country. Zabiba's abusive husband is supposed to
represent the predatory United States invading and pillaging an innocent Iraq.
Not so coincidently, King Arab and his creator share the same birthplace,
literary prowess is shadowed by his stilted prose, a fondness for profanity,
and blatant attempts to use his political enemies as the central villains of
his stories. According to the Guardian,
the English translation contains repeated uses of the word "asshole"
to describe the evil husband. It also features a bizarre bestiality sex scene:
an animal respects a man's desire, if it wants to copulate with him. Doesn't a
female bear try to please a herdsman when she drags him into the mountains as
it happens in the North of Iraq? She drags him into her den, so that he,
obeying her desire, would copulate with her? Doesn't she bring him nuts,
gathering them from the trees or picking them from the bushes? Doesn't she
climb into the houses of farmers in order to steal some cheese, nuts and even
raisins, so that she can feed the man and awake in him the desire to have her?
English translator believes
the bear is supposed to represent Russia.
thanks to British satirist and actor Sacha Baron Cohen,
of Borat fame, Hollywood will soon release an adaptation of Zabiba and the King, with Cohen in the
role of King Arab. The Dictator is due out in May 2012, billed
as "the heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that
democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed."
career didn't end with the U.S. invasion. He continued to compose poetry from
prison cell after he was sentenced to death. His poem "Unbind
It" is believed to contain his last written words:
All people, we never let you down
And in catastrophes, our party is the leader.
I sacrifice my soul for you and for our nation
Blood is cheap in hard times
We never kneel or bend when attacking
But we even treat our enemy with honor…
Kim Jong Il
Revolutionary film criticism
If North Korean propaganda is to be believed, Dear Leader is the world's
most prolific writer. Kim Jong Il claims to have written 1,500
books -- and that was just during his college years. Highlights include his
1974 On the
Art of Opera: Talk to Creative Workers in the Field of Art and Literature, 1983's Let Us
Advance Under the Banner of Marxism-Leninism and the Juche Idea, and Our Socialism Centered on the Masses Shall
Not Perish, published in 1991. But the most well-known opus from this life-long film buff is probably On the Art of the Cinema, published in
1973 and available for $27.50 on Amazon.com.
to B.R. Myers, author of several books about North Korea, Kim's books aren't
actually meant to be read. "This is not a country like China where
citizens are expected to read and learn by heart a dictator's work," Myers
says. "In North Korea, it's more about reading about the dictator's life. If
you actually ask North Koreans about the content of Kim Jong Il's writings,
they know very little and they get embarrassed about that."
On the Art of
calls for a "revolutionary transformation of
the practice of directing." Tips include: "If the characters' behavior in a given situation is
determined by the whim of the writer, and not by their own will and conviction,
they will not seem like living people and will fail to arouse a genuine
emotional response." Another of his books, The Cinema and
Directing, describes, in the meandering, repetitive totalitarian-ese
employed by Kim throughout his oeuvre, the connection between Juche and
directing, the basic factor is also to work well with the artists, technicians
and production and supply personnel who are directly involved in film-making.
This is the essential requirement of the Juche-inspired system of directing.
This system is our system of directing under which the director becomes the
commander of the creative group and pushes ahead with creative work as a whole
in a coordinated way, giving precedence to political work and putting the main
emphasis on working with the people who make films. This system embodies the
fundamental features of the socialist system and the basic principle of the
Juche idea that man is the master of everything and decides everything. Hence,
it fully conforms with the collective nature of film-making and the
characteristic features of direction.
Jong Il's books are written primarily to be showpieces for the regime, for
display in libraries and museums. "When the regime really has something to
say, it expresses it directly and concisely," Myers says. "When
there's nothing much to say, that's when they slip into this boring, turgid
Georgian pastoral odes
Joseph Stalin was known for murdering millions of his own people, the Soviet
dictator was a locally famous Georgian poet who wrote flowery odes to nature
and working-class heroes. Young Ioseb Dzhugashvili's work was considered good
enough to be included in prestigious literary journals of the time and Georgian
anthologies. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore's Young
Stalin, the dictator's poems became minor
Georgian classics even before he took power -- some were even unwittingly
memorized by schoolchildren all the way up through the 1970s (Stalin typically
published anonymously). His rhapsodic invocations of Georgia's rolling lush
landscape, as in the poem "Morning," were beloved by nationalists and
read as a rebuff to czarist repression:
The pinkish bud has opened,
Rushing to the pale-blue violet
And, stirred by a light breeze,
The lily of the valley has bent over
The lark has sung in the dark blue,
Flying higher than the clouds
And the sweet-sounding nightingale
Has sung a song to children from the
Flower, oh my Georgia!
Let peace reign in my native land!
And may you, friends, make renowned
Our Motherland by study!
poetry was fairly standard for early 19th century romantic poetry, as biographer
Robert Service notes in Stalin:
A Biography, if a little juvenile. "It wasn't very original,"
Service says. "I don't think it's very good, personally. It's very
conventional, the imagery is very standardized and rather self-indulgent.… He's
not one of the great poets."
largely gave up writing his own poetry after he took power, but he pursued his
love of verse in other ways: In the 1940s, he translated and edited Georgian
poetry into Russian, memorized poems by Nikolai Nekrasov and Alexander Pushkin,
read translations of Goethe and Shakespeare, and could apparently recite Walt
Whitman's work from memory. Supposedly, when Nobel Prize-winning poet and
novelist Boris Pasternak was on a list of execution targets, Stalin said,
"Leave that cloud-dweller in peace." "He had really romantic
yearnings," says Service.
poetry is not widely read today, a notable exception being among talented Georgian
Dictator: Saparmurat Niyazov
Oeuvre: Spiritual meditations
writers are their own worst critics. Not the late Turkmen autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov who
Turkmen youth that in order to go to heaven, they must read his book three
times a day. "A person that reads Ruhnama becomes smart ... and after it, he
will go to heaven," Niyazov, also known by the honorific title
Turkmenbashi (Leader of All the Turkmen), told the country's young people at a
concert celebrating a national spring holiday.
Over the course of his reign, which began after the
dissolution of the Soviet empire and ended with his death in 2006, Niyazov
established the kind of personality cult that turned Turkmenistan into, in the words
of the New Yorker's David Remnick, "a cruel blend of Kim Jong Il's North
Korea and Frank L. Baum's Oz." During Niyazov's reign, Turkmen doctors had
to take an oath to Turkmenbashi, the first month of the year was redubbed
Turkmenbashi, and most books were banned from stores and schools. But not Ruhnama, a
400-page collection of Niyazov's thoughts on Turkmen identity, philosophy, and
history, which was "written with the help of inspiration sent to my heart
by the God who created this wonderful universe."
According to Ruhnama,
"the Turkmen people has a great history which goes back to the Prophet
made the Turkmens prolific and their numbers greatly increased. God gave them
two special qualities: spiritual richness and courage. As a light for their
road, God also strengthened their spiritual and mental capacity with the
ability to recognize the realities behind events. After that He gave His
servants the following general name: TURK IMAN. Turk means core, iman means
light. Therefore, TURK IMAN, namely Turkmen means "made from light, whose
essence is light." The Turkmen name came to the world in this way.
"However peculiar the results may be, the rationale
arose from reality," says Fred Starr, a professor at Johns Hopkins's
School of Advanced International Studies and chairman of the Central-Asia
Caucasus Institute. "I think [Turkmenistan's leaders] felt that things
were really coming apart in a dangerous situation and they needed anything that
could rally the country together. This text was what the president himself
designated as an instrument for doing that."
At the height of Niyazov's reign, Ruhnama was everywhere: in
schools, in government offices, and on state-run television, which was once
devoted exclusively to promoting his work. The month of September was even
Today, the book no
longer has the same grip on Turkmen society that it once did. New wealth,
especially in the form of a natural gas pipeline to China, is providing the
country with new rallying points. "It's being respectfully relegated to
the past," Starr said. "There are still copies all over the place,
but the country has moved on."
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
Ruhollah Khomeini may have been a revolutionary leader, overthrowing the
Pahlavi dynasty of Iran in 1979 and establishing an Islamic Republic with
himself as supreme leader. But he was also a poet, inspired by centuries of
Persian poetry like that written by famous Sufi mystic poets such as Rumi,
who composed allegorical love poems notable for their use of music, dance, and
even alcohol (despite it being banned by Muslim law) to express the rapture and
hunger associated with both romantic and religious love.
just one of the reasons that "startling" is a word used more
once by critics describing Khomeini's work. Khomeini is, after all, the leader responsible
for both the establishment of a theocratic regime dedicated to religious purity
and calling for the assassination
of writer Salman Rushdie for publishing a novel deemed offensive to Islam.
many, his poetry was a revelation," says journalist Baqer Moin.
"Khomeini employed the customary symbolism, allusions, metonymy, and
other literary tools and metaphors such as wine, love, beauty, beloved
that one does not associate with an Ayatollah under whose rule the wine
drinkers were flogged and the lovers punished."
Khomeini's verse, such as this poem
first in English by the New Republic after
his death, can seem surprisingly
Open the door of the tavern and let
us go there day and night,
For I am sick and tired of the
mosque and seminary.
I have torn off the garb of asceticism
Putting on the cloak of the
tavern-hunting shaykh and becoming aware.
The city preacher has so tormented
me with his advice
That I have sought aid from the
breath of the wine-drenched profligate.
Leave me alone to remember the
I who have been awakened by the hand
of the tavern's idol.
Wieseltier, literary editor of the New
Republic, was taken by both the poem's content and style. "Given what
the West has thought of Khomeini, the lyricism of the poem and its radical,
law-threatening mysticism are startling," he told the New
York Times that same year. "The tyrant turns out to have been a
religious intellectual in the fullest sense."
deepened his interests in poetry and mysticism as a young man studying in the Shiite holy city of Qom. In the madrasa, other types of art like music and
painting were forbidden. Poetry
was not, and students, including Khomeini, used it as a way of dealing with the
absence of other outlets for sensual expression in their lives.
Khomeini's lifetime, his poetry was only known among a small circle of
followers and friends. Grand ayatollahs are not supposed to be poets. According
to Moin, the Quran "looks at poets as misguided, and Khomeini had problems
with the traditionalist clergy in the 1940s who accused him of heresy because
of his interest in teaching mysticism and writing about it."