I used to play football for a Catholic school old boys team. At the time, I never thought much about the background of the lads playing (first generation English born Irish). We all believed in a United Ireland, sympathised with the Republican cause, but it was never really spoken about. When playing football however, I began to notice the divide amongst the different teams. Our lads would often be called a dirty Fenian, or IRA bastards by the white teams. Then there were all Pakistani teams, West Indian etc., who no doubt received racist abuse during matches. In fact, I remember the Irish manager of our team, once being cut up by a black driver on the way to a game and shouting, “You fucking black bastard, get back to your own country”, without any sense of irony. This was the 1980s, and time moves on, you would hope.
It used to be ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’ where racism was casual in everyday use. However, we seem to live in a time where the racists think it a clever ‘political’ move, to couch their discrimination in a fight against ‘extremism’; which in today’s heated planet reads as anyone who’s a Muslim, or looks like a Muslim – I recently saw a picture of the Brighton Pavilion, where the English Defence League mistook it for a Mosque. It of course drew much bile from gullible racists. The latest incarnation of such a political strategy are Britain First, who in a documentary tried to show their ‘non-racist’ political opposition to mega-Mosques, yet when confronted by a man of sub-continent origin, shouted back at him, “Go back to the desert.”
You would think that all of this is beyond satire, but not for Amir Darwish, who in Sorry gives us so many things to laugh, marvel and cry about – “Abdul in the US is sorry for what so and so did;/He does not know him but he is sorry anyway”, or “If we forget to apologise for something, never mind,/We are sorry for it without even knowing it.” This poem ignites the senses, “Sorry for all the words we throw at you;/Amber, candy, chemistry, cotton, giraffe, hazard,/Jar, jasmine, jumper, lemon, lime, lilac,/Oranges, sofa, scarlet, spinach,/Talisman, tangerine, tariff, traffic, tulips,” And of course there is much to learn within the satire, “Sorry for the mercury chloride that heals wounds,/Please give us some -/Because the guilt of initiating all of the above/Gives us a wound as big as this earth.” Just as in the 1970s and 80s in the UK when Irish, Pakistani, Indian, and Caribbean immigrants faced racist abuse, so it is now for Muslims who face a rising threat of racism throughout Europe and the US; the racists say they are fighting against intolerance and they say it without irony, and without apology.
Amir Darwish is a British/Syrian poet of Kurdish origin. He was born in Aleppo in 1979 and came to the UK as an asylum seeker during the Second Gulf War. His poetry has been published in the USA, Pakistan, Finland, Morocco and Mexico and in the anthology Break-Out. He has recently completed an MA in International Studies at the University of Durham. He lives in Middlesbrough. Sorry is from his recently published collection from Smokestack, called ‘Don’t Forget the Couscous.
An apology from Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) to humanity)
We are sorry for everything.
That we have caused humanity to suffer from.
Sorry for algebra and the letter X.
Sorry for all the words we throw at you;
Amber, candy, chemistry, cotton, giraffe, hazard,
Jar, jasmine, jumper, lemon, lime, lilac,
Oranges, sofa, scarlet, spinach,
Talisman, tangerine, tariff, traffic, tulips,
Mattress (yes, mattress) and the massage you enjoy on it;
We are sorry for all of these.
Sorry that we replaced alcohol with coffee for Enlightenment philosophers.
Speaking of hot drinks,
We are sorry for the cappuccino the Turks brought over.
Sorry for the black Arabian race horses,
For the clock,
Abdul in the US is sorry for what so and so did;
He does not know him but he is sorry anyway.
Sorry that we accompanied Columbus on his journey to the States.
And sorry for the Arab man with him
Who was the first to touch the shore and shout ‘Honolulu’
And named the place after him.
Sorry for the architecture in Spain and the Al Hambra palace there.
We apologise for churches in Seville
With their stars of David at the top that we built with our hands.
We say sorry for every number you use in your daily life from the 0 to the trillion.
Even Adnan the Yezidi (mistaken for Muslim)
Is sorry for the actions of Abu whatever who beheads people in Syria.
Sorry for the mercury chloride that heals wounds,
Please give us some –
Because the guilt of initiating all of the above
Gives us a wound as big as this earth.
Sorry for the guitar that was played by Moriscos in Spain
To ease their pain when they were kicked out of their homes.
Sorry for the hookah as you suck on its lips
And gaze into the moon hearing the Arabian Nay.
Sorry for cryptanalysis and the ability to analyse the information systems,
To think what is the heart of the heart of the heart and bring it to the world.
Sorry for painting Grenada white to evade social hierarchy.
Sorry for the stories in The Arabian Nights.
Every time we see a star, we remember to be sorry for Astronomy,
We are sorry that Mo Farah claimed asylum here
And went to become the British champion of the world.
Sorry for non-representational art,
Pattern and surface decoration.
We are sorry for all the food we brought over:
From tuna to chicken tikka masala,
Right up to the shawarma roll.
And don’t forget the couscous.
If we forget to apologise for something, never mind,
We are sorry for it without even knowing it.
Most of all we are sorry for Rumi’s love poems,
And we desperately echo one of them to you:
Liberate my soul.
Fill me with your love and
Release me from the two worlds.
If I set my heart on anything but you
Let that fire burn me from inside.
Take away what I want.
Take away what I do.
Take away what I need.
Take away everything
That takes me away from you.
Please forgive us.
We are sorry and cannot be sorry enough today.