A Weapon of Peace in Times of War
By: Dhabia Khalfan Harib
When he was a soldier, Muhsin Al Ramli never killed anyone because his strongest weapon was reading.
“Yes, reading is destructive,” Al Ramli said in a speech at The Emirates Airlines Literature Festival. “It destroys all the misconceptions held by an individual and thus creates a more wholesome being.”
Al Ramli is an Iraqi writer who fought in the Gulf War and has been living in Spain for the past 23 years. He is best known for the complete translation of Don Quixote from Spanish to Arabic. ZU students from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences had the pleasure of attending Al Ramli’s speech among the three different sessions on March 8.
Al Ramli’s speech was the third and final talk attended by the HSS students at the literature festival. It was called “Literary Experience in the Diaspora” and was in line with the #UAEReads campaign.
As stated in the title of the talk, Al Ramli used an anecdotal method to relay his experiences about the places reading has taken him.
He told a story about how some people in his own community perceived reading to be destructive as one person in their community was influenced by so called “spell books”. That is why they had this negative association with reading.
In times of war Al Ramli would read constantly. Whenever they had to go into bunkers, he would make sure he has books around him as it provided him with a sense of tranquillity.
His comrades would make fun of him, especially when they were looting and Al Ramli passed up on the gold and went straight to the libraries to take as many books as possible.
Their disregard took many forms. When Al Ramli would say he would become a famous writer in the West, they sniggered.
Through war, books were a source of peace for him. He had to move to Jordan for reasons he did not state, and then he came back to Iraq. In both places, he had to work tedious manual jobs. This further encouraged him to follow his dream of becoming a writer.
He applied to three universities in the West, two of which rejected him and the third barely let him in. Due to this, his life changed forever. He immersed himself in literature, learnt Spanish and gave the world an Arabic Don Quixote that does not miss any of the nuances of the original.
Al Ramli admitted that he never killed anyone in his time as a soldier and that his strongest weapon was reading. It opened his mind to a new world of possibilities and lead him from working as a gardener in Iraq to becoming a professor in Spain and one of the most important Arab figures in the literature scene.
The students and other attendees were very receptive to his talk as the regular laughs and applause would briefly stop Al Ramli’s telling of his story.
“Al Ramli’s talk was by far the best today not only because of the hardships he faced but because he connected with the audience and inspired me to read more,” one student said.