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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.4 (2003) 851-859

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Ammiel Alcalay

Arcane from the inside,
explode and

dead reckoning

think in roots,
and of a people suicided,

who bring their chains
to funerals that are blasts

of a resistance
everyone understands
and everyone resists understanding

—Jack Hirschman, from The Apocryphon Arcane


no work of art comparable to a terraced
    olive grove

sustaining generation after generation
    near and far


Former political prisoner Abraham Serfaty, jailed and tortured for sixteen years under the regime [End Page 851] of King Hassan in Morocco for his opposition activities and writings, recalls, "I remember my father, when I was about ten, telling me once in the synagogue: ‘Zionism is against our religion.' And I recall the pilgrimage with my parents, when I was 14, to the tomb of Rabbi Amran Ben Diwan, in an olive grove in Asjen, right near Ouezzane. What did it matter that belief in God was a thing of the past, I couldn't root this scene from my being any more than the olive trees could uproot themselves from their terrain, that ancient olive grove that so many of my ancestors had prayed in. My roots were there, in the depths of that soil. Could I accept that my Moroccan Jewish brethren had gone to the Holy land, that land of Palestine from which Rabbi Amran had come, in order to uproot olive trees?" 1


In July 1969, a delegation of the Black Panther Party is introduced and hosted at the First Pan-African Cultural Festival by Abraham Serfaty. In the first issue of The Black Scholar, Nathan Hare, a man born on a sharecropper's farm near Slick, Oklahoma, who went on to get his doctorate at the University of Chicago, wrote an account of the festival:

There was a battle in Algiers in late July, with lighter skirmishes both old and new, and emerging signs of struggle which now lurk ready to boomerang around the world in the years (and months) to come. The troops came together, African general and footsoldiers in the war of words and politics that splashed against the calm waters of the Mediterranean Sea—in the First Pan African Cultural Festival—from everywhere in greater numbers than ever before; from San Francisco to Senegal, from Dakar to the District of Columbia . . .

Hundreds of delegates came from thirty-one independent African countries and representatives from six movements for African liberation, from Palestine to Angola-Mozambique and the Congo-Brazzaville. And there were Black Panthers and "black cubs" and old lions from the American contingent. Secretly exiled Eldridge Cleaver chose this occasion to reveal his whereabouts, and expatriated Stokely Carmichael came with his South African–exiled wife, Miriam Makeba. Kathleen had her baby during the festival, and there was Panther Minister of Culture, Emory Douglass, international jazz artists, such as Nina [End Page 852] Simone and Archie Shepp, and Julia Hevre (the late Richard Wright's daughter now living in Paris).

LeRoi Jones (whose passport had been held up) could not get over, but there were: the serious and quietly charismatic young poet, Don L. Lee; Carmichael lieutenants, Courtland Cox and Charlie Cobb; Panther Chief of Staff David Hilliard, who had to return to the United States before the festival was over to take care of a crisis with Chicago Police; and the compassionate black Parisian poet, Ted Joans. There were many young black Americans who had not been invited, but who had cared enough to piece together their own fare; including Oakland's Harriet Smith, who, as of this writing, is still in Africa traveling and lecturing. 2

Back in the United States, the FBI aggressively exploited an issue that had begun to present itself in the summer of 1967 when, at the National Convention for a New Politics in New York, two members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), James Forman and Rap Brown, "led a floor fight for a resolution condemning Zionist expansion." 3 Just a few months after the festival in Algiers, the counterintelligence program, otherwise known as COINTELPRO...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 851-859
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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