For Brave People Standing and Dying Like Men for Freedom Tonight
Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate;
va, ti posa sui clivi, sui colli,
ove olezzano tepide e molli
l'aure dolci del suolo natal!
Del Giordano le rive saluta,
di Sionne le torri atterrate...
Oh mia patria sì bella e perduta!
Oh membranza sì cara e fatal!
Arpa d'or dei fatidici vati,
perché muta dal salice pendi?
Le memorie nel petto raccendi,
ci favella del tempo che fu!
O simile di Sòlima ai fati
traggi un suono di crudo lamento,
o t'ispiri il Signore un concento
che ne infonda al patire virtù.
Odd things are happening in the partner countries of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue tonight as they have been for some days past. I can't get the man in Cairo who told the BBC on the telephone that he was prepared to die like a man for his boy and his freedom out of my mind. I thought of the best of Ireland, of my grandfather, and of various songs. Such are my middlebrow references, I couldn't help but think of Nana Mouskouri, sing Je Chante Avec Toi Liberte to Verdi's Nabucco, and a mad seventies' childhood's Fernando, and of the Freedom song.
Verdi, in particular, produced the song of the fleeing slaves at a time of deep personal devastation and in memory of those who have, over the centuries, fled Egypt in the hope that they could live. What would happen, I always wondered, if people did not run? We all die, I suppose.
It's an almost funny thought, but not really when you think of the obvious associations, that that song of the running slaves was the only encore the New York Met would ever allow, according to cliche and legend. You know, New York City, Cairo, heartstrings, all that....
All self indulgence, of course, but I'd defy any heart to read of people guarding each other's churches and mosques and walking into the fire to be free, and not be moved. I'm very conscious that I spent the day, after a sleepless night, in much different circumstances and can think the way I do because I wasn't spending my time facing down some hired thug who was out to earn his bread by bashing my brains in. I did see a bike go under a car as I walked home, though--I and another man checked to see if things were alright, and they were, and then slipped away as someone mentioned the word 'witness'.
There was no fear of any Imperial entanglements, as Obi Wan would have said anyway. I saw two vans of the Metropolitan Commissioner's finest (kitted out in full riot shielding) look the other way as they drove past, almost certainly accidentally. It was a cold night and then end of a shift, and most things are best done without interference from the law.
All worked itself out, but how quick are the seconds in which lives can be changed, or lost! It sharpens the senses to see people almost die near where you live. I wonder if that thought occurred to people as prayers finished today and they moved their leg towards the crowd and their voice towards the leap that might free them earlier today.
Anyway, when all this drives up oil prices, starts an Arab Civil War, and gives mad Islamists an entry whilst drawing together badness at our lifelines in the oil and gas of the Maghreb, I may not sing quite the same tune.
As it is, I have to admire those young people at the Egyptian State's door tonight. Egypt's repression of its Muslim men was the ground zero of Islamism; an act of vicious inhumanity that sowed the wind, more than half a century ago. How odd it is that a place where Moses walked and Napoleon played and Joseph and Mary wept should return such a reward.
I just hope that now, here, its people are showing what real liberty, frightening and beautiful in its aspect, can mean.
So what, then? Victor Laszlo at Rick's Bar would be overblown, even by my histrionic standards. But the bloody song of the Free French? I suppose that it is worth a punt tonight. I have some good old young students in Cairo, whom I used to teach. These must be amongst the highest days that they have ever lived.