Tawfiq Hakim, by Sabry Ragheb

As a young nation, only two centuries plus of age, America is still very much in love with itself. Despite the blemishes, America’s mirror image continues to shine with the noble ideals of justice and freedom. There are many reasons why others might hate what America does in the political arena, but for most this hate is more over the failure of the government to live up to the ideals than jealousy of a political ideology as malleable and demogogueried as democracy.

One of the most famous short-story writers in Arabic is the Egyptian Tawfiq al-Hakim, who died in 1987. One of his last pieces was called “The Case of the Twenty-first Century.” The words that were created more than a decade before the turn of the century that buried the author are worth repeating.

“Not too long ago an American journalist visited me. He explained that he was touring many countries to investigate the reasons for the worldwide hatred of America. I gazed at him as he drew from his pocket a small notebook in which to record my answer. He was a young man of less than forty, tall with broad shoulders, like one of the heroes of the American cinema. I thought men like that existed only in mythic movie time, but here I was seeing a live specimen, incarnated as a journalist…. I did not make him wait long, since the answer did not require much reflection when the Vietnam War with all its hideousness was on everyone’s mind. I told him at once that the world hates America because it holds her responsible for lighting the fires of war today. Wherever you go in Asia, Africa, the Far East, or the Middle East, you find a box of matches in America’s fingers. She plays with them and attempts to solve her problems with them, allowing smoke to stain the peaceful sky.

“He recorded this in his notebook. Then he raised his head to ask, ‘Do you believe that it would be possible for America to solve its problems without relying on these wars?’

“With obvious conviction I told him, “That’s her mission.’

“The idealism of my reply astonished him and made a good impression on him. He quickly jotted down my words. Then turning toward me, he said, ‘This is brilliant … but … from a practical point of view ….’

“I told him, ‘I’m speaking from a practical point of view. The mission of peace in the hands of a powerful state is the best practical solution to all problems. If a powerful nation wishes to be loved and to conquer the hearts of the world, she should put aside the box of matches and free the dove of peace. This dove has two wings: One is named justice and the other freedom.'”

The story itself is an interesting parable about justice. The entire story can be found in Tawfiq al-Hakim, In the Tavern of Life & Other Stories, translated by William Maynard Hutchins, London: Lynne Rienner, 1998, pp. 217-231.