New Article: “Qabbani versus Qur’an”: Arabism and the Umma in Robin Yassin-Kassab’s The Road from Damascus
In The Road from Damascus (2008), Syrian-British writer Robin Yassin-Kassab’s debut novel, the protagonist describes “the opposing camps of [his] childhood,” as narratives of “Qabbani versus Qur’an” (56). While Sami’s father idolises the pan-Arabist poet Nizar Qabbani and supports the Syrian regime despite its repressive policies, Sami’s mother, disillusioned with nationalist ideology, turns instead to faith, offering her son a “different mythology” based on “the adventures of God’s messengers” (53). Tracing Sami’s negotiations of these seemingly opposed inherited narratives, Yassin-Kassab’s novel examines the lingering impact of pan-Arabism and the alternatives offered by Islamic frameworks. While critics have previously approached this novel as part of a growing corpus of British Muslim fiction, in this essay, I focus more closely on the novel’s interrogation of Arab nationalism. As I will show, Yassin-Kassab’s novel unfolds as a series of ideological disillusionments that chart the protagonist’s confrontation with the failure of nationalist politics. Inviting the reader to follow the protagonist’s successive conversions and de-conversion from various forms of nationalism, Yassin-Kassab’s representation of the polarisation between “Qabbani versus Qur’an” poses the question of how one might find alternatives beyond such restrictive dichotomies, dramatizing the inadequacies of political vision in the Arab world today.
Featured Image Credits: Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria, May 23, 2009 | © Courtesy of Arian Zwegers/Flickr.