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oil burns

We seem to always fail to see

that after the life-blood has been spilled, oil burns.


it’s almost funny to me — almost, but not quite

how we refuse to see the we light the fire, the source of all our oil burns.


once the light has been lit, that’s beauty

but the same lamp untouched can cause wounds and death, oil burns.


bringing the other down,

the toxic fire of the man too assured, to cause more oil burns.


it doesn’t take a lot.

One small minority, when given a flame, can burn down the forest. Leaving nothing but oil burns.


12 billion dollars to put out a fire.

only to create a new one, to layer fresh flame to the oil burns.


hospital white.

to cover up with plastered paint the pain, the plague, the oil burns.


it isn’t a faith that’s done this, or a God

but a man convinced that he is one, a man enthralled by the way he thinks his is brighter than the rest, his supreme, the way his oil burns.


annihilation, an erasing of the tombstone.

doused with gasoline, set aflame, the oil burns.


all for what?

a proof of power, a domination of desire, fueled by the money, dependent on the way the oil burns.


for after centuries, and centuries, and centuries of life and beautiful tapestry, isn’t it tragic.

how it can all be destroyed so fast. how quickly, easily, hungrily, completely, and finally, oil burns.


on oil burns:

oil burns is a poem about Wahhabism, the power of money in promoting a certain worldview, American entanglement in broader Arabia, and the pain inflicted on religious minorities by dominant and intolerant majorities.

The history of Western imperialism and oil interests in Arabia has been something really challenging to reckon with, growing up as a post-9/11 American. So, seeing the ways that oil money and political manipulating in Arabia have not only harmed the United States, but also fostered inter-Islamic cultural conflict and violence was even more challenging to see. Oil burns, then, is named after the harm caused by politically and economically intertwined religious intolerance in Arabia.

I make multiple references to “Erasing Culture: Wahhabism, Buddhism, Balkan Mosques” by Michael Sells through the poem. One is the reference to “12 billion dollars” about which Sells notes how the United States sent 12 billion dollars worth of arms to anti-Soviet Afghans, part of which indubitably ended up in the hands of the now-Taliban (Sells). I utilize imagery of fire and burns, and “bringing the other down” at many points throughout the poem, which is a reference to general religious intolerance by the Wahhabi sect as well as specific acts such as the destruction of Buddha statues referred to by Sells. Finally, I reference the infamous “hospital white” of Wahhabi funded ‘restorations’ of mosques in Eastern Europe — an erasure of culture that we have talked about in class, which was also discussed by Sells. This is also seen in the line about “an erasing of the tombstone,” as we saw in the guest lecture by Professor Andras Riedlmayer, how gravestones were destroyed as they were not seem as “Islamic.”

Additionally, my poem ended up loosely taking the form of a ghazal, with the repetition of “oil burns” at the end of each stanza. It was only upon after writing the poem that I realized that, although the rhyme scheme was intentional, I had unintentionally mimicked the somber and sad themes of the ghazal in my poem, even though it was not intended to be about love. Further in line with the ghazal, the couplets are interchangeable, and have no real over-arching narrative structure. I decided not to add any explicit references to ‘love’ to make the poem function even more explicitly as a ghazal, but perhaps there is enough lamenting that it fits the genre anyways.

All in all, oil burns is my way of expressing my frustrations and sadness at the religious fractioning and intolerance that is exacerbated by oil money and Western imperialism in Arabia. There is no real call to action or solution, just a mourning of the loss of religious diversity and tolerance that had once spanned vast geographies under Islamic regimes and rulers, and an attempt to recognize that such domination is in no way representative of Islam, but of other socioeconomic and geopolitical factors that claim Islam as rationale.

note: reflection is from Week 6 Lecture readings

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