The Statue of Liberty’s Burka


The President is obsessed with deporting Arabs
Although, by a superb comic irony,
It was an Arab who modelled for the United States’ icon –
Namely the Statue of Liberty.

The sculptor’s monument was initially designed
For the opening of the Suez canal:
The original depicted an Arab woman holding a torch.
It was destined for the canal’s southern portal.

His first drawings show “a gigantic female fellah, or Arab peasant”
With a veil modestly hiding her lips,
The sculptor told Egypt’s ruler she represented “Progress”
A beacon, to light the way for oncoming ships.

Unfortunately for the artist, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi,
Egypt’s bankrupt Khedive couldn’t afford its installation
But undeterred, Bartholdi recycled it and offered it to New York
To commemorate the American revolution.

Its first title had been, “Egypt carrying the Light to Asia’
But now the figure’s veil would be removed
And for his prospective US clients Bartholdi called it,
“Liberty enlightening the world”.

But despite Bartholdi tweaking the flowing Arab garments
And turning them into Graeco-Roman dress
It’s still a huge stone Arab that occupies New York Harbour,
Making fun of the President’s petty mindedness –

And of his paranoia for far more Americans die
As a result of their falling out of bed,
Or being stung by bees rather than being killed by terrorists –
Never mind fellow-citizens shooting them dead.

Despite the most worthless President in US history
Wishing to banish all Arabs from his shores,
An Arab giantess in New York is welcoming migrants
And giving the lie to his immigration laws.
However much the President may demonize Arabs
There’s one who’s rooted to the ground,
Making a better job of symbolizing American liberty
Without her having to utter a sound.


Heathcote Williams


[1] Khedewi Ismail Pasha; cf Edward Berenson, The Statue of Liberty:  a Transatlantic Story, Yale University Press, 2012 

By Heathcote Williams

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