Books·How I Wrote It

The 150-page poem that Moez Surani spent four years writing

Moez Surani's 150-page poem, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация, speaks to a history of world violence.
Moez Surani is the author of ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация. (

Moez Surani's 150-page poem, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация, speaks to a history of world violence, systematically listing the names of military operations conducted by United Nations member states from 1945 to 2006.

Surani's title, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация,  is the word "operation" repeated in each of the United Nations' six official languages: Arabic, Spanish, French, English, Chinese and Russian. In his own words, Surani reflects on how this singular work came to be.

Changing the script

"In 2003, I was studying at Queen's University and the Iraq War began. The invasion was labelled 'Infinite Justice.' The name stuck in my head. It seemed really punitive to me. Others felt that way, too — I think the general consensus was that only a God should be able to give out Infinite Justice. It wasn't on people or countries to deliver that intensity or force.

"I was following the war very closely and eventually the name of the invasion was changed because a lot of people had trouble with it. It got changed to 'Enduring Freedom' and that was when I first started noticing that names have power."

What's in a name?

"Names are used for different purposes in the poem. There are some instances where a military or a government is speaking to their own citizens and then there are some where you're intimidating the opposition, like 'Bone Breaker' or 'Phantom Linebacker' or 'Killer.' Then I think there are some aimed at the international community in general. What happens with these — like 'Enduring Freedom' — is there is an attempt to shape what people think of the countries involved.

"The operations that I read about and ended up spending a lot of time on were the ones that I couldn't make sense of — for example, something like 'Butterfly,' which was a French operation in Central African Republic. I didn't understand why you would call a military operation 'Butterfly.' As I read about it, I realized that the operation was only meant to be 24 hours long and the lifespan of a butterfly is 24 hours. It was a reminder of what the scope of the mission would be."

Wielding the weapon of language

"When I started, I really thought it would be a 10-page poem with maybe 300 names. I went from major conflict to major conflict and I quickly realized the scope of this was going to be far beyond that concept. I ended up going country by country, so I could be more methodical and research their history, research what they were involved in and where they were involved. After a certain point, things start cross-referencing each other and you can get some stability in the list. This book really is dependent upon the reporting that journalists have done.

"Part of the reason for beginning this project was that I had lost faith in poetic language. Some of the themes that recur in this poem are dawn and light and cleanliness. These are the same kinds of images that often recur in lyric poetry. I think part of this project was showing that governments use language in the same imaginative way as poets do."

Moez Surani's comments have been edited and condensed.