Spreading the word

From The Telegraph:

Arab1_1841268c The Middle East’s most famous storyteller spins her tales with a knife to her throat. In One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Princess Scheherazade delays her own death at the hands of the psychotic King Shahryar (the Gaddafi/Mubarak/Ahmadinejad of his time) by entertaining him with tales about fishermen and traders, with the occasional subversive story about a cruel king thrown in without him noticing. Modern writers from the Middle East have long been in what might be called Scheherazade’s bind. The fall of the Ottoman Empire gave rise to new Arab states striving for independence; but since then the great hopes of the end of colonial rule have been dashed by coups, dictatorship, invasion or civil war (Iraq has had all four). Novelists and poets who supported liberation movements soon found themselves censored, imprisoned or even killed when they began to criticise the native despots who had come to rule them. To survive you either had to censor yourself or go into exile.

But the uprisings that began last December, when a Tunisian fruit seller called Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after being slapped by a government inspector, have in three months transformed the political landscape, with what the protesters have called “Days of Rage” spreading to Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and Libya. Dictators are falling at high speed and the nullifying censorship that has plagued the region cannot hold. This seems like an amazing opportunity for novelists and poets finally to be heard clearly, both in their own lands and in the West, which is now searching for voices to interpret a region that has burst so dramatically onto our screens. But unlike the reporter or the blogger, fiction writers do not provide facts on the ground or quick analysis. They are more unexpected and quixotic; they provide truths we feel but cannot prove. How can “the spooky art”, as Norman Mailer called it, cast light on these societies in flux?

More here.