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7Mar

The Power of The Pen

For as long as I can remember, authoritarian and repressive governments have always been afraid of writers and their pens. The might of the pen goes beyond the creation of creative and rhythmical prose on the page. It also provokes the masses and maybe, individuals, who for had issues with what they see happening around them but  did not have the voice to express themselves and take action. In addition, we cannot deny the ripple effects one book stands to have on readers generations to come. I remember reading Animal Farm in secondary school by George Orwell and for the first time, got a defined picture of what Communism, Marxism and the interpretation of these different ideologies into the social sphere of the countries, where these form of governments had been adopted. Of course, this was after my school teacher explained to the class. Prior to the book being discussed, I was only interested in the allegorical and metaphoric aspects of the book. I found it humourous that animals were in control, who can forget Napoleon and Snowball?

The seven rules of the farm are very interesting and when you take into account that the last rule say All Animals are equal. Yet, it is far from the stark reality as the story progresses, makes you wonder. The very idea that pigs would be in charge and despise anything that goes on two legs was humorous to me but after critical discourse in class, I was sad that people in far way countries endured injustice and inequality the same way the animals in Orwell’s text had been treated.  Bear in mind that I was also living under dictators as a child for most of my childhood in Nigeria, was spent living in the shadows of Babaginda and Abacha, two brutal dictators who feared the pen and ensured writers like Ken Saro-Wiwa and Dele Giwa, a journalist,  paid with their lives while others like Chris Abani spent time in jail. In Orwell’s case, Animal Farm was a major criticism aimed at the Communist government’s interpretation of socialism because the equality they claimed to promote was in fact not the reality on the ground.

Watching this episode of Riz Khan as he and his guest discussed the role of literature and the power of the pen in the current revolution taking place in countries like Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, where writers have been oppressed, I found it fascinating that the parallels are still the same. A writer stands to suffer more for criticising the government. A good example would be Nawal el-Saadawi, who was always at logger heads with the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak. She lived in exile and her books were published outside Egypt while those who wrote the lies the government wanted to read were celebrated. I wonder how much of one’s self a writer sacrifices to tell the truth and those who condole the lies, what they do give up and how they live with themselves on a day-to-day basis, knowing they have sold their integrity and name for a cheap return?

On the show with Riz Khan were Ahdaf Soueif, Hisham Matar and Ariel Dorfman. Watch, learn and enjoy!

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