Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Voices in the Wilderness

In late 2003, I started working with Professor Elie Chalala at his magazine, Al-Jadid. Having come out of university with a degree in Comparative Literature, a working knowledge of French and a deep interest in post-colonial issues in the Middle East and south Asia, it was the perfect venue for me. I knew it would give me an opportunity to write to edit and to stay in touch with contemporary trends. what I didn't know is how much it would teach me about the importance and power of dissent.

I think we in the West often underestimate the power of a repressive government. After 9/11, many in the West asked "where is the moderate Muslim denunciation of these acts, where are the voices of reason." Many in the West were led to believe that maybe such voices didn't exist. However, the fact that moderate voices didn't make it to the pages of the Times or the Post was less a function of their existence, and more so about the fact that they are under constant threat of severe repression.

In many countries in the Middle East, the most critical voices are academics, artists, journalists and opposition activists. These groups are also among the most heavily scrutinized, harassed and oppressed populations in that part of the world. The fact is quite simple: Moderate and dissenting voices exist and toil arduously throughout Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere. However, we in the West - who often take our freedom of speech for granted - cannot begin to fathom what life must be like for a journalist who must choose between self-censorship or torture, or an artist who must choose between tempering of passion or arrest.

Al Jadid has strived to bring these voices to a wider audience, to prevent them from being drowned in a sea of fundamentalist and statist propaganda. I may be biased by my personal involvement with the magazine, but that cannot detract from the vital role that such content can play in a time when the dialogue about the Middle East suffers from irrational polarization. Al Jadid shows us the possibilities of the Middle East; this region has inherited more than just Islamism, it still has traces of Pan-Arabism, Socialism, as well as artistic and literary traditions descended from one of humanity's great civilizations. This is a vision of the Middle East that must be at the forefront of the discussion, rather than shackled and hidden away.

I will place a description and link to Al-Jadid in the Resources section of this website. Please head over and take a look.


All best . . .

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