An Author Responds: The "Crime" of Disturbing Calm Waters with a Pen

Laila al-Othman

Has the world become so controlled that even the birds and butterflies are not allowed to fly freely?

Have peoples' minds sat unused for so long that the lock to open them has rusted solid?

Has the word indeed become a bullet feared because the gunshot would ring so loudly that it would break the silence that has kept the eyes asleep and the mind complacent?

I was tempted to ask these questions when I received the sad news that a court had issued an unjust verdict against not only me, but also my colleague, the poet Alia Shuaib. I did not expect such a verdict. I never imagined that my "crime" is of such a proportion that it deserved so great a punishment.

When I started to write in a society that had opened its windows and doors to women writers and to freedom, I embarked with courage and honesty against an accumulation of oppression which shackled my soul before my hands. Thus I had to be daring, yet truthful. Through my writing I disturbed the calm waters and ruffled the cool grass by having the will to uphold the dignity of all women living under oppression and subjugation.

When I started writing, I never imagined I was weaving the rope which would become a noose around my neck, the tool for an attempt to choke to death me and my writings. This ruling is thrusting me back into some Dark Ages and into ideas alien to today's world. The ubiquitous media reaches the minds of the people faster than lightning, and faster than the book, a medium that some predict will soon be extinct. But the written word remains a queen, whose power is coveted by lovers and enemies alike.

The advocates of ignorance, enemies of freedom, and critics of the truth brought out their guns against my book. When one or two birds fall, the flock becomes fearful and flies away to their nests, apprehensive that the murmur of their wings or the music of their songs will be heard.

Why women specifically?

Why the woman-who had been subjected to her condition, silent on her oppression, and yet had finally dared to raise her head high, and, in her cry, awaken the spirit of resistance?

They wanted her as a slave. At times they wanted a "Shahrazad"Cto entertain them with her tales, but in the end, they wanted her to be "dependent," to be ordered and to obey.

Do women accept today what they managed to end yesterday, especially after they have earned a measure of freedom and a self-realization? Women have fought to gain a legitimate part of their human rights. The state decree that granted women the right to vote and to run for officeCthat gave her political rightsCprovoked the enemies of women into filing a suit in 1996 that was later shelved. They tried again, as if to say: "Do you want women in Parliament? These are samples of your women-prostitutes, immoralists, atheists, law breakers ."

My colleague and I were the "scapegoats," and they thought that we would give in to the knife which would shed our blood and peel off our skin. They saw us as the weak rib that came from the man's body. However, they did not understand that whoever cherishes their freedom of expression will not be afraid and or easily silenced.

When the disappointment came upon me, I remembered the words of the great Turkish poet Nazem Hikmet, which he posted on the wall of this prison: "Don't give your body anew to the earth. Use it here as you wish. Be careful not to live kneeling. Stand tall, for the boot only crushes the insects. As for the wheat kernels, they will only be picked standing."

And I also recalled him saying "Heal your wounds with your own hands and bite your lips to fight the pain."

Yes, I will swallow my pain, and use my pen.

I will continue the path that I took-thorny yet motivating-and I will complete the mission which I took on myself: to be as the spear, flying true to the target.

Those who long for the return of the Dark Ages need to wake up and realize that there is no rebirth for ideas now obsolete. Life today opens its heart to thoughts that free and renew. The word will remain the master of steadfastness-remaining, resisting, until the last breath.

This statement was issued by Ms. Laila al-Othman in Beirut on January 25, 2000, after her conviction of indecent writing by a Kuwaiti court. It was translated and edited into English by Elie Chalala.

This article appeared in Vol. 5, no. 29 (Fall 1999).

Translation Copyright © 1999 by Al Jadid

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