Writers, Politics, and ‘Peace’

There is an appeal to thinking of “peace” as a space beyond ideology (preferably with lots of rainbows, bunnies, and good music), and to hoping that if all writers (artists, freethinkers) would just get together and advocate for non-war — well, that at least it would be a good start.

So, at first glance, a pair of award-winning novelists — an Israeli (David Grossman) and an Algerian-German (Boualem Sensal) — getting together to call for world peace (which also apparently means opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and standing against “very organized Islamist parties” with “heavily armed militias”) must be a good thing.

In an article in The Guardian, Palestinian writer Samir El Youssef is the lone voice to object. El Youssef, as you might already know, is hardly a Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions sort of guy. This is Samir El Youssef, I believe, who was one of the founders of the Arab Israeli Book Club, and who has urged Palestinians to take the first step and forgive Israel.

He describes himself as “a Palestinian writer who for the last two decades believed in upholding the hope for peace, especially when despair and cynicism are prevalent,” and he says, as such, “I should applaud this proposal and indeed scurry to join its initiators.”

“Sadly I shan’t,” he told The Guardian. “Rather than maintaining hope for peace, I see here nothing but a further attempt to renew the old failed approach to deal with the Arabic and Islamic world.”

Indeed, a reading of the trilingual appeal does seem to reveal pretty much those dull, snoozy old tropes that you hoped would go away one night and never return: a peaceful “West” that is somehow not part of the rest of the nefarious, non-peaceful East/Africa/South; a “barbarian fundamentalism”; a “looming chaos”.

Worse, there’s a lot of uncreative writing here, like, “The gathering will seek all possible synergies with national and international organizations for which peace and culture are the missions.”

I would not think that, because someone is a brilliant novelist, he or she would necessarily be the best one to “develop actions – for addressing the most urgent situations.” Perhaps, as a human being, J.M. Coetzee should have thrown over novel-writing and worked entirely to end apartheid in South Africa. But would he have been better at it than others who didn’t write Disgrace and Foe? 

I am arguing neither for or against engaged writing; that doesn’t seem to be what they’re talking about. And there are indeed courageous writers and artists — Samar Yazbek, Ali Ferzat, Khalid Khalifa spring immediately to mind — but they are working in a particular space, not this sloppy general one.

And anyhow, for goodness sakes! At least I’d like to see some more charismatic wordsmithing here. Are there writers who in this project or what?

I urge you to read it yourself, of course, and to tell me I’m just a nay-sayer who’s got no pro-peace ideas of her own, which could be truehttp://www.coe.int/t/dg4/nscentre/Appel_trilingue.asp