Captain Robert Sharp’s ‘Round Trip’ slips into the anthology as an examination of crisis, rather than conflict. The theft of a long-range military transport ship from the Moon is no joking matter, and is traditionally a court martial offence. However, the Captain’s account of a bereaved hijacker’s attempting to win back his love may tug at the heart-strings of a few impressionable snowflakes uninterested in the virtues of heroism or patriotism.
Writing in the New Yorker about Turkey, the novelist Elif Şafak begins thus:
The Hungarian-British writer Arthur Koestler, born in Budapest at the turn of the last century, became, over the course of his life, intimately familiar with the dangers of authoritarianism. It was the corroding effects of such rule on the human soul that preoccupied him as much as the unbridled concentration of power. “If power corrupts,” he wrote, “the reverse is also true: persecution corrupts the victim, though perhaps in subtler and more tragic ways.”
This is, I think, an under-explored aspect of human rights… or rather, human rights violations.
When one is in the business of defending human rights and free speech in other parts of the world, it’s easy to slip into a simple dichotomy: The censorious government is bad and corrupt; the dissidents are noble and good.
In reality, things are far more complicated. Not all activists, journalists and writers have the courage or even the means to fight back. Those outliers who continue to write what they think—and damn the consequences—are few and far between. This makes it easy for the Government to identify them and pick them off.
Most people aren’t that brave and instead find themselves corrupted in some way: As Şafak explains later in her essay, this might be through direct complicity with the regime; silence (a sort of sin of omission); or else a corruption of their literary output as it flees into metaphor and ambiguity.
My interview with Anjan Sundaram about what he saw happen to journalists in Rwanda is relevant to Elif’s analysis: he saw the full spectrum of reactions to authoritarianism, from cringing complicity to outright defiance.
More generally, the corruption of the person and the state that comes when human rights are denied is a crucial argument against any weakening of rights protections. As we prepare for a battle against a British Prime Minister intent on destroying our hard-won protections against state power, this is one of the arguments we must marshal: when the rights of some are abused, we are all diminished.
How to say this in a way that persuades?
Dear People Who Write Open Letters to People Who Write Open Letters —
As is customary with this form, I must begin by stating whether or not we have met. We have not. But in many ways, I feel like you. In fact, following my Open Tweet to People Who Write Open Letters this morning, it could be said that I am you. I share your concern that the Open Letter form has become a cliché, and your worry that we are reaching Peak Open Letter, bringing an ennui that can only be described as Open Letter Fatigue.
Time for a moratorium on "An Open Letter To…" think pieces? What does that style of writing achieve that a straight essay/op-ed does not?
— robertsharp59 (@robertsharp59) September 26, 2016
You claim that Open Letter writers being presumptious and arrogant. You claim that they are cowardly. You claim they are self indulgent.
On all of these counts, you are mistaken. Continue reading “An Open Letter to People Who Write Open Letters To People Who Write Open Letters”
During my time working for English PEN I’ve often used the phrase ‘literary campaigning’ to describe our particular style of activism. Its a term that probably seems self evident: we use literature to draw attention to the situation of writers at risk. For example, we might read the writing of an imprisoned poet outside an embassy, or stage a world-wide reading at multiple locations around the world.
Its an approach that has value for several reasons. Not only is it non-violent, but it is also not particularly hostile or antagonistic to those who have imprisoned the writer or who are responsible for their persecution. So it has a diplomatic quality.
It also a fantastic act of solidarity for the embattled writer. Where they have been entirely censored through imprisonment (or even death) it is a way to give them a voice and restore to them some sort of expression. Continue reading “Literary Campaigning at its Best”
I’m delighted to have a story featured in the anthology We Need to Talk, launched yesterday. The publisher is Jurassic London—here’s the blurb from their website:
All of us, at some point, are involved in difficult conversations. Whether that’s tough talks with clients or bosses, or break-ups, or coming out, or telling someone you love them, or giving advice to that friend who just doesn’t want to hear it. Some conversations are even more difficult, as sufferers of any potentially serious illness will know.
But one thing’s for sure, these conversations are fascinating. So much so that we’ve teamed up with Kindred and The Eve Appeal, to launch a writing competition on the theme of difficult conversations.
My story is called ‘Frozen Out’, an awkward conversation between a husband and wife. Its inclusion in the anthology is all the sweeter because the other eighteen stories are uniformly excellent. Continue reading “We Need To Talk launched for The Eve Appeal”