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MANIFESTOS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY EDITED BY URSULA OWEN AND JUDITH VIDAL-HALL
IN COLLABORATION WITH INDEX ON CENSORSHIP
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www.press.uchicago.edu LONDON NEW YORK CALCUTTA www.seagullbooks.org strength in numbers the dangers of being seen as a human rights tourist, blundering into countries without adequate knowledge of the complexities of the politics at play (pp. 27-40). There’s a danger, too, in expecting writers to have a political function or focus, as Margaret Atwood points out. ‘Many is the revolution that has ended by eating its writerly young, as their once-acceptable productions are pronounced heretical by the victors in the inevitable power struggles,’ she writes (pp. 58-63).
There are also difficulties facing any writer who makes their name for taking a stand. ‘Becoming the news is a doubled-edged sword,’ writes celebrated Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, joint winner of the PEN/Pinter prize. Thrust into the limelight after exposing an international paedophile ring in her book The Demons of Eden, she has faced death threats, abduction and imprisonment to bring both the crimes against children and her own experiences into the public eye. ‘This dilemma dominates the rest of our lives,’ she says, ‘because for us to come through safely we need to be out there, in public, and never be silenced’ (pp. 72-81).
And at the heart of this issue is the difference that any writer makes in society. For some, it’s a difference that can rob them of their freedom and even their life. ‘It’s debatable,’ Tom Stoppard writes, ‘whether the writing exerts any leverage on the fate of nations, but when it comes to the fate of individuals no one, not even a writer, needs to be useless. Political prisoners are less vulnerable when they are kept in our view and known to be so’ (pp. 14-16). We’re still living in a world where writing can be a dangerous business. Writers are locked up for exercising their right to free speech; torture, intimidation and legal recourse are still among the tactics used to silence them. It is essential that writers are cherished and valued as documenters and yarn-spinners; they also need to be challenged, engaged with and invited into debate. Open exchange and imagination must be allowed to flourish – it’s vital to protecting our own democracies, and to fostering democracies elsewhere. Defending our writers is as important now as it has ever been.
©Natasha Schmidt 39(4): 1/5 DOI: 10.1177/0306422010390302 www.indexoncensorship.org