Monday, March 07, 2011

Fearless Words

For years I’ve wondered why our literature was merely limited to stories of folklore, tradition and culture. In spite of the rich political history of this little island, you will find it rather hard to find any piece of fiction that tackles the many crucial periods that Bahrianis have had to go through.

Perhaps the only such period that has been touched upon, mostly in our books and silverscreen, is the time of British colonialism.

As a teenager I, and my entire generation, have lived through a significant time of instability in Bahrain, back in the early 1990s. Our country was turning upside down, yet none of us truly grasped the gravity of that situation.

Many people around me were affected, but somehow it didn’t really hit me. I personally didn’t understand it, didn’t have a clue.

Still over the years, I often wondered why no one ever wrote about it. In our history books, our novels, our poetry. It was as if none of it had occurred. A big part of it was because we were all still scared of talking about it. It was taboo.

The few mentions of it in some political books were either banned or censored. But as a fiction writer, my main concern was its nonexistence in local pop and modern culture. I personally hesitated a great deal about introducing these elements in my work. In fact, one other writer warned me that I risked writing about it, I might end up being exiled!

But I found that you can be political in your fiction without talking about politics. An English literature University professor from Canada who reviewed my short stories, explained to me that he found that many of my stories had political undertones, which helped him get a better understanding of contemporary Bahrain.

Twenty years later after those events in the early 90s, we are facing another historic moment. But a lot has changed since then. Unlike back then, everything is out in the open nowadays. Nothing can be hidden and everyone has access one way or the other, to information.

But it was in the way that the events unfolded since Feb 14 (and still continue to do so) that broke down so many barriers, perhaps the biggest of them: fear.

What will this mean for Bahraini art and literature? Will we suddenly see a shift in tone and context? Will artists and writers feel more emboldened by these events to let loose in expressing themselves?

Some will argue that is already the case. The fact that many artists have appeared regularly at (Pearl Roundabout) is a strong statement. Many of them have created new artwork on the spot, inspired by the movement and recent events; from traditional paintings to installations.

Bloggers, writers and journalists are voicing their opinions louder than ever, talking about taboo subjects that no one dared to tackle before, at least not publicly. Things such as social injustice, political reform, government criticism are the topics on every Bahraini’s mind.

But the true testament is yet to come. When the dust settles, will we see this trend asset itself on the longer term? Or will it fizzle and fade?

The momentum will carry it, and undoubtedly, things will never go back as they were in Bahrain. And most certainly, writers will begin telling the stories that have unfolded over these past few weeks, in more than one way.


nasreen said...

Hi Ali,

Thank you for raising this topic, I’ve been thinking about it myself the past few weeks. I was a twenty-something in the troubles of the 1990s so I remember clearly feeling the conflict between being a young adult developing ideas and voice, yet conditioned by years of the taboo mentality.

Fear is a huge impediment to creativity. Even in topics that are mainstream and within countries that promote expression, the vulnerability that can occur in self-expression keeps many artists, writers and poets silent.

Bahrain is changing, no question. And because art is one vital way of expressing perspective, story and self,I have no doubt that the trend you mention will continue. Yay!

Where can I fnd your books by the way?

nasreen said...

PS I read this the other day: perhaps you will find it interesting too

What's the worst that will happen? ~Audre Lorde

"I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you.... What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language."

I began to ask each time: "What's the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?" Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, "disappeared" or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What's the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking."

Cerebralwaste said...


Push the boundaries and explore what happened. If there was ever a time to do so it is now.

Samah Hussain said...

You have spoken my mind. I always wondered how come we were nvr taught about our history in school and i mean our real history nt the achievements of the shaiks. Our own ppls achievements. hw cme we were nvr taught about our rebellious ancestors. thn came the 90s and all i heard ws shiaa are bad. they r burning our country. and i believed it. i ws one of thm and i believed it. there were no evidence of any type. no pics no daring writers no artists to speak about it. there ws only fear. and thru our fear we trusted the enemy. now tht i grew up..i didnt used to watch the news! and nw all i watch is d damn news!! suddenly im so political :S I write politics i talk politics i dream politics. and i started reading old books of ppl tht were sent to exile for speaking the truth once upon a time. and the truth shocked me. i wish i nvr grew up to realise wt i realise carry ths burden around all the time. There is no fear. Not in anyones heart except for those who carry fear towards the rebillious.
@ Nasreen great piece up ther!

Ali Al Saeed said...

Thank you guys

Nasreen thank you for the lovely words, and i truly hope that something positive will come out of this, and that we all play our part in reflecting the reality of its impact.

Samah, the issue is accessibility to information and sharing the information. We shouldn't be scared to speak up and voice our opinion, this starts from schooling. Students much be taught from an early age about critical thinking.

Sabeeka said...

This post just raises so many questions, I remember telling a friend that this history must be documented, that I want to write an arabic fiction about it one day, with all its good and bad details, include all the contradictions and different points of view that came with it.
Honestly -and sadly-, this post is only two months old, yet i'm not sure if this is an option anymore..

Ali Al Saeed said...

True Sabeeka, which just goes to show the extent of how the situation has changed once again, taking further steps backwards instead of forward.

These hopes now seem to have further regressed and I now fear that it will take a very long time for us - as writers and artists - to recuperate from that