Robert Dahl, Sterling Professor of Political Science emeritus at Yale and the author of many widely cited books on democratic theory, “has always insisted that free elections, the most obvious criterion of modern representative democracy, must be complemented by a number of other criteria involving universal suffrage and individual freedoms.”
Individual freedoms, clearly, include the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression – the role of the writer, whether one agrees or dissents from the ruling government’s positions or ideolog(ies). As you, gentle reader, no doubt know: “In Canada, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”
For nearly 10 years, you and I have borne witness to the eroding of our freedoms of the press, scientific thought and expressions of dissent. As a writer, I’ve taken special umbrage with this dangerous erosion.
Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, argues that fiction is democracy’s oxygen. Her latest book, The Republic of Imagination, is “a celebration of the power of fiction and its importance to a vibrant democracy.” Here are a few comments from her conversation with CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti:
AN: In a democracy, we need to provide our citizens with a greater education where they will fulfill their passions and the meaning that they want of out of life and not simply making money….Just take the simple fact of voting….If our children, if we do not have enough knowledge, if we do not know about our country, what it was based on and if we do not know what we want of this country–take history, take fiction out of our curriculums (sic), out of our public spheres, how can we vote for the kind of a person who would be good for us and for our country?
AMT: You write that in Iran you discovered that you need democratic imagination in order to have individual rights and the right to free expression.
AMT: In fact, how many times have we seen in history people burning books, jailing the authors, jailing the playwright, those are the people they shut away….
AN: It is because when we are deprived of every respect for humanity, when we see the worst actions that human beings do to one another we instinctively turn to the best that humanity has to offer and that is the works of the imagination….
AMT: Why do tyrants understand the dangers of democratic imagination more than our policy makers appreciate its necessity.
AN: Because it’s so immediate. Because of the fact that as soon as you come to power, who is it that is not saying what you want them to say? Who is it that gives voice to your enemies?….But that is why they hate it, because they can’t control [writers, the press].
Let us hope that starting forth on this new day, Canada’s new government will not muzzle the press or our scientists or underfund our artists and writers. The future of Canada as a democracy depends on it.
YouthWrite® Turns Twenty:
If you don’t already know, YouthWrite® is a camp for young writers and has been a passion of mine for 20 years. Over two decades, I’ve seen difference it makes in the lives of the thousands of kids who have attended. Please consider donating and to passing the word about our campaign. We have some fun perks! So past participants (or parents of YouthWriters, past or present) of YouthWrite or JustWrite, consider making a young writer’s dream come true by donating to our Indiegogo Campaign. We need your support to keep our writing camps going in perpetuity! https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/youthwrite-s-roaring-20th-birthday/x/156479#/
This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out:
Half-World – Hiromi Goto – Melanie Tamaki is human—but her parents aren’t. They are from Half World, a Limbo between our world and the afterlife, and her father is still there. When her mother disappears, Melanie must follow her to Half World—and neither of them may return alive. Like a Hieronymous Bosch painting come to life, Half World is vivid, visceral, unforgettable, a combination of prose and images that will haunt you.
Writing Quote: “Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well.” – Margaret Atwood, Canadian author (b. 1939)
Writing Tips: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen
Writing Prompt: Imagine you are a citizen of a society where free expression and dissent are forbidden. Write a piece in which your dissent is coded or camouflaged in your language.