İSTANBUL BULUŞMASI » 11. İstanbul Buluşması: Norveç PEN Başkanı William Nygaard'ın mesajı

11. İstanbul Buluşması: Norveç PEN Başkanı William Nygaard'ın mesajı The deadly word As the President of Norwegian PEN it is natural for me to talk about the free expression - and the deadly word. We know hardly...
28 Mayıs 2018

The deadly word

As the President of Norwegian PEN it is natural for me to talk about the free expression - and the deadly word.

We know hardly anything that is more powerful for our human dignity than the free word.

In its extremes it is life affirming and existential, but the opposite can be fatal. It is life-affirming in a functioning democracy. When it acts both critically and applauding towards a regime in mutual tolerance and dynamism. The deadly word in all its power appears threatening to the totalitarian and the recoil, the penalty for the executant, can be fatally pertinent.

Now, more than ever, we see how challenging the critical and free word can even be dangerous in many parts of this world. We know that when fear of the word is life-threatening, it is always a symptom and a warning that authoritarian powers, yes, despotisms, reigns politically or religious or in the worst case - together in an ugly association.

The situation

The recollection of the horrors of war and inhuman degradation is fading in spite of warnings from previous generations. Religion extremism, political obsession, fear of their own people, cruel hatred and malice are promoted everywhere. Keywords such as Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Isil, the Taliban and many more bring chills down our spines. In extreme cases, the situation triggered by the critical words or the missing words, are often reinforced by self-censorship and corruption. We say this to each other - dumbfounded, but in many ways helpless. Dumbfounded because we should have learned from our recent history's terrors. Is it true that the memory of the atrocities since World War II with all its Holocaust, nuclear bombs and mass killing are fading and that new generations have not learned? Could it be possible? But do we sence some hope – these days – even if a new movement from below is still invisible?

We are frightened that neo faschism can take hold. It can happen fast. We see how undemocratic tendencies are spreading across Europe. And what does Brexit really signify? What will the new president of the US bring to the table in the end?

What´s gone astray when bestial vilolence and terrosism constantly dominate our news - everything from decapitation, slaughter with machete, car-bombing, masacers with automatic weapons, often executed by suicide martyrs who believe in a privieged life eternal?

The international leadership, organizations and super powers must take the blame. They have failed us in preserving a peace promoting dialogue in a world with tremendous challenges and changes. Democratic governing methods have long been lacking in many places, a knowledge of cultural differences is apparent. It has led to crisis´and attrocities instead of respect for our differences in our world

The starting point

Was there a starting point to this new violence, revenge and ambition for increased power? And what kind of power? Political, religious or both? And with violence as an instrument?
Well, an optimism was reigning in the power vacuum after the Iron Curtain fell. But the ideological uncertainty which happened has indeed created tasks with a complexity that the Cold War could not predict

Some would argue that the so-called Rushdie affair with the fatwa and attacks on the free word in 1989 was among the first signs that a new religious revival of Islam was on the way - with terror as a tool.

Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian Shiite regime chose to perceive Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, with its irony and critical humor as blasphemous and insulting. It was sent from the west and by an apostate. It sparked the first terrorist threat with the fatwa against the author and his accomplices. A religion should be made a political instrument of power and a death threat should even expand across borders – in the name of Sharia, so the Ayatollah zoomed in on one of our most basic principles-namely free speech. It was a goal behind the dispersion of power by a re-interpreted, radical and literal Islamism, more different and alien to us in the west than we had previously seen.

With its authoritarian politics in the name of religion was freedom of expression pursued in the media, literature, satire, music, sculpture and theater. We know that satire and caricature have been among the most affected genres and has triggered violence that has its own stories - with Jylland Posten and Charlie Hebdo as the most tragic examples.

Let us be more basic.

Awareness and management of word and thought, culture and media policy is a temperature gauge on a nation's democratic spirit. It is from cultural and media policy you read what kind of regime that is in power.

It has been interesting to experience how the different political hues throughout the ages, even in my country, treat culture and cultural politics differently. If culture is considered a developing quality of life in a society, integrated as a natural part of our welfare, a guarantee of a critical diverse society or whether it be regarded with indifference is of great importance. For culture, broadly defined, can as policy be neglected and downsized, it can be privatized and commercialized and can be stimulated by public framework for the benefit of a free-populace. And it can be dangerous when used as a political instrument by content manipulation or even overt propaganda.

We see the gamut all around us. The most dangerous authoritarian regimes understand to have an active relationship with culture. The gifted authoritarian leaders see that culture also is emotional in character, that it moves the human mind. It may then be an instrument of power for uniformity and control, power controlled from above.

In our recent history both Soviet communism and Euro fascism - were the most visible examples. And I would argue that National Socialism in all its systematic propaganda was the most sophisticated. Wagner was played while prisoners were gassed. They used culture in all its genres. Such means expressed the reigning politics, racism and its causes. National Socialism understood that culture as a mean for emotional nationalistic propaganda was an essential instrument for their power. And they knew that reason and free cultural and media expression would be equally threatening - because power built from above would be threatened by a free formation of opinion and mistrust from below.

I find it interesting that the democratic regimes inspired by the Enlightenment seems to be the most stable compared to others. One authoritarian regime can probably by abuse and violence replace the other, but democratic regimes with free culture and free-word expression are in the long term the most stable. Is it really strange? Freedom inapires human nature and reason challenge all authoritarian-imposed constraints - religious, political as cultural.

The Reasons

The picture has its historical roots and the reasons for today's violence is thus both complex and extensive. Yes, it is truly multidimensional. It is complicated because the violence is directed more towards their own Muslim or Islamic religious communities than to the foreign western. And when the foreign is attacked it is justified by keywords ranging from colonial complex memories, prosperity differences between continents, fight for resources, unemployment, poverty, corruption and not least an ambition to promote their religions power beyond their own continent. Warlike abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria has created the most complex refugee flows. The Isil experiment and the brutal ambition of a caliphate was a consequence of war and the other complexities.

It is not just Islamic violence that we are wary of, but we are on alert to any form of fundamentalism - religious and / or political. They are all threatening to the speakers of the free word – in spite of differences in goverment.

We know that in Islamic countries the religion is the overriding power agent in the political management. Isil has its extreme literal interpretation of Islam and the Koran. In Iran's political governance the authoritarian religion override its unambiguity and the archenemy, the kingdom Saudi Arabia is also ruled too authoritarian, but different. Afghanistan's western influenced model and judiciary is avariant where the offense against Islam trigger life-threatening processes against oppsition, while the political criticism in debate and media is accepted. The Afghan women have their place in parliament even if they have to fight for all other female rights. Turkey has its own peculiarity where political power is more important than religion, but where religion is an instrument of power. Leadership is a degree personified. The result is lawlessness, corruption and literally a collapse of freedom of speech. Kurds are made to be the sinners and enemies in a fragmented and increasingly lawless society in a near civil war. I would argue that it is now - after the attempted coup d’etat - that the coup is really carried out.

Yes, today's development of governance and freedom of expression is discouraging. The list is long, but we limit ourselves.

The PEN movement through its worldwide Writers in Prison Committees in cooperation with ICORN (International Cities of refuge network) rescues victims - writers, journalists, publishers, satirists, musicians and other artists from life-threatening persecution. Norway has currently 14 writers living in our ”Freetowns.”

Warning signs

The authors of the free cities, heroes and heroines among us, are persecuted for various reasons. Their stories are a reflection of conditions and governance in their countries. Today they have become one of us - in a Norwegian society that has changed and opened, which we hope will last? They had to flee their homelands because of their convictions, where free expression and free thought threatened their lives.
Their stories are important for us so we can understand the warning signs. I know many of them and and it would have been helpful to summarize their stories. We have no room for that. But let me underline that free Cities for refugees – defending freedom of expression and humanity - could have been many in a free Turkey. You have the will, the capacity and the attitude to care for them. But to day it is not so. Turkey is among those countries in the world, where writers and journalists are desperately leaving or being arrested, tortured and sentenced to insane imprisonment. And the president wants to reintroduce the death penalty.
In fact, the applications to ICORN from persecuted Turkisk journalists and writers are increasing every month.

In the end

The ICORN refugees are one of us. They are symbols of the fight for those who are willing to take a risk for freedom, the most universal right among human beings. They have experienced what understanding and respect for human dignity really means. They have fought for others' survival and freedoms even though their words were life threatening. The commitment concerns all of us - always. The responsibility is with every single one of us! Allso here in Turkey.