War narrative/ Find the word (in Lahore)
Civilization is the corpse lying on the world’s pavet. All civilizations are under fire: so Mohsin Hamid, Pakistani writer known for “The reluctant fundamentalist” has opened his speech at Lahore Literary Festival 2015, which saw 75.00 visitors in three days, from 20th to 22th of February. The number is not a joke, in an armored city, which reacted in this way to suicide attack that took place in the days before and the many others who almost daily hurt Pakistan.
The other truth is just as dramatic: the rights and wrongs of the dead do not talk, in fact, the great absentee at the festival was the West. Despite the numerous foreign guests and the Pakistani diasporic present at the event, was not discussed if only marginally, about Charlie Hebdo, the deaths in Paris and Copenhagen, the sleeper cells and the girls educated and scholars who leave Europe to race Isis in Syria, as well the slaves of Boko Haram, and the “spectacular” beheadings by Isis. How could it be otherwise? The Western press is concerned and perhaps daily of Pakistan if the dead are not at least a hundred, as it took place on last 16 December in Peshawar? The complex relations with China, Afghanistan, India and of course the United States? Yet these worlds belong to and question us.
Authors and writers, journalists and intellectuals were however almost all agree to see that the news and the story of these realities can not be sufficient to represent what is going on: Yasmine El Rashidi, Egyptian reporter who has lived through the days of the revolution from El Tahrir square (her beautiful “The Battle for Egypt: Dispatches from the Revolution”) is convinced that the media, as well the non-Western ones, provide often a distorted representation of the facts, as they are lost in translation, often unable to be present, in distorted narrative that in this case it does Pakistan. And it is ‘the fiction the medium that provides a glimpse into the daily life”, about what they really think and civilians, in large cities as in rural areas, the West now reasonably frightened by something that does not have a face traits defined.
It is also sure about that Joe Sacco, the cartoonist famous for his reports from Gaza and Bosnia, acclaimed by the public who made long lines to get an autographed copy of his comics. “I decided to leave for Gaza because the news did not offer me any context”: so he took the liberty of spending a year in Palestine talking to women and men, with older people who have seen the blitz of 1948, the Golan Heights; and three years at his return were needed to finish and stripes, sewing them, yes this time as a reporter, “as they should do, sewing the pieces”, to return the stories in the history. That story has become so not only in fiction, with himself portrayed always in his work: “that is my world”, he said.
So you mix words, pictures, facts and memories, searching for the words to tell you all these worlds, which was also the title of this third edition of the Festival: Find the word. And there is no doubt that the most interesting contributions have come from and writers and journalists, and not only Pakistanis, who were born into polyglot families, who live or have lived in Western countries and that the complexity of their past can capture the spirit of the time (zeitgeist), they can see better with their secularized spirit, being Muslims or not. They see who are the new victims of violence here: police and their loved ones, religious minorities, poor citizens.
“When something is hidden in the history of your family or your country you live a horrible trauma”: that’s how Roger Cohen, reporter for New York Times and successful writer, parts itself. Son of British parents of Jewish descent, emigrated to South Africa, Roger saw his mother become so depressed to undergo electroshock, groped suicide, stubbornly refusing the return to Britain and finally dying in old age while suffering. Cohen, who wrote reports from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kosovo, and more, he needed to tell the family drama to get to the hidden truths of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and denounce the ambivalence of American policy, now that he is a US citizen too. He needed to write a book about the woman who has given him birth (The girl from the Human Street), to understand himself and his present.
Just as Eve Eisler, author of the famous Vagina Monologues, also acclaimed by the audience, who offered generously in the story of her incredible life: daughter of an abusive father and a mother brutalized, exceeded the shock of his childhood through two cancers and then spent herself for the rights of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thanks to her, the Bollywood actresses present, to Pakistani women journalists and writers, Monique Wilson (actress interpreter Monologues and head of the movement OneBillionRising in South East Asia), and the historic English Rachel Holmes (The Hottentot Venus: the life and the death of Sarah Baartman), the Lahore Festival was a wonderful show of veiled women and not, for free discussion of sex and family, and state terrorism, memories and mothers. A beautiful insult to the threat of terror that remained watching out of that beautiful garden.