AL-MASRY AL-YOUM

Libyan Lit: Authors Freed From Four Decades Of Repression Find New Voices

The country’s best writers were long forced to rely on metaphor and symbolism to express their art and avoid the wrath of the regime. Now, with Gaddafi driven from Tripoli, a new world is set to open up.

Hisham Matar's latest work is 'deftly written...careful'
Hisham Matar's latest work is "deftly written...careful"
M. Lynx Qualey

With Muammar Gaddafi's four-decade dictatorship coming to an end, Libyan authors have begun sharing both joy and relief in public – and online. Novelist Hisham Matar took to his new Twitter account: "We got rid of Gaddafi. I never thought I would be able to write that sentence." On the blog "Imtidad", short-story writer and poet Ghazy Gheblawy wrote about how Libyans have been "liberated from their fear." It was a fear, says Gheblawy, that penetrated deep into the language.

"Libyans like me who opposed his regime (whether subtly or overtly) had to develop a dual personality," Gheblawy wrote. "Learning how to talk and write publicly in code became a vital skill to avoid persecution, not only of yourself but your family and friends."

Over the years, a large swath of Libyan fiction internalized this code.

While Egyptian authors embraced social realism in the 1960s and 1970s, many Libyan writers shied away from it. Some authors did write in a realistic style, such as Abdallah al-Ghazal in his "Toyota War." But many others continued to rely on symbolist techniques, from metaphor to animal fables. Unlike the 1990s generation of Egyptian authors that rebelled against social realism, in Libya "the 1990s generation literature was born from fear of punishment. They just needed to…avoid putting themselves in trouble with the regime," says author Mohamed Mesraty.

It was only in 2003, Mesraty said, that young Libyan authors began to re-emerge, adding that Libyan authors who live and write abroad have experienced greater creative freedom.

But even novelists who write in English seem to have been affected by a fear of Gaddafi. Hisham Matar's second novel, "Anatomy of a Disappearance" released earlier this year is a deftly written realist work about a kidnapping by the Libyan regime. Still, there is something exceptionally careful about the way "Anatomy" is written, as though the narrator were afraid of turning over too many stones, naming too many names, asking too many questions.

Philosophical fabulism and animal tales

Ibrahim al-Kony is one of the most celebrated of Libya's older generation of authors. This December, he had the dubious distinction of being the last to win a Mubarak-era "Arabic Novel Award."

Kony's work largely shies away from engagement with the contemporary urban world. His novels are mostly fabulist-philosophical works set in the Hammadah al-Hamra desert. Some of his best are "Bleeding of the Stone" (translated by Chris Tingley and Maya Jayyusi), "The Animists," and "Gold Dust" (translated by Elliott Colla). These novels tell us little about life in present day Libya. But, at their best, they draw a vivid portrait of the clash of humans, power, and animals and of humans' violent destruction of our environment.

One of the hallmarks of Kony's work is his sympathy for the wild sheep, camels, and gazelles that populate his novels.

Things are clearly changing for Libyan letters. In the months since February 17, new newspapers and poetry have appeared. But Mohamed Mesraty says that there is still a long way to go.

"Even after the fall of Gaddafi's regime, we still need to fight for freedom in a society that never had it," Mesraty said. "The fear starts from the family, neighborhood, and general readers. ... The liberal Libyan author in Libya is also afraid of the other authors who won't understand his writing."

Revolutionary poetry has been the first post-Gaddafi writing. But Gheblawy feels that this sort of poetry will die out relatively soon, making way for a new style of poetry, which, he has predicted, "will become more descriptive, with a sense of narrative and detail of the daily life of Libyans, and less focus on language and style."

Gheblawy hopes that many authors will also bring out works they've been unable to publish during the Gaddafi years. Gheblawy and Mesraty both lauded new, more realist tendencies in Libyan fiction. Younger authors - such as Beirut39 winner Najwa Binshatwan and Razan Naim al-Maghraby, who was longlisted for the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction - have begun writing scenes of ordinary city life.

Read the full version of the article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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