It began on Sunday, 28 January, when I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Arabic Literature (in English) by M. Lynx Qualey: "Resist the Bans: Support Writers from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen." This particular post was in reaction to harsher vetting for travelers from the named countries, a perceived prejudice of one religion over another, and overall misinformation about the facts. Qualey shares how authors from Muslim-majority countries have not been granted visas for literature festivals and conferences, or how Skype "Authors in Residence" have been an alternative to complicated visa processing for some time now.
Her post challenged me to take my own private stand in the very small world of IB School Libraries against recent changes in the US White House Administration. In particular, I was inspired by her thoughts:
"The violence of such an executive act cannot be countered solely with art, or translation. Still, as Samah Selim notes, translation can be “a form of radical knowledge production.” We can also collaborate with, and listen to, literary voices, as well as forging supportive, enriching, properly compensated connections between writers and literary communities, thus resisiting the ban.""Listen to literary voices" as a form of resistance? That is in my power to do. As a librarian, I have found that reading books from other cultures and non-Western writers, most of them translated works, has made me more informed about global issues, more understanding of other narratives, and generally more empathetic toward members of the human race.
Now, reading is a form of resistance. Once you have internalized something through reading, you cannot "unknow" it. Whether it is love or hate, justice or prejudice, as William Wilberforce said:
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”Thus begins #ReadingResistance. Every day, I will curate and share with students and colleagues writing which is either translated or a re-telling of a personal narrative by each country on the #LIISSSY list. It's my very small contribution, my own act of resistance, in my library, in my school, in my world. If you read one of these books or have a favorite, post it on Twitter with #ReadingResistance @Katsby90.
I begin with Libya.
The circle of friends around the White House is tightening, journalists are being attacked for asking the questions on the minds of a majority of Americans. We have now been given a new newspeak for misinformation (alternative truth). I am reminded of a quote I read a long time ago, in a college course entitled, "Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry," a course I reckoned would be of interest to only a very few literary snobs and of relevance to none. The readings, as it turned out, are timeless and highly relevant. In an address to a newly-seated, populist Parliament, John Milton, somewhat an apologist for the Revolution, surprisingly delivers Areopagitica, with this being his final point of argument.
"Last, that it [censorship] will be primely to the discouragement of all learning, and the stop of Truth, not only by disexercising and blunting our abilities in what we know already, but by hindring and cropping the discovery that might bee yet further made both in religious and civill Wisdome."
In other words, words and books are not to be feared. They should not be silenced, for they sharpen our ability to think, to discover, and learn new ideas. When one reads, she invites a conversation into her mind. She has a dialogue that can and should make her a better person by challenging her acceptance of the status quo, of her own point of view, allowing her to enter into the sufferings of others with sure understanding. #ReadingResistance is personal growth. #ReadingResistance is knowledge. And as any good child of the 70s and 80s knows, "knowledge is power."