Oct 9, 2017

The Amateur Fiction of Arab Dictators

“We were concerned that some of the writers would not be comfortable to be associated with Hesperus once we published this book, but we’re politically neutral. We only publish what we find interesting.” With this statement, British publisher Hesperus announced their plan to publish a translation of Saddam Hussein’s final novel Begone, Demons! which he was, allegedly, writing in a secret place while Iraqis were getting bombed by the United States and its allies. The publisher said the novel will be the first title in their “new imprint focusing on eastern literature.” The statement had me wonder: who still uses the word “eastern” anymore? Are Saddam’s writings considered literature, by any living creature? The publisher had an initial plan to release the translation on the 10th anniversary of Saddam’s execution. Is that a celebration? Or a commemoration? And who invited these guys to the party?
The news of this new release provoked me, specifically because it reflects a demeaning western approach to modern Arabic literature. Back in 2003, Saddam’s novels were widely discussed among Arab intellectuals exchanging accusations of writing for dictators for money, or under threat. It was an exhausting and embarrassing battle, but nevertheless necessary. At least in these debates, no one claimed to be “politically neutral.” Political neutrality is the discourse of the dominant, they who take their individuality for granted and in such they assume that their actions can be abstract, ahistorical, and isolated of all contexts.