Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Speak Out

"The best antidote to bad speech is not censorship, but more speech."
--Nat Hentoff, journalist and civil libertarian

Algeria is one of the countries I wrote about for work, and one that I cared most about. Yesterday, looking ahead to the long dark winter, I rejoined Netflix, and I added the 1967 film "Battle of Algiers" to my Netflix queue. It's about the bloody terroristic Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) against France.

With independence, the triumphant secular party turned around and censored and repressed its opponents, and civil war racked Algeria again, starting in 1992.

Algiers, the capital city of Algeria, just got hit with another bomb, outside the United Nations. On and on it goes, each side bashing the other.

The historical roots of this conflict are deep and tangled, but it seems that repression, torture, and censorship never work to resolve them but only serve as fertilizer for more violence. The price for speaking up in these conditions are high.

During Algeria’s civil war, extremists assassinated writers and other people who spoke out against them. And both the rebels and government forces slaughtered ordinary citizens caught in the middle who only wanted to live in peace.

Algerian author Tahar Djaout expressed the frustration of this no-win situation. He called for bravery in the face of death in his short-lived newspaper Ruptures.
Extremists killed Djaout in 1993. But these lines he wrote remain famous in Algeria:

"Silence is death
And you, if you speak, you die,
If you remain silent, you die,
So speak out and die."

(Translated by Julija Sukys, in her book Silence Is Death: The Life and Work of Tahar Djaout, University of Nebraska Press, 2007.)

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