Writers often find themselves in dire situations in war- and crisis-stricken regions and oppressive nations. After all, free language is always the first to fall under the wheels of any regime. Writers are persecuted, exiled, imprisoned, and even killed. Literature is one of the key foundations of democracy and freedom, and no one understands this better than the tyrants of the world.
Human rights, democracy – they all go back to literature and philosophy. It was much later that these concepts became politically popular. And this continues to this day, and is so dangerous for tyrants because literature and other arts serve as seismographs of social development.
Helping Writers in Endangered Areas to Continue Writing
In light of this, international cultural projects are gaining even more importance. One such project is Weiter Schleiben The project was founded in 2017 by writer Annika Reich.Brings together war-torn, endangered or oppressed writers It aims to connect countries to the German literary scene and help them to continue writing and publishing.
Working with initiatives like Untold and the University of Bern, Weiter Schleiben According to Project Magazine, published in April 2022, we planned an intensive exchange with Afghan women writers. She responded to the critical situation that occurred in her home country in the summer of 2021, a particularly frightening situation for women. It’s time for her to continue her writing, responding to the Taliban’s terrorist campaign with her literature.
“Writing in groups became a kind of narrative therapy for us,” says author Baturu, referring to women writers communicating with program originators while Taliban fanatics rampaged through the streets once again. “For us, being heard is as much a matter of existential importance as making this safe space available.”
Providing a Platform for People in Oppressive States
Short stories and poems dealing with the situation of women in Afghanistan today, among many other issues, were published in magazines and later at readings in Germany. We share a very clear approach to language that is direct, open and fact-oriented. This is in stark contrast to texts that are similarly constructed without the assurance of being freely publishable, resulting in a much more pronounced use of metaphor and a dance around the question of language. This is a fairly common practice in Afghanistan and other countries with strict censorship laws.
“People in crisis-hit areas are often talked about in public. Here they can speak for themselves,” says Annika Reich. Weiter Schleiben project, which in itself is an important aspect.
censorship in iran
Hussein Mohammadi, a writer and visual artist born in Afghanistan in 1986, also participated in the project. He spent his childhood and adolescence in Iran and repeatedly experienced problems with censorship. However, life is not always easy for Afghan refugees in Iran. There is also deep-rooted anti-Afghan racism in many segments of Iranian society, sometimes instigated by government agencies.
In 2013, Mohammadi fled to Switzerland, where he still lives. It seems he really got there, at least as far as his art is concerned. He appeared as an actor at the Experi Theater in Zurich, exhibited some of his images, and wrote fairy tales for SRF. And now his first of three novels he has written has been translated by Sarah Raufhus and published in German by the Lucerne-based Swiss publisher Edition Bücherlese.
A novel about Afghanistan before it was handed over to the Taliban
Scheherazah’s Elven (Scheherazade’s heirs) is a striking novella about Afghanistan before the Taliban’s new seizure of power. . Two many times as a plaything.
The novella begins with two brothers, Eshag and Ahmad, in a car on their way to Kabul from a small village. Ahmad has never been to a big city and it has been a long time for Eshagh. The last time he was there he was a Talib. Probably still is. In any case, he is indeed a fundamentalist, a man who insists on his radical understanding of Islam at all costs.
His son Nabi, like him, is a violent and hot-tempered type who is feared by many, especially the women in the village. This is a man who wants to marry Ahmad’s daughter Masoma. Masoma, however, has little impact on traditional notions of gender roles. Women just hang over the stove forever, put on a burqa and go out into the street. She thanks Ahmad for this. Her father taught her to read and write, provided her with literature, questioned her doctrines, and made her God the embodiment of her good, a god who belittled the violence done in his name. I taught her to see
Ahmad has Eshag to thank for the fact that he’s still around, despite his liberal views.
Escape to Kabul and its consequences
But now Masoma has fled to Kabul with her boyfriend just before marrying Nabi. From there, they hope to travel to Iran. This is more than Eshagh can take. He feels his family’s honor has been disrespected and wants to kill the couple. Naturally, he expects Ahmad to come to the same conclusion and lend a hand.
From this point onwards, Mohammadi devotes each successive chapter to the story of others and their stories at the moment their lives cross paths. However, it has been a long time since he gave up his own ideology. Militants kidnapped him when he was a child and forced him to fight for them. However, when given the task of murdering an unsuspecting family, he threw down his weapons and succeeded in escaping. I am happy in Kabul that I can. Zabih loves his wife and children and takes his job seriously. Even if it’s a pack of cigarettes, he won’t pursue a petty crime if he can get some payment in return.
The characters of Hussein Mohammadi are polar opposites. Readers argue with all of them. One moment the reader may well understand their motives, but the next moment they may be appalled. These characters are real people full of contradictions, far more than simple literary characters between the pages of a book.
Elegance and a light touch
With a touch of breathtaking and lightheartedness, Mohammadi not only draws the reader into the lives of these very different peoples, but also paints a complex but always realistic image of a deeply divided country repeatedly ravaged by war. I can. I’ve been reading recent history and trying to understand why things are the way they are. Adults then passed this idea on to their children.
When Eshag lectures Zabi in a Kabul restaurant about how “Western culture” is destroying everything, Mohammadi doesn’t need to explain what Ahmad might be thinking. Ahmad’s silence is enough. . Because I know what he thinks of his brother and what he believes to be the real problem.
The elegance with which Mohammadi weaves his story, the way he picks up all the threads he touches so easily and brings them together at the end of the novel, the way he draws his characters with lean, clear strokes is simply unparalleled. It must be emphasized again that this is Mohammadi’s first long prose text. Because given how complete this book is in every way, it’s easy to forget that. This is great literature. World literature in the truest sense.
© Qantara.de 2022
Translated from German by Ayça Türkoglu