Another World is Necessary

Nawal al-Sadawi

Writer, Egypt

On this day which is so special in my life, I want to thank those women and men of Catalonia whose insistence and support have contributed actively to the recognition of my work that has been made through the award of the Premi Internacional Catalunya 2003. I also want to express my thanks to the Catalan Government for having created this award, which it has distinguished with illustrious names, and to the jury which chose my candidature after some years of studying it. I am not a woman with great experience in receiving prizes.The authorities who award prizes are not very fond of writers like myself. But the true value of a prize is determined by the people who award it. The value of this prize is the value of the people of Catalonia.

Theirs is not a large country; nevertheless the knowledge of human values and the level of conscience and of sensitivity which the Catalan people possess have caused them to create this award, and that invests it with a great prestige. The jury of the Premi Internacional Catalunya may share many or few of my ideas, but what I find admirable is this respect which it shows for liberty and this capacity to overcome barriers and to insist on the human essence which ought to unite us all in the common struggle against any form of discrimination, and which explains the choice of my name.

By means of this prize that has been conferred on me, and in the declaration of the reasons explaining that decision, an important bond has been established between politics and ethics or moral responsibility. I come from an area battered, dominated, divided and controlled by a colonialism both old and new. I come from a country of the so-called “Middle East”. “Middle for whom?” For whoever has given to those who desire to dominate the world the right to name others, to occupy their lands, to steal their resources and to marginalise and destroy whole peoples in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

I was born in an Egyptian village on the banks of the Nile, and I drank from the springs of an ancient civilisation which lived in accordance with a human philosophy and venerated the goddess of justice. When I was five years old, I held onto the tail of the long black dress my peasant grandmother wore, and I went with her wherever she went. She was a tall strong woman with black, penetrating eyes, who never knew how to read or write. One day, upright before the headman of the village, I heard her say to him: “God is justice, and we know that thanks to reason.” In Arabic it would be said in these words: “Rubina Howa El Adl Erfouh Bil Akl.” This was the first lesson in Islamic philosophy that I received, and today I still believe in what my grandmother said to guard myself from the assaults of the philosophy and the philosophical schools which appeared thousands of years ago with the birth of slavery, with the institution of what is called the patriarchal class system. That system imposed principles of double standards, a dual morality which since then has continued to hold sway in the schools, the universities, the political systems and parties and the religious institutions, both on the local and on the national and international level.

The men and women who have tried to link politics with ethics have been persecuted, exiled, imprisoned, tortured or killed.They had committed the crime of insisting that politics and private and public affairs could not be dissociated from human moral values. They united God with justice, both social and economic, a justice founded on the reason of the mind and the heart, and not on military power or on an absolute political or religious authority in the State and the family. Nowadays there are tens of millions of people who East to West and South to North, demonstrate against military aggressions and war, against the foreign occupation of the lands of other peoples, against the theft of their resources, against the powerful minorities who seek to impose their domination everywhere.The peoples of the world, the peoples of Catalonia, of Spain, of Egypt, of Africa, of Asia, of Latin America, of Europe, of Australia or of North America, continue to resist the forces of plunder and of war with growing determination.

They are women and men of differing ages, drawn from different professions, who have overcome the barriers that separated them, those barriers which politics, religion, gender, nationality, race, colour, language and beliefs have created and oblige people to respect. They have overcome the barriers that separated them and kept them from brotherhood because of the divisions created and imposed by the patriarchal class system, whether old, modern or post-modern. They are all advancing together, demonstrating through the streets and squares of the cities, going through the streets and alleys of the villages waving their banners and carrying the placards of liberty, justice and peace.

These people, who are the bearers of the human conscience, are trying to protect our world from the danger of total destruction, from an electronic war, from weapons of mass destruction, from atom and hydrogen bombs, from laser rockets and from biological and chemical weapons which the world economic and military powers everywhere manufacture, trade in and possess.

These powers have practically a monopoly of the electronic information networks through the big corporations of the communications media, which disseminate a false conscience and stand truth on its head, so that the victim becomes the guilty one and the real criminal remains free. In a world in which force imposes itself above justice and rights, creativity is strictly related to dissidence. It is for that reason that “dissident art” can come to kindle the imagination of artists, writers, poets and scientists of any corner of the planet, however remote it may be. “Dissident art” mobilises the capacity which these people have for invention and creation. The political and religious systems that control our lives in the international, national and family ambits continue striving to abolish whatever form of liberty these women and men may enjoy; they continue to use the different means and powers at their disposal to keep them under control.

Those means are sometimes more sophisticated and more modern, and hide their paws in a velvet glove which is the cover of a false democracy. In other cases those means are more primitive and more open, and strike in full daylight, put transgressors in prison, send them into exile, threaten them with death or end their lives with a bullet or by hanging them with a rope. In spite of dangers or of threats, creative people, whether they are men or women, have a responsibility. In times of peace, the truth can seem dark, cloudy, manyfaceted, and the artist or the writer can disguise it under the veil of what is called artistic “ambiguity”, “subtlety” or “complexity”, or under the cultural differences that are styled “multiculturalism”. But in times of grave economic crises, when thousands of people are dying of hunger, or during military wars, in which so much blood is spilt and thousands of lives are destroyed, the truth becomes clear, as clear as the rivers of blood that flow from the bodies of women, of children and of men. The ideologues and philosophers of slavery, of the patriarchal class system, often refuse to face reality and take refuge behind what they call “the complexity of things”.

The fear of being punished at the hands of the State or at the hands of those who exercise power may lead artists and creative people to keep aloof from politics or economics, from history or religion, and may cause them to put on the mask of “neutrality” instead of standing beside the women and men who suffer that oppression. It was precisely from my grandmother — that illiterate peasant who more than fifty years ago lived a life marked by poverty and oppression under the power of British colonialism and of His Majesty King Farouk, king of Egypt — that I learnt my first lesson in philosophy. Since then I have become conscious that the values of the social class and the patriarchy predominating in our societies have served to conceal what is obvious in our lives. God was transformed from a symbol of justice and right into the complicated texts of the Holy Scriptures.

The students and dignitaries of religion, whether they are Jews, Christians, Moslems, Hindus or Buddhists, expound these texts to us in a thousand different ways. Both in ancient and in modern or post-modern times rivers of blood have been spilt in the name of religion. And many are the lives of innocent women and men that have been sacrificed in the name of the so-called “religious revival”, a fundamentalism which has spread all over the world and which involves Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism. Are we perhaps facing a global terrorism which uses religion, including Islam, as an excuse and as an instrument to impose the domination of global capitalism, to control oil and through oil the world?

We the people of the world cannot allow ourselves to be deceived any more by what politicians and the communications media continue to tell us. Creative women and men, intellectuals, scientists, artists and academics are expressing their opposition ever more frequently and openly. They have taken part in the demonstrations against war, they have produced works of art and plays and have composed music and songs opposing the forces of tyranny. The artistic and creative protest has transcended national frontiers and the borders established by cultures and religions.

I have seen it myself in recent years, in many places including here in Catalonia, where I have been able to meet creative artists and thinkers and was able to take part in the demonstrations that invaded the streets of Barcelona. I come from a country where Islam is the predominant religion. I was born in a Moslem family, and at the present time people say many things about Islam. Islam and the Arabs have become the enemy to be feared, to be fought against, used as a justification by those who use the military power they possess to invade other countries and exploit their resources. They say that Islam is a religion which cannot accept modernity and cannot live with it. They say that Islam is against women, makes them go about with their faces veiled, keeps them at home, curtails their rights, promotes polygamy.

They say that Islam feeds fundamentalism and terror, because violence is inherent in its history and in its mentality. When I was very young I read the three monotheist sacred books: the Koran, the Old Testament and the New Testament, and later the Hindu Gita, the Upanishads and the doctrines of Buddha. I believe that religion is ambiguous, that it is a political ideology and that is has been used for good causes or bad ones, for liberty or for autocracy, for justice or for exploitation, for creativity or for sterility (depending on the forces that were behind it). Until now it has been used by the forces of the patriarchal classes which dominate the world. Religion considers that women are inferior to men. In this respect, the Old Testament, the Jewish Torah, is more oppressive than the Moslem Koran, which accords women a relatively better status because it appeared later. Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, was much less misogynist than St Paul, the founder of the Catholic Church. At least, Mohammed talked to women and listened to them.

His mentor was his first wife, Hadiga, twenty years older than himself and his only wife until she died after twenty years. All religions tend to foster fundamentalism, and fundamentalism fosters terror. At present there exists an Islamic fundamentalist movement in the Arab countries, in Africa and in Asia; a Jewish fundamentalist regime in Israel and a powerful JudaeoChristian fundamentalist movement in the United states. George Bush receives very important support from the Judaeo-Christian fundamentalist alliance in his own country.The fundamentalist movements oppress women, and at present many of the problems related to women proceed from the growth of fundamentalist religious and political movements and from the influence they have in various regimes.

During recent decades, the growth of religious and fundamentalist tendencies has been a world-wide phenomenon which has been accentuated by the crises and insecurities people have had to face. In the past, fundamentalism was fomented and used by rulers, by colonialism and, more recently, by American neo-colonialism. In the past, the United States were allies of Bin Laden and the Taliban. Now Bin Laden has become an enemy who remains alive or whom they keep alive to spread terror together with others and to justify a long war whose real objective is to ensure that the United States dominates the world.

The culture of Catalonia occupies an important part in our inheritance of the past. Its contribution to the common culture of humanity makes itself evident in the world of today. Catalonia occupies a strategic position as part of Spain, of Europe and of the Mediterranean basin, surrounded by North Africa, southern Europe and the western part of Asia. And this prize which you have awarded me is a symbol of your will, of our collective will to bring about the rebirth of a “Utopia” that may mobilise the creative energies of men and women everywhere, a Utopia which can help us to believe in a new dream, in a “heterotopia”, and which can bring about the recovery of our faith in the power of the people, of those who invaded the streets of Paris, Rome, New York, Sidney, London, Barcelona, Madrid, Cairo, Tunis, Istanbul, Porto Alegre and many other places. This prize reflects the desire we have to see through the illusions disseminated by the communications media, to understand how they are dividing us and trying to make us lose faith in ourselves, in our collective strength.

I would like to end by expressing the strange happiness I felt in receiving this Premi Internacional Catalunya.Together with this happiness I feel a great responsibility, so that I cannot accept this prize without explaining what I think about the responsibility which all writers of today have to assume, both women and men. I am a writer who has lived in the midst of the suffering caused by military, economic and social violence, who has witnessed the blows which the old and the new colonialism have dealt to my country, who has seen my people living under the weight of international and local oppression, and seen how poverty was imposed on it in spite of its living in one of the richest areas of the world; a country rich in economic resources, in culture and in a civilisation with many years of existence.

I am also, as a woman, aware that women are the victims of the values of the patriarchal classes all over the world; I know that when the death of a young woman occurs, the criminal who attacked her remains free because he enjoys absolute power within the family, the State and the international political scene. But the liberation of half of society, in other words of women, will never be achieved in any country, whether in the East or in the West, if the world does not liberate itself from the chains of a political system built on the power of money and of weapons. I would like to thank you all, women and men, for having demonstrated your hope that in the future we will all work together more united. Together we can create a world based on justice, freedom and peace. This world is possible, this world is necessary.